BASICS: "Hummingbirds.....where is the person, I ask, who, on observing this glittering fragment of the rainbow, would not pause, admire, and turn his mind with reverence..." (J. J. Audubon).
This is a blog about my summer life at the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary, at my winter garden, Calypso, in the Bahamas, and aspects of life in general.
This private sanctuary is now permanently closed to the general public, as a result of a lawsuit brought by a neighbor. Only my friends and personal guests may visit (

Thursday, February 27, 2014

babies day 2; slow-mo video

Here's a close-up of the nest taken yesterday, one day after hatching. I think the babies are already almost double in size. No pictures today (we had friends from Prince Edward Island arriving).  But here below is a slo-mo version of the baby feeding movie I posted yesterday. After initial credits, filmed from Calypso's beach in normal time, there's a clip in tenfold slo-mo showing Gumbo arriving on the nest edge. The next clip, at 4 fold slo-mo, shows her feeding her chicks. The last clip shows her continuing to feed, and departing, at normal speed.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Gumbo's eggs have hatched!

Today I saw Gumbo sitting on her nest. She then left, and after about 10 minutes she returned. However, instead of settling on here nest, she perched on the edge and started probing delicately down into the nest with her bill. I realized that her eggs had hatched and she was feeding her young. I had seen very similar behavior years ago in Baiting Hollow. I was able to film this. The first video shows Gumbo arriving near her nest, and, after a quick look to see all was was clear, she lands on the rim of the nest, looks carefully around her, and, reassured all is safe, starts feeding the babies. You can see her beak sometimes opening - she's disgorging the partially digested insects she collected while away. She's looking intently at her tiny babies, and somehow succeeding in delivering the food into their minuscule mouths.

The following photos show a subsequent look inside the nest, but all you can really see are a some brown feathered specks at the very bottom of the nest.

The next video shows the continuation of the previous sequence. After further feeding of her babies, Gumbo settles comfortably into the nest on top of them!

PS: the BR bite now hurts much less,  the center is weeping pus, and the swelling is somewhat subsiding. Hopefully it is mending.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Camera Sensor Cleaning; Loxoscelism; Not a Pretty Bite

I took my courage in both hands, and armed with a Youtube instruction video, jeweller's screwdriver and forceps, and a magnifying visor, dis-assembled the Lumix camera, puffed air on the sensor, and successfully re-assembled the camera. The camera still works, and the 3 worst dust particles are gone, as you can see on the above video of Gumbo on her nest yesterday afternoon.
My bite is now not a pretty sight, but rather than thrust the horrible image under your nose, it's at the bottom of the post - scroll down only if you are not squeamish! At the top of this post is a much prettier sight - Gumbo on her nest, filmed with the newly cleaned sensor.
I've been reading about "loxoscelism", the medical condition caused by the bite of the Brown Widow. There are 2 forms: a local form involving skin tissue damage around the bite, and a rare systemic form which can be life-threatening. I have the local type. The main component of the venom that triggers the condition is, rather interestingly, a phospholipase D enzyme. Phospholipases are enzymes that break down cell membrane phospholipids. I'm quite familiar with the phospholipase C type, which breaks down inositol-containing lipids, and is involved in the action of a neurotransmitter I discovered in my scientific prime (the prize I received contributed to the cost of both the sanctuary and "Calypso") - a story for another day.
Phospholipase D breaks down choline-containing lipids, and the venom-version creates an unusual cyclic fatty acid which seems to trigger the tissue damage.

The black marks were added to show the current extent of the wound, and make sure it's not spreading.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Link to Online Petition; a Garden Movie; The Brown Recluse Bite

The Online Petition asking the Town of Riverhead to withdraw their attempt to close down the Sanctuary has now passed 1000 votes! - I provide the link at the right. Not bad for a tiny sanctuary for an even tinier bird, which is only open for a few days each year. Many thanks to the petition organizers!

Today's movie is a bit different: yesterday I shot some video of a few random garden scenes, and in the evening, to keep my mind of the BR bite, edited, compiled and captioned them into a short movie (above). It was fairly breezy, and there's some wind noise on the soundtrack (plus at one point a small low-flying single engine plane - usually Calypso is blissfully quiet, except for the ever-present ocean and the wind in the palms), as well as some annoying fluff on the camera sensor. I must soon take the plunge and disassemble the camera (and hopefully re-assemble it).

