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, December 31, 2015

Jumping Ahead: Another Mother Hummer feeds her fledgling

Mme W is still quietly incubating her eggs. Meanwhile, another hummer Mom is feeding her recently fledged chick. In the sequence below my son Jamie photographed (1) junior perched on a twig (2) Mom arriving on the twig and Junior begging (3) they go beak to beak (4) Mom thrusts her beak into Junior (5) she goes all the way down into his stomach and regurgitates a mix of insects and nectar.  Bahama Woodstars photographed at Calypso, Eleuthera, late december 2015.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Mme W close-up

Mme W, the Bahama Woodstar hummingbird nesting at Calypso, our winter home on Eleuthera, is still quietly sitting on her nest, with occasional short trips for snacks. There's a nice big firecracker clump near her nest, whose small tubular red flowers are a good nectar source. She seems more tolerant of human activity near her nest than Gumbo was 2 years ago, and I can stand just 10 feet away with my video camera. However, I still need to zoom a lot and hand-shake is of course a problem, exacerbated by the swaying of the hanging branch. Here's the best I've managed so far.

However, I've now set up a step-ladder near the nest, which I plan to use as a support for the camera. I hope she well get used to this strange looming object. I've thought of trying to camouflage it with palm leaves, but then I decided that she probably doesn't mind whether nearby objects look natural or not, as long as they stay put and don't menace the nest.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

stunning new LaLa images

Kent Gomez viewed LaLa yesterday. She's doing well and posed nicely for him. Here's one of the results. More to follow.

and here, for contrast, is another of Jamie's photos of Twozy, the putative dad of the eggs currently incubating here at Calypso (Eleuthera, Bahamas). I hope this constant switching between Baiting Hollow, Long Island and Calypso, Eleuthera is not as confusing for you as it is sometimes for me. Too much of a good thing?

Monday, December 28, 2015

Monsieur 2Z - the putative Dad; LaLa update

This handsome fellow, an adult male Bahama Woodstar, is hanging out quite close to the nest I'm monitoring. Note the purple, rather than red, gorget in this species (Calliphlox evelynae; the genus name means "beautiful flame" and I presume Evelyn was the first describer*; there are 4 other Woodstars in this genus). Photo by my son Jamie Adams - check out his birding blog - he'll soon be posting a selection of his Eleuthera sightings.
Because hummingbirds are highly territorial, I suspect this is the father of the eggs than Mme W is incubating in her recently-completed nest. I therefore name him Monsieur 2Z, because male birds have 2 Z chromosomes. Other suggested names for Mme W are Mrs Bethel (in honor of Rita Bethel, a Bahamian friend), Thumbelina (a fairy-tail character) and Gumbette (because the nest is again in a Gumbo-Limbo tree). I'm currently favoring Mme W, primarily because it's very short and teaches an interesting biology lesson (after all, I am a biology professor). However I'm still open to other suggestions!
Note that Bahama Woodstars are very small - indeed slightly smaller than ruby-throats.
* Actually it seems this name was bestowed by the 19th century hummingbird expert Jules Bourcier; I suspect that Evelyn came from the 17th century naturalist diarist (and rival of Samuel Pepys) John Evelyn.

My friend Donna DeSousa went out to check on LaLa yesterday (sunday). LaLa is still very active and has drained 2 of the 4 feeders; Donna very kindly refilled those feeders. Because of the warm weather ants had invaded a third feeder and she set up an ant-trap. Can we keep LaLa happy? I suspect that as the days start to lengthen again, and Alaska re-warms, she might try an early trip back to her western breeding grounds. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

W sits on her eggs

For the moment, pending a decision on a name for the female hummingbird nesting here at Calypso on the Bahamian "out island" of Eleuthera, I'm calling her Madame W. Female birds have 1 W sex chromosome and 1 Z sex chromosome, and males have 2 Z chromosomes, so W marks the lady. Here are 2 vids from today. from 2 different angles. She's catching the late afternoon sun, and is a little wary, sometimes eyeing me closely. Both vids were shot at normal speed so there's a soundtrack - which is just the sound of the ocean.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

LaLa still around; down south, adding the last Christmas decorations to an active hummer nest

Birder friends reported that this morning LaLa, the rufous hummingbird overwintering at the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary, is still around and feeding at flowers and feeders.

Meanwhile Claire and I are overwintering at our Bahamian home on the island of Eleuthera. My avid birder son Jamie is here over Christmas with his family, and this morning he spotted an active hummingbird nest quite close to where Gumbo successfully raised a family 2 years ago. The new nest is also low down in a Gumbo Limbo tree, although not the same tree as last time, and not in quite such a favorable location - but pretty good, as you can see from the following videos. In the first, she cautiously approaches her new nest with a piece of lichen, briefly lands but then, sensing danger, scoots off again. Because we stay motionless she then quickly returns (shown in the second video), adds the lichen to the top of the nest and settles on her eggs.

Note that at the very beginning of the second video she arrives on the nest and quickly snuggles down before placing the lichen on the top rim of her new nest. It's fairly windy here and the low-hanging branch at the bottom of which she has built her  nest is swaying quite a lot. From most angles her nest is hidden in foliage, but luckily it can be seen from a spot where I have the sun behind my back, though in this vid she's actually in shade. I have not looked inside the nest to check there are eggs, but I'm pretty sure there are. They have not hatched yet because she's not feeding the young, and the nest seems to be very new, since she's still decorating it with lichen. This helps camoflage the nest, exactly the same as in Baiting Hollow, but of course here we have a different species - the Bahama Woodstar (Calliphlox evelynae) instead of the Ruby-Throat (Archilocus colibris).

