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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, June 2, 2011

Foggy days
Welcome to the Vinalhaven sightings report – June 1st, 2010

Brought to you by VLT and MCHT as always…
“this place is a dump”
– female wood duck

Highlights – Mink, Ducks featuring Wood and Harlequin, Snowy Egret and Green Heron, Puffins & Razorbills, Manx Shearwater, Warblers, Red-billed tropicbird, Fungus photo gallery, Harbor Seal pups and so much more

seal bay pollen slick

Thanks to all that sent in sightings! Its been really fun hearing about what you are seeing. Here we go…

Pollen and Fog go as a consistent side with most of the sightings below -

Sightings: Wood duck drama unfolds! – Ocean view swamp – (5/15)

Readers with memories will recall Cynthia Dyer’s report (a few reports back) where it was reported that 2 different pairs of Wood Duck were reportedly clashing over the best nest box in the swamp behind her house. Let’s catch up with the action on May 15th – in Cynthia’s words…

On 5/15 at 7:45 a.m. Tim told me the mother wood duck was acting different and so we watched with binoculars.  She came out of the house and stayed near the bottom of the tree that the house is in.  Sure enough, a little tiny head came into view and as we watched a DOZEN babies jumped into the water.  I happened to be talking with Dawne when this happened and she and Adam saw them, too.

For a couple weeks we had another pair of wood ducks who seemed upset about the house already being rented!  She would sit on the roof and peek down into the hole.  We are wondering if she might have laid some eggs in the house, too.  We have seen the babies come out twice before and there were seven each time. 
  The mother and babies stayed in the swamp for the day, but didn't see them the next day.

Great observations and thanks for sharing!. Great call on the wondering  about ducks lay eggs in other duck’s nests. Ducks are somewhat famous or this behavior, an act know lovingly as brood parasitism, or tough love – stash and run style.

Wood ducks visiting the creelman pond
-photo by Erin Creelman

Laying eggs in the nest of another from your own species is called intraspecific brood parasitism, as opposed to interspecific brood parasitism as the ever popular Brown-headed Cowbirds do where they lay eggs in just about any nest they can find. Some folks are just like that. Anyway….

Intraspecific brood parasitism can be found in Swallows and Cuckoos, as well as  Ostriches (not found locally, but with global warming I’m sure they’ll turn up soon). Ducks, however, appear to “do it” more than others – “it” being intraspecifically parasitizing someone else's brood, how rude!

The actual process of parasitizing another nest is sometimes called “egg-dumping” or “dump nesting” and the resulting nest is referred to as a “dump nest”. The word from the Birder’s Handbook (bible) is that Redheads (ducks that is) are the “most persistent parasitic duck” with one study of  625 nests finding that 19% were parasitized with and average of 2.68 eggs additional eggs being laid per nest. They even mention a single hooded merganser nest that had 35 eggs in it. That may be a record of some sorts. So not only do they do it, but they do it well.

For a taste of specifics and vagueness’ses concerning Wood Duck dump nests we turn to the Stokes and Bird Behavior vol. 3 – Take it away don!

“While most female wood ducks lay about 14 eggs in their own nest, many nests contain 15 to 20 eggs or more”

“in one study, 37 percent of the eggs found in nests in a given area were the result of egg-dumping. Thus, it is a common practice in female wood ducks”

Maze Polypore - i have never seen one with a Wood Duck
The first quote is interesting, kinda sums up what a dump nest is in general.

The second quote is classic stokes boldness to me- To conclude that it is a “common practice in female wood ducks” from this one study one would think it must have been a huge study! How big was is “a given area” – Where was the study done? How many nests were involved?  Wood ducks breed across this beautiful continent of ours, from the California Redwoods, across the northen US Rockies, south to the Florida Cypress Swamps, and north to the Black Spruce swamps of Ocean View Drive. (isolated populations in the southern Rockies, somewhat absent from the Great Basin). Surely there is some variety in dump nesting behavior between populations.

I’m not sure why I find it so much fun to poke fun at the stokes. Their bird behavior books changed my life. But have I ever told you about the time they tried to sell me their books in Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge? Uncomfortable! Some other time…Anyway...

