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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, August 17, 2011

surrounded by birds
Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report – August 17, 2011
Brought to you by the kind people at the VLT and the MCHT and you (yes, you)

“Spores from a parasitic fungus called Cordyceps have infiltrated their bodies…and their minds”

-David Attenborough, “Jungles” episode of Planet Earth BBC series
(please go back and read again with a hefty British accent)

Highlights – Rosy Maple Moth, Sei Whale, Ocean Sunfish, Great Egret, Fungus!!!!!!, Slime molds including a VNM!,  Shorebirds, Deer Trails, Nelson’s sharp-tailed Sparrow, Snakes, Mid-summer (Spring) Peepers, Leach's Storm Petrels, and much, much more…

these folks showed up on a wednesday
Business: Bird Walks – Just so there is no confusion - the bird walks are on Wednesdays. Last week was changed to Tuesday for personal reasons; this week’s is still on Wednesday. Wednesday, Wednesday, Wednesday. 8:30 at the ol’ Skoog Park. Sure. in just a few hours at this point.

If you haven’t checked them out, make sure you find your way to the Vinalhaven Land Trust ( & the Maine Coast Heritage Trust ( websites to see what’s going on with these fine organizations. Becoming a member of both organizations is a good idea too, especially if you read this blog on any sort of a regular basis. These are membership driven organizations, Let it loose! If you know what I mean…enough.

Big Thanks! – To all those who are sharing sightings and sending in pictures to the VSR. That is what this whole thing is supposed to be about.  So thanks for helping make this what this is supposed to be. For easier organizational factors if you could be kind enough to send sightings/photos to , that would be sweet. Keep ‘em coming.

she's a beauty
photo by Nancy Campbell
Rocks off! - Sightings: Giant Silkworm Moths – Family Saturniidae, Subfamily Saturniinae (ain’t that latin cool?). - Yeah, we’re going to start off with a moth or two! The moths were chosen for the prestigious VSR opening slot for no other reason than I must have gotten 5 emails (Including an email titled “Dryocampa rubicund”.  Bonus points for an email entitled in Latin.) and had 3 face to face interactions (in the flesh?) with passionately enthusiastic witnesses of this Rosy Maple Moth.  Also, I learned that cellular phones apparently have cameras (I may have known this before), which is great and this great picture was taken with one even though cell phones generally don’t work out here. I think this is the first iphone photo sent into the VSR.  Here’s to many, many more.

Anyway, this Maple loving Lepidoptera was seen at Frances Evens and Grant Ditzlers house on their door frame. Giant Silkworm Moths are the coolest group of moths (judgment, but we were all thinking it). Along with the Polythemus moth from the last report or the Luna Moth caterpillar (this counts as the 2nd moth) that Stevie Mesko spotted on Squid Cove Road (coincidentally, Stevie also witnessed the Rosy Maple Moth. She gets the first Saturniidae Awareness Award -Congratulations Stevie!) Giant Silkworm Moths demand respect and attention in all stages of their lives. (The last sentence is one my favorite ones I’ve ever written - it starts way up at "Along").These are the moths you remember seeing, or at least pause when seeing, and this is the only I’ve heard of sighted this summer. Great picture and great sharing.

honeycomb form of coral slime

Top island birds or island top birds- Cedar Waxwings and American Goldfinch are the predominantly dominate songbird species on the island. They have been the tops songbirds on the island for much of the summer. Where are the Crossbills? I hope they are doing well….minutes later...(8/16) 2 White-winged Crossbills heard flying over my house!

more of the traditional Coral Slime look
Slimes – With a little rain last week the woods responded with a small flush of fungus, backed with a nice showing of slime molds (the real reason we walk in the woods). Coral Slime (Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa) seems to be the species that responded to the most recent rains with the most aggressive showings.  Coral Slime takes two forms, and both were spotted on a recent Basin walk (8/13) on the same log!
nice plasmodium

Since folks like to see lists here’s a few slimy ones – Basin (8/13)Scrambled Egg Slime, Coral Slime, Tapioca Slime,  Arcyria nutans (VNM!)…(8/14) Huber – Many-head Slime (plasmodium), Tapioca Slime, Coral Slime, Wolf’s Milk Slime.

VNMs don’t happen every day (I wouldn’t be able to handle it), not even every year in the slime mold world (Myxomycetes), so finding the Arcyria nutans was a completely slimy VNM bonus. (last year I found a “pretzel slime” on a Sheepscot Valley Conservation Association walk, the first slime VNM in more than a decade). Anyway, word is that Arcyria nutans is widespread and not uncommon (I love this wordage), but seems to have evaded  my sight up to this point.