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Latest LaLa portrait

The following detailed portrait of LaLa, the rufous hummingbird that's spending the winter (at least so far) in Baiting Hollow, very far from her usual haunts in the far western US, was taken by Michael McBrien. This was last friday. LaLa has not been definitely seen since, but this does not mean she is not still around.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

LaLa goes for the flowers

This was filmed last week - I don't know if LaLa has survived the cold very windy weekend.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

LaLa still here, and one more too! Rufous, Allen's or "Selasphorus"?

LaLa is definitely a member of the western hummingbird genus known as "Selasphorus", which includes the Rufous (S. rufus), the Allen's (S. sasin), the Broadtailed (S. platycercus), the Calliope (S calliope, the smallest bird in the USA) and several more southerly  species (e.g. Scintillant and Volcano).   I and several real experts think she is a rufous, based on probability and appearance, but the only real way to be sure is to capture and measure the bird - and there's only one person licensed to do this in NY State, and he's far upstate. So, many birders prefer to be cautious, and refer to a member of this genus, in the absence of definitive fieldmarks or direct measurement, as a "Selasphorus". Indeed the New York State Records Committee requires definite identification to list a specific bird as a rarity.

Until very recently John Shemilt was hosting another Selasphorus, which he called "Ginger", at the entrance to the South Fork. Here she is (thanks John for the excellent photo):

However, Ginger departed earlier this week, while LaLa is still present the Baiting Hollow Sanctuary (as of friday). John suspects Ginger is a Broad-Tailed - the same species as the bird I saw at Mary-Jo Ballator's Arizona sanctuary.

It's rather extraordinary that 2 selasphoruses should be simultaneously in residence on the east end of Long Island.  We must be doing something right, and it's great fun for those who miss our summer hummers.

According to, the rufous makes the longest migration (relative to its length) of any bird. And of course LaLa has gone even further.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Summer Hummer

We briefly interrupt our LaLa coverage to bring you a reminiscence from the summer, courtesy of Heath Martinson. The young rubythroat is feeding at Salvia involucrata, which is still blooming at the sanctuary and nourishing LaLa.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

LaLa drinks a lot

LaLa regularly comes for brief visits to her favorite feeder, and when she feeds you can see air bubbles floating upward, corresponding to the substantial amounts she consumes. Then she zips off to safety in the western valley. Will she still be here for Christmas? What present could I offer her? Perhaps the best would be a companion - another rufous. But hummers are not very sociable and rufous hummingbirds have the reputation of being the most aggressive of all. However so far LaLa seems to keep her cool.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A summer-hummer squall in Baiting Hollow

Time to take a break from LaLa though she's still strutting her stuff at the sanctuary. Instead, here's a video from the summer, which shows one of the  squabbles between ruby-throated hummingbirds that goes on all summer: one starts to feed but is then rudely challenged by another - typically the "owner" of this particular patch of flowers. Notice the way the challenger spreads out his tail-feathers in a warning sign.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

LaLa by Mary Laura

Mary Laura Lamont, a noted local naturalist, expert birder and old friend, topped by to say hello to LaLa and took this photo. Note the speckling on the throat - but we still don't know if it's a boy or girl - but very likely the latter.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Charles P Torrey - abolitionist.

The gravestone of Charles Torrey, in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Boston.

"Memoir of Rev. Charles T. Torrey who died in the penitentiary of Maryland, where he was confined for showing mercy to the poor. By J.C. Lovejoy"

The Web in general, and Wikipedia in particular, is a mine of obscure but interesting information (as well as a terrible time-waster - but where does one draw the line?)

I recently came across the above interesting sentence while searching for something else in the Stony Brook University Library. The text of the excellent old biography is here.

And here is the first paragraph of Wikipedia article (from which the above photo was taken):

Charles Turner Torrey (November 21, 1813 - May 9, 1846) was a leading American abolitionist. Although largely lost to historians until recently, Torrey pushed the abolitionist movement to more political and aggressive strategies, including setting up one of the first highly organized lines for the Underground Railroad and personally freeing approximately 400 slaves (more than any other abolitionist). Torrey also worked closely with free blacks, thus becoming one of the first to consider them partners. John Brown cited Torrey as one of the three abolitionists he looked to as models for his own efforts.[1]

The article relates his tragic fate. At least he died knowing his cause was just.

Monday, December 7, 2015

More Magnificence

Here are some Arizona hummingbird photos taken during the recent family trip by my son Jamie (and have a look his blog). First up, an adult male Anna's. Note the glittering red gorget and purple head.

Now for the Magnificents.

wow - I think I would explode if one of these arrived at the sanctuary! These are twice as large as Anna's or Ruby-throats.

here you see the green back.

and one more

Sunday, December 6, 2015

2 new Lala portraits

My friend and Stony Brook colleague Maurice Kernan and his son Thomas came out yesterday to say hi to LaLa and me. Here's a couple of shots that Thomas took (of LaLa and my tripod - photographers get frustrated when their subject keeps trying to perch on their tripod).

