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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


Monday, December 24, 2012

just another vinalhaven sunset
Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report
 December 24th, 2012
Brought to you by MCHT, VLT and Santa
“I took one of your logs” me to jamus,
about a log with Split Gill fungus

Highlights – goshawk, merlin, barrow’s goldeneye, snow fleas!, Fungus!, crossbills and grosbeaks, some otter action, Canada geese, Thick-billed Murre, Mink, moon jellies, other things


snow fleas have been active
please hike carefully
Contact us! (Or don’t. See what we care!). We here at VSR headquarters welcome and appreciate any photos, reports, and new email addresses (to add to our email list) that you all have to share. And while we welcome all correspondence from all sorts of views and perspectives, we do appreciate stuff being sent to our new email – – if you can remember to do so. And a big thanks to those who’ve sent in photos and sightings to share for this report! That’s why we do the VSR!

otter poop with frost.
there may be nothing as beautiful

don't forget the Tiit trick - click on any photo to enlarge said photo to full screen size. take this photo of frosty otter poop for example. if you want a closer look at the poop, then just click on the photo and magically it will appear to fill up your full screen. you may not want to click on all otter poop shots, but you also may want to. everybody poops...

carver's geese
photo by sally
sightings: Canada Geese – reports have been flowing in (at a small trickle) about the Canada Geese scene at Carver’s, Indian Creek, and the school as hundreds of the honkers have been making their way thru “our” zone over the last few weeks. Most compelling has been the scene over at Indian Creek where Susan Raven reports hundreds flying by over and being around for a few days starting (12/12).
addy is the one in purple
photo by susan raven

They also congealed (that’s not the right word – “gathered” is the better word I think) over at the school and young Addy Raven did her best to “keep the c**p” off the school grounds by chasing them and most likely yelling in excitement. (Actually, she was looking to hug one or two). Anyway, even though they have Canada in their name we still love/like ‘em and hope they keep on honking it up for months to come. If they could just stop c******g on the fields…


check out how the mandible don't match, they cross.
wonder why they are called crossbills?
Friends of the VSR – of (FOTVSR) – yes, we have friends, even some from off island (probably referred to as from “away”, but kinda more like from “over there”) and sometimes these so-called “friends” come to visit (don’t worry we sent them back after a few hours). Recently a few nice folk came out to see what’s around and what’s going down on the island. We like having friends visit if for nothing more than they jot down notes about what we see (and thusly we don’t have to). Long time VSR friend Kristen Lindquist, and newbie “bro” (that’s what he called me at one point) Chris “Bjorn” Borg came out for a day of looking at birds and talking about hats and wool. Here’s what they report as seeing that day, as shared by Kristen Lindquist (thank you Kristen!)…
nice cross bill...
(12/8) From the ferry--Black-legged Kittiwake-20, Black Guillemot-50, Common Loon-30, Bonaparte's Gull-6 (and 15 later on the island), Razorbill-2 (and 3 later from the island),
Purple Sandpiper-6, Double-crested Cormorant-2,… On the island at various places including Lane's Island, State Beach, Old Harbor Pond, The Basin, etc.-- White-winged Crossbill-10, very close to us, carrying spruce cones from the ground to low branches to feed on them (some actually feeding on the ground); mixed flock of males, females, and young males
Am. Tree Sparrow-6, Song Sparrow-2, White-throated Sparrow-2, Common Yellowthroat-1, (young male) Red-necked Grebe-12, Horned Grebe-3, Common Goldeneye-10, Barrow's Goldeneye-1, Bufflehead-12, Hooded Merganser-3, RB Merganser-20, Great Cormorant-4,

Belted Kingfisher-1, Bald Eagle-5, Golden-crowned Kinglet-1, Red-breasted Nuthatch-1.


In other words, we/they saw a ton, and everything is a highlight – especially the laughs- but the big one was the incredible white-winged crossbill session we had at Lane’s. here are a couple of videos of crossbill working over cones and getting the seeds out with their sticky tongues, right in the parking lot!



if you listened closely you can here a conversation about how Kristen's hat was made for her overnight on Monhegan Island. It should be noted to all, that if you are in the woods with me and I mention that I am going to take some videos and that everything you say will be recorded, it means that I am going to be taking some videos and that everything will be recorded and unedited when they go on the VSR. So captured here are wonderful crossbills and a conversation about hat making and wool. And some sassiness.


photo by john drury
Long time friend and good buddy Mike Windsor (currently of Maine Audubon fame) came out on the 14th for some looking. Boat ride – 32 Black Guillemot, 56 Old-tail ducks, 13 Bonaparte’s Gull, 15 Common Loon, 7 Bald Eagle, 17 Surf Scoter, 19 Bufflehead, 2 Red-breasted Merganser, 3 Black Duck, 13 Black-legged Kittiwake, 6 Razorbill, 1 Thick-billed Murre, 1 Great Cormorant.

