Review of "Birds of Venezuela"
"... I wish this disc had been available before my first trip to Venezuela and that
similar CD-ROMs were also available for other locations in the Neotropics, especially those
which lack good field guides. I do hope that someone is working on them." -- Ron
Johns in Birding World Vol. 13, nr. 2.
.... For each recording (typically one to three per species and occasionally up to
six), there is a sliding bar (clicking the arrow at the left starts the recording) surrounded
by additional information: length of the recording, when and where the recording was made
(including elevation, latitude, longitude, and a map); a letter (A to E) indicating the
quality of the recording; a notation of the vocalization type (song, call, alarm note, etc.);
and, if there are pictures of the selected species, a small photo which can be enlarged by
clicking it. Background species are noted, and identification certainties for various species
are given. Some may find that this is more information than they need, but I feel differently.
Many species and subspecies, tropical and otherwise, have different vocalizations in different
areas, so location information can be very important. (I wish that ABA-Area CDs and CD-ROMs
did this!) As to the need for identification certainty ratings, I can only point out that
inaccurate recordings of rails and marsh sparrows on well-known recordings of ABA birds have
confused birders for decades. And, while some of our marsh birds are notorious for hiding,
most could take secrecy lessons from rain-forest denizens. In other words, I view the
certainty rating as overdue honesty in recognizing the difficulties of recording in the rain
forest and in identifying areas in need of more work.
... the treatment and documentation of their data (especially the vocalizations) are
among the best commercially available to date. As such, they are well worth their list price
(...), and I only hope that Bird Songs International continues to update them and produce
similar products for other regions."--Michael R. Hannisian in Birding
33(1): 86-88, February 2001. This is a review of all our three CD-ROMs (also Birds of Bolivia 2.0 and Birds
of Tropical Asia).
"... for the distribution maps alone this CD-ROM is worth while, eg, when planning a
trip or to compare with your trip list. It is a pity that the maps are only given for the 878
species of which also sounds and/or photos are included. However, the sounds are the prime
goal of publishing this CD-ROM.
There are 1306 sounds of 674 species, which is a major achievement for any publication of bird
sounds of South America. These sounds are good for about eight hours playing time, thanks to
the use of compression techniques and the choice of a rather strong compression rate. The
latter means some loss of sound quality, but the author has deliberately chosen for this and
to include as many recordings as possible on one CD-ROM. Also, for several species he has
chosen to include less good field recordings, if no better ones were available. Recording bird
sounds in the Neotropics is often far from easy, so you will end up with several interesting
ones of lower quality.
Not all sound recordings are from Venezuela itself. This is clearly indicated for the species
concerned, but it should be stressed that regional differences in the sounds of bird species
in South America can be considerable (and sometimes leads to splitting of species). In the
introduction, the author says that he has tried not to include such sounds with regional
differences, but he is not sure about it for all cases. The percentage of recordings from
outside Venezuela is stated to be very low, but a random selection of 100 revealed 14 from
other countries, mainly Ecuador and Peru.
Like in its predecessor on birds of Bolivia by the same publisher, the CD-ROM contains bird
species and even families whose sounds have not been published at all before. The archives of
Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology (CLO) and other bioaccoustic laboratories may be
filled with many of these species, but these are published at a slow rate, often only when a
bird family is nearly complete. (This situation could change drastically when these labs would
facilitate downloading their sound recordings from the Internet...) Examples of new material
in the Venezuelan CD-ROM are found in, eg, the large families of antbirds and flycatchers,
many of which also occur outside Venezuela. So, this CD-ROM is useful as well for other
countries in South America, even if one possesses the cassettes or CD's published by CLO and
others. To be true, the combination of the Bolivian and the Venezuelan CD-ROMs covers a good
deal of what you normally need when birding in the northern half of South America. Personally,
on such trips I like to bring a cassette or nowadays a minidisc with a regional reference
collection of sounds, and with the Venezuelan CD-ROM the specific sound files can easily be
downloaded on your computer for further processing.
Finding an unidentified sound with the help of the CD-ROM is easier than with those lengthy
cassettes or even CD's, but you still have to go through very many sound tracks, even if you
know roughly that the sound should be of an antbird or woodcreeper. Especially in the
Neotropics, often more birds are heard than seen. Sonagrams of the sounds would certainly help
in identifying your sound recordings, especially when these diagrams are displayed with many
others together on one screen. This may be a suggestion for a next edition of this
publication. The author, in his introduction, says that he will go on with this project and
will work on a larger collection of sounds and photos, to be published later with newer
techniques of compression or storage. He hopes people will send him material for this (like I
happened to do myself with four recordings for the present publication).
The 700 photographs on the CD-ROM (of 450 species) are from various birders, and again this is
a stunning collection. It probably is the largest published collection of South American bird
photographs so far (that is, of birds in the wild; Dunning published a book with over 1400
photos of captured birds of South America). For several species, the CD-ROM will be the first
readily available publication of a photograph anyway. Again, as with the sounds, not all
photographs are of premium quality (and again not all are from Venezuela), but most are
impressive enough. A nice feature of the user interface of this CD-ROM is the 'Show', allowing
a random display of photos with time interval of your choice and with or without the names of
the birds displayed. So if you like, you can set up your own mystery bird competition!
By now it should be clear that, notwithstanding some critical remarks, this CD-ROM is
certainly worth while for anybody interested in the birds of South America! I am still amazed
by the sheer quantity of work that has been put into it. Readers with no interest in the birds
of South America (is that possible for the 'bird continent'?) should at least be tempted to
have a look at the user interface. It is really easy, and has some nice features besides the
Show. You can get a static impression of the user interface by visiting the web site of the
publisher .." -- John van der Woude in Dutch Birding 21:222-223,
To information about the CD-ROM.
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