Images of Asia necessarily span a wide area of subjects and habitats. The huge eastern two-thirds of the Eurasian continent is full of contrasts. More people are packed into the cities of China and India than anywhere on earth, and yet there are many wonderfully remote spots. My few short visits are just a beginning:

I certainly hope to return to Asia many more times. There are tigers to see, tragopans to stalk, remote Indonesian islands to visit. Indian food is among my favorite in the world. And yet despite my keen interest in the tropics, there are vast stretches of Siberian taiga, Mongolian plateaus, and Chinese bamboo forests that deserve attention.


Only 7 families are entirely endemic to the Asian realm although it has many wonderful tropical birds. Some of these (trogons, barbets) are found in tropics around the world, while others are primarily shared with Africa (eg, sunbirds). The entirely endemic families are:

Ibidorhynchidae Ibisbill Irenidae Fairy-Bluebirds
Hemiprocnidae Crested-Swifts Chloropseidae Leafbirds
Pityriaseidae Bristlehead Aegithinidae Ioras
Rhabdornithidae Rhabdornis
Three additional families are near-endemics: the range of the single-species Hypocolius straddles the Asian/Western Palearctic border, the Wallcreeper is shared with the Western Palearctic, and 1 of 20 parrotbills (Bearded Reedling Panurus biarmicus) occurs widely in the Western Palearctic. So the near-endemic families are:
Tichodromidae Wallcreeper Hypocoliidae Hypocolius Paradoxornithidae Parrotbills

Handbook: Ali & Ripley's Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan covers the Indian subcontinent in old-fashioned museum-oriented handbook style. Ten volumes were published between 1969-1974, covering about 900 species. In 1978 the Bombay Natural History Society began a series of reissues (still in progress and somewhat updated as they go along) that included better plates (eg, Ali & Ripley 1986), and in 1983 all the plates were gathered together in a single volume (Ali & Ripley 1983) with the barest of facing page information. The entire series does not even begin to compare with other major Handbook series, and the on-going Handbook of the Birds of the World series is much better at covering Asian birds, even though its text is necessarily briefer given its scope. Except for the latter project, there is no handbook for the rest of Asia.

Field Guides: A major gap in the world's bird literature have been adequate field guides to Asia. King & Dickinson's (1975) Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia has been a standard issue for many years, now badly in need to revision. Old-style guides exist for the former U.S.S.R. (Flint et al. 1984), China (Meyer de Schauensee 1984), Korea (Gore & Won 1971, in an odd combination of English & Korea), Taiwan (Chang 1980, text in Chinese but bird names in English with color plates), and the Philippines (du Pont 1971). One puts up with them because they are what is available, but none are adequate as current field guides and while most species are pictured in them in color, the artwork is inadequate to current needs. Fortunately, a host of new field guides have just been published and the following appear to be up to modern standards:

Journals: The Oriental Bird Club publishes two journals for members: the Oriental Bird Club Bulletin, which is full of news about new discoveries, i.d. topics, and research projects, and Forktail, a more formal annual journal with longer papers. So much is yet to be learned about Asia that many articles are still at the avifaunal survey stage: describing a remote area and published a list of birds found in recent surveys. There have been some really interested taxonomic papers in recent years, as well. Although there are local journals in many places, including India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Japan, few will likely be of intense interest to world-traveling English-speakers. The exceptions may be the Hong Kong Bird Report, published annually, which often has state-of-the-art identification papers and many color photos, and Yacho, a publication of the Wild Bird Society of Japan, which is full of wonderful color photos but whose text (except scientific bird names) is entirely in Japanese.

Non-bird Book [nature / exploration / adventure]: I enjoyed reading Redmond O'Hanlon's Into the Heart of Borneo (A.A. Knopf, New York), an account of an attempt to navigate a Bornean river to its headwaters and the author's encounters with local customs and wildlife in route, and The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiesen which, while an introspective account of dealing with love and loss, does take one vividly along on a trek in the Himalayas in search of the elusive and ultimately unseen Snow Leopard. When I was a child, I relished Jim Corbett's The Man-eaters of Kumaon (1946, Oxford Univ. Press, London), the author's tale of tracking and shooting tigers (and a couple leopards) which were implicated in killing villagers. While the more recent view of these great predators is different -- and now tigers are endangered -- Corbett's respect for the great cats and his vivid tales of the countryside -- helped stir a wanderlust that has not gone away.

BEST BIRDS [see my explanation for choosing "best birds" here]

My choices for the ten "best birds" in Asia follow, but one would be justified in making many different choices since there are so many from which to choose:

FAVORITE PHOTOS: This link goes to a page with the three favorite Asian bird photos that I have taken so far.

Literature cited:

Ali, S., and S. D. Ripley. 1983. A Pictorial Guide to the Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford.

Ali, S., and S. D. Ripley. 1986. Handbook of the Birds of the India and Pakistan. Vol. 5, 2d ed. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford.

Brazil, M. A. 1991. The Birds of Japan. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.

Chang, J. W. 1980. A Field Guide to the Birds of Taiwan. Tunghai Univ., Taiwan.

Coates, B. J., and K. D. Bishop. 1997. A Guide to the Birds of Wallacea. Alderley, Australia.

Collar, N.J., M.J. Crosby, and A.J. Stattersfield. 1994. Birds to Watch 2: The World List of Threatened Birds. BirdLife Conservation Series No. 4, BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

Delacour, J. 1947. Birds of Malaysia. MacMillan Co., New York.

du Pont, J. E. 1971. Philippine Birds. Delaware Mus. Nat. Hist. Monograph series no. 2, Greenville, Delaware.

Flint, V. E., R. L. Boehme, Y. V. Kostin, A. A. Kuzentsov. 1984. A Field Guide to the Bird of the U.S.S.R. [translated by N. Bouso-Leland]. Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, N.J.

Gore, M. E. J., and P-O. Won. 1971. The Birds of Korea. Royal Asiatic Society, Seoul, Korea.

Grimmett, R., C. Inskipp, and T. Inskipp. 1998. Birds of the Indian Subcontinent. Christopher Helm, London.

Inskipp, C. and T. Inskipp. 1985. A Guide to the Birds of Nepal. Croom Helm, London.

King, B. F., and E. C. Dickinson. 1976. A Field guide to the Birds of South-east Asia. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.

Lekagul, and P. Round. 1991. A Guide to the Birds of Thailand. Saha Karn Bhaet Co., Bangkok.

Lambert, F., and M. Woodcock. 1996. Pittas, Broadbills, and Asities. Pica Press, Sussex, England.

Meyer de Schauensee, R. 1984. The Birds of China. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

MacKinnon, J. 1988. Field Guide to the Birds of Java and Bali. Gadjah Mada Univ. Press, Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

MacKinnon, J., and K. Phillipps. 1993. A Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo, Sumatra, Java, and Bali. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford.

Pearson, A. and A. Jeyarajasingham. 1999. Field Guide to the Birds of West Malaysia and Singapore. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford.




Page created Feb 1999, updated 23 Apr 2000