She's still here today and is checking out all the flowers and feeders.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

New Lala vid

Lala, a rufous hummingbird from the West Coast, is still enjoying the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary, and is getting quite fat. Filmed on dec 5. 2X slo-mo. She arrived on or before nov 17. And here she's topping up at a feeder (4X slo-mo):-

Great Videos, though not from Baiting Hollow

Here I provide links to several Youtube vids not taken by me. First up, a short vid showing a rufous wintering in Alabama. You can see she's almost identical to LaLa, the rufous currently wintering at the Baiting Hollow Sanctuary. However, the one in Alabama does show a small patch of red on the throat. Despite this the movie says it's a she, and this is probably correct. Mine has no red spot, and is presumably a juvenile. The rufous is the hummingbird migration champion, breeding in Alaska and wintering in central america, and covering a distance of 4000 miles. They are also considered the most aggressive of US hummingbirds. These 2 facts might partly account for why they show up on the east coast in winter - even as far north as Long Island.

Many of my readers will have already seen the wonderful "Nature" video "Hummingbirds: Magic in the Air" -

I recently came across an equally good one, "Jewelled Messengers", presented by "National Geographic" and beautifully narrated by David Attenborough: 


The sequence starting at 23.00 is particularly striking- it shows the courtship dance of the tiny Wire-Crested ThornTail, which is found in Ecuador and Peru. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

LaLa still here!

I'm on my way to Court now but I just saw that Lala, my rufous hummingbird, is still here at the sanctuary. She's been here from at least nov 16 - almost 3 weeks.

My testimony ended earlier than expected (don't know whether that's a good or bad sign), and I'm back in front of the woodstove, and have seen LaLa again, at the feeders. (A couple of kind friends came out during my absence and refilled the feeders).  Unfortunately I neglected to bring a camera but will return tomorrow and try to get more video.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Back from Arizona; Anna's, Costa's and Broad-Tailed

We are back from our trip to Arizona. In the last few days we stayed 3 nights at Madera Canyon, 2 nights in Ramsey Canyon and a last night near Tucson.
In Madera Canyon we saw hummingbirds both at the Chuparosa Inn, where we stayed, and at the Santa Rita Lodge. In both cases we saw the large Magnificent Hummingbirds (see my previous posts) and smaller hummingbirds that often had a red or purple throat. On our way from Madera to Ramsey we stopped at the Paton Hummingbird Center in Patagonia. This is famous amongst hummingbird-lovers because the Patons for many years maintained feeders in their backyard , and invited hummingbirders to visit. Their yard is very close to the Sonoita Creek, one of the few year-round streams in southern Arizona, which attracts a great variety of birds, including many visitors from Mexico. Here we saw a couple of small hummers, but I'm not sure which of the 2 main winter residents, Anna's and Costa's, they were (similar doubts extended to the small hummers we saw at Madera, though there were many of them at the Santa Rita Lodge). We also saw small hummers at the Gilbert Riparian Preserve in Phoenix. This is a waste-water treatment center in a big city which has been cleverly made into a wildlife sanctuary. My expert birder son Jamie felt that the obviously red-throated ones at all these locations were Anna's, and the purple-throats were Costa's, but reviewing images on the web I'm not quite sure - Anna's can also look purplish. But the example below (filmed at the Santa Rita Lodge) is clearly red and presumably an Anna's,
Of course this late in the year we did not expect to see many hummingbirds, but we were not disappointed. It was frustrating however to be far away from my rufous in Baiting Hollow! I will soon check to see if LaLa is still around.

The next vid was from the Paton Center - definitely purplish and probably a Anna's, though at first Jamie and I thought it might be an Costa's.

We also visited Mary-Jo Ballater's wonderful Ash Canyon B and B near Ramsey Canyon, and compared notes with her on our very similar legal problems. I will write soon about this visit, but here I will just mention that we saw, but did not film,  a broad-tailed hummingbird. Mary-Jo hosts some unusual hummers in summer. She is probably the best place in the US to see Lucifers and the Plain-Capped Starthroat. M
PS Mary-Joe informs me that the above bird is probably an Anna's. A Costa's would be pre pink-purple, and the gorget would come down onto the top of the chest, like a British judge's wig.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

magnificent hummingbirds

All hummingbirds are magnificent but only one is Magnificent (Eugenes fulgens).  We are spending Thanksgiving in Arizona and I just filmed a Magnificent (the larger one) sharing a feeder with a couple of Anna's/Costa's. The Magnificent is, together with the Blue-Throated, the largest of US hummingbirds. It weighs at least twice as much as a ruby-throat, and is 2 inches longer. The adult male has an iridescent emerald-green gorget and violet cap (both visible in the video below). He looks rather dark, almost black, from the sides. and has a white patch behind the eye. It is found only in the mountains of the south west US, Mexico and Central America as far as Panama. There were several at the lodge where we are staying, in the Madera Canyon, and also at the Santa Rita Lodge just down the hill from us, where this video was filmed. There are many other hummers (mostly Anna's and Costa's) buzzing around the feeders there.

Monday, November 23, 2015

LaLa is still here

LaLa, the rufous hummingbird visiting the Baiting Hollow sanctuary, was still around this weekend. Here's a recent photo by S.S. Mitra, an expert birder who confirms it's almost certainly a rufous.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

More La-La vids

Both these clips are 4X slo-mo versions of my earlier La-La vids

More Video of LaLa, the rufous in Baiting Hollow; comparison with Neutrino, a late rubythroat

Here LaLa, the rufous hummingbird currently at the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary, is visiting the little white flowers of Salvia "Waverly". The next video shows Neutrino, a late (october 5) ruby-throat at the sanctuary, for comparison - no red on the sides.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Rufous in Baiting Hollow - another clip

I'm calling her LaLa - since she hails from LaLa Land. More vids to follow soon.

