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Spring Ramble With An Unexpected Ending


Yesterday had blue skies, sun and the land was beckoning me to go out for a spring ramble. How could one refuse? So I got in the car and headed out to a local park called Aylard Farm.

Well actually it’s called East Sooke Regional Park, and only a portion of it is Aylard Farm.

It used to be a thriving dairy farm and you can find a few stones around that use to be the foundation and there are still the remains of fruit trees and flowers.


The reason I like the park is that you can find open fields, coastal trails and deep green forests.

As it was once a farm, the open fields are divided up like the actual fields use to be. There are hedgerows along where the fence line was and trees have now grown in along the edges.

The fields went right down to the ocean where there is a row of trees that would have been a wind break for the farm.

Aylard Farm
Aylard Farm

You can see the care and magnitude of what it use to be like, and I’m so appreciative that so many of us get to enjoy it now.

The robins were out in full force, but I didn’t see very many other birds, although I could hear them singing. But the first sound that caught my ear was that of a tree buzzing as I walked by. It was a bitter cherry tree and was alive with bees.

Bitter Cherry
Bitter Cherry

As I walk a little further through the field I came upon this wonderful patch of moss. They reminded me of a forest of trees and I could almost picture a fairy garden in the middle.


The field ended on an old corduroy road where it looked like they took supplies up from an inner harbour and then along a path connecting the inner bay to the outer ocean.

My eye caught a glimmer of white and I realised that the fawn lilies had burst into bloom. I see them every spring and they are beautiful in a sea of green and browns.

fawn lily
Fawn Lily

A little further on the sunlight was streaming through the trees, alighting upon a downed tree and begged for a picture.

What could I do?

log covered in moss
Log Covered in Moss

It was cool and moist in the woods and I could hear an eagle calling overhead and a kingfisher as it flew from tree to tree. Always keeping out of sight, except for a glimpse now and then through the branches.

Passing through the forest the path opens onto the ocean. You are standing high above the waves below and the sun was shining on my face.

Off to the left, there was a hole in the rocks caused by the millions of waves and hundreds of years that have sculptured our coastline.

hole in rock
Hole In Rock

When you walk along the shoreline it is lined with arbutus trees or what are call madrone tree. You can tell it by its reddish bark that is normally peeling at points and green leaves. The limbs can twist and turn in a tangle of arms as it grows along the windy shore.

At the base of one, was a hole and it made me wonder, what or who was living there.

who lives here
Who Lives Here

The wind had started to come up and the old man’s beard was blowing gently in the breeze. Old man’s beard is also called Usnea. It is a greenish lichen which grows on trees and branches and is called an air plant. It doesn’t take anything from the tree, it just uses them as a place gather.

It is also said to be very susceptible to pollution and won’t grow in areas if there is poor air quality. We must have great air quality here as it thrives in this environment.

old man's beard
Old Man’s Beard

Walking back out into the sunlight of the fields, small purple and white flowers danced in the sunlight as I made my way across the grasses to the other side of the old pasture.

Redstem Storkbill
Redstem Storkbill
english daisy
English Daisy

I could smell them before I could see them, but the skunk cabbage was making themselves known in the small pond below where the house would have stood. They are so pretty in their bright yellowish green cloaks and their picture is at the top of the page.

There is a natural knoll in the middle of the field, covered with cedar, fir and arbutus trees with large rocks for adults and children alike to play on. It’s like a miniature park within a sea of fields and you can hide in the woods or sit on a rock and watch the ocean.

I have yet to watch a sunset from there, but they would be spectacular.

As I came around the knoll I could see the parking lot off in the distance and as I started heading towards it as bright green object caught my eye. Not a tree but a florescent green tent and a man pulling a black cloth over his head.

What as a girl to do? As inquiring minds wanted to know, I ambled in that direction where I could see a woman laying on the ground.

I watched for a while not wanting to disturb them, but what I saw next was unexpected. The girl arose and the man came out from behind the black cloth that was covering him.

I asked if it was okay to walk through as I didn’t want to interrupt what they were doing, but I was dying to see and they were more than willing to explain.

He was taking pictures with a plate camera. One of the ones you see in a movie or museum where the man puts a cloth over his head and looks through the plate at the image. The plate is actually the negative and ends up being an  8×10 picture which is the same size as the plate.

