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 (

Monday, September 29, 2014

still around! how much longer though? ; video

Here's a slo-mo video from earlier in the season. The hummer is feeding at rosebud salvia, but gets interrupted a couple of times by bees.

We still have at least a couple of hummingbirds around at the sanctuary, though activity is definitely tapering off, and I've greatly reduced the number of feeders. It will be interesting to see how much longer they stick around. However, it will be impossible to pin it down to an exact date, first because I'm spending less and less time at the sanctuary, and second because one can never be sure there are no longer infrequent visits. Often one can have a few days of no action, then they reappear for a couple of days (perhaps as laggards arrive from further north, and then scurry further south after a quick rest). Other reports indicate that there are still many sightings in the north of the country, though numbers are diminishing, and numbers on the Gulf Coast are climbing.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

drop of blood; still bickering in the rain and wind

Juvenile males often show one or 2 tiny scarlet throat feathers starting to break through the normal silver gray. This often looks like a drop of blood, viewed from the right angle in good light.  Here's an example in a recent photo taken by Dominick Gerace at a feeder at his yard in Manorville. However he thinks that this guy is not "Junior", who recently left the nest he had been monitoring, but another youngster.

Here at the sanctuary I ventured out today in the rain and wind, and saw 2 hummers fighting despite the late season and difficult conditions. I expect to see hummingbirds well into early october, though in decreasing numbers. Others are also continuing to see activity - check out the recent photos at Friends of the Sanctuary.
To end up with here's a neat older sanctuary photo by Tom Killip that shows a juvie with 4 "drops of blood".

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Still quite active at the sanctuary; Shep Jones

Although we are getting near the end of the hummingbird season on Long Island, over the last few days there continues to be good activity at the sanctuary. Mike Chachkes swung by this morning and nabbed these nice images. The top one shows a hummer feeding at Agastache cana, and the next one at  Rosebud Salvia. There are probably more hummingbird flowers in bloom at the sanctuary than so far this year, and it will be sad when the hummers have all gone south despite the banquet laid before them.  But we are having chilly nights, and once frost arrives Long Island will no longer be a hospitable place for these tropical jewels.

I hear that hummers are still active at many other locations on Long Island. Get out and enjoy the spectacle (and the beautiful weather) while they are still around.Yesterday between my morning and afternoon lectures at the University, I went for a walk at one of my favorite locations on Long Island, Avalon Preserve in Head of the Harbor. The wind was tossing the tops of the huge and ancient trees, and for once there was almost no noise from "landscaping" teams working on the surrounding fancy houses (for me they destroy the sonic landscape).  I particularly love Shep Jones Road, a dirt road which runs right through the Preserve. There are no powerlines or houses, there are many magnificent oaks, and almost no traffic - fortunately the road is quite bad where it joins Harbour Road, discouraging its use as a short cut. I hope it stays bad! If you have never walked Shep Jones I urge you to do so - just beautiful! In the north west wildflower field there is an amazing old red cedar tree - the most magnificent I've ever seen, except for one at Prestwould, at Virginia's southern border.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Visit to Long Island Hummingbird Plants, in Medford

I just got back from a visit to Bill Koller's place in Medford, where he runs Long Island Hummingbird Plants. His front yard garden is now in full splendor, full of hummingbird favorites - and hummingbirds. It's quite amazing to come off the LIE and less than 5 minutes later to be surrounded by zooming hummers and their favorite plants, some of which are ENORMOUS! His Mina lobata is a waterfull of blossom twelve feet high, there are porterweeds, salvias and other goodies galore, and his "Phyllis's Fancy" salvia (a close kin of "Waverley") has grown in 3 months from a 2 inch pot to a gigantic woody bush, like in California. And hummers busy everywhere at these flowers, chasing each other, and taking time outs (often together) on various perches. There's still time to pick up some special plants, have a couple of weeks of action in your yard, then overwinter them inside (or in many cases in the ground) ready for early may when they will be back. If you want to buy plants please make an appointment with Bill, but you can stop by any time and admire the plants and action from the kerb (please, do not venture beyond the public road unless you have an appointment to buy plants). He's located at the very end of a quiet cul de sac (Classic Court) with plenty of space to park and admire at his front yard from the road. Take the LIE to the 112 interaction, go south on 112 past the railroad bridge, turn left (east) on Jamaica and after several stop signs turn right on Paple then immeidiately left into Classic Court. It's a good example of what almost anyone on Long Island can achieve with a bit of effort.

