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Confessions Of An Amateur Bird Photographer


My name is Heather and I’m an amateur bird photographer, birder and naturalist.

Amateur birder:

I can spot and find birds but still need my trusty guide to identify them a lot of times, and although I can recognise a few bird songs of the most common variety I still need to verify them.

If I don’t recognise the bird right away when I see it, I take a picture (even if it’s a bad one) come home, enlarge on my computer so I can see it’s distinctive patterning.

If I can’t see the bird, I will also take a video if it is singing to record the sound and see if I can match it up as well.

Then I get out the field guide and try and ID it. If I still can’t find a photo or a match in the field guide the next step is to look online for what I think it might be and see if I can find a match there. You have to be careful though as a lot of people don’t know how to ID a bird and the name is wrong.

Last resort is that I am on a local birding board and I upload the picture and ask for help from the group. Usually, between all those methods, the proper ID emerges.

There’s a website and app that is capable of recognizing 400 commonly found birds in the US and Canada. Here is the link to Merlin.

You upload your picture of the bird, tell it where it was taken and when and then draw a box around the bird and click on its eye, bill and tail and Merlin goes to work. In the end, hopefully, you will have an ID, if not, it’s a fun process.

Field Guides I Use

This last book is sort of a go-to book that I can carry in a pack as it’s small and compact. It has more of the local birds and wouldn’t do for something that was rare or unusual, but it’s great when you start out. When we travel, I usually buy a book like this of the local area if I don’t know the birds that are common there.

Online Guide

All About Birds

This is a great place to see not only pictures of a bird, but also what it eats, it’s range and habitat.

Amateur Bird Photographer:

I confess… I take all of my pictures with a digital camera and am still learning how to operate it. I am currently using an Olympus OM-D E-M1 which is a Micro Four Thirds camera or Mirrorless camera and I love it. Easy to carry and takes great pictures. Here’s a link to my equipment page if you want to see what I use in the field.

Best Bird Photography Practises

There are some unwritten rules when birding and photographing and they have been created to not only keep the birds safe but to be an ethical birder.

  1. Don’t stress the birds – stay far enough away that the bird doesn’t feel stress or anxious. You can tell as they will get really nervous and look like they are going to fly.
    I find that if I can anticipate where the bird is going next (works well with shorebirds) that I can just sit quietly and the birds actually come to me. I’ve had them so close that I couldn’t take a picture as my camera wouldn’t focus.
  2. Keep a distance from hen and chicks. Think of a mom and human baby with a giant coming towards them. Time to pick up the baby and fly. Except for in most cases the chicks can’t fly yet so there is untold stress on both the hens and chicks
  3. Also, keep well back from nesting birds and let them nest in peace. You never know if someone else has disturbed them and if the eggs have gotten cold
  4. Be mindful of bird recordings. Nowadays you can download an app and take it into the field with you and I’ve seen a lot of people use them exclusively to see and or photograph a bird.
    If you have a bunch of people doing this the birds with either start ignoring the sound or think it’s a rival invading their territory. Either way, we are changing the bird’s behaviour.
  5. Be particularly mindful of endangered species and don’t give out their location to all and sundry. The birds will most likely leave if a bunch of well-intentioned birders suddenly converge on it’s resting place.
  6. If you see a bird on private property always ask permission before venturing forth and park your vehicle in an area that won’t restrict the flow of local traffic. A little consideration goes a long way.

Actually, in doing an online search there is a written code of ethics. You can find it here


When I come across a bird, I don’t just put a tick in the bird guide and go onto the next one. Depending on the bird and what it’s doing, I will sit down or stand patiently watching what the bird does.

  • What are it’s marking and what plumage stage it’s in
  • What is it eating
  • What kind of environment or habitat is it in
  • If it’s singing, would I recognize the song again
  • If it flies, what is the flight pattern like

As an example, I was trying to figure out what type of flycatcher that I had seen as we have a few in the area that look quite similar. It was only by being able to identify the habitat and the song that I knew that it was a Willow Flycatcher.

Some of my most favourite time spent is observing the birds and their behaviours.

My Promise:

My promise to you is that my photos won’t be perfect. As a matter of fact, not all the photo’s will be of birds in the perfect position.

I will take interesting pictures of birds doing what birds do. They may have food in their mouths or the background might actually have real scenery in it and not just a nice blurred tone that you get when the gods are in your favour and everything lines up.