photo by john drury

Carver’s Pond – 3 Barrow’s Goldeneye and others…


photo by john drury

Greens – John Drury reports both Northern Goshawk and Merlin landing in some of the random remaining trees out on Greens. John got these wonderful photos of the Merlin as it headed off in pursuit of small birds. Small birds = good grub, but we all knew that…


State Beach – (12/4) 35 Red-necked Grebe….(12/7) 20 Ring-billed Gull, Great Cormorants, 5 Olddtails, 3 Surf Scoter, 5 Common Loon, 3 Red-breasted Merganser…(12/11) Red-throated Loon


Thoroughfare – Terry Goodhue reports Common Loon calling when Bald Eagles fly over. Hearing loons in the winter is cool.

moon jelly in old harbor pond
Moon Jelly - Old Harbor Pond - (12/8) - after the big Hurricane Sandy storm came thru there was little to report compared to the damage and travesty felt in the mid-atlantic states. One thing that was seen was a storm surge that was remarkable. In early December - the 8th to be exact - while checking on my favorite otter latrine - what? like you don't have a favorite otter latrine? - in old harbor pond i spotted maybe 5 or 6 Moon Jellies that had been blown to the southern/eastern most shores of the pond. Now, Old Harbor Pond is certainly tidal with the biggest of tides, but the double bottleneck scene over by the bridge somewhat limits just how much salt water mixes in with the constant influx of fresh water from Mack's Pond (and thusly Cedar Pond) that flows in. From salinity tests with high schoolers in old harbor pond,  "Brackish " would be an overstatement for the pond - there just isn't much salt influx from the ocean there, especially when compared to the fresh water that is constantly being dumped into the pond

this jelly was soon to be frozen with the coming cold wave
And yet there were these moon jellies at the furthest reaches of the pond from the old dam that connects to the open salt water that is old harbor. Locals i've talked to have never seen jellies in the pond, which made the event all the more special. here's our take on this - storm surge with Sandy was high, the jellies came in with a push during the storm and then were blown across the pond with the prevailign winds, which have been towards the sands area - trust me, they have been blownin'! anyway, cool to see jellies in the pond, even if they are/were doomed from the entry. storm do cool (and awful) things, but the cool things are what we appreciate about them.

Barred owl - Tracy Littlefield reports a Barred Owl in her yard not to long after hearing about the barred owl on Greens! Moments after (an exaggeration for sure) reading about the Barred Owl out on greens in the last VSR, Tracy Littlefield (super nice person) reported stepping outside her place and having a Barred Owl fly low over her yard (and chickens!) and land in a nearby tree. Tracy got some great looks at it before it flew! this is the last Barred owl report our way this fall. very cool!

Fungus first responder –and so, we’ve all been hearing more than enough about the winter moth scene (they’re here, they’re in big numbers, and they’re not going shopping), but it makes you wonder who else is taking advantage of the warm, and sometimes wet spell we’ve had pretty much all of December (except for flying santa) you ask? The answer is many species have been taking advantage - Fungally speaking of course (of course). Late fall mushrooms are turning into winter mushrooms as we speak-


Turkey tail –one of leif’s favorites to identify, turkey tail come in all shapes (well, not all) and sizes (except for big), but the bloom has been remarkable and noted. Still one of my favorites and an old friend after all these years. Is it possible to get to sappy about fungus?


right side up

Orange mock oyster – a fall/winter classic on white birch, this beauty of a gilled mushroom blooms every fall/winter on island, this year being especially nice with the warm wet weather.

upside down


Luminescent Panellus- glows in the dark. Do I really have to say more?


we are big marasmius fans

Marasmius – especially abundant under spruce these days, mostly cuz this is the one that decomposes spruce needles so well. Hefty response to the nice warm wet weather.  Look under a spruce tree, I dare ya. Bet you find some…


frozen orange jelly

Orange jelly – frozen or thawed we love the orange jelly. Someone told me out here their mom call them “witches boogers”. That’s cool, call them what you want.


old man jelly tooth

Jelly tooth – had never seen them before getting to Vinalhaven. They have become old friends fast. This is the 6th year in a row that I’ve found them fruiting/blooming on this particular log. 6 years in a row? That is an old friend.