Plate camera
Plate Camera

The reason he had the dark room was so that he could emulsify the plate with chemicals that will allow it to take a print and then once he puts the plate into the camera he needs to keep the light off of it hence the black cloth.

Then the lens cap is taken off and the plate is exposed to the light via the lens. It can take up to 15 minutes depending on the light and it’s best to take pictures on a cloudy day or in the shade as opposed to direct sunlight.

Once the picture is taken he then takes in back into the darkroom and puts it into a bath of chemicals that reveals the photo. Very cool.

He has used 35 mm, digital and all other cameras from this era but found satisfaction in using this old model. Took him a year of training to be able to get the pictures he wanted and he’s hooked.

What an unexpected ending to a perfect day.

Loons, Scoters, And Oystercatchers


On the beach, yesterday I saw loons, scoters, and oystercatchers. It was amazing as they just happened to appears in just the right spot at just the right time. Or maybe it was me who was in the right spot at the right time.

The sun came out so I left the computer to its own devices, grabbed my camera and headed out the door.

I decided to go to Whiffin Spit which is just outside of Sooke as you can see on the map below.

If you want to see a larger map just click here or just grab your mouse and pull the one above down, you will see a hump right underneath the white box with the writing in it.

It was to the hump that I was heading. It was low, low tide and was almost slack. Sometimes you get lucky with these conditions.

The parking lot was full, but thanks to someone who just returned from a walk I pulled right into a spot. Good start to the day.

It was warm enough that all I needed was a tee shirt, vest and of course pants (although I was thinking of shorts) but just in case I wrapped a jacket around my waist. You just never know.

Black Oystercatchers

I started down the path and just before the area that looks like an elbow, I spotted a couple of black oystercatchers on the inside of the bay.

They were happily munching their way on mollusks along the shoreline heading towards me. I quietly got down on the beach and found a spot well enough ahead of them not to cause them any discomfort and I sat and waited on the rocks.

They continued towards me, snacking along the way and they would eye me occasionally but they still kept coming.

It is always amazing to me how trusting wild creatures can really be if you mean them no harm.

When they came below where I was sitting, they put on a burst of speed and ran in front of me and then stopped again as soon as they were passed. We don’t fool them for a minute.

Black oystercatcher looking for food
Black oystercatcher looking for food – Olympus E-M1, f6.3, 1/250, ISO 320, Lumix 100-300mm, natural light

They get their beaks right in between the rocks and find food in places where it looks like nothing exists.

And happy days, they come up with food. Don’t you just love the feet on them?

black oystercatcher with dinner
Black oystercatcher with dinner – Olympus E-M1, f6.3, 1/250, ISO 320, Lumix 100-300mm, natural light

Once I left the oystercatchers to their dinner, I started further down the spit until I came to the hump. The hump is actually a sort of field with lots of driftwood and rocks and I sat at the point on the rocky beach.

At this point, you are right at the end of the channel where the water comes around the spit and opens into the bay and you never know what will come around the corner.

The wind was starting to come up and soon there was chop on the water. The sun was going in and out behind the clouds and I kept forgetting to adjust my camera settings. I was really glad I had brought a coat and was even more grateful it had a hood on it to keep out the wind.

I could see a western grebe far out in the bay as well as a couple of loons and I just kept my fingers crossed that they would come over to my side.

Surf Scoter

As I was looking out across the bay, I almost missed the surf scoter that popped up right in front of me as it came up from a dive.

Surf scoter catching crab – Olympus E-M1, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 320, Lumix 100-300mm, natural light

It had caught a crab and I was intently focused on taking a good picture when all of a sudden right in front of me not 15 feet away there was a huge WHOOSH! It sounded like when a whale blows but with none of the smell.

The scoter dropped its crab and I quickly moved my camera away to see what sort of creature was coming up from the deep, but all that was left was a large whirlpool of water where it once had been.

surf scoter dropping crab
Surf scoter dropping crab – Olympus E-M1, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 320, Lumix 100-300mm, natural light

I think I might have scared it more than it scared me, and I can only think it was probably a seal. But hey… you never know.