As always… enjoy

Good Hair Day For A Red-Breasted Merganser


My day was made by finding this red-breasted merganser in my viewfinder on this wet, cold, rainy morning in March.

I set out for a walk in the rain to get out of the house, and as usual, my camera went with me. The only time I leave it at home is well… really… never. Maybe if we are going out to dinner on a stormy night, but then again you never know if an owl will show up, but I digress.

I grabbed my coat and the camera’s rain jacket (I don’t mind if I get wet as long as the camera doesn’t) and headed out to the water.

There were a few ducks around in the bay and the tide was up fairly high. Nothing to write home about, though.

The black turnstones were hanging out above the high tide line looking for bugs in the seaweed and I could see some birds offshore.

At this time of year, the birds are on the move. They are heading to their breeding grounds and this is the time that we get to see them in all their glorious breeding plumage.

I never carry binoculars with me and I don’t have a scope, so what I do in these circumstances is to use my telephoto lens to see what’s out there.

Let me state that I have all sort of pictures of birds that look like little specs on the water. You would need to circle the spec in order to know that it was a bird.

But… over the years, I’ve gotten good at IDing them and I can zoom in quite close to see what they are. Not good enough to show you here as they would be so highly cropped, but I could see the following birds.

  • red-necked grebes
  • horned grebes
  • western grebes
  • common loons
  • pacific loon
  • red-breasted merganser
  • and a song sparrow trying to be a white-crowned sparrow. It almost had the song down, but there was a little hiccup in it.

This was actually quite exciting because first of all these are birds we only see in the winter here, except for the sparrow and second because we normally only see them in their drab winter plumage.

My wish was that they would come in closer to shore, but there was a lot of boats going and in and out of the bay and the birds stayed offshore.

Except for the red-breasted merganser. I came around some large logs and there is was… pretty as you please.

It was grooming and preening and just sort of ignored me as I got a little closer to it.

Red-Breasted Merganser
Male Red-breasted Merganser on a rainy day

It had just stopped raining and the water looked like liquid mercury as I took the picture.

His crest looked like he had just combed it with a hair pick and his normal iridescent greenish black head looked black. Most often you see them with their crest down next to the crown of their head so they have a smooth line instead of the crest.

As I sat on a wet log he continued to groom for a while and then drifted off to sleep, opening one eye occasionally to see what was going on around him.

Red-Breasted Merganser sleeping
Male Red-Breasted Merganser sleeping

I watched in for about 10 minutes until a dog came along and started barking at it. It took off in a flash and I missed the shot as I wasn’t ready.

I love those quiet moments spent with the birds. Life is good

Wildlife Photography From A Different Perspective


There is a new way of viewing wildlife photography that takes it to a whole new level as well as angle!

Gone are the days when one takes an SLR camera or heaven forbid a camera that actually takes a film, out into the wilds to capture the elusive wildlife. No need to carry heavy equipment and multiple lenses either.

Nowadays there are many different ways to take a picture as people are starting to think outside the box.

Let me give you an example:

I was out photographing a salmon spawn on a local river with my digital mirrorless camera. I was playing with the light on the water, the fish jumping, splashing and spawning and feeling pretty good about the shots I was getting.

spawning salmon
Spawning salmon – Olympus E-M1, f5.6, 1/125, ISO 500, Lumix 100-300mm, natural light

When I finally put my head up from being totally engrossed in my viewing, I saw a young man with his iPhone on a selfie stick hanging out over the water directly above the salmon. I was terribly envious as instead of getting a side shot, he was actually right over the fish looking down on them.


I guess I could have walked out into the freezing cold water to get the same effect, but I opted to stay on shore.

Further up the river, I came upon an individual with gumboots on (why didn’t I think of that) out in the river. They stooped and picked something up and I thought they were retrieving something they had lost until I realised they had a waterproof gopro camera and were taking underwater pictures.

I talked with them for a while as they told me about all the videos and shots they had taken on their holidays as they were visiting from back east.

They found it a perfect way to record their trip and the salmon spawn was a highlight for them. From the camera’s perspective and angle, it was just like being in the river with the fish.

It’s a matter of taking what you have and make it work for you. Here I was sitting on the bank, taking the same shots that thousands of other people have taken and yet just by thinking a little differently could have come up with a fabulous picture from a different point of view.

