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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


Monday, December 8, 2014

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings report – December 8th 2014

Thanks to VLT and MCHT for their continued support

“Otters are so easy”


awesome eagle shot
photo by Sally Conway

HighlightsBaltimore Oriole, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Bald Eagle, Tree Sparrow, Kittiwake, Red-throated Loon, Great Cormorants, Horned Grebe, otter stuff….


Last peeper of the year (so far) that I’ve heard – (11/25) on Reach Road.

yes, it's otter time again!


Business - Contact . send us your sightings, your photos, your comments and your email addresses (one per person should be fine). We don’t always check things right away, or get back to people in the timeliest of fashions -an acknowledged flaw in the VSR system – but sometimes we do. This last month or so has been a particularly difficult one for the VSR and the internet. We appreciate your patience and understanding. Should be all good now.


Upcoming event – owl’s head Christmas bird count – just to let folks know I will be on the 7am ferry on December 20th if anyone is interested in checking out birds and stuff from the ferry. The last stretch of our route to Rockland is within the boundaries for the owl’s head bird count but we will be checking things out from the beginning. Get your thermos, binos and some warm clothes and be there! Lots of breaks to warm up if needed. 


A 2015 winter snowshoeing schedule is being figured out outing. Let us know if you are interested!


this deer was an easy catch for the eagle
photo by Jim Clayter
Updates - Winter Moth Update – So it’s that time of the year again, and with thanksgiving having come and gone you know it’s just winter moth time. We have had a few significant snows, some pretty damn cold days, and yet if you time things right you may see the flight or have your house covered in moths. We refuse to write more than necessary about these bastards, so please go back to Winter Moth updates in the VSR archives – fall/winter of 2012-2013 should be about right for more information than wanted about our local invasive who at this point in the cycle wants nothing more than to mate and procreate on your deciduous trees (that’s right – YOUR  deciduous trees!). Gross, I know.
Bald Eagles appreciate deer hunting
photo by Sally Conway 


A well respected and pretty reliable source that “they” (the winter moth “they”) were seen around Thanksgiving. No mention about flights or number of moths.


(12/6) when returning from Lane’s after a big, phat zero (zeroes mean so much) on the owling circuit I drove thru some notably noticeable groups of moths both on Lane’s and along Armbrust Hill. Came home to Reach road to find male moths on the windows. Seeing a bunch on the road probably means there were more in the woods.
twas listening to my favorite Bob's Daughter song
when I popped this photo of this pipit


Word has it that homes in the library neighborhood had a good night (for moths) – with one house reportedly being “covered”. There are many definitions of “covered” of course.


So the first question was (as it was then) for you (the royal “you”) as follows – have you seen any moths? Probably. What you been seeing for moths?

otter spraint (get used to looking at it!)
looks like a gunnel backbone on top of the mound of scales

Big thanks - Thanks to those who sent in photos and stories this edition. And for the record, the phone is not an efficient way to contact the VSR staff, we acknowledge and accept full responsibility for our lack of timely phone message checking. In line at the store is a better way to get my attention.



Baltimore oriole at feeder
photo by Alice Bissell
SightingsBaltimore OrioleSo Alice Bissell from over  Round the Mountain Road way had this young Baltimore Oriole visiting her feeder recently. As far as “Sibley’s” is concerned it’s a “drab first year female” – she’ll grow out of it, just a phaze. Or so I think….


“Has made quite a home of the feeder” implying it has been there for an extended period of time.


Seems a little late for Orioles (don’t it?), and Alice got some nice video too!