After all this, and in all fairness it should be noted that Wood Ducks typically lay between 11-14 eggs, so all the young that came out of the nest technically could’ve been laid by one female. But with a history of less than 8 fledging per year, and the interesting interactions between Wood Duck pairs one would think there would be a more than fair chance that some of those youngsters jumping from the nest box are milking (not literally) and mooching off someone else’s mother. This thing happens in nature for sure. More often than most might think, I’d think.

so cute when little
Mink visit – (5/22) Leify and I were moving some wood around for a “fire” we were going to make when Jen Wadleigh pulled into our zone with Evelyn, Virginia, and Bailey. They had “something  to show you (me)” and with that they present this….. Apparently Bailey’s cat “Moracco” located a mink den with fresh, tasty mink babies and snagged this one as a gift to Bailey. The youngster was still alive (a little punctured but who isn’t) and stunk up the car on the way over (weasels being weasels).

morning dew - red-belted conk
At birth baby Mink (here referred to a “minkette”) are 1-2 inches long, weigh about an ounce and have a few white downy hairs on their backs. Their eyes open at about 3 weeks, they are weaned at five weeks, and don’t leave the den without the aid of a cat for several more weeks. Hard to tell if this one’s eyes can open when they are sleeping, but since they are said to be born in early May it could only have barely reached the 3 week threshold for eye opening if it was born on the 1st. anyway, under surviving circumstances this little dude would be sexual mature at 10 months ad live about 3 years (average) of an extremely fast lifestyle and pace before moving on.

Cats are cats, and cats are more impactful on wildlife more so than we can really grasp. “my cat’s too old to catch anything” is one of my favorite denial quotes. If its gotten “too old” its probably already lived a lifetime (or 9 lifetimes depending on how you look at it) of catching critters. I do like cats, something about their attitude I guess. There’s a little Jersey in every cat.  

Tinder conk - found on a foggy day
Migration and FogLots o’ birdies are finding their way out to our island paradise (IP) even as we have days (and weeks) of fog thick enough to make finding the IP a hassle. Some get help on the way, be it wind or lobsterman Walt Day.

Out in the thick fog about 3 miles off Hurricane Walt watched an exhausted warbler fly low just over the tops of waves, apparently lost and confused (they often go together, but don’t necessarily have to). The water logged, sleepy tweeter landed on his boat and let Walt approach and handle him. He was brought into the cabin, where a makeshift bed was made and the warbler got cozy and warm for a 4 hour drive. Dried, refleshed and relieved, this little birdy stretched out and flew at first sight of land (Little Hurricane). Gotta think there are plenty that aren’t so lucky to find Walt.

Pileated Woodpecker – Walt also mentioned that Peter Day has been seeing a Pileated Woodpecker just north of the tower on the North Haven Road. If I am not mistaken, this is also were a Barred Owl spent some time a few years back (Barred Owls are seldom experienced out here). Good yard.

green heron at the creelman pond
- photo by erin creelman
Snowy Egret – Another not-so-regular visitor to our IP, a Snowy Egret was first reported seen by the Old Harbor Pond Bridge (fantastic place to scan for critters) by Skip Thompson. Henley and Ethelyn Day later saw the Egret from the Granite Island Bridge! Great spotting!

Green Heron – (5/22) Erin Creelman sent in this photo of a Green Heron that visited their “pond out back”. Great sighting and good job getting the photo.

Yards can provide important habitat for wildlife and Erin also included a shot of three wood ducks in the same pond. Thanks for sharing.

First Bike ride in forever (5/30)– Round the island plus Poor Farm. Healing an ol’ soccer wound that resurface in a not so gentle way has limited bike rides to zilch for a few weeks. The weather has made this easier on me, but still - bike rides are such a great way to get a feel for the bird scene out here that I was (big al) jonesin’ to get out there. Here’s what I found  

Yellow-rumped, Black-throated Green, Nashville’s, Black and White, Blackburnian, Magnolia, Canada, Chestnut-sided & Yellow Warblers, Redstart, Yellowthroat, Ovenbird, Parula, Eastern Towhee (singing), White-throated & Song Sparrow,  Alder Flycatcher, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Hairy Woodpecker nest, …

The Blackburnians are back in a zone of historic use (zhu) & this time a young male (not so flame-throaty) was just down the road (zhu outskirts), doing a sort of call and reponse (he was responding) with the male at the heart of the zhu.