Makes you think…

Why I Love My Mirrorless Camera And Other Equipment


I am often asked what kind of camera I use to take bird pictures and I have found a mirrorless camera is the best solution for me.

So here is my camera and a current list of the equipment I use in the field. I will supply a link after each item if you wish to look at it or read the reviews on Amazon.


Olympus OM-D E-M1

A Micro Four Thirds camera or Mirrorless camera (silver version)

I’m not writing a review of my camera, but rather giving you an idea of why of love it so much and how it works for me taking pictures.

  • Ease of use
  • Totally portable
  • Lightweight
  • Customizable function buttons
  • Fast shutter speed
  • Built in grip
  • Easy battery access
  • Can easily reach all controls even with small hands
  • 5-way stabilisation which eliminated the shake from the M5 that I previously used
  • Great video and audio
  • Takes fabulous pictures

I have used this camera for two years now and find it lightweight to pack around and hike with, as I take it everywhere I go. I get lots of comments on it as it’s small and looks like a 1950 SLR camera. Easy to travel with and it fits easily in a carry-on or large purse. Click here to view

Olympus OM-D E-M5

A Micro Four Thirds camera or Mirrorless camera (silver version)

This isn’t my current camera, but I thought it deserved a mention. It was my first mirrorless camera and is less expensive than the M1. Wonderful entry level camera into the world of micro four thirds camera and easy to use. Click here to view on Amazon.

Pentax Digital SR 7x Optical Zoompentax point and shoot
This is a point and shoot camera that I have from a few years ago. They don’t seem to make it anymore, but it’s what I take pictures with when out in the garden and around the yard. I don’t care if it gets a little dirt on it and it fits easily in my pocket.


Olympus Digital 12-50mm lens

I bought the lens as a package deal when I purchased the camera. It’s a great all-round lens that you can use for wide-angle or macro. Click here to view on Amazon.

Panasonic Lumix 100-300mm Lens

This is the lens that I have continually on my camera and that I use for bird photography. It is great in low light and there are very few days of the years that I don’t take a picture with it. Click here to view on Amazon

Why I Use A Mirrorless Camera
If you look at the picture below and the size of the lenses you will get a sense of why I love my mirrorless camera so much. The lenses pictured here are a Panasonic 100-300mm f4/5.6 vs Canon 600mm f4. They both have the same reach as the mirrorless doubles the mm (so 300mm is 600mm) but I don’t need a sherpa to pack around my equipment with the Olympus M1 and the Panasonci 100-300mm lens.

mirrorless vs canon

A comparison shot that shows the size difference between a normal sized Canon 600mm F/4 telephoto and the similarly powerful Panasonic GH3 with a 100-300mm lens that converts to a 200-600mm F/4-5.6 equivalent zoom. Just in case you can’t see the GH3, it’s on the right and the Canon is on the left.


Olympus 7.6-Volt 1220 mAh Battery

I have 2 batteries so that when I have one in the camera the other one is charging or in my pocket, in case I run low. Click here to view on Amazon

Battery Charger
This is the battery charger that I use with the above battery. Click here to view on Amazon

Olympus Battery Holder and Grip
When I had the Olympus M5 this was something that I couldn’t live without. It allowed me to have a great grip on the camera when I was using it over a long period of time. It also comes with a second battery holder and a vertical grip that a lot of people find useful. Click here to view on Amazon

Manfrotto Monopod
I usually carry this item with me when I go walking and find it extremely useful. I have a quick release plate that I use on the bottom of my camera to allow it to attach a strap as well as the monopod so I can switch back and forth quickly. I also use it as a walking stick when walking over rough ground. Click here to view on Amazon

Quick Release Plate for Manfrotto
This works really great with the monopod and the strap. I can just leave one part on my camera to use with the strap with the D-ring in the bottom and I leave the other half on the monopod. Very quick to take the strap off and attach the camera to the monopod. Click here to view on Amazon

Black Rapid Strap
This is a strong strap and very comfortable with a swivel click at the bottom so it never gets tangled. The strap that I have was made for a woman and allows you to carry the camera on your hip and quickly lift it up to take a picture. Click here to view on Amazon

There are always rainy days when one needs a waterproof cover for their camera. There are lots of fancy and dry bagexpensive equipment options to cover your camera, but I found the best solution for me is just a dry bag. I have two. One that I use when we are travelling or in the boat, and the other when I am walking or hiking.