Baltimore Orioles are often considered a welcome sign of spring (as well as a sign of baseball mediocrity) and are not often thought of this time of the year – especially after a few early snows have come thru. A check in the charts in the back of “Vickery, Pierson, Pierson (and palmer)” has the Baltimore oriole listed as a “rare” bird for the state of Maine for 2nd half of November and then for all of  December. Rare in this situation is described as follows…


”averaging 1 to 4 present annually in the state during the period”    


Which gets us to the second question – have you ever seen Baltimore Orioles at your feeding station this time of the year?

hot female red-bellied woodpecker action
photo by Sally Conway

Red-bellied WoodpeckerSkin Hill Sally got this beautiful shot of a female Red-bellied Woodpecker on her feeder recently. The male showed up not too long after. Always a treat to see, Sally is the only one reporting these that I have heard. Question #3 – have you seen any Red-bellied Woodpeckers lately? Official mascot of the high ropes course at Camp Muskingham on Leesville Lake wherever the hell that is….


a young Baldie gettin' in on the action
photo by Jim Clayter

Eagles – Skin Hill Sally and Jim Clayter took to the basin recently (not at the same time I think) and got some sweet eagle shots from the bridge. The basin bridge is a classic carcass dumping area for leftovers after a deer has been processed, and from the looks of the shots Jim got not much of that deer was used!


Anyway, lots of eagles around – and lots of deer leftovers for them to eat!

youngster on the wing
photo by Sally Conway 

Other birds – Green’s Island – John Drury reports a Red-tail and a woodcock – not together….Reach Road – Creeper, Woodcock….State Beach – Pipit…


OttersThey are easy? Really? - There’s no better way to reconnect with things after hunting season is over than to visit your favorite otter latrine. “The message board etched in spraint” is the true essence of what a latrine is. Such a regular and reliable (pretty reliable I’d say) part of an otter’s lifestyle - sniffing and poppin’ poop out - if you find a latrine out here you can be entertained for years.


My favorite latrine is in old harbor pond and is perfect in many ways. It’s an especially big one, with 50+ mounds from multiple otters giving their “2 spraints worth!”  It’s the local latrine associated with an established den that has had regular use for the last 4 years, and of course it’s likely that it was used for many years prior.


The latrine has been used by the infamous “gang of four” otters for at least two of the last three years and from what was seen on two trips the 4 may still be together (What?). (11/22) – A pre snow visit found the latrine loaded with spraints (70+ mounds), and scattered with the white stuff released from their anal glands. (That is so gross - sorry about that – I only type that because I have to.)  Clearly spraint from multiple otters. A visit to the den area showed recent use - Spraints in smaller numbers (maybe 20) and (at least) 3 active den openings being used.

"white stuff"

(11/30) “Normally” I hold my complaint about missing the first good snow for tracking for after the Christmas holiday (tis the season!) but I am happy to announce my recent disgust at the first “good” tracking snow happening over the Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving was great, don’t get me wrong!

not sure exactly what's going on in this picture
but it definitely came out of an otter!

Anyway, we (the royal “we”) saw what was coming (warm rain) and was able to check out the old harbor latrine and local den in the snow before any evidence was melted away. And so we (the royal “we”) only had one shot at tracking with the thanksgiving snow. This was going to be fun.


The local latrine was freshly marked, with amounts only a multitude of otters could leave (or at least a handful – give or take).


Brown snowcones, and interesting shapes and patterns found in bodily extracts frozen in snow leave were some of the highlights.
this is the route the otters take to get to
sand cove. notice the muddy snow in the
lower left part of the picture


The waterway that really wants to connect old harbor pond to sands cove also showed fresh (night before) mud and movement of what looked to be at least 3 otters - possibly more, too hard to tell from the mud on snow. Cool trails marking a reliable route the otters take to the ocean. The same rocks at sand cove that have been marked for the last 4 years were marked again. You can’t tell me these otters are not “tooooooo easy” – Flight and Willie – “white men can’t jump”.
and "there they go", muddy snow telling
tales of otter passing thru


closer view of muddy trails
ends up it was 4 or 5 otters

how cute are these muddy feet?

