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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 vinalhavensightings@gmail.com.



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Sunday, March 27, 2011

3/27

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report Blog - March 27th, 2011
Brought to you in part with the support of MCHT and VLT
why are these kis screaming?
photo by amy palmer
Highlights : Fox Sparrows, Fungus (yeah baby!), 3 Merganser day, Woodcocks, Peeper, Owl Pellets featuring a foot, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, singing songbirds singing their songs, reflections.


heart of scat
Big Thanks – We got a bunch of feedback on this here blog thing after the last one was sent out and we thank you all for that. Sounds like folks like the arrangement of photos and videos and that is a good thing I would say. and carol petillo has been receiving more high fives as of late. I appreciate the emails and chats on the street, its fun to get this thing going again.




 

Upcoming event -   Saturday, April 9th – 10am – noon. Basin Marsh Cleanup.  We’ll gather at skoog and then head over to the Basin Bridge and hit the marshes armed only with big plastic bags. Should be fun, but at the very least will be instantly gratifying to see a big pile of bags full of all the trash we pull out of there. If you are someone who has a truck and is willing to take a few bags of trash to the dump the next day get in touch with me at (kgentalenvlt@myfairpoint.net) or just show up that morning. Thanks!

 

keeper of the scat
Outdoor Explorers - "Scat Contest"
 
(3/15) We'd walked this area just the week before and maybe 4 piles of scat were pointed out. Divide the group into teams, add a reward for the team that spots the most piles of poo, have the contest the day after a winter's worth of frozen crap has thawed out, and suddenly you've got 180 piles of poop spotted. Deja here in the picture on the leftdropped to her knees to protect these two piles from the other teams - and this was while i was giving instructions!
.





this pile o' poo is claimed by the green team

So the teams had little flags that were placed alongside found piles until the poo was checked off. It was a highly organized endeavor which had as a price for the winning team a set of offical "Outdoor Explorers 2011" pencils, which are pencils onto which i have scribbled "outdoor explorers 2011" often misspelling something along the way. The kids knew what was at stake and were still inspired enough to nearly reach bicentenial level in poop finding. This was  a very fun thing to write about. 



Sightings – quick ones first –
Lane’s Island – (3/17) – Leify and I were sitting on a picnic table, he was eating a snack and I was trying to persuade him not to jump off the top of the table with both hands and a mouth full of pretzels, when the first Spring Peeper of the season (for me) burst out maybe 10 peeps close-by us before coming to his senses and realizing it was way to cold for an amphibian to be so vocal. Seemed early, and it still seems a little chilly for frogs. Not too chilly for that young stud apparently. That was a long first sentence of this paragraph.

Fox Rocks – (3/19) – 3 Fox Sparrows. Foxy.

2 Merganser picture
3 Merganser Day – (3/18) Carver’s Pond – Carver’s Cabin. With a fly-by from a Common Merganser the day was off to a good start and by my afternoon  visit a group of Hoodeds and Red-breasteds had cornered some sort of bait fish under the remaining ice. I biffed by forgetting my memory stick (both for my camera and my personal) so I could not get a video on the internal memory. The photo shows maybe a quarter of the birds and can’t really capture the constant diving and chowing on whatever they nabbed

 31 Reach Road feeders – It’s been a good week for the 31 Reach Road
early visitor
 feeders (that’s 31 as in my address, not 31 feeders – please!), and with the welcome addition of Red-breasted Nuthatches (3/13) our bird numbers at the feeder (2) finally was larger than our mammal numbers (1-rascal the squirrel). The feeders then had a surprise 3rd bird show up yesterday (3/19), a first year male Rose-breasted Grosbeak (man things are getting hot already!). He was apparently hungry, as he just plopped himself down in the feeder and start chuckin or shuckin or crackin or bustin’ sunflower seeds. The book, well, the bible really (Birder’s Handbook – no home should be without it!), says the closest they overwinter is in the mountains of central Mexico, but it seems more likely that this dude stayed further north, possibly at another feeder somewhere in New England. Continues to visit daily at the feeders.