I forgot to take my camera so here's a couple of recent shots from the sanctuary, by Bob Immoor. The first (see top) shows a hummer at Salvia involucrata (Rosebud Salvia) "Bethellii", and the second shows my Gloriosa rothchildseana in bloom (but this year no hummer visits). Lot of activity at the sanctuary yesterday and today, I shot a lot of video but it will be a while before I can sort through it and upload to Youtube. I'll probably wait until all the hummers are gone, which will happen soon

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

hummingbirds active from east to west; hummingbird article draft

Here at the sanctuary there's a lot of hummer activity - I'm sitting in the front cabin grading students' exam papers, and I can hear an almost continuous buzzing from the open window. And I just got a report of good activity in the far west of the Island, in Valley Stream, not far from JFK. Here are a couple of recent videos in Alice Paloma's back yard there (courtesy of Dave Paloma). Alice get visits from males and females throughout the summer, which means they are breeding nearby, possibly in Valley Stream State Park.

  the flower on the left of the feeder is Agastache

I've been asked to write a short (800 word) article for the Pine Barrens Society Newsletter. Here is a draft - I would appreciate any feedback (paul.adams&

Hummingbirds On Long Island

Hummingbirds are a remarkable and very large family of exclusively New World birds, with about 330 different species. They vary in size from the minuscule bee hummingbird of Cuba, the world's smallest bird,  to the Andean giant hummingbird, the size of a cardinal. They "hum" because their wings move very rapidly (typically around 50 beats per second) in a figure 8 pattern, generating lift on both upstroke and down stroke, like hovering insects. This motion is enabled by pivoting the wing at the shoulder joint, as well as other adaptations to the heart, metabolism, chest muscles and feet.  Hovering allows competition with insects for the sugar provided by flower nectar. The unique flight machinery also confers amazing agility and acceleration (up to 10G!).  They often have spectacular colors, generated by tiny prisms in the feathers. 

Only one species breeds in the Northeast US , the ruby-throated hummingbird. It succeeds here because it has evolved a suite of adaptations allowing nonstop crossing of the Gulf of Mexico, avoiding competition with the many western species. The name comes from the iridescent red throat patch (or "gorget") of the adult male, made of about 100 tiny jewel-like feathers. Adult males also have a forked tail, while in females and juveniles the tail-tip is straight and white.  Hatch-year males can already have a few of these rubies. Although the gorget usually appears almost black from the side, in full frontal view and bright light it flashes brilliantly, and entices the females to mate. The suitor performs a "pendulum" dance, repeatedly diving rapidly from a great height down to the perched female, displaying his gorget, then swinging rapidly back up again. He may then switch to a "shuttle display", moving rapidly back and forth in a short horizontal trajectory in front of her. Simplified dances are also sometimes used as aggressive tactics.

Hummingbirds are territorial and pugnacious. Breeding males establish territories of an acre or more, which they defend against all other. They spend their day patrolling this territory and chasing out all but receptive females (which after seduction get chased out too). Breeding females establish smaller nesting territories. But hummingbirds establish small territories even during short stopovers on their migrations, spending hours chasing each other, while adding fat -  a  paper clip weight on a 1 cent body. Flower nectar supplies the necessary energy, but hummers quickly learn to use feeders supplying plain sugar water (20/80 ratio).

While rubythroats remain abundant in the northeast, and throughout most of their summer range east of the Mississipi all the way from Texas to southern Canada, they are no longer common on densely-built Long Island. Some excellent naturalists, such as the late great Paul Stoutenberg, have written that they are now only seen migrating, but they do breed successfully in wooded pockets almost everywhere on the Island, and even in Manhattan. Their small lichen-camouflaged nests can sometimes be spotted by following females. If you see a hummingbird in june, you can be sure it is a breeding resident. But you are more likely to see hummers in early may, or especially in august and september. Adult males arrive first, in late april, and females a week later. Females do all the nest building, incubation and chick care, and sometimes all 3 at once, in separate nests. Nestlings eat mostly insects, for protein, and during nesting  (late may to early august) female visits to flowers and feeders are infrequent. The last task of the season is to lay down fat for the southward migration, and this, combined with doubling of numbers, and the arrival of birds from further north, leads to more visibility.

