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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.