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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


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report
January 22nd, 2013
“By far, the coolest one yet!” – 
Ali McCarthy describing 
recent otter sighting at Carver’s Pond.

Highlights –  Otters. Seal Island trip including both Iceland and Glaucous Gull, Canvasback, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Tracking- trails and otter stuff, , Brown Creeper, Kingfishers are everywhere, horned grebe, other things.

Let's get right to it.....

4 otters
photo by Ali McCarthy
“Otters on Ice” Ali McCarthy has got one of the best views in town.  As we know, all  the “best” views of (or “in”, or ”on” or even “from”) anywhere must have an otter in them (this is an accepted factoid). And while one otter is more than most views will ever achieve, every so often a view comes along that is special enough, beautiful enough and has a nice enough personality that it’s allowed to have a second otter. The view has now obtained  “double otter” status. (the term “double otter” may ring a bell as the “D.O” has been recognized and honored numerous times in ceremonies and rituals by many cultures from New England to the mid-Atlantic states, but most famously in the Karma Sutra, page 67 (LARGE PRINT edition). But that’s most likely not where you heard of “D.O” before.) In reality, seldom, if ever (or never) does a view get to the “double otter” level.

got to slide sometimes
photo by Ali McCarthy
And so it from there that after countless reincarnations and many consecutive lifetimes of pure-living few “double otter” views will obtain the elusive  “sacred 3rd otter” status. Then it’s roughly one in every gazillion “sacred 3rd otter” view that gets to goes from “elusive” to “exclusive”  and nails that 4th otter down, entering the exclusive “nailed that 4th otter” view status. But “what happens if a “nailed that 4th otter view” picks everything up and puts the entire show on ice?”, you ask? That, my friends, is how “legendary” views are made. Odds are your view may ever get there, so if this is a priority you might want to think about moving.

Anyway, Ali McCarthy has a legendary otter view, so I guess Johnny has one too. Here’s some recent scoop from the legendary view at Carver’s Pond (1/19) as told by Ali.   

this was the first to emerge
photo by Ali McCarthy
 “As my daughter sat at the kitchen table this afternoon eating her lunch, I heard her say "I just saw a seal on the ice!". So we all looked out the window and watched two more otters venture, one by one, from the shore over to the rock island in front of our house and then dive beneath the ice. I could see one of them poke its head up through the ice once and I noticed them on and off playing around the rock island for about 2 hours this afternoon. Finally, I got to see them venture back to shore...4 all together. SO cool!!”

Ali went on to mention that the afternoon sessions was

fishy feast
photo by Ali McCarthy
“the latest (in the day) sighting, ever…it’s always been mornings…usually just after daylight. But I did read they become more active during the day at this time of year”

Ali’s got the otter bug.  Not only does she have the “otter eye”, she photographs them, researches them and shares all that and her experiences with others. Otters are unusual. Everyone likes otters, even the ones who really don’t.

Here’s a shot Ali sent in from December. That gunnel eel had no chance. What a feast! Thanks for sharing the photos!

mom, pup and the creepy one who keeps coming around
photo by John Drury

Seal Island -  When folk think about Seal Island they think wildlife. Folk will often picture a warm, calm summer day with the island buzzing and humping with Tern, Gull and Alcid life. Mixed in with the scene are the random “Puffin’ Hippies” who are humans that can be seen in bird blinds or searching for a blind that they “swore was there” the day before. Dude where’s my blind? Anyway, they are to watch and count (probably by 1s) Puffins and other cute seabirds and their activity. (side note -“Puffin Hippies” are often favorable (judgment) than “Spraint-stinking Hippies”, and both are certainly better than “Angry Hippies” which can be found at a food co-op near you). In other words, summer is an active time on Seal.

beautiful Iceland Gull
photo by John Drury

But did you know that the island is technically there year round? Not only that, whenever it’s there it’s technically a wildlife refuge! Yes, the entire time! So it makes sense that wildlife would find or take (but never give) refuge at the island year-round.

Earlier this month (1/12) John Drury, Kerry Hardy, and Steve Rosen ventured out Seal way to see what they could see.

Seal never disappoints - Here’s the numbers from John.  25 Bald Eagles, 300 Grey Seals, 5 Iceland Gulls – 2 adults, 1 Glaucous Gull, 8 Horned Lark, 50 Snow Bunting, 1 Peregrine Falcon, 200 Purple Sandpiper, 7 Sanderling. Seen on the rides in and out – 30 Black Duck, 10 Great Cormorants, several razorbills, Black-legged Kittiwake. That’s quite a haul, and a nice variety of life – marine mammals, raptors, shorebirds, songbirds, and even a few white-winged gulls.

glaucous gull
photo by John Drury
Note here on gulls – Grey Seals certainly dominate Seal Island this time of the year (putting the “SEAL” back in Seal island! big time) and having numbers like 300 (presumably not counted by “300s”) huge creatures like Grey Seals (up to 770 lbs for adult males) in one location is an incredible picture to say the least.

