Friday, December 9, 2011

Living with bats on Whidbey Island

Plucking a tiny, female bat from the main entrance to Langley Library on Thanksgiving Day, Sarah Schmidt was relaxed. “I never had that fear of bats,” she explained over lunch. “My mother didn’t teach me to be afraid. She just thought all wildlife was cool.”

Note: Schmidt is a bat biologist. She and her husband, Bill Rick, both have been immunized against rabies. No one should touch or handle a bat unless they have been trained and immunized.

"Bat Girl," the Langley Library bat.  Never touch unless vaccinated. c 2011 Bill Rick
The Langley bat rescue was a 15-minute blip in Schmidt’s Thanksgiving Day. Schmidt bagged the tiny mammal in a research pouch, hung the bag in a box and put the box in the trunk of her car.

“The bat was absolutely beautiful,” said librarian, Jamie Whitaker. “It was so tiny I thought she was a moth at first.” Whitaker dubbed it Bat Girl and praised Schmidt and the all-volunteer organization, Bats Northwest, of Lynnwood for responding so fast to her call for help. Knowing Schmidt lives on Whidbey, a wildlife rehabilitator with Bats Northwest asked her to follow up.

With good intentions for the bat as well as public safety, Schmidt and her husband left the bat in their parked car in Langley while they traveled with friends to dinner in Seattle. They picked up the car and the bat that evening before returning to Coupeville. The next day Schmidt and Rick purchased meal worms, warmed up Bat Girl, fed her and released her to the shelter of their own bat house, where she regrouped for a time before flying away.

Sarah Schmidt. Photo by Dan Pedersen
In hindsight, Schmidt regrets relocating the bat so far away from the library grounds. Bats are territorial and do not venture far when foraging. After consulting biologists at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), she believes she should have released the bat to a nearby tree or bat house (if available) on the library grounds. As with other protected or orphaned wildlife, if an animal is to be removed from the premises, state law requires involving a wildlife rehabber (as she did) or nuisance wildlife control operator with proper WDFW permits.  

Schmidt admits most people want nothing to do with bats. They swoop erratically at dusk, often closeby, and are hard to see. Their erratic flight may be partly because they are scooping up insects with their wings and funneling them to their mouths! They use ultrasound pulses to detect flying prey and catch them in pitch darkness. The sophisticated capabilities of these tiny mammals is simply mind-boggling.

During the day they will often roost on houses, sheltering in crevices behind loose shingles or gutters.  Schmidt once pulled a rolled-up carpet from the rafters of her carport and watched a bat fall out, seemingly dead but actually hibernating. After several minutes it flew away. A sleeping bat can take some time to awaken if it has entered torpor, a condition in which the animal lowers its body temperature, heart rate and breathing rate, thus reducing its caloric needs.

Unfounded myths persist, Schmidt concedes.  One of the most upsetting is the one about bats being blind and getting tangled in people’s hair. They aren’t blind and don’t go for the hair, though they may fly close to a person in pursuit of mosquitoes or other flying insects. Most Whidbey Islanders will never encounter a bat unless it flies into their house through an open window or door, probably about dusk, setting off panic and confusion.

"Bat Girl" head-on. Note her thumbs (like claws). c 2011 Bill Rick
Many people associate bats with rabies. That is prudent because a scratch or bite from an infected bat can transmit rabies and it’s fatal in humans once symptoms appear.  At that point it’s too late for vaccine. This is why it is critical to immunize cats and dogs, who are more likely to contact a wild mammal with rabies and spread the disease to humans.

It is important to repeat that no one should ever touch or handle a bat unless they have been immunized against rabies. Sarah Schmidt, seen handling a bat in these photos, has been vaccinated and is a trained bat biologist.

