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A weekly series focused on Bloomington-Normal's arts community and other major events.

Meet feathered friends without bracing the cold at local Audubon’s first-ever art exhibit

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Bill Davison
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Bill Davison
A close-up of this Cardinal spotted by birder Bill Davison is one of the images on display at Normal Public Library as part of the John Wesley Powell chapter of the National Audubon Society's first-ever art exhibit.

While many birds have flown South for the winter, a new photography exhibit at Normal Public Library gives Twin City residents a chance to enjoy nature — and out of the bitter cold.

The John Wesley Powell Chapter of the National Audubon Society opened its first art exhibit Monday at Normal Public Library, featuring photographs of local birds by central Illinois artists. The exhibit runs through Feb. 28.

Among the artists who are showing work is Bill Davison, a chapter board member, photographer and bird enthusiast. Davison said his interest in photographing wildlife grew exponentially when he saw other John Wesley Powell (JWP) members capturing images with high-tech cameras.

“Someone posted a picture of a fly catcher at Ewing Park flying in the air chasing an insect, and it was all in focus,” Davison said. “I thought, I want to take a picture like that.”

The art exhibit at the Normal Public Library includes images from all over McLean County. Davison said owls are well-represented, with pictures of snow, green-horned and barred owls, plus plenty of waterfowl and warblers.

Illinois Wesleyan University biology professor Given Harper studies bird diversity and is not surprised by the number of birds captured by local photographers. Harper’s research includes a recent two-year study documenting 79 species of breeding birds in the area. For local birders, it behooves them to actually stay closer to home, with many of the hotspots within city limits.

“McLean and the surrounding counties range from 75% to over 90% intensive row crop agriculture,” Harper said. “For most breeding bird species, that’s the equivalent of an ecological desert. Bloomington-Normal actually has a diversity of habitats — woodland, wetland, some grassland, some shrub land — and birds tend to concentrate in areas with habitat.”

That is to the benefit of Twin Cities birders, who can co-mingle with the local arts community in an exhibit blending art, education and conservation.

“When the public sees beautiful, exquisite photos of wildlife, they tend to get excited and try to get out and experience nature for themselves,” Harper said. “Photography and also painting really strikes an awe of nature and makes people want to get outside and view it.”

Harper and Davison believe fostering new interest in birds through events like the exhibit one does not risk overcrowding bird habitats. In fact, getting others excited about birds benefits conversation efforts.

“It would be a nice problem to have if there were too many birders,” Davison said. “That’s something we think about. We’re having the conversations now about how to plan for it and leverage that to create more habitats. If we have enough interest, we would try to do more restoration and create more space for people to get outside and bird watch.”

With the exhibit playing dual roles as a call to action and artistic experience, newly-inspired birders can still see feathered friends during the cold months by doing something as simple as hanging a bird feeder in your backyard. Harper adds that birding is an ideal activity, particularly now.

“You can get out and social distance and do something to break up the stress we’re under during the pandemic,” he said.

The free JWP Photography exhibit runs through Feb. 28 at Normal Public Library. On Thursday night, a drop-by reception provides a chance to meet the photographers and some special guests from Miller Park Zoo. For more information, visit normalpl.org.

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