indigo bunting

In the Barn

Classes at Bread Loaf all take place in the Barn, a literally-named place a few hundred yards behind the inn which itself sits almost on Route 125. The western third of the Barn has been converted into two stories of classrooms.

My stories class (Fiction Writing) takes place on the second floor, in the back of the Barn, and the room is graced with a fire escape, a great place to spend the fifteen-minute break in the middle of class.

Some Barn Swallows were undisturbed by our presence, so I snapped a few pictures of them with my camera, which I had brought with me to class.

Two of them, presumably a nesting pair, were unruffled and docile, about ten feet away from the fire escape, and I was able to catch them giving me a calm if wary eye. Male and female Barn Swallows have identical (or nearly identical) plumage, so I can’t tell which is which.

In flight, they’re beautiful, agile birds, and the only local swallows to have the forked swallowtail. They’re a voracious and welcome presence on a buggy campus. In a typical barn, they’d nest inside and out, and would perform their valuable exterminatory services in exchange for nothing more than unmolested lodging. The current configuration of this barn, however, means the only real nesting areas are outside. Fortunately, most of the Bread Loaf campus has been maintained in an architectural style with plenty of eaves and gables, so they seem to do just fine.

This bird has stumped both my father and me. It appears to be a sparrow, and could be a Vesper Sparrow, but the stripe over the eye is much too pronounced. It’s possible that it’s some kind of immature plumage.

Or, it’s an entirely new kind of bird and I can retire once the internet takes notice of this photo. Either way.

It’s apparently quite easy to find Indigo Buntings on this campus. It seems I just hadn’t noticed them at all last summer. This summer, I couldn’t walk around without bumping into them. Unfortunately, they’re a little too shy for my 75x300 telephoto, so I can’t seem to get a better picture than this. Alas.

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Shy Birds

I don’t know exactly what kind of little butterfly this is, but when I went back through the tall grass into the woods to look for birds again, there were lots of these guys scattered about. The telephoto might not be the ideal lens for bug photographs in a lot of ways, but it certainly lets you pop your subject into focus on a blurred background.

The sun also made for good colors.

My Dad guesses European Skipper. Sounds good to me.

As I was at the edge of the meadow and the woods, I heard the Indigo Bunting calling again, so I stopped to try to stake him out. As I waited, I was treated to the sight of this Common Yellowthroat, also singing for territory and hopping around.

Yellowthroats are apparently pretty shy, and I had never even heard of these before, much less seen one, so I felt lucky.

I didn’t get wonderful pictures of the Bunting this time (or last time either, frankly), but you can see from his posture that he’s singing his little heart out to stake out a claim. It’s possible, even likely, that there are multiple males trying to stake out territory. It certainly sounded like that.

Just up and too the left of the Bunting is probably a female of the same species. They’re quite drab in comparison to their husbands and even harder to spot. I didn’t even realize I had gotten a picture of her until I saw the photo.

After I left campus, I was feeling a little down, so I stopped by a little trail that’s about a mile down the road from the Bread Loaf campus. It’s called the “Robert Frost Interpretative Trail,” and it features selections from Frost’s poetry along different points. I admit that even though I love the poetry of Frost, I’ve always found the idea of the trail a little cheesy, and I’ve never walked it precisely for that reason.

But, it was right on the road, the lighting was decent, and I wanted to look for some birds. Right at the beginning of the trail is an open wetland area, and though there was no life when I first walked out to it, a few minutes’ patient waiting yielded this Gray Catbird, who flew out to an exposed branch to sing.

Catbirds, incidentally, are great imitators, and though they don’t typically reconstruct as complete copies of songs as Northern Mockingbirds and Brown Thrashers do, they have pretty complex songs nonetheless.

I only spent about twenty minutes on the trail, since “I had promises to keep” and a few “miles to go before...” —well, you know the rest. I found this shy bird on my way out. Identifying her is a little difficult, but my best guess is that she’s a Female Orchard Oriole.

A lovely and demure thing, isn’t she?

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Back at the Loaf

I’m back up at the Bread Loaf School of English outside of Middlebury Vermont, but this time I’m armed with that telephoto.

I had never seen one of these before, but I had wandered to the back of the Bread Loaf main grounds looking to sharpen my photography skills by trying to photograph swallows. I wandered back to a stream and a dirt road, and lo and behold: an Indigo Bunting. I had heard of the bird before, but I hadn’t realized they were indigenous to New England, and I was taken aback.

I had thought the only birds with significant blue plumage in the area were the jays and the Eastern Bluebirds, but it was my extraordinary joy to find this brilliant little guy singing his heart out.

He was very skittish and retreated to his bush (above) whenever I got close enough for a decent photo, but if I moved far enough away and was still, he came back to the wire to keep declaring his territory.
I did also manage to catch some swallows, though all my in-flight pictures were consistently poor. This is a female Tree Swallow taking a break on the Bread Loaf volleyball net before heading back out for another snack.
Having a really nice camera makes even the most ordinary of subjects jump out. The sun today made for some incredible colors.
Inside the barn, I found my old friend, the Rosy Maple Moth (Dryocampa rubicunda).
I couldn’t believe this little guy could still fly, but he somehow managed it. I don’t know if he was hit by a vehicle on the road, torn up by a bird or some other predator, or simply caught out in a nasty storm, but life struggles on as long as it can no matter what the damage.

(Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio glaucus)

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