The vast majority of bats are not infected, Schmidt emphasizes. The suspicious behavior that sometimes triggers worries might actually be normal for a healthy bat. On the other hand, a bat that can be approached easily by humans is more likely than others to be infected, and may bite if touched. "If you refrain from touching or handling a bat or any other wild animal, there is little chance of being bitten," Schmidt says. "Teach children never to handle any wild animal."
To "Bat Girl" this may have looked like "Bat Cave."
When a bat swoops into a house it will typically fly for a few minutes, then land and go into torpor to rest, lowering its body temperature and heart rate.  Guidance on how to capture and remove a sleeping bat may be found on the Internet. I learned this from my savvy wife, Sue, when we had our own close encounter.  She had the composure to confine the bat to a closed room while we Googled for help.  The bat was asleep the next time we inched open the door. We put on gloves and transferred the animal to a large, open-mouthed can for removal, without touching it. This technique involves sliding a thin piece of cardboard under the bat while the can is inverted over it.

The bat that caused the Thanksgiving stir in Langley had been roosting for two days in plain sight on a south-facing wall by the library doors. Librarians were concerned it might come to harm, especially if someone interfered. They e-mailed Bats Northwest for advice and Schmidt, under the guidance of a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, came to the rescue.

Roosting on an outside wall in cold weather is not necessarily unusual for the tiny California Myotis bat, Schmidt said. “This species will do that. I’ve had four or five California Myotis rescues and all were just plunked on an outside wall. The bat found a spot that was comfortable and went to sleep. She seemed fine when she warmed up.”

Schmidt believes the library entrance, which is sheltered by a porch roof, may have looked to the bat like an open-mouthed cave.

The locked bat cave near Deception Pass.  Dan Pedersen photo
Schmidt explains her fascination with bats originated in Arizona in the early 1990s. A long-time birder, she knew little about bats, the nocturnal, flying mammals more closely related to humans than to rodents, with which they are often compared.

While working for the US Forest Service in Arizona she attended a three-day workshop on endangered, small mammals of the national forests. Two of the three days were devoted to bats, of which 28 species live in Arizona. 

On Whidbey we have about half-a-dozen, with the Little Brown Myotis and Big Brown Bat most common, followed by several tiny species of myotis including the California Myotis that Schmidt rescued on Thanksgiving Day. Just across the water on Fidalgo Island another species, the Townsend’s Big-Eared Bat, lives in an old rock-quarry cave overlooking Deception Pass. The cave is sealed against human intruders by a locked, barred grill that allows bats to pass.

Back to Arizona . . .

“I put on a glove and they handed me this bat, a Mexican Freetailed Bat, and I looked at its face. It was like a cross between a puppy and a monkey.” Bats have backward-facing knees, she pointed out.  “So when they walk they look like a spider or crab. Most people have never seen a bat crawl. I became completely captivated with this whole group of animals I knew so little about.”

The bat's four fingers support the wing. c 2011 Bill Rick
Schmidt’s future husband, Bill, also was captivated. They met when the Everett resident showed up at another Arizona bat workshop a year later to learn more about bat detectors, electronic devices that pick up the ultrasound pulses bats emit when hunting.  Today, Bill teaches at Oak Harbor High School.

To learn more about bats, watch for Schmidt’s popular classes and talks or invite her to lunch as I did.

She teaches about bats from time to time at WSU Extension’s Sound Waters University, held on the first Saturday of February, and in the summertime at South Whidbey State Park.  I’m proud to call her a long-time friend. Together we authored Getting to the Water’s Edge for WSU Extension in 2006. And when I wrote my own book, Whidbey Island’s Special Places, a few years later I interviewed her for a very thoughtful chapter on Double Bluff Beach.

Schmidt explains herself well in one sentence.  “I love every bug, bird, snake and bat.”

 Look for Schmidt's bat class at Sound Waters, Sat., Feb. 4th
Schmidt will teach her popular bat class Saturday, Feb. 4, at Sound Waters University, to be held at South Whidbey High School. The class list is released in December. Registration begins in early January and Schmidt's class is likely to fill fast. For additional photos and captions by Sarah Schmidt and Bill Rick, please see their images on Flickr.

