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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


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report
March 1st, 2013


Highlights : Carolina wren, Owls, Otters, Mink, Horned Grebe, Pine Grosbeak, Sea Ducks and stuff… snow


We begin with snow pictures. By request.


when seal bay freezes over....
that's how the tortoises got to Penobscot
Upcoming event – Saturday March 9th, 10am – Huber snowshoe/winter walk focusing on sea ducks and winter mushrooms. Seal Bay has ducks, the woods have mushrooms. All that is missing is you. Meet at Skoog at 10am.


Contact . Yes, we had the wrong address the last time we posted this. Won’t be the last time. count the mistakes in this report and win a quart of Finnish beer.
makes you wish we had polar bears


Tiit trick – hey, to see the photos in LARGE print – like large enough to fill your screen – just click on the photo in the VSR! Close ups of otter spraint should be viewed full screen. Scratch and sniff is not an option.



mink trail, with tiny ski trail next to it
A quick riddle…..  Running track riddleWhat is happening in this trail?


Running track riddle - Clue #1 – it is a mink trail, with the mink on the left, bounding towards the camera.


Running track riddle - Clue #2 – the tracks were up by tip toe mtn.. They came out of the water, and went thru the woods for over a ¼ mile ending up under a natural wood pile. habitat not hard to come by.


More clues in a bit….


state bird of south carolina!
on their plates for crying out loud!
photo by Sally
photo by sally
becoming regular (visitor) at the skin hill feeders
photo by Sally
Feeders scene- Skin hill feeders – when we last left, the Delsandro family (of skin hill fame) had been enjoying a Carolina Wren that was frequenting their feeders. Well, the storm came and went, and you never know what that’s going to mean for the birds. Fortunately, the feeder folk of skin hill don’t mind sharing birds, as the Carolina Wren spent much of a day after the storm in Sally’s yard, cashing in on some grub, before disappearing (last reported unreported). Nice that the Wren rode a storm out with us, thanks to the skin hill feeder people for keeping our visitor fed and alive.
beauty from all angles
photo by Sally



As well as the Cardinals and the White-breasted Nuthatch that seem to be somewhat regular at Sally’s these days!

"windy mournin'"
photo by jim clayter

Jim Clayter sent in this photo of “windy mournin’” – Mourning Dove riding a storm out at Jim’s feeders.  That dove is stoked that the feeder is there and stocked! And that the wind is blocked.


Back to the riddle! - Clue #3 – its dragging something – (duh!). Something stiff and heavy, as the mink works hard to bound in these different snow conditions. Meanwhile the drag remains a constant double track.  "That thing ain't moving." The mink is bouncing, but whatever it's dragging is not.

coming right at ya.

Running track riddle – clue #4 – the mink brought what it was dragging into one den, which had a wide trough cut thru the snow. The mink then turned around and ran to the wood pile a short distance away.

the mink dragged it
this way and that

here's one from above
mink on right going away

One more set of clues coming up! And then a guess….have you guessed me yet?


Owls – great few weeks to lay some eggs, huh? Well, that’s what’s been going on out there with the Great Horned Owls!

jaw in pellet
Local owl fans have been sharing stories of some loud owls in the store, in the high school halls, in the shopping malls (be cool or be cast out). Great Horned Owls (a species that demands capitalization!)  on Granite Island, Wharf Quarry, Hog Swamp, and Greens Island have all been heard lately, belting out the classic hoots while terrorizing rodent and hare populations far and wide. I even found this Great Horned pellet in the trail on Lane’s, where few Great Horned have been observed over the years (no good reason why!).
long in the tooth - all the way to the left


Keep your ears and eyes out at dusk and dawn, those magical crepuscular hours where the day destroys the night, and night divides the day. Owls are fun. Here’s something from the New York Times the other day about owls and their growing popularity. We loved owls back when it was cool hate them! Check it out…


these white-winged scoters
have been just off shore at State Beach
all winter

Sea Ducks and birdies – Dovekie at Greens, White-winged Scoter regularly seen from state beach, surf scoter in the basin (becoming more regular), anytime a shoreline is mentioned please include – oldtails, common goldeneye, bufflehead, red-breasted merganser, black guillemots, horned grebes (this year’s special), common eider, and some great cormorants and barrow’s goldeneye. Thank you.



