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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


Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report – February 29th , 2012
MCHT and VLT teamed up and all you get is this lousy report.
“I ******* hate skunk cabbage” - anonymous

Highlights – Raptors, Red-throated Loon, Winter Ducks, Fungus – including False Turkey Tail, Mammals and pooping, Saw-whet owl pellet, Winter Songbirds including Yellow-rumped Warbler and Pine Siskin, Great Cormorant, Cloacal kissing in the basin (hand check!). plus a new segment on Skunk Cabbage and a return of FOTM.  

Upcoming event: 2nd annual VLT sunset/woodcock/ big ol’moon walk will be Friday April 6th, 6:30-8:30pm. The plan is to take in the sunset (1), check out a big moon (2), and slap some scopage on the most user-friendly woodcock (known) on the island (3). Probably at least 2 of those things will be witnessed. 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.  We’ll meet at Skoog Park  to carpool and then roll out

i do not own an electron microscope
this photo was taken with a sony cybershot.

Seen something you think should be in the sightings report? – Then most likely it should be in here. Here’s how you can find out - go see something, and then send a report of your sighting (and photos and videos (nature stuff only please)), to The cracker-jack and crispy VSR editing team will assess and process and will get back to you as soon as possible. It should be mentioned that Fair point (or Myfairpoint to some, depending on how patient/dumb of a person you are) currently won’t let me reply to some emails received at that address. Only the ones I want to respond to. I think there may be a connection with windy days, but I haven’t enough data on this come to any conclusion. I think there is though, . 

Anyway, it’s also a good place to send comments, opinions, questions, issues and addresses of people who’d be alright with getting an email every few weeks or so when a new report is up. In the same manner, the internet giant yahoo (or in yahoo if you think of it) doesn’t always let me add folks to the email lists. we keep battlin' thru though....  

no reason to lift this guy's tail to check gender
all that red means its a male
photo by sally conway

Sightings – Red-bellied Woodpecker photos are in from Skin Hill. As report in the last VSR a Red-bellied Woodpecker was reported at feeders on Skin Hill. Here are a few wonderful photos of the bird! Thanks for sharing Sally, and hats off again on the great photos!

little tail fan going on. probably inspired
by having to share its food with a starling
photo by Sally conway
Mockingbird - Still visiting Pat Lundholm's feeders, as reported, what 2 months ago or more! Long stretch out here for the mocker - must be good grub being offered over there.

Greens - (2/16) John Drury reports witnessing a Merlin seen flying a foot over the water, possibly flushed off Bull Rock just this side of Greens Island. White-winged Crossbills, Pine Siskins and Dark Eyed Juncos busy on Greens.  More recently he watched a Northern Goshawk. John also reported a Northern Harrier flying over east main street sometime recently.   

its been fun ice times,
complete with melting and refreezing

Ferry Rides - Bob out there on the boat reports a few trips with pretty big numbers of birds - (2/21) or the day of a big singular bird revolution. 77 guillemots! I think they had the bay scheduled for themselves that day because the only other birds in sight that day were 2 juvie eagles (before leaving the Narrows). (2/23) 30 kittiwakes. On that same day were 5 eagles and 4 loons before socializing put the "k-bosh" on observing. people. thanks bob!

Round Pond (2/18)adult Red-tailed Hawk circled over the hills to the west of the pond and eventually crossed the road going northish. VVNM for palmer, red-tails are observed yearly, but are rather uncommon even with plenty of them being on the main land… (2/26) 4 Hooded Merganser – 2 male and 2 female floating close to the road in the recently melted portion of the pond.
we love perry creek

Perry Creek - Fox Rocks – (2/18)White-winged Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Mink and Otter Scat….