What to do if you contact a bat
If you believe you have come into contact with a bat, call your local health department. Rabies vaccine is effective in preventing the disease if administered quickly after exposure to a rabid animal. The vaccination has been simplified and no longer requires a lengthy series of shots as it did in the past. Four shots are administered over two weeks, usually in the upper arm.  More information:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Make my day, Short-eared Owl

Cruising down the beach.
The light was bad, the day was blah, I was cold, the place was dead, nothing was flying and I was out of time.  I had been walking quietly  along the backshore at Keystone Spit with my camera and was going to write off the day as birdless.

In fact I had just turned back toward my car when this Short-eared Owl took wing in front of me.  I snapped many blurry images while the lone focal-point of my telephoto scanned the empty, white sky, trying to lock onto the bird.

Watching me.
Short-eared Owls are a special treat. In my forest setting at home I see only Great-horned Owls and Barred Owls.  My only Short-eared sightings have been at Keystone. 

I was on my way to seven hours of meetings in Coupeville and had left home a few minutes early to swing past this area on the long-shot chance I might stumble upon a migrating Snowy Owl.

Short-eared Owls are right at home in the wide-open landscape around the Keystone Ferry Terminal. They favor open grasslands where they can fly low and hunt rodents, particularly voles. These owls will hunt not only at night but also during the day. This one seemed to favor the beach and certainly was not sleeping.

Still watching me through the tall grass.
As always, the challenge when photographing birds is not to disturb or stress them. This one never took its eye off me, so I kept my distance. There were no memorable images from this outing, but simply seeing the owl made my day.

It kept me smiling and happy through seven hours of meetings in hard, straight-backed chairs.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hunting for what really matters

Watching this female Northern Harrier at Crockett Lake the other day I couldn’t stop thinking about why I am so happy.

It’s because I love living so close to nature.  The harrier glides effortlessly over the marsh, studying everything that moves. Watching such a specialized hunter relaxes and fascinates me.  It reminds me that we have much in common with our wild cousins. We all have a niche to fill and need wholesome places to live and hunt. We have a new generation to raise.  To survive, we must adapt and learn, pick our battles and focus on what really matters.

But everything comes with tradeoffs.  The price of a rural, island lifestyle is that we don’t have as much convenience – or stress -- as we did where we came from.  Prices are a little higher but the payback is priceless. That, to me, is "what really matters."

We locals love to say we support our small-town shops.  They provide jobs and tax revenue to strengthen our local economy.  They are a big part of what makes our communities distinctive, charming and vibrant.

So I was horrified when a friend told me of this conversation she overheard the other day in a local shop.

“I’m thinking about ordering this book,” a customer asked the bookshop owner. “Can you beat Amazon’s price?”

“Oh hi, Sis!” the owner said.  (Yes, it really was the owner’s sister.)  “Let me check.”  A moment later the owner explained, “I’ll be glad to order it for you but it’ll be about $2 more.”

“Oh, don’t bother,” her sister said. “I’ll order it from Amazon.”

Please think about the implications of this on several levels.

To get into the right mental frame for some clear thinking, may I suggest an hour with the harriers at Crockett Lake?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Going out with a bang

Sometimes it is enough just to appreciate what is right outside the door.
Vine Maple.
Pin Oak.

William's Pride apples.
Japanese Maple.
Huckleberries to feed the birds this winter.
Blueberries. We ate all the blue parts. Sorry.
Vine Maple.
Crabapples - a feast for the birds when the cold weather hits.
Rose Hips for the birds, deer, squirrels, rabbits and other visitors this winter.
Pin Oak, just because we like it.
Katsura leaves. The birds will dig under these for winter food.
Hard times are ahead. Please remember those who struggle.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Finding a vision for island living

Our vine maple, one of nature's weed trees.
I love this season of colorful vine maples and ripening huckleberries in our half-wild back yard. We live in a forest setting so you might say the view never changes – just trees and sky.

But what's changing constantly for Sue and me are the birds and wildlife that come and go all day.