Good native Long Island plants for hummers include columbine, jewelweed and cardinal flower.  However, nectar-rich exotic flowers in your backyard will increase chances of seeing these amazing birds, though many are not reliably hardy. Salvias such as "black and blue" (S. guaranitica) are easy to grow and deer resistant; see for other recommendations.  Add a few feeders with sugar-water, but keep  clean, fresh and insect-free. 

Although attracting hummingbirds  is more work on Long Island than it would be upstate or in New England, seeing them zoom around  your yard is all the more rewarding, and possible in many more locations than one might suppose. Locations near preserved woodland are best, but people get regular visits well into Nassau County, and you can reliably see hummers in the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and Alley Pond Park (Queens), at wild stands of cardinal flower. Further east, Bayard Cutting Arboretum, Wertheim Wildlife Refuge, Mashomack (Shelter Island), Avalon (Stony Brook) and almost any wooded area (eg. Manorville) are good. But perhaps the most reliable place to see hummingbirds is the small private sanctuary I maintain in Baiting Hollow, where I allow visitation at specific announced times (see in the month of august. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Update on Lady Di and Junior

Though "Junior" fledged several days ago, he and Lady Di are still spending a lot of time together. Dominick writes: "Lady Di is on the right. She is not feeding Junior as far as I can tell. They will sit with each other on the same branch from time to time. The only proof I have [that they are indeed Lady Di and Junior] is that they spend a lot of time in the nest tree. She chases him off the feeders a lot. He seems to sit at the feeders for more time than is necessary." [added by me]. I think the observation that they are still hanging out together in the nest tree is conclusive.

You can see that Junior's bill is now as long as Mom's. 

Here at the sanctuary we still have plenty of hummers -  more than earlier this month. I'll post some video soon. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

still some hummingbirds around; Cannas; Zephyr Teachout

Photo, by Mark Schaller, shows a hummer feeding at Canna indica. Cannas are mostly sold as showy selections which have the nectar, and much of the grace, bred out of them. The best, in every way, are the old fashioned plants handed on, as tubers, from family or friends (as mine were). Hummers love these beautiful flowers with their tropical-looking leaves. But the tubers must be dug up after the first freeze and stored over the winter.

Hummer numbers dropped here at the end of last week, but started to pick up again on sunday and we still have some around. Yellowjackets are becoming a real problem, not so much for the hummers, which can go to the flowers instead, but me! I had some initial success with homemade yellowjacket traps, made from a plastic water bottle. I cut off the top third, invert it inside the rest of the bottle, with some red plastic and sugar water in the bottom. The inverted top forms a funnel, so the wasps, attracted by the sugar water, enter the narrow part but cannot figure out how to escape. However, after a few days raccoons (or some other nocturnal critter) found the traps on the ground or on the decks, and ran off with them. So now I'm hanging the traps from strings, next to the feeders. Seems to be working for the moment.

I urge you to vote for Zephyr Teachout in the primary: she will literally be a breath of fresh air. Cuomo, like most politicians, is a pawn of big business, and Teachout will go after corruption (for a few years at least).

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lady Di's chick has fledged!

Lady Di's chick (whom Dominick Gerace, our patient Manorville observer and photographer, dubs Junior) has left the nest! As I expected, he's ended up in the same oak tree that holds the nest, but higher up. Dominick managed to get this photo of the young fellow, locating him by following Lady Di to where he perched. Notice that his beak is still short and stubby, though it will rapidly grow in the next few days, as Lady Di plies him with a nectar-insect slurry. He'll start moving around more and more on his own, and his Mom will encourage him to do so: she's already getting him to go higher in the tree. She's probably impatient to leave on her own southward migration, but first must be sure that Junior is completely independent. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Jackpot! Fighting hummers caught in action.

Here's a great new photo by Bob Immoor that captures the characteristic aggressive tail-flaring of 2 fighting hummingbirds. They were squabbling over the yellow flowers of trumpet vine Campsis radicans "Flava" **. It's difficult to photograph one hummer at a flower really well, and 2 in the same frame like this is quite an accomplishment: skill, patience and a bit of luck! I believe the purple blob in the center is an out of focus rosebud salvia blossom.