Brought to you by

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, April 17, 2012

Welcome to the vinalhaven sightings report – April 15th, 2012
Big thanks to VLT and MCHT
“I love salamander eggs” - leify

Highlights – salamander eggs, merlins return!, red-bellied woodpecker, coyote scat, woodcocks, otter stuff, white-throated sparrow, finches, ducks, new arrivals, dead shrew, baby crossbills,

Looking to send in a sighting or two? - then look no further! Here’s how you can contact us with all your sightings/photos/questions/ and comments - write to us at The cracker-jack and crispy VSR team checks this email at least 4 times a month and so surely will get back to you as soon as possible about your sighting. think of it - your name could be mentioned in the report and then when someone (most likely you) googles your name the VSR will show up! you will be an instant celebrity with yourself. or with your bad self. either way we welcome every and all sightings and questions and most comments. don't be shy.

Upcoming events – Tuesday May 1stbegins our Tuesday morning bird walks (VLT/MCHT) up at Armbrust Hill. 7-9am, met at the parking area behind the medical center. Please walk/carpool/ ride a bike to help cut down on parking space pressure (psp). See you there or someplace else….
sunset from "middle" tip-toe
couldn't have asked for a nicer, more polite moonrise

Past events - Tip-toe mountainVLT’ssunset, woodcocks, and a big ol’ moon walk” went off without a hitch on April 6th. The goal of the hike was 3 fold (and clearly stated in the title) – a sunset, a woodcock, and a full moon rise. A beautiful and comfortably (numb) warm evening made for a fun social sunset, a quieter woodcock watch, and a wonderful moonrise coming out of the trees as the close the show. The ultimate trifecta (along with any Puffin, Wood Duck, Harlequin Duck day). The heller field woodcock, lovingly nicknamed “what”, appears to have survived for another round of mating. This is now the 5th year of our (the royal “our”) collective knowledge of this particular woodcock and its predicable behaviors that give him the honor of being known as “the most user friendly woodcock in the world” – the world being vinalhaven of course. And sure enough “what” performed his “peenting” magic out in the open for clear scope views of the dude. Thanks to those who came out and we hope to see you on the next one.

Basin Clean-up – (4/14) about a dozen people (i was never good at counting) helped haul about 2 truckloads of trash out of the basin and along granite island road in a beautification effort that keeps on giving. Always a good way to spend a Saturday morning. Big thanks to those who came out for that one.

microwave tower osprey have returned!
Sightings – Returners, Nesters and those who are singing/displaying over the past two weeks– Eastern Phoebe, White-throated Sparrow, Winter Wren, Northern Gannet, Double-crested Cormorants, Turkey Vultures, Pine Siskin, Purple Finch, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Brown Creeper, Common Grackle, Brown-headed Cowbird, American Woodcock, Osprey (at the tower (4/15)), Great Blue Heron, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Northern Flicker, Song Sparrow, Belted Kingfisher, Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers, Chickadees…

(4/7) (The lovely) Amy Palmer spotted a Red-bellied Woodpecker just past the Galamander towards the school.

(4/14) word from John Drury is that the school yard Merlins have returned! John has been hearing the pair making a racket pretty close to his place (which also happens to be close to the school) for a few days now at least. Must be 4 years ago when that the merlins were first heard from the schoolyard (at least first heard on Wednesday afternoons), but they have historically nested within a ½ mile of the school for several years now. Good to have ‘em back
spotted salamander eggs
count the black dots - there is close to 80 of them
Salamander Eggs - (4/7) John Drury also dropped off the hottest tip since the infamous “my husband saw the coyote across the pond” email from Kris Osgood last year. It was about finding some spotted salamander eggs in a local vernal pool saying something along the lines of “got eggs in the pool”.

And with this news it’s safe to say that the salamander eggs are early this year (eggs laid 4/6) – 12 days earlier than last year (4/18/11), 9 days from the year before (4/15/10) and 3 weeks before the two years before that year (4/30/09 & 4/28/08). In other words they are the earliest in the last 5 years (the limits for our data) – or maybe 08 and 09 were “late”. (Should be noted that the spotted salamanders emerged roughly the same time each year (late march)). Anyway, if theories hold true, the low water level of the pools is what motivated the salamanders to breed so soon after getting to the vernal pools. 2010 was another dry spring, where we saw eggs laid early.
Anyway, there’s been a buzz around my house since john’s egg report and that buzz has led to plenty of egg searches in some of our favorite pools – Leif often leading the charge. And holding every egg mass he can get his paws on. Here’s what we’ve noted
this guy has salamander egg fever