We look up and see deer grazing or a coyote slinking across the yard. We check a certain tree overlooking our orchard and find Bubba, our owl friend, sleeping off a hard night. And we dodge fir cones the squirrels rain down on us as they strip the trees to stockpile reserves for the winter. 

A Cedar Waxwing brings salal berries to its young in our yard.
Moving here from the city in the 1980s my intentions for the yard were quite different. My dream was to eradicate the native brush and rotting snags and replace them with a weedless, sterile lawn and the kinds of flowers I’d admired for years in city yards.

With power tools and poisons, I would conquer every square inch of our yard, rid our view of huckleberries, pave our gravel road and plant a rose garden.

This season's huckleberries are plumping up right now.
I asked a local nursery about chemicals to kill weeds and moss, grow grass, and stamp out fungus and Black Spot. To my surprise, they answered as non-judgmentally as they could that they didn’t carry poisons or encourage their use.

It took me a long time to get that it isn't a step forward to conquer and replace nature -- just the opposite. Huckleberries and salal are a magnet for the birds and animals that now bring beauty and mystery to our lives every day. These hardy bushes provide shelter to ground-nesting birds,  rabbits and voles, which attract other wildlife to our yard to hunt.

A Red-breasted Sapsucker eats our huckleberries.
Some might say an old, rotting snag is ugly, but it’s beautiful if you love the sensational Pileated Woodpeckers that come to jackhammer it.   

Last summer we watched elegant Cedar Waxwings feed their gangly newborns in a tree by our deck. And we delighted when Northern Flickers brought their vulnerable young to peck ants from our crumby lawn, which is riddled with dandelions the rabbits eat. Every winter, our berry-laden bushes attract colorful visitors such as Red-breasted Sapsuckers to brighten the view outside our windows.

Like many other people, we put out a hummingbird feeder each spring to welcome the tiny Rufous Hummingbirds that migrate thousands of miles to return here -- specific individuals often showing up in the same yards where they were banded in past years! But we don't kid ourselves. We know they aren't here for a few cups of sugar water in a plastic dish. They come in droves for the blossoming salmonberry bushes that grow wild in the woods.

This Varied Thrush had a winter feast on our crabapples.
The wild creatures are a huge part of our quality of life. It's one of the reasons Sue and I support Whidbey Camano Land Trust in their work to preserve farms, forests and other healthy habitat.

I've gradually learned we don’t have to control everything. Better to leave nature alone as much as reasonably possible so it can create something beautiful. If we interfere too much, we’ll just screw it up and make a poorly-functioning, problematic mess.

Sue and I were guests recently at the waterfront home of a gracious couple who live on a high bluff overlooking Puget Sound. They watch boats all day.  They are enjoying their golden years dining on crabs and salmon they catch from their own boat in front of their own home. It’s the Puget Sound dream!

What could be healthier than fresh salmon?  Well, just not too much, too often, because the flesh might be somewhat toxic. The experts say it's probably safe in moderation, but be careful if you're pregnant or nursing. That's the flip side of the Puget Sound dream.

This handsome young coyote had a sweet tooth for Gravensteins.
Our friends' view is breathtaking.  But as is typical of high-bluff properties, they have a long pipe called a tight-line that carries roof runoff including any moss-killing products down the bluff to the beach, where forage fish lay their eggs. Salmon feed voraciously on those forage fish, to the extent that they hatch and survive.

This couple’s pride is their perfect front yard, a fairyland of manicured beds, interconnecting lawns, vegetable plots and winding paths. They've cleared the trees and brush and scraped away centuries of ground cover.

"Bubba," the Great-horned Owl, is our rodent police.
Now to their dismay, their new lawn is sprouting buttercups – even after they applied weed-n-feed. Their vision is to gaze at a deep, lush carpet of green, so they asked us about products to kill the broadleafs.

“It depends on your values and vision,” I blurted, then instantly regretted the edge in my voice. The last thing I wanted to do was attack the wonderland our hosts had worked so hard to create.

