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The Vinalhaven Sightings Report is organized and edited by Kirk Gentalen on behalf of Vinalhaven Land Trust and Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Out and about on Vinalhaven, MCHT steward Kirk Gentalen reports on what he and others have seen in their travels. Contributions of stories and photos are welcome, and can be sent to


Sunday, February 20, 2011


“I’d forgotten how much I love the Owl months”

Highlights – Owls featuring Long-eared Owl, King Eider, Snow Buntings, Great Cormorants, Belted Kingfisher, a coyote update, and much more.

Upcoming Event - next saturday the 26th, MCHT is offering a snowshoe/tracking trek somewhere in the basin. We'll check conditions and come up with a plan. with the hope to be in the Folly Pond area. 10am at the Skoog Park parking lot to carpool. The last one was a blast.

Sightings -  

Snow buntings – A few different locations have reported having Buntings in their neighborhoods – the school, greens island, and dyers island to name a few. Its always a great time to see snow buntings.Thanks to those who mentioned Snow buntings to me recently.

Belted Kingfisher – More than one around? For a while that seemed to be the case, with sightings at more than one location in a day giving you the plural feeling. Anyway, as recently as (2/14) Valentine’s Day a male was seen on the wires at the Basin Bridge. Good to have ‘em around, and if this one makes it another month that will be 2 years in a row with overwintering kingfishers!

Owls – what can I say, we love ‘em and they love the snowhshoe hare and voles out here, thus it all works out. There are at least 7 breeding pairs of Great Horned Owls (GHO) on the Vinalhaven island (and Greens), and so far this winter we’ve heard three of the pairs calling. (2/12) Poor Farm/Pequot confluence – (Three years running as my favorite place to listen for owls on the island) Just after sunset the local Great Horneds turned it on for a 10 minute or so session, joining the Perry Creek and Wharf Quarry Road owls as the GHO pairs heard this season.

The Great Horned is the classic “Hoot” owl, and its call is a five hoot call, where the second note is shorter and there is limited space between the second and third notes. This description probably does no good – if you hear something hooting outside that’s not a mourning dove chances are it’s a great horned owl.   

And while the owls are tuning up at this point of winter, they will be calling through mid-late spring, so start listening and keep listening. neighbors worth learning about.

This just in– From Jim Conlan in the produce section (2/20 – 11:15am)

“I heard your (kg note – these are actually his owls, which he acknowledged later) owls the other night (2/17). It was 9:30 and I was coming out of my shop on the full moon and I could hear 2 owls calling to each other. Their calls didn’t sound exactly the same, one was lower. I listened for 20 minutes or so and the one on my right was gradually moving closer to the other owl.”
            (not necessarily word for word as told to me by Jim Conlan)

Great sighting (sounding?), and wonderful observations. It is noted by Donald Stokes in “Bird Behavior vol. III” that “Female hoots are shorter and higher-pitched than those of the male, even though she is the larger bird”. Good information in that sentence, plus a possible anthropomorphic (might not be the right word) comment there about the size of the bird. When Donald comes across larger people does he assume their voices are lower-pitched? why would you think that about birds? Ever hear an eagle? Dumb questions, I know. And so it goes.

So what is going on with the Great Horneds these day, you ask? Well, a calendar, a little subtraction and scattered notes from a few years back may shed a little light on the scene. A few years back a pair of juvenile GHO associated with a nest we’d been “monitoring” were found to be flying fairly well on a May 7th . They most likely had left the nest before we watched ‘em flying around that day, but to be safe lets say they left the next on May 7th. GHO owlettes leave the nest (fledge) 6-8 weeks after hatching. 6 weeks prior to May 7th (get out your calendars) takes us back on the calendar to March 26th, (which would be the latest those eggs could have hatched), and 8 weeks takes us back to March 12th would be 8 weeks prior to flight – the earliest those eggs could have hatched– follow? The eggs are incubated for 28-30 days, so if we use the March 26th date as the hatching date, we find that the eggs were incubated  starting somewhere around the 26th of February. Using the March 12th date (8 weeks in the nest before flight, or simply fledging) we find that the eggs were incubated starting Feb. 12th. In other words its time for these owls to be on eggs, soon enough I guess!