That said about seals, any trip where Black-legged Kittiwake, Iceland Gull and Glaucous Gull are seen as the “trip trifecta” is a special trip for sure. Take a look in your field guide at these birds and their ranges. Iceland Gull breed only on Baffin Island, Glaucous from the Hudson Strait and Bay, north to some of those way northerly islands like Ellesmere and across the Arctic Circle to Alaska. Most overwinter up north, but both Iceland and Glaucous are regular, yearly winter visitors to the Gulf of Maine. Always cool to see one of the “winter” gulls, but to bag the trifecta, two flavors of white-winged sprinkled with a little kittiwake (still hands down the coolest gull in the world), that is how legendary trips are made.  

male barrow's - looking sharp
Ducks in Carver’s – There are non-otter things to look at in Carver’s when you are not looking at Otters. There are ducks. Recent sightings include : Hooded Mergansers, Red-breasted Merganser, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Black Duck, Canada Goose, Barrow’s Goldeneye, and a Canvasback.

Barrow’s Goldeneye was listed as a “Threatened” species by the Maine legislature in 2007.   Here’s a link to the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife post announcing the Barrow’s Goldeneye status in Maine.

It’s got quotes like “A few Barrow’s Goldeneyes may be unintentionally shotwhen one is hunting Common Goldeneye. Common Goldeneye was listed as a “Yummy” and “Fun to shoot” species by the Maine Legislature in 2007 by the way,  just minutes after the Barrow’s vote. 

“There will be no penalty for killing a Barrow’s and reporting it to the Department.”  is another favorite of mine. Things like an “Incidental take plan” are mentioned. Haven’t met too many Common Goldeneye hunters in my time out here, incidental take doesn’t seem like much of a local issue. we'll keep you posted.
this is a barrow's and a canvasback
coming right at ya!

And with that said, there are some humans (only a handful I assure you) who are interested in Barrow’s Goldeneye and Common Goldeneye numbers. One such human is referred to as Kelsey Sullivan. Kelsey is a long time VSR reader and works at/for the department of fish and wildlife, I think. Kelsey is in charge of a Goldeneye survey this winter. If you are comfortable telling the difference between Barrow’s and Common Goldeneye and can take notes you can help out with this noble undertaking.

Here's the test: take a look at this video and see if you can tell the female Barrow’s Goldeneye from the Common Goldeneye. Hint: the Barrow’s females have bright orange beaks!  

How about the male Common Goldeneye? The yummy looking ones. There is also a male Barrow’s Goldeneye in the video, but you don’t get to see the crescent moon on his face, instead you can see the white dots on its back as he’s hiding his face under his back feathers. needless to say Plenty of male Common Goldeneye around. Anyway, do you think you might have seen the difference? Answer yes and you are qualified!

the canvasback, the barrow's
and the red-breasted merganser.
So if you are someone who likes ducks, who pays attention to ducks, or who just finds counting ducks fun please take a few extra moments (on a few closer looks) at your local goldeneye hang out, or flockery. Then send your Goldeneye sightings (both Common and Barrow’s) to Kelsey at 

This offer is not exclusive to Vinalhaven, so if you happen to find yourself crossing paths with some Goldeneye and you are somewhere in Maine, let Kelsey know. Of course, it should be noted that Vinalhaven Barrow’s are the best. “Our” Barrow’s have been voted “Best Barrow’s in the State” by the VSR writing staff every time there is a vote. Anyway, “It’s the right thing to do, and the right way to do it” and there will be no penalty for reporting a Barrow’s Goldeneye to the department. or kelsey.

canvasback showing classic forehead slope
Canvasback in Carver’s – So while I was counting to 6 (by 1s) the other day at Carver’s this Canvasback female flew into the pond to join the Barrow’s group. Canvasbacks are members of a group of diving ducks (that eat their fair share of vegetation) referred to as “Pochards”. “Pochards” include favorites such as Redhead, Ring-necked & Tufted Duck, and the Scaup cousins- Greater and Lesser.

Canvasbacks are noted amongst Pochards and ducks unlimitied for their unique head shape, a flat forehead that slopes into a long black bill. Males are also noted for their beautiful red heads, while females are noted for their nice personalities.