Rufous Hummingbird in Baiting Hollow! Video!

12.45. Sunny and cold. I'm in Baiting Hollow in the back cabin. I was just on the phone with Claire (both of us are doing well, though under doctors' orders), having finished lunching by the woodstove on delicious Morroccan lentil soup she made, when I glanced outside and saw, quite unmistakably, a hummingbird hovering persistently at a rosebud salvia flower. It was about 50 feet away so I could not see whether it was a ruby-throat or a rufous. I quickly whipped up some nectar and put up a couple of feeders near where she was. I had taken all my feeders down back in october.
I'll try to get some video, after my nap! It's only 44 degrees outside.


I spent an hour outside in the cold and saw the hummer 3 more times. I also managed to get some video which I will post soon. It's clearly a rufous hummingbird! (Selasphorus rufus).

PS - I posted one clip. I will post more tomorrow.

From Wikipedia:
"This is the western hummingbird most likely to stray into eastern North America. In the United States, a trend is increasing for them to migrate southeast to winter in warmer climates such asFlorida or on the Gulf Coast, rather than in Mexico. They are known to land in the Turks and Caicos Islands. This trend is the result of increased survival with the provision of artificial feeders in gardens. In the past, individuals that migrated eastward toward Canada and the northern USA in error would usually die, but now they often survive as they seem to spend more time in the warm Gulf Coast and Florida. Provided sufficient food and shelter is available, they are surprisingly hardy, able to tolerate temperatures down to −20 °C (−4 °F), so they can be seen in late fall in places such as the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes, and upper New England. As winter comes, birds in these areas normally head to the warmer Gulf Coast and Florida."

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Golden Gate foghorns

I first came to the US in 1978, visiting Ithaca, San Fran and Galveston for job seminars (I'm an academic). The best thing I remember about the whole trip was the Golden Gate foghorns. I sat for an hour under the bridge enveloped physically and spiritually by these majestic noises. To me it was like a great symphony - Bruckner (rather appropriately) comes to mind, or perhaps Gabrieli (an antiphony). Listening to this video literally brings tears to my eyes. Is it still just the same? I have the impression the other vids on Youtube that's it's less rich and complex now. All 3 universities offered me jobs. I ended up in Galveston for 4 years and then Long Island. I suppose our lives would have been totally different. Perhaps I would have tired of this antiphony but I think not. Of course this video does not capture the physicality and bodily penetration of the real thing, one of the wonders of the world.
I've been in Stony Brook hospital for 3 days; no sign of real organic disease other than low blood sodium; no official diagnosis but unofficially seems like psychogenic polydipsia perhaps brought on by worry about the ongoing hummingbird lawsuit.
UPDATE: no real resolution of the underlying problems but nothing life-threatening. But now my wife is in hospital with multiple pulmonary embolisms.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Breaking News: The Surprising Evolution of Hummingbirds

It's long been known that hummingbirds evolved only in the New World, and share an immediate ancestor with swifts and nightjars. But where, when and how did this ancestor appear? A comprehensive genetic study of avian evolution last year in  the premier science journal "Nature" (by Jarvis et al) concluded that hummingbirds share an immediate ancestor with cuckoos. Note that I do not say "branched from cuckoos" because this ancestor was neither cuckoo not hummingbird.

However,  in today's "Nature" an even more detailed study appears (by Prum et al), which changes things dramatically. Here is a comparison of the 2 evolutionary trees, Prum on the left and Jarvis on the right.

Amazingly, according to the new study, the hummingbird group branched off from all other extant bird groups right from the start! Thus they appear on their own at the top of the Prum tree. The other group of birds gave rise to all other living bird species!

However, the Prum and Jarvis trees differ greatly. Which is right? Prum et al argue that the earliest roots of the tree are tangled (see the way some of the red and blue lines cross each other) and under these conditions one needs a lot of data (genomes of a lot of current species) to correctly untangle the longest twistiest roots without breakage (a problem every gardener knows well).

The reason for this appears to be that almost all primitive bird groups died out at the K-T transition, the massive meteor event,  65 million years ago,  that wiped out the dinosaurs, and also triggered massive diversification of primitive mammals (an event without which you would not be reading this).
The world recovered quite rapidly (on a geological time scale) from this catastrophe, and the few remaining bird groups then underwent a rapid explosion of diversification. Was the fact that a few protomammals and protobirds survived while dinosaurs did not, mere chance, part of God's plan, or because these groups could more quickly adapt to the new conditions? More to follow.......

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Neutrino has left; salvias bloom on

I got back to the sanctuary on saturday morning, and was disappointed, though not surprised, to find that Neutrino, my last hummingbird of 2015 has left. No hummer activity at all over the last 3 days. Lots of salvias in bloom, but no customers. Here is a video I shot to show the rosebud salvias, viewed from my favorite corner of the front deck. You can also glimpse red maples turning scarlet on the opposite hillside. I was fllming into the glare of the low sun, which accounts for the splotches of light 9and probbly my lens needs cleaning)  Sorry about the 'background" noise (leaf-blowers and a very noisy hedge trimmer) coming up from the valley below. "Landscapers" were hard at work all day, from 10 am to 6.15 pm (after sunset) making sure no leaves from the surrounding forest were left on my neighbor's small lot. Tomorrow will bring new leaves, and perhaps more "landscaping", but I will not be here. A sisyphean, pointless and cacophonous routine, almost all year round. It's at times like this when I dream of England, where no-one would be rude enough to use a leaf-blower. But there are no hummingbirds either there.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Report from the Sanctuary: Neutrino in residence and up close!