Mink scat at Perry Creek tends to have more
fish scales than other Mink scat around the island

Noteworthy – The Mink of Perry Creek have a  diet that has been (and continues to be) a fine mix of fish and vole as evidenced in their scat. Very seldom do I find fish scales in mink scat anywhere else on the island, and i can't think of another spot on the island off hand. Majority tends to be all vole, while also finding plenty of crab exoskeleton scats….Fox Rocks - (2/20)American Robins, Sharp-shinned Hawk, White-winged Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Juncos, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Bufflehead, Eider, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Otter scatPerry Creek – (2/26) Common Raven, Crossbills,Skunk Cabbage

saw-whet owl pellet

not much remains- inside

huber pellet

Owl pellet and sign -  I know, I write about this all the time, but man the owl scene out here is so thick – and that’s a good thing I think. Anyway, Basin (2/24) Stevie and I found this saw-whet owl pellet on the “old harbor pond trail”. Notice the yellow rodent teeth poking out of the pellet. I took it apart on the basin walk (2/25) and it was all fur and skull.

not so lucky bunny foot....and leg....and blood

Huber (2/27) – on a walk with Adam and Sawyer, we came across this extremely flattened owl pellet just beyond the big pine just past the first rock wall crossing. Landing in the middle of one of the more popular trails on the island – flatness was its destiny. Looks like vole remains to me and from the size of the pellet most likely Great Horned Owl, but hard to tell at this point…and then further on we found this Snowshoe Hare leg in the middle of the trail. Not flattened and appearing very fresh, there was no sign of any other part of the bunny – like it dropped from the skies. Which is most likely did! A somewhat common sight wherever Great Horneds and Snowshoe Hare “co-exist” our local Great Horned Owls love a bunny treat,  but discard the Snowshoe Hare legs in a “even a great horned wouldn’t eat those” kind of fashion. I have told the story of the small pile of snowshoe hare legs under the Perry creek great horned nest a few years back.

run off is easy, when there is no freezy
Good winter/bad winter - which brings up another topic - the lack of snow this winter and how that's effected different species. For Snowshoe Hare, pearlly white and motionless at times trying to blend in with the snow that in most years would have been everywhere - we'll call this a Bad Winter for Hare. And for voles, those rodents found close to the bottom of the food chain, who will live under the snow in relative warmth in that Subnivean layer when snow is present, are left out in the cold, exposed and most likely easier prey. we'll call is a Bad Winter for voles. Good winter for who then? - for owls, the coyote, mink and predators in general, unless you are trying to prey on Deer. There is a reason that our newest predator, the coyote, is spending so much time up perry creek way, where the snowshoe hare are numerous, and a vole can be found under every twig (exageration).  Hooded Merganser (Round Pond and Carver's Pond) and Yellow-rumped Warbler (15-20 on Lane's) have both managed to stick it out this winter. We'll say its been a good winter for them. Anyway, back to the other stuff.

mike watching a bald eagle going after eiders 
Long time friend and friend of the VSR, Mike Windsor, came out for a few nights (and days) over the long weekend and we took advantage of the beautiful weather for some nice outings - State Beach (2/19)2 Horned Grebe, 2 Red-necked Grebe, 8 Common Goldeneye, 5 Great Cormorants, Black Scoter, Razorbill, Bald Eagle, Old-tails, Red-breasted Merganser, Black Guillemot. The stories here (other than leify removing ice from tidepools so he could put urchin tests in the water) were the 2 Horned Grebe (don’t see many out here), Black Guillemot going thru the molt and looking pretty mottled along the process. And tops was the young Bald Eagle who spent a ton of energy flying, hovering and continually stooping on over to hassle a pair of adult Common Eider Eastern Penobscot Bay. He was out over the water for at least 10 minutes, and with a series of dives inspired the Eiders to dive and dive again. The eagle never seemed to come close to getting them (at least from our angle), but it must have seen something it liked that we couldn’t see from shore, cuz it put forth and impressive effort – especially for a slacker like and eagle. Slacker is a compliment in jersey.
more basin ice - shaped kinda like jersey

Basin – (2/19)Red-throated Loon, 6 Surf Scoter, lots of Common Loon, Bufflehead, Red-breasted Merganser (paired up with one hot couple cloacal kissing), Oldtails, Black Guillemot, Common Goldeneye…story here was the second Red-throated Loon I’ve seen in the basin (everytime Mike has gone to the basin he’s seen one) and the Black Guillemot in the Basin. Not all that common of an occurrence. Also – pair of Mergansers doing the cloacal! Circling and riding and kissing for only the briefests of brief moments. Sweet times in the Basin.