Arcyria nutans - Droopy Slime
first one i've ever seen. about time.
 Other than the fact that it needs a common name desperately, this is the first slime to receive the coveted “Myxomycetes of the month” award - August 2011. We’ll see what the recent/current/present while I type rains inspire in the woods.
Nutans” can be translated as “nodding”, which is in reference to the non-erect sporangia of the species, especially when compared to Chocolate Tube Slime.  Nodding slime might be what I use to identify this one in the future. Very stoked, very stoked. Maybe Drooping Slime is better. whatever/

Fungus– I hate to play favorites, and I'm worse at keeping them, so I get new ones often. In the fungus world favorites I have many, and how can one possibly pick one, or two, or even three.
Cordyceps ophioglossoides
Adder's Tongue

One group that has been a favorite for 15 years or so has been Cordyceps genus of the Clavicipitaceae family, in the “Ostiole Flask” Order (Spheriales) of the Flask Fungus Class (Pyrenomycetes)  , in the old-school is cool Ascomycetes Division (subdivision Ascomycotina) – in the Kingdom Fungi. What this means is that they belong to a group of fungus that are not like the toadstools, corals, or even puffballs or stinkhorns (standard Basidiomycetes). No sir, Cordypceps gets the pleasure of associating with other Ascomycetes as Morels (Black Morel – State Fungus of Minnesota), Truffles, and Earth Tongues. Now that is good company. . Here’s what David Arora has to say about Cordyceps as a genus:

Cordyceps are worthless as food because of their small size and infrequent occurrence. Their unique diet, however, makes them a fascinating group to study. Perhaps someday we will find a practical use for them in control of certain insect pests. Also worth mentioning is the closely related genus, Claviceps, which parasitizes plants rather than insect or truffles. The most potent hallucinogenic compound known as LSD was derived from Claviceps purpurea, better known as wheat ergot. “
- Mushrooms Demystified, D. Arora,  page 880

Maybe a little more information than needed, “wheat ergot” is a completely different scene but interesting none the less. Not so sure about the” worthless” part of the whole equation "due to infrequent occurrence", I gave anyway many a cookie to the first kid who found a Trooping Cordyceps on fungus hikes in Ohio. The kids always found many. Anyway.

For hot videos about Cordyceps check out the BBC “Planet Earth” series, volume 5 (the “Jungles” episode), section 3 - , minutes 21- 27 (hey it’s only 6 minutes!) or so for an epic coverage of the Amazon, rainforests, ants, slime mold plasmodium and cordyceps. You should really see this footage!

this is the deer trail/highway i was
following when i found the Cordyceps.
this was made by deer, raccoon, mink
and maybe a coyote.
 As opposed to the turf I explored in California (where I could often be heard yelling “where the hell are the cordyceps!”), Vinalhaven is fortunate to have a Cordyceps representative, Cordyceps ophioglossoides or “Adder’s Tongue”. It is a truffle-eater, not an insect parasitizer, of which I have found individuals yearly for the last 4 summers. Here’s more from Arora, Mushrooms Demystified, page 881 (you know it’s a funky fungus when you are at page 881 in Arora. the part of the book for Fungi less traveled). Arora is a palindrome, by the way.  More from arora…

“C. ophioglossoides is another species that that parasitizes Elaphommyces, but it has a club like fruiting body that lacks a sharply defined “head”. ...olive brown to nearly black except for a yellow base and yellow mycelia threads that extend into the host. It is said to be the most common Cordyceps in eastern North America.” Mushrooms Demystified, thanks David!

David Attenborough adds abiout Cordyceps infected insects- “It’s infected Brain directs it upward ….those afflicted and detected by the workers are taken and dumped far away from the colony” – talk about your exile on main street. Apparently if left in a colony the spores will spread so thoroughly that entire populations of insects can be wiped clean. Love this fungus group, enough to have a Cordyceps tattoo, but not enough to make them the fungus of the month! Love 'em even more when i find 'em in woods!

do fungi excite you?
this was typed to set up many a joke. 
Fungus of the month club centerfold August 2011! -

