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 (

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Waves on our beach

Yesterday there was a lot of white on the ocean due to strong winds, and I decided to test the camera, after another disassembly and a more powerful air blast on the sensor, by filming the waves on Calypso's beach. Here is one result - a big piece of fluff is gone but there's still a little smudge along the right edge.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A couple of garden videos

This shows the fabulous flowers of the Pandora vine (Pandorea jasminoides).

And here we have an old video, from 2010, which shows some of the coconut palms at Calypso. It was taken before a hurricane which knocked down quite a few.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

dime in the nest; garden scenes

Here's a photo of a dime placed in the now empty nest. As you can see it just fits. Bear in mind that the nest is shallower and the top wider than it was originally.

Foxtail palm with Pandora flowers

Claire with Royal Palm

Holding a "rein" of the foxtail. The leaflet closest to the trunk of each "foxtail" leaf has a curious very long ribbon-like extension which almost reaches the ground

Friday, March 21, 2014

sago palms in the wind

Today's video shows our house "WoodStar" (named after the local hummingbird) behind a royal palm, with, underneath, 2 large "Sago Palms". These are "Queen Sagos", Cycas circinalis, which do very well in the sandy soil of the oceanfront garden. You can also see pink bougainvillea, and in the background a very tall Norfolk Island Pine (on the left) and, on the right, a tropical almond (Catappa terminalis). There are also smaller queen sagos in the lower corners. Our house has a chimney, and a pretty fireplace, which we only use when the overnight temperature drops below 65 degrees, which has been rare this winter.
Sagos are officially known as "cycads", a very ancient family of plant that dominated the carboniferous era. We also have some nice specimens of the King Sago, Cycas revoluta, which is less tropical and more formal looking, but also more slowly growing.
The main source of culinary sago is not the sago palm but a true palm, Metroxylon sagu. However, sago can also be extracted from sago palms, but only with special techniques, since otherwise it can be very poisonous.
In Britain sago pearls (small compressed sago flour balls) are (together with the very similar tapioca) used to make a sweet milk desert. My school lunches often featured this, which was as revolting as the rest.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

fledgling update; rock-a-by-baby

Paul, the second-fledged of Gumbo's chicks, is still (8.15 this morning) hanging out in his natal tree, though considerably more mobile than yesterday. Gumbo is still feeding him. But it's increasingly difficult to film, because he's high up and concealed by leaves and berries. In the mean time, here's a video of the 2 twins in the nest, from a few days ago. It was quite windy, because a (rather weak and disorganized) cold front was approaching from the north, which brought a brief but welcome rain shower a day later. Paul on the left, Claire on the right.

Noon Update: Paul is moving about in the tree a lot, but Gumbo is still feeding him, though she has to search a bit. Yesterday afternoon I noticed that Gumbo was also chasing away a hummer that seemed to want to return to the nest-tree. I suspect she was chasing off Claire, the first fledged, sort of saying "I need to focus on the smaller one now, and you need to start finding your own food". At noon today I was also seeing her chasing 2 hummingbirds in the nearby trees, possibly Claire and Paul. But at this point unless I see her actually feeding a bird, it will be increasingly difficult to distinguish Gumbo, Claire, Paul and all the hummingbirds that call Calypso home.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Both chicks fledged; nest empty

This morning at 9 there was still one chick in the nest, and Gumbo was feeding both the nestling and yesterday's fledgling (Paul and Claire). At 10 the nest was empty. I settled in and studied the tree. Soon I saw a small hummingbird quietly perched almost 4 feet vertically above the nest. I suspected this was Paul, the second to fledge. After a short while Gumbo arrived. After her usual cautious appraisal, she inspected the nest, and then quite quickly, realizing her second baby had fledged, and perhaps hearing some tiny peeps, she spotted Paul, and started feeding him. Then over the course of an hour, she returned to him several times, as well as feeding her other chick, Claire, who was moving around quite a bit in the tree top, and more difficult to spot. Finally Paul flew just a couple of feet  to a slightly different spot, where Gumbo again returned to feed him. Unfortunately there's a large piece of new fluff on the camera sensor.
Here's one of the feeding episodes between Gumbo and Paul (of course I don't yet know the sexes of the 2 fledglings).