this is where we're at these days....
skunk cabbage wise
perry creek
 How’s the Skunk Cabbage coming? –thank you, Javier Penelosa, for, in a sense, being the inspiration for this new segment (fortunately the sense we are talking about isn’t smell). The question seems oddly put, but if you must know, the Skunk Cabbage is coming along fine. Visitors to Vinalhaven often remark about how “thick” the skunk cabbage is out here, and then they are often asked to never return- call our skunk cabbage thick will you!. Truthfully though, we have loads of ‘em (skunk cabbage that is), and they have some cool habits, so maybe it’s not an odd, or as odd as it seems, question. Let’s go back to John “who the hell is john Eastman” Eastman to find out the scoop on the cabbage, or where they have been, and should be at (ending a sentence with a preposition. Eat it Grizz!!!!)…

spathes on ice
perry creek

“…It’s rolled up, spirelike spathe often pokes up through February snow (when there is snow – VSR editor note). The plant is actually well advanced by then, emerging cone-shaped buds of next year’s growth often begin to show in early fall. It is usually in flower by March or April, its bulging spathe enclosing the big knoblike spadix like a monk’s cowl. The spathe gaps open on one side, allowing entry to insects. Lavender, flesh-colored (who’s flesh exactly? – the purple people?- vsr editor’s note) flowers on the surface of the spadix are bisexual and pollinated by some of the earliest flying insects of the year.

skunky cold huber cabbage

In late winter, as the flower buds enlarge, they increase in temperature, often melting snow around them (when there is snow – VSR editor note). When the surrounding ground and air warm to the above freezing, respiration of the spadix produces constant warmth of about 72 degrees, which the surrounding, air-pocketed spathe helps maintain. The tiny flowers on the spadix have no petals. They are protogynous (that is, the female parts mature first), they begin to bloom at the spadix top and progress downward. By the time the lowermost flowers emerge, the upper ones have produced their male parts and are beginning to pollinate. Male flowering likewise descends on the spadix.” – Eastman, Johnny, book of swamp and bog, page 168

Alright, Eastman jumps around as much as I do, (and I’m not even from Kalamazoo), but he packs a lot of information here. So what we find about the wetlands and sides of roads these days are the “spirelike spathes” which often can be found with the snow melted around them (once again when there is snow). My question is - does the whole melting snow thing make skunk cabbage a warm blooded plant? Damn that’s so hot if that’s what it’s considered.

huber frozen cabbge
The skunk cabbage in the photos (2/26 – Perry Creek and 2/27 Huber) have been caught after an overnight refreeze after a few days of melting, with small stretches of rain mixed in. I think they look cool with the ice running up that one.

there are no skunk cabbage plants
in this picture

We’ll keep tabs on these funky plants as the year progresses (I’m sure you can’t wait), and give fun stories about edibility and toxicity – next update will be called – “the thin line between edible and toxic!”. For now let’s go back to Eastman for the final thought in this 1st segment of “How’s the Skunk Cabbage coming?”

“The same species occurs in Japan and other locales in eastern Asia, it’s probably origin. Paleobotanists believe that the plant migrated to North America via the Pleistocene land bridge (everyone’s favorite land bridge – VSR editor note) that existed several times between Siberia and Alaska. This makes skunk-cabbage – like humans – a relative newcomer to our continent” –Eastman, Johnny – “book of swamp and bog” , page 169. Special bond.

Note – spell check on Paleobotantists came up with the suggestion “Pale botanists”. Flesh-colored? Love it. And it is clearly "our" continent, whomever "our" is referring to.