In reality though, the pochard group could easily be called “Aythya” , with “Aythya” being the genus and true connection of this group. "Aythya" has always been one of the favorite latin ones to say out loud, because if done correctly just saying the word “Aythya” can create a contagious laughter and/or (at least a small amount of) smiles or chuckles. Not trying to put too much pressure on the word, but saying “aythya” correctly was at least a part of the courting process amy and I went thru and processed. See where it got us? How can you not say it now? Here’s the instructions…
last shot of the canvasback and barrow's goldeneye

When saying the word “Aythya” it is best to have your tongue hanging out of your mouth in a completely relaxed, dead fish kind of fashion. To increase fun level next try holding onto your tongue with finger and thumb (same hand preferable) while saying “Aythya”. Now try saying “Pochards” the same way. Not nearly as fun.  

Anyway, the book says they are “rare” for Maine in the winter, 1 – 4 being seen yearly in the state. This is the first I’ve seen out here, and the first anyone asked had heard of – have you seen a canvas back out here? Not the first “unusual” bird to be spotted in Carver’s pond, won’t be the last. Now back to looking for otters.

Around the island! - Overwintering! – species not noted every winter, or even less often – Brown Creeper (Basin, Huber, Reach Road), Belted Kingfisher (Carver’s, Basin, Old Harbor)….From the yard – caught a break from the at times  “seemingly continuous” Reach winds to scan the Reach from the yard. 3 Bufflehead, 2 Common Loon, 2 Red-breasted Merganser, 4 Surf Scoter and this Razorbill that was hugging the shoreline, taking dives and apparently having a way with some of the shallower fish. It was too dark and the photos were poor, but this video came out alright. we love alcids from the back yard.

Other lists: Huber/Seal Bay - (1/11) 26 Bufflehead, 12 Common Goldeneye, 5 Red-breasted Merganser, 13 Oldtails, 1 Black Duck….

Carver’s Pond – (1/11) – 2 Common Goldeneye, 19 Bufflehead, 2 Red-breasted Mergnaser…(1/17) 6 Barrow’s Goldeneye, 10 Common Goldeneye, 2 Bufflehead, 7 Hood Mergnaser, 1 Red-breasted Merganser…

Basin – (1/15) 2 Barrow’s Goldeneye, 34 Crows (murder), 2 Common Raven, 3 Long-tailed Duck, 1 Surf Scoter, 12 Common Goldeneye, 16 Bufflehead, 8 Red-breasted Merganser. Harbor Seal…
(1/17) Horned Grebe, 1 Common Loon, 2 Oldtails, 1 Barrow’s, 7 Common Goldeneye, 8 Red-breasted merganser, 6 Surf scoter, 1 Belted Kingfisher

vole trails on lane's
Lane’s – (1/15) – American Robin, Flicker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chickadee, Crow, Raven, 6 Purple Sandpiper, 9 Great Cormorants, 5 Red-breasted Merganser (displaying), 14 Black Guillemot (molting), 6 Oldtails, 4 Black Duck, 2 Bufflehead,   

Tracking –  or you know you’ve had deep so for a bit when you find…. (fill in the blank) …after the snow finally melts!

Answer:  vole trail cores along fields and meadows. “Your bike” is also an accepted answer

Winter snows can play a huge role in the lifestyle and success of voles and other small (and tasty – judgment) rodents. A deep snow that “refuses to die, opting instead to get dirty and old” provides a nice habitat for meadow voles and other small, tasty rodents (that time it was a fact). Under the snow temperatures can stay close to 32 degrees regardless of conditions above the snow, while also giving a protective buffer from owls and other predators. When you live under the snow, you are living in the Subnivean Zone.

in the end it was either voles
or aliens who made these trails

When the snow finally melted – and it did so in tremendous fashion – evidence of vole tunneling and activity were captured in trails and trail cores. Check out this scene at Lane’s. Areas that would typically be off limits to rodents, and we mean death to rodents here, are now accessible with a layer of snow on top.  

this otter trail is entering
a 1/2 mile stretch
thru the woods
Otter trails2 trails on either side of the basin were found active over the last stretch. The Granite Island preserve den appears to be active for the 2nd year in a row, with tracks being seen lightly breaking thru crusty, icy snow

(2) Favorite cross island trail – linking vinal cove to the basin, via otter pond, showed sign of coming and going, a single otter both times. Trail was followed and led to waterway and cove below Steep Mountain in the Basin, which is pretty steep.

Otter den – even with the snow melting and things warming up, den #7 had plenty of spraint around it, marking the presence, recently or presently, of the 4 otters in old harbor. It might be presumed that these are the same 4 as the ones that Ali has been seeing a mere ¼ mile away in Carver’s. But other than the magical “4”, there is little to go on that is more than circumstantial.

only a family can create this much spraint
trust me.

