Clamped sideways in the bird’s beak, the juicy fly struggles helplessly as its captor, a tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet, pauses on a low-hanging twig at South Whidbey’s Possession Beach Park.
Twenty feet away, Craig Johnson steadies his 400 millimeter lens, focuses and snaps a razor-sharp image “the hard way,” as he puts it, with no tripod. All his photography is hand-held.
The Kinglet, one of the tiniest birds in North America, typically nests high in the forest canopy, hunting spiders, aphids, wasps, ants, flies and bark beetles. This one joins 195 other bird species in Craig and Joy Johnson’s newest book, “Our Pacific Northwest Birds and Habitat: Featuring the Puget Sound Area.” The Freeland couple created the book to show readers how birds live, adapt, nest and hunt in their specialized habitats. The 100-page, landscape-format book rolled off the press at the end of April.
The book is on sale for $24.95 at local shops and bookstores, and also online directly from the Johnsons’ website at www.pugetsoundbackyardbirds.com.
“We want people to support our local bookstores and shops, but also hope many will order directly from us,” Craig Johnson said. “When we sell from our website we get the retail sale, rather than wholesale, so it’s faster for us to recoup the high cost of printing.”
Whidbey Island readers will recognize many favorite local settings in which Johnson photographed his birds.
“I took at least half the photographs right here on the island,” he said. “Many others are from Skagit, Snohomish, Jefferson and San Juan counties — places as nearby as Everett’s Jetty Island.”
“Our Pacific Northwest Birds and Habitat” is the couple’s fourth book of bird photography and clearly their tour de force. Last year they also published a children’s book of Craig’s watercolor art, “The Amazing Hummingbird Story of Red Rufous.”
“We’ve evolved,” Johnson laughed. “With each new book we’ve gotten better at education.”
The first two photographic books, “Our Puget Sound Backyard Birds I and II,” concentrated on backyard birds — the ones people see at their feeders. The third, “Our Puget Sound Birds and Habitat,” was their breakout effort, revealing much more about habitat. This one goes further with 16 species not included previously, more waterfowl, greater attention to habitat, and captions that reveal key details of each bird’s lifestyle.
“Joy’s writing is quite educational,” Craig Johnson said.
The Johnsons invited renowned bird expert and writer, Dennis Paulson, to review the book’s proofs and offer feedback.
“He felt it was very educational — solid information — and contributed many helpful pointers.”
Johnson predicted the typical reader will buy this volume as an art book and end up using it as bird-ID guide.
“They’ll be entertaining guests, cooking dinner and will put the book in their guests’ laps,” he said. “Pretty soon a big conversation will break out about birds. What a lot of people tell me is that they use our books heavily as identification guides.”
All three previous books have been out-of-print for some time, though a few copies remain in local shops. Johnson said this fourth book would never have happened except that a local business owner and friend stepped forward to take a risk and loan the funds to print it.
“He wanted a new one to sell in his shop and also to help us,” Johnson said.