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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, January 14, 2012

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report January 15th, 2012
Brought to you by MCHT, VLT, & U
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Highlights –   Ice, "Murders, mobbing and pellets - crow stuff", mixed species flocks and alarm calls, , Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Belted Kingfishers, Crossbills (both flavors), Barrow's Goldeneye, cross island expressway, Coyote scat, Tree Sparrow, Great Horned Owl, and more....

Business:  & Sharing the word – Over the last couple weeks, this here VSR blog got a whole lot of visitors coming to check out the coyote photo. Thanks to everyone for stopping by. And with that in mind, we have a special offer for everyone (and anyone) – if you send your email address to you’ll receive an announcement email when a new report is up. The email will come complete with a link to click on to get to the new one. It's hassle free (You’ll never get anything else sent to you, I swear), it’s about 2 emails a month and since its free it makes a great gift! . (if you are already on that list no need to re-enlist). Enough already.

 - way too many photos in this one. click on them photos to enlarge
 - There are a few videos in this report, the barrow's goldeneye one and the sunset one are a little wind blown - auditorally speaking that is. Story of my life, so to speak. Anyway, you may want to turn down the sound for those and all other videos. That was your warning. 

Sightings: Ice (photo gallery)- Some colder days, some warmer days, and a few with snow that left quickly. Things are pretty icy and the icy can be pretty cool looking.

The water in the video below started up Cedar Pond way, and was almost in Old Harbor Pond when the edges went ice.  

reason for the
crossbill season
 Belted KingfisherBill Alcorn approached me in the post office to report a Belted Kingfisher he saw out Poole's Hill area. There was a female Kingfisher on the wire by Old Harbor Pond, and a male seen at Lane's Island in the last week.

Two more Red-bellied Woodpecker sightings were made on the island -a female was on a snag across the road from Todd's Garage (1/2)  and another individual was up on Skin Hill at the Delsandro feeding station (1/8). Readers may remember that Jim Clayter had a male Red-bellied Woodpecker visit his feeders just before the end of the year, so this makes 3 sightings within the last few weeks! Keep your eyes on your feeders!

photo by Kerry Hardy
This "Snow Bunting on a wire" near Poole Hill was spotted and photographed by Kerry Hardy . We here at the VSR send out a big welcome to Kerry as he has been hired as the new Vinalhaven Land Trust steward. Enjoy the woods, we'll see you out there!

Lane's Island - ...Myrtle warblers seen every trip to lane's...(1/3) - Gannets, Red-necked Grebe, Common Loon, Old-tails, 3 Red Crossbills, 18 White-winged Crossbill, a murder of crows, yellow-rumped warblers...(1/8) Bald Eagle, Northern Flicker, Song Sparrow, Butterbutt...(1/12) Butterbutts, murder of crows, Great Cormorant,  

State beach - (1/10) 2 Tree Sparrows

Fungus - Look at this beautiful Turkey Tail found  in the Basin (1/9) - warm weather has inspired (or at least prolonged the existence of some nice winter fungus 

Great Horned Owls - (1/6) - Reports from Hiram of calling Great Horneds in the woods surrounding Greasy Monkey. Happy New Year to you too!

other winter territorials - singing - White-winged Crossbill, Black capped Chickadee, Golden crowned kinglets singing. Hairy Woodpecker drumming,

Ducks.... displaying - especially Goldeneye & Red-breasted Mergansers. At this point it looks like we could have overwintering Hooded Merganser in the pond. seems late to still be seeing 25-40 in Carvers . Lots of Canada geese remain in carver's as well - 175 count from Cedar Street (1/9). With the storm moving in (1/12) many Canada Geese were seen flying over the house on the reach. Did they leave or just go out to ride the storm in the big waves? we'll see.... (1/11) Basin - here's a male Barrow's Goldeneye i taped swimming in the Basin, right from the view on the Quarry Loop on the Granite Island Trails. Note the "crescent moon" shape of "the white dot in front of his eye" on this Barrow's. A common goldeneye (of which there are plenty around) would have a circular dot.

bayberries are the reason for the
butterbutt season

Songbird wrap up - White-winged Crossbills are still the “songbird to beat” as they continue to dominate the auditory landscape wherever spruce trees are found (most everywhere on the island). Seems like every spruce on the east side of the basin has a Crossbill singing on it (you could walk across the forest on their backs). as well as good numbers of Golden-crowned Kinglets, Black-capped chickadees, American Goldfinch, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and Hairy &/or Downy Woodpeckers. 

Myrtle warblers seen every trip to lane's, last seen (1/12)...

