Brought to you by

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


Saturday, February 9, 2013

          Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report  
February 9th ,2013
Made possible by VLT, MCHT & U
“is that a stinkhorn?” leify asking me 
about my Cordyceps tattoo

Highlights – Grey Seals on Seal, Feeder birds featuring a Carolina Wren, Dovekie in the harbor, Ross’ Goose, Owls, Crossbills, a mid -winter Mushroom quote, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Yellow-rumped Warblers, other stuff

old harbor

Upcoming events – Basin Snowshoing and Tracking, Sat. Feb 16th, 10:30am– as I type we are being covered under a spraintload of snow. That is somewhat promising for next week’s snowhoe (still 7 days away if you count by 1s). Anyway and regardless, next saturday February 16th,at 10:30am MCHT will be sponsoring a snowshoe/winter walk in the Basin to get out and do a little tracking. We’ll be meeting at Skoog Park to carpool. Be prepared to explore. It’s part of the “Great Maine Outdoor Weekend Festivities” – check out their website at …

winter white sand beaches at state beach is ice

Contact us – if you have the need.  is the place to send sightings, comments, contact info, stories, concerns. We’ll read ‘em, we promise. i hope that was the right address.....

Birthday Wish - goes out to Julius way, way out there in Fremont! Happy 3rd big man! Hopes its a good day...

don't be a grumpy face
because you fell on the ice
these are deer tracks
this mink had trouble
crossing the ice

Public Service Announcement – getting out onto ice is a favorite pastime of everyone. And while we highly recommend getting onto frozen ponds, just a quick reminder that ice is slippery. Even under a little snow it can be sketch. Get out there, but take your time, even if you are in a groove following tracks.

It’s when you let your guard down that you fall. Take it slow people!

Hey wait! -Where’s the otter stuff? – Everyone knows that winter on Vinalhaven means otters. (And owls – coming up!.) In an effort to keep things tidy here and somewhat short (too late!) here with this one, we’re going  keep the latest otter (and tracking) info and pictures of trailss and poop for a separate VSR to be put out shortly – few days orzo. you'll understand. there are too many otter photos and all are important for some reason.

Our apologizes to all those who turn the the VSR solely “for the spraint!”.  Your dreams will come true soon enough. Thanks for your patience.

so many seals
photo by Kerry Hardy
Sightings- In case you didn’t know this, you officially live near a famous Grey Seal breeding ground – referred to as a “rookery” on the internet, but more like a “sealery” I would think (right, john?)– doubt there are any rooks involved out there. Anyway, as mentioned in the last VSR, Seal Island (you know the island just over there) is loaded with Grey Seal this time of the year as they come ashore to give birth and breed. This year’s estimates have ranged from 300 to 1,000 (quite a range I’d say – counting by 17s are we?) but either way we are talking about tons of seals –  since males can get upwards of 770 lbs. Literally tons of seal. The real “big boys”. Anyway!

So how are they famous? They are famous because there is a camera out there watching them. That’s all it takes to be famous. It’s the Puffin Camera that the project puffin people (“puffinettes”) use to spy on puffins and puffin volunteers out on Seal, make sure everyone is working. Well, some puffinette bumped into the camera controls (at an undisclosed location) and accidently turned it on midwinter. The puffinettes noticed the island is covered with seals and the puffin people decided to share! Go to to see a live stream of what Grey Seals look like when they are getting snowed on. Rough day to be out on Seal.

Seal Island Grey Seal pup
And so the seals are there to connect both ends of the reproduction cycle. 100s of female Grey Seals (who can get to 440 lbs) come to Seal in Dec/Jan to give birth. They were impregnated last winter, almost for sure on Seal Island. Most likely they will be impregnated again before they leave – “Everytime you go to Seal you come back pregnant!”.  Anyway.

At birth, Grey Seal pups weigh up to 40 lbs (males) and 35 lbs (females) and are about 3-3.5 feet long. For the first 2-4 weeks they are covered in thick, white, woolly  “lanugo” pelage which makes them look extremely cute (judgment and fact)

nursing bliss
photo by Kerry Hardy

The mother Grey Seal stays ashore and nurses her pup about 3 weeks (15-21 days). A mother seal can lose up to 13 lbs a day while producing milk for her youngster. Quick math and you realize at 20 days of nursing the females may lose something like ½ their body weight as her youngster bulks up.

So why don’t the females go back and forth to the water? Cuz the “big boys” are there. You see, while the Grey Seal females are there primarily to give birth, Grey Seal males are there for the action. Hot seal action, if you know what I mean. And it ain’t always pretty – you be the judge. Male Grey Seal compete for rights and opportunities to mate with females, and each male may try and control around 6-7 females – somewhat harem like – mating with them throughout and defending his turf from other males.  The dominance dynamic between males change over the weeks and a female will end up mating with multiple males during her stay on the island. Once she weans (stops giving milk to) her youngster she heads out to sea. Her path to the ocean is a sketch ball one, with sneaker males in the grasses, on ledges and even in the shallow water, all waiting for a chance to mate. She ain’t going thru that more than once. Once she bails the pups are now officially on their own.
big bull
photo by Kerry Hardy

Now, it would probably figure that the freshly mated females would have a year long (or so) gestation period for their unborn, since they won’t give birth until they come back next winter. This is not the case of course, cuz while the female may have a fertilized egg in her, it does not connect with the uteral walls immediately. Instead, Grey Seals (all Pinnipeds for that matter) practice (safe) “delayed implantation” where the fertilized eggs floats in suspended suspense (up to 100 days (varies with individuals) with Grey Seals). All the while the egg is not growing, not developing, just floating. Taking a little diapause, so to speak.