What I wanted to explain is that beauty means different things to different people. I’ve come to believe the most beautiful and joyful thing in my world is to live in a place that is healthy for wildlife and humans.  Buttercups aren’t so bad. Weeds grow where we disturb the soil, but not where nature runs the show.

Even this guy makes us smile.
Plants need excessive watering when we introduce the wrong ones. Leave nature alone and it will choose the right, drought-tolerant plants. Grass is a good ground cover for septic drain-fields but not much else when you live in a climate of dry summers and moss-promoting winters.

Of course most people don't have the space to live quite as wild as we do. But even in a built-up neighborhood -- in fact especially there -- why not steer away from chemicals?  Keep some natural ground cover and pursue a different vision. Offer the wildlife a sliver of wild habitat, safe food and clean water.  If we all do that, our earth and marine waters will be healthier.

Blacktail deer bring quiet grace to our forest setting.
To me, a few yellow flowers in a lawn aren’t ugly; they’re beautiful. They make a statement about what's really important versus just cosmetic.

They are a sign the birds can bring their young to eat from that lawn without getting poisoned, and that we aren’t poisoning the ground from which we draw the previously-used water we drink every day of our lives.

Everything is connected. Beauty is more than skin deep -- much, much more.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Face-to-face at high noon

I'm watching you watch me.
It's a shock to look up and see a face like this looking back at you. I was working at my desk about noon today when something in the garden crossed my peripheral vision, just outside the window. I shot a few photos through the window and then headed out to investigate. After searching a bit I noticed a handsome set of ears pointed my way from about 20 feet off, behind a clump of salal. The coyote hung around for several portraits, took a couple steps closer to study me, then slid under the garden fence and trotted away.

Two hours later it was back for another go!

I love canines and have shared the best years of my life with dogs. But coyotes are a special thrill because they're the wild cousins of our best friend. Dogs cast their lot with mankind thousands of years ago and we've been partners ever since. If you haven't known the love of a dog, you are the poorer.

Many people are a bit less forgiving of coyotes. They can cause grief for some, but I am drawn to them because they're wily and adaptable enough to go it alone in the world. Man can't control quite everything; thank goodness.

Sizing up the garden.
This young coyote has been hanging around lately. It may be here for the leftover fruit from our apple trees. Coyotes are carnivores and eat mainly voles, insects, reptiles, birds and other small game. And yes, domestic cats. But they are opportunistic and also eat fruit in the autumn.

I think it's pretty gutsy of this coyote to come inside the perimeter fence of our garden, from which the escape avenues are limited.  It must have a good reason to visit twice in one day, in broad daylight, and the reason probably is food.

But let's make that three visits in 24 hours. Our "security man," Duncan, sleeps in the house.  His plush bed at the foot of the stairs provides a clear view of the deck through a glass door, and apparently he sleeps with one eye open. He got us up about 12:00 last night with some fierce barking, which is unheard of.  I heard something scamper across the deck.  In hindsight, it probably was this same coyote.

I don't know if our 40-pound Duncan really wants to mix it up with a coyote, but that's what he'd like the coyote to believe. We aren't very eager to encourage a confrontation for either party's sake.

Sleeping with one eye open these days.
In any case, our little sawed-off Border Collie (with the short legs of a Corgi) is walking pretty tall right now. The little dog with a big spirit has found himself a serious job in the household, and that is every dog's dream.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It's not just a game

Steller's Jay. Very bright. Very wily. Fast learner.
Sitting on my friend’s deck the other afternoon it was hard to say who was exploiting whom.

Craig was tossing peanuts to the Steller’s Jays and I was taking pictures. The bolder birds were picking up nuts and weighing them before putting them down to check the next one.  Half-a-dozen nut thieves were lurking on low-hanging branches, poised to swoop down if Bird #1 took its eye off the prize.  The challenge for Bird #1 was not to lose the nut it had just checked, in case it was better than the one it was about to pick up.

Everyone was having a high time – Craig, the Jays, the nut-thieves and me, taking pictures.