This afternoon I inspected the now deserted nest: impeccably clean inside, and lined with very soft down.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Only one chick left in the nest, the other has successfully fledged

Today was busy, most significantly because it was Claire's birthday, and we went up to Hatchet Bay to the "Front Porch" for a celebratory lunch, with 3 friends. We sat on the "front porch" looking over the Hatchet Bay marina and ate stone crabs. Afterwards we walked down to admire a tall-masted schooner in the harbor, which was visiting from Nassau (it spends the summer up in Boston).
So I only got to check the nest at 6.30 this evening, and immediately saw that there was only1 baby left, who looks almost ready to fledge himself. So I sat near the nest hoping Gumbo would show up and feed the fledgling, wherever it was. I expected to see the fledgling on the ground, under the nest, but could not spot it. However after 10 minutes a hummingbird arrived in the tree, and moved around a bit. At first I assumed it was Gumbo, but slowly it dawned on me that this hummingbird was small and in particular has a bill only about half the size of Gumbo's. After seeming to try to feed at a couple of Gumbo Limbo berries, she settled down on a little twig of another Gumbo Limbo tree, about 15 feet further away. Then I heard Gumbo herself arrive, with a characteristic buzz. Sure enough after a couple more minutes, checking out the general situation, she flew up to the chick on the twig, and quickly fed her. Then, after another minute of careful checking (she was clearly aware that I was in my usual chair), she fed the remaining chick, in the nest. Finally, as usual, she lunged at me. I remained in my chair, and she went off to fetch more food. Ten minutes later, during which the fledgling did a little cautious flying, ending on another twig in the same tree, where she waited expectently, Gumbo reappeared and again fed first the fledling and then the baby in the nest. It was now after 7 and the light was fading, but I got some reasonable video of all this. Here's the first very short short clip of Gumbo feeding Claire. I'm calling the fledgling Claire, because she launched herself on Claire's birthday. Perhaps I should call the one still in the nest Paul? More to follow.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Shielding chicks from the sun

The Gumbo Limbo tree in which Gumbo is nesting (and for which she is named) has lost almost all its leaves, as usual in the dry season. The afternoon sun is now streaming directly into the nest, and Gumbo usually perches, immobile, on the edge of the nest to shield her babies. The chicks are starting to look like proper hummingbirds, though their beaks are still very short, and it will not be long before they fledge.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

X-rated: Great Lizard Cuckoos mating

The Great Lizard Cuckoo is the largest Lizard Cuckoo, and one of the largest cuckoos. It is found only on Cuba, and 3 islands of the Bahamas: Eleuthera, Andros and New Providence (where the capital Nassau is located). It is nearly 2 feet in length, and has a long barred tail. It does not fly very much preferring to hop from branch to branch or run along the ground. It is not very shy and is seen fairly often at Calypso, though it seems to be rare elsewhere on the island. It has a strong personality, and seems sometimes to converse with humans, making a deep Ka-Ka-Ka-Ka-Ka sound.
This morning I observed one holding a lizard in its mouth. I started filming. You can see what happened on the video. Basically the male offers the lizard to the female but only on condition she mates with him. Indeed he does not let go of the lizard until what that rat Ken Starr described as "completion". He grips not only the lizard, but also the bill of the female. After transferring the lizard, and a short wait, the female swallows the gift (i.e. the hapless lizard).  I have read that food offerings (e.g. insects) are often part of cuckoo courtship, and also bill-holding, but I've not seen a description of a GLC doing this. I suspect this is the first ever video of a GLC mating, since they are rare outside of Cuba.

Rare footage of mating Great Lizard Cuckoos; Palm Shadows; Gumbo feeding chicks

This morning quite by chance I was able to film the mating of a pair of Great Lizard Cuckoos (GLCs), one of Eleuthera's rarest and most interesting birds. However, I've not yet reviewed and uploaded the footage. In the meantime here's film from  yesterday showing Gumbo feeding the babies. They have not grown much but are rapidly becoming more like small hummingbirds. First though a video of the shadows cast by waving coconut palm fronds next to the ocean.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Finger size comparison with chicks. Gumbo is very annoyed!