Both males and females take turns incubating (good fatherly role model!), and when trading places at the nest the pair will vocalize back and forth with each other. This switching of the incubating duties often happens around sunset, but can start up really any time of night.

I often find when hoping to locate and see owls a little bit of work goes a long way. Being outside (seems obvious) at dusk doesn’t seem to be too hard of an effort, and already just by doing this you greatly increase the chances of you experiencing an owl. Putting yourself in a good location also increases your chances of crossing paths with an owl.  There are no bad locations on the island I would say – I did hear Saw-whets twice from Pleasant Street
and have found pellets on the sidewalk in front of Carvers -  but getting out of town often will increase your odds of hearing an owl. Lane's is loaded with 'em! anyway.

Had an interesting encounter with a Long-eared Owl (2/11) up by the confluence of roads mentioned earlier. Listening for Saw-whets (haven’t heard any, but they was at least one on the island recently – see below), I heard a low moaning, at a rate of 1 a minute or so, coming from not to close a distance from me. At first the creator of the sound was identified (by me) as a tree moaning in the wind. Then it became a deer.  In the end it really seemed to have a bit of goose honk in it (I am not very good at describing calls I would say). This went on for a few minutes and I got curious and bolted on the quiet Saw-whet scene and walked maybe a couple of hundred yards looking to see something on the ground only  to find a Long-eared Owl on the top of a snag in the middle of a field. The silhouette was fun to see, and the call matched up with a LEO call somewhere on line, although at a much slower rate of occurance. Folks might remember that this is where Evelyn Wadliegh and I listened for owls a few years back for her science fair project. We heard a LEO that night, and it was the only night I’d ever heard one there. Anyway, I watched it for a few more rounds before it took off. I have returned three times, and I have heard the owl again only on one of the visits, but didn’t get a view of it as it was located deep in the woods. Wouldn’t say it was acting alarmed, putting itself in an extremely vulnerable place especially with Great Horneds nearby. We will continue to monitor.

Meanwhile…..(2/17) while on the coyote trail (more below) across Old Harbor Pond a murder of crows was mobbing something fairly close to the trail, but not close enough to pull us away even for a second. On the return, tired with claves tied in huge knots after 6 hours of sloppin’ thru the snow, I saw the flash of a GHO I spooked from a tree ahead of me. It landed on a bark-beetled tree that was way out in the open for great looks! Fair chance that this one or its mate were the recipients of the mobbing earlier in the outing. This is not an area where I know of a nest, but we’ll be listening   

Ferry Ride – (2/18) 10:30am to rockland – Its been a long while since I had a solo ferry ride across the bay (with 30 of my closest friends of course), and so I decided to do a ultra thorough scan for most of the ride to see what tallies I might come up with. Here’s what the totals were:

30 Purple Sandpipers, 11 Surf Scoter, 20 Black Guillemot, 24 Old-taileds, 22 Common Loons, 2 red-necked grebe, 10 Red-breasted Merganser, 5 Common Goldeneye, 5 Black Scoter, 4 Great Cormorants, many Common Eider, and 1 male King Eider!

Crappy light on this King Eider. Zoom in to catch
characteristic domed forehead and orange and blue patches.

The male King Eider was an unexpected bonus, and the first I’ve seen from the ferry. The King(!) Is a more northerly cousin of our local Common Eiders. Males are easily told from the Commons by the bulbous, orange/blue forehead of the king. King Eiders breed in the Arctic (with a small population on the southern end of Hudson Bay) along freshwater ponds and pools in the rocky tundra. After the breeding season King go to the deep water as they are the 2nd deepest diving duck recorded, with dives of 200 ft known.

Each year a handful are seen in Maine, and this may be the same individual I saw in December in the thorofare.