Getting great close-ups is easy with the new digital SLRs and zoom lenses.  Thousands of people are taking up bird photography, amassing big photo collections. For some it is strictly a game with no purpose but to keep score and pile up images.

Bird #1 weighing the options.
That’s sad because even a hobby as “harmless” as photography can do more damage than good if we don’t know or care much about birds. If my only objective is to get a better photo than the next guy, then what’s to stop me from tromping across sensitive wetlands and wildflowers, plowing off the trail, approaching too close to nests, interfering with the young, using an audio device to lure birds from shelter, spreading disease with a dirty feeding station, and stressing and flushing birds into the air? That’s exploitation, and for no better reason than sheer ego.

Craig offers many ideas to make bird photography more enjoyable and meaningful. Rule 1 is a no-brainer: Love the bird.  Here are some more of his thoughtful ideas:

  • Learn what birds eat and how they hunt. Learn how they raise their young, where they migrate and what habitat they need.
  • Take photos that shed light on their behavior and diet.
  • Share your knowledge and photos with others so they may also learn.
  • Put your best photos into a presentation and give a talk about birds.
  • Join your local Audubon chapter.
  • Let Audubon or other educational groups use your best images.
  • Take an ornithology class online.
  • Create bird-friendly wildlife habitat in your yard, with natural foods they like, free of pesticides.
  • Maintain some brush and wildlife snags.
  • Support organizations that protect and restore habitat.
  • Keep bird feeders and bird baths clean.
  • Keep a respectful distance – don’t stress the birds or any wildlife. 
The more we know, the more we care, and the more fun everything gets.

    Wednesday, September 7, 2011

    Getting along with the neighbors

    Deer compete for everything in our yard -- apples, plums, blueberries, raspberries, peas, green beans and pretty much all flowers and vegetation. We've built Fort Knox around the precious blueberries and a token fence around the vegetable garden, but are conceding most of the rest.

    That said, these two young Blacktail bucks are growing on me. They show up every evening around dark and are increasingly at ease with us. They were grazing by the garage the other evening when I hit the remote opener. The door opened with a wrenching screech, but all these guys did was raise their necks calmly and look around.

    One thing I've learned from my friend, Craig Johnson, is that all animals have individual personalities and are quite capable of learning and building trust. In any group of animals, a few individuals will stand out as risk-takers and be the first to approach for a reward. Others are especially wary.  Given how we humans treat many wild creatures, wariness serves them well and is an obvious survival strategy.

    These two young bucks seem particularly curious and not as wary as most.  When I walk toward them with the camera, sometimes they take a step or two toward me.  I get the feeling they're studying me as much, or more, than I'm studying them.  Craig's phenomenal success at building trust with individual birds, squirrels, raccoons and other wildlife in his yard is a reminder that we share the same space with the animal kingdom. If we like having them around on Whidbey Island, we might try a little tenderness, maintain some habitat for them and do what we can to reduce the stresses.

    Last night Sue and I had just returned from a walk with Duncan when the deer moved in. They romped playfully and groomed each other, helped themselves to a patch of green grass, and stared when I approached with my big camera.

    The two stay close together, their faces sometimes touching or inches apart. I'd been assuming they were siblings but now realize that's unlikely.  Black-tailed deer apparently are sociable only within their own sex. Upon reaching maturity at 16 - 18 months, a young buck leaves its family group and sets out to find a male bachelor group. At some point, of course, competitiveness gets a bit serious, but with our two young visitors it's all tenderness and socialization.

    I like that. We're enjoying the neighbors.

    Friday, May 6, 2011

    Bird lovers strike it rich with Craig & Joy Johnson’s fourth photo book

    Just when I had given up hope there would be any more books of wild bird photography from Craig and Joy Johnson, they sprang a surprise.

    About half the photographs were taken on Whidbey.
    Our Pacific Northwest Birds and Habitat: Featuring the Puget Sound Area rolled off the press last week at Printing Control in Tukwila. The 100-page, landscape-style volume depicts 196 species. That's 16 more than their previous book. Craig photographed at least half of them on Whidbey Island. 