this otter's "undercarriage" was a bit dirty
cool tail and back feet prints

A visit to the den turned up more information.  Mud in the snow told us that the dens were pretty moist these days. One thing that turned up was that it was actually 5 otters moving from the den area, 4 in the “main house” and a 5th in a “guest cottage” just down the way – maybe 100 feet off. First use I have seen of this “guest cottage”.

three entryways into the main den

For VSR regulars, finding evidence of a group of 4 otters in old harbor pond should be no surprise. We (the royal “we”) have been monitoring groups of otters in old harbor and carvers pond for the last few years, believed to be the same group. It had been assumed that this group of otters was a female and young. Here’s a quote from “Elbroch and Rinehart” mammals of north America” –


“Throughout their range the most persistence social unit is a mother and her young, although other social groups are possible”.


dirty hole
These “motherly” relations last 9 months to a year or so. This group has been running for possibly three years at this count. So what’s the big deal?….well… here’s more from “Elbroch and Rinehart”


In coastal Alaska male otters in particular are highly social, with most forming groups and only a few remaining solitary. There groups can be quite large and last for multiple years and they appear to improve otter feeding opportunities rather than provide protection from predators. I northern California male foraging groups along the coast consisted  of 6 to 8 males that stayed together year-round. They hunted together, shared food and dens, and played with and groomed each other”.

otters are our favorites, but we don't play favorites

Alright – so we are not in coastal Alaska or California, but you get the idea – “the gang of four” might be a “gang of dudes”. The main den might be a “man cave”. We lost track of them last winter, but a den located between mack’s pond and cedar pond showed evidence of use last winter (200+ spraints found in last spring at the den).


Anyway, the coolest thing about otters being easy is that it’s only to a certain extent. We will never know what the genders the members of the “gang of four” are “aligned with”, and how could we? Otter sign is reliable, but only so much information is really shared. Get ready for lots more pictures of otter poop! Tis the season!

great corms - this one is for john


Ferry Rides - We were spoiled in early November with the impressive numbers of birds seen along the ferry ride. As of late I have been on some pretty tame rides - tame bird wise I mean, with early November in mind especially.


I have made several trips and I have some lists, but lists are boring. Not exciting. Highlights from the ferry rides – (11/25) – Horned Grebe, Black-legged Kittiwake, 6 Great Cormorants, 40 Buffleheads, 7 bald eagles…..(11/18) small number of Bonaparte’s gulls, northern gannet, black scoter, surf scoter, bufflehead, surf scoter, old tails….have not seen a razorbill yet, might need to ride the ferry more.

lego brownies are fun to eat

Once again the VSR staff will be on the 7am ferry 12/20 to Rockland if anyone is interested in doing some from the ferry.
sir fangar's saber-tooth walker
hard to get cooler than that!
apparently star wars is still going on
and what would a December VSR be without mentioning the birthday boy - Leif turned 6 on Dec. 3rd to a rockin' dance party/lego party.
see you out there!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report

November 15th, 2014

Proud to be sponsored by the VLT and the MCHT



Highlights – pipits, horned lark, harlequin ducks and a “bunch of other ducks”, grebes, bittern, raptors, short-eared owl, other stuff

black-bellied plover tracks

Contact us – . with sightings, words of wisdom, or emails to be added to our list. Thanks for reading!


Tiit Trick – click on the photos to enlarge.


just about all that remained of a peregrine falcon
photo by John Drury
Sightings Jamus Drury reports an Iceland Gull in the Bay.

 John Drury sent in this photo of some Peregrine Falcon feathers – leftover from a Peregrine that met an untimely death (or maybe it was time) at the talons of a Great Horned Owl. Doesn’t matter who are out here – no one is as bad ass as a Great Horned. No one.

Thanks for sharing John and Jamus!


