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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


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Highlights – Great Horned Owl, Brown Creeper, Redpolls, Crossbills, Ducks – featuring displaying Goldeneye, Coyote tales including “overnight accommodations”.

Thanks to the kind support of MCHT and VLT
“I imagine it will be more like every other week”

Upcoming events:

Saturday, March 12th, Winter Sea Duck of Seal Bay & Overwintering Medicinal Mushrooms of the Huber. We’ll hike out the Huber trail to stunning views of Penobscot Island, and beautiful Seal Bay out thru Coombs Neck. The walk will be loaded with exciting conversation topics such as, “Why the winter time is the time to get to know your local fungus”  or “Why are we stopping again?”. Meet at the VLT parking lot at Skoog Park, 10am to carpool. Thanks, parking very well might still be tight on Round the Island Road. MCHT sponsored trip.

Clarification: In the final sightings report sent via email there was a story which could have been called “Mr. Tink and his Chat”. I wrote that I hadn’t heard of one on the island before, and it has been pointed out to me that this just is not true. I should have written that Tink's chat was “the only chat I remember hearing about on the island at this time”. I was reminded that I now recall John muttering something a few years ago about seeing a chat near town hall. That makes it every 3 years or so I hear of a Chat on Vinalhaven. I apologize for the misinformation! Won't be the last time. Thanks for keeping me honest.

Sightings: Basin FallsTrail(2/22) Brown Creeper singing at beginning of trail, 2 white-winged crossbill calling, many Chickadees and Goldfinch at parking… (2/23) 5 Common Redpoll at parking area, 2 white-winged crossbill.

Northern end of the Basin, with Camden Hills

2 Basin Watches: (2/23) 2 Surf Scoter, 22 Bufflehead, 20 Common Goldeneye, 1 Barrow’s Goldeneye, 12 Red-breasted Merganser, 2 Oldtails, 4 Black Duck, 44 Herring Gull.

(2/27) 55 Herring Gull, 6 Oldtails, 3 Surf Scoter, 2 Common Loon, 14 Bufflehead, 8 Common Goldeneye, 3 Barrow’s Goldeneye (2 males, 1 female), 12 Red-breasted Merganser, 2 Black Duck, 1 Ring-billed Gull, 1 Great Black-backed Gull, 1 Harbor Seal in water.

The coolest thing about these Basin watches was the group of 18 Common Goldeneye and a single Barrow’s Goldeneye (2/23) having an intense courtship displaying session just below the observation platform. The male Goldeneye were continually slapping the back of their heads onto their own backs; they appear to be looking straight up at the sky (if they had binocular vision), but instead all the while they are focusing on what the other displaying members of the group are up to. Goldeneye head slapping and the head bopping of the closely related Bufflehead (same genus! – Bucephala) are just some of the fun duck displays showing in  a cove near you. Ducks start their courtship early in winter, but things progress slowly for a bit. Now is time for action though! Cloacal kisses are right around the corner - keep your eyes on the ducks!

(2/28) -Old Harbor Pond - out flow - 2 Hooded Merganser females.

Great Horned Owl -  last week I got my favorite email ever (from Kris Osgood and the coyote) and had my favorite conversation at the store (Jim Conlan and the full moon great horneds).  This week I received my favorite phone call. Wednesday morning (2/23) at 7:20am I was handed the phone and a kid's voice immediately rang out telling me about how a great horned owl had gotten itself trapped in his duck pen. “It’s already killed a couple of them, and I want to get him out of there”. Turns out it was 6th grader Chase Wadleigh and he and his cousin Evelyn (10th grade legendary owler) were at his house and were trying to deal with the owl and the talons associated there within. I told him I’d be right over. I had a blanket, box and camera together when Chase called back to report that the Great Horned had ripped a whole in the side of the pen to let itself out. And then he let himself out, the owl that is. Chase said he got some pictures and I’m going to see if he’ll let me put one up on the blog. Folks remember Chase from his finding a dead long-eared owl in his back yard a few years back when it seemed they were being seen everywhere. 