I use the one in the boat in case the camera get sprayed or falls overboard. I haven’t tested it, but the bag is watertight and is suppose to float. Here is hoping I never have to test it. Click here to view on Amazon

The other dry bag has a bit of a modification. I took a pair of scissors and cut an X in the bottom of the bag, just big enough for my camera lens and hood to fit through. It’s a tight fit, so it seals around the hood and leaves the lens free.  Easy to carry and I can just pull back where you clip it together to see the controls and viewfinder on the camera.

Three Legged Stool
This stool is easy to pack around as it has a carrying strap. I carry this over my shoulder, the camera on a strap over the other shoulder and the monopod under my arm if I’m not using it as a walking stick. All my equipment is very light and portable. Click here to view on Amazon

This is a good light tripod made from carbon fiber and the more I use it… the clearer my pictures. I don’t usually take it on walks but use it if I’m going to be in one place for a while. Click here to view on Amazon

Pistol Grip Tripod Head
I use this on my tripod as I found the regular ball head too cumbersome for fast-moving birds.  Once I got the hang of the pistol grip I found it really easy to use and holds my camera steady even with the larger lens. Click here to view on Amazon

Camera Bag
This little Lowepro camera bag fits my camera and both lens in it for when I’m travelling. Small and compact and carries everything I need. Click here to view on Amazon

Slingshot Bag
I use the larger bag if I’m wanting to carry more equipment than my camera. Comfortable and compartmentalize inside to keep your lenses and camera safe. Click here to view on Amazon


I have a couple of blinds that I use as well as just camouflage netting to put over myself in the field. I am always amazed at how the birds just ignore them and allow me to take pictures. They really do work.

NW400M Backpack Pop-Up Hunting Blind
This is a great option for the backyard. I will set it up on my deck so I am level with the bird feeders and can just pop in and out of it when I see something interesting. It also keeps out the bugs. Click here to view on Amazon.

Pop-Up Cabana
This one is a little different and I haven’t used it a lot yet, but it’s actually for changing clothes in. I got it because it was smaller and a little lighter than the hunting blind and easier to pack when hiking.

I throw a camouflage net over the top and pop inside and sit down leaving the opening slightly open for my camera. I might just make a slit in the side for the camera lens, but as I said, I haven’t used it a lot yet so I’m not sure exactly what will be easiest. Click here to view on Amazon.

Photo Editing Programs

I do very little editing on my photo’s and try and get it right in the field. The most I do is to crop and possibly sharpen an image.

There are all sorts of cool things you can do with photo editors, but I like to see the photo as I shot it and don’t always have time to play around with it to get the “perfect” shot. What you see is what you get!

The first program I use is called BreezeBrowser Pro. I open the pictures that I’ve taken for the day in the program and it’s easy and quick to sort through them keeping the ones in focus and deleting the rest. When I take over 1000 pictures a day, this is a real time-saver.

The two main programs that I have for photo editing are:

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Lightroom


I have found the following courses and books very helpful.

Book: David Busch’s Olympus OM-D E-M5 Guide to Digital Photography
I found the manual that goes along with the camera lacking in clarity so purchased this book which filled in all the blanks and was much easier to read. Click here to view on Amazon

Book: David Busch’s Olympus OM-D E-M1 Guide to Digital Photography
If found David’s book so helpful on the M5 so I got the one for the M1 as well and wasn’t disappointed. Click here to view on Amazon

Glenn Bartley Photography Workshop
I took Glenn’s Vancouver Island workshop in the spring of 2013. After years of taking pictures on my own, Glenn really helped me in taking my camera off auto focus and showed me I could even take pictures in the rain. He’s very knowledgeable and a great teacher. Click here to view his workshops and work.

I have taken some of their online video courses on photography. The instructors are excellent and well versed in their topics. They allow you to watch a course free online and then give you the opportunity to purchase it. I have purchased 2 of their course and found them both extremely helpful. Click here to view their current courses…

Courses I have purchased:

Olympus OM-D EM-5 – Fast Start
Olympus OM-D EM-1 – Fast Start
Fundamentals of Digital Photography 2014 with John Greengo

Every year I watch the updated Fundamentals of Digital Photography when they offer it free as well as any outdoor and landscape program that I can. If you are using Photoshop or Lightroom they have some great courses for those as well. I found it a wonderful way to learn

Simple And Lightweight:

As you can see from my list, I like everything to be easy and lightweight. It suits how I take photo’s as well as the terrain where I bird. I very rarely pack a tripod with me and normally take the monopod but most of my pictures are handheld.