Final clues….Running track riddle – clue #5 – if you look at this track and can see the mink coming at us, you can see its working really hard – lots of bounds of short distances – but the tracks are clear. Whatever its dragging, its holding it in its mouth, but the “victim” wasn’t phat enough to tilt the mink’s head down and leave an imprint in the snow. (Follow me? – the mink tracks are clear and pure). 


Running track riddle – what we know - VSR guess – well, at this point I think we all agree that the mink is carrying something in its mouth, and that something is hanging on the right side of the mink and its tracks (in the photo). That something being dragged in the snow has to 2 points which make the final imprint and track in the snow (with me?).


VSR guess – can you picture this mink carrying a young lobster, large craw-dad size (maybe bigger), by its tail/abdomen, with claws dragging behind. The claw drags make the tiny ski trails. or maybe the lobster tail drags like this, and the mink has the lobster by its head. i don't know.

We are speculating for sure, we didn’t see the mink do the drag. Fun to think about, fun to visualize. Can you see the mink with the lobster bounding towards you? In all depths of snow? or does it have a crab?


mink across old habor pond
look at the distance between bounds
when not dragging something.

More about Mink – something is up with them these days. Earlier in the year with the deeper snows the mink trails were few. Much activity in tunnels in the snow, but even with more recent snows and melts no long distance mink trails were found, and limited wandering off their historic paths. With this last snow (2/24) the mink activity has been impressive. More than the dragging shots for sure….
outside the tip-toe mink den

 mink den at old harbor pond

(2/24) snow event – I found 2 new (for me) mink dens – one at old harbor pond and one at tip-toe mtn., each frozen pond had mink trails crossing, and the woods showed much mink activity this week. Trails everywhere.   

mink tunnel thru snow and ice into water

mink trails between ice holes


otter on snowshoes?
Otter stuff – too much. And so we have snows…and each has become an “event” for us tracking wise. (Do they really name winter storms now?) Each “event” holds lessons and discoveries unique to their own. As the sun and wind work the snow those lessons quickly fade. Timing is essential and there ain’t “never been a better time, then right now!”

otter are in charge of clearing their own dens.
this is den #7 covered in snow


Editor’s note -all of us at the VSR toss out a big thanks to the town crew and associated folk for all the work they do to keep things moving on the island.


The snow event that was the weekend of the 9th/10th was a doozy. Prior to the storm, the Old Harbor Pond (OHP) otter scene had been getting hot – our group of 4 otters were joined by a 5th for a week +, which then left the group (the 5th one that is) and finally a group of three otters were photographed coming out of a whole in the ice  in Carver’s Pond. Check out the mid-February VSR (the last one) for more details….


yes, the fins and the snail shell
went thru the otter's digestive system
And just when you thought you knew more than nothing, you find you really know littler than that. After the snow we found 0, zero, zilch, empty set sign of the otters for almost 2 weeks. Den #7 remained covered in snow, den # 4 was iced in, and the pond snow melted, was replenished, and melted again slowly with no otter stories to share. We went from “they were here yesterday” to “we have no idea where they are” in one event (even though we had some guesses). Good reminder, let’s not get ahead of ourselves too much…otter don’t tunnel, Charlie don’t surf and belly slides across the deep snow may be tough – did they stick to the coast or focus on another core area in their turf? <<<Place your guess here>>>

dug out entrance to den #7
 We even had another storm (2/17), with no trails seen on the 19th or from the road other days. On the 23rd (Saturday) I took a closer look before the next snow event (2/24) was scheduled to arrive. There were signs of otter activity that I would guess were from 2-3 nights before (Weds 20th & Thurs 2/21). The overall trail was patchy and windblown.  Den #7 had 4 entrances re-dug thru the snow (only to get covered in snow again the next day (2/24)!) and the otters had apparently spent a night there – coming in from sand cove. A patchy trail showed that the group left the den the next night (2/21), travelled along the east shore of OHP – in and out and under the ice, checked out (but did not dig out) den # 4, and then headed to Old Harbor Pond and beyond.

there are three more holes
that the otters have dug
to den # 7

An interesting note with this trail was that with it being 2 (windy/rainy) days old it was hard to determine how many otters were involved. Clearly there were at least 4 otters. And so maybe the original group (the one that still had Syd or Pigpen) did not break-up after all. Possibly one otter remained under the ice or was hunting further along the shore when Ali McCarthy got her photos (2/7). We don’t know.


