Local artists promote the preservation of Northwest birds with books, maps, photos

Posted in Feature

Whidbey Life Magazine contributor

Have you ever wondered how hummingbirds survive cold nights or why they’re iridescent? And what about those amazing tongues?

If you’ve rarely noticed hummers and other colorful birds that populate Puget Sound skies, then you probably haven’t seen any of Craig and Joy Johnson’s vibrant Pacific Northwest bird books. Craig is an accomplished photographer and water colorist, and his wife Joy is a writer, who provides the illustrative text for all their publications.


Craig and Joy Johnson’s books use colorful illustrations to highlight the facts about Pacific Northwest birds such as the Rufous Hummingbird. (Photos courtesy of http://www.pugetsoundbackyardbirds.com)

“We are committed in our work to help others see and understand these marvelous creatures,” Joy said. “And because we value birds for what they offer us in personal pleasure and as part of the web of life, we donate much of our time to helping  protect them,” she added.

One look through the couple’s books might convince nature enthusiasts to pull out a set of  binoculars and look to the tops of trees. Their best-known book, “Our Pacific Northwest Birds & Habitat,” is packed with colorful imagery, and primarily features birds found in the Puget Sound area. Most of its photos were taken on Whidbey Island. Due to continued requests, the couple recently reprinted the book for the holiday season.

“Though it’s been sought after by Costco, we continue to sell only through small stores, choosing to support independent businesses,” Joy said. The book is also available in all major libraries.

The Johnsons also use their talents to help birders, having produced a number of colorful brochures with maps for birding areas on Whidbey Island, with photos of the birds likely to be spotted locally.

“Using Craig’s watercolor artwork and photographs, we’ve produced books, brochures, note cards and now an animated and narrated CD about our two local hummingbird species,” Joy said.

The CD takes you on a journey into the wonders of the Rufous and Anna’s hummingbirds that live in Puget Sound. The CD explores all aspects of the birds’ migration and distribution, identification and the challenges they face, such as window strikes and cats, nesting and diet. Also, those questions are answered about the cold weather survival of these island visitors and the mystery of their exquisite iridescence.

Their children’s book about a Rufous Hummingbird born on Whidbey Island is based on a real Rufous Hummingbird nest they monitored in Freeland. “The Amazing Hummingbird Story of Red Rufous” has been hugely successful, selling thousands of copies.


A Pileated Woodpecker is captured on film by Craig Johnson at his backyard bird feeder on Whidbey Island.

Joy said that the couple’s main goal is to share the images and knowledge they have accumulated with the general public and, in the interest of that goal, they provide the CD free of charge, excluding postage, to non-profit organizations and teachers.

Lots of  information is also available on their website, where there is a vast and beautiful repository of photographs and facts about a multitude of Northwest birds that are visually stimulating for any age of student interested in the study of birds. For example, on one page the Johnsons point out a myriad of interesting details about the Pileated Woodpecker and how it is able to hit hard surfaces with force and speed without damaging its neck. It reads:

Woodpeckers have very powerful neck and jaw muscles. They also have reinforced skulls. Notice the spongy cartilage between the base of the bill and the rest of the skull and brain, which helps absorb the impact. These adaptations allow the woodpecker to strike with such intensity.

Craig Johnson has been his own kind of force lately, despite a decade-long degenerative neurological illness that has kept him mostly at home since 2008. Since then, he has taught himself web design and has created the couple’s colorful website. He now uses a lightweight video camera, primarily in their yard, to film bird behaviors and will be adding new videos to the site in the near future.

The Freeland residents are Puget Sound area natives who have been participants in the International Shorebird Survey. As members of their local Audubon chapter, the Johnsons have worked tirelessly with that organization on conservation efforts in addition to providing educational presentations and teaching materials on ornithology.

For more information about the Johnsons’ books, notecards, brochures and CD, visit their WLM member page or email joyofwriting@whidbey.com.

Claire Moore is a retired graphic designer and writer who is delighted to be writing for Whidbey Life Magazine. She can be reached at cbear53@mac.com.


Here are some links to the Johnsons’ work:

Whidbey Island Birding Brochures:  Colorful brochures of birding areas on Whidbey Island with maps of featured locations, plus lots of bird photos.

Whidbey Island Scenes with Birds Note Cards:  Handmade giclee prints of Whidbey Island landmarks with a featured bird, originally painted in watercolor by Craig Johnson.

Whidbey Island Hummingbird CD:  Narrated by Joy and Craig Johnson, this CD uses Craig’s photos, videos and graphics to educate folks about the two local hummingbird species, Rufous and Anna’s.  (Plays using QuickTime on PC or MAC.)

“Our Pacific Northwest Birds & Habitat,” by Craig and Joy Johnson:  Packed with imagery, this local photographic bird book primarily features birds found in the Puget Sound area. Most photos were taken on Whidbey Island.  Due to continued requests, we just reprinted this book for the holiday season.  Printed locally, only 2,000 books at a time and sold only through small stores in supportof  independent businesses. This book is in all major libraries.

“The Amazing Hummingbird Story of Red Rufous,” by Craig and Joy Johnson:  Children’s book about a Rufous Hummingbird born on Whidbey Island.  Based on a real Rufous Hummingbird nest we monitored in Freeland. A hugely successful book, selling thousands of copies.

“Color Puget Sound Birds”:  Coloring book featuring local birds in familiar Whidbey Island settings, like the Admiralty Head Lighthouse and new Coupeville Ferry/Keystone Harbor.


Support your local arts coverage by becoming a member of Whidbey Life Magazine or by buying an ad, making  donation or becoming a sponsor.

Leave a Reply