And keep an eye on those Great Cormorants (the only ones we have around here at the moment). A few really sharp looking individuals flew by the boat, with gleaming white flanks, and a nice frosting to the black of the head.

Coyote update – After a month and a half of zero coyote tracks, trails, or sightings, things picked up this week thanks to an incredible tip

(2/15) – Coyote is seen walking on a very frozen Old Harbor Pond by Jeff Osgood – I do believe this is the first coyote sighting on Vinalhaven made from a back window. It's not that long of a view, but long enough to get a good, clear view.  

(2/16) Kris Osgood is kind enough to share the sighting with me, within a short while the coyote trail is found and it is decided that it will be followed the next morning to give “ample” time in case it turns out to be a long trail.

(2/17) And its a good thing we gave it time….  

Trails coming and going.
John is the one with the yellow sunglasses.

It didn’t take long to see that the coyote came and went from the same area of shoreline, and actually only made a small loop on the ice, possibly hunting voles along the shore. The two trails (coming and going) split soon into the woods, and we ended up backtracking, and thus don’t know where the coyote went off to.

But with backtracking we of course learned a lot about where it had come from. John and I spent over 5 hours tracking this woofer over 2 miles of Vinalhaven’s finest habitats - ponds, quarries and mountains (KG note - Vinalhaven’s  version of mountains) along the eastern side of the Basin.

Saw-whet Owl feathers.
The bird associated with feather is dead.

The trail was “productive” right off the bat. The coyote made a short side excursion to check out the remains of 2 different birds close to Old Harbor Pond. Clumps of Saw-whet owl feathers were scattered over the trail and in a sapling as well about 40 ft from the main trail. There was no blood or carcass here, but lots of feathers and several clumps of what appeared to be crow scat on the snow. Possible the coyote was attracted to the site by feathers in the sapling (they notice stuff like that), or maybe the crows making noise, or maybe by smell. The coyote marked the spot doubly – landing a snowshoe hare pooper and urinating in the midst of it all. It did not look like the coyote got any food out of the excursion.

Keeled sternum

Before heading back to the “main”/original trail the coyote walked thru another set of evidence of a kill in the area. The scene was a pile of feathers on the snow shaded partially by a lower limb of a tree, and the keeled sternum and complete vertebrae of the victim on the snow a few feet off. Underneath the bones there was obvious blood stain in the snow that had melted in a bit. The carcass was not picked clean, but was getting there.


Vertebrae, skull and pelvic region
this bird is dead

The feather pile also included both the upper and lower mandible/beak/bill/pokey things, which were slightly serrated. Speculation went to a female/  first year Hooded Merganser, but questions about the neck length arose. The feather samples and bill have keyed out to be Hooded Merganser. There was predatory bird poop splattered in a few spots (look in the top right corner of photo below, at base of tree).

Feather pile with coyote tracks right thru.

This merganser was brought a long way to be torn up near old harbor pond. What would do such a thing - a Goshawk? The Great Horned Owl being mobbed by crows a few hundred yards away?  And is there any connection to the saw-whet scene just a few hundred feet away? Will we find more? Are these questions rhetorical?

The coyote wasted little time here, as there was little to get from the remains (other than the bones themselves) and he walked thru the area breaking thru the snow in the feather pile. 

Coyote dig in the snow for a cached deer carcass.
Note the claw marks
The trail then took us to 4 different spots where the coyote dug in the snow, and recovered deer buried there. 3 of the caches were pretty separate, while two appeared to be remains from the same deer. This partial answers the question I have asking for over a month now – what is the coyote up to? Apparently he was burying deer in the snow.    

John tugging on a buried deer femur

From tracks and trails over the last month it was clear that the deep snow had altered the deer behavior and movements. Were these deer starving and weakened, already dead, or ones that just couldn’t get away because of the deep snow? Sure, I mean, we’ll never know. What seems obvious to me is that the Coyote has quite a supply of food out there.

