Hawks and Hummingbirds

The Hummingbird Hawkmoth (HH) has for centuries been an object of fascination, myth and wonder.

In my garden, Hastings, August 2018

So closely do they resemble the birds they’re named after, that it’s not uncommon for them to be mistaken for actual hummingbirds.

In my garden, Hastings, July 2014

Back in 2006 there were reports in our local paper of hummingbird sightings in Hastings gardens, to which I responded with the letter below:

The historical associations with the HH are quite wonderful too. The book I use as my authoritative moth identification guide even has an extra ‘Folklore’ section for the HH, which reads:

Apparently long considered a messenger of good tidings in Italy and Malta. A small swarm was reported flying over the water in the English Channel, headed to England from France on D-Day, 1944. One seen by the senior author on the day his daughter was born!”[1]

In Barmouth, Wales (where we holidayed this year), August 2019

Although superstition’s not my thing, I have to confess that, whenever I catch a sighting of one of these almost mythical beasts (which is only 2-3 times a year most years), not only am I enthralled (and quickly grab my camera), but it does feel like my “lucky day”! There’s a lasting, healthy buzz – like God’s smile.

In my garden, Hastings, July 2014

But why am I posting these thoughts on this summer visitor in November, as a kind of Throwback Thursday (on a damp Tuesday)?

Well, I was inspired by a delightful article on the Hummingbird Hawkmoth in this month’s Butterfly Conversation magazine, ‘Butterfly’, and thought I’d take the opportunity to post some photos of my own from this year and previous summers, with these brief comments.

In my garden, Hastings, July 2014

The article informs us that in the early 20th Century the HH was also wonderfully known as the ‘Merrylee-dance-a-pole’, and references a letter sent to WH Hudson, quoted in his The Book of a Naturalist:

We regarded it with mingled awe and joy, and followed its erratic and rapid flight with ecstasy….We thought it a being from another world….and I longed to be a Merrylee-dance-a-pole myself, to fly to unheard-of, undreamed-of beautiful flowery lands.”

In my garden, Hastings, July 2014

The Butterfly article ends perfectly with these words, which resonate profoundly with my own experience:

Ecstasy – that word again. To stand outside oneself for a moment, to glimpse the sublime and feel at one with nature. Some beings have that effect on our thoughts. The Hummingbird Hawk-moth is one of them.”

You rarely see Hummingbird Hawkmoths being still, but this one in my garden in 2014 settled on clothes on the washing line for some time!

(All photos mine, but not copyright – i.e. feel free to use them, with my blessing!)

[1] The Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland by Paul Waring and Martin Townsend (2003)


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