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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


Saturday, December 17, 2011

happy holidays
Welcome to the vinalhaven sightings report – December 15th, 2011
Brought to you by - MCHT, VLT, KTG, & Z
“looks like a chewed  mussel”

Highlights – octopus, eagle bath, parasitic jaeger, fungus, both flavors of crossbills, common murre in the basin, otter scat (and more!), owl pellets, and so much more!

the pressures of middle school seem to reflect
the pressures of the deep sea for this
deep sea octopus

Sightings - North Atlantic Octopus – Bathypolypus arcticus –(12/11) Troy Wadleigh brought in this really cool specimen to the middle school marine tank (maintenance sponsored by VLT!) and it appears to be doing well after a handful of days “in the can”.

North Atlantic Octopus is a member of the “Deep Sea Octopus’”group  which means little to most but i'm sure it's important to the octopus. Here’s some scoop from “Big” David  Wood, ph.d who did his stuff on this species –

 Bathypolypus arcticus is a deep sea octopus that is typically found at depths from 200-600 m in the Atlantic Ocean (Boyle 1987). This species of octopus is small; an average adult from the lower Bay of Fundy weighs around 45 grams, smaller than your hand.
this is not the deep sea.

Deep sea octopuses generally do not have ink sacks, have low fecundity (which means they don't lay very many eggs), lay large eggs from which benthic young hatch, and often have large reproductive organs. Female B. arcticus brood their eggs for over 400 days in the wild! During this time they stop eating and slowly waste away as they metabolize their own bodies to provide energy to care for their young.”

Hard core parenting and a very cool find. Octopuseses are hands down always the coolest find in any tide pool, any trap, any snorkel session (judgement). No contest.     

Eagle Bathing – videoheads will recall the October 7th, VSR ( where we showed a video (questionable quality) of an adult Bald Eagle bathing in Folly Pond. Bob Delsandro has reported witnessing the same activity (and maybe the same eagle) bathing in Round Pond. Sounds like the eagle was sitting on a partially submerged log close to the road (you know, the one that sometimes has turtles on it) , entered the water and splashed a bunch like in the video. Both Bob abd Sofia got great looks  

Ferry ride - (12/4) Captain Pete , famous for his tongue wagging, spotted a Parasitic Jaeger from the ferry. It was chasing a Bonaparte's Gull and word is that all the observers who were observing that bird got great looks.

crossbills were seen in these trees last week

Crossbills – (12/8) - 10 Red Crossbills passed by the turbines – reported by John Drury. Good spot, way more White-winged Crossbills than Red Crossbills on Vinalhaven. ….(12/10)White-winged Crossbills- When working on the trails it’s not uncommon to be serenaded by songbirds. (and i get that they are not singing for me). “when working I hear the serenations of male songbirds as they try to convince females to copulate with them” would be more correct. (by the way, Good luck fellas!).

Needless to say, the serenations are “thickest” in the spring. This is the time when photoreceptors in their brains (bird brains!) detect the increased length of daylight which then stimulates the release of hormones, hormones of the reproductive kind. Hormones = singing. Singing=smooching (of the cloacal kind). Days then get shorter, hormones chill, singing slows then stops. Bird dudes in a nutshell. 
Sure, on any warm day in December one might hear an excited male Chickadee singing away. It puts a smile of your face but in truth  the singing probably isn't getting that male any smooches (cloacally speaking that is). That’s all fine, since kissing leads to babies and a Chickadee raising a brood in the winter? Fat to slim chance – (never has there been an analogy spectrum where both ends (of the spectrum) mean pretty much the same thing. Would "fair chance" be in the middle of fat and slim? Whatever, never mind). Even as cavity nesters, Chickadees are programed not to be parental in the winter. that's when they shiver.
crossbills are more than just a
cool set of mandibles
-stock photo
Are there song birds that breed in the winter? Ones that built nests on spruce branches, made of twigs, grasses and moss? I know what you are thinking - what kind of moronic songbird would wait until its freezing outside to give the ol’ “but baby its cold outside” snuggle line a try?  the answer is simply Crossbills.(they've always seemed a little off).

Locally we are lucky enough to have both flavors of Crossbills, White-winged and Red, and both appear to have the option of breeding at just about anytime – luck stiffs! The key to their winter promiscuity status? Food. yes, apparently its grub gets them going. so it's the more spruce cones the better. They ain't really dumb, their just coneheads

do coned covered spruce get you randy?
if so there is a fair chance that you are a crossbill

For the last four days the woods in the Basin (12/ 10 -14) have been dominated (bird wise) by White-winged Crossbills. Crossbills were consistently heard each day with flocks of 20+ pass overhead calling and – here’s the big part – singing like there’s no tomorrow.  Now, while its not uncommon to hear White-winged Crossbills calling any time of the year (if they are around), it sure ain’t even every year that you can hear Crossbills singing on the island. As mentioned early Singing = smooching…blah,blah,blah.