4 or 5 sets of otter tracks?
So we had four, but was there a fifth? The photo here captures the only set of tracks I found where the group spread out.(much of the time they travelled under the ice- fishing their way along the shore). In the photo they jumped off a rock and into the snow on the frozen pond. The trail was very vague after and before that point, nearly non-existent in my view. In the photo you can see - 4 sets together on the left, but what about that snowshoe hare looking track off to the right? Inconclusive at this time. The trail was fun and challenging to follow, reminder of how good fresh tracks are.

beauty, eh?

Also visited that day - Norton’s Point (2/23) cruised some of the shoreline looking for otter latrines and was able to find 2 spots (new latrines) where the otters leave their secret (and not so secret) messages. Prominent ledges, easy to predict where they’d be. Also found a new latrine in OHP that day – 3 latrine day, ain’ that “the spraint.”


first view of old harbor pond
otter and mink belly slides in front

(2/25) OHPhit the ice the day after a storm – most important day for tracks. Conditions seldom get better. I came out of the woods on the east side of OHP, and my first view of the pond had both mink and otter belly slides in it (photo above). Good sign. Before I got onto the ice I found a mink den (photos above). The otter was easy to track along the shore, and it was apparent that many otters were involved in making this trail. Once again, it appears that much of the travelling was done under the ice, including an under ice crossing of a 100 yards or so (no metric equivalent exists) between openings. Impressive.

back to 5

Back tracking took me to the north, about mid-way up the pond, where the otters crossed from the other side (the west shore) over the ice. The trail was slightly windblown, possibly travelled earlier in the evening the night before. Here it was clear there were 5 otters together again. Reunited and it feels so good. Mother’s little helper back again?
den # 8


The trail across the pond went to a stretch of shoreline I hadn’t tracked the otters before. And there below a property line (reminder of how important all habitat is!) along the shore was a whole lot of tracks, and a whole in the snow. Den # 8, first new den of the season! And the 3rd den known on OHP. That’s honorary Basin otter status. “Three den pond”, gunna be hard to beat that.  There you have it. The otters had spent the day of the 24th in the den at old harbor, riding the storm out. Within a couple hundred feet of a celebration for newly arrived  baby “Brady” – welcome and congratulations all around!

4 sets close and 1 lone wolf set near the branches
in the top left corner
The trail was followed as they worked their way to the south, where the otters refreshed a latrine at the shore (gave it “a topper” if you will), and then went straight into the sands without re-digging den # 7. Best part – they went right under a tree I had the camera set up on for over a month and got no pictures of otters.  Three days the camera is down and they walk on the roots of the tree and right into view. Classic. Also Interesting – if I had had my camera up I would have gotten photos of 4 otters as the loner #5 (lone wolf) cut around the other side of the tree and out of view of the camera. Good reminder that even good, solid photographic proof can be misleading.

this otter pushed off and jumped (towards the camera)
from a root of a tree that i normally have the trail camera in

Trips to Norton’s point and carver’s turned up no sign of otter.



the otters entering the water
for an underwater trail

With all the activity in and out of the water and under the ice, certain sections of winter routes on OHP seem somewhat established and are followed regularly for fishing and for access to dens. Are these the same trails followed when there is no ice? Summer trails, underwater trails? Doubt it for much of it, some trails are year round for sure, cool thoughts.


5 otters heading towards the Sands
And then there is tip-toe – things other than otters seen there – (2/26) 6 Pine Grosbeak, 16 Horned Grebe, Red-breasted Nuthatch, surf scoter, 10 old tail, common loon, raven, eider.