Which brings us to a quick note entitled “feeders and modified (dog) bird behavior controversy”. Catchy title. Anyway, if  you have feeders you’ve probably read and know more about this than I do (for sure), but there is talk of the “right and wrong” seasons to feed birds, and of birds becoming dependent on feeders (addicted to seeds?) and not migrating and global warming, and blah, blah, blah. These are my first feeders (purchased from the friendly folks at “Freeport Wild Bird People center” ask for jeanette (she’s nice) or even sasha (she’s a dog).) and the last thing I want is to make sunflower seed junkies out of the neighborhood chickadees. So what I do, and you can too at home if you have feeders, is to point out the birds to a two year old human (preferably half-clothed) and watch him/her run full speed with anticipation and excitement at the feeders. You’ve never seen chickadees or squirrels move so fast. They do come back, which might be a sign of early dependence, but its hard to imagine getting to the point of addiction when your supply chane is being constantly interrupted. Not to mention that the two year old will hover and wait, he brings entertainment for the lulls inbetween scaring the birds.

K-tell’s Quick hits –
Who’s singing?  Song Sparrows, Brown Creepers, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Cardinals, Grackles, Blackbirds, Juncos,

Who’s Drumming? Woodpeckers everywhere. Non-vocal communitication that doesn’t involve fingers (like waving usually does). Both Downies and Hairies are picking out their favorite branches and snags to use this spring for drumming. The loudest hollowed out limb is usually the favorite and will be visited daily by the drumming woodpecker. Leif loves to drum by the way. He'll drum and sing “Playin’ in the band” or “AC/DC Bag”.


video


This male downy drumming is right at the carrying place & lower mill river preserves parking area (3/19) facing the water. The video shows three rounds of drumming, unfortunately the audio is not so good, looks more like a mute woodpecker drumming. Anyway, good time for woodpeckers out there!

Who’s Displaying? Woodcocks – everywhere. 6 from my yard! There is no place like home. Many folk have reported their neighborhood woodcocks are putting on daily shows, there’s both an am and a pm performance.


video




The video of exceptionally poor quality was from my car. I had forgotten my better camera and my scope (was I really ready to leave the house?) and was lucky to get this video of the woodcock flying away. This is directly from
Pequot Road
, (3/17).

Who’s Hatching? Great Horned Owlettes of course! Welcome to the island!


Basin marsh

Basin Watches - (3/20) 3 Common Loon, 10 Bufflehead, 15 Red-breasted Merganser, 13 Common Goldeneye, 2 Barrow's Goldeneye, 6 Black Duck, 50 Herring Gull, 2 Surf Scoter, 1 Raccoon, 1 Harbor Seal.

The story with this basin watch (3/20) was the continuing saga of courting ducks, at one time there were 4 different Red-breasted Merganser couples circling in on the kiss of kisses. Common Goldeneye females in submissive posture - yes, things were getting steamy out there


hot barrow's couple - note the female's orange honker
(3/26) 230 Herring Gull, 3 Barrow's Goldeneye, 2 Black Guillemot, 3 Surf Scoter, 6 Eider, 30 Red-breasted Merganser, 24 Bufflehead, 6 Old tails, 20 Common Goldeneye, 8 Common Loon, 9 Black Duck, 5 Harbor Seal.

This day was marked by strong winds, conditions where the basin becomes a protected sanctuary for many birds. High counts across the board and increased diversity (compared to last week) with impressive Herring Gull numbers and somewhat close shot of a pair of Barrow's Goldeneye.

Many of the gulls were wormin' in the shallows

Babble on - Owl pellets - Tom Brown, Jr., legendary and beyond-incredible observer from Jersey, wrote somewhere (probably in his book “the tracker”, since I haven’t read anything else he’s done) that for an observer, finding a skull in the wild is the “ultimate” track or something along those lines. I do believe he was referring to how much there is to learn from a skull and all its adaptations. Skulls are wonderful and chock full of information for sure. Everytime I bang my head I am thankful I have one.

And while I purposely don’t mess with Tom Brown (I think his followers, or “Brownies” as I just made up, can be a little over-protective of their dude) or want to take away from skulls at all (don’t get me wrong, we love skulls), but I have to kindly disagree with him on this one. In my experience a pellet, be it from an owl, a shorebird, shrike or raptor (or others), is truly the ultimate track. Which is good for me cuz I find a hell of a lot more pellets in the woods than skulls. Let’s compare the two on the official “7 hot topics of comparison”, shall we? We shall! Well then -Yahoo! (had to be there).

