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Winter Birds – book review

Lars Jonsson’s dazzling new UK release

Winter Birds Lars Jonsson
Winter Birds, Bloomsbury 2017

Batten down the hatches: that autumn chill is here once again.

Up and down the country, as October flurries by, birdwatchers are keeping their fingers crossed for a Waxwing winter. We reminisce about recent years when these colourful Nordic birds have soared across the North Sea to fill up on berries in UK suburbia.

As I open Lars Jonsson’s Winter Birds, the stunningly illustrated mixture of field guide and artist’s sketchbook, I am reminded that Waxwings are ten a penny in Jonsson’s native Sweden and feel a pang of envy.


Waxwing Lars Jonsson
Waxwing, Lars Jonsson

But that’s certainly not all this book evokes. Turning the pages of the beautiful hardback, I’m struck by the level of elegant detail and complete devotion that has gone into the study of each bird, which Jonsson has watched from his studio in southern Gotland.

A popular artist, writer and ornithologist, Lars Jonsson has twelve titles to his name and has frequently displayed his artwork across the world in Sweden, the US and all throughout Europe. It is not surprising, perhaps, that Winter Birds is a complete delight.

The author quotes Swedish poet Bjorn von Rosen to reveal that in order “to see the invisible, one must learn to look properly at what is visible.” It is very clear that Jonsson’s book, the result of many months – if not years – of study, is a deep reflection of how wildlife can be seen through the medium of art.

This stunning compendium contains full-page illustrations alongside sketches and colour palettes in muted, frosty hues evoking the icy landscape these birds inhabit. Indeed he calls the Waxwing’s plumage a depiction of “its northern landscape.” His masterpiece aims to create personal impressions of these birds, with his deeply intimate explanations of each species just like descriptions of dear friends.

Great Tit Lars Jonsson
Great Tit, Lars Jonsson

Jonsson talks about the nomadic Waxwings with such veneration – icons of his home country. The Waxwing’s plumage becomes “[a] thousand shades of grey in lichens, birch trunks and spruce branches [set] against the deep rusty-red crowberry shrubs. The black bog water provides sharp relief against yellow marsh marigolds and white cotton-grass, the wax-like protuberances like red whortleberries.” This striking bird becomes a revered symbol of a frozen land.

As the colder days approach, I’d recommend cosying up with this incredible book. It is an intricate merger of wildlife and artistic contemplation, and is certainly enough to sate any Waxwing-enthusiast as we all wait hopefully for winter.

Winter Birds by Lars Jonsson is out on 19th October 2017 (Bloomsbury, £26.99)


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Jennifer is currently available for commissions and can be contacted here.

Specialities: British wildlife I.D. (birds, mammals and wildflowers), the natural world, allotment life, witchcraft writing, Shamanism, Paganism, New Age, veganism, eco-living.

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