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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


Monday, November 14, 2011

Welcome to the vinalhaven sightings report – November 14th, 2011
Written for, inspired by and brought to you by you (& me)!
And some help from the letters MCHT and VLT
“2" - the most owls John has seen on Seal Island on any one time

Highlights – eagle season, snowy owls, under the radar fall songbirds, shorebirds featuring sanderlings and purple sandpiper, yellow-breasted chat,

Business: Hey - send sightings and pictures and videos (nature stuff only please) to the official VSR sightings report email address at - we don't check it that often, but we also don't lose or bury emails there. it will eventually get read. sound promising? 

(almost all) VIDEOS in the report - have all been made where there was wind. folks may want to turn down the volume before starting. Except for the last one, having the volume turned up adds much to it.

sightings -State Beach – (11/10) 52 Red-necked Grebe, 2 Black- bellied Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper, 8 Horned Lark .

Greens - Sounds like John had a nice session with a Yellow-breasted Chat in the rambles and thickness on Greens. He got a few views of the impressive large, but also often impressively shy warbler.

Calderwood Neck - Chuck Gadzik spotted a nice Northern Harrier starting its journey across the island as

pleasant river - 20 hooded merganser and 12 lesser yellowlegs

fluke ride to saddlback and back - (11/1) harlequin, oldsquaw, bufflehead, loads of common eider, one eagle. adult peregrine at the buffaloes, (many) black  and (2) white winged scoter. sanderling at Otter and little brimstone, purple sandpiper at saddleback.
young eagle on greens
photo by john drury
Eagle season – Q:“when’s the best time to see eagles?”, A:When they are here”. “Here” is here  and “when” is now as they (the royal they) goes. November Eagle Hot Spots include – the basin bridge, vinal cove bend (Calderwood neck road), carrying place, and Folly Pond.  Currently Folly Pond has 6 or 7 Bald Eagles hanging tight & easily viewed from the beaver dam or the pump house. look at this incredible picture John Drury got out on greens island. they are everywhere (or soon to be!).

very calm purple sandpipers around goose rocks

Paddle towards Calderwood – thoroughfare – (11/1) Incredible day loaded with Surf Scoters and Oldsquaw. Highlight was the 2 Purple Sandpiper who let me float by super close in the bright orange  MCHT kayak.  As the two were left high and dry on a ledge succumbing to the tide, one purple sandpiper ended up jumping into the water and swam to another ledge nearby. Photo may or may not be included.

we (the royal we) helped a monarch that day. In reality, i probably gave it another small number of minutes or so with my hand's warmth and efforts. i thinks its hind wings were tweeked or maybe hadn't opened fully yet. maybe they opened, kinda had a feeling this dude was screwed.

crockett cove marsh

Crockett Cove – (11/1) an elongated (and exponentially cool) salt marsh that may be the largest continual stretch of said habitat (salt marsh) on the island. That day’s notes noted an impressive pile of otter scat. So the Crockett Cove otters are doing well, good to know….

crockett cove otter scat
Ducks…around the islandCarver’s – plenty of Hooded Mergansers (50+). Limited numbers of Red-breasted Merganser, Bufflehead, Mallard. Seemingly gagillions of Canada Geese have arrived (waterfowl, honorary duck)in Carver’s Pond as well….Pleasant River Hooded Merganser, Red-breasted Merganser, Black Duck and Mallard have all been seen recently…Folly PondWood ducks, Black Ducks, Hooded Merganser

Under the radar fall/winter songbirds - or go see the real "big three" before the season is over!– there’s a small group of songbirds (3) that turn up just about this time every year (if not more often) that don’t readily go to feeders, they prefer rocky areas with grass and goldenrod, and they come thru in hunting seaon. The last one might be the major reason why they often go unnoticed and are thusly underappreciated (judgement). Maybe if the birds wore orange. Anyway we’re not talking about finches and whatever else you gotst irrupting from the north. No, I’m talking about the original big three – Horned Lark, American Pipit, and Snow Buntings (with Lapland Longspurs being an oddball substitute species). OK and sure - everyone loves snow buntings, (who can blame everyone) but no one really talks about them, which is what makes them so cool (kinda like a foot massage). Anyway, in my experience State/Geary's Beach is the most reliable spot on the island to find the big three, and not a trip to the peninsula (where the picnic table is) at this time of the year fails to toss up (produce, produce, produce!) one of these species.

anyway, so here a couple more videos of where to look for these species and what they are up to. they tend not to flush until the last second, so scanning ahead on the beach or rocks or what have you might be a good idea. we had the pipit video in the last one, here's a video of a snow bunting or two from seal island (11/9)

and here's a horned lark one from state beach (11/10)

thanks for the tides!
the moon. used to be a part of the earth.
kind of a small sacrifice for tides i'd say.
we'd be nothing without the tides.

Moon news – sometime the other day the full moon was as close to Jupiter in the evening skies as it will be this month. Here’s a nice picture of our satellite.

