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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


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report – August 1st, 2011
Brought  to you by the kind people of VLT and MCHT
“All but their adult stage takes place in other insects”- Ultimate Donald Stokes quote

Highlights – Little Blue Heron, Our favorite Parasites (featuring Giant Ichneumon), Slime Mold, Fungus,  Shorebirds, On the water (featuring Red-billed Tropic bird , Black Tern, and Jaegars), Snakes and Turtles,  Polyphemus Moth, Black and Turkey Vultures

Business:  Hello and welcome back. Quick note -Please send sightings, pictures, picture of sightings, and sightings of pictures to . This will make organizing things easier for me, which is all I ask you to consider when doing just about anything – how will it make Kirk’s life easier? Telling me your sightings on the street is great, and I seldom forget what is told to me. I just don’t always remember them when I’m writing these reports.

Wednesday morning bird walks – So far we’ve had three wonderful walks – at Carrying Place, Lane’s Island , and State Beach. Nice folks and the birds have been nice as well – highlights below somewhere. We continue again next week – Wednesday August 3rd and run thru the month. 8:30am at Skoog.

Late breaking news about the bird walks - next week's bird walk has been changed to Tuesday, the 9th at 8:30am since i will be off island on the 10th. Sorry for any inconvenience, but lets be honest and say I'm not that sorry.

Little Blue Heron
-photo by Jim Clayter
Sightings – Little Blue Heron - Old Harbor Pond – Jim Clayter sent in some great pictures of an adult Little Blue Heron that spent time on the Pond Street end of Old Harbor Pond. The bird was spotted off and on over the course of a week, last seen on July 3rd.  Cousins of the local Great Blues, Little Blues are more common the further south you go on the east coast. They do breed in Maine as far north as Stratton Island which apparently is south of here.

We’ve checked sources and talked the Little Blue up a bit and it looks like this is the first Little Blue recorded on Vinalhaven. VVNM! Hats off to Jim for spotting and getting some great shots of our first time visitor.  

Tropicbird Flyby

On the water – Fluke and flukey stories – things are active out on the high seas these days, and with the heat getting hotter on land, it’s definitely a good time to get out on the water. Reports and photos from recent Fluke trips reflect the activeness.

Puffins are small

(7/26) We, (palmer, leify, and I) were able to join John and our friends Jane and Helen for a ride out to Seal for puffins and whatever.  And it was Puffins galore, and the “whatever” consisted of Black Tern and the Red-billed Tropicbird (fantastic session) both VNMs for palmer (not sure about leif), Razorbill, Common Murre, Black Guillemot (yes, a 4 alcid day), lots of Terns, Parasitic Jaeger, Great and DC Cormorants, several Bald Eagles, Manx Shearwater, lots of Gannets, Wilson’s Storm Petrels, and Semi-palmated Sandpipers landing on floating seaweed out in the middle of nowhere.  It was a great trip,

Young Gannets were numerous on the 26th

John and the Fluke have been having great trips this summer, including 5 trips in a row last week with the Red-billed Tropicbird, our trip was on day 4. Other worth mentioningables have been Red-throated Loon (7/3), Peregrine Falcon snagging tern in the tern colony, only to have much of the colony chase after the falcon.  Lots of Jaegers, including a 7 Jaeger day (7/28), and days with both Parasitic and Pomerine Jaegers 
peregrine falcon with tern in talons!
- photo by john drury

Shearwaters have been seen on most trips, including days with 3 species – Manx, Greater and Sooty. Anyway, we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – do yourself a favor and get on the boat with John, you’re guaranteed to see some islands, possibly some duct tape on a foot, and lots and lots of birds. 596-1841 to reserve your spot on the boat!

Wilson's Storm Petrels are smaller
-photo by John Drury
Manx and Greater. Getting along.
Photo by John Drury

And now for something completely different-
Ichneumon wasp
-photo by Erin Creelman
Nice Ichneumon- Erin Creelman sent in this lovely photo of a local Ichneumon (Kirk’s pronunciation – “Icky-newmans”) Wasp female that has a sweet ovipositor. Yes, when she lays her eggs she uses that needle like thing to make sure the eggs are in the perfect place – often inside another insect. Here’s what the Stokes have to say about Ichneumon wasps in “…Observing insect lives”, (1983), which is a good book actually.

“Ichneumon wasps are a family (Ichneumonidae) of insects in the order Hymenoptera, or bees, wasps, and ants. They are one of the largest families of all insects. Almost all species of ichneumon wasps are parasitic, developing on or within the bodies of other insects. Some even parasitize other incheumons that have already parasitized other insects. These are then call hyperparasites”.