1) A pellet lets you know where an owl (or whatever) lives or spends time, a skull lets you know where a critter died (or better yet, where a body or decapitated head was dragged to by a scavenger). Alright, that one is pretty even.
2) A skull lets me know what kind of an eater the critter was (carny, herby, omni), where a pellet lets me see and know exactly (pretty much) what a predator is eating. Advantage- pellet.
3) A pellet is fun to crack open and discover whats inside. A skull can be difficult to crack open, and often it is empty inside. Unless there is still some brains left in it, and I hate (strong word) getting brain on my fingers (or in my head). Advantage -pellet.
4) Pellets often come with skulls, where I’ve never found a pellet in a skull. Advantage - pellet.
5) Skulls let you know if the critter had binocular vision, where a pellet often tells you a binocular-visioned killer lurks somewhere nearby. Advantage – pellets.
6) Pellets inspire me to look up, skulls inspire me to…floss maybe? Chew my food? Have my vision more binocularized? Advantage – pellets.
7) With a pellet there is a chance at seeing whatever puked it up, with a skull the chances are slim that you’ll ever see that critter alive (in the traditional sense) again. Advantage – pellets.

So as you can clearly see, when I get to choose the topics and wording there is no comparison between the experience of finding a pellet, and one of finding a skull. Don’t get me wrong – we love finding pellets, skulls, scat, dead critters, whatever. They are all great, but pellets are a groovy kind of love. Anyway.

Pellets(3/13 -3/15) 3 days in a row finding pellets, overall I had 4 days in one week of finding pellets – two were in areas I had not seen pellets before, one had a significant number of pellets (25). Here are the stories.

Sizable vertebrae
mixed in with downy feather shafts
(3/13) Granite Island Lot – Spent the afternoon chainsawing and burning on the lot VLT has for sale out on Granite Island. The piles were somewhat scattered, but in an attempt to minimalize impact (while chainsawing and burning mind you) I decided to re-use an old fire ring even though it meant hauling some of the branches and logs a little bit of a distance. So with the best of intentions I built a sizable fire and did many laps thru the area to haul stuff to the burn. Well, while retrieving some logs I had just cut I noticed a pellet underneath a still standing (thank goodness) tree about 20 feet (generous estimate) from the burn. If you find one pellet its often just takes a trick of the eye before you find more. I was up to 16 pellets under 2 trees within a few minutes, and 3 bits of scat. I spotted a fresh feather tangling about 30 ft up, just as the canopy got too thick to see. The pellets were medium sized I would say, and with a high number (25 total on 3/20) under one or two trees it was easy to jump on the Long-eared Owl winter spot bandwagon. No fresh pellets were found, but the scat, which could have been frozen in snow (but not for too long), and the fresh feather up in the tree were intriguing. How recently had the owl been there?  I walk pretty close to this spot every week, and have done my fair share of searching around the area and haven’t seen pellets there before. I didn’t linger too long there, trying to minimize your presence after starting a blazin’ fire can be tricky.


          
I did return for a Basin watch and to see if the owl had puked up anything new about a week later (3/20). Nothing fresh, but today with a closer inspection of the area 9 more pellets were added to the total (25) under the same two trees. One pellet in particular had a good sized white claw/toe, toe bones extending into the foot held together by what appeared to be skin. Woulda been a large foot – rat maybe?

On the other side of the pellet there was what appeared to be an insect’s exoskeleton (beetle-like) sticking out. Now, I don’t take many pellets home anymore, not that I’m a pellet snob, but someone else can take ‘em if they want. “Leave ‘em for someone else or for no one if no one finds them”   Estonian pellet etiquette quote– live it! No one likes a pellet hog!