Coyote trail leaving  Otter Pond

Coyote – (2/23) in the Basin - while scoping out a snowshoe trail to go up Steep Mtn. for the snowshoe hike I came across the coyote’s trail, fresh either from that morning or the night before. I had little time to follow that afternoon, but managed to go for about a ½ mile before it disappeared across a windblown opening in the woods, only to have me stumble upon the trail once again about a ¼ away after I had given up! The coyote had re-visited one of the deer caches John and I had found last week and had crossed Otter Pond from the north.

coyote trail coming onto Otter Pond-
note the change in gait once
the coyote got onto the ice

The trail across Otter Pond was especially fun (all photos are of the trail coming at you), as the Coyote broke into a different gait for once in its life! After miles and miles of direct –register trotting "its way into my heart", the coyote appears to fall into a side trot, or almost a bounding gait that looks more like what a huge mink bounding across would leave behind. You can see when the coyote approaches the pond it is in a fairly straight trot pattern, only to drop into the side trot, where two feet register slight off each other in a maintained pattern. A gait which the coyote apparently continued following across the pond, only to return to the direct-register trot when it left.

Arduro indago coyote trail
with lighting altered.

The Coyote trail across Otter Pond was largely windblown and covered which made the trail somewhat tricky at spots. Fortunately, the tracks offered a nice landing spot for blowing snow to relocate, melt, and then refreeze resulting in an ice structure different than the regular snow around them.

trail across Otter Pond - natural light

As the winds continued the loose snow surrounding the tracks was blown away, leaving the track and snow that gathered on top to appear almost like the “negative” of the track. We (the royal we) found no word for such tracks, even though my tracking Estonian ancestors undoubtedly had words for it. After a 10 minute search on the "world wide web" we decided we would name it ourselves – Arduro indigo – wind track. Sounded the best, too. This wasn't necessarily the easiest of trails to follow across the pond. Here's two versions of the trail, the one visible that day (right) and then the photo of the trail after changing the lighting levels (above).


And so I returned the next day (2/24) to backtrack the trail from where it left Otter Pond. I got back on the trail and within 5 minutes was led to a group of about 4 or 5 leaning trees in a bunch that had pulled the soil off the granite below. The result was a cozy and sizable shelter that was dry and free from snow upon further inspection. From the differences in the condition of the trail approaching and leaving this spot it was obvious that the coyote had spent at least one night under the roots of these leaners.

Cozy overnight shelter along the coyote trail

This now makes 2 sheltered spots along the coyote trails that appear to have been used for overnight accommodations. Neither one of these spots showed enough activity around it to be described as "the mother of all dens" but new snow or melting conditions erase evidence pretty quickly so prior use would be hard to detect. Needless to say, the trails I followed earlier in the season suggested that if there is a "home base" or "mother of all dens " (MOAD) that its location would be pretty far away from this spot.

Anyway, after a bit of examination, I continued on the trail and quickly used up the rest of my 3 hours of daylight schlepping and schlopping after this wild doggy. Once again I was not disappointed where the trail took me.

The meeting of the trails
The trail down the middle is the trail leaving
the area, while the trail on the right is coming
back. Note the difference in freshness of tracks
A very attractive wetland

The trail scene was cool, a double dose of 2 trails - one leaving and one returning. For the most part the tracking was a sloppy mess of me losing one trail only to stumble across the other trail not too far away. The entire trail took me to a dead deer,  over 3 frozen ponds, to one dig in the dirt, across 2 quarries and through (seemingly) miles of wetlands and pitch pine. It was awesome.

Digging the dirt

   What the coyote was looking for in the dirt is not clear -
   might have snagged a vole or something.

   But once again I had to bail as darkness was getting thick.

   With the end of winter rapidly approaching I'm not counting
   on too many more coyote trails to follow this season, but
   you never know. Overall this winter I've had the pleasure of
   following 5 trails over 6 days for about 10 miles of coverage.
   I can honestly say that I feel like I really haven't gotten
   anywhere with the coyote. It's a cool thing actually, a wild
   doggy doing its thing out here and a bald bearded guy in not
   so hot pursuit.

And finally, the coolest sighting I can think of for the week is associated with my favorite visit to the "Island Spirits". (All trips to the Island Spirits are great I should say).

Carol Petillo finally gave into 20 years worth of peer pressure from her graduate students (from her BC days) and went under the needle to score that sweet tat on her wrist. We here at the VSR/VSB highly advocate people covering themselves with art, of any kind.

When you see Carol make sure you get a high five "way up in the sky" (as Leif would say) and you'll get a flash of that sweet tat!

Leify, rascal and the ice covered bird feeder