What’s the delay? While delayed implantation has evolved (there’s the “e” word again) something like 17 times in mammals for a variety of reason, for the Grey Seals (and seals in general), the delay most likely has to do with stress on the females and timing of births. An exhausted, starving female who just “gave her all for the team” could use a little time to “restock the reserves” before taking on the next part of the cycle.

The result of this delayed implantation is that Grey Seal pups are born at the same time (roughly). The first few weeks of life on Seal are a dangerous time for a seal pup. There are big males defending and chasing around, males that will cruise over and crush pups that are inbetween them and a rival male. This crushing can lead to death (think of it a 770 lb running over a 40+ lb. morsel – that can lead to head trauma). Crushing being one of many ways a seal pup can die out on Seal (how 'bout freezing in a Nor'easter?) and that’s when the eagles swoop in to feast on crush pup carcass (& upwards of 50 eagles can’t be wrong). If you are the only pup on the island, and the males are trying to get to your mom (and maybe your mom only), your chances of getting crushed are pretty good. And so it’s protection is in numbers, with 100+ pups and lots of females, the thought is a pups chances are better. Anyway, we’ll talk more about delayed implantation with our tracking VSR as it is a shared characteristic between grey seal and river otter.

Anyway, that’s your Seal island scene in a nutshell. Thanks to Kerry Hardy for sharing his photos from a recent visit to Seal. Check the webcam.
sometimes it snows on lane's

Round the island - Dovekie spotted in the harbor by Willie Drury...Erin Creelman reports Great Horned Owls hooting with extreme robustness near Round Pond... Red-necked and Horned Grebe spotted from a single ferry ride- 2 grebe ferry rides are speccial -(2/6) 2 Great Cormorants in breeding plumage as well....White-winged Crossbills & Golden-crowned Kinglets thru the woods...Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers seem pretty obvious these days...Barrow's Goldeneye in the Basin....15 Yellow-rumped Warblers, Butterbutts seen  at Lane's (2/3)...murders of crows in the Basin and Seal Bay....Ravens also drawing a lot of attention these days....Kingfisher still at Old Harbor and Basin bridges...

Ross' Goose from the breakwater
photo by Don Reimer

Almost from the ferry…. Don “pride of warren” Reimer, longtime VSR supporter and all around good guy sent in some shots of a Ross’ Goose that he took off the breakwater in Rockland. Ross’ Geese breed way the heck up north on islands in tundra lakes of Northern Yukon, Northwest Territories, and much of Nunavit. They overwinter in central California, the southern central US, and along the Atlantic Coast from Delaware to South Carolina. They seem to be rarely seen in Maine as “A birder’s guide to maine” makes no mention of them at all and there are no “green dots” in Sibley’s for Ross’ Goose in Maine. Either way it’s a cool bird and it’s been hanging out by the breakwater at low tide and up at the Samoset with Canada Geese other times. Tough choice. Another “could have seen from the ferry” bird.       

carolina wren and junco friend
photo by Bob Delsandro
white-breasted nuthatch
photo by sally

tree sparrow
photo by Sally
Feeder Scene - it's all about Skin Hill. -  Sure, we all know Sally and her pretty fabulous feeder station up there on the top of the hill, but have you met her neighbors, the Delsandros, and seen their feeders? Well, Bob & Gloria & Sofia & Marcel had a cool visitor to their feeders for a stretch last week. A Carolina Wren! (State Bird of South Carolina). Carolina Wrens are more commonly seen south of here - like on Monhegan Island - but as far as i know (which is not much) this is the only one spotted on Vinalhaven in the last 8 years. Super cool work at attracting, spotting, identifying, photo capturing and then sharing. with us. Keep your eyes open for this one!....

photo by sally
...and Sally sent in some nice ones of some recent visitors to her station, Enjoy...
and thanks sally!

Quote of the year 2013 club “…walking at Huber the other day and we saw this big orange (hand jesture) blob thing on a stump”. Ed Conway.

Huber - Ed spotted my personal favorite Orange Jelly fungus on the island. This orange beauty stands out on it's own along the trail. Good spot Ed!

Can't wait to get out into the snow out there! but i will. I think we'll build us a snow pirate ship or something.

Leify's been spending time as a pirate invading the woods looking for secret hideouts. Leif's shipwreck was next to the barn. (for the record - the captain morgan box is his pirate stuff. i've never tasted the stuff before, got the box from the store. i'm sure you believe me...)

so the woods are safe and its time to explore! well, maybe tomorrow...

see ya out there!