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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


Friday, June 15, 2012

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report – June 15th, 2012
We kindly thank VLT and MCHT
“The peculiar scent of a bee” – Henry David Thoreau after sniffing Labrador Tea

Black and white Warbler
photo by Karen Oakes
Highlights: Warblers, Tiger Swallowtails, Flowers, Crows eating young birds and other young birds not observed being eaten, wild, free range Spotted Salamander young and neotony discussion (you had to have seen this coming), osprey nest,  young birds including ducklings & nuthatchling(s) (awesome word!), fungus, boat ride with red knot,

Business: Get on the list!! receive a friendly reminder whenever the VSR is posted – usually early and mid month. Contact Kirk at and demand to be put on the list! It’s not exclusive and you don’t have to like us to get on it. Also a good place to send sightings, photos, and correspondence you might want to share. Helps with organization, not one of our strong points here at the VSR….

Common Yellowthroat
photo by Karen Oakes
Cliches, Clicks & chicks - my dad wants to remind you that if you click on any photos in the VSR, no matter what size they are, and they will magically fill up your screen. You then can navigate thru the VSR photos quite easily to navigate thru. He has also dreamed of being the focus of a paragraph with “chicks” in the title. Way to go stud!

Sightings – yardbirds – We’re going to start off the VSR with some wonderful songbird photos sent in by local photographer and nice person Karen Oakes.

Most of these beauties were photographed in Karen’s backyard (not a bad back yard!), with the common yellowthroat shot taken at lane’s.

black-throated green warbler
photo by Karen Oakes
We hope you enjoy the photos! To see more of Karen’s photos from around the island (and a whole lotta other stuff about Vinalhaven) check out the Vinalhaven Chamber of Commerce website -  ( ). Simply scroll down the “members” tab, click on “Fine Arts” (we are almost there) and then click on “Island View Photography” and then there you’ll be (as opposed to where you have been before and on the way). Thanks for sharing Karen!

American Redstart
photo by Karen Oakes
northern Parula
photo by Karen Oakes
Terry Goodhue shared a couple of good bird behavior stories with the VSR recently. Here’s where we are with them….

First off, on North Haven – directly lifted from an email sent my way –

“One Crow near Thoroughfare in an apple tree -nabs a Robin from the nest and takes it to the Post Office for eating. Much complaints from two Robins and three Grackles”.

White-throated Sparrow
photo by Karen Oakes
So a crow made off with a Robin youngster – right out of the nest! – And lands on the post office and feasts. All while being mobbed by Robins (assumed adults associated with the nest). (Like to see any of you crow fans stick up for them on this  one!). This behavior of nestling, fledging and egg taking is neither unexpected nor limited to crows. Many members of the Corvidae – Blue Jays (and other jays) and Ravens - will also participate in such activities. And it is with this behavior where one might make the comparison of the family Corvidae to a mafia family(in some regards). My apologizes up front to any mafia families that I offend. The bottom line-  Crows, Jays, and even Ravens are often the first to call out, draw attention to and start the all around mobbing of an owl or another large predator/being passing thru an area  While the crows are trying to drive the owl crazy, a side effect is that they are alerting nearby birds and mammals that trouble is close. For that kind of quality protection you are going to have to sacrifice a youngster every now and then. It may never happen, but you may be called upon for a favor….regardless, super cool sighting and really good timing on seeing that one Terry.

Black-throated Blue Warbler
photo by Karen Oakes

Terry also had a story about a Song Sparrow jumping on the back of a Garter Snake and pecking at its head. The sparrow undoubtedly had a nest in the neighborhood (or issues), and as snakes are known to eat bird eggs, the sparrow decided it was in its best interest to try and dissuade the snake from sticking around the area. An offer the snake couldn’t refuse – leave and I won’t poke your head in. Sounds like it was time for the snake to go…

yellow-rumped/myrtle's warbler
photo by Karen Oakes
Common Nighthawk over lane’s island, dusk, (6/10)…

 Eastern Kingbird - by Todd's Garage 3 walks in a row

With baby ducks Wood Ducks, Ocean View swamp (back in may), Black ducks on Old Harbor Pond, Eiders with young Seal Bay off of the Huber Preserve (6/14).

Cavity nesting videos from the Basin- Red-breasted Nuthatch ready to leave the nest

Hairy woodpecker adult male bringing in food to youngsters not big enough yet to poke out of the cavity opening (TH style).

And speaking of butterflies….Lots of folks are talking butterflies these days, on the tip of everyone’s tongue (kinda)- keep the tip. A few weeks back it was the “orange” ones flying around in big numbers, and then this week it’s been about the “Swallowtails” that seem to be everywhere.