To make a long story short I took this one home and Amy cheerfully pointed out the pellet’s “exoskeleton” was really a toe-nail stickin out. (Gotta love that Palmer! Quick eyes.) Connected to the nail was a toe (oddly enough), complete with the scaly skin pads that birds have. Big ol’ chicken toe is what it looked like (noted- I have not spent that much time around chickens). Last night I pulled the pellet apart. The skin around the toe and claw turned out to be webbing, and within moments the story switched directions. Three-toed and webbed baby, the white “claw” was actually the “inner toe-nail” being exposed when the dark keratin fell off. Have you ever exposed your inner toe-nail? Quite painful.

The foot I would believe belonged to a small duck possibly a Bufflehead (which are called butterballs in Wisconsin cuz they taste so good) or maybe a small gull like one of those Bonaparte’s that frequented the Basin for much of early winter! Cool thought, and I agree with your thinking that there are too many Bonaparte’s gulls around for their own good. This is officially my first bird foot in a pellet. And officially (99% likely) eliminates Long-eareds from the equation.

Where we are at now - (3/26) – upon even closer inspection today 23 of the pellets have feather bits in them. (Let the speculation begin!) This is either an owl that is fond of eating birds or we’ve found the regurgant remains of a single duck/gull happy meal. (Or something else.) The pellets all appear to be of similar age, which admittedly can be tricky to tell with the freezing and thawing from this winter. That said – the question looms - If a single vole can inspire a single pellet, how many pellets would a Bufflehead inspire? Require? If this owl ate a foot, I’m sure he ate tons of feathers. Would the feather pellets be more frequently discharged, maybe smaller for comfort on the way back up? More to come on this owl if anything more comes to light.

Follow up question directed at Cheeseheads (capitalized out of respect) - Is a bufflehead that yummy that it’s worth throwing up 23 times for a single, complete meal? Please answer in rhyme.

Back to pellet week. (3/14) Perry Creek – As mentioned previously, the Great Horned Owls of Perry Creek are my favorites, and that even goes for the Pescadero Great Horneds, where I had a pretty good relationship with 3 pairs and knew of several more. I really shouldn’t play favorites, but its owls – how can I not?

what about this doesn't say "hello"?
I took the fresh pellet on the trail as a nice little “welcome” to me. It was over a 1/4 of a mile (as the owl flies) from the nesting area. I do recognize that this pellet was in no way a marking or statement other than "an owl puked above this spot recently" and that these birds tolerate me at best - but you know what - I’ll take being tolerated!

When I got to the nesting area around 2:30pm I sat down and (what I figure was) my presence was announced within moments by the male hooting it up a bit. Likely a contact message of “sit tight, i'm on it”  directed to the female who, if the books are to be believed, sits on the eggs during the day. I moved on quickly as I was hoping to catch them relaxed on my return at dusk - maybe even sit in as they change the incubating guard. I would not leave disappointed.

The changing of the guard chorus is the male and female hooting back and forth a bunch before switching duties. (sometimes it’s a quick trade off, often though it will be a series of short communications – maybe 6 hoot calls each owl – repeated several times. Depends on how the owls fell I’d think.

On this particular day they started around 5pm. Seemed pretty early, but young are hatching and stuff.  It sounded close to the trail (male closer) which got me excited. After a few rounds of hooting between the two, I started to work my way towards the owls as stealthfully as I could. I will readily admit I am not that stealthy.

I made my way to a small opening in the woods where I figured I’d have a shot at pinpointing the two trees the owls were in when they called again. It took a minute, but when they called I realized I had misjudged the distance and I would have to go back to stealth mode.

This scenario played out twice more before I felt like I had gone way further than I should have. I sat and waited and listened as the owls moved further away, but continued to call back and forth to each other in the same pattern as before. This was for my benefit I think. They were leading me well away from the nest, the nest that was undoubtedly closer to the trail, probably in one of the first trees I passed going up. The nerve of them! And it worked no less. I didn’t realize they had that much sneakiness in them! Scoundrels!