A nice thing with these mixed species flocks is how they use vocalizations to spread the word of an approaching predator. (1/5) near otter pond - i found myself sitting below a nice flock of kinglets (5), chickadees (5), Nuthatches (3+), Goldfinch (3) and White-winged Crossbills (30+). The Crossbills were up highest in the spruce, when suddenly the Crossbills changed their tune from singing to an alarm note. Word spread thru the flock from east to west and soon everyone was chattering alarms and hunkering down when a beautiful Northern Goshawk came screaming thru the area from  the east. Things got quiet for maybe 10 seconds and by 20 seconds things seemed back to the way it was pre-goshawk. An example of safety in numbers for them, and plenty of warning for me to get a great view of the Goshawk. The whole experience seemed to be in slow motion. More my speed. 

look for snail operculum and bayberry seeds
Gross Stuff - Pellets (puke) – Finding a hairy (vole hair - finest rodent) pellet below a tree makes for an exciting moment. good times. I found a hairy pellet below a tree right out my front door (1/2) and quickly realized it was going to be a good year. Seeing the rodent hair that made up most of the pellet I figured it to be from an owl - probably a saw-whet, or maybe a small long-eared pellet. With a closer look though it was clear the pellet was from no owl - there were 2 snail operculum (probably from periwinkles) sticking out the side of the pellet add and bay-berry seeds throughout!  An omnivore pellet for sure, one that doesn't mind picking snails from the shore. Most likely from a crow I'd say. 

on the top of the quarry loop trail
just outside the quarry area

The Basin trail system continues to be good for finding owl pellets - right on the trail even! Adam White found a few with the help of sawyer, and then the 3 of us (1/4) relocated at least one owl pellet on the trails on the east side of the basin. Granite Island Trail -  (1/11) - 2 owl pellets, most likely Saw-whet right along the trail on the quarry loop.

vole skull and fur.

Animal parts – Adam White had a nice story about his and Heather’s new dog sawyer finding something along a trail in the basin. They thought it was an owl pellet, until they got a closer look at and realized it was the head of a bird. Feathers and all. Unfortunately no photos were taken...Adam, Sawyer and i came upon this vole head and fur on the Basin Trail (1/4)- dogtown entrance. The decomposing remains of a decapitation that may have happened at or soon after the last moments of it life. one way to go.

fresh, fresh exciting

Scat (poop)– I found three new (for me) coyote scats , all in the Basin the last few weeks. First two were rather old, been weathered a bit. but the 3rd one (1/9) was the freshest I've found on Vinalhaven (we're talking fresh). I'd been on this trail the day before and i have to think i would have seen this scat, but you never know. Within a couple of days if not more recent I'd say.

new poop spot (for me)

i also found a new otter latrine (for me) along a trail in the basin (1/6) . Of the otter latrine's I've found in the basin and old harbor pond area, most are on matted vegetation in pocket marsh grasses or on rocks right along the water. There have been 4 latrines however that i found well inland and placed directly alongside the human trail. these spots were close to where the human trail crossed a small creek bed or waterway that the otters most likely followed up from the basin.  Always good to find a new latrine. all fish scales and bones.
vole-tailed poop

And for comparison sake i found this nice feral cat scat on the granite island trail (1/11). its compact, segmented and made out of mostly hair. the only bones visible are the vole tail bones that passed thru our feline trail user.  feral cat scats can be found on most trails on the island. they often get moss growing on them, so may look green to a certain extent. 


can you find the raccoon?
hint : its the dead thing leaning up against the tree
Dead Things - The "Folly (Pond) beavers and their feeding frenzies" (great name for a band)were at it again this fall, as a large white birch close to shore was the site of intense chewing. What most likely started as  a"happy-go-lucky" "lets take down this jumbo birch"  for the beaver ended with the corpse of a dead raccoon slowly sliding off of the mid-chew section, and a birch tree still standing. (Chewus interruptus). One interpretation of the scene could be (and it would be wrong) that when the beaver chewing this sizable birch it put him in such a state of feeding frenzy euphoria- a completely blissed out and binge out place - that he didn't even notice when a raccoon wandered onto the scene. The raccoon put himself in harms way as a peaceful protest to the cutting of this birch, one the raccoon had climbed since his youth. the protest only last a few moments. Later when the Beaver came round after crashing from the euphoric chewing did he realize the severity of what he'd done ("oh, that's why the taste changed."). He panicked and fled the area in such a haste that he forgot to pick up all the chews from the ground - clear evidence that links him (the beaver) to the murder scene. it could happen....

More likely this is an attempt to discourage any beaver from continuing to chew on this birch. Seems to have worked. Gets the gross award though. Congratulations dead raccoon!   

a snowy day in the basin on the 6th.
set up a nice walk on the 7th
Crows – so my dad recently asked me if I knew why a gang of crows is not called a gang but rather a “murder of crows”? my first answer is that if you spend much time around crows you eventually want to murder them – even the stridently, tiresome ones. . It was an honest answer – crows are the only birds I throw sticks and rocks at.  They are squirrels with wings, are way too aware of me, and too vocal about their awareness. Anyway, I had no solid answer for my dad. Typical.

In my limited experience out here, seems like its typical each winter for local crows get into groups of 4-5 or so. Sometimes they may join these groups together, but never for any length of time. Then there are winter's like this year's (and I'm not sure what triggers the pattern), where the crows around here get into murders - of which i think of as 20 individuals minimum is the norm. These are groups that stick together for the winter and so far I've seen 3 murders - lane's, granite island, and perry creek. there are undoubtedly more here's a video of only a part of the lane's island murder as they take off from a group of spruces.

i am pretty sure that
 there are no crows in this picture
And while i joke about not being into crows, i do appreciate the murders they form. My favorite murderism is "mobbing" - a kind of sport that murders do. There's something about daylight that gives crows and other songbirds the guts to yell and scream and sometimes dive bomb a great horned owl. So that's what they do. You see, crows and other songbirds understand that big predators make bad neighbors, even if its something that doesn't routinely eat you. Ask questions later.