Deer head and close up of jaw, dug up from a cache in the deep snow.
note upside down ear pointing to the bottom of the picture

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

2/14/11 - lane's

Highlights - Red-breasted Mergansers, Mourning Dove poop, Winter Crane Fly

Acknowledgement - we already know that the video is of poor quality. Also athropomorphic references to valentine's day are sprinkled thru the report.

Valentine's Day was a warm one. A day full of melting ice, warm breezes, and windows comfortably rolled down. A day to get in the wagon and roll thru the neghborhood. I heard my first Chickadee of the season sing today and three folks mentioned woodcocks to me.

The duck world has fully embraced that things are heating up. Ducks have been courting and hooking up since december, but it seems like today the hormones took it up a notch.

The ducks in the video are Red-breasted Mergansers in the harbor as viewed from the entrance to the nature conservancy driveway on Lane's. Anyway,the ones with the white on the sides are the males and plain ones, which in real life are a dull red (judgements), are the females.

In our scene, we find one male intently guarding his prized posession - a wonderful female - from a couple of other males that are hot to trot and are looking for any access, even for a fleeting fling, to the fair maiden. The three engage in some male juxtaposing classic with neck extensions and forward leaning, accompanied by some vocalization that we can not hear on the tape.

Take a look.   

I watched the scene for several minutes, and it seemed like the male was continually trying to get on top of the female. An effort to show possession - a "king of the hill" scenerio to a certain extent - its in the video at about 16 seconds on.

The red-breasted merganser courtship ritual that occurs immediately before any cloacal kissing is a wonderful water dance of close swimming, mostly in tight circles with the female holding her neck at a submissive angle for many minutes, even ten maybe. We see this dance every year in the Basin and this was clearly not the case.

fascinating note - there are 2 unaccompanied females in the back of the scene that aren't getting any valentines from the boys in hot pursuit. makes you wonder whats up with the one getting the attention, and whats up with the two in the back?

Mourning Dove roost and poop - taking a stab at finding LEO pellets on top of or suspended in ice, i came across a zone of circular poops (zcp) under a group of spruce saplings near the parking lot.

Mourning dove poops found under saplings
 cool little circular clues into dove survival in the winter. we tip our hats to any and all birds that winter on vinalhaven!

I found no pellets, and really didn't expect any, morehouse's. The warm, sunny day backed with shelter from the houes inspired winter crane flies (Trichocera species) to take to the air.

there were probably a few dozens zipping around over the snow. this one landed nicely for me.

Now, they may look like true crane flies, but winter crane flies are actually their own family (Winter crane flies - family Trichoceridae) in Diptera, the order of flies! Here's what we've got on 'em:

"They are active from fall through apring andmay be abundant in open, sunlit areas. Some species are found in caves, mines and other dark places."
National Wildlife Federation - Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America.


Slides and Basin Watch

Highlights - otter and mink slides, snowshoeing, basin watches.

Acknowledgment - we are still learning how this blog stuff works, organization with the photos was abandoned and complete trust was given to the computer since it was making its own decisions about where to put the photos anyway. a little tuning will undoubtedly make a difference.

Tracking - Otter activity - Greens Island - (2/5) Otter sign at two spots - one of historical belly slide significance and the second a crossing of 2 otters across the isthmus of deep cove. (photos by john drury)

Belly slide with kicks

Crossing from Deep Cove

Otter activity in the Basin has been fun as well. Long Pond (2/11) Stevie and i found a recent otter trail that backtracked to a hole in the snow. The opening apparently leads to wherever this otter rode out the last storm. This is not the same den that was active last winter in the area.
Here's stevie scoping out the hole in the snow, should be noted that the trail left the den and there was no sign that the otter returned to this spot.

We ended up tracking the otter onto the tidal ice and the belly slides continued and the tracking continued to be great.

Bounding and sliding on the ice
Tidal ice in the Basin

Bill Brown Trails - just past the first set of bridging crossed paths with a mink that took a sweet belly slide for about 15 ft down a small hillside. I went up and inspected the approach to the slide and the mink never lost stride in its bounding trail, just landed on his belly and went for it. "I dig inertia". The curve in the slide was an added touch i thought, complete with snow kicked up along the slide edge.  