The beak on the scoter reminds me of a clown and you can see right through it. I have seen them catch whole clams before and eat them shell and all. Now that’s a digestive system that works.

surf scoter floating away on tide
Surf scoter floating away on the tide – Olympus E-M1, f6.3, 1/1600, ISO 320, Lumix 100-300mm, natural light

Red-throated Loon

I was just getting up from the beach where unbeknownst to me I’d been sitting for 2.5 hours (numb bum and no watch) and I could see some harlequin ducks coming around the corner. So I sat down and waited until I saw them head offshore as a lady walked along the beach.

Waiting a little longer just in case they changed direction I was looking over to my left when something caught my eye right in from of me.

Can you believe it? The loon that I had been watching across the bay came right up and looked at me for a moment or two and then dived below the waves. AWESOME!

There are moments that make sitting on the rocks all worth while and this was definitely one of them.

Red-throated loon
Red-throated loon – Olympus E-M1, f6.3, 1/2500, ISO 320, Lumix 100-300mm, natural light
Red-throated loon diving
Red-throated loon diving – Olympus E-M1, f6.3, 1/2000, ISO 320, Lumix 100-300mm, natural light

Note: This red-throated loon was still in winter plumage and should shortly transition into breeding plumage where they do in fact have a red throat. Here is a picture of one in all its colours on the Audubon website. It is amazing how different their plumage looks.

Can I Mulch Strawberries With Sawdust?


Last year I planted a bed of strawberries that had a lot of weeds in it and I found that for most of the summer I was picking out weeds instead of strawberries.

So, this year I’m trying something different based on few requirements:

  • Wanted to keep the strawberries out of the dirt
  • Take care of the weeds
  • Keep the moisture in
  • Stop the runners from taking root (but I don’t think this is even possible)

Mulch seemed to be the answer, but what kind of mulch.

Back to Google and it appeared that straw was top of the totem pole. Which I agree is a wonderful option and I have used it before on my raised beds but along with it came the growing of oats, which I didn’t want.

You just can’t seem to get clean straw with no seeds in it, so I’m back again to pulling weeds. This is still an option, but I’m looking for something better.

What about leaves? First, let me say that I’m really glad I didn’t end up using leaves. I mulched my blueberries with maple leaves and now I have baby maples cropping up all over. Back to weeding.

maple shoots
Maple shoots are growing through the leaves around the blueberries after I mulched with them

It didn’t look like leaves would be a good option for mulching strawberries either, so I searched again.

I looked around the yard to see what was available that could be used as mulch and besides leaves there was sawdust.

Sawdust because we have a Wood-Mizer sawmill for cutting lumber and beams and we are always looking for a use for the sawdust it produces.

What was really interesting about searching on this issue was that I found an article that was written in 1952 about mulching with sawdust and the person who wrote about the method lived about 20 miles from me.

Talk about local knowledge, right in my backyard.

The article was entitled “Sawdust is My Slave” and it’s an interesting article on the subject.

His article answered one of my pressing questions. How to stop the sawdust from pulling all the nitrogen out of the soil. I wrote a post about having wood chips in my store bought soil and how my plants suffered that you can read here.

Here is an excerpt from the article “Sawdust is My Slave” that explains what happened when the soil got mixed in with the sawdust.

For an example of nitrogen depletion, I had two beautiful rows of raspberries 6 feet high after being severely topped. These rows were mulched with sawdust and fed lavishly with poultry manure (which is especially high in nitrogen).

I had allowed a forest of young canes to grow up between the rows, to sell for nursery stock. When it came to digging time in March I instructed the man who was to harvest them to pull them out instead of digging, which was the usual, method as I did not want to mix too much earth with the sawdust surfaces.

I made the fatal mistake of not telling him the reason I wanted them pulled instead of dug. He started pulling them, broke a few off at ground level and being an intelligent Canadian with initiative picked up his shovel and dug the plants out.

I discovered my mistake before he had started in the second row. By June, the row that been dug and in which the soil and sawdust were beautifully mixed in intimate contact was actually dying from starvation. The crop was lost, while on the adjoining rows, the berries were almost as large as loganberries.

So, it could be used as a mulch, just don’t mix it with the soil otherwise, there will be a nitrogen deficiency. I was on a roll.

But of course, I couldn’t leave it there. I got to thinking that maybe there was a way that one could put a barrier between the soil and the sawdust so that the sawdust could start to break down before it ever got to the soil.