(3/16) Lane’s island – Scouting mission for an outdoor explorers field trip to look for pellets. I found seven Long-eared pellets, I think the same seven I found in December, now unthawed after a long frozen winter. I was not too surprised to not see any freshies even though these are the hot spots of several winters prior consecutively. I would imagine (let the speculation begin!) that this year’s deep, deep snow and the evidence that many voles spent time way at the bottom of said snow (see “Esker do!” below), a predator whose diet is made up “overwhelmingly of rodents”, might have had a rougher winter than others. (Might not have hard, could’ve been easier, don’t see how). And I’m not saying that those voles didn’t get to the surface every now and then when “subnivean fever” set in, but I’d think some owls might have to relocate away from deep, drifty zones like lane’s. That’s all I’m saying. Not too surprised at the low number of pellets.

Carrying Place Pellet
 (3/19) Carrying Place Preserve – on the top of the loop, near the glacial eradicts, I found a single, pretty fresh Great- horned Owl pellet just off the trail. First pellet I’ve found on the preserve.

A fine esker in the Basin

Esker see, esker du – with the great melt of 2011 happening overnight (essentially), many were surprised to learn that their snow covered yards were winter homes for voles. The evidence was clear though.


The voles were long term tenants in that “subnivean layer” (in the snow) that their tunnels became holds for materials they worked with for most of the winter.  Grasses used for nesting, feeding, as well as dirt (& grasses and other bicatch) displaced in name of underground excavation were deposited in trail networks. These collected for much of winter and when the snow finally melted the trail castings, or Eskers, revealed a bit of the story of the activity under the snow that had been going on all winter. Good year for eskers.




Trembling Merulius
Noticably around this winter - fungus. (3/26) Huber Preserve winter mushroom walk. 17 species found! Checklist: Violet-toothed Polypore, Conifer Violet-toothed Polypore, Tinder Conk, Maze Polypore (thin-walled), Luminescent panellus, Birch Polypore, Orange Jelly, Turkey Tail, Red-yellow Gilled Polypore, Chaga, Boring Poria, Trembling Merulius, Chicken Mushroom, Green Stain, Red-belted Conk, Brown-tooth Crust, Bleeding Confier parchment, Tuning Fork, plus as an added bonus - frozen scambled egg slime!



trembling merulius close up
Gillian inspects the damage a Red-belted Conk can do.


Noticably absent this winter (from my personal universe)– Saw-whet owls might be another species that depends on voles and might have had to “move on or else” this winter. I have not crossed paths/ears with a single little beeper, which could just be me, but it seems like I hear many each winter out here. Have you heard a saw-whet recently? Please let us at the VSRB know!




skunk cabbage submerged



soon to harbor eggs?




 Diggin' the reflections in the newly thawed wetlands. these are some of the places the coyote took me thru this winter. not so inviting at the moment to cross. First coyote, next spotted salamanders?




 
Rock relocator


the answer was obvious

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Welcome to the Vinalhaven sightings report – March 11, 2011
Brought to you by the kind folks at VLT & MCHT
Huber tidal ice
Highlights – Cloacal Kissings!, Brown Creepers, Woodcock, Winter Mushrooms, Ferry Rides, coyote sighting,

Upcoming events :

Postponed ---- Seal Bay Sea Ducks & Huber Winter Mushrooms - was supposed to be tomorrow (3/12), but instead we'll give the icy trail a few weeks to melt and dry up (or get muddier). So the hike is now March 26th- 2 Saturdays down the road. 10am at skoog to carpool. So come see a few ducks, check some mushrooms off your life list, and get outside in the woods! Should be fun.

Rolling "o" stuck




Saturday April 9th – Basin marsh clean-up. Look at that tire! We'll focus on the marshes around the basin bridge and the big one on granite island. Water in very small cups will be provided. you don't want to miss this.






A Shout out - and a big thanks to Pat Lundholm for all she has done in making this blog fly. A lot of time, effort and experimenting goes into setting one of these up, and without Pat's efforts the blog and certainly the sightings report would be in a more unstable state. So give Pat a high-five when you see her, and then ask yourself why you haven't high-fived Carol Petillo yet? Left handed high-five to see the tat! What are you waiting for?  

Warning : there are 4 videos on this sightings report, all of poor quality and taken thru my scope, all on a windy day so no need to turn up the volume. each of them do show something going on. enjoy.