Two tracking visits to tip-toe – classic vinalhaven mammals - raccoon, snowshoe hare, white-tailed deer, red squirrel, vole, mice, mink, and river otter.((Quiz - What’s missing? (Answer : etoyoc & revaeb, yerg lerriuqs, stab, tarksum, swerhs). As noted earlier much mink activity was noted in sheer amount of tracks observed in the woods. Mink lobster drag and den mentioned above.

tip-toe skating rink

The river otter was somewhat expected, with the protected, isolated coastal wetlands – cattails and fallen trees – that feeds directly into the salt water. The place was just screaming otter. First visit, (2/22) – trail found, tracked along eastern shore heading into the wetlands. Sign of a single otter coming and going over the last few tide cycles in the mud – mud otter tracking!
otters thru the mud


on the snow with the floating latrine
On the snow the trail was mostly windblown, patchy enough though to follow well into the wetlands. At one spot the otter did its business right on the snow, creating a kind of frozen, floating latrine, the contents of which were largely unfamiliar to us and unsimilar to the scats we have found other places. The scat area also seemed to have a red dye kind of element leaking into the snow, a red aura. This was spraint of a different flavor, a quality unfamiliar to me.

"red aura"
At home I speculated on the red aura, which reminded me somewhat of mink estrus drippings in the snow we had found one march on lane’sred drops of blood in the trail. When I said latrine and estrus in the same sentence out loud I got the look that is to remind me of the obvious – “you know those are two different orifices” (like I needed that reminder). But it’s two (or three orifices really) and 1 latrine, they all go together when you are an otter and just passing thru.

red around the edges

 Messages are posted,

secrets are told,

and lives are exposed

at the latrine.  

Otter social networking. (Nothing anthro here at all!). Hell, she even left the white goo! It was a dream. I was getting excited, otter do that to me, but trying not to get ahead of myself.

maybe she ate some beets
(that joke gets better every time)
(2/26) tip-toe - we gave the otter 2 nights to be active after this snow event, and the return trip was fruitful. No owls (I think we all prefer evenings). Belly slide trail with sign of a few passings since the snow (2 days prior), trail was found quickly and followed to the west where the otter had access to the salt water. A latrine was found at a high point above the access point, and once again the scat was unfamiliar in make-up and had a red aura to it. Maybe she ate some beets. The pieces looked like crustacean – different kind of crab? Lobster like the mink above? How dare they!

the red extends all the way to the bottom
of the picture.

Could lobster make their poo red? - The long shot photo shows that the red dye appears to have been dripped as the otter either approached or left the latrine. After (or before) the spraint was laid (ain’t that beautiful), either way it appears to be “separate from the spraint”. Not the famous Supreme Court case Scat vs the Spraint. Anyway.


The trail was backtracked and soon took us into the very head of the wetlands. The otter had dug a hole thru the ice at one spot – to fish? To travel into a den? Could be den #9, asterisk there. Inconclusive, delisted to a simple “ice hole” (as in “ you freggin’ ice hole” – Johnny Dangerously).


den # 9. beauty

About 15 feet away was clearly the mother of all dens in that wetland, a beautiful two-level root mass, with access above and below (breaks in the ice). she was not there now, but she had been the day before. And the day before that, ridden the storm in that den. Cozy.


slide up to the rolling site

Before she headed to the ocean though, she belly-slid to her “local rolling site” and tore it up until moss, ground and dirt were flying. Here’s elbroch and rhinedorf –


“river otter are active and frequent scent-markers. They have multiple scent glands on each hind foot that likely leaves scents along their trails and at latrines. Like all of the other members of the weasel family otters have highly developed anal scent glands.”!


rollin' and tumblin'

I’m sure they want everyone to know that. She certainly left her mark at this spot.


A good snow event – 4 new dens in 24 hours – 2 otter and 2 mink. Good snow, good show.


granite island tracks

Otter sign also seen : granite island, greens island (Peter Drury), State Beach

backwards rock chuckin'

And it was a special snow event, as there was no wind for like 4 days.

You throw rocks into the sunset and search for buried treasure on days like these.



And snow shoe everywhere.

And look at the moon and Jupiter and Saturn in comfort.



We’ll see you out there!