Thought about landscape cloth, but then the sawdust wouldn’t ever get to add it’s decaying nutrients to the soil, so I ruled that out.

Then… I saw a video about a gardener who was creating new no-dig garden areas just by putting down newspaper on weeds and grass and then putting some mulch over it. The newspaper acted like a weed barrier and I thought that maybe it could act as a nitrogen barrier for me.

I knew that putting a cover on the garden was beneficial as other years I’ve actually put cardboard on my raised beds completely covering them. In the spring, most of the cardboard is decomposed and what’s left is just pulled out and put into the compost.

But the soil underneath is rich, black and full of worms and the plants love it.

Taking the idea, I put it into action on my strawberries. Sorry… I finished them before I thought to take pictures of the process, but I did take some when I used the same idea on my herbs so you could get a sense of what I was talking about.

The first thing I did was weed the beds and trimmed anything that needed trimming. Like taking the suckers off the strawberries and dividing the herbs into a more manageable size.

herb garden in MarchHerb garden in March ready for mulching. The dividers are to keep the herbs from spreading.

Instead of using newspaper, I had a bunch of packing paper. I put four sheets together and then either folded them in half or in thirds depending on the side of the row I was trying to fill.

4 sheets of paper
I used at least 4 pieces of paper for mulching so that when it’s folded it’s 8 layers
folded paper
Paper folded in half. The rope lights underneath are to keep the seedlings warm.

Then I put water into a wheelbarrow and I soaked the folded sheets and then started laying them out in the garden.

wet paperWet paper in water before putting it onto the soil

It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle as you try and cover as much of the soil with the wet paper and just leave room around the plant.

cover around plants completelyCut, fold and fit the paper around the plants.

Once that is done, then I just take sawdust and sprinkle it over the top 3-5 inches deep.

start layering sawdustOnce the paper is put down, then apply the sawdust

duplicate mulching processFollowing the same process around the rest of the bed.

I’m hoping for three things

  • No weeds
  • Less watering
  • Clean strawberries

herb garden in sawdust

I just further read an article that explains that is you have plants with long roots, wood chips will only take the nitrogen out of the top of the soil, but underneath the roots will still have plenty to utilise for growth. The one thing that everyone says is “don’t mix the soil and the woodchips or sawdust together.

I will let you know how the experiment goes as the year progresses. Keeping my fingers crossed!


The experiment went well and you can check out the results here.

How To Mulch Strawberries With Sawdust

Just “BEING” Me


I was thinking about beliefs today as I walking and I’ve come to the conclusion that someone just make up the concept and we all bought into it and now that we have them, we all want to get rid of them.

I did a search on the internet on limiting beliefs and everyone has a theory on how to make them go away. Push against and make disappear.

I wonder if that is why so many of us keep them for so long is the fight and struggle we put up against them.

Ahhh, the belief that only in conquering them can we make the change and let go that which does not serve us.

What would it be like to become aware of the belief, thank it for the lesson and release it easily and effortlessly? Like a plume of smoke rising to the sky.

I think the key is in the awareness… I feel the discomfort of the belief, but I don’t recognise it. In feeling the discomfort it alerts me to something that is out of harmony with who I am… my true authentic self.

It is in this moment that the awareness can occur. And yet if I’m not tuned into my being, the moment is lost and I’m left feeling like I just missed something but I know not what.

Self-awareness in all aspects of my life. What would that be like?

Ahhh… feels enlightening and freeing and yet also feels like it comes with responsibility. Not a heaviness, but sort of like if you go down that path there is no turning back.

You can no longer play small in the world as you honour your truth. No more hiding or being that which you are not, as you seek the authenticity of your being.

What does it mean to be “your true authentic self”? Or maybe a better question is “what does it feel like?” As I type this, I feel myself taking a deep breath in and releasing all the tension from my body.

Feels so good as I honour that awareness in the moment.

In my moment to moment existence, I shall endeavour to be more aware.

That sort of sounds like Yoda. “Do or do not… there is no try”. Hmmm, let’s try again.

As I walk through my daily existence I seek moments of enlightenment as I become aware of my actions and thoughts. Hmmm, still not there.

What the heck… I think this sums it up.

Just “BE

In the “beingness” of it all is my happy place.

Ahhh, now that feels good.

Just “BEING” me

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