After over a week of bad weather and slightly better work, I returned to the sanctuary expecting not to see any more hummingbirds. Almost all the feeders were empty and many had blown down, but quickly I saw this fine fellow (I'll call him Neutrino in honor of today's Physics Laureates) visiting the only full feeder that had not become blocked by pollen. Be sure to view the video at 1040P resolution!

Judging from the body shape think it's a young male, though there's no hint of red on the throat. Many of the flowers are in great shape, but there was clearly a lot of wind, with debris everywhere, and many of the feeders down. After a rather difficult week it's a delight to be here, I instantly feel happier, healthier and more relaxed, though half an hour of my neighbors' "landscaping" with very noisy leaf-blowers did dent the relaxation. But back to work tomorrow!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

first day of fall; hi-res hummer posing and feeding; cape honeysuckle

Because of work, bad weather etc I've not been at the sanctuary for a week - but I suspect I've not missed much. Probably all my hummers are gone, but I'll see tomorrow. Meanwhile, here's a brief video I shot showing sunset on the first day of fall. Note that now it's setting over land - in fact very near Old Field Point where it set exactly on the last evening of summer (see my last post). It will set over western Long Island for the next 6 months.

 A few months ago I "upgraded" my computer to the new MacBook - the 12 inch Retina model. While the screen is a bit bigger than my "old" 11 inch MacAir, and many other details are better (especially the super-sharp Retina screen), it has big problems even though it was rated as the best laptop ever. Several of the keys don't work well (they changed the keyboard technology and have not yet worked through the bugs). And though the new version of Imovie is in some ways better, I need to learn a lot of new stuff. The bottom line here though is that I've been frustrated that when I upload video to Youtube for this blog, they were showing up at lower resolution than using the old Mac (740P instead of 1040P). Well I finally discovered why, and here's a clip uploaded at the proper resolution. It's from 10 days ago and shows a  young hummer perching on a stalk of bog sage and feeding at the sugary flowers of rosebud sage (4X slo mo):

Finally here's a hummerless clip of my Cape Honeysuckle, Tecomaria capensis, which is finally blooming after remaining mute all summer. In the Bahamas it's a hummingbird favorite but here, after a winter indoors, it only gets going as the hummers leave.

Friday, September 25, 2015

hummers are back!

It seems as  though the low activity yesterday was fluke: numbers have picked up again - but we probably have only a couple of weeks more. Here's some video I shot 2 days ago. The hummer is feeding mainly at the red flowers of Salvia greggi (Autumn Sage) "Cherry Queen".

On sept 22 (the Autumn Equinox) the setting sun, which has been swiftly moving southward in the last 2 weeks, was exactly at Old Field Point.  For 6 months it's been setting over the sea (more exactly LI Sound) but now for the next 6 months it will set over land.
Last weekend I showed the sanctuary and the hummingbirds to the Facilities Manager of the 4H Camp, Bob Peck and his charming companion Katherine. They were fascinated by all the hummer activity. They walked over from their home,  the "Ranger House", quite close to me, where they maintain a hummingbird feeder, and get occasional visits. This confirms what I always thought - the hummers prefer the areas near the bluff, though I do see them regularly in the parking lot and along the Woodland Walk, by means of which  my invited hummingbird enthusiasts arrive at the sanctuary area, essentially unobserved or heard by my neighbors. I'm very lucky that my 3.4 acre property was never subdivided and runs all the way from the Mean High Water mark just above the Sound, to the Parking Lot (about 1000 feet). This means that the visitors walk entirely on my property after driving up Terry Farm Rd, finally reaching the cottages and the main blufftop viewing area.  I've also been very careful to preserve all the trees on my property, so my neighbors look out on a sea of green. It's a Nature Preserve, as well as a sanctuary for hummingbirds - as it has been for thousand of years. And as you know the views, 25 miles west, east and north, are almost unparalled on Long Island. I hope it can be kept this way for ever, for the enjoyment of all hummer-lovers.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A visit to Long Island Plants; activity starting to fall

Until today the above clip of a hummingbird attack (one of the birds then goes on to feed unmolested) was a very typical scene which has played out many times every day since early august. But today I've only seen a couple of hummers here, one of then a young bird with a short beak feeding on jewelweed.

Just in time I went out on monday to see Bill Koller's place in Medford, where he runs Long Island Hummingbird Plants. As in previous years he is hosting at least 3 very active hummers, buzzing around the magnificent plants (all top-notch hummer-friendly) that flourish in his yard. His Salvia involucrata is the tallest I've ever seen, and his Pachystachys lutea, S "Phyllis's fancy" and numerous other superbly grown varieties (including a rampant Mina lobata, tall cardinal flowers, were amazing, and clearly appreciated by his flying jewels. Bill observes his hummers closely, and has an way of getting inside their avian thoughts, almost as though he is involved in their lives.
He still has some wonderful plants, excellently grown and in peak condition, for sale, and while we are sadly nearing the end of the season, now is to the best time to acquire some new beauties so that late-visiting birds on their way south will remember your place on their return to the Island in late spring.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Friday, September 11, 2015

More of Daniel Hauben's work at the sanctuary

here's another of Daniel's evocative and exotic recent pastels at the sanctuary, entitled "Spanish Moss" :

and here's a photo of me and Daniel chatting while he's sketching me in a corner of a large oil canvas, taken by his charming and equally talented librettist-wife Judy:

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Bill Koller's clever idea; boy hummer


Lovely recent photo by Johann Schumacher shows a young male (note the beginnings of the adult forked tail).

