Fifty Uncommon Birds of the Upper Midwest watercolors by Dana Gardner, text by Nancy Overcott, University of Iowa Press, 2007, 128 pages, $34.95, hardcover.
Among the stacks of bird books on my desk is this new gem. It is a collection of 50 paintings by the wonderful bird artist Dana Gardner paired with essays by longtime Minnesota birder Nancy Overcott. Birds featured include White-faced Ibis, Golden Eagle, Upland Sandpiper, and Red-headed Woodpecker. Five of the species that made our readers' top 20 list of birds they want to see are here: Snowy Owl (No. 3), Whooping Crane (No. 5), Great Gray Owl (No. 6), Bohemian Waxwing (No. 13), and Northern Hawk Owl (No. 19).
The essays describe the birds' appearance, habitat, food, and migration patterns. And Overcott explains why the species are considered uncommon, at least here in the Upper Midwest. She also writes about her own experiences watching them. I wish she had had room to say more about her personal accounts, but the one-species-per-spread layout kept the essays short.
The main reason the book is worth 35 of your hard-earned dollars is Gardner. He is as talented a bird artist as they come. His watercolors are true to the birds and their habitats.
His Snowy Owl, as you can see on the book’s cover above, grabs you with a
golden stare. His Hooded Merganser makes slight ripples in an otherwise
calm body of water. His Whooping Crane pecks the ground in a plowed
watery field. And his glowing Prothonotary Warbler perches on a log,
mere inches above the water, its reflection broken by small green
leaves on the surface.
The new book is a companion to Gardner and Overcott’s 2006 Fifty Common Birds of the Upper Midwest (pictured at right). In it, a Blue Jay flies across the page, and you can almost hear jay jay jay coming from its open bill. An American Woodcock blends into a background of leaf litter. And a stunning Ruffed Grouse fans its brown and black tail atop a mossy log.
You may know Gardner as the illustrator of many books by the late
birdman of Costa Rica, Alexander Skutch. Their collaborations included
The Minds of Birds, Life of the Pigeon, A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, and many others. He also recently
illustrated H. Lee Jones’s Birds of Belize.
Most of his earlier books bring the birds of faraway places up close. The two Birds of the Upper Midwest titles show off Gardner’s true-to-life style with familiar species and those that make any American birder’s heart race just a little faster. — M.M.