In Memory of Karen Phillipps

By John MacKinnon.

Chinese birdwatchers will be saddened to learn of the death of bird artist Karen Phillipps. As co-author and chief artist of ‘A Field Guide to the Birds of China’ – the most widely used identification guide in China – there can be few Chinese birders who were not drawn to the beauty of birds through her work.

Karen died in London on February 6th after a long battle against cancer. But Karen was born in Sabah, Borneo and it is perhaps her books on the birds and mammals of Borneo for which she is most intimately recognised.  The ‘Phillipps Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo’, written with her brother Quentin has just moved into its 4th edition and includes some of Karen’s last paintings.

Having worked with Karen on two bird guides, I have many happy memories of her poring through dusty skins in Bogor Museum or sitting beside the mist nets of Hong Kong bird ringers, painting away with a bird in one hand, notebook and watercolour box on knee and brush in the other hand. She could capture a bird’s jizz in a couple of minutes before the anxious ringers needed to release their birds! She was also witness to my wedding to the field guide translator Lu Hefen (see title photo). Karen was so full of life, a kind, generous and cheerful personality.  She will be dearly missed in several countries but the legacy of the illustrations she completed will live on for many years.

John MacKinnon, co-author of A Field Guide to the Birds of China.

John is in touch with Karen’s family.  If you feel moved to leave a comment about how the book inspired you to be interested in birds, please leave a comment here or send to me on WeChat (“birdingbeijing”) and we will ensure they are passed on.  John feels that Karen’s family is not fully aware of how influential “A Field Guide to the Birds of China” was, and is, to igniting the birding scene in China and it may be comforting to hear just how much her work has been valued.  Thank you.

Title image: Karen Phillipps at the wedding of John MacKinnon and Lu Hefen.