In this sequence, filmed this afternoon, I bring my forefinger very close to the nest to offer a size scale for the chicks. However, Gumbo, who is monitoring the nest almost constantly, gets very annoyed at this threat to her babies, and immediately attacks me, darting and buzzing and chipping at me. Part of this activity is captured in the later parts of the movie.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

arrival, feeding, and sitting: just room for 3

Here's a movie from monday afternoon, showing Gumbo arriving at the nest, feeding the 2 chicks (who now completely fill the nest) then trying to squeeze herself in between. But as shown in the next sequence this takes a great deal of shuffling around, with the babies being moved around a lot. The blue in the background is Calypso Pond, which is close to the nest. The final video shows the pond from a different angle, through the fronds of palms, including the wonderful foxtail palm.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A few garden snaps

There are 3 houses at Calypso, named "SeaStar", "WoodStar" (after the endemic hummingbird) and MorningStar. The smallest house is Morningstar, but it's closest to the ocean (and gets the worst of the salt). We have friends arriving tomorrow, from England, and Claire and I were getting Morningstar ready for them. I had my trusty little Lumix in my pocket and here are some snaps. Here's the cottage:

and here's the view in front of the cottage:

 Claire saw a turtle in the ocean today at this spot! And here are parts of the nearby garden

Yellow elder and Norfolk Pine

All quite different from Baiting Hollow, but equally nice, and modest.

Eyes Open and Trading Places

Both chicks have now opened their eyes (part of the time) and are more active and aware of their environment. In the first movie from yesterday afternoon, you see one of the chicks moving from the beak-to-beak position to a beak-to-tail position. Since they now fill the nest, this involves quite an elaborate shuffle, and a slight risk of falling out. More to follow.....

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Gumbo's clean babies - no diaper needed!

As I was filming the chicks in the nest, to my great surprise one of the chicks lifted his rear up and pooped - like a projectile - it hit me and I stopped filming. I should not have been surprised because I had read about this behavior, which keeps the nest clean. But the accuracy with which she lifts clear of the nest rim is impressive. The first video is in regular time, and the second in 4 times slo-mo.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

latest feeding vid; bite

Plumbago (blue), ruellia (purple), bougainvillea (pink).
And here is yesterday's feeding video - at the end she flies straight at me and buzzes with her wings, telling me to GO AWAY! - which I did.

And here's yesterday's photo of the BR bite, taken while I was sitting near Gumbo's nest. The bite itself took place 2 weeks ago, and is almost completely healed, with a small central scab that is flaking off. Sorry for the these clinical images, but they might be of interest (and encourage optimism) for Brown Recluse victims.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Chicks Filmed Close-Up in the Nest

Calypso beach this morning - only 200 feet from Gumbo's nest. The black stuff is seaweed, which I will soon harvest for the garden.

This morning I saw that the 2 chicks had grown even more, and now fill the nest. However, it was too windy to photograph: the nest was swaying in and out of view, and focus was impossible. This morning the chicks were head to tail, but this afternoon one had moved round, so they were now beak-by-beak. There was a brief squall with thunder this afternoon as the cold front tail passed through, and quite a bit of very welcome rain. Then the wind subsided, and I was able to film the babies. They are almost black, and the beaks, though still very stubby, are a bit longer. Once again I was able to film Mama feeding them, and then attacking me. It's becoming quite a routine, and I will attempt to get the attack on video. However, I will probably upload the new feeding video tomorrow, since uploading to Youtube hogs our limited bandwidth. Because of the rain, I think the nest was a little bit squashed, but nothing like the pre-Valentine squishing.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

New Feeding and Attack Video

 Bougainvillea comes in various colors but I think this pink-and-white is my favorite.

Here's today's babyfeeding video: arrival on the nest, the first chick popping up his beak and peeping, feeding both chicks (which are now even bigger and more ravenous), and, at the end, an attack (I cannot move the camera fast enough to capture her trajectory, but you can here the "buzzing" of the wings very close to the camera). Notice the iridescent green back - just like the ruby throat. Indeed all the behavior I'm seeing here is the same as what I 've seen in Baiting Hollow, when my neighbor had a hummingbird nest in her larch tree (which he cut down that winter to build a 2-story garage).

Slo-mo close-up of Gumbo feeding babies and attacking me!

Here's a compilation of sequences from the movie in my last post. The first sequences are in 4 times slo-mo and the last sequence, which shows her launching the attack, is in 10 times slo-mo.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Close-Up Gumbo Feeding Babies Video

This is a follow-up to the videos I posted yesterday. After filming the first feeding session, I moved my chair even closer and filmed a second session. However, Gumbo seemed to be a bit nervous during the feeding, and suddenly decided to attack me! If you listen very carefully to the soundtrack at the end of the clip, just after she leaves the nest you will here a buzzing sound as she came very close. I took the hint and beat a retreat. She's spending a lot of time away from the nest, and she's also become quite aggressive and wary when we try to approach. This makes sense: she's already invested a lot of time and effort into raising her chicks, but they are still very vulnerable. The nest is at the very end of a low-hanging branch of a quite tall (maybe 30 feet) gumbo limbo tree (also known here as a gum elemi tree, and as "tourist tree" (because of the red peeling bark). The nest is about 5 feet above the ground. There are quite a few (all non-venomous) snakes around, but they would be unlikely to climb all the way up the trunk and down the limb to reach the babies.
Notice that as soon as she arrives at the nest, the chicks poke up their bills pleading for food, but she's quite cautious and waits to feed them. I'll try to compile and present some slo-mo sequences from this movie.
The gumbo-limbo tree has soft resinous wood that was traditionally used for carving the horses on old-fashioned fairground carrousels.