Sightings : Spring is here! - (3/9) An American woodcock was seen flying just before old harbor pond bridge at dusk by the lovely Amy Palmer. First of the season (that I've heard of) for vinalhaven, and a little on the early-early side (a week or so). Soon the evenings will be filled with woodcock "peent"ing and people sneaking up on the little buggers all the well. April 16th will be our "Big ol' Moon rise and sunset and woodcocks, and maybe owls, and friends" walk. more information to come.

Brown Creepers- they are around and about - singing on the basin falls trail, by the barn in the yard, and even out my window! they give me the creeps, but i still love 'em.
Huber – (3/9)

Recent chewings
Mushrooms thru Binoculars - The Huber is a good place  for winter mushrooms, and is certainly a favorite of mine for mushroom observation any season. it is typical to see up to 20 species along the trail depending on snow and how close you are looking. 

As the snow and ice melt they expose the "freshly frozen" shrooms from last fall/early winter that were somewhat preserved. 

This opens opportunities for red squirrels looking for grub. The two pictures here are of the same Birch Polypore, that grew out of this log while the tree was still standing last fall. At some point it fell, (the log was down by December 20th) and covered in snow before the mushroom had time to decompose much.



Can you see the squirrel munching on the polypore?




With the melting of surrounding snow the mushroom this Birch Polypore is "freshly thawed" and apparently a yummy treat as evidenced by the teeth marks in the fruiting body itself. The log also makes a nice seat for the red squirrel to take a load off while feasting.






Huber also had lots of fresh Turkey Tails and Tinder Conks as well as the freshly unfrozen regulars - Birch Polypore, Red-yellow gilled Polypore, Luminescent Panellus, Crimped Gill, Crowded Parchment, VTP, conifer VTP, Maze Polypore, Chaga, and many more.



Where the grubs are 2011.





Looking beyond the fungus can be tricky, but the woods were alive with Chickadees singing and Golden-crowned Kinglets chipping. Hairy Woodpeckers both calling and drumming and feasting low on a spruce in the picture to the right.

A few folks have mentioned over the years that they were surprised at how low on a tree they see fresh woodpecker. If memory serves me correct, these sightings are often made in late winter, and over the last two weeks i have noticed hairy woodpeckers notably low in 4 or 5 locations. A case this year would be that the trunk in the picture (and many fallen logs and branches) was covered in snow for a couple of months almost until the recent melt opened access to the base of the tree. As a woodpecker these are fresh opportunities to take advantage of. i bet there are gold mines to be found in logs being exposed all over the island. the food is there, just got to go find you some. 

Deer browse 25 ft up!

And speaking of food, i have gotten dozens of inquiries asking about the leaning birch along the Huber trail and whether it has bounced back from  the heavy snows this winter.

Devotees to the VSB (VSBheads?) might have read the report about the 40 ft. birch trees that were bending under the weight of snow so much that deer were able to graze off the buds on the very tops of the trees. And browsing is just what the deer did (see "a few hours at Huber January 31st, 2011" in archives).

Anyway, the birch has rebounded to a certain extent, with the deer browsed tips maybe 20-25 ft off the ground. it does not appears that they are likely to rebound much more than that.



2 Basin Watch- (3-6) 19 Common Goldeneye, 1 Barrow’s Goldeneye, 14 Red-breasted Mergansers, 21 Bufflehead, 2 Black Duck, 1 Common Lon, 2 Common Eider, 17 Herring Gull, 10 Harbor Seal

(3-10) – 8 Old-tailed Ducks, 2 Black Duck, 18 Common Goldeneye, 4 Barrow’s Goldeneye, 7 Surf Scoter, 5 Bufflehead, 26 Red- breasted Merganser, 16 Common Eider, Black Guillemot, 2 Common Loon. Raccoon. Spilt Gill.

(3/10) there were several stories were unfolding within video distance of me in the basin this particular afternoon. The first 2 videos below are about a red-breasted merganser couple - a couple who shoulda "got a room" ("got a room" at the tidewater motel - your choice for a motel on vinalhaven with water running under it!). The written story about this hot couple is chock-full-of- anthropomorphisms, but i can't help but say there might be some slight amount of validity here. You decide.

