BASICS: Long Island gets hummingbirds throughout the summer, but not many. The Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary and Garden may be the best place on the island to see them.
However we are ONLY open in august and ONLY by appointment, at specific "slot" times which are posted at this blog.

You need a printed, dated SIGNED WAIVER, which will be sent to you to confirm your appointment, along with directions and instructions. We are always closed 12.30-3. You visit AT YOUR OWN RISK - there are steep narrow uneven paths and dilapidated chairs and structures, and parking is limited: carpool if possible. Be careful not to trespass on neighbors, as indicated by ropes and signs. Hand-held cameras only please, except by previous arrangement. There is no admission charge BUT YOU MUST BRING a signed dated liability waiver form. Dated waiver forms are provided only by request, in conjunction with your appointment. Private groups (eg photographers, birders, gardeners) can request their own dedicated session.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Thrills and Trills: mating dance!

Yesterday around 4 pm I saw my first mating dance of the 2015 season.  I was sitting quietly in the lower garden observing a couple of feeders close to the bluff edge (my slow recovery from pneumonia requires a lot of resting!), when I observed a hummingbird doing his unmistakable "pendulum dance" in and above the wild cherry tree (Prunus serotina) right in front of me. When I realized what was going on I activated the Vixia G30 video camera and pointed it, zoomed out, at the general area of activity. Of course because I have it permanently set up with a 2X digital zoom it cannot capture a very wide field of view, so the video only shows the central, lowest, part of the dance - presumably where the target of the dance, most likely a receptive female, was located. However, I could not spot the female, partly because I, like she, was mesmerised by the dance. The U-shaped arc seemed to go much higher than the tree-top, though I could not follow the complete swing. As he came downward, near the nadir of the dance (close to the presumed female) he emitted a distinct  brief "trilling" sound presumably created by the air rushing through the tail feathers (see  Here's the video followed by my Youtube description:-

This movie shows a hummingbird mating dance, at the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary, shot on may 4 2015. The male arrived a week before and established a breeding territory and the female presumably only on may 4. You have to quite carefully to see the male doing his U-shaped "pendulum" dance, and even more closely to see the perched female near the base of his dance (i.e. the bottom of the U). In fact, it's impossible to spot the female, unless you watch carefully near the end where the male does a final close swing, and then, after a short delay, the female takes off to the lower right. In fact, you have to slowly, frame by frame, rewind the movie so you can see the spot where the female starts her rightward departure. Then you realize that the female was perched at that spot throughout the dance, intently turning to follow the male's dance. The movie was shot with the camera "overcranking" - i.e. it's shot at 60 fps for playback at 30 fps, giving a 2X slow motion effect. Because the male, then the female, are moving very rapidly, they shift position from frame to frame very quickly. Unfortunately I don't think standard Youtube allows you to rewind the movie backwards, frame by frame (see Note below), so you can identify the female's takeoff spot. But I can do this using Quicktime, and it's quite clears she is perched at that spot until the point, near the end, where the male's dance stops and she takes off to the lower right. I also show, below, an excerpt from this movie, at 4X slo mo. My Vixia G30 allows overcranking, but unfortunately in this mode the sound is switched off. However I could clearly here a trilling sound that the male emitted (probably using his tail feathers) as he reached the base of his dance and starts to accelerate upwards. 
Added Note: you can add a frame-by-frame advance/rewind app to Google Chrome ( that will allow you to rewind the video frame by frame from the moment the female takes off to the lower right, so you can find out where exactly she is perching during the male's dance. You can also make out how she moves her head/body while perched to follow the male's dance. Note that she's just a speck in a quite large tree, and it's essential you use the full 1080P HD setting.

Here's the second, 4X slo-mo, excerpt showing the end of the male's dance followed by the female's departure to the lower right.

This is a short extract from the video "hummingbird mating dance may 4", shot at the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary.  It shows the last part of that movie, at 4X slo-mo. The female is perched at the same spot throughout the longer movie, and is turning to follow, with great interest, the "pendulum" mating dance of the male. Then near the end, as the male finishes his dance, she quickly leaves her perch, flying off to the lower right, presumably to where the male is waiting for her. It's almost impossible to spot where she is perching either in the full movie or in this slowed excerpt. You have to look for moment where she suddenly takes off to the lower right, and then rewind the movie slowly backward from that point. You will see exactly where she takes off from, and then you realise that she's actually at that location (but very hard to spot) throughout the excerpt and, I think throughout the full movie (which shows only the second half of the full mating dance). During the filming I could not actually see the female, she's a tiny almost immobile (other than her rapid head-turning to follow the male) dot on a thin branch, and I did not clearly see her rapid departure either.But I suspected that she must have been there, and quite close to the nadir of the dance. Indeed, in this excerpt you can see that the last swing of the male is actually very close to where the female sits, though previous swings were not quite so close. Use this Chrome app to add frame-by-frame advance/reverse to YouTube: You can also see the feeder just below where the female is perching. Note that the female takeoff starts during the 29 second of the movie, and the male's last swing is closest to the perching female during the seond second of the movie (i.e. during the frames marked 1). Thus during 28/4 = 7 seconds the female comes to realize that the male has finished his dance and is waiting for her somewhere below the right bottom of the video.