(Kirky’s note – hyperparasites = parasite of a parasite. Epic.)

this picture has little to do with Ickynewmans
 “the life cycle of most ichneumons is still unknown. What follows is a general account containing the main elements from the known species. Ichneumons overwinter in the pupal stage encased in a cocoon (a few overwinter as adult fertilized females). In spring the adults emerge, mate and look for other insects to lay their eggs in. Most ichneumons parasitize only one species, many choose a species of mother or butterfly caterpillar. The eggs hatch and the larva develop inside the host, usually without killing it, until the wasp larvae have completes their development. Sometimes the wasps start their development in one stage of their host and do not mature until the host has transformed into another stage.”(page 75)

But wait, there’s more…

“Although there are over 6,000 species of ichneumons in North America, and although the wasps are extremely common and abundant, there are very few that come into contact with humans”. (page 76)

Most likely there are several Ickynewmans in this photo.
Look very, very closely

Donald then does a nice job of relating how and why we might relate to and even potentially like Ichneumons with the next sentence.  

 “….This is the genus Ophion, which lays eggs on caterpillars such as cutworm, one of several types of moth larvae that infest our garden and mow down the first green shoots.” (page 77).

Our garden”, could be anyone’s garden, giving the reader a sense of belonging and connection. You see, Ichneumons are our friends.

“”…The ovipositor is obvious when the insect is in flight and looks like several strands of thread trailing behind. It is used to penetrate through wood and lay an egg in the developing larva of a horntail, a primitive wasp whose larva feeds in tunnels inside the wood. It is believed that the ichneumon can sense the vibrations of the feeding horntail larvae with its antennae. The egg develops in the larva, not killing it until it is full grown.”  

An insect that lays eggs in caterpillars by jamming its ovipositor thru wood. Friends, that is what’s known as a bad ass insect. Kudos to Erin for getting (and sharing) the photo and also for getting the ruler in the shot.  That’s thinking.

7/8 - a month later

on my brother's birthday - 6/9
Speaking of Parasites – Sounds like many folks have been enjoying the Black Vulture, still around and still loving the dump (personally last seen at the dump (7/31-yesterday)). Others may not be “enjoying” the Vulture per say as much as not letting it ruin their time out here with it "ugliness". And Just when things couldn't get any grosser-  A (possibly) interesting note can be made about the Black Vulture’s lower back, especially when comparing photos from a month ago and one from 2 months ago. (7/8) The vulture can be seen showing “a little skin” on its lower back while spreading its wings on the rocks where the tubes come out. There are several black dots mixed sprinkled through the bare patch, dots that I’m hoping (not sure why) are ticks this guy has picked up over the last month while on the island.  Birds are a great way for parasites to spread, and while this may be a little alarming to see, it’s kinda cool cuz when our vulture eventually leaves it will be spreading our parasites to some other place. (Do you feel better already?).  Whatever way you look at it, it’s likely to be deemed pretty gross. Funny that it’s sunning itself in the picture to begin with, as sunning is a way to kill parasites.

And the Black Vulture has been seen around the island – Folly Pond, the Basin and way up high over Hurricane Sound while I was kayaking out to the Whites. It continued to rise up and eventually was joined by 5 Turkey Vultures in flying back towards Vinalhaven, and most likely back to the dump.  Got the feeling it was looking to leave, but that’s made up in my head. I have now had 2 Vulture days (Turkey and Black) at least 7 times. Yes, I feel lucky. Best summer ever.

Camden Hills

this proves the otter has a functioning digestive system

Amphipods Revisited

The White islands are legendary for their otters and two recent visits to the area have confirmed the legacy. There isn’t a shoreline in the bunch that isn’t graced with a discreet pile or two of Otter scat. These scats are predominantly fish scales (ouch), but some will be crab exoskeleton, obviously depending . The scat in the photo has several complete amphipod exoskeletons mixed in with the fish scales.  If you’ve ever turned over  rock in the intertidal zone you have probably experienced amphipods. They are often found in pairs, with the larger of the two being the female. There are gagillion of them in the intertidal, making them closer to the bottom of the food chain.


And yes, I have a new definition of bliss- “Bliss – the feeling in your (pick a body part) when you find your favorite otter slide lined with Chanterelles". Look at that picture! The otter slide is barely recognized because all those damn chanterelles are in the way!

Shrivel, shrivel

Fungus – Its been dry, or at least had been for a long stretch. Which is not the best conditions for fungus, but some have made it a point to announce their presence with a little authority. Here are just a few photos honoring those fungus that braved the heat and dryness over the last month. And here’s to many more being inspired by the recent precipitation. Cheers!