foggy white egg mass
(4/9) – Granite Island Preserve – quarry by the trailhead. 3 egg masses (tough glare – might be a few more, but doubtful) out in the middle in the deep zone. No access…. (4/9) Armbrust Hill – no egg masses found in two pools of historic significance. Garter snake found though (and stepped on – “I stepped on a snake”) by the swings. We moved it to the juniper and then it snowed. Bad day to be cold blooded… (4/9, 12, 15)) Turbines- closest ditch to the gate – 3 egg masses.  Currently Leif’s favorite vernal pool. Loves those white masses. We have gone there enough (3x this week?) to note that the salamanders in one of the masses have uncurled already within the egg (4/15). We haven’t found that in any of the other masses this year – so it seems a little advanced. John Drury also reports finding eggs in another pool in the turbine area.
the whole mass was hanging or
vita's drool was lacking moisture
We also visited 2 island vernal pools that are legendary Vita’s Drool and the Motherload - here’s what we found– (4/12) Huber preserve – “everyone’s favorite vernal pool” - you know the pool I’m talking about – the rectangular hole right along the trail about a ¼ of the way to the water. The pool was officially named “vita’s drool” by the advanced outdoor explorers group of 2008 (these were 9th grade boys remember). The name was based on an inside joke that of course wasn’t necessarily good enough to merit a name, but was pretty funny all the same (kinda had to be there). Anyway, photos from May 4th, 2008 show a partially full/partially empty vernal pool (measured 8x 18ft of water). There were seven egg masses found that day in May, and plenty of water to go with them. This year in early April the pool is dry and a single spotted salamander egg mass was hanging by a twig on April 12th (2012). (With a long warm, dry stretch coming we opted to take the eggs home, as they most likely weren’t going to survive in the wild). Low numbers and low water to say the least, rockin’ the vernal pool world.
motherload revisited
most of the lower horizontal branches "should" be under
water for all of may and april
North Perry Creek (4/15)The motherload - an annual outing to the largest (non-quarry) vernal pool I’ve seen on the island.  In 2008 the pool was measured at 21x 48ft. – when there were 43 egg masses (May 11th, 2008). The vernal pool was named “the motherload” by Joey reidy and I because it was the only vernal pool we found that year that had 30 egg masses, much less 40. I have returned each year since (thus the “annual outing” comment above) and have found anywhere between 25-35 masses per year, with no year having less than 25.  

Today (4/15) Leif, Amy and I visited the pool found an extremely low water level that had five egg masses in it. Here, I’ll type that slower for our New Jersey readers– FIVE EGG MASSES TOTAL. The pool seemed puny, (yet still impressive) but many of the branches that were covered in water (and egg masses) over the past 4 years were several inches above the closest water.        

So the theme this year for vinalhaven’s pools is low water, early egg laying, and low numbers of egg masses. Now, it’s still early in the season (which season exactly?) and we could get a bunch of rain yet this spring and all the pools fill up. I’m not convinced that all the salamanders have even moved yet – it has not been the best year for salamander migration, conditions just haven’t come together. So if some still are to make their way to the pools (soon) it will be interesting to see if it’s not too late for them to breed. We’ll keep tabs and let you, cuz that’s the kind of people we are – curious about the reproductive behavior of salamanders. Man do we need a hobby or what!?!

basin rain - as pure and innocent as any other rain
And then we did get some rain, and it felt good. I found myself in the basin getting wet, but was rewarded with a seeing a double rainbow over old harbor pond. That rain doesn’t seem to have helped the salamander scene any, but it certainly didn’t hurt. So it goes.
there are two pots of gold in old harbor pond
or at least some kind of pot is there

Finches – They are here, and in force. Purple Finches, Goldfinches, Pine Siskins, White-winged Crossbills, and Red Crossbills have made the dream of a five finch vinalhaven day a reality – ok only on 11th, but anyway. Here’s a story associated with the finches….