Note that the pendulum dance is also used by hummmingbirds (I think males only) as an aggression display, eg towards immature hummers. However in my experience this is usually a more fragmentary type of dance. I think that in this case it's more likely to be a true courtship display, given the size of the arc covered, the presence of a hummer (most likely a newly arrived adult female) at the nadir of the dance, and above all the trill. However, I did not see the "shuttle dance" that usually follows the courtship pendulum dance, and preceded actual mating - perhaps because this happened somewhere down on the bluff. Let's hope that this courtship was consummated (off-screen, like an old-fashioned Hollywood movie) and that the female successfully nests nearby.  

I will now try to create annotated versions of these 2 videos, pointing out the key features to look at. 

UPDATE: looking at this vid more carefully I see that the male executes one more swing from right to left, at the 10/(4) sec mark. This swing passes below the female, quite close to the feeder, and he disappears below the bluff, to the left of the frame. This explains the otherwise strange lapse of time between what is the penultimate swing above the female and the female's departure to the lower right. Note that the total actual duration of this movie excerpt is around 7 seconds, so there's a lot happening very fast. Also note that in individual frames the moving hummers are blurred because of the relatively slow shutter speed (not sure what the exact speed is because the camera was in Programmed mode; I will try to shoot more video using a fast (eg 1/1000 speed) but of course this demands intense lighting.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Fred shifts position; Aesculus x carnea; visiting this year

Fred, currently the dominant male hummingbird at the Baiting Hollow sanctuary, sits on a twig watching for intruders. Near the start of the movie he shifts his position by 180 degrees, but to do so he uses his wings briefly to lift off and adopt the new stance: hummingbirds cannot walk at all. Indeed when first seen by Europeans they were thought to be legless, and this group (technically an Order, which also includes their close relatives the swifts) is still called the "Apodiformes', which means footless.


Aesculus x carnea is a cross between Aesculus pavia (the red buckeye, one of the best hummingbird trees for the North East, and A. hippocastanum, the horse chestnut. It has magnificent spikes of pink flowers which attract bees (you see one in this movie) and, supposedly, hummingbirds. Recently I picked up an A. x carnea at a local nursery. For the moment I will leave it in its pot, positioned in a prominent place where I hope it will attract the attention of Fred, Pete and newly arriving hummers, and earn at least one star in my hummer-friendly rating scale. However I'm not optimistic: the feeders are the only 4-star attraction. 

I've updated the right column of this blog to explain how you can visit the sanctuary this year. Please read carefully. It's the same "slot" system as last year. It's a bit of a hassle for all concerned but it does ensure controlled, very limited, traffic on the long private road access to the sanctuary. 

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Fred Flashes Red

Here's Fred, the dominant adult male hummingbird currently in residence at the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary. You can see hints of red on his throat, and at one point he rapidly gobbles an insect. At the end of the movie he leaves his perch and flies down to briefly sample nectar from the nearby feeder. Note that there's another, more timid, adult male around, Pete. No slo-mo.


Pete doesn't quite know how my minifeeders work: instead of going straight to the feeding port, which in this case is located on the other side of the feeder (located at the top of the bluff with Long Island Sound below), he's going for the traces of nectar that seep from the cap-feeder junction. You can see his brilliant green back. At the end he quickly dives down the bluff to escape possible attack by Fred, who is zealously guarding all his scattered feeders.

Here we see that Pete, the nondominant male hummer at the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary, has figured out how to use his favorite feeder, located at the bluff edge where he can rapidly scoot down to cover. But he still investigates the entire edge of the cap, not convinced yet that the port is the way to go. Notice that as well as uncertain about the way the feeder should be used, he spends much longer at the feeder than Fred does. Fred just liked to quickly sample, just to check that it's a functioning nectar source which he needs to guard. But now I've got quite a few scattered feeders up, and so he's forced to patrol a larger territory, allowing Pete to sneak in.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Getting more interesting: 2 adult males

Well, it appears that at the moment I'm hosting 2 adult males - a dominant one I will call Fred (since he might be the same one I saw in june last year), and an intruder. The dominant one is spending a lot of time perching near the various feeders I now have scattered around, and attacking the intruder from time to time. This happens very quickly and almost impossible to film. But here is some more footage of Fred perching and feeding.