Lilac-brown Bolete to find it is a treat


Dye-makers Polypore
"Lets turn a doggy yellow" - Leif

i dare you to touch the hose. triple dog dare
- photo by Pam Alley
Cute little Red-bellied Snake
-photo by John drury

Snakes and Turtles – ….Flying Cow- Pam Alley sent in this picture she took of a Smooth Green Snake waiting for any unsuspecting critter to try and turn on the water. ….Greens Island – Red-bellied Snake – John Drury sent in this picture of a young Red-bellied Snake … Spotted Turtle – Drew Noyles came across a Spotted Turtle out on Poor Farm Road earlier this month. This is the 5th spotting of a spotted I’ve heard of over the last 4 years, and the first reported sighting east of Pleasant River. Very cool!… (7/) I got this crappy photo of a Snapping Turtle sunning itself at Folly Pond. View from the Beaver Dam, and on the same damn rock she’s sat on for years. (Disclaimer – I know neither the gender of the turtle or if it is indeed the same one I’ve seen on that rock in years past).

feeling blue?

….it ain't easy being green - after reading what little i could find about Green Snakes I found this bright blue roadkill snake by pleasant river. The books I looked in didn’t have much to offer about the natural history of green snakes, but peterson’s guide to reptiles and amphibians mentions this “The bright green coloration changes quickly to blue after death, a good point to remember if you ever find a dull blue snake that has been run over on the road”.  Nailed it!

tapioca anyone?
Slime Mold – It can be a rough transition coming back from any California trip, the old stomping grounds from Monterey Bay north thru Pescadero are a naturalist’s heaven, truly a magical place. Saw some old friends, met some new ones (Howdy to Caleb and Charlie, Birdy and Jasper), and most importantly got to hot tub it at Pigeon Point. Leify saw his first Blue Whale and then slept thru the Bobcat the next day. So it goes.

All the while my mind kept wandering back to Maine (seriously). 2 weeks is a long time to be gone from the woods – especially in summer! Fortunately a favorite teammate of mine (lets just call him “sibs”) was kind enough to send me a shot of some Tapioca slime I believe from Warren. That was the best news anyone could haven sent me on vacation. I eagerly waded thru the last days of epic California wildlife with the anticipation of slime molds on my return. Tapioca slime in the woods for sure, but the Scrambled Egg slime off the front porch and Wolf’s Milk Slime on our own private trail made me quickly put California in the past. I have included two videos capturing the true essence of the local slime. Both also star Leif (as himself) – the first has him identifying the Scrambled Egg Slime by the porch. The second has him excitedly pointing out raccoon poop (so excited that he says “there is new raccoon poop – RIGHT THERE!”) before going to town on poking the Wolf’s Milk Slime to disperse the spores. He’s quite a character these days.

count 'em, there's a gagillion
Terry Goodhue was kind enough to show Leif and I, and somebody named Miles and his friend who most probably has a name, his secret patch of Single Delight/Toad's Reading Lamp/Shy Maiden/Single Flowered Pyrola.  While patches I've found around the island seem to have less than 20 individuals, this patch had like a gagillion. Also seen were some really cool Rattlesnake Orchids (possibly Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain), whose pictures unfortunately did not come out. Remember that this is a secret.

Those beautiful eyes

Greens Island – John sent in this beautiful picture of a Polyphemus Moth seen earlier this month. Polyphemus moths are members of the family Saturniidae, or Giant Silk Moths, or as most folks know the group as “The Sexy Moths”. They are beautiful, have big eyes, and from my experience aren’t seen that often at all.  Good to see and thanks for sharing.

The bird walks  Ha, Ha! Got you to read all the way to the bottom! Anyway.
The bird walks have been great, nice folks and the observers have been a wonderful mix. Highlights for me on the walks have been – Kingfisher nest and recently fledged youngster at Carrying Place, all the posing birdies at Lane’s for the scope and the shorebirds at State Beach, plus as a bonus, the Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow that responded to my lame imitation of their song.  Here’s a few others-

-Bald Eagles on each outing
-Black and white warbler feeding recently fledged young (Carrying Place)
-Young Kingfisher and nest (Carrying Place)
-Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Alder Flycatcher, Grey Catbird, Cedar Waxwings, Common Tern, Goldfinch, Purple Finch, Yellow-rumped Warblers all in scope views (Lane's Island)
-Shorebirds at State Beach - Great views of 6 Short-billed Dowitcher, 1 Greater and 12 Lesser Yellowlegs, Semi-palmated Sandpiper, Semi-palmated Plover all in the scope

We heard but weren't able to see the Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow at state beach on the bird walk last week. I went out Sunday morning and got this video of one of the males singing.which i thought was pretty cool.

(not sure why the font changed) Also at state beach (7/31) - 14 Lesser Yellowlegs, 12 Short-billed Dowticher and 1 Greater Yellowlegs.


and a few pictures of Leify from our California trip.

See you out there! 
another home run.