The Birds of Beijing (2021)
This brilliant new book, published in December 2021, is not a field guide per se but more a reference guide to the status of 508 species recorded in Beijing at the time of writing. Put together by an all-Chinese team led by Professor Zhao Xinru, this book is a fantastic reference and a significant contribution to knowledge about the avifauna of Beijing, and what better species to grace its cover than the Beijing Swift? This should be on the shelf of any resident or regularly visiting birder, indeed anyone with an interest in Beijing’s avian diversity.
With Chinese, scientific and English common names provided, together with Chinese and English text, this book is accessible and a must-have for all resident and regularly visiting birders.
If you are looking for a regular field guide, there are two major guides that cover the birds of Beijing. If you can buy only one, your choice will most likely depend on whether you are visiting East China only or covering more of this vast country. My strong recommendation for Beijing and east China is “The Birds of East Asia” by Mark Brazil. This book covers southeast Russia, eastern China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan. Although not flawless, in general it has excellent plates, good covering text and distribution maps. Buy it! As of April 2020, this book is available in Chinese as well as English.
However, the Mark Brazil guide does NOT cover species encountered in central and western China (e.g. Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai). Therefore, if you are travelling further afield than Beijing or Beidaihe, you will require something with greater geographic coverage. Until recently, the only field guide covering all of China was the Mackinnon and Phillips guide “A Field Guide to the Birds of China“.
This guide is often criticised by visiting birders as the text is not as accurate and the plates of not such high quality when compared with the most modern western field guides. However, this criticism is unfair. It should be remembered that this is a pioneering work covering all of China and, crucially, it has also been translated into Chinese, so it is THE standard guide for most Chinese birders. For that reason it is a book that deserves much respect and praise – it has made birding accessible to the nascent scene in China. The quality of some of the plates (eg. the phylloscopus warblers) will confuse many birders new to China. However, as long as one does not expect this guide to be perfect, it will prove to be a very useful, if limited, guide to any birder travelling in China.
As of February 2021, a new Field Guide to the Birds of China is available from Chinese National Geography. Put together by an all-Chinese team led by Professor Liu Yang of Sun Yat-Sen University, with a new series of plates by Chinese artists and new distribution maps, it is a major and welcome step forward for birding in China. Although the text is in Chinese, scientific and english bird names are given. It is available for delivery overseas to a limited number of countries, including the UK and US, via the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society.
If you read Chinese, there is another book you may wish to consider about Beijing, although it is out of print, so only available in second-hand book stores or online:
The Birds of Beijing by Cai (1987).
This book describes the status of birds in Beijing and includes some original sketches, including this Japanese Waxwing…
and a comparison of the tails of grey shrikes.
And if you travel to Shanghai, do consider the new Birds of China, Southeast China, including Shanghai by Liu Yang, Yu Yat-tung and Yong Ding Li. Written by locals with excellent photographs and descriptions.