For many years, the primary field guide to the birds of China has been the MacKinnon and Phillips guide. Hugely popular in China, given its translation into Mandarin, it has been the gateway to birding for nearly all Chinese birders. Given huge advances in knowledge about distributions and taxonomy, the MacKinnon guide has, inevitably, started to show its age and a newer, more modern field guide, has been desperately needed.
Step forward Chinese National Geography who put together an all-Chinese editorial team led by well-respected ornithological Professor Liu Yang, and commissioned a new set of plates from a range of Chinese artists. The result is “The CNG Field Guide to the Birds of China”, covering 1,491 species.
The guide follows the traditional layout of plates opposite the texts and, through annotations, points out salient ID features. Although the text is in Mandarin, the English and scientific names are given for each species, making it accessible to non-Mandarin speakers. QR codes allow smartphone users to access sound recordings.
Samples of the species texts and plates are below.
Having browsed my copy, I can say that this guide is a major step forward. The plates, although variable in quality, are generally of a high standard and the distribution maps are a major improvement on the old MacKinnon guide. That said, for NE China, where my knowledge is strongest, some of the maps are surprising, for example the wintering range of Dusky Thrush is shown as being south of the Yangtze but it regularly winters as far north as Beijing, and Pied Wheatear is shown as being resident to the north and west of Beijing (it is a summer visitor). The editorial team is keen to hear about any errors or omissions so that they can be rectified in future editions. These relatively minor quibbles aside, I can thoroughly recommend this new guide and it is a ‘must-have’ for anyone with an interest in China’s birds.
The new guide retails in China for a very reasonable CNY 128 (GBP 14) and is available through Chinese online platforms. For those overseas wishing to purchase a copy, the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society is offering this book for sale for 160 Hong Kong Dollars (GBP 14) and can ship to a limited number of countries, including the UK and US. See here for a link.
There is some discussion about producing an English language version but, even if that comes to pass, it is likely to take many months, and possibly years, for that to be realised. So my advice for any non-Chinese speaking birders is don’t wait. Given the reasonable price and its accessibility even to non-Chinese speakers, this book should be on the shelf of anyone with an interest in China’s birds.