When I travel I pack my mirrorless camera, extra batteries, charger and monopod along with my laptop in a backpack with extra clothes and jacket to protect them. Easy to carry on a plane and take your gear out when going through security.

7 Reasons to Sow Your Own Seeds


1) You Get What You Plant

When you sow your own seeds, you get exactly the plants and produce that you want. The seed producers are very careful as to what goes into the package and I’ve always had good results from them.

One year I bought some acorn squash seedlings and they all turned out to be spaghetti squash. One can only handle so many spaghetti squashes, but I guess it was better than them all turning out to be zucchini.

Another time, I bought corn seedlings from a nursery and they were just marked “corn” nothing else. And it turns out the nothing else was what we called “cow corn” or “field corn”.

I found this description

“Although field corn kernels start out soft like sweet corn, it’s not harvested until the kernels are dry. Field corn is used to feed livestock, make the renewable fuel ethanol and thousands of other bio-based products like carpet, make-up or aspirin.

Sweet corn is harvested when the kernels are soft and sweet, making it ideal for eating. If you grab an ear of field corn and try to take a bite, you’ll probably break your teeth. It’s hard and dry (and only tastes good to cows, chickens, pigs, turkeys and some wild animals).”
Minnesota farm guide

Needless to say, it was the wildlife that got the corn that year.

corn field

 2) Control

One of the nice things about growing from seeds is you also get to control the quality of the plant. Whenever possible I buy non-GMO and organic seeds. Let me restate that. I never purchase GMO seeds and if the seeds I purchase don’t say organic on the package, it’s usually because the farm is waiting to be certified organic.

When in doubt, you can contact the seed company and they are very helpful and informative.

3) Variety

If you go into a garden centre and want to purchase some bean seedlings, you will normally have a choice of bush beans, pole beans and maybe a drying bean if you are lucky.

Beans are so easy to grow from seeds that you can have any kind you want and in looking through one of the places that I purchase my seeds from they have over 39 different varieties. Now that’s not anything that you are going to find in a nursery.

bean seeds

4) Suited For Your Area

One of the reasons that I like to purchase seeds locally is that they are grown in the area I live in and do well in the climate.

There is no sense in buying a plant that does will in Arizona only to plant it into my west coast garden. The soil and rain requirements are so different that the seedlings would wither and die.

A great place to get local seeds are what are called around here “Seedy Saturdays“. It’s where all the local seed savers come together and swap and sell seeds. There is a huge variety and just about all of them are of an heirloom type seed as hybrid seeds don’t always ring true when you are saving seeds yourself. They will revert back to the parent variety.

Case in point, I saved some squash seeds from a hybrid plant one year (can’t remember what it was but it looked like an acorn) that we really enjoyed.

The following spring I planted them and to my surprise, I got two different species of squash. One was a definitely a kabocha and the other was a hubbard squash. It was called a mystery until the fall came and you could distinctly see their colour and shape.

5) Disease

Large greenhouses and places that start plants, don’t always have disease free soil which in turn can contaminate your garden.

I know this one first hand as last year when I purchased some Brassica which is just a fancy latin word for broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts and kohl rabi.

The cauliflower wasn’t doing as well as expected and the broccoli was almost non-existent so I pulled up a few plants so I could plant some more. The roots of the plants were covered in what looked like knots or growths.root knot

In doing research I found these are caused by something called nematode which is a microscopic worm and very hard to get rid of organically. It is also known as root knot.

I always have done crop rotation, so I must have had some poor seedling stock last year. Needless to say, I am starting my own Brassica this year and planting them in different beds. Only 2 beds were affected, but I treated all my beds like they were.

I planted a cover crop of winter rye this year and I’m hoping that will do the trick. I will let you know how that worked.

6) Succession Planting

When you grow your own plants it’s a lot easier to do succession planting. That is when as soon as one plant is finished you put in another.

As we have a long growing time on the west coast, this makes an extended garden season. A lot of plants overwinter and I’m still eating kale and pulling leeks from my last year’s garden as I type.

I’ve always found that when I want another plant to replace the last one, I can never find anything at the nursery. They have either quit bringing in plants or just have the basics like lettuce and kale.