Recent Rains – have inspired a small flush of Salmon-unicorn Entoloma (Entoloma salmoneum) throughout the woods. Also known as Salmon-coloured Nolanea, Nolanea quadrata, Nolanea salmoneum, and Entoloma quadtrata. With so many names, you’d have to assume the fungus was somewhat phallic.  They are a yearly pleasure to see, we just weren’t sure we’d see any this year. Enjoy the views and look for them on a trail near you.
There have been a few other species that have enjoyed last week’s drizzle. Here’s a few fungal lists : (8/6) Carrying PlaceEmetic Russula, Fading Scarlet Waxy Cap

(8/13) Basin – Salmon-unicorn Entoloma, White- scaley Amanita sp. (see photo), Yellow Patches, Emetic Russula, Blusher, VTP, Birch Polypore, Tinder Conk, Chocolate Milky…(8/14) Amanita Caelia, Yellow Patches

a more traditional looking
Entolomafungus of the month!
(8/14) Huber – Dye maker’s Polypore, Chrome-footed Bolete, Decorated Mop, Luminescent Panellus, Rosy Polypore, Yellow Patches, Red-belted Conk (Leify thought they made great bongos!).

white, scaley, amanita

Any fungophile will tell you, every year is different, and most would mention that this summer’s (overall) dryness hasn’t really been supportive of large numbers of mushrooms. That said, the fungus that have responded to the little precipitation we’ve received are more than troopers. They are the hardcores, pumping out spores in the toughest (not really) of times. One species in particular has been more numerous than my first 7 years out here combined, and that’s the “white-scaley Amanita Sp.” mentioned from the Basin (8/13).  I can’t remember seeing more than one or two in years past, but walks over the last week have produced 7 or more on a single hike.  Lately, I’ve been following deer trails, with the Coyote in mind, in the Basin for fun (either I desperately need a hobby or I have one. Or two). Anyway, several of the "white, scaley, amanitas" mentioned above were spotted during these deer trail wanderings, about the number i've seen over the last 5 summers. The closest fungus i can find in the book is one called "coker's polypore" (i wonder if the Coker's part is in reference to the whitish powder on the top) which isn't found around here - but the Audubon guide to Mushrooms mentions this under Coker's - "there are 40 or more amanitas with much the same structure...None should be eaten". One of 40plus possible species?  there is so much to learn about fungus, and so much evolution going on at the same time, most likely we'll never catch up. they are leagues ahead of us.

chocolate milkies

fading scarlet waxy cap

put this is your pipe and smoke it.
on second thought - don't

Turd on the run - It’s slug season, please drive carfeully

Slug and slime - tapioca past its prime     


yes i am a jaeger, and yes i am bad ass
photo by John Drury

On the water- John and the Fluke have been active taking observers out to Seal Island for puffin, tropicbird, and jaeger craziness. These trips continue to be the primo pelagic outings on the Maine Coast. And while the classics are still being seen - Razorbills and terns included - even though dispersal time is quickly upon us. Always something though, and migration on the high seas can be super fun. Here's a few cool sightings seen from the Fluke recently...

greater shearwater with white-sided dolphin
photo by John Drury

Early in the month John spotted a group of whales feeding at the surface, whales he identified as Sei Whales (pronounced "Say" - like that wonderful song from the 80s - "Sei, Sei, Sei"). Relatively small size 40 ft., relatively close proximity of the dorsal fin and blowhole, and fin shape all pointed john to the Sei id. 

To make things even better, Ocean Sunfish - possibly the weirdest critters in the Gulf of Maine- have been (somewhat?) regular off the Fluke over the past few weeks as well...Leach's Storm Petrel's were also spotted (8/3,4) off of Skate 18 ft. long Basking Shark...Prothonotary Warbler at Matinicus Rock when John was picking up researchers...
Peregrine Falcon at Seal.

ocean sunfish
photo by john drury
As you can see there's still a lot of action on the water, and with migration anything could show up. There is no such thing as a "typical" late summer/fall trip on the Fluke, so do yourself a favor and go for a ride and see some different stuff. 596-1841! 0% discount when the sightings report is mentioned! Whatta deal!

Bird Walks – (8/9) Lane’s – Western, Semi-palmated, and Least Sandpipers. Lesser Yellowlegs, American Goldfinch, Savannah Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Cedar Waxwing, Bald Eagle, Osprey, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Catbird, Alder Flycatcher, Black Guillemot, DCCormorant, Herring Gull, Laughing Gull, Common Eider.