Fungus of the month! (FOTM) – it gives all of us great pleasure in announcing not only the return of the fungus of the month bit, but that the FOTM  for February 2012 is False Turkey Tail (Stereum ostrea) congratulations! False Turkey Tails are an uncommon sight on Vinalhaven, at times I can go a few  years in a row without finding one, but it appears that the mild winter we’re having has inspired some Falsies into fruiting in the Basin (2/25) and along the Huber trail (2/27). Here are some FOTM hot stats on the False Turkey Tails courtesy of Audubon Book of  Mushrooms, page 497 –

Scientific NameStereum osterea, Stereum hirsutum,a number of other versions
Family – Steraceae (Parchment Fungus Family). Order - Aphyllophorales
Cap – 3/8 – 2 ¾ “ wide, fan shaped or semicircular, densely hairy, multicolored, with narrow smooth, shiny, russet to brownish transverse zones.
Fertile surface- smooth; buff to cinnamon buff (we all know the difference)
Season – June-January
Habitat – On logs and stumps of deciduous wood.
Range – throughout North America


So what’s this all mean? False Turkey Tails are decomposers, they are the biggest of the Stereum, and seem to grow on Vinalhaven out of “season”. They are in the Parchment family (a parchment in a pear tree!), which means their fertile surface (underside) is satiny smooth (or at least smooth) as opposed to true Turkey Tails (Trametes versicolor) which are polypores (many pores) whose fertile surface is dotted with holes or pores. This is the easiest way to tell the two species apart. 

But in reality its more confusing than that. That is both true and false Turkey Tails are conglomerates of several closely related species that can only be told apart microscopically, if then. There is so much more to learn about fungus, kind of gets you excited about them, right? In a completely platonic way of course.  

slapping some glass on some crossbills

and then there was leify-

enjoying the winter to say the least and fox rocks especially!-

there's been some great conitions for flying kites -

so go fly one and we'll see you out there.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings report- February 18th, 2012
Thanks to the VLT and MCHT for their support
“Rhodopseudomonas” – my nickname in high school

Highlights : seal island report, American Robins, chocolate tube slime, owls – quadfecta - 4 baby, siskins and crossbills, raven tracking, otter stuff, ice, purple sandpiper, coyote sighting, Red-bellied Woodpecker

Note sorry for the tardiness on the posting of this report – smashed finger is the excuse of the month. so it goes... i have opted not to include any smashed finger photos

folks enjoying a walk

Upcoming events

MCHT Winter Basin Walk – Dogtown entrance –Saturday February 25th , 9am at Skoog Park to carpool. We’ve had a couple of nice walks this winter, tracking, scoping and interpreting what we find. For this walk we’ll head down the Old Harbor Pond trail talking Coyote, Otter and much more.

The 2nd annual VLT woodcock/sunset/big moon walk will be Friday April 6th, 6:30-8:30pm. The plan is to take in the sunset, check out a big moon, and slap some scopage on the most user-friendly woodcock (known) on the island. We’ll meet at Skoog Park  to carpool and then roll out

Want to see your name in the sightings report? its a two step program - !) go see something, and then (2) send in your report your sighting (and photos and videos (nature stuff only please)), to It’s also a good place to send comments, opinions, questions, issues and addresses of people who’d be alright with getting an email every few weeks or so when a new report is up.

Upcoming sightings – heads up! - Great Horned Owl hatching coming soon, hooting season thru April! Little more than a month away from Woodcocks! Salamander migration and Bald Eagle nest activity. Peepers not too far off! Gulls wormin'! Good times!

there was a big moon this month
as there is every month
 And while we are on the subject – there are a lot of American Robins around the island these days, and in the last report I mentioned that with the abundance of robins that “spring is here”  officially. i then received a few emails mentioning that robins actually aren't the harbingers of spring as once thought and blah blah blah. Just to let folks know there was a little bit of sarcasm in my spring comment, and we at the VSR are aware that Robins overwinter in Maine and along the New England coast most every year. We appreciate your help in trying to educate us, and boy can we use it, but in this case (as in most cases) my attempt at humor failed miserably. So, thank you Robin heads! At least not many of you stuck up for the crows i made fun of! By the way, Crow lovers are taken off the sightings list immediately. Think I'm fooling? Try me crowheads!