This hairy woodpecker nest is in my favorite aspen grove on the poor farm road (towards the Pequot end of things). Known for pumping out delicious Leccinum Boletes in the fall, the trees going to be pumping out little hairy woodpeckers.

The cavity was loud with the chatter of baby woodpeckerettes. Within minutes the female showed up. Note that she had to go way in to feed them and then was able to get into the cavity with them to check for fecal sacs, so the youngsters still have a long way to go before even thinking about leaving the nest. We'll keep visiting the nest as the young get bigger and start feeding at the cavity opening.

 I found this Hairy Woodpecker nest along the Dogtown Basin Trail. The male spent a bit of time in the nest with the young as you can see.

No fecal sac (bag of poop) removal was observed at either nest and the adults certainly were spending a lot of time in the cavity with the young. This combo makes me wonder if the young aren't so little and their digestive systems so undeveloped that the fecal sacs they are pooping out  are full enough of unprocessed nutrients to make it worth the parent eating. Caprophagy, or the eating of the poop, is a common practice in bunnies (filthy animals) and apparently is somewhat of a "common practice" in birds that produce fecal sacs. The point of the scat sac is to make it easier for an adult to clean up a nest as to not attract predators. If there are still goodies in the scat sac (and word is that the younger the fecal sac producer the more goodies are left behind) some parent birds opt to re-use the poop, or "eat scat and live". Its kinda gross (judgement), but apparently works for some and thats cool - just don't push your Caprophagy on me!

Woodpecker nests will be getting easier to find over the next few weeks. Listen for the sound of begging woodpeckerettes in areas where you regularly seen woodpeckers or see evidence of feeding or cavities from years past. Check Birches and Poplars. If there is a nest around, you'll hear a low, constant chatter coming from maybe 10-30 ft up you can try and find the nest on your own or wait for an adult (woodpecker preferably) to come in with grub and follow he/she to the nest. Good luck!

Huber (5/24) – Afternoon walk. Pollen, Black-throated Green, Blackburnian, Cape May, Magnolia, Yellow-rumped, Black and White, Black-throated Blue & Chestnut-sided Warblers, Yellowthroat, Ovenbird, Redstart, Downy Woodpecker (cloacal kissing), 25 species of Fungus (Huber kicks ass for fungus year-round), Owl Pellet, Lady Slippers (almost there), Bunchberry. 45 Surf Scoter. Canada Geese

Huber owl pellet - vole jaw
Nice walk this afternoon, a 10 warbler species flock descended on me on the lollipop loop, with most notably a Cape May Warbler and a female Black-throated Blue Warbler mixed in. Downy woodpeckers doing it is always an exciting (for them) and slightly awkward (for me) sight. Lady Slippers should be rockin’ soon (if not already by publish time) and the Canada Goose pair had gave me the feeling that they might have had a connection with one of the grassy ledges off the preserve. And of course, the fungus scene was wonderful.  

nice rack - of turkey tail
Greens Island - (5/15) 15 Warbler morning - Black white, black green, black blue, blackpoll, black burnian, magnolia, myrtle, Parula, chestnut sided, nashville, yelowthroat, yellow, ovenbird, redstart, bay breasted
(5/20) - 3 Razorbills at the mouth of the tombs.

(5/21) - Wilson's warbler, many other warblers

orange peel cups
On the water -

Fluke stories - (5/24) 5 Manx Shearwaters at Matinicus Rock, Red-billed Tropicbird at Seal Island, 14 Great Cormorant nests at Seal Island, 15 Great Cormorant nests at Little Roberts.20 Harlequin Ducks at Little Roberts.

(5/26) - Red-necked Grebe off Monroe Island, Purple Sandpiper on Bull Rock, 3 Bonaparte's Gulls, Gannets, Razorbills at Seal Island, lots of Puffins, a few Wilson's Storm Petrels
To go for the pelagic boat ride of your dreams (as long as you dream about birds and whales and shark and tuna and stuff) give John a call at 596 -1841. You wo't be sorry - this is the premier pelagic wildlife experiece!
Basin - (5/25) Harbor Seal pup video with pup riding on mom's back.
the pup is a week or so old.i spotted 4 mother and pup pairs, but it was the wrong tide for hauling out.
leify and mom enjoying an evening kayak ride
there is a time to not follow signage on the trail

So hey - its sunny - we'll see you out there!