Anyway, whatever the case, the otter still poop around their home, when they are home. Tomorrow should be a good day for tracking.  Everyday should be good for tracking.

Here’s leify and palmer on the ice at the ballfield yesterday. The nice little melt Sunday froze into a pretty smooth surface, making for fun, fast times on the ice. check out those skates!

See ya out there.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

sunsets go on forever these days

Welcome to the vinalhaven sightings report 
 January 10th, 2013

With the support of VLT & MCHT

Highlights: Common Redpolls, Sharpies, Cooper’s and Cardinals, Kingfisher, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Crossbills, Iceland Gull,Snow tracking – including way too many river otter sign photos! or just the right amount 

put this in your spam pipe
and smoke it!

Business:  Happy new year, how ‘bout some spam? – many folk were kind enough let me know that my “baldfulmar” email account sent them some advertisement about a weightless supplement or something. A few were p****d that I was calling them fat (you are what you think you are), while others realized it was a mild case of the spams and were 95% sure I wasn’t calling them anything. Either way, I apologize for this royal spammation of which I had no control over I guess. Please accept my sincere spammology. 

snowshoeing in the basin
is fun

Upcoming Events – MCHT Basin Snowshoe – Sunday January 20th, 1 pm. Meet at Skoog Park. We’ll be snowshoeing thru the preserve, taking in the sights, tracking some animals, scoping some ducks, and having an all around good ol’ time. The outing will be somewhat strenuous and over uneven terrain.  If no snow, then we just walk normally around the woods talking about whatever we find.

this vernal pool will be loaded with
salamander eggs in 4 months!
Contact us!  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!

click on this to see the ice
chunks larger. or something.

Tiit trick! - most of the images in this report are small, because we went crazy with the amount of pictures. to view these in larger than life scale just click on the photo, or photos of your choice and in theory they should get bigger. no joke to be added here.

Sharp-shinned Hawk
photo by Hillary Bunker

Sightings (12/31) Hillary Bunker took this photo of a Sharp-shinned Hawk sitting not-so-stealthfully in her yard. Apparently the sharpie was keeping an eye out for local Mourning Doves, ready to pounce and strike if the opportunity developed.  John Drury saw a Sharp-shinned hawk in flight by the school, possibly on the same day, possibly the same bird. Is the world is full of possibilities? Possibly.

this is the basin

Terry Goodhue reports observing a Cooper’s Hawk perched on the Rockland Ferry Terminal terminal, possibly hunting Rock Pigeons (formerly known as Rock Doves). Most people would have no problem if the Cooper’s Hawk ate all the pigeons in Rockland. No one would have a problem if it gave up on birds and just ate all the red squirrels on Vinalhaven. It’s true! The question was part of a town survey I conducted with myself.

redpoll invasion
photo by Sally
Skin Hill Sally’s Yard. – As active as ever, Sally reports some nice flocks of winter visitors Common Redpolls. When asked how many, sally responded with “A s**t ton”, which we all means a lot, because a ton of s**t is like 2000 pounds (roughly a gagillion kiloliters for the 2 fans of the metric system who read these reports) , and since a redpoll weighs around .46 oz (roughly  an 100th of the weight of my beard at this moment- metric system only), and since there are 16 oz. in a pound – right? – that equals about 64000 redpolls (roughly).  That’s a lot of sunflower seeds.

one of many cardinals in
sally's yard
photo by Sally

A “s**t-ton” is, or course, similar to of a “s**t-load”, which has been defined as “way, way more of species present than one would expect”. If you think about it and lower all your expectations to nothing, then there’d be a “S**tload” of everything to you. Not a bad way to go around in life.    

Sally also had a nice day with 7 Northern Cardinals (I hope that number is right), which is a relative “s**tload” as Sally usually expects to see 1 or 2, or none at all in her yard. Good work Sally and keep the photos coming! We wish she would send a s**tload.

nice look at redpolls
photo by jim clayter
Back to the Redpolls - this just in - Jim Clayter, over in the pumpkin ridge area of the world, reports a hefty invasion of redpolls at his feeders just a few days back (1/6). here's a snap shot he got of the scene.

and a 30 second video of the little buggers going crazy with the feasting. 

jim mentioned that he's had redpolls at his feeders a few times in the winter of 2011 - none in the winter of 2012 - and then just recently. before that he hadn't seen them since 1986! nice note taking jim! 

this sunrise took forever
from the 7am ferry out of rockland

Ferry Rides – Terry Goodhue spotted an Iceland Gull and a Red-throated Loon from the ferry last week….(1/2) our return from southern worlds, the 7am ferry from Rockland. 10 Razorbill, 3 Great Cormorants, 20 Kittiwake, 100+ Ring-billed Gull, Common Loon, Oldtails, etc….not to be picky, but the lighting on the 7am from Rockland is not conducive to great scanning (we are used to the 7am out of Vinalhaven). And the big ferry vibrates a lot. Normally I am a fan of things that vibrate, but when trying to hold binos steady in one hand and a coffee mug in the other, it just gets tricky. Can somebody do something about this for me? Thanks for your efforts.

