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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


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!