Bill Koller, at Long Island Hummingbird Plants , and his wife Peg came over for their regular Labor Day visit. Of course we discussed all matters hummingbird, and I told him that I was having problems with wasps and bees going for the tiny seeps of nectar where the cap screws on the minifeeders. They also go to the outlet (not Tanger!) but when these stick their head in, I simply quickly (that's the key to avoid being stung) squish them between thumb and forefinger. But those on the seeps (invisible to the naked eye) are more easily able to see and evade their looming doom.

Bill said he dealt with this problem by simple putting plumber's teflon tape on the screw part - brilliant. I tried it out yesterday and it really works. Bill still has some excellent hummer plants for those late arrivals (or, in the case of columbine, for those arriving in the spring.)

Monday, September 7, 2015

Firecracker; Helicopter Noise Petition; Friar's Head Lawsuit

The top photo (a very recent one by Bob Immoor) shows a ruby-throat juvenile feeding on firecracker plant (Russellia equisetiformis)  at the sanctuary. The video underneath shows a Bahama Woodstar feeding at huge sprawling firecracker at Calypso, our winter place on Eleuthera. It was shot in early april when I first fell ill (I'm now almost fully recovered). In both locations it's an excellent hummingbird plant.

Please sign my Helicopter Noise Petition.

Returning to the Friar's Head scandal, let me quickly summarize my interpretation of what happened - in my next post

Friday, September 4, 2015

Daniel Hauben paints more pictures at the sanctuary; Sign the Petition! Lawsuit


Here's the Mike Pawluk photo I posted in my last post, and here's Daniel Hauben's delightful pastel version of much the same scene (though done a month earlier, with different things blooming):

Daniel ( is from the Bronx, and is famous for his wonderful and often animated Bronx street scenes. In late july he was artist-in-residence at the excellent East End Arts Center  (EEAC) on Main Street in Riverhead (near the Suffolk Theater and Atlantis Aquarium), and came up here to paint. I'll be featuring more of his work here and on the north fork, and I hope you will be able to order giclé prints - and even splurge on one of his originals. Let me or Daniel know if you are interested in giclés - I imagine his pricing will depend on volume.
He's back again this week at EEAC and has been painting more at the sanctuary - more to follow.

In the mean time please sign my noise petition to Schumer , if you have not already done so:
I'll get back to the Friar's Head saga, and the lawsuit, in my next few posts.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Please sign my petition to Senator Schumer on; sanctuary now closed

recent photo by Jim Grant. The hummer is feeding at the white flower of shrimp plant. The "shrimp" is the red bract of the bloom, but the hummer has to learn that the white flower has the nectar, not the red shrimp.
Though hummers continue to be active, we are now closed for the season.

I have created a petition to Senator Chuck Schumer asking him to intervene to limit the noisy overflights of helicopters and seaplanes, on their way to or from East Hampton to Manhattan. They interfere with conversation and make it difficult or impossible to hear the subtle hummingbird  sounds which are often a good clue to where to look. Please sign the petition:

Monday, August 31, 2015

Closed For the Season - will reopen aug 2016. Long Island National Parks - Friar's Head? - a not-forgotten scandal

We are now closed to all except personal friends (and then only by appointment) until august 2016. In my next few posts I"ll be featuring recent photos by Michael Pawluk, for example the one above. In my next post I''ll write a "wrap-up" - an overview of the just closed month.

But for now I draw your attention to an opinion piece in today's NY Times, by Nicholas Kristof. He writes about his recent wilderness camping experience, and laments the ongoing attempt to "privatize" (i.e. commercialize) our fabulous national parks and other federal open space.  The comments are well worth reading, and one makes the important point that there are very few national parks east of the Rockies. Indeed the few along the east coast are usually a long drive and crowded. This makes it doubly important to preserve our dwindling open space and natural lands, especially here on Long Island, which is already as crowded as all other islands in the world, except for 16 others such as Taiwan. Indeed there is no national park on mainland Long Island (except for part of Fire Island), with its nearly 8 million people.

However there ARE (or, better, until very recently WERE) national park-worthy large tracts of land on Long Island. Indeed, there is (or was, until very recently) one only half a mile west of the sanctuary: Friar's Head, the former Talmage property (aka "the Grandifolia Sandhills", 450 acres with 1 mile of Long Island Sound frontage (yes, you read that right).
This candidate national park contains (or contained) 2 globally-rare natural features: perched parabolic sand-dunes and the best example anywhere in the world  ((yes, you also read that right). Anywhere else in the world (even N. Korea) would have made strenuous efforts to protect even one such feature, but The Town of Riverhead gave the golf resort then known as "Traditional Links" permission to bulldoze it on feb 1 2000 - and the following day (the dead of winter) it was a fait accompli.
More about this nightmare in my next posts. In the meantime I''ll  post some links that provide useful background reading to this disgusting saga in the column to the right of this post

Friday, August 28, 2015

blood drops; still some availability monday

click this photo by Bert Spitz

Young male hummers (the adult males have all left) sometimes have a small cluster of tiny ruby feathers on their throat - the future gorget. In the right light it flashes like a bright red stoplight - a fragment of the future gorget. Here's a recent photo of this drop of blood by Mark Schaller:

And here's an older video of Fred's full gorget -note how it looks black from the side, but flashes brilliantly when he turns towards the camera.