The Brown Recluse bite started out painful in the night, but as long as my hand is immobile and in a comfortable position the pain goes away, and I slept ok. This morning I see there's a white pimple forming at the center of the swelling: presumably the precursor of "necrosis" (tissue death). Everything hinges on the final extent of the necrosis, and I believe the swelling is not growing beyond the size of a quarter, and might even be slightly shrinking. Claire wants us to go swimming in the ocean today (it will be warm), but I cannot decide if the salt water would be good or bad.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Brown Recluse Bite

I appear to have been bitten by a Brown Recluse Spider. Just before dusk the day before yesterday I noticed an angry red circular patch about the size of a quarter on my left hand, near the base of my thumb and close to my wrist (you can just see the edge of my watch band at the bottom left corner of the above image). It didn't hurt until I touched it, when it felt rather raw. I did not feel anything bite me, and it's quite unlike (and much worse than) a wasp or bee sting (the wasps here have a particularly bad sting), or indeed any type of sting or bite I've had before. Yesterday morning it became painful even without touching it, and swollen, and got somewhat worse during the day. Today it's much the same but not worse.
Here's another image with a quarter for comparison:-

And here's a Wikipedia photo of a large Brown Recluse Spider. I suspect it was inside a work glove. Apparently they do not normally attack, but can do so when there is no retreat (e.g. from putting on a glove). It seems there's no real treatment, but the lesion can necrose (the tissue dies) and eventually leave a hole or scar. Let's hope mine is not a severe case. The Brown Recluse is found in the Bahamas and of course also in the southern US.
I will treat myself with ice-cream (applied internally) until it gets better.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Gumbo Lands on Her Nest, in slo-mo

There are 2 versions of this video, filmed this afternoon and processed using iMovie. The first shows the whole sequence of her arriving, landing and settling in, played at normal speed. After a still (a photo of a Hyperion daylily flower taken at the Baiting Hollow Sanctuary), the first part of the video is shown with a ten-times reduced speed. Even though it's slowed down ten times, it's still quite difficult to see how she actually lands on the nest: after initially hovering near the nest, she makes a final dash and folds her wings in just a small fraction of a second.

Egg and Tongue

This photo, taken yesterday, shows that Gumbo has built up the edges of the nest after it was squished by Winter Storm Leon, so that both eggs are now much deeper (only one is visible in this image). The following movie shows Gumbo sitting quietly on the nest. Around the middle of the sequence, she flicks out her tongue a few times, a bit like a snake. Notice there's a bit of pollen stuck near the bill tip. There's a big Ixora bush, with red flowers, close to the nest, where Gumbo often feeds during short breaks from incubation. I'll try to get film of her feeding there.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Gumbo has fixed her nest

As you can see from the video filmed yesterday Gumbo has repaired her nest to her satisfaction and is now quietly and proudly sitting on her eggs. If I approach too close she will immediately fly off, and then "attack" me, or at least try to distract me. The weather has been perfect for 3 days now, although it might warm up a bit (high of 83?). There's a perfect breeze across Calypso pond, and, like Gumbo, we've been preoccupied with various minor repairs and improvements (repainting is an ongoing perpetual project here, rather like those bridges where repainting has to start at one end as soon as it's finished at the other (see for example

Friday, February 14, 2014

Gumbo enjoys some Valentine sun

This footage was taken this (friday) morning, and shows the nest viewed from the south, with some welcome sunshine hitting the nest. The nest is drying out, regaining some of its original shape, and being restored by Gumbo.

New Gumbo Clip: squished, but not defeated

Here's a short clip of Gumbo sitting on her rather squished, but already somewhat repaired, nest, taken this morning. The sound track features various nearby birds, which I cannot identify by sound alone.

Uploading even a short clip like this to YouTube took over 20 minutes, and prevents us from using the internet for much else, because our bandwidth is rather limited. I've been experimenting with Imovie and will shortly be uploading a short film of  prestorm Gumbo. I'm hoping this will speed up the uploading process, as well as allowing me to edit the material.

Here's my first Imovie attempt, using footage taken before the storms. Note the still frame at the end (with the "credits") is from Baiting Hollow

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Gumbo's Eggs

Above you see Gumbo's eggs yesterday, deep within the nest, and only visible from above. Below you see her eggs this morning, after the first storm: they are much more visible now, even from the side, because the nest was squashed.

Here you see a gumbo-limbo berry placed on a dime, which gives a scale to all my previous images:

Update; Gumbo's Nest Squished

The top image was from this morning, after the first storm but before the second. The image below was taken late this afternoon, after the second storm.