My Brown Recluse bite continues to heal nicely. Soon I will be able to swim again in the ocean in front of Calypso. Are Brown Recluses very dangerous or not? See here and here. Bottom line: the bite can be nasty, but almost never lethal.

Kevin, our gardener, is digging a large hole in the ground in which we will plant a Royal Palm seedling ( actually a nine-foot sapling) which was delivered (along with 3 others) on the mail-boat from Nassau (the capital of the Bahamas). Planting here is not a trivial exercise, because it involves hacking deep into the coral rock, using pick axes and digging bars. One of them is already installed in its own hole, which took 3 of us a week to dig! This is what it will look like in 15 years, if I'm lucky enough to see it:

The 2 figures are Claire's niece and her boyfriend, who were visiting in january.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Babies even bigger, video in the nest and of Gumbo feeding them

Today Gumbo's 2 babies are even bigger, and filling two thirds of the nest. The above video shows a view down into the nest. The babies are dark brown, still only have a few wispy feathers, and keep their stubby beaks well hidden - except when Mom arrives, and they start clamoring for food. They seem to keep their heads tucked away while Gumbo is away foraging for insects, and they are breathing quite rapidly.

In the above video, Gumbo arrives from the left, hovers briefly near the nest, flies a short distance to the right (out of view) then decides it's safe and lands on the rim of the nest. Immediately the 2 chicks pop up their short beaks, begging for food. But at first Gumbo looks carefully around, before starting to feed them. It's amazing how deeply she inserts her long bill into their gullet. The whole process is rather alarming, but apparently it works, and is much more precise than it looks - the chicks are thriving. It looks as though their eyes have not opened yet. After the feeding Gumbo sits on the babies, though now, because of their increased size, it takes a while for her to get comfortable. I have another even more detailed video, but because uploading monopolizes bandwidth, I'll upload it tomorrow.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Babies Growing Rapidly; Garden Scenes

Gumbo's babies are now packed side-by-side in the bottom half of the nest. She's still feeding and sitting on them. However, I took no pictures of the nest, so instead I'm showing some garden scenes. Except for the above one (with red oleander and yellow elder), all were taken at the "Rockery", which is a small but steep limestone hill in the back garden (i.e. behind Calypso Pond). Because we have had good rain even though it's the dry season, there are masses of flowers everywhere in our 10 acre garden, of which the Rockery is a small part.

Yellow oleander, pink and red bougainvillea.

In addition here you see red peregrine.

Here one is looking down from halfway up the hill. The rockery is protected from salt winds by massive casuarina stands.

Here you see Aechmea blanchetiana (an orange-leaved bromeliad), as well as cape honeysuckle and yellow hibiscus.

Finally, from the top, there's a fine distant view of Diamond Cay. Today there was a north wind and waves are breaking over the island. The coconut palms are at Halcyon Bay (see blog post for jan 7), our favorite beach on the Island, a ten minute beach walk from Calypso beach.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

babies tripled; BR Bite

Yesterday was a busy, and wet, day, but this morning is beautiful and I saw that Gumbo is still feeding her babies, which have almost quadrupled in size over 3 days (see above and below). She's spending more time away from the nest, as the chicks' need for food increases, but is still sitting on them after her now more vigorous feeding. The chicks now occupy about the bottom third of the nest, and are clearly visible from above as little brown coarsely feathered blobs. However, their heads seemed to be tucked out of view. Here's a photo taken from above.

I'll shoot video this afternoon. In the mean time here's a picture of the improved state of my Brown Recluse bite. It's well on the mend, has considerably shrunk from the initial size (see black dots), and is much less painful. The central pimples erupted earlier in the week and have been weeping pus. The only treatment has been bathing the hand in warm salty water for 20 minutes. I keep it bandaged most of the rest of the time. I hope that it continues to improve (it's now 8 days since the presumed bite), and that my experience shows that more aggressive treatment (e.g. antibiotics, surgery) is not always needed.