A Hummer Of A Summer Day


Photo courtesy of The Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary

I don’t think I’m too far off when I say that most people are fascinated by hummingbirds.  Delicate yet swift, they confound gardeners, bird watchers, and photographers alike – all of whom wait patiently for one to appear.  And when one does, an excited whisper passes through the crowd, as if Beyonce has just walked up to the feeder.

“Oh, there she is.  She’s right there.  Oh, look at her . . .” Then, as quickly as a hummingbird appears, it zips away.

I haven’t seen a hummingbird since I was a child, but that certainly hasn’t dampened my fascination.  So when my friend Michele suggested a field trip to the Baiting Hollow Hummingbird Sanctuary, I jumped at the chance.  Would I see one?  Would I even be able to snap a picture?

Located on a bluff overlooking Long Island Sound, the Sanctuary is more than a labor of love for its founder, Paul Adams.  It is a passion.  His three-and-a-half acre garden is, at first glance, in a natural state – filled with native trees that provide perches and nest building materials for his guests of honor, hummingbirds that migrate from Mexico and Central America.

Then, all around, are splashes of sweet nectar and color, thanks to butterfly bushes, salvias, cardinal flowers, trumpet vines, honeysuckle, and a selection of tropical flowers to make the hummingbirds feel more at home.

There is a small, tree-shaded area for parking and, fortunately, I listened to Michele about wearing a good pair of walking shoes.  The ground is uneven, and there are some crudely built steps to help visitors negotiate the ups and downs of the garden.  And be sure to mind the hand-painted signs – all of which are there to help you safely explore.

The first stop for Michele, me, and two other friends, Jeannie and James, was a hollow, accessible by a tighly packed dirt steps.

At the bottom, a large sign reminded us to be quiet – and it was like entering a church.  We were dwarfed by walls of butterfly bushes, accented with the stained glass hues of butterfly wings.

We then strolled under a canopy of wild cherry, oak, and beech trees, all the time keeping our eyes glued to the various feeders, hoping to catch a glimpse of a hummingbird.  My hands gripped the camera.

Eventually, we made it to the cottages, one of the most peaceful locations on the property.  Here, visitors sat patiently in Adirondack chairs, cameras in hand, waiting for a hummingbird to arrive by a feeder or to enjoy the nectar from any of their favorite flowers.

Behind the cottage closest to the bluff, there was an amazing view of Long Island Sound and the steady buzz of bees.  A hummingbird made a quick appearance, but then flew away faster than I could say, “Hum.”

We ultimately returned to the garden between the two cottages, one of which is where Mr. Adams spends his summer months.  The rest of the year, he’s a professor of neuroscience at Stony Brook University, on Long Island.  On this visit, we were his pupils, as he taught us about the life and habits of hummingbirds.  Then, in midsentence, he said, “There’s one at the feeder now.”

Every head turned and there was the collective whisper of awe.  Instinctively, I snapped a photo.  There was no time to zoom and I hoped the digital camera would be able to focus faster than a hummingbird’s wings.

At some point, I began to wonder if the hummingbirds were playing with all of us.  It’s as if they knew we were waiting to capture their image, and when they saw all of the cameras take aim, off they flew.  One even hovered above the deck where Mr. Adams was speaking to us, but as the cameras were lifted, so too did the hummingbird.  Gone.

Just as I was about to pack up the camera, one hummingbird seemed to feel sorry for us and sat on a branch, preening and posing itself.

And I had my close up.  At last.

Not only is it remarkable to have seen a hummingbird in the wild, it’s an inspiration to meet a man so passionate about his love that he is willing to share it with the public for free.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The Sanctuary has no admission fee.  In fact, Mr. Adams will not even accept a monetary donation (his website encourages donations to other specified organizations), although sturdy old chairs and plants are always welcome.

The Sanctuary is only open in August.  For more information about the species, the Sanctuary, the battle to protect it from development, starting your own hummingbird-friendly garden, as well as days and hours of operation, please visit either the website or blog.

Field Trip: A Greenhouse Hopes To Grow In Brooklyn


There is nothing quite like humidity in New York.  With its density and weight, it has a presence – and it likes to make its presence known, often making the blacktop-enhanced summertime heat seem that much more oppressive. 

And that kind of weather is perfect for a car-subway-walk field trip.  The idea was inspired by a recent article in the New York Times which focused on the Greenwood Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, and its historic cemetery.

Situated on 478 acres, Green-Wood Cemetery was founded in the 1830s and is now the final resting place for more than 550,000 souls: politicians, soldiers, actors, dancers, freed slaves, designers, and journalists among them.  At one point in the 1850s, the cemetery, with path after path named after plants, even rivaled Niagara Falls as a tourist destination.

On this very hot and very humid day, there are few visitors approaching the ornate gateway.  The sedum in the iron birdbath seems to enjoy the heat, but the big-leafed coleus is much more content in the shade of the enormous archway.

The only noise is the squawks from above.  The bird call sounds familiar but out of place in Brooklyn – but there, nesting in the center spire of the gate, is a flock of parrots.

Just across from the cemetery’s main entrance are the remains of a wood-and-glass greenhouse. 

The greenhouse once belonged to James Weir, Jr., who had also built more than 20 other greenhouses and nurseries throughout Brooklyn.  In 1971, the McGovern family, also in the florist industry, bought the property.

Over the decades, the greenhouse, now considered a landmark as the only Victorian-era greenhouse still standing in New York, has fallen into disrepair, with peeling paint, rotting wood, crumbling foundations, and missing and broken panes of glass.  A year ago, however, Green-Wood cemetery purchased the greenhouse and is in the process of turning it into a visitors’ center.  And so, this relic now sits behind security gates, waiting to be reborn.

I’m not sure how long this agave has been here, but I like to think that as I look through the hazy glass, I am looking at the ghost of a plant from long ago.

Next Post: The Brooklyn walking tour continues with views from the bridge and a parade of window boxes.