split gill is sexy
Split gill – Currently my favorite fungus, already awarded the highly coveted Fungus of the Year award 2012, in the last VSR I went thru the rarity of their abundance on Vinalhaven (in my experience) and how in 2012 I found them in St. John, Estonia, Florida, and 3 places in the fox islands. Well, all that is out the window, as I was picking up Jamus Drury for a day of work and noticed the/a motherload of Split gill in his wood pile. Epic is the only word I can come up for this find. I stole one of the logs and it sits on my front porch, a greeter to any visitor who swings by our abode on the Reach. What a year for split-gill!

this is an otter pooping at 9:23 pm
And, of course…..The poop on otters – it’s no secret that our (the royal “our”) favorite Vinalhaven mammal is the Northern River Otter (eat your heart out coyote!). Fun to track and even more fun/special to see, the otter scene on Vinalhaven is rich and thick and creamy. And apparently recent, as folk have said “30 years ago we never seen dem otters” – a made up quote, but one that captures the message that has been relayed to me over the years. We’ve gone from zero otters 30 years ago to otters being caught in lobster traps and Ali McCarthy seeing them in Carver’s Pond on a regular basis. So is change, and so we love it.

this is an otter pooping at 9:26 pm
Every winter we learn more about otter movement thru snow tracking, and thus have collect much info on their habits on the island. What we have gathered is incredibly smaller than what we don’t know, but that is pretty much always the case. All that said, I (the royal “I”) have put the MCHT trail camera up at a few otter latrine/marking spots and gotten images of some otters over the years. That said, I hadn’t gotten photos of otters actively adding to said latrines until the other day. These are the coolest photos I have gotten with the camera (eat your heart out again coyote!). Here’s a look…


this is an otter pooping at 9:26pm
38 seconds after the last poop
But what is a latrine? And what the hell is going on there? For some answers we go to the latest mammal behavior book (that we know of) … the Peterson’s guide to mammal behavior – Mark Elbroch/Kurt Rinehart … here’s what they had to say…


this is an otter peeing at 5:02 am
“Just as we place billboards in areas with lots of traffic, otters mark sites of high “traffic”, or use. This includes their rolling sites, but most of their scent-marking occurs in traditional latrines near foraging areas and dens. Otters leave scat in other conspicuous locations: atop prominent rocks on banks, under bridges, at tributary locations. When they are scent-marking they arch their back and curl and undulate their tail. They paw, scratch, and tread on the spot, and then shoot a jet of feces (dude, I wish I got to write this!) or urine out onto the ground. ….when an otter urinates (sounds like a love song) squirting forward if male or backward if female, nearby otters inspect this mark and are often induced to repeat the ritual themselves. The repeated and common use by a number of animals contributes to very large latrines.

this is an otter peeing at 6:33 am
same spot as at 5:02am

Stinky latrines, which serve to fertilize the plant communities where they occur, are most obvious in coastal areas where otter densities are high. “


Its official, we have a lot of otters.


this is a bald guy who had to pee at 10:58am
and who missed the otters by just a few hours
Latrine sites can be “up to 65 feet across and dotting the coast every 1000 feet and placed in prominent locations along an inhabited body of water. The scats, which in England are called spraints, are food remains: scales, bones and bits of insect shells, and anal gland secretions. Sometimes there is also a yellow-greenish jelly that doesn’t look like feces, but never the less comes from the intestines and not the anal glands

this is frozen "yellow-greenish jelly"
that comes from the intestines

Halleluiah! Finally someone said something about that goo, and with authority! The yellowish jelly you find at latrines is not from the anal glands people! It’s from the intestines! I’d like to say I told you so, but really I was rooting for the anal glands. d**n.



this is gross. this is frozen froth.
froth associated with the yellow-green jelly stuff mentioned above
this is the remains of a frozen bubble in the froth.
but the bubble popped. leaving only this.
Also in coastal Alaska, where we used to see river otters eating sole and find the heads on the floating docks, “nonsocial otters probably use scent marks to signal mutual avoidance, but breeding females appear to use them in the defense of territories. Breeding season in otters lasts from about December to April."


this is a partial overview
of the latrine at old harbor pond
And so for whatever reason the night of December 15th was the night to replenish the poop marking at the old harbor latrine. We here at the VSR are honored to share photos of otters pooping with you at this most wonderful time of the year. Hopefully there will be more to come, and we’ll  be able to learn more about our otters this winter. The bottom line (ha, ha – “bottom line” in a story about poop!) that otters are awesome and cool.


And with that , there was a pirate birthday to report


Leify was taking measurements of a dream treehouse that he figures to build sometime soon.


the VSR family
photo by the dr.!

And a final, an all around merry Christmas, happy Hanukah, and a crazy kwanza to all from the entire VSR family (you are looking at ‘em!”). may your year be peaceful and joyful, and full of observations. Please share them if you feel like it.


Alrighty then, we’ll see you out there!

and if we are sledding its best to get out of the way!