He's still here! New sharper video

I arrived back at the sanctuary at noon, and immediately saw a male hummer - almost certainly the one I saw on wednesday, at the feeder on the rearmost deck of the back cabin "Hummingbird Cottage" This is always a popular one because it's essentially in the tree tops, despite being only 6 feet above a deck. This feeder was quite low, so I re-filled it. I saw him on the move a couple of times, then around 1.15 pm filmed the following movie (2X slo-mo as usual), which is much better focussed than my last one.

Although I'm still weak, I managed to pick up a couple of interesting hummingbird plants at local nurseries on my way here. More details soon. I'm now going to

Friday, May 1, 2015

Shep Jones Lane on May Day; more hummer arrivals

I went to a faculty meeting at Stony Brook University this morning, partly to test my strength. My colleagues seemed happy to see me alive, and I even managed to chip in a couple of relevant comments. I also renewed my parking garage car and my Stony Brook ID card (and, what's nice they turned out to be one and the same: one less card to carry.) However I grew tired as the morning advanced, and went home for lunch and a nap. I hope to go out to Baiting Hollow tomorrow and shoot some decent video of "my" hummingird, assuming he's still there as I think he will be.

But in the afternoon I went for a very short walk along Shep Jones Lane and the surrounding fields of Avalon Preserve - an absolutely beautiful spot just 5 minutes away from our house by car. My most dedicated readers may remember that I posted about Shep Jones (also the originator of a well-known folk-song) last fall. I've recently acquired a "smartphone" (Huawei Vision 2, cost $80 total at Consumer Cellular, with a $15 a month phone-and-data plan). So I took a photo at Shep Jones, and even managed to send it via Bluetooth to my MacAir computer (where I compose all these posts). Here is is:

Interestingly the fields at Avalon have just received their annual mowing. This allows all the marvelous wildflowers to self-seed, while keeping the fields open and free of perennial weeds and invasives.  They also look wonderful. If only I could persuade the Open Space Committee of Riverhead Town to proceed in similar fashion at the Town Preserve (the "Sound Ave Preserve") that lies very near the hummingbird sanctuary, at Sound Ave and Terry Farm Rd. But it's being completely neglected and choked with invasives (Rosa multiflora, Russian Olive, japanese honeysuckle etc), with wildflowers unable to establish. Their main focus seems to be in putting up signs and laying down thick coarse mulch on all the paths making them nearly un-walkable. Perhaps I will write more of my interactions with this committee when a more generous mood descends. I think that many visitors to this preserve prefer to walk up Terry Farm Rd itself, though even there the footing is not ideal, because of the gravel my neighbors like to deposit there. And of course the hummingbird sanctuary at its northern terminus is private and strictly closed until august (and not much to see till then either, except an invalid trying to rest). You can see how much more attractive, walkable and rural Terry Farm Rd used to look when I first arrived in Baiting Hollow 25 years ago here:

The above image shows part of the northwest Avalon field, and you can just make out a nice nesting box (for bluebirds?) . The footpath is the slightly more green part in the middle; in a few weeks the wild flowers will have grown up on either side of the footpath (which might receive a bit of additional mowing as the season advances. No horrible thick mulch on the paths, which makes for good walking. When the monarda and cardinal flower (the latter along the stream banks) come into bloom I expect to see hummingbirds there.

In the meantime here's a very recent nice hummer photo taken april 23 in Manorville by Bob and Alicia Evers. You can see the classic "ruby-throat" of the adult male (who are always the first to arrive).

And here's another, from Donna DeSousa in Greenlawn - her first ever northward migrating adult male, on april 30:

Enjoy Donna's Facebook Page "Friends of the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary", inspired by the legal attack on the sanctuary (ongoing saga of which more soon) but now a very useful general source of info about hummingbirds and hummer photography, with a focus on Long Island (see also the link to the right of this post).

Of course today is May Day, my traditional first arrival date for a male hummingbird in Baiting Hollow (though in recent years I've usually missed it because we would still be in Eleuthera). May Day is celebrated throughout the world (except the US) as International Workers' Day. Ironically this was initially started to honor some demonstrating workingmen who were executed long ago in Chicago (see Le plus ça change le plus ça reste la meme chose (sorry no circumflex accents on my keyboard). But we have Labor Day, when plutocrats helicopter en masse over the sanctuary on their way to East Hampton.