Sightings "up on the hill" Sally mentioned the other day that she had a Red-bellied Woodpecker visit her feeder station recently. The latest in a winter of Red-bellied Woodpecker sightings...Lots of White-winged Crossbill, Pine Siskin, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Downy and Hairy Woodpecker, and BC Chickadees in the woods these days.
purple sandpipers
photo by kerry hardy

Kerry Hardy got this nice picture of Purple Sandpipers coming in for a landing out at Stoddard Island (2.13). It hasn't necessarily been a good year for Purple sightings, but this photo is a reminder of how many

Brown Creeper out my window the other day...15 Yellow-rumped Warblers (2/16) at Lane's Island, in the land of Bayberry berries.

male, female, pup
photo by john drury
always something going on at Seal Island- (2/1) John Drury and  Kerry Hardy joined Steve Rosen for a trip to Seal Island to assess trash levels on the beaches and get a feel for the Grey Seal scene out there. They weren't left disappointed at all.

young grey seal
photo by john drury
200 grey seal pups is "probably close ish"  (as John put it) to how many young grey seals were out there. Many were weened and on their own, while others were still with the moms.

many eagles were seen that day as well - a count of 15 or so on that day. no pellets were reportedly found. Reports of 60-100 eagles on seal eariler in the month mark just how much life (and  death) happens in all seasons at our local national wildlife refuge (NWR) refuge - NWRs rule!. 

glaucous gull
photo by john drury
Grey Seals are very cool, and their coolness goes beyond their horsehead look and huge size. The pregnant female Grey Seals give birth to a single pup in late December (or so) on isolated islands (such as seal) and ledges and then nurse their young during the harshest of winter months. Welcome to planet earth!

John also reports seeing at least 2 Glaucous Gulls out on seal island that day. This classic "white-winged" gull is a winter specialty for the Maine Coast and is always a treat to see.  

Owls – 4 flavors for this report - Calm evenings in February/March are great times to get out and listen for some of our local owls.

leify and snowy

Charlotte Goodhue reports hearing a Saw-whet Owl at dusk by her house. Sounds like she’s heard it on at least a few evenings…(2/15) Old Harbor Pond - Saw-whet owl calling mid-morning (10am), slightly more rapid pace made it seem like it was an alarm call. Could have just been the individual. Odd to hear it mid-morning

Snowy Owls – seen for a second time on Sheep Island (from State Beach). The owl was sitting on the same rock it was report on last report..Keep your eyes open from the ferry –Kristen Linquist (long time friend of the VSR) tip us off that a snowy owl has been observed and photographed in the Samoset area, and has been seen on the rockland breakwater as well. A snowy owl on the break water should turn up quick scan, nice to bag one from the ferry!  

Long-eared Owl - heard vocalizing near the "dead flicker house" down Poole's Hill Road. Long-eareds have been seen and heard in this neighborhood a few times over the last few years.

Great Horned Owls - Heard vocalizing from the "dead flicker house" and pequot road.

Ice stories - Nice thing about this winter has been (once again) the frozen sloshiness that’s been provided by wet snows/melting/turning to rain and then freezing. Tracks are captured beautifully, but almost all tracks are several days, if not weeks old.

these are all raven tracks
Raven Tracking(2/6) Got a sweet tip about loads of tracks on otter pond from Jobey Philbrook, and headed out the next morning. On my approach 3-4 ravens took off from the ice and would circle the pond calling a few times before they headed off.

The southern edge of the pond was covered with raven tracks in the ice from days ago. There were several slides where the ravens landed in the slush.

torn pitcher plant pitcher
nice fuzz

Mixed in with the tracks were at least a couple dozen pitcher plant pitchers that had been ripped open and discarded. They did not appear to be eaten, just torn.

Pitcher plants, of course, are “carnivorous” plants, where the pitchers play a major role in the attracting, capturing, and “digestion” of lured insects.  Here’s what John “who the hell is john Eastman?” Eastman had to say about pitcher plants in “the book of Swamp and Bog” – wonderful book.

raven slide

“pitcher plant, along with sundews and bladderwortrs, ranks among the most common insect-trapping plants of North America. Its passive method is unique. The modified leaf that forms the pitcher has several easily seen interior zones. The topmost zone is a flared-out lip – a sort of landing platform – with nectar glands and conspicuous reddish veins. On the inside rim, a coating of fine, downward-pointing hairs and numbing secretion make an insect’s escape from the container almost impossible. Just below this zone is a slippery, smoothwalled, sticky constriction, a further impediment to escape. “

“Then comes the actual water container, where the prey dies by drowning. The water held in the pitcher is rain. The liquid hosts bacteria (including the anaerobic Rhodopseudomonas palustris) and possibly plans enzymes, a “digestive fluid” that helps decompose trapped insects and converts their tissues into nitrogen and other nutrients absorbed by the plant.”