The highlight for me was the great looks at the Semi-palmated and Western Sandpiper. The Semi-palmated walked along the beach ahead of the bird group, at times within 10 ft of us, for great looks all round.  Then after going thru the differences between Least, Semi-palmated, and Westerns and checking out the book, a Western Sandpiper was spotted quickly and the group pounced on the I.D. , rattled off the field marks we’d just gone over. It was very cool, actually the whole walk was cool.

Shorebirds are flowing thru Vinalhaven and paying visits at the local hot spots, putting yourself in the right locations – the Basin, State Beach, Pleasant River – increases the odds of experiencing the migration movement. And of course there are lots of other things to check out at these places. Here’s what I’ve seen on a few outings.

Basin Marsh(8/7) – 14 Greater Yellowlegs, 6 Least Sandpipers, Bald Eagle (1st year), 5 Osprey, 2 Great Blue Herons, 4 Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows (2 males singing, 1 female and 1 juvy being fed by female). 31 Harbor Seals on ledges.

Nelson's sharp-tailed Sparrow
good parenting club - not a shorebird

(8/7) this was a fun scene, with the Nelson’s STSparrow being a big bonus. The female Nelson’s was very curious about me, or so it seemed. At first she led her youngster away from me (I didn’t take it personally), and after it was safely stashed away the female just kept coming closer and closer thru the salt marsh hay but also on the high tide wrack line. At one point she was no more  than 8 ft. from me moving just fast enough to make photography tricky, but I did get a few shots. Any time in the Basin is good.

(8/14) Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow, 6 Least Sandpipers, 1 Greater Yellowlegs, Great Blue Heron, 6 Laughing Gulls, Osprey, 2 Common Terns, 20 Harbor Seals.  Foggy.

BBP-lovers in the basin.

(8/15) 47 Black-bellied Plover, 1 Semi-palmated Plover, 25 Least Sandpipers, 12 Greater Yellowlegs, 1 Short-billed Dowitcher, Great Blue Heron, 15 DCCormorants, 2 Osprey, 2 Common Terns, 8 Harbor Seal. Nelson’s STSparrow

(8/15) Today was wonderful. Look at those shorebird numbers! It is a real thrill to see the Black-bellied Plovers lined up on the ledges.  The marsh was hopping, especially when you compare with the day before. Which was lovely as well, which keeps me happy.

State Beach – (8/15) 17 Semi-palmated Sandpipers, 5 Semi-palmated Sandpiper, 4 Lesser Yellowlegs, 11 Short-billed Dowitchers, 4 Black-bellied Plovers, 7 Least Sandpipers, 3 Osprey (small chick still in nest), 15 Common Tern, Common Loon.

Osprey chick still small in nest, Common Tern fledglings following and begging adults for food, and just loads of shorebirds made this a very rewarding day.  Add the state beach numbers with the Basin numbers and suddenly (8/15) has over 100 individual shorebirds spotted, many more left unspotted!

Speaking of Shorebirds - Lets focus on Black-bellied Plovers ever so briefly since 51 individuals were observed (8/15). Black-bellieds , or BBP-lovers, are Tundra nesters way up in the Arctic Circle, where they nest “in dry, exposed sites where the snow melts first, with extensive views” –Birder’s Handbook (which by the way is the 3rd best book ever written after “Mushrooms Demystified” and “Breakfast of Champions”).  The individuals we are seeing have migrated like what, a couple of thousand miles or like a gagillion meters (even more in millimeters!) and still have places to go. They mostly eat insects on their breeding grounds, but will switch to polychaete worms and clams in migration. On wintering grounds, which regularly extend as far north as Cape Cod, they are pretty aggressive defend feeding territories. The ones in the pictures don’t seem aggressive at all, which makes you wonder how big territories might be and how much the tides play a role in access to defendable territories. Whatever way you look at it, they are here right now! Yearly visitors who can slide by largely unnoticed.

Around the island – Pocus Point –(8/7) Beth Guilford spotted an adult Northern Gannet from her spot, closer in due to fog was her theory. Beth hadn’t seen one from Pocus Point before. Cool to see one from your yard or deck...Dump (8/16) - Black Vulture still hanging as of yesterday...a Great Egret was spotted in the Basin a few weeks back, and then relocated (8/14) in the Pleasant River, making the plesant river even that much more pleasant...Spring Peepers are chirping again, heard at the Huber, Perry Creek, Lane's and last night from my room... 

"Next stop...mushrooms!" - Leify on the way to Huber
yes thats an amanita on his finger. he's also going thru a bongo faze

 Hope you all enjoyed reading. now go outside please.