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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


Friday, April 12, 2013

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report – April 12th, 2013
Brought to you by the kindness of MCHT and VLT



these purple things are flowers
Highlights – Mourning Cloak butterfly!, Skunk Cabbage, Captain Pete’s report, a great Great Cormorant story, fungus, Merlins!, woodcocks, owls, songbirds-a-singing and a-migrating, ducks-a-staging, eagles-a-eaglin’, new arrivals – eastern phoebe and eastern bluebird


Upcoming events – Basin Clean-up! Tomorrow, Saturday april 13th at 10am. We’ll gather at skoog and then head over to bag it, and tag it, and then eventually (Sunday) get it to Kenny and the kind folk up at the transfer station. Anyway, bring some gloves and let’s get trashy!

Tiit trick - click on the photos to make them jumbo

Sightings – Saw my (the royal “my”) first butterfly of the season, a Mourning Cloak (4/8) on Reach Road. Pretty sure that’s the earliest I have seen one on Vinalhaven, but that doesn’t mean much.

young cormorant
photo by John Drury
On the water….. Great Cormorants – (4/8) John Drury teamed up with Avian Haven and released a young, rehabilitated Great Cormorant back into the wild! (you remember Avian Haven -the birdyhuggers in Freedom. They are the people to call if you have an injured bird question (the bird is injured, not the question) – or at (207) 382-6761- for more info). Anyway, the details of the story are sketchy; we may never know the whole story! I’m not sure how many of us could handle the details! Here we go anyway - so someone, (a human), somewhere on the coast (the coast being wherever Great Cormorants might be seen) of Maine, possibly Boothbay Harbor found a young great cormorant and brought it to Avian Haven or reported it to Avian Haven (AH) and they went and got it. (AH offers free pick-ups form home or in the field! “free” may not apply to all pick-ups and to certain areas).


dressin' sharp and acting cool
photo by John Drury
Anyway, the cormorant was the Avian Haven for a limited amount of time (not infinity), possibly around two weeks or so, before John was recruited to release the bird near the Little Roberts breeding colony Word is that the cormorant swam off, but not without looking back one last time. Cool that John got such a hands-on experience with a bird he looks out for. . No confirmation about what exactly the cormorant was “rehabbing”, but rumors have been rumored around.


hot action and standing around can look similar
in a Great Cormorant colony - photo by John Drury
And word from the colony is that birds were looking sharp, displaying is heavy and love is in the air (all true except the “love” part). If you haven’t seen the Great Cormorants early in the courtship/nesting process,  then it’s ‘bout time you go! You don't want to miss the hot action (relatively) of a seabird breedung colony.

John says the Fluke will be in the water and ready to take folks out by May 1st, so reserve your spot to see the Greats now! 863-4962. Reservations also being accepted for your summer puffin and tropicbird (hopefully for a 9th summer!) pleasure cruise, nothing beats a trip out to Seal Island with John.
3 of the 40 or so Harlequins
photo by John Drury


Also seen that trip – 40 Harlequin Ducks


And a word from Captain Pete – we (or is it the royal “me”) are all jealous of the ferry crews that dreamily spend their days rolling in the surf watching for wildlife.  Captain Pete is full of stories (among other things) about his time on the water, and we appreciate his sharing his observations from the ferry… …like this story…


this is the state bird of Minnesota
” the Herring Gulls (were) in groups of 15 - 20 (and they) appeared to be eating the green hairy slime in the inter-tidal. Several bunches a couple of days. When we got close (off Lawreys Island) it sure looked like they were tipping their heads to "graze".


Crazy! Green hairy slime is not the same as Black Hairy Tongue (one of our favorite tongue diseases). Cool observation. Here’s what else Pete has been observing…

Harbor Seals - 50 more or less on ledges at Lawreys, all on the same ledge some of the time...Racoon at the tideline on Larries Island mid-afternoon (3/27)…3/28 Turkey Vulture over Rockland Harbor mid morning, One flock of Canada Geese flying NE 24 birds…Not as many Razor Bills. Only a handful all week….3/31 Two Great Blue Herons flying NE across the middle of the bay….The Black Backs have been on Green I. in the grass in pairs but not many. One morning there were two Canada's also on Green I.

