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Freeland filmmakers soar to new heights

An osprey flies over Whidbey Island with a sole in its talons. Craig and Joy Johnson filmed several days’ worth of bird behavior around their neighborhood in Freeland over the past year in a 53-minute film, “Birds, Backyard Habitat and Beyond.”  - Craig Johnson photo
An osprey flies over Whidbey Island with a sole in its talons. Craig and Joy Johnson filmed several days’ worth of bird behavior around their neighborhood in Freeland over the past year in a 53-minute film, “Birds, Backyard Habitat and Beyond.”
— image credit: Craig Johnson photo

Seeing a yellow-rumped warbler chick waddle around like a wind-up toy is the highlight of a 53-minute movie on Whidbey Island’s birds for filmmaker and avid birder Craig Johnson.

That one scene, mere seconds, is the culmination of an 18-month journey of collecting footage and editing clips for Johnson and his wife, Joy Johnson, in the upcoming DVD “Birds, Backyard Habitat and Beyond.”

A release party, hosted by the Whidbey Audubon Society, is set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12 at the Coupeville Recreation Hall.

“It’s been a long time,” said Craig Johnson, who amassed 40 gigabytes of footage, about 200 hours. “It’s been a big project for Joy and I.”

More than a year ago, the Freeland residents, authors of birding books “The Amazing Hummingbird Story of Red Rufous” and “Our Pacific Northwest Birds & Habitat,” set out to capture how birds of all sizes, from the miniature warbler to the massive osprey, live around people even in their backyards.

It was borne out of their desire to showcase the ecosystem of a home and out of necessity.

Craig Johnson has a degenerative neurological disease that has made it difficult for him to get around to spot thrushes and hawks on Whidbey. That forced him to look for birds in a hyperlocal area, like his Smugglers Cove Road home near Bush Point, a hotbed of avian activity.

The film will be available to schools and other organizations for free, said the Johnsons, who are honorary lifetime members of the Whidbey Audubon Society. Their great hope for the project is to educate people on how their actions impact native wildlife. Rooting out native flora like salal or spreading a chemical spray can reduce the berries and bugs that smaller birds feed on.

“We live on a magical island,” Craig Johnson said.

“We really want to inspire people to care about the creatures they live with, their neighbors.”

Joy Johnson added, “A lot of things people may not actually get to see are happening in their own backyard.”

As a result, this view of backyard birding caters to those with limited mobility, people who still want to grab their binoculars and identify bird species but not have to drive to a wetland or a wooded area.

“Birds, Backyard Habitat and Beyond” should also be accessible for people who can’t tell the difference between a pileated woodpecker and a northern flicker.

“A lot of people that aren’t necessarily birders will like this because most people find the behavior that these birds are doing interesting,” Joy Johnson said. “It shows how the birds are interacting with the environment. It’s fascinating seeing the connection with the dirt and the plants and the bugs and the birds.”

One example in the film the Johnsons highlighted is an osprey that snatched a catfish out of a nearby wetland. They filmed the sea hawk perched atop a tree near their house clutching the fish in its talons.

“We still spend a lot of time watching birds now,” said Joy Johnson.

 

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