Cone covered spruce trees are common in the Basin this year, and several folks have noted they've been seeing more trees such as these. There always seems to be some in the woods. The Crossbills seem to really like them.

It will be interesting to see if some or most or any of the Crossbills stick around for the winter, if they'll shack up or are singing on their way to a shack up zone somewhere else. either way its nice to have them around again.

fish scales and that white secretion that
looks like a chewed shellfish

Otter Sign – One of my favorite things about the Basin (and Vinalhaven in general) is the River Otter scene. (Readers of the report will recognize that as the editor I hold no grudges against birds or mammals even though they clearly are not fungus). All the beings have cool ecology stuff to observe and learn about but River Otters have so many readily observable that they seem to have more to offer than most. (i'm playing favorites.). On the island they are the funnest, and easiest to track year round. certainly a favorite. 

this is the view from one of the otter latrine sites

There’s no place where River Otter sign is more consistent or easier to observe than in the Basin - and two historic otter marking spots were visited this week.  Otter Point- (12/10) A month or so after my last visit (you’re welcome hunters) “Otter Point” - what i call it-  was covered with otter sign. (seems to be always covered with sign). Poop and that "other secretion" are what we are talking about. Many scats and two“gooey” white spots were observed on this day – this area has been marked by otters for at least the last 5 years.  

otter point is a latrine

Our tracking books still don’t know exactly where or why the white “goo” is made – other than it’s a scent marking of some sorts.  Its always cool to find and was spotted at Otter Point, but not at the mouth of “Long Pond Creek”, no more than a ½ mile away, where the same otters have a mark spot, and have been marking recently. 

here's a video of the scene surrounding the second latrine. the poops are in the spartina across the creek and should not be able to be seen here. if you can see them you either have way too good of eyesight or you are a liar.

murres look like penguins in the summer
stock photo from point reyes

Nothing Common about this MurreBasin (12/5) Common MurreCommon Murres are pretty much the flying penguins of the northern hemishpere (oversimplification and not totally true. They do make  a fine example of convergent evolution though). Last year a pair (or two) of Common Murres laid an egg (or eggs) on Matinicus Rock, marking the first time in recent history that Common Murres have bred in the "North Atlantic, along her western shores, as far down as Maine". How 'about that? a species moving south. anyway.

lots of white on the face, no white on the bill

Common Murres are seen (somewhat commonly) on summer trips to Seal Island and Matinicus Rock, but never in high numbers. (They were numerous to abundant in California and Alaska, but only in the breeding season). I had not seen a Common Murre from Vinalhaven proper before this day (VVNM). And actually had only seen a Common Murre in non-breeding plumage once before. (1st time - Race Point, Cape Cod January 1999).

Thick-billed Murres (close relatives) are seen eacch winter around Vinalhaven, one even spent 3 weeks or so in the Basin maybe 3 winters back. Thick-billeds faces stay dark in the winter where Common Murres have white that extends thru the face and behind the eye. Murres arre in the Puffin family, Alcidae along with Razorbills and Guillemots. More like the Puffins are in the Murre family. That sounds better.   

the photos are fuzzy and the video is fuzzed out as well. had to over zoom to photo any sort of view of the face. Anyway, here's the mure in the basin, hasn't been relocated since.

stop jawing
Owl Pellets - (12/12) Once again, in the Basin, walking along the platform loop I found two saw-whet owl pellets on the trail, about .5 mile apart . Finding owl pellets on the trail is a great reason to look down as you walk. Finding mushrooms is another one. Not tripping over roots is a good reason too.

cool claws, tough toenails

Anyway, the first pellet sported a lower mandible of some digested rodent (probably a vole). The second had claws/toenails in it. Both were very fun to find.

Lane's Island - (12/14) - 1st Long-eared Owl pellet of the season out on lane's.

Common Loons calling....for a while there i was hearing Loons daily almost. I took this video when i went crepuscular in the Basin marsh. it was so still that the calls echoed 3 times at least. video doesn't capture the echoes.

leify was a little uncomfortable
around the flying santa.
loved the copter though!

its been a good run for the leifyman. turned three on the third, hung with santa and went jumping with Isa. those two were really cute (and so was addy!) and even called out "ready, set, go" but just couldn't get the timing down. everyone thought it was funny.

fungus gets bumped again, hopefully in the next...

see ya out there.

state beach sunset