Has my illness made me dyspeptic? Or just given me the leisure to read and spout?

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

He's Here! arrival around 5.30 pm today april 29: bad vid

A male hummingbird just showed up at my feeders. Late this afternoon the wind turned to the northeast from northwest, and I said to myself one might decide to stop,  rather than fight the wind. At first I saw him perched very close to the feeder closest to the back cabin "Hummingbird Cottage" where I was sitting getting ready to leave,  since it had turned cold and cloudy. Then he fed briefly at that feeder, and then switched to a feeder a little bit further  away (see video) closer to the front cabin "Seagull Lodge". When I saw him perched silhouetted against the Sound it was quite unmistakably a hummingbird, almost certainly an adult male. I shot some poor video (2X slo-mo) which I post below. Now I will step outside despite the cold and try to get better video. Whoo-hoo!

Update: I could not stay long outside because it was too cold, so this out-of-focus video I shot from inside the cabin will have to do. At least it confirms it's an adult male.

Monday, April 27, 2015

still no hummer in Baiting Hollow but several settling in elsewhere

here's a very recent photo of a male hummingbird at a feeder in Massapequa. Courtesy of Bill and James Koller

I spent 2 hours by the woodstove, Zelenka in the background (the music, not a girlfriend) in Baiting Hollow, watching 3 feeders - but no takers! Still very wintry out there. Columbine growing but nowhere near flowering yet. So here's another clip from summer last year, with a hummer feeding at Salvia "Waverley".

Saturday, April 25, 2015

recovering slowly; why do we have no hummers yet?

Another clip from last year, feeding at Salvia greggii (autumn sage).

Here's a reply I just wrote to a question from Mike, which might be of general interest. Note these are purely informed guesses.

"Mike, first bear in mind that Lanny Chambers' migration map (at you are seeing only the leading edge of the advancing wave - and the earliest hummers we see on LI (eg the april 11 sighting in Islip Terrace) are probably on their way further north. Getting technical, the advancing wave probably has a Gaussian (bell) shape, and because the east coast is densely populated, it can easily detect the low-probability leading edge. But the main peak probably occurs a couple of weeks later - i.e. TODAY! 
Second, the males arrive a week or 2 earlier than the females, and they will only settle in really good spots, which means lot of trees and above all lots of lichen on the trees. Availability of feeders and nectars is almost irrelevant. Where they come in is in picking up the southward migration, where the numbers are possibly double the northward one. But that will only start mid july, peaking perhaps late august/early sept.
Third, you are probably getting more visits than you realize: you cannot permanently watch both front and rear beds, and probably you don't even spend an hour per day watching. In Baiting Hollow even though I consistently have a resident male, I might only see him a couple of times a day, and very briefly, in june and early july. That's why I only open during august: most people would just get frustrated waiting in june. I'm lucky because I spend essentially the whole day, for many days at a stretch, working in the garden, or resting there, so get to catch these brief visits. In fact the adult male spends most of his time inspecting the entire 3.5 acres here, and is mostly inconspicuously perched somewhere. With a bit of luck I learn where some of these perches are, which increases my viewing opportunities - though he does change his favorite perches.
Fourth, there is indeed a lower density of hummers on the island as compared to the mainland, at least partly because there are fewer woods and more people and houses. The best area on the island seems to be Manorville and surrounds - lots of preserved land. 
All of this means that getting regular hummer visits is hard work here - but all the more satisfying when it works out. And consistency over many years with flowers and feeders also helps.
I predict that if you spend a good deal of time outside you will see one before midmay.
- Paul

Thursday, April 23, 2015

No hummer yet; another old clip

We went out to Baiting Hollow again this morning. A couple of the feeders had blown down (it gets extremely windy up there), and the others had swayed empty. Refilled and replaced them all (I  use only minifeeders which I only fill 1/3 to 1/2).
It was cold (50F) and blustery so I lit the woodstove and reclined in the back cabin while Claire went shopping (lunch and dinner). I closely observed 3 of the feeders over a 2 hour period but saw no visitors. Conclusion: no hummer has yet adopted the sanctuary as home so far this year.
This isn't surprising - my regular first arrival date is may 1, and I've never seen a hummer before april 27.  So - patience! - as for almost all of you waiting for their first hummer of the year.

Today I feel very slightly better, and I have gained 4 pounds - but still 15 pounds to go.
Meanwhile here's another clip from last summer: hummer feeding at Salvia guaranitica.