Crazy Week – I do believe last week was the first week where everything I had scheduled and had planned around got cancelled. I guess weeks like these happen, and lets be honest there were really only a handful of things on the set agenda list, but still nothing got checked off. a lot did get done though 

harlequin ducks
 Anyway, the bonus of having things cancelled can be the spontaneous opening of an freestyle afternoon or morning (or in this case a full day for work) to do whatever.  I think it was about 30 minutes later that i got the good word of a trip to seal the next day to search for Great Cormorant pellets. Classic. (11/9). its all about the timing.

Close friends know I have always coveted a sight of thy neighbor's (cormorant’s) pellet, an oily, fishy stinkin’ sphere. i have coveted it for years really. today i got closer than ever before, i was actually looking for them. 

Trip to seal – “Oodles of gannets “was one theme of the day (many diving), as were migrating Loons – mostly Common, potential Red-throated sightings - . we passed by several kittiwakes on the way out.  Maybe a dozen Harlequin Ducks  at little Roberts. On the island – Song, White-throated, White-crowned and Savannah Sparrows. Pine Siskin, American Goldfinch, and House Finch. Snow Buntings, American Pipit, Horned Lark, American Robin,  and Northern Cardinal (both dead and alive).Mourning Dove,  Raven and Bald Eagle. A big turn of the day happened when two Snowy Owls suddenly got tossed into the mix. Both were 1st year birds - thus the amount of dark feathers on the body - which always makes me wonder if we are the first people they've ever seen. (then i think how sad i am for them that john and i are the first people they've ever seen - they deserve better).

Anyway, the first one was startled up on the western end as we walked above it, unaware that the owl was there until we must have been right over it. this guy was pretty alert and awake from that point on. here's a video of this owl after he first landed - he appears to be turning his head completely around :

on the wing - photo by john drury

we spotted this owl two more times, the first time he was jumpy and headed to the eastern end, where he was spotted being harassed by a raven. at that point the owl headed over water and up towards brimstone and vinalhaven.

it was during the scanning that we spotted this guy (owl #2) on the ridge down the line. it was well aware of us as we approached from a distance off. he let us get close, as snowies tend to be pretty tame and patient around people and life in general.

a fun thing to do with this picture is to zoom in
as far as you can on the white dot that the
scopes are pointed at. that's the owl 

seemed rather relaxed

Islands like seal, brimstone, otter, and sheep (and many other ledges and rocks) open areas with exposed rock/grass mix or are good places to look . apparently places such as these are similar to the tundra  of their preferred habitat tundra where they live up north.

Here's some cool snowy info provided by johnsgard, paul "north american owls" 2nd edition, 2002, a (very cool book donated to the VRK by Allison Thibault - overdue thanks!)
there are few crappier places to spend your youth
Great Cormorants - the reason we headed to seal
youngster on the right with the white and light body 

"Still hunting by watching for prey from an elevated perch was used most often, ground walking by walking or hopping over the snow surface and apparently listening for prey immediately below was done occasionally" now that would be cool to see.

Unfortunately no matter how patient these guys were, they were never going to get that vole, or mouse, or lemming on seal. Fortunately for the snowies though they have somewhat of a varied diet. Here's more....
""winter stomach samples from 87 Maine owls had rats and mice present in 35 percent, snowshoe hares in 20 %, and passerine birds in 10% (Mendall, 1944)". I'd love to know where the owls samples were taken and if there was any increase in bird take along the coast where they spend time on islands with no rodents such as seal.

The birder's handbook says this of their diet " Lemmings, other rodents; if scarce, increases variety of prey, even taking marine invertebrates". Imagine finding a crab exoskeleton in an owl pellet? that would kick some serious ass.

So is this guy hunting snow buntings, larks, and pipits in this video or just keeping tabs on the scene around him?

photo by john drury
the owl took turns between sleeping, looking extremely dazy and scanning all directions for awreness sake i would guess. he eventually moved to another rock view maybe 100 ft away and that's where we left him.

it seemed to take off in slow motion and John was able to snap this beautiful shot. we took a course as close to the shoreline as was safe on the rocks and left him hunting, resting, doing its thing. while down low we saw a large flock of roughly 200 Purple Sandpipers. it was nice.

the beautiful day on seal kept getting better.
the ride back - extended into the dark as times have changed and the snowies delayed progress dramatically. Started with 5 Sanderling

Several Greater Shearwater were spotted, including a few on the water. 2 Parasitic Jaeger were seen B-lining towards Black-Legged Kittiwakes, hassling and kleptoparasitizing our favorite gull. That's alright, we are Jaeger fans as well. Plenty of Northern Gannets continued to pass by and hunt along their course south/east. A view of a well attended, Great Cormorant evening roost on Roberts Island closed out the day perfectly

bonus clip - grebe or loon: state beach, here we find red-necked grebes seeming tiny and skinny next to the common loon that comes into the video late. two of our favorite groups of birds Loons and Grebes, especially the grebes. we are big fans of the red-necked grebe. in tribute to the red-necks that breed in beluga lake in beautiful homer alaska, along the boardwalk and along the road, we salute you and state beach. enjoy the video!

i think this is the only note to end on....