“the lowest zone is the long narrow stalk where indigestible remnants of insects accumulate.”
John Eastman.

the pitcher was torn and frayed
it'd seen much better days

In other words these plants are super cool, and they can be found along the shores of ponds out here.

Anyway, to makes things even tastier, mosquito larvae often overwinter in the pitcher plant liquid. Put it together and one can visualize the local ravens enjoying ice cubes laden with larvae and unprocessed insects and insect parts (essentially) on otter pond. Haven’t found this kind of scene before.

Anyway, those ravens are brainy birds (much brainier than stupid crows that’s for sure!), some would even call them the brainiest, so finding the secret treasures hidden deep within the pitchers would is not too surprising.

raccoon trails are cute

Raccoon Tracking - Old Harbor Pond – Got a hot tip (Keep the tip!) from my old lady about raccoon trails trapped/captured in the ice on Old Harbor Pond (2/15). The raccoon had crossed across and over the pond and seemingly to all islands and ledges.

facing south from mill farm bridge

Otter stuff – The River Otter tracking scene had an incredibly (& surprisingly) slow start to February, but picked up steam the last few days. Here’s a brief summary…

Mill Farm Road – (2/13) cove to cove trails across the base of peninsulas and a road crossing just before the bridge. The view from the crossing is in the picture to the right.

otter scat by den #4

the entrance to otter den # 4

Old Harbor Pond – (2/15) I checked in with the hole known as “otter den #4” and from the scat and recent diggings it appears to be active. Just how it was 2 years ago when it was found. At the same time the den at the southern end of the pond also continues to be active, giving the impression that there are two (or three) otters sharing old harbor pond with territories bordering somewhere in the middle.

this trail leads to otter den # 5

Basin – West side – granite island – (2/16) otter sign and activity that i observe in the basin tend to be along it’s eastern shore, but a hole in the ground on granite island known as “otter den #5” shows some activity and appears to be active (nicely worded, huh?). Trails coming in and out of the wetlands associated with the den undoubtedly led to the den, but time constraints and lack of snow distracted me from following. Den # 5 is of historic importance, active 3 years ago and altered the  granite island trail route in order to keep folks and their puppies at arms length from the den. good to see the area  active again!  I'm sure its been busy over the last few years, just hadn't stumbled upon such activity myself.  

also in the basin that day- 6 Surf Scoter, 2 Barrow's Goldeneye, 6 Oldtail ducks, lots of bufflehead, common goldeneye and red-breasted merganser

ferry ride - (2/14) - 23 Razorbill, 2 Black-legged Kittiwake, 33 Black Guillemot, 1 Barrow's Goldeneye ( Ferry VNM! and yes - they feel  good!), 14 Red-breasted Merganser, 8 Surf Scoter, 9 Bufflehead, 3 Common Goldeneye, 22 Old Tail Ducks, 22 Common Loon. 3 Harbor Seals

can you picture a bald nature bum
breaking thru the ice- and laughing the whole time

ice stories continued - photo essay...

 i broke thru the ice on old harbor pond (2/4). my once year dip into freezing cold (almost i guess) water. good to get that out of my system.

puddle shot

and in conclusion - cutting wood in the neighborhood gave me a cool find in a spored out Chocolate Tube slime. I was just about to saw when i saw (nice one, huh?) this slime. got my camera, got a few shots and then went on cutting. the slime was over at that point anyway..

oh, and yes, the coyote has been spotted recently in the fox rocks area of perry creek.

and this is my boy!

he's got bigger muscles than me! (and thats not saying much!).

hope to see you out there!