It is not uncommon to find mink doing some short belly slides as well as some tunneling short distances through the snow. I ended up tracking the mink along the shore line.


And the snowshoeing has been great, warm days are on us this week.

Basin snowshoe walk

Thanks to those who came to the snowshoe walk last week, lots of fun. there has been a lot of sign of human use on the trails this winter - snowshoes, cross country skiing or folks just walking. Fun to see.


Snowshoes, binos, coffee, and the basin

   Basin Watches

2/11/11 – 24 Red-breasted Mergansers, 17 Common Goldeneye, 2 Barrow’s Goldeneye, 29 Bufflehead, 2 Old-tails, 2 Surf Scoter, 6 Black Ducks, 9 herring gulls.

The story today was the high numbers of mergansers, goldeneye, bufflehead. highest i've seen all year.

2/14/11- 10 Surf Scoter, 3 Old-tailed Ducks, Bald eagle macking on something (see video) 2 Barrow’s Goldeneyes, 14 Bufflehead, 53 Herring Gull, 2 Common Loon, 8 Common Goldeneye, 3 Red-breasted Merganser, 5 Harbor Seal.

Story of the day was the high count on Surf Scoter, previous high of 3. Should be noted that during the winter there is often a robust number of scoters just outside the basin in the red sea. Low duck numbers might be connected to the eagle sitting along the shoreline ripping some carcass to shreds. 

And Leify of course

see ya out there

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A few hours at Huber - January 31st, 2011

A Few Hours at Huber – January 31st, 2011


Once spring has sprung, the insane amount of snow that we have on the ground should melt into the gulf (with the scary possibility of significantly raising tides way higher then anticipated, potentially several feet higher in some areas- you heard it here first). Anyway, whenever that happens if you find yourself at the Huber Preserve take a look at the tops of the birches long the trail. A keen eye will undoubtedly spot the fresh deer browse on the tippiest tops of two 40 foot plus tall trees. I'll narrow it down for you - if you are hiking out to Seal Bay the trees will be on the left side of the trail, just past the non-significant, human induced and influenced vernal pool.

                     1. Birch trees bending over trail

The story goes that while I was snowshoeing a few days ago (1/31) I followed a fresh deer trail that went down the heart of the Huber trail in the vicinity of the previously mentioned vernal pool. The trail took me to an area with high deer activity - several trails came and went from a spot just below the tops of 2 leaning birches. The tops of the trees must have been at the perfect height for the deer as there were many tracks directly below and sign of munched and nibbled tippy-top tips of the trees clearing them completely of snow.

2. Tips of tallest branches nibbled and cleared of snow             3. Nibble and out

In theory, the bendy shrubs and trees that are common this winter will bounce back from the weight of a few feet of snow and continue on as if nothing happened.  The bouncity and bendability of a particular plant varies of course, and often it is not the larger trees in the woods that would be thought of as being particularly bendy, I suppose. Just how much these babies bounce back is yet to be seen, but we will stick on the case and keep you updated. 

I like the idea of deer browse 40 ft up, like the giant Vinalhaven subspecies of White-tailed Deer roams Huber and strikes fear in every Birch, Maple and Oak this side of Seal Bay.  

Other than maybe seeing migrating songbirds in them, I don’t think I ever noticed these birches before, but will keep an eye on them from now on.  


More news from the snowshoe out to Seal Bay via Huber, we have confirmed reports of the ice sheet connecting Vinalhaven Island to Penobscot Island!

4. Finally, the ice pack link from Vinalhaven
                                                                                            to Penobscot is confirmed

This should close the case on how the Pygmy Woolly Mammoths got out to Penobscot. My heart felt condolences to the land bridge theory people, it was a cute effort, but flailing and failing right from the beginning. Just being honest, but come on - a land bridge?

And then a sunset with some tidal ice.   

5. Sunset and a cold snowshoe out.