Here's the setting - I'm an observer on the sand bar off the basin falls trail looking south towards the granite island preserve. I spot a pair of (not too far off) Red-breasted Mergansers that were obviously into each other. They seemed pretty cozy and you could see even without binoculars that things were heating up as the female was holding her neck at a very submissive angle (45 or lower), leaving her back free to be stepped apon. No wait, there is no such thing as "apon", so it should be"leaving her back free to be stepped upon". Thanks for the tip mom!

video
Video 1 starts with the couple very close to each other. The male (one with the white) is in front and is showing great interest in the female who is slowly floating in that submissive posture. An odd thing  happens about 10 seconds into the video - the male swims away (not far) from a receptive female! The female is clearly inviting the male to get on her back so they can wrap their tails around each other (clearly) and partake in "the kiss of all kisses" (cloacial speaking that is). Even after he swims away the female remains in submissive pose (great time to see the pose) and at 18 sec. into the video she paddles up to the male and appears to "make a pass" at him, by making a very close pass by him. And he goes back to preening? really.

This was the scene for several minutes - He looking interested but awkward, and she being the initiator and pursuer. After a bit you start wondering if this was his first time kissing (cloacial speaking that is). If it is he's first time he has found the dream lady merganser for him. She seems a little more advanced and patient with his nervousness. 

Of the dozen or so times i have watched red-breasted merganser courting and kissing (cloacial speaking that is) it has been the male in hot pursuit of a "somewhat interested" female every time. The "hard to get role" has been graciously played by the female in each courtship observed prior to this one.  

video

As Video 2 starts we find our couple getting ready to "seal the deal".  The drake (i just remembered that word) gets on the hen's back (ducky style) right away, essentially submerging the female (and yes, ducks can have sex underwater). He settles in and gets comfy, and after a shake of his wings  he leans a little to the side (at 7 or 8 seconds), as he the flexes and wraps his tail around hers the momentary touching of cloacas, an exchange in a kiss, and then its over. At about 11 seconds the drake is celebrating in what might be interpreted as a "fist pump -like" display done instead with a head pop and a lean, possibly interpreted as a "thank you" but more likely as a "THAT WAS AWESOME!". He's so stoked that he goes for another fist pump at 20 seconds, more of a "yeah!" kinda feel to that one. I do believe it was his first time. Seeing the merganser action at close range was fun.

The day wasn't over by any means and it wasn't too long before i spotted one of granite island raccoons scoring grub in the ol' strawson marsh. The biggest "island" in marsh has several raccoon "latrines" that for years has been consistently updated and replaced with fresh scat. And with tracks seen all winter its clear that  at least one raccoon lives out on that island. I'm out there every week and have been for the last 4 years and this is only the second time I've actually seen one. I'm sure they have watched me before, but they remain shy and wild.


video


i caught a break in wind direction and had time to set up and video a bit before he catches a whiff of me right before the end of this clip. he takes off immediately after sniff. Its great to see  one of the wild raccoons of Vinalhaven, even if was for less than a minute. 

the final video is a close up, better quality footage of aggressive posturing and displaying by male red-breasted mergansers in hot pursuit of a female. The drakes are synchronized in their displays and the "peents" made during such outbursts had me thinking woodcock. Maybe more after this rain, woodcock that is!

video

The scene is just off the strawson marsh and two merganser drakes are jostling for position to saddle up and kiss this stunning female.

But really, the prized sighting of the basin watch this particular day turns out to also be our...  

..."Fungus of the Month" for VSB march 2011 - Split Gill (Schizophyllum commune)!

From this angle they appear to be white, fuzzy shelves.
Congratulations to split gills near and far on your VSB award and on your great scientific name. Schizoid might be a little exaggeration but this fungus definitely has some a mix of characteristics normally not found together in the fungal, or any other world..  

The “split” gills are actually adjacent plates covered with the fungus' spore producing layer, like a polypore. When wet the plates open to allow for the dispersal of spores, giving the fungus the "split gill" look. In dry weather the plates roll up, thus protecting the spore-bearing surface and giving it a more gilled fungus feel. When dry the ventral view of a split gill appears to be that of a gilled shroom. 

But flip 'em over and the splitting of the gills is evident
The word from Arora -
“Too small and tough to be of value. However, some natives of Madagascar are said to chew them, for reasons unknown.” Mushrooms Demystified   
.

