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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, January 31, 2012

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report 
January 30th, 2012
Thanks to MCHT and VLT for their support
“i'm happy for your otter scene”

why i otter....

Highlights – owls, snow fleas, robins, tracking (mostly about otters), crossbills, brown creeper, razorbills, kittiwake, bald eagle, American robins,

Business:  contact: looking for a one-stop spot to send sightings, photos and videos (nature stuff only please), comments, opinions, questions, issues and addresses of those interested in receiving an email notice when reports are posted? Well, look no further than There – you now have a direct link to one-on-one conversations and communcations with the VSR staff. Folks have been sending sightings to this email and that's great. so please, feel free and make contact.  

this morning was cold
Upcoming outings – MCHT Basin snowshoe outings - two more coming up in February, both on Saturdays and both into the basin. On Saturday Feb. 11th, we'll be heading into the basin from Folly Pond to see what we can find. And then on the 25th we'll head into the basin platform via dogtown. Both trips are hopeful to be snowshoeing outings, but will morph into winter walks in the case of absent snow on those days. Both hikes meet at Skoog Park at 10am. Trails can be icy at this time of the year- please bring grippers even if you don't think you need them. Folks were glad to have them at the last walk. See ya!

Thanks to all those who sent in sightings!

Sightings: Owls (1/18) - Tiny's snowy owls - David Arey approached me at the co-op while my car was filling up. (fill it up, fill it up - RD). My first pump sightings exchange – and it was one to be remembered for sure. Tiny had seen 2 snowy owls in a matter of two days.  The one that morning “landed on my house” (!) flew right up in front of tiny on his porch before landing.  Very cool! Word is that it’s been a very big snowy owl year for the lower 48 (you heard it first from the VSR - November 14th, 2011 VSR.- 2 snowies were photographed on seal island) – even the traditionally "anti-owl" New York Times had something about this winter’s snowy owl flight recently. Anyway, the first one tiny saw was in the back of carver’s pond, so there may be a few around in (somewhat) close proximity. and there was...

there is a snowy owl
on the rock to the left of the house
(it was a much closer view thru the scope)
(1/28) State Beach - scanning with my scope i spotted a snowy owl on sheep island (pictured). it was tough light and had to be zoomed in to confirm, but clearly a snowy on a rock. stood out completely, for all my scanning I'd never seen a bird on that rock before. When we lived on Robert's Harbor we had a different view of sheep island and got to watch a snowy for 5 days or so from our back door. anyway, i watched this one fly off towards pocus point and lane's.  

(1/28) Great Horned Owls - Angie Olson reports white-washed trees and great horneds calling at dusk much of last week, until the winds kicked up. with a mild winter owls may get things going a little earlier, as if a February egg laying isn't early enough.

American Robin
photo by Jim Clayter

American Robins - Spring is officially here! (1/22) Jim Clayter sent in photos of the first robins (reported this year) on the island. This report was quickly followed by Linnell Mather stating she’d seen a few in her neighborhood...(1/26) Jessica Farrelly reports 30 robins in her rose bush - with the robins feasting on young buds that were growing with the warm weather.

Red-bellied Woodpecker
photo by Jessica Farrelly

Red-bellied Woodpecker - (1/27) Jessica Farrelly sent in this photo of a male red-bellied woodpecker that's been in her neighborhood lately. lot of red from back of the head to the base of the bill lets you know it s a male. every few years or so lots of red-bellieds from south of Maine head north

Boat RidesMushi report- (1/18) -  Bob excitedly reported bonapartes, kittiwakes, guillimots, bonaparte's, and gannets "in the hundreds" that morning. That's what some might call a "big day" from the ferry, and they are often inspired by a feeding frenzy. Being someone who rides the ferry often, Bob knows a big day when he sees one, and the photos can't possibly do it justice.
lots of white dots out there.
photo by bob delsandro
(1/23) 10 Loons, 22 Long-tailed, grey seal w/pup, guillimots of all shades (3), a harbor seal and, another banner razorbill day (18) off the port side — mostly just sitting and riding the swell.
and then (1/20) – 18 Razorbill, 25+ Kittiwakes, old-tails, (with me).
thanks for the report, Bob! lots to see from the ferry these days! keep your eyes out for snowy owls on the ledges! (i think that's one of the coolest sentences I've ever gotten to write.) 