Most mobbing session end with the owl remaining. Owls will often out-patience the crows, which then move to their next adventure of the day. So when you hear a murder mobbing you might just have a few minutes to follow the mob. Or the mobbing can last for stretch - like when a murder mobbing took me to a great horned owl at pocus point. It must have been going on for a half hour at least. in all I've seen 4 owls on vinalhaven because of murders mobbing. I tip my hat in thanks to murders.  

crowless old harbor bridge view
 as for the "murder of crows" origins - here's what i found at ""...

"We owe our knowledge of these terms today to several lists compiled in the 15th century, the most complete being “The Book of St. Albans,” attributed to Dame Juliana Barnes, prior of a nunnery in England.  But for modern readers, the best introduction to the genre is “An Exaltation of Larks” (1968) by James Lipton (best known today as host of “Inside the Actors Studio” on the Bravo cable channel).  Lipton divides his book into three parts:  terms found in the 15th century collections that remain in use today (such as “a host of angels” and “a string of ponies”); old terms (such as “a cast of hawks” and “a knot of toads”) that were once common but have fallen into obscurity, and, lastly, oddities from the old collections.  These mostly describe people, rather than animals, from the logical “an illusion of painters” to the intriguing  “a rage of maidens” (employing “rage” in the 14th century sense of “jesting, fun; riotous or wanton behavior”).

high tide in a snowy basin
I've seen crows from the bridge before

As for why we call a group of crows a “murder,” the inspiration for the term is a mystery, lost since the 15th century.  As the Oxford English Dictionary suggests, “murder” may “perhaps [allude] to the crow’s traditional association with violent death, or … to its harsh and raucous cry.”  Then again, since crows have recently been demonstrated to be capable of advanced reasoning and even tool-making, maybe they actually did plot a few murders back in the 15th century." whatever. on to something equally insignificant
perry creek with tidal ice
And speaking of crows – it was a few years back when a classic "“Yo mama’s so…(fill in the blank)” give and take session between me and Phil Crossman ended with phil stridently pontificating -“you’re so slow I bet I could walk around the island faster than you could walk across it”. Phil had recently become a mad walker, and a good "walk-off" had become his duel of choice. (I know -  tough guy - picking on a bird watcher). So i took the "challenge" and even gave him like a three year head start, and then read on his blog ( that he was going to be near lane's island sometime soon. My plan was to time my island-slice finish with when he was passing along lane's; just to stick it to 'em. But with the weather being so nice i saw that the time to act was now (or then), so i got in touch with the "always fun to hike with" Stevie Mesko and we picked the first Saturday of the new year to slice down the middle of the island. 
stevie and the thoroughfare ice

Island slice stroll(1/7) Leg 1 - thoroughfare to home. Stevie and I decided we’d set out early from the thoroughfare and see about getting to lane’s island by 1 or so. We headed out thru the perry creek preserves just before 8 am and had a wonderful stroll.

The little bit of snow that was still on the ground around perry creek had few tracks, only a mink that had made its way along the trails on both sides of the creek. nice to see.

In the basin we heard White-winged Crossbills continuously. we also checked out some otter zones and put the camera back up where it belongs.

indian ladder with ice
otter trail
We would have made it that morning if we hadn’t had a side jaunt to search (successfully) for a mitten dropped the previous day (thanks for finding it Stevie, my mom would have killed me. and thanks again for not telling her!). so instead, at a little before 1pm we both headed home, to the reach and old harbor, water to water, but just a little bit further to go. after a nap and robot time with Leif and then a longer nap, i was reminded that it was time for me to go. other ice photos are at the top of the report

(1/8) - leg 2 - home to lane's - i rolled out of bed and was pointed in the right direction to lane's.  the morning walk to lane's was nice and the yellow-rumpeds were active in the shrubs out on lane's so life was good. here's a video of my completion of the north-south cross island . More importantly, i win. 

otter tracks are beautiful
otter trails are wonderful
(1/14) Basin - a few days after the snow, and with a windy, rainy day in between, i had low expectations on the tracking (its mid-january!). A walk up and down the basin found enough snow in the right spots to document a small diversity of the local fauna. Raccoon, Deer, Mink, and Otter were the highlights (sorry, no coyote) tracking wise. Bald Eagle, Red Crossbill, White-winged Crossbill, Black-capped chickadee, golden-crowned kinglets, red-breasted nuthatch, Common Raven, Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye, Black Duck, Bufflehead. In the end, i was more than pleased with the finds of the day, which included this beautiful otter trail in a new spot for otters (for me). 

Ice-ball making Dinosaur - (1/13) - "thanks for helping me with the ice balls daddy.". That said it all. 
he chucked every last one against a tree.  

see you out there.....