So these days it’s the Eastern Tiger Swallowtails that seem to be everywhere. (6/14) saw about 15 individuals on a walk to the basin yesterday. Big, yellow, and striped – Tiger Swallowtails are easy on the eyes – here’s a little bit from Glassberg in “Butterflies thru Binoculars” –
“The tiger swallowtails and the lilies are each wonderful by themselves. Together, they induce a state of bliss”.  
The secret is out, butterfly-heads do it for the bliss. And there’s lots of it these days around the island.

Question Mark open

The orange butterflies around are mostly Question Marks, Red Admirals, and American Ladies. Here are a few photos of Question Marks and Red Admirals – open and closed! Enjoy.

Question Mark closed

Red admiral open

red admiral closed

leif and lady slipper
a few of my favorite things
And speaking of flowers….things are blooming around the island, that is for sure! Woods, meadows and roadsides too! Pink Lady Slippers are a favorite – of Leif’s as well! – And twin flower, Bunchberry, Star flower, Clintonia, and Lupine are numerous.

golden heather
Basin Flowers -  way up high in the Pitch Pine section (over 100ft) of the Williams trails (off Wharf Quarry Road) conditions are just right for a couple of flowers not found in too many places around the island.

One is Golden Heather – Hudsonia ericoides – whose yellow blooms can be seen these days right along the trail. Only found in three counties in Maine (take that Waldo!),  the golden heather is considered endangered in Connecticut, threatened in New Hampshire, and a species of special concern in Rhode Island (VSR note - we are concerned for all species in Rhode Island). The plant apparently prefers dunes, Pine Barrens, and rocks. There are a lot of rocks up there in the basin these days. Anyway, there are a handful of these yellow beauties along the trail – check ‘em out!

fuzzy undercarriage
Labrador Tea panicle

The other is Labrador Tea (Ledum groenlandicum) with their lovely panicles of white flowers. A turning over of a leaf exposes a “densely hairy underside” (no comment necessary) telltale mark of the Labrador tea. A tear of a leaf (and a sniff) fills the nostrils with that lemony Pledge smell of my youth that says “Clean” in New Jersey. Thoreau described the leaf odor as “between turpentine and strawberries” and like “the peculiar scent of a bee”. Linnaeus stated that “the leaves mixed with corn kept the mice away”. The twigs and decoctions of the leaves were used as insect repellents, both on the skin and in stored clothing. Many more historical uses, but all in small doses – Labrador Tea contains Acetylandromedol – a toxic substance that can cause headaches, vertigo and “symptoms of intoxification”. Lot going on with that plant, check it out…

And speaking of the basin….osprey nest update, Williams trail -  so signs are up guiding hikers away from the basin osprey nest and we ask that folks respect the nesters and follow the detour on the trail. One bonus though is with binoculars, or better yet a scope , there is now a clear shot into the nest from the Pitch Pine view spot along the trail.  Enjoy the trail – and the osprey nest!

basin osprey nest
And speaking of Neotony….no surprise really, with all the Spotted Salamander eggs reported from the vernal pools (thanks vern!) that Leif and I are catching way more young, gilled and aquatic spotted salamanders in what remains of the pools and ponds. They are getting bigger and bigger (they do grow up so fast) and soon will head out into the woods to bury themselves below a log. So is life.

pretty cute when they are gilled
But. Spotted Salamanders are members of the mole salamander family – Ambystomatidae. Here’s what Conant and Collins (Peterson guide to reptiles and amphibians) have to say about this family –

“The larvae of some kinds grow to large size, retain their gills, remain permanently aquatic, and breed without developing all the adult characteristics. Such specimens technically are said to be neotonic; the Mexican Indians have given us the name “axolotl” for them”

whats your favorite shade of green?
And a big thanks to the “Mexican Indians” for that catchy name for them! Anyway, Conant and Collins go on to describe situations where conditions around a breeding pool of mole salamanders could become so dry and inhospitable to salamanders that neotony (the  Retention of juvenile characteristics in the adults of a species) is inspired. Pretty cool to turn on the survival adaptations and go juvenile. Dreaming of Neotony is probably a better title.

somewhereon the coast with granite
Fluke ride - (6/8) to frenchboro and back counting Great Cormorant nests. Not sure how many we counted (totals later) but we did hook up with 4 Red Knots – see crappy cropped photo. Red Knots are long distance migrators that time their migration with Horseshoe Crab egg laying down Jersey way. A single Willet as well.
red knots

It was a beautiful day...find out more about fluke trips at the Vinalhaven chamber of commerce website - address above - and click on recreational activities - boat rides. Tropicbird being seen for the 7th year in a row!

final videos....wolf's milk slime spore dispersal...

leif and i "peenting" to a woodcock from the car....

early amanitas and waxy caps are up. rain has been good. hope you are too.

see you out there