Still # 1! even with junco numbers growing quickly on most preserves, white-winged crossbills still get the tip of the hat as the number 1 songbird in the woods these days. Heard on ever walk including Fox Rocks, State Beach, Huber, Lane's, and all around the Basin. seems like numbers have dropped somewhat, maybe more so just breeders around. Pine Siskins showing up in numbers (10+) at some spots (Huber, folly pond).... 3 Brown Creepers may be attempting an overwinter out at state beach. Tree sparrows continue to be seen on the peninsula there as well.

Feeders - several folks, including myself, have been reporting Cardinals hitting up their feeding stations, always a treat to see. lots of mourning doves (modos) up on skin hill recently - (40 count).

its always a treat to see snow fleas
Snow Fleas! - (1/23) a warm day after a snow and  snow fleas were on the move by the millions. on a couple mile loop walk thru the basin i came across at least a dozen distinct  populations doing there thing on the snow surface. You know its a warm snowy day when insects are hopping about on the snow! an old time favorite, everyone has a snow flea story. they are a style of cold blooded that demands respect. or a head nod. 
the snow/ice mid month
held tracks for days
this is a otter track on ice day 3
going up the outflow (so to speak)
from folly to otter pond

only way to travel
Tracking – the snow from before the last vsr had for the most part turned slushy and then icy in the woods. Ponds were clear of snow, and had surface slush refreeze to a smooth finish. That is unless something had passed thru the slush. (1/16)  I went back to the otter trail I found near folly pond a few days before but had to pass on due to time constraints (shame) – photos were in the last VSR. Anyway, the trail was easy to follow and fun as it went thru some pretty slushy stretches, in and out of the flowing water and eventually up the watershed to otter pond.

Sounds chilly - When crossing otter pond the otter opted for belly slides in what looks to have been a somewhat slushy scene at the time.  This part of the trail was especially fun to follow. the ice was shifting all the while, making lots of noise. The ice was making the noise before i got there, i could hear it talking on my approach. still, i stuck close to shore

(here's a video of folly pond ice shifting the same day as the otter pond tracking. the ice can be heard at 5 seconds and 7-8 seconds.)

After Otter Pond the otter trail was then found to go over land and into the basin following a waterway to the eastern shore. This is the second cross island otterway from folly pond/vinal cove to the basin.  It was a well worn path in stretches..

slippery, cracking ohpi

Old Harbor Pond ice (OHPi)– diggin’ it. When old harbor ices up a thing of beauty is created. The ice is legendary for supporting the coyote (literally) in it’s (the coyote’s) only vinalhaven “back window and across the pond” viewing to date. Two winters ago the OHPi allowed access to several otter latrines and an otter den site – at the time it was the largest collection of otter sign I’d ever seen in one place. The anticipation of the OHPi has intense this year in my household. We got out twice before the recent warm stretch.  Pictures tell the story better.

otter latrine

(1/19) ohpi status- noisy, cracking. Didn’t have to go far at all to find a mess of otter scats, including the most perfectly formed (and retained shapeage) scat i have ever had the pleasure of seeing. A count of 65 was made in that latrine. Crawling around turned up a not too old long-eared owl pellet – new spot for LEO pellet(s) for me.

as far as otter scat keeping form,
this scat is literally "the shit"

why grebes eat their feathers

leo pellet

this is from a few days later and from a different place

across the pond and belly slide

(1/22) (three days later) ohpi status - solid, snow covered. 2 otters were active on the pond over the previous night. They crisscrossed the pond in three spots, going “off-ice” at the certain points to mark? No scats were found away from the main latrine found on the 1/19.  

One of the pair liked to belly slide, the other didn't slide - not even a once. They both dragged their tails.  They stuck to the the shoreline except where they crossed the pond three times and  the handful of times they went ashore to mark.

hugging the shore, and a fat ol' belly slide

cool to see the claw drag on the sides of the  belly slide

belly slide goes first

the pair bounding with tail drags and a belly slide

two coyote trails were discovered in a couple of the snows we've had over the last few weeks. both were in the basin area, a mile or two apart.  

other tracks:  (for some reason i can not figure out how to put them in a line)

raccoon- little hands in the snow, raccoons are always up to something, so their trails always tend to be entertaining.
mink - they are everywhere you want to be. when travelling mink trails typically show a bounding formation. the picture here is where one stopped and seemed to pause and maybe look around a bit. picked up a scent? saw something? heard something? 
red squirrel - they are everywhere plus 1. 

this dinosaur has been making groovy
tracks with his sled

When I looked back at my own tracks,
a joyful disappointment overcame me.
There were no belly slides or tail drags, not even a scat to be found.
At best a pigeon toed wandering, with a slight side to side at most. 
A marching thru the freshest of snows,
what a boring track i lay.
Need to get a belly slide in soon.

see you out there!