UPDATE at 4.20 pm. Unfortunately, and quite unexpectedly, we have again had heavy rain and wind this afternoon. This morning , after the night's tempest, the weather was beautiful and the satellite map suggested therein clouds were dissipating, and we set off north on a pre-Valentine trip to the far north, to the offshore island know as Spanish Wells. We stopped for lunch at the new wonderful Cove resort, with a sweeping view to the west. The lunch was excellent (sushi - on Eleuthera! - followed by creme brûlée and New Orleans beignets (the new owner is from that city) and the decor even classier (minimalist, elegant) than last year (it made Travel and Leisure's 2014 "Best New Hotel" list). But we realized that big waves were crashing on the promontories to the left, right and straight ahead, and even on the twin pocket beaches, gray clouds were accumulating, and the wind picking up power (strong wind on the West side of the island is unusual), and we decided the ferry trip to Spanish Wells would be too risky, and returned home, through steadily deteriorating weather, and arriving in a downpour and thunder and lightening. As I tap at the keyboard, the rain seems to be stopping, and I see on the satellite map that central Eleuthera has just been grazed by the extreme southern tip of a huge cold front that crossed Florida earlier today. I will venture out as soon as I can to inspect Gumbo's nest, but I fear the worse. Remember we are now in the middle of the dry season and such downpours are most unusual here.
4.50 pm: I looked, and Gumbo is still on her very sodden looking nest, which is now smaller than her. But clearly she's added some bits of lichen during the day, and is still hopeful.
5.20: here she is, still valiantly sitting on her very wet nest (note the droplets on all the gumbo-limbo berries):

This morning: Unfortunately Gumbo's nest has been squished by the tail end of the winter storm that also just hit the eastern US. The southern end of the storm system swept through Florida bringing heavy rain, and then pushed on through the Bahamas. During the night we got thunderstorms and heavy rain, which drummed on our roof for an hour, and kept us awake. Normally we welcome rain in the dry season, but of course we were worried about Gumbo and her nest. This morning we saw that her nest is squished to about half its former height, but still more or less intact - and, most importantly, she's fixing it and sitting on her eggs. The sun is out, and the nest should quickly dry out. Unfortunately the overhanging little leaf canopy that protects the nest from rain and sun has been damaged, and of course she cannot fix that damage. I watched her, through binoculars, adding a nice flake of green lichen to the outside of the nest. Her eggs are now much more visible, which is not a good sign.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Hummer Nest Video; Lawsuit

Here's a new photo of "Gumbo", as I will call my nesting hummingbird, since she's chosen a "Gumbo Limbo" or "Gum Elemi" tree (and has even incorporated one of the tree's berries into her nest, as you can see from this view). The view is about 180 degrees from yesterday's view, and since the ground slopes, we are almost looking into her nest. On this side of the nest there is a row of 4 pieces of green lichen. She seems to be spending about half her time on the nest, and half away, presumably to keep the eggs at just the right temperature during the warm day (high around 82). When she was absent I peeked  into the nest, and saw, as expected 2 tiny white eggs, about the size of a small pea. Tomorrow I'll photograph the eggs. She's still working on the nest, and is bringing tiny bits of fluff to add to the rim. I made a (HD!) movie of this:

At the very start of the video, you can see a bit of fluff at the tip of her bill, which she incorporates into 2 spots at the rim of the nest. At the end of the movie I zoom back out, so you can see the tree trunk at left center, the hanging branch laden with berries,  near the lower tip of which the nest is hidden, behind the blue of Calypso pond, and, unfortunetely, to the right, the old bucket in which I place the weeds I was picking from the lawn yesterday. On the sound track you can here several birds. Bear in mind that each berry is about a quarter of a dime across. I'll photograph a berry and a dime side by side tomorrow.

A week ago I had promised to provide a running analysis of the Complaint, or Lawsuit, that the sanctuary is subject to. I started with the crucial paragraphs that allege that a bird sanctuary is not a permitted use of land located in the 2-acre residentially zoned district of the Town of Riverhead. However, I've now decided not to proceed with this analysis, even though all the other paragraphs of the Complaint are equally weak. My lawyer, Reggie Seltzer, is submitting a detailed Answer to these allegations, in which we either deny them, or cannot express an opinion due to insufficient knowledge. Presumably the opposing lawyer will, in due course, attempt to fully justify each of the numerous allegations;  then we will attempt to show that their reasoning is faulty. I think it would be wise not to reveal at this stage why we think their allegations are mistaken, since this would help them tailor their justification to meet our objections.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Hummingbird Nest