Been down with the sickness largely since coming back from Florida, on the upswing now and for the last few days, but still had some nice observation sessions at some of our favorite spots.

For most wood excursions Golden-crowned Kinglets, Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, and Hairy or Downy (or both!) Woodpeckers were seen or heard (or both!).

Basin (1/4) – 6 Surf Scoter, 4 Oldtails, 25 Bufflehead, 7 Common Goldeneye, 3 Common Loon, 1 Barrow’s Goldeneye, 5 Red-breasted Merganser, 6 Black Duck

state beach is sexy in the winter

State Beach (1/4) -8 Red-necked Grebe, 3 Red-breasted Merganser, 4 Common Loon, 2 White-winged Scoter, 7 Black Guillemot, 3 Common Goldeneye

this ice looks nothing like
a belted kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher – we got at least one! seen as recently as (1/9) in Creeds Cove, this little blue dude with an attitude has been spotted at the Millrace and in Sands Cove. Love it when they spend the winter. To be honest, love it when they don’t as well. We just love winter.

And why do we love the winter? You guessed it, winter is... 

this otter dragged its tail
thru mush

Otter Time, or now that we've got that out of the way – winter is a great time to find out about otters. Here’s what we’ve been finding. In a photo gallery typesetting with some scattered commentary. enjoy.

Old Harbor Pond Otters – a family affair - (1/5 &1/7) - here's where the otters come out of the sand cove...

here's where the otters have made a highway in the snow, with belly slides and all, heading to old harbor pond....

here's where they slide over a rock wall by the side of the road....

here's where they came out from under a spruce.

here's where they were bounding along a frozen "creek". count the tracks in each group. there should be sixteen unless an otter is missing a foot. 

the tracks should be in groups of 4. 16 divided by 4 is 4. 4 otters made their way to old harbor pond the night before...

look closely...
you are getting sleepy

here's where they slid on their bellies once they got onto the pond. there are three paths here - 1 close and two in the middle. 2 otters went down the middle path, thus its widthiness. 2+1+1 = 4. 4 otters....

home sweet home

here's where they entered their den. this is the 7th den we've found out here, and it was active last year as well. we loving refer to it as den #7.

here's where they pooped outside their den. kind of like putting up a flag to let folk know you are home. or like pooping in your yard to let folk know you are home...

(1/9) - still in old harbor pond - here's where the 4 otters travelled down old harbor pond on the snow/ice....there are 3 belly slides here. not sure where the 4th one went...

here's a path where the otters came and went.....

home sweet home

and here's the den that the path above led to. this was the 4th den we found, which we refer to as den #4.

greens island - (1/7) greens island otter tracking. also seen - horned grebe, great cormorant, white-winged crossbill, oldtails. 

the otter scene this day was following a single otter up and around at a few scent marking spots, but also at a cross island (skinny part) trail that included a slide that went at least 30 on the down hill. unfortunately this slide was a few days old and hard to capture with the camera. so it goes.

here's an otter scat, loaded with fish scales, but also includes some small orangey-red dots. row, eggs, plastic pieces? all valid guesses, and even after we ate a few we couldn't tell what they were. needed some ketchup. or something.

here's the best slide picture i got of the day - and this  wasn't even the big one. the slide starts at the top of the photo, right by the rock on the top left/middle. after one bend it all about "come to pappa" - i wish i was there to catch it. not really.

oyster mushrooms with snow

and there is more, as there always is, but this is enough. had some trouble with uploading photos last night, so we end this here VSR here. hope you enjoyed! and hope you get out to see some tracks. the snow is getting a little dirty, but you never know when the next one is coming! i hope soon!

here's a few of leify on the road over the holidays. birdwatching with amy at merritt island. apparently that's what sun roofs were made for!

this museum had a live otter
and a mushroom display
it was like a dream
and getting super excited over a fungus display at a museum in north carolina. that's my boy!

happy new years everyone. hope its going good for ya!

see ya!