This week Sinica responds to the fevered requests of the Azure-Winged Magpie society with a show all about birding in Beijing. And why not? Because despite the air pollution that wracks our fair city, Beijing remains one of the best places in the world for serious bird-watching. Join us as we explain the why and how of this ornithological mystery, before moving on to complaining about the various other things that are in the air....

Joining Jeremy Goldkorn for this discussion are two guests we are delighted to feature on the show: avid birder Terry Townshend from the blog Birding Beijing, as well as Jonathan Kaimen, a journalist for The Guardian in Beijing who has covered China's environmental problems and reported most recently on the country's estimated 176 billion USD bill for cleaning up its air pollution issues.

Enjoy Sinica? Even if birding isn't your thing, the lesson to take away from this show is that we do requests. So if there's a topic you'd like to hear us cover, send us an email at and let us know. And please also feel welcome to download this show as a standalone mp3 file, or subscribe to our list of shows using our custom RSS feed.
 said on
January 5, 2014
Much enjoyed the podcast, finally the world knows Beijing isn't a birding desert. The mystery of azure-winged magpie distribution has been solved, this is what I wrote for BBC Wildlife magazine in 2004.

The mystery of the strange distribution of the azure-winged magpie Cyanopica

cyana, found only in Spain and Portugal and in China, Japan and Korea, has

been resolved following the discovery of 40,000 year-old fossilised bones in

a Gibraltar cave, writes Michael Rank. Jo Cooper of London's Natural History

Museum has shown that the birds were once distributed across Eurasia and

became extinct due to climate change, rather than being introduced to Europe

by Spanish or Portuguese sailors a few hundred years ago, as some have

supposed. Analysis of bones found in the cave, the humerus of an

azure-winged magpie, showed that the species has been established in the

Iberian peninsula for at least 40,000 years (Ibis, in press).
 said on
January 5, 2014
Thank you Michael..! You have just proved that I should read more... mystery solved!
 said on
January 6, 2014

1. The site Birding Beijing run by guest Terry Townshend

2. The Twitter account @birdingbeijing

3. The GLOBE program (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment)

3. China faces $176bn bill to clean up air pollution by Jonathan Kaiman for The Guardian (20 Dec 2013)

4. More of guest Jonathan Kaiman’s latest work for the Guardian

5. The ornithological term flyway (page at Wikipedia)

6. Birding Beijing entry from Terry’s visit to the British Ambassador’s garden, First for Beijing – Tree Pipit!

7. The bird subspecies White’s Thrush (Z. d. aurea), of the Scaly Thrushes / 虎斑地鸫 (Zoothera dauma, page at Wikipedia)

8. The bird species Siberian Thrush / 白眉地鸫 (Geokichla sibirica, page at Wikipedia)

9. The bird species Siberian Rubythroat / 红喉歌鸲 (Luscinia calliope, page at Wikipedia)

10. The bird species Rufous-bellied (breasted) Woodpecker / 棕腹啄木鸟(?) (Dendrocopos hyperythrus, page at Wikipedia)

11. The greatest and most glorious of bird species (and incidentally, Sinica mascot) Azure-winged Magpie / 灰喜鹊 (Cyanopica cyana, page at Wikipedia)

Additional reference on Beijing crows

12. The crows of Beijing by Jeremy Goldkorn for

Mentions (cont’d)

13. Mao’s disastrous Anti-Sparrow Campaign / 打麻雀运动, aka The Sparrow Extermination Campaign / 消灭麻雀运动, part of the Four Pests Campaign (the other three being rats, mosquitoes and flies) begun in 1958 (page at Wikipedia)

14. The bird species Jankowski's Bunting / 栗斑腹鹀 (Emberiza jankowskii, page at Wikipedia)'s_Bunting

15. Beijing Birding’s first entry on Jankowski’s Bunting, Jankowski’s Bunting: A Very Rare Bird Indeed

16. All posts at Beijing Birding on Jankowski’s Bunting

17. The China Ornithological Society / 中国鸟类学会 (English page)

Additional reference for 2011 air quality fracas

18. Beijing Air Quality at 'Crisis' Level by Josh Rudolph at China Digital Times (14 December 2011)



19. The book Birds & People by Mark Cocker and David Tipling


20. The Washington Post’s Graph of the Year series for 2013

21. Jonathan Franzen’s graph of the year on causes of annual bird mortality


22. The New Yorker’s Out Loud podcast episode with Peter Hessler, A World of Small Towns (11 November 2013)

Mark Lesson Studied