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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


Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report Blog – April 13th, 2011
Brought to you with love by MCHT and VLT
“More Salamanders Daddy!!!!!”

Highlights – Eastern Phoebe, Greater Yellowlegs, Amphibians featuring Salamander nights, Owl pellet, Otter Scat, Snowshoe Hare leg,  tree ears, and you know – much more..

Upcoming EventsClose to Full Moon/Woodcock walk: Saturday April 16th, 6:30 - 9pm. Meet at Skoog park/VLT office to carpool. The plan this year is to head up to the Tip-toe area of Crockett Cove for sunset (7:22pm ), followed by wonderful views of the moon, and wrapping up with one of the most consistently and clearly viewed male Woodcock on Vinalhaven. Our plan is to watch his fantastic aerial display and hope to get scope views when he is on the ground. If his plan pans out he'll be doing a little cloacal kissing on the side. This is a VLT sponsored event. – Looks like the storms on Saturday are getting pushed back a little, forecast keeps getting better.

Big Thanks! – To the folks who were able to offer help, time and trucks to our successful  Basin Clean-up last Saturday. Two trucks loads of trash, a bunch of nice people and a helpful pooch got together and made the best of it. Its amazing how much better a place can look in such a short time. Thanks again!

Sightings – Quick ones –

Carver’s Pond- (4/10)- Greater Yellowlegs

School Ground – (4/6)Eastern Phoebe. - Our “earliest” returning flycatcher can be seen flickin’ its tail on a perch near you. Several seen since this first report.

Longer ones

Salamander nights – Animal migration is one of those things that everyone loves. I mean, who doesn’t marvel at the yearly 20,000 mile trek that Arctic terns make between Seal Island breeding sessions, or “our” silly Black-throated Green warblers coming up from El Salvador, or even the humanoids that flock to Vinalhaven from lands far flung every year. Migration is more than just cool (which it certainly is) it can be fascinating to contemplate.

But what about a migration route that is measured in feet rather than miles (or millimeters for those who haven’t accepted that metrics will never hold in the US)? Any less impressive than what Arctic Terns go thru? The honest answer is, yes. “Short” migrations are impressive, but in a completely different way and are no less cool for sure. Especially when you figure that hundreds if not thousands of Vinalhaven’s finest Spotted Salamanders make their way from wintering burrows to vernal pools each spring right under our noses. And when you figure that most of these salamanders make this journey in the space of just a handful of wet, rainy nights, without being seen by anybody, you get the feeling that this is one of those yearly island amphibian  salamander migration only comparable to a peak fall out day on High Island, Texas in respect to sheer numbers of animals moving. Slight stretch? Anyway, here’s the report -

go, salamander go!
(4/4) Leif, Amy, my Mom, and I headed out for a rainy drive on this Monday night. It was to be a quick drive, round the island and back, more of a scouting mission to see if there was much amphibian movement going on. The first pass we saw maybe 3 spotted salamanders, snagged a couple for the boy to check out – “It’s slippery!” – and then did the big turn around for a second pass. With shrieks of pure joy coming from the car seat we putzed along and saw maybe another 17 of the return pass.

can't forget the bus

The observable increase in numbers on the return trip may have been an indicator that this was “the night” for movement. April 4th is over a week later than the salamander movement the last 4 years. We all know that the traditional thought on spotted salamander migration is that they all move with the first warmish (40 or over) rainy night of the season. Leif and I drove around the island a few weeks ago the first night these perfect salamander conditions were met. Everything was perfect except for the foot of snow on the ground. I saw salamanders crossing roadside snow a few years ago, but ain’t no amphibian digging thru 1/3 of a meter of snow! I would think not.

Anyway, in my experience here, the movement can be over a few nights. The first night is somewhat of a trickle, the second night is a flood. Ad then another flood and trickle as to give it a trickle-flood-flood-trickle pattern, what professional salamander trackers call a “palindrome flow”. This would lead one to think the next night would even be better.

Satisfied with life we went home.

(4/5) This day was so stormy that even the math team got stuck on the mainland, and thusly 2/3s of my night drivin, salamander searchin’ crew was stranded and stunned. That left me and 10th grader Francis Warren to drive around on what could be the peak hour of this spring’s movement.