Kinda interesting -  I've only seen split gill twice on vinalhaven, both times on drift wood. Where i found the log today (yesterday) is a spot i visit every week. just washed in. not that interesting




Ferry Ride – (3/3) Captain Pete, always the professional, mentioned seeing Herring Gulls and Black-backs staking out claims on Green Island just outside the narrows. Sure sign of spring.  






(3/4) 135 Black Guillemot, 144 Old-tail Ducks, 31 Common Loon, 19 Red-breasted Merganser, 27 Bufflehead, 16 Surf Scoter, 5 Black Scoter, 5 Common Goldeneye, 5 Razorbill, 10 Purple Sandpiper, 100+ Common Eider, 2 Red-necked Grebe, 3 Harbor Seal.

A very nice boat ride, lots of guillemots and old-tails (including 82 old-tails in rockland harbor alone), and comfortable conditions.


One big story of the ride was molting with the birds. There was a noticeable increase in Guillemots that were mostly or seemingly all the way black - (how much more black can it be? and the answer is none. none more black) - and in their breeding plumage. i saw about a dozen or so that had were obviously more "advanced" in their hormonal state than the others. you know, the guys with beards in 7th grade. they were so cool.

Molting is going on beyond the guillemot of course, and this week I've started to notice a few female old-tails are changing with their molt. The species that really stands out as going thru a molt are the Common Loons. From the ferry i saw several loons that had crisp, clean, freshly feathered backs to go along with mottled heads as they get their yearly face lift via molt. 

coyote trail and sunset on old harbor pond
As for the coyote, he's made himself visible again, just as tracking season appears to be precipitating itself away. This time is was Brian and Daryl Stanley, up at Mills Excavation Quarry. 4:30ish was the time and Brian recalled to me that the coyote was lying down under a small, isolated spruce tree in the middle of the quarry. They watched it thru binoculars for about a minute before it ran off. He also mentioned that he now believes me that there is a coyote out here. Brian also mentioned that the big machinery hadn't been used for a while, which  i would assume also means no people had been in the quarry for a bit. it was a sunny day.

2 sets of trails have taken me thru the quarry area prior to the Stanleys sighitng, and both times the trails crossed the quarry without lounging. i found no sign of overnight accommodations in the quarry or surrounding lands either visit.

Great sight Stanleys boys!

Rumors - Yesterday i heard that the word is that there are two coyotes out here. My first thought was "great, first you don't believe me and now somehow there are two!". Now, i'm not saying there aren't two out here, but for all the miles of trails i've followed this winter i can say i have seen no sign that there is more than one. I would be curious to see what evidence there is that inspired that rumor and where it came from.  i imagine it might have been someone's imagination. Imagine that.

The gentleman also referred to the coyote as "hungry" and "starving"  i think in an attempt to make the coyote seem viciously desperate or something. Its funny how just putting those words in from of "coyote" paints a much different picture than i have seen in the trails. i mentioned to him that i had wondered a bit in january and early february how the coyote was doing with the deep snows as far as food goes, only to have the next trail i followed lead me to 4 different deer caches. i have found vole and snowshoe hare fur in its scat (not at the same time of course, that would be wrong) and he has a "uncanny coyote-like" ability to find carcasses to scavenge. The trails have stayed well clear of any nearby residences, even those with livestock or chickens or livestock chickens. the coyote is doing fine.

 "Hungry" at times for the coyote, sure we've all been there. & i'm sure when the coyote is hungry he eats (crazy i know). But to imply that he's running around "starving" doesn't make much sense when there seems to be plenty of food around him that he's eating. A coyote lounging in the afternoon sun does not sound like a stressed, starving coyote to me - at least not stressed at that moment.

Anyway, its been an interesting winter with the coyote, and maybe we'll get another tracking opportunity or two, which would be a bonus, but i'm not banking on it. My mind has moved on to salamanders, owls and woodcocks, and my own little jumpin' bean.



i'm not sure what i am prouder of - the fact that he chooses bouncing over line-dancing, or the insane vertical ups he's got.

have a great time y'all!