There's still some availability monday (our LAST DAY THIS YEAR)

Other Types of Hummingbird, in the Eastern US; Closing is Nigh, but still availability sat-mon.

Recent photo by Mark Schaller. Rosebud sage (Salvia involucrata)

There are around 340 species of hummingbird in the Americas (a species is a variety that does not normally interbreed with other varieties). They are found from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, but only the ruby throat breeds in the eastern US (basically because this is the only species that has evolved the trick of crossing the Gulf of Access). However several of the US's western species can be seen rarely but regularly in the eastern US (but do not breed there). These are "vagrants", and the commonest vagrant species is the Rufous. In the winter of 2012/13 James Conforti hosted a rufous right here on Long Island, in Mount Sinai; here is one of my blog posts about this hardy soul, who we called Nemo, because he arrived during that winter storm. Rufous hummingbirds breed in the north-western US, up into Alaska, and migrate to Central America for the winter (mostly the Mexican state of Guerrero), but storms can bring them as far as the east coast (mostly in the South). Here is a map showing recent sightings of vagrant Rufous. Notice there's even a report in Nova Scotia! The reports include some cases where the observer could not decide between a Rufous and the very similar Allen's.
We will be closing for the season after monday aug 31, though of course personal friends are always welcome to visit (with notice and arrangement). There are still some openings available aug 29-31.
Here's a nice butterfly (american painted lady; Vanessa virginiensis, on Zinnia, shot by Bob Immoor:

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Porpoises visit the hummingbird sanctuary - without a waiver! More slots posted thur pm and fri am

A group of visitors on sunday afternoon switched their attention from hummers to porpoises: we had a great view of a large pod of them frolicking in the Sound in front of us, about 1000 feet offshore. There must have been at least 50, slowly moving west. I shot video:

The first vid is in regular time (and thus has a sound track) and the other in 2X slo-mo

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Ruby-throat Migration; Wall Street Mafia and Hummer Lifespan

Take-off. Yesterday's photo by Marvin Shepherd

Ruby-throat migration is in full swing and yesterday morning's north wind undoubtedly triggered a drop in numbers at the sanctuary, partly recouped later in the day by new arrivals from further north. The adult males (including Fred) have already left (though there's always the possibility of a new arrival from much further north, because once the females are no longer receptive to his considerable charms there's no point in sticking around. The male plays no part in rearing chicks. The earlier he arrives on his wintering grounds (see blue on the map), the better the new territory he can establish there. The wintering grounds extend from southern Mexico, down to Costa Rica (where I've personally seen ruby-throats wintering). Once the chicks are independent (a few days after leaving the nest), the adult females will follow, and then the juveniles in order of fledging. However, each must first spend a few days fattening up to prepare for the arduous journey ahead. This makes the birds come frequently to the flowers and feeders, which is why august and september sees the most activity at the sanctuary, and of course in your own back-yard.
I too must fatten up (financially) prior to my own southward migration (in late december) and indeed my first "fall semester" lecture at the University is tomorrow. Visitors to the sanctuary (confirmed reservation required) will be greeted by members of our wonderful band of volunteers. I'll write more aboutthe fascinating migration process in my next post, but now I must review my lecture notes in preparation for tomorrow's class!
Ww are now nearing the end of our august visiting period: we will be closed after aug 31, but I hope, all being well, that we will open most days until then: keep an eye on the blog for available slots!

When the judge asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, he famously answered, "because that's where the money is". But now it's the banks and hedge funds that rob us: median household wealth declined by $5K from 2001 to 2011 (see here) but the banks etc got bailed out and are now doing better than ever. Most financial profits are reaped by a variety of legal scams, and some not so legal. The dividing line is fuzzy, and I suspect that the closer you are to the borderline, the more money can be made (like sailing close to the wind). What's puzzling is why in a democracy the financial/legal system is rigged. The best explanation seems to be that we are not really a democracy, but a plutocracy, as we always were, except for a brief period after the great depression. This is why I refer to the Wall Street Mafia, which shades imperceptibly into the top echelons of big business. In the end it boils down to the fact that in a stable economy the only way to make money is to take it from other, weaker, people. This is not true in a growing economy, but as we are beginning to realize unlimited growth isn't possible, or desireable.
The ruby-throat population is rather stable (with minor year-to-year fluctuations). Since each bird produces around 1 additional bird on average per year, it must be the case that half the population dies each year, giving an average lifespan of 1 year (I'm using a simplified statistical model). However some skilled birds (all females) make it to at least 11 years. I suspect that the main cause of death is the perilous migration - especially crossing the Gulf of Mexico. We come, via the Wall Street Mafia, full circle.

                                                                       Angelo Mozillo

                                                      Lloyd Blankfein, doing God's work

Friday, August 21, 2015

Rainy morning but hummers active

Will post further updates soon, but those with reservations will find it dry under the front porch and hummers quite active. You will probably not get another opportunity this year.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rain or Shine; Cherry Alert; Lawsuit

This fellow is probably a young male, even though there's not yet even a hint of red on the throat. There are black dots there, and his general appearance is masculine: short and squat not long and elegant. Very recent photo by Michelle Neacy.

