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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


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 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.  

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.

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!

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!