Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report Blog - March 27th, 2011
|heart of scat|
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|
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 “
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. Freeport
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”.
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.
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).
Pequot Road, (3/17).
Who’s Hatching? Great Horned Owlettes of course! Welcome to the island!
|hot barrow's couple - note the female's orange honker|
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
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)
– 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? Perry Creek
|what about this doesn't say "hello"?|
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!
|A fine esker in the Basin|
|trembling merulius close up|
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?|
|the answer was obvious|