(4/11) First day back with my binos (binoculars) after a month with borrowed ones that were not mine (they were borrowed). Those binos were fine, just didn’t feel right to me. Anyway, I was wondering what I’d been missing, not having the binos to be searching with, and my first day searching turned up something I’d never seen before. In the basin I looked up hearing white-winged crossbills in a tree above me and so I slapped some ultra clear, ultra clean glass on the crossbills to find 3 juvenile and 5 adults! I’d never seen juvenile White-winged Crossbills before (VNM) and while breaking a smile another group of crossbills flew into the same tree. In this group there were 10 Red Crossbills -5 juveniles and 5 adults. I’d never seen juvenile Red Crossbills before (VNM). The breeding this winter in the crossbill world may be unmatched by any other species (we’ll see how many humans give birth in October/November) and is just as impressive as it is fun to see.  
Basin 4/3 winter wren, purple finch, ww crossbill, American goldfinch, pine siskin (4 finch walk) otter scat…4/4 shrew, ww crossbill

this goo is white, came out of an otter,
and is somehow connected (literally or not)
with its butt
4/8 otter white stuff, comb jelly, skunk cabbage wtsparrow, coyote scat….

Now, we’ve been thru this before with otters and that white goo that they sometimes leave behind.
“otters also secrete a white, gooey substance that some believe is the intestinal tract and others believe is from the anal glands.” – mammal tracks and sign. Mark elbroch

“some biologists believe that the anal gland secretes this substance, others that it comes from the intestinal tract.” Tracking and the art of seeing. Paul Rezenedes
we love turkey tail.
especially cuz its not connected with the white otter goo
I don’t care that they have the same quote pretty much, but two people told me once that when two people say the same thing is when that “same thing” becomes a fact. (I smacked them both). Either way, this stuff is like the grossest stuff I’ve ever found in the woods (that is not decomposing), be it dead or alive. It’s like the goo in the beer bottle that was left on the side of road months ago that you empty out to put in your car or bike only to put it back on the ground, cuz you just can’t have that goo on your bike or car. I don’t care what part of the body it comes from (“there is a fine line between intestines and an anal gland” – old Estonian saying) it’s gross. So hey – here’s a picture of the latest otter goo found. Right outside of otter den #3. Needless to say the camera has been moved.
turkey tail and woodpeckers - perfect together

Turkey tail and Woodpeckers – many of us have contemplated the relationship between woodpeckers and fungus. Woodpeckers often peck openings into trees that create access for fungal spores to all that heartwood (nirvana for polypores). Fungal decomposition of trees can create habitats for many woodpecker meals (those yummy grubbies in the decaying wood).

Anyway, (with this in mind or not in mind) I found this birch log at fox rocks (4/9) with a turkey tail fungus that found woodpecker-pecked openings in the birch bark perfect to flower thru. It seemed kinda cool; you can be the judge of that. Please keep your judgments to yourself.  

Shrews – "just try and tame us…. - alright, shrews are a group  of mammals  that everyone digs cuz you never see them and in general no one knows anything about them.  once or twice a winter I'll find shrew tracks and trails between two tunnels in a snow, and think for a few minutes a bout how cool they are. a few quick things about shrews - VSR fast shrew facts - VSRFSF - lifted from Peterson guide to mammals (Reid 2006) answers to questions we have made up in our heads...

1. no, they are not Insectivora- (come on - its been at least 6 years - get a field guide!), they are currently thought to be in, and so are considered to be found and placed in the order Soricimorpha - Shrews and Moles. as far as Fiona  Reid is concerned they (shrews and moles) are connected and close relatives as they are both "small and have long narrow snouts. They have 5 digits on the front and hind feet". alright -  so the Soricimorpha is cool, to be teamed with moles is alright.
does anyone every think of these mammals?

2. no. its actually echolocation, like sonar or radar, that some shrews are believed to use so they can find enough food to "constantly" eat. shrews are crazy little mammals.

this shrew is dead
3. shrews usually - a. don't climb, b. swim, c. nocturnal, d."the smallest mammals in North America"      this is not a multiple choice question.

4. here's a quote - "They are well known for their nervous and high-strung behavior as well as for their legendary consumption of food. in captivity many species will eat two or more times their own weight in food each day and may die of starvation or stress if food deprived for a few hours.

5. lifespan is usually a year or less.

anyway, so i found this dead shrew in the Basin. It longer tail kind of narrows down what species it is. Apparently to figure out shrews "to species" you often have to look at their teeth. i didn't do that.

The apparently taste bad, some even have poison, and are killed by predators sometimes and then left to rot as not even the scavengers will go after them. this one very well could have died of a heart attack. so it goes...
Skunk Cabbage photo gallery – we’ll have a more thorough commentary on “how’s the skunk cabbage coming” hopefully in the next report. Until then here’s a few photos to give folks a feel for


leify likes to point out skunk cabbage

and a few of leify
vernal pooling is dirty business