Thursday, October 08, 2009

One in the Hand

The first time I saw one was out the window of my office. It was zipping from flower to flower, eating nectar as a student came in for a conference.

"Come see," I said. "I think that's a hummingbird."

She was impressed, having never seen one before.

I saw one again in traffic with Hye Sook and her parents one day.

"Look," I told Hye Sook. She, too, was impressed.

I started noticing them on the flowering bush in front of my apartment building when I came back from the States this year: first one, then many. Some days the bush would have as many as five or six feeding at one time. I also started to notice them on various flowers around my neighborhood--the morning glories on the bridge, the lilacs near the subway station--any flower was guaranteed to have one if you waited long enough. They zipped to and fro quickly, almost too quickly to follow.

It was a hummingbird epidemic, I thought. If you're going to have an epidemic, I supposed that that was one of the better kinds.

I became fascinated with them. I'd stop and watch them after my morning jog. Sometimes I'd even put my hand up right near them and feel the air flowing from their furiously beating wings.

And then one day I caught one.

I simply scooped it up in my hands after a jog. It was surprisingly easy. I rushed upstairs and, unable to turn the handle with the furiously flapping animal in my hands, I rang the doorbell until Hye Sook came to the door. Groggy, she stared at me, completely uninterested.

"I caught one," I said, "a hummingbird."

"Really?" She perked up a little.

We tried to get a good look into my hands but it was so small that I feared even a little crack would set it free. It's wings beat and beat against my palms. After I had shown Hye Sook my prize, I let it free. Off it zipped as soon as I opened my hands a crack.

Unable to contain my excitement, I went online to try to find out exactly what species I had caught. This site led me here, and that one led me there. No hummingbirds were listed for Korea, and every species I found was a bit larger than the ones I was seeing. The Bee Hummingbird was the closest one at 5 centimeters, which was about the size of the one I had caught, but they lived in Cuba. Eventually, I came across a site that made it all clear: what I had caught wasn't a hummingbird at all. It was a hummingbird moth--which explained the powder substance on my hands when I captured it. I thought that the hummingbird had just been really dusty or perhaps that hummingbird poop came out like that.

I was disappointed in my new knowledge. I had been fooled for weeks as to what I was seeing. I went out to look at them again and try to find signs that it was indeed a moth. Sure enough, two tiny antennae poked out from it's tiny head, and what I had mistaken for a beak was actually a proboscis which curled back a little every time it moved to a new flower. You see what you want to see, I suppose, although to my credit, it was hard to see details when they moved so fast.

As I was standing there watching them, a man came up to me and warned me to stay back. I wasn't the only one confused by this strange little creature.

"Those are hornets," he said. "If you catch one, you'll have to go to the hospital."

I nodded and smiled, not wanting to contradict him but confident in the fact that if you were to catch one, you'd be just fine.



At 5:19 PM, Blogger Damian James said...

That's some craziness. Good pics.


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