If I’m doing my own planting from seeds then I can have a seedling ready to plant, and I get the variety I want.

7) Satisfaction

There is nothing more satisfying than looking through the seed catalogues, picking the seeds you want, starting the seedlings, planting them into the garden and watching them grow. This is when you truly get to see the miracle of life.

Plant a seed, add light, warmth and water and watch it grow. Amazing!


One day I’m going to save all my own seeds and get exactly the plant and produce that I want.

Just an update:

Last fall I saved seeds from:

  • snap peas
  • shelling peas
  • chives
  • sunflowers
  • dill
  • basil
  • scarlet runner beans
  • pole bean
  • black beans

They all seem to be sprouting and viable seeds and I will plant them in the garden this year.

7 Reasons to Sow Your Own Seeds

There Is Beauty In The Buds


It’s spring here on the west coast and after a cool (for us cold) winter. We actually got snow which is almost unheard of here and the trees and bushes are starting to display buds which are threatening to burst into bloom.

The buds are tight and compact. Waiting to see if it’s safe to expose themselves to the elements or should they stay put for a little while longer. Wanting to let go of the outer shell that is holding them back from emerging into the sunshine.

While most of them sit and wait patiently for the appropriate time to surface, others throw their buds to the wind and emerge in all their glory.cherry blossom buds

cherry blossom buds

They take the risk that frost might kill them, or they might drop to the ground or turn brown on the bush.

But still, they take the risk. Letting go all their doubts and fears and becoming what they were truly meant to be. A wondrous vision of colour and light that feeds the earth and the soul.

Having led the way, other buds follow in their wake. Happy to see the light again, knowing they have others to thank for showing them what was possible.

The buds start to glow like lights on a Christmas tree and their world becomes a wash of colour. Pinks, purple, greens, yellows, reds, and blues burst forth as each tries to outdo the other.

apple blossom

And then as quickly as they appear, they drop to the ground or emerge like a butterfly from a cocoon. Unfurling their leaves until the horizon appears green with the colours of newly minted leaves.

They hover there like a mist over the land until they are swallowed up into the deep green of the forest promising to be back again in spring.

Like the bud, how tightly we as humans hold thought, ideas and emotions close to our chest, unwilling to expose them to the light and allow the world to see their magnificence.

What would it be like to let go?

To let go of  “no one else has done it”, “what will people think”, and the “who am I to _____”.

What would it be like to burst forth in all our glory and damn the consequences!

Knowing in our heart of hearts that as we open up, the world becomes a little brighter and begins to glow. Softly at first, as we find our way and then like the bud, burst forth into the unknown with the anticipation of splendour.

Rufous Hummingbirds Make Their Spring Arrival


Every year I wait to hear news of the rufous hummingbirds as they make their way north to us. People in the outlying areas report seeing one, then further up the coast, you’ll hear of another. All the while, I am keeping my eye on the hummingbird feeders that the Anna’s hummingbirds are so fiercely defending.

We have Anna’s hummingbirds here all winter and I make sure that I always have nectar out for them especially in the freezing weather.

But… in the spring, the rufous come. They have their own charm and their colouring is very distinctive.

The males have this wonderful rufous colour that almost looks the colour of rust.

rufous hummingbird male
Male Rufous Hummingbird feeding – Olympus E-M1, f5.6, 1/125, ISO 500, Lumix 100-300mm, natural light
Male Rufous Hummingbird – Olympus E-M1, f6.3, 1/640, ISO 320, Lumix 100-300mm, natural light

The females are a little less showy with green on their backs and rufous sides.

rufous hummingbird female
Rufous hummingbird female – Olympus E-M1, f5.6, 1/800, ISO 500, Lumix 100-300mm, natural light
rufous hummingbird female
Rufous hummingbird female flying – Olympus E-M1, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 500, Lumix 100-300mm, natural light

I could spend hours sitting on the deck watching the hummers. Between the Rufous and Anna’s, the feeders get a workout. They are very territorial and as soon as one is at the feeder, another one buzzes it and drives it away.

It’s always amazing to me that they ever get time to eat, but the feeders go down quickly and I usually need to fill them on a daily basis in the summer.

Spring has arrived when the rufous hummingbirds appear.