This morning, as I was weeding the lawn (a never ending task) I heard the buzz of a nearby Woodstar hummingbird, and then saw it perched and shortly after flying to what seemed to be a nest, in a low-hanging branch of a gumbo-limbo tree. I decided not to look too closely immediately, and retreat, intending to study the situation later at a more convenient time. Later in that morning I took the camera and went back to what I thought was the gumbo-limbo I had observed earlier, and sure enough I spotted an umistakable hummingbird nest, beautifully decorated with green lichen (just like back in Baiting Hollow):

Since the mother seemed to be absent, I could get very close, and even looked inside: empty! I decided that perhaps she was still building it, and waited for about 10 minutes not very close, watching with binoculars. I saw a hummer up on another branch, but she did not approach the nest. After 10 more minutes I decided that it was possible I was mistaken in the tree (there are several gumbo-limbos in this part of the garden). So I looked carefully at the other trees. I quickly saw a second nest, but this one appeared to be even more unoccupied, and even slightly askew. And then in a third tree, actually closer to where I was earlier that morning, I spotted a third nest (the one shown in the first picture). This one was occupied! I decided to note carefully the location, and retreat. Then, after a swim in the ocean with some friends, I returned just as the sunlight was fading, with the camera. She was still patiently on the nest, and I was able to get the top picture in the last rays of the dusk. Now I know where she is I should be able to get many more pictures. She looked exactly like the one I had monitored years ago in Baiting Hollow. Note that this nest is decorated with only a few fragments of green lichen, and is more surrounded by leaves, and also lots of the ripe Gum Elemi berries. These are about the size of a pea, and beloved of many birds, especially the white-crowned pigeon. I hope they do not come to feed from the berries surrounding and hiding her nest!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Regina Seltzer to Represent Us in Hummingbird Lawsuit

I'm very happy, proud and honored to announce that Regina Seltzer will be representing me and my son in our defense against the lawsuit brought against us by Terry et al, seeking to close the sanctuary and extract $3M from us (which would mean replacing the sanctuary by a couple more McMansions).
Reggie is a highly experienced, and pugnacious, environmental lawyer with particular expertise in zoning matters. As I've posted previously, zoning lies at the core of the lawsuit. I first got to know of Reggie because she successfully (2002) brought a lawsuit against .... yes, you've guessed it, the Town of Riverhead, which had illegally (and again in the dead of winter of 2000) approved the Traditional Links Mega-Golf Resort which lies a half-mile to the west of the sanctuary, and has damaged the gobally-rare "Grandifolia Sandhills" there, which was the finest example anywhere in the world (yes, unbelievably IN THE WORLD!) of a dwarf maritime beech forest. Riverhead allowed the bulldozing of Long Island's Yosemite, and Reggie, while she could not reverse the destruction, made it clear it was illegal.

Ironically it was because of this epic fight that I started to open the sanctuary to visitors, in 1998. One of the issues that had arisen in Town Board meetings was whether hummingbirds nested in the Dwarf Maritime Beech Forest. Traditional Links' "biologist" claimed they did not, and even denied that hummingbirds visited, but I showed the Town Board a photograph of a hummingbird nest taken there. Since no-one could visit the private land in question, I decided to show that there were numerous hummingbirds visiting my land just half a mile to the east. The "open day" was featured on the front page of the News Review (again, not my request or decision!), and numerous people saw hummingbirds. See

Reggie is a member of the Board of the Pine Barrens Society, and advises, and acts, for them in a variety of legal matters. She's also an avid birder, has visited the sanctuary, and strongly believes in its mission, which is to delight and inform Long Island hummingbirders, and to raise awareness of the beauty of the Long Island natural environment and promote preservation.
To celebrate this event, which will be a turning point after a very difficult and stressful month, I've chosen a particularly fine photo taken at the sanctuary by Joe Mure. It shows a hummingbird feeding at the tall, graceful sky-blue flower stalks of bog sage (Salvia uliginosa, an ugly name for a beautiful plant), with Long Island Sound in the background. Thanks Joe, and thanks to all those who have assisted me in my recent search for the best possible legal representation. I will write in more detail about all of this in the coming weeks.  

Saturday, February 1, 2014

New News-Review Article

Here the hummer is visiting Salvia greggii, "Autumn Sage". Note the tiny dangling "undercarriage". Hummingbirds were originally classed as "legless birds" (Apodiformes) because early observers couldn't see the legs, which are very small and cannot be used for walking.

There's a new article about the sanctuary in the News-Review this week (see links to the right of this post). In the Comments section I've corrected a couple of minor mistakes in the article: pedantic but it might be important to get all the details right, especially in a lawcourt. I've also provided a commentary on the reporter's interview with Fred Terry, since much of what he (Fred) states is wrong, inaccurate or exaggerated.