Very cool and thanks for sharing Captain Pete! We look forward to hearing more about what’s being observed from the ferry's “3rd floor”.

And here's a video of the loon hunting via snorkeling....not from the ferry....


Merlins galore! – Last year was a bomber year for Merlins around the island. Many more pairs were observed displaying and more successful fledglings were spotted than in years prior (which means little to nothing – no scientific analysis going on here). Anyway, this week Patience Chamberlin observed that the “City Point” Merlin pair are back and displaying, Amy Palmer saw one of the “School yard” Merlins perched in a spruce across the playing field, and Leif and I spent much of (4/11) in the yard playing, but also listening and watching the “Reach Road” merlin pair call and display much of the day away. Good to have them back.

Greens Island - John reports American Kestrel, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker


hey ladies
photo by Karen Oakes
Brown-headed Cowbird actionKaren Oakes is back at it (bird photography wise) in her yard (or this time from within her house!) with some photos of a male Brown-headed Cowbird displaying while sitting on a bird house just outside her window. With her two coon cats inside taking notice. Originally interpreted as the bird displaying towards the cats, Karen’s research on the subject points to the likelihood of the Cowbird displaying at his reflection. They aren’t stupid enough to take on a cat, even this early in the breeding season.
if you ask me the cowbird is asking for it,
don't mess with Thunder (the cat)
photo by Karen Oakes


The thought of a cowbird taking on cats begs us to ask the question - If both the cowbird and the cat were put in a box and the box was shaken sufficiently to invoke chaos, who would you cheer for? Certainly any betting money should be placed on the cat; the outcome is not in question here. Cats killing birds is not a good thing (can we at least agree to that?), but what if the birds were disliked by many birdwatcher’s and biophiles in general.


taunting Levi
photo by Karen Oakes

You see, cowbirds are not from the area historically (north east north America), instead they are native to the prairies (central north America) and historically spent their days following Bison – good ol’ American Buffalo – eating bugs those big fuzzy dudes scared up. With this vagabond lifestyle (bison (and thus bison groupies) were always on the move) cowbirds opted to lay their eggs in other bird’s nests and let other species raise their youngsters (it was the right thing to do at the time) since they had never had enough time in one place for nesting! Anyway, to make a long story short – too late! - cowbirds are here now and coninue to lay their eggs in all kind of songbird nests much to the chagrin of the other young in the nest – which often die or are dominated (not in a good way) by the over domineering (huge) cowbird chick. Cowbirds are considered a main suspect as to why songbird populations have decreased over the years, putting them on par with (or even more so) Starlings, Shags and Squirrels (own pesonal beef with them) as far as how despised they are.

And so we return to the hypothetical – who would you cheer on? I think the answer is the cat. That should make cat people (people who like cats, not the movie) happy.  

there is an otter slide somewhere
in this photo

Other songbirds stuff around the islandKaren Oakes reports a Savannah Sparrow in her yard, first we’ve heard of this year…Carolina Wren still visiting feeders on Skin Hill as well as Northern CardinalsEastern Bluebird spotted out Robert’s Harbor Road way….Lots of Song Sparrow and Grackles around the island…White-breasted Nuthatch spotted out on lane’s (4/11)…Yellow-rumped Warblers plentiful at Lane’s Beach…Eastern Phoebe (4/11) at the head of the Sands…Kinglets and Winter Wrens started singing this week, adding to the songs of Creepers, Chickadees, and Juncos for a little forest chorus…Red crossbills heard on Reach Road (4/9)…

around the island - woodcocks are everywhere, great horned owls - heard from greens island, and heard and pursued by angie olsen and hillary bunker.