    First copies will start showing up in island shops this weekend, and within days the handsome book will be on sale for $24.95 throughout the Puget Sound area. But you can request an autographed copy now by ordering it right from their website,

    At home in their backyard bird sanctuary. Pedersen photo
    As with all of Craig and Joy's books, this one will be sold exclusively in independent bookstores, gift shops and wild bird stores -- not box stores, cookie-cutter chains or discount websites. The dollars and sales taxes it generates will go to work directly in the local economy where they are most needed, benefiting the authors, printers and shopkeepers of our island community and Western Washington. Craig and Joy printed just 2,000 copies and I predict they will disappear fast.

    The Freeland couple's goal for this book was to make it educational and inspirational, with more emphasis than ever on the habitats in which different species live, eat, hunt and nest.

    Craig visits with Dennis Paulson in April. Pedersen photo
    To make sure of that, Craig asked a renowned bird expert and biologist, Dennis Paulson, to review the text and photography. Paulson offered many helpful suggestions, which they incorporated into the final version. 

    Craig admits he and Joy had not expected to publish this book because they're broke from medical bills and lost income. But they've sown a lot of goodwill in the community through their generosity over the years. Some of it flowed back to them when a friend, Coupeville businessman Karl King of Kingfisher Books, offered to loan them the money to print the book. 

    Karl King
    As always, the Johnsons hope readers will buy the book from local bookstores and shops. In  case you’d like get to your copy from Karl King himself, his shop, Kingfisher Books on Coupeville’s Front Street, is open from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. six days a week, but closed Thursdays.

    Craig and Joy also hope many people will order autographed copies directly from their website.  The price to the buyer is the same either way. But, by skipping the extra step of wholesaling, the Johnsons can recoup their up-front costs much faster when people purchase the book directly from them.

    Now, a bit about what it took to print this book.

    “It was an insane amount of work,” Johnson freely admits. No one who hasn’t done it can imagine the planning and hours of computer time it takes to design such a project, let alone take thousands of extraordinary photographs of birds, all hand-held with a heavy, zoom lens, at exceptionally close range.
    At the printing plant while the press was rolling.
    Then there is the actual printing -- the crucial part no one ever mentions and everyone takes for granted. Printing Control, in Tukwila, Wash., deserves some big compliments.

    Clearly, this book is gorgeous and the color is flawless. That doesn’t happen by accident. Craig is a graphic designer, photographer, artist and former print salesman for the commercial printing industry, which means he pushed the limits all the way. Printing Control measured up to the challenge.

    "Rufous" features Craig's watercolors.
    For a printing job even to be satisfactory, everything must go right including the binding. This is a landscape-format book, which puts extra stress on the spine. 

    Building greater strength into the spine added significant cost to the job and Printing Control simply ate it to stay within Craig’s budget. That says a lot about the printer’s commitment to the job and to the client. Printing companies, like every other business, are struggling hard with the economic downturn.

    I am proud that Printing Control is the same company that produced my book, Whidbey Island’s Special Places. Last year Craig chose them to print a children’s book he and Joy wrote that features his watercolor art, The Amazing Hummingbird Story of Red Rufous. It is on sale right now in many Puget Sound area shops.

    The big Heidelberg press at Printing Control.
    I am also proud that the president of Printing Control, Bob Bracht, is a friend from my past life when I managed a magazine and other publications for Safeco Corporation. At that time Bob was a sales representative for a large, Portland printer and won our annual report business several years in a row. Between then and now, Bob’s career apparently prospered, with him coming to Seattle and becoming president of Printing Control.

    Bob is not only smart, likable and knowledgeable, but fun-loving and enthusiastic. And he loves the Northwest, which may have something to do with Printing Control being the greenest, most environmentally-conscious printer in the Greater Seattle area and the first to win the top, five-star rating from EnviroStars. That’s one of the reasons Printing Control was the right company to print my book and also a brilliant choice for Our Pacific Northwest Birds and Habitat.