Our policy for confirmed visits is strictly "rain or shine", though if you cancel more than 4 hours ahead we will allow you to try for another slot. If you simply fail to show, you get banned from the sanctuary for this year. By the same token, if you want to visit, keep an eye on the blog for last-minute cancellations. If the forecast is for less than 100% rain probability, it will likely only rain a bit during your visit. Furthermore, rain often provides the best viewing conditions: hummers deal with rain very well, continue to feed, and often come to the front porch (where there are sheltered feeders). You will be dry there, and can shelter in the front cabin if the rain becomes driving, and admire the numerous hummingbird photographs that adorn the walls. These photos have been brought by visitors over the years.

The sanctuary hosts a large number of wild cherry trees (Black Cherry, Prunus serotina; the closely related choke cherry Prunus virginiana, is more shrubby). These are picturesque small trees with fairly sparse foliage which are ideal for the Trumpet Creeper ( Campsis radicans; I'll write more about these beautiful and hummer-friendly plants very soon). These black cherries have pretty white flowers in late spring. However they can be very messy, and this year the fruit are abundant and often fall on the seats underneath. If you sit on them they can leave dark stains, so beware! I try to remove the night's crop from the chairs in the morning , but more may fall. If you do see some on the seat, sample them - they are tart but quite small. Claire and I once collected enough to make jam - probably the best I've ever tasted, but a lot of work. Birds, such as chickadees and cedr waxwing, love these cherries, and of course seedlings pop up everywhere. Do not sit on the ground - you will stain your clothes. And while on this general topic, please do not put your bag etc on the chairs - they are reserved for bottoms! Put them on the deck or, after scrutiny, on the ground. Someone very kindly brought 2 old but fairly sturdy park benches to the sanctuary - please think of us if you are throwing out sturdy old NON-PLASTIC garden furniture.

The ongoing lawsuit by several neighbors seeks to close the sanctuary. The Complaint is a public record, and its primary thrust is that hummingbird sanctuaries are illegal under the Code of the Town of Riverhead. However, the Complaint does not list the applicable section of the Code, and in fact the Code does not (of course) mention hummingbird sanctuaries. Thus the Complaint seems to be founded on a speculative interpretation of the Code, perhaps based on the hypothesis that everything that is not specifically permitted, is prohibited (like brushing one's teeth in one's backyard?).

More specifically the Plaintiffs' lawyer's line of argument might be that a hummingbird sanctuary (if allowed at all) would only be allowed secondary to a primary use, that my property (composed of 2 lots, only one of which is, minimally, developed is zoned for residential use only, and that in order to have a secondary use, there must already be a primary use - specifically, an existing residence. By this argument, someone who owns 2 contiguous lots, one with a residence, the other undeveloped, would not be allowed to have a vegetable garden on the undeveloped lot (and perhaps would not even be allowed to walk onto it) - clearly an absurd theory.
In my next post I will explore this and other aspects of the lawsuit.

Photo by Bob Immoor

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

walking to the sanctuary

I impose a 6-car limit in the parking lot, which limits the number of people who can visit (and is a good reason to try to share your ride with friends and neighbors). Of course at any one time there are usually fewer than 6 cars, but I cannot allow more than 6. However you can walk to the sanctuary from the south end of Terry Farm, parking either in the Sound Ave Preserve lot (immediately east of the southern end of Terry Farm Rd) or simply on the side of Sound Ave. It's a 0.7 mile, quite pretty hike, and often quite hot, at least until you reach the forest. But maybe you can catch a ride back with another visitor. Even walkers must ask for an appointment, either am (from 9.30 to 12.30) or pm (3-5.30) and must receive confirmation, waiver and directions. However you can apply to come on any day in august, regardless of whether that date is posted as available at the blog. BUT PLEASE DO NOT LIE: if you plan to walk, you CANNOT ARRIVE AT THE SANCTUARY BY CAR. Also, you cannot be dropped off at the sanctuary by an unconfirmed car: NO UNCONFIRMED CAR SHOULD ENTER TERRY FARM RD.

This photo was taken yesterday by Jason Ganz. More of his photos tomorrow!

Monday, August 17, 2015

If you cannot come, PLEASE CANCEL! Why is the US so litigious? Legal Blackmail


Before writing more about the ongoing lawsuit that seeks to close down the hummingbird sanctuary, I should address the following question: Why is the US so litigious, even compared to other countries? For example, the country that is in many ways closest and most similar to the US is Canada, but according to the above table the US litigates at 4 times the Canadian rate (on a per capita basis; the number hardly changes on a GDP/capita basis).

Very simple: if you file a suit that does not have a high probability of succeeding, in Canada your will likely have to pay the defendant's legal costs. Thus only very strong suits get filed. In the US filing a suit is often - even usually - a legal form of blackmail: if you don't do what I want, I'll sue you, so even though you are right and I'm wrong, you will incur tremendous costs, and possibly make a mistake and let me grab your assets. 

Of course another factor is that there are 15 times more lawyers per capita in the US than in Canada! However, this partly reflects US litigiousness rather than the other way round: in the US the best and safest way to make money is legal blackmail, fraud and robbery.

Are Americans healthier, wealthier or happier as a result? No. 
Life expectancies Canada 82 US 79
median per capita wealth: 48K v 40K
Happiness Ranking: 5 v. 17

Indeed, I suspect one of the reasons we are poorer, less healthy and less happy is our litigiousness, which hardly fosters social harmony.

On a happier note, here's a recent photo by Mike Chachkes

If you cannot come please let me know so I can open a place for another. Thanks!