It’s Lambing Time On The West Coast And Everyone Is Accounted For


Lambing time is an exciting time for farmers and passerby’s alike. For the farmers, their herd increases and wool production goes up. For passerby’s it’s a delight to see the lambs frolicking in the fields.

lambs playingLambs playing – Olympus E-M1, f5.6, 1/1000, ISO 320, Lumix 100-300mm, natural light

Lambing can be complicated and tragic as well as exciting and exhilarating.

Complicated and tragic as a ewe can often have twins and complications can arise with the delivery if the farmer isn’t on hand.

On the other hand, there is nothing more satisfying than waking up in the morning to see a new crop of lambs that the ewe’s had all by themselves.

In driving down the country roads, lambs abounded. One thing that struck me as pecular was that the sheep had large numbers written on their back in different colours, until I noticed, that the lambs had the same numbers and colours spray painted on their backs as well.

I’m sure the ewe’s don’t need a number to ID their young, but it sure is a big help for the farmers to know which lamb(s) go with whom.

I watched one lamb with the number 147 hang out with numerous numbered mums until it finally came back to its own. And how did I know…? She had the number 147 in purple on her side as well.

lamb 147
Wrong Mum – Olympus E-M1, f5.6, 1/1000, ISO 320, Lumix 100-300mm, natural light

When I had downloaded my pictures at home, I also noticed that the lambs had bands on their tails so I did a little reading. Turns out they put elastic bands on the lambs tails in what is called docking, which means the end of the tail doesn’t get any blood so it ends up dying and falling off.

Reading further, it appears that there really isn’t a valid reason for doing so other than sanitary reasons as it keeps the tail area clean from poop and lessens the occurrence of wool maggots.

tail docking
Docking tail – Olympus E-M1, f5.6, 1/1000, ISO 320, Lumix 100-300mm, natural light

Some Interesting sheep facts:

  • Lambs are usually born in the spring (March-April) and although it is common to have 1-3 lambs, most of the younger ewe’s will have just one lamb.
  • Lambs are between 5-8 pounds when they are born.
  • Female sheep are called a Ewes
  • Male sheep are called a Rams
  • Male sheep that have been castrated are Wethers
  • Young sheep (less than a year old) are Lambs
  • Did you know that sheep can actually recognise up to 50 other sheep faces for 2 years and that they recognise human faces as well?
  • Sheep and goats are often mixed up, but they really are two different species. Goats have more chromosomes (60) than sheep who only have 54 chromosomes.
  • In New Zealand, there is more sheep than people. There is 7 sheep for every person which is down from 1982 when there were 22 sheep for every person.
  • I don’t know how they milk one, but sheep’s milk is ideal for making cheese. It contains a higher amount of calcium, vitamins A, B and E and other nutritional elements than cows milk. I particularly like sheep feta.
  • More than two-thirds of sheep in the US are in these states… Texas, Wyoming and California
  • Most sheep are sheared once a year for their wool, but there are some breeds that need to be sheared twice a year.
  • The wool that is produced has the following properties.
    • durable
    • insulating
    • wrinkle-resisting
    • fire-resistant
    • moisture-absorbing
  • Because of its insulating properties, it makes an ideal source for clothing, like sweaters, jackets, blankets and so much more.
  • There are more than 200 different breeds of sheep on the planet.
  • Sheep are very social mammals and live in what we call flocks or herds
  • Sheep have excellent hearing and sight and can see behind themselves without turning their heads around.
  • They live around 6-11 years

While all that might be true, I get my kicks out of watching the lambs gambolling in the fields with their mothers, nursing and butting the ewes so hard it makes them stagger. Coming across a group of lambs laying together hiding in the grass or finding the tallest hump, hillock or stump to stand on and survey their new and awe-inspiring world.

climbing lambs
Lambs on a rock – Olympus E-M1, f5.6, 1/2000, ISO 500, Lumix 100-300mm, natural light

Lambing in the spring is an event not to be missed.

It’s All About The Soil – Have You Tested It Lately?


When you are gardening, it’s all about the soil. It doesn’t matter what kind of plants or seeds you have if you don’t have the right soil to grow them in, they won’t flourish and produce.

I know this for a fact as when my initial raised garden beds were built, we purchased soil from a reputable source and I excitedly planted seedlings and impatiently awaited their growth.

I hadn’t grown a garden in a while, so it took me much longer than normal to realise that the plants weren’t doing as well as they should.