We started out after play practice (his), and went round the island first. Nice night for a drive, but the combination of traffic, afternoon winds and the rain concluding mid-afternoon left the road moist, but not nearly as wet as the night before. The salamanders were scattered and not so stacked as they were the previous night, but we did see maybe 7 on our first run round the island.

We stopped at the last roadside wetlands round the island, just before the pleasant river fields. On this particular night we neither saw nor heard a spotted salamander at this spot of legendary significance , but we checked out some worms and some stick-salamanders (sticks that look like salamanders), closely related to whale-rocks) before I spotted this little guy crossing the road.

It appeared to be a Red-backed Salamander, a commonly found species of the forests out here (turn over a log every once in a while, why don’t cha?). It was a little on the small side, but what the hey, we love ‘em all regardless of size, shape, or color. In fact, this Red-backed didn’t even have any red on its back, (and we still wouldn’t have made fun of it). Not uncommon for Red-backs to be a little lacking in the red-backed department, so no deep concerns there.

However, this guy’s pearl white belly lightly sprinkled with black dots was different than any other salamander belly I’d noticed before. The picture of the salamander walking between francis’ is captures the distinct belly as well as clearly defined difference in the coloration of belly and tail. These traits make this a Four-toed Salamander, a somewhat silent partner in migration with the Spotteds.  We did not think to count the toes, but I am assured that this individual had four on the back feet, where apparently other salamanders have 5 on the back foot. Anyway, I’ve looked in the Natural Resource Inventories and have nothing about them on the island. Possibly a new Salamander species for the island. when your amphibian numbers are increasing does that mean vinalhaven's acid rain is clearing up? are the turbines blowing the acid rain away? how has global warming played into the vernal pool scenario faced by amphibians island and state wide!?

From what I’ve read, this was most likely a pregnant female looking to make a nest for her eggs in the sphagnum across the road. A female will lay 20 - 50 eggs in a nest usually located 2-6 inches above water . Location is key, as the larvae need to be able to fall out of the nest into water. The nest is in a small opening in the moss that the female makes, or a natural opening under a root or in the moss.There are probably a lot of nests all on the island, but the are extremely hard to find (or so they say, we'll give it a whorl over the next month.

Anyway, the female will guard her eggs for most of the "incubation" stage within the eggs (38-60 days) but usually bail on the nest before hatching occurs. Makes me wonder how many nests I've stepped on.

the favorite thing i read about four-toeds has to do with the tail. as many know, many salamanders lose their tails as an adaption to distract predators from getting any essential internal or external organs. the tail bounces around for several minutes and whatever mink or cougar plays with that as the cold-blooded cruiser blazes a trail to safety away from this scene. This adaptation is apparently  a favorite for the Four-toeds , as they quickly replace their  to use/lose again. When threatened Four-toed salamanders are known to push up against hard objects to forcibly dislodge its tail. Super cool! 

anyway, always good to learn about the island and glad Francis was there to join in the search.

While we're on the amphibian topic...
the new VSRB -Request Line is open-  New Feature for the report blog, just toss a topic you’d like to know more about our way and we’ll see what we can come up with. (this is not a contest like stump the naturalist. We aren't looking for hard ones)

In order to make me feel like an AM light jazz DJ I'm asking for all requests to be submitted to in the form of love letters. Not necessarily to me (it will be tempting I'm sure), but as a rule no reply will be given if said request is not wordeded as a love letter. Requests that we’d like to answer will be re-worded into the form of love letters by me. One first name and one set of initials will be used at times to assure privacy and anonymity.  Here we go…

“Dear VSRB,

            I was walking with my beautiful wife last night and the spring peepers were going like crazy. We held hands and fell in love again and again with each peep. There were a lot of peeps.

            So can you write a little bit about Peepers for my love.


Well, peepers are where its at right now, especially if you find yourself outside. here's a taste from poor farm road i recorded the other day:

So. peepers. here we go - quick info.....

Tommy Tyning (we heart TT) describes the males' spring chorus as "deafening" and notes "for all their abundance and strong voices peepers are still, to many people, the unseen harbingers of spring".

The "peep" you associate with these frogs is the advertisement call done by males sitting on territories. its all about mating. They are small - males 3/4 inch, females 1.5 inches nose to tip of tail. Their skin has a range of colors between light tan to dark brown, and they can change their color within that range within 15 minutes.
peeperette from last fall. totally pseudacris!

