Friday, April 17, 2015

The Art of Migration: Birds, Insects, and the Changing Seasons in Chicagoland by Peggy Macnamara

The spring migration of birds has just begun. While there are many books, articles, and websites that tell birders what species to expect when and where, a particularly interesting title to me is painter Peggy Macnamara's The Art of Migration: Birds, Insects, and the Changing Seasons in Chicagoland. With text by John Bates and James H. Boone, she alerts readers to the birds and insects that will come up the Mississippi flyway through the counties surrounding Chicago.

Macnamara's watercolor illustrations are not by any means photographic, but they reproduce the effects of sunlight and shade on birds and insects as observed outdoors. Their intentional impressionism prepares spotters to natural conditions that are not ideal for seeing everything that the best photographers have been able to present in their bird and insect guides.

Working often with the scientists at the Field Museum of Chicago, Macnamara has access to the museum's specimens of birds and insects collected for over a century. Of particular interest to her are the birds who died during migration when they crashed into buildings in downtown Chicago or along the lakefront. These birds were gathered and brought to the museum every day for about 30 years. A census of them shows trends in the migrations passing through the area. Current numbers are way down thankfully because building managers have reduced lights and architects have designed friendlier buildings, but there are still plenty of bird corpses to gather.

Macnamara's book will interest artists as well as birders, as she often describes how she uses her brush to apply colors and shading. As a professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and illustrator-in-residence at the Field Museum, she has much experience. The Art of Migration could as easily be shelved in the art section as the zoology area.

Since Macnamara and her co-authors tell so much about the birds and where to see them in the Chicago area, we shelve it with other helpful birding guides.

Macnamara, Peggy. The Art of Migration: Birds, Insects, and the Changing Seasons in Chicagoland. University of Chicago Press, 2013. 202p. ISBN 9780226046297.

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