After being in the ground for a month, nothing was growing up. Well, maybe an inch or so, but really no growth, so I started to read.

In turning to Google, it appeared that the most common reason for stunted growth was poor soil. So… I’m thinking that can’t be the problem as had we paid good money to get the best dirt possible.

But still, nothing grew.

Gardeners on the web suggested a soil testing kit to test the levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, potash, and PH of your soil. So off I went to the local garden centre and found one similar to the following.soil testing kit

If you can’t find one locally, you can find it here on Amazon. Cost less than $15.

Once you have the kit, you just need to follow the instructions. If I remember correctly you mix the soil with water and then once it is settled you use the syringe to put some into the chamber of each tester along with a colour coordinated pill.

As you can see from the picture above, you can tell if your soil has too much of a good thing or too little.

Mine apparently had none… zip… zilch… nada… nitrogen. No wonder my poor little plants were stunted.

Nitrogen is essential for plant growth and without it… well, you know the story.

The tests also revealed the soil was high in potash and low in phosphorus.

So… back to Google.

You can add nitrogen back into your soil with many methods, some of which are quicker than others. I bought a commercial crystal nitrogen and applied that to the soil around the plants. This will give the plants a kickstart, but will leach out of the soil and won’t build it up, but at this point I was desperate.

So I also add blood meal. This takes longer to break down but adds to the existing soil.

In the meantime, I started a compost cooking to enrich the soil with nutrients that it so desperately needed but it probably wouldn’t be ready until the fall.

That took care of the nitrogen, but the earth was still low in phosphorus.

Phosphorus, as it turns out is essential for root formation and growth so without good roots, the plant won’t grow properly.

Double whammy.

I found that somewhere in the back shed I had a gallon of liquid fish fertilizer that had both the ingredients that my soil was missing and proceeded to apply it on a regular basis to the slow growing plants.

It took a while, but I started to see some growth on my lettuce and there was even a pea or two produced.

The most heart-wrenching plant was the corn. It grew about 2 feet high in total and had little baby corn cobs on it like the ones that you get in cans only these were fully matured. That was the best the garden could do.


On the other hand, if you want a low yielding zucchini plant, lack of nitrogen is the way to go. I got just enough of the little squashes to eat that first year, but none of the masses that have been produced since the garden has matured.

Looking back on the initially purchased soil, it looked wonderful, but I should have realised that something was wrong when I didn’t see any worms in it, only what we call wood bugs and they were there because they were eating the wood.

It was black, light and loamy and had small shavings of what looked like wood in it. Turns out, they were wood chips and that was one of the major reasons that it didn’t have any nitrogen in it.

If you purchase soil in large amounts it is usually a mixture of different ingredients. I tend to think of soil as something that is dug up out of the ground, but that’s not the case nowadays.


In our area, things that go into this mass produced or manufactured soil are wood chips, forest droppings, sawdust and a little dirt and sand to get the mixture going. This along with other compostable products are left to decompose. As it does so, you would think that it would be full of microorganisms and bacteria that would be beneficial to a garden plot.

But as the ingredients decompose, the wood chips require a lot of nitrogen to break down and deplete the soil.

Once the wood chips have composted, your soil will be nitrogen-rich, but until that time your soil will have a hard time growing things.

If I had only know way back then, I would have enriched the soil with steer and chicken manure, seaweed, granite dust, and compost before I ever planted a seedling.

At the end of the summer when all the plants were finished I started a major building up the soil. It was exciting to start seeing worms in the garden as I added organic material (compost and manure) to it and by the following spring, my soil was rich in all the nutrient and organisms and worms slithered freely.


Life is good.

Lessons learned.

  • make sure you know what sort of mix your soil is.
  • test it to make sure of its properties before you buy.
  • ask around or look online to see if there are any complaints against the company you are purchasing from.

If you are just doing a small garden then you can pick up bags of different mixtures of soil at your hardware or garden store. You can make your own soil based on what you are planting.

Here is a handy calculator to figure out the volume of soil needed for a raised garden bed.

If you are looking for the perfect garden soil, just do a search online and you will find numerous recipes for what people consider to be the best for the garden.

No matter what mixture you use, make sure it can sustain a worm. I have found that if my garden has worms, that’s a good thing.

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Since this post, I have done some further soil testing that you can read about here.

Have You Checked Your Soil Lately?