Quandary - Older field guides have peepers as Hyla crucifer, crucifer inspired by the x on the back of most individuals. It's true that Peepers do have suction cups on the finger tips, telltale tree frog (genus Hyla).  This is what i have always understood to be true.

The new peterson  guide to Reptiles/amphibians Connant/Collins has the peeps in the Chorus Frog genus Pseudacris (as in ...that's so pseudacris!". Pseudacris crucifer. It is noted that much of the peeper behavior is more chorus frog like, big groups calling together..the name says it for itself. They are referred to as "small treefrogs". but here is my favorite quote in Connant/collins -

"Professional herpetologists, based on laboratory techniques, recently transferred the Spring Peeper from the genus Hyla to Pseudacris".

One would think some sort of genetic comparison/testing must be what they are talking about. But if DNA research leads to some sort of clarification in genetic relationships then authors will often use the words mention "DNA" (not a word, i know. or is it.) or "genetics" or "the protein of life" or something like that. "Laboratory techniques"? "Professional herpetologists"? can we please be a little more vague?

Back to peepers - yes, they do spend the winter above ground, in leaf litter, under logs, below tree roots, or other materials. yes they routinely freeze, with ice crystals and all inside their bodies. Somehow glucose is used as an antifreeze to prevent dehydration and damage to cells during the freezing process.
this picture has nothing to do with  frogs

Beyond the peep - the peep commonly heard this time of year is from males on territories like mentioned above, but there is another vocalization. more of a trill, that can be heard mixed in with the peeps. This is an aggressive call, made towards a male that has entered another males' territory. You do not want to be that male getting yelled at!

There are also males that don't defend territories at all , silent satellite ones that stay low near calling males hoping to intercept females hopping their way. Apparently successful at times, some satellites also wait until the territorial male is busy (if you know what i mean) and then sneaks in and calls as if the territory was his.

There you have it lovebirds, a little word on peepers. thanks for asking!

Singing around the island - Lots of Brown Creepers, Song Sparrow, American robin, Juncos, Cardinal, Grackles, Cowbirds, Blackbirds, Red-breasted Nuthatch. Grackle males chasing females in town.

Perry Creek - (4/6) Spraying some red rectangles that can be the difference between people getting back to their cars or getting lost forever in the 300 acre preserve with over a mile of shoreline! only one tree to spray and what do i find at the base! Another gift from the owls! A snowshoe hare leg! What good luck! no other sign seen or heard.

Basin Watch - (4/9)  - 11 Harbor Seals, 17 Red-breasted Merganser, 2 Old tails, 7 Common Goldeneye, 3 Bufflehead, 3 Common Loon, and 64 Herring Gull.

Plenty of displaying and courting. decreasing numbers of ducks.
Crescent otter poop
4/10 - Anniversary Kayak -  10 years! and i still fall deeper in love with Amy every time i hear a peeper peep! And what a great paddle to boot. Palmer and i scooted up the Reach and over to the Whites to check up on the Otter Scene on Bald/ Spectacle.

Trail thru the cat tails straight to the den.
Back door - not main entrance.
Readers may remember that we reported an active Otter den last fall under the biggest Spruce in the old quarry there.The scene was very active with 100s of scats and a wonderful slide in to quarry waters from the east. Well, we saw the scat, all of it looked frozen and thawed, nothing too fresh at all. So at this point it would be called a summer den. The scat was still beautiful, and the trails thru the cat tails were more obvious at this time, which was cool to see. We'll be re-visiting this site throughout the spring for fresh sign. 

We did find a single Saw-whet Owl pellet on the island, didn't appear to have been frozen.

saw-whet owl pellet
Old-tailed ducks, 2 Scoters, Red-breasted Mergansers, and a nice group of Purple Sandpipers that tolerated us paddling by. Sand dollars under boat at little white.

Palmer and the purples


Lost and found - and in conclusion - I've had a nice stretch of retrieving articles i had left in the woods recently, several items i didn't even realize i had left in the woods at all. A hat from 2 years before, 2 coffee mugs and these gloves , only 2 weeks later, but still surprised.

so if you find anything in the woods, please check with me to see if its mine. 'preciate it!