Seal Bay crystal clear. kinda
Ducks-a-stagingSeal Bay (as viewed from Huber Preserve) (4/3) 142 Surf Scoters…(4/8) 115 Surf Scoter, 25 Bufflehead, 10 Red-breasted Merganser, 5 Common Goldeneye… the cool thing here is that a month ago we had a “winter sea duck walk” at Huber and saw 0 Surf Scoter. These days Seal Bay is brimming with the energy of 100+ Surf Scoters actively chasing and establishing some sort of pecking order or pair bonding. While other duck species seem to have couples figured out, Surf Scoters in Seal Bay look like they are just confirming crushes (ducky love), with breeding season pairing commitments still being worked out. Regardless, we love seeing Surf Scoter – “Poor-man’s puffins” was a description of Surf Scoters in Haines, Alaska. (this is all true (to the best of our knowledge) except for the “ducky love” thing)....this just in - Captain Pete saw a bunch of Surf Scoters (130-150 - not sure what he was counting by) flying to the north east. It's time for the overwintering waterfowl to move it on out. Calm winter waters are getting more active as i type - which is very slow, so probably doesn't mean much.

Captain pete also reports an osprey in rockland. 
this pair of Hooded Mergansers
was on Old Harbor Pond
photo by Jim Clayter

Ducks - Jim Clayter sent in this photo of a pair of Hooded Mergansers that visited his end of Old Harbor Pond. First time Jim has seen them on the pond - good eye and way to have that camera handy... 

tasty treat? skunky

Skunk cabbage – latest in the 6 or 7 part series. We lost track of where we are in the series, so here we are with this… skunk cabbage can melt snow….can be eaten (deer browse?)….and are just starting to shoot up their impressively large honking leaves. We’ve only just begun with the skunk cabbage – and we’ve certainly said that before….

no snow can stop
the cabage

here comes the food

hairy black jelly cups
staple of spring
Fungus – a couple of newbies popping up with warmer/moister weather, couple of spring classics

orange mock oyster on a spruce
fist i've seen on a conifer

don't forget to turn things over

this handsome array...
turned out to be
stalked polypores

Salamanders – spotted salamander drives this year have been tricky, largely due to timing of evening rains – do they really have to start at 9 or later? Anyway, we did get out a few times recently, and saw a bunch of the spotted buddies crossing Round the island Road. Egg masses should start turning up in vernal pools in a couple of weeks….Leif and I found this Red-backed Salamander in the yard over on Reach Road (4/11). A little early for Red-backeds (or so it seems but that really shouldn’t matter much), but we didn’t care.  

Spring peepers are peepin' away all over the island!


Back to the otters – so where were we? The group of 5 in Carver’s appears (once again appears) to have broken up as all trail camera photos in the area have been showing one otter at a time…(4/8) Tip-toe area. So I went back up thataway to see if the Heller Field woodcock had returned for another year of showing off, only to find that he’s either done (you know what I mean),  or had decided to  stay in Jersey – has everyone seen Roger’s shirt “I’d rather be in jersey” at the friend? Insane. Anyway….
this is a rolling site. torn up, sprainted apon,
scented for sure. from the tip-toe region
check out that trail
right to the den!


So I got up there a little early – plenty of time to check in on the otter trails, sign and den found about a month or so back. And man has this little otter been active. Take a look!

here's the trail from the den
to the rolling site

Heavily used trails, rolling sites and a slide into the ocean , all clearly observable without the aid of snow (granted wouldn’t have found it without snow to begin with!). A main den? Or just use over time?

i watched the otter go down this slide
not from this close

Whatever the case, the otter scene here has been wonderful and then to make matters even better I got to watch the (big) little weasel slide down the slide as I stood on a neighboring beach! 1st otter I’ve seen out here in 4 years! ‘bout freakin’ time. Anyway, the otter scene continues…

Quick update on leif - favorite songs these days are Wipeout (phish version), It's Tricky, Sure Shot, Shake Your Rump, and Feliz Navidad (El Vez version). especially wipeout. we have listened to this song a 100 times this week. No spraint. here's a video.... complete with robot dancing, zombie drumming and pausing along with wipeout.

but hey - we'll see you out there.....