Ferry rides are back in style again! – November is one of the best 12 months to ride the ferry and we’ve (the royal “we’ve”) gotten the pleasure to catch the 7am to Rockland a few times in the last few weeks. Here are some lists –


there are a lot of loons these days.
"loose bin"

(11/6) 111 Black Guillemots, 85 Old-tail Ducks, 69 Common Loons, 12 Bonaparte’s Gulls, 7 red-breasted Merganser, 6 Double-crested Cormorants, 2 Great Cormorants, 5 Surf Scoter, 4 Crow, Bald Eagle, male Northern Harrier, lots of eiders and gulls. 4 Harbor Seals


(11/12) 116 Old-tail Ducks, 98 Common Loons, 79 Black guillemots, 13 Bufflehead, 6 Bonaparte’s Gulls, 6 Black Ducks, 2 Red-breasted Merganser, Surf Scoter, Black Scoter,  Bald Eagle, Red-throated Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Purple Sandpiper, Great Blue Heron, 27 Harbor Seal, 4 Harbor Porpoise


Great rides on the boat –these mornings were the "warm after storm” sort of days, when you (the royal “you”) would expect new arrivals to be doing their "arrival thing". Brought in by the winds – big numbers of Oldtail Ducks, Loons and Guillemots – kinda bummed I didn’t get to 100 loons on the 12th but I think the 98 are the most I have seen in a day in Maine. Remember those 2000+ loon days at Pigeon Point, BAJ? ….Male Harrier hunting over the green island just outside the narrows was a nice one on the 6thPurple Sandpiper and red-throated Loon were a bonus on the 12th – really just glad to see so many birds on those trips…  Captain Pete reports a huge Double-crested Cormorant day (10/28) - thousands to a gagillion Cormorants migrated thru that day.

preening yellow-rumped at lane's beach

Lane’s Island – (11/5) American Bittern, Peregrine Falcon, Goldfinch…

(11/8) Short-eared Owl, American Woodcock…

(11/10) 4 Red-breasted Mergansers, Northern Gannet, Black Duck, Common Loon, lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers…

(11/11) Common Loon, Northern Gannet, Merlin


With lane’s it could have been the Bittern that circled the field when I was meeting with Jane Arbuckle (all around great person), or the Peregrine that flew over us minutes later. Or it could have been the mass amount of yellow-rumped warblers that are in the marsh, on the beach, flycatchin’, eating bayberries – basically doing their super adaptive thing.  Here's a video or two of Yellow-rumpeds in action...
It was the Short-eared Owl hunting the field crepuscular style that really got my blood pumping (or is it shunting?). There were fist pumps (or shunts?) and muddled calls of enthusiasm – muddled as to not scare the owl, but the most excited I have been (nature-wise that is) in a long time. Good times, and the short-eared is our (the royal “our”) bird. Super romantic. We heart Short-eareds.


State Beach – (11/3) – song and savannah sparrows, horned lark, 10 Red-necked Grebe…

(11/8) – 4 common loon, 7 Horned Lark, 15 Red-necked Grebe, Song Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black Guillemot…

(11/9) – 2 Horned Lark, Pipit, 10 Old-tailed Duck, 17 Red-necked Grebe, 10 Common Loon…

(11/10) – 10 Red-breasted Merganser, 42 Red-necked Grebe, 2 Horned Lark, Pipit, Song Sparrow, Old-tailed Duck, Ring-billed Gull, 2 Bufflehead, Common Loon, Black Guillemot, Pine Siskin...

(11/11) – Bald Eagle, 31 Red-necked Grebe, 34 Harlequin Ducks, 4 Horned Larks, Pipit, Red-throated Loon, Black Guillemots, Ring-billed Gull, 7 Red-breasted Merganser, Northern Cardinal…

(11/14) (after an AM snow) 6 Snow Buntings, 11 Horned Lark, 3 Red-necked Grebe, 5 Common Loons, Song Sparrows, Dark Eyed Junco

"lark's toes in snow"

Summary - State beach is a relatively safe place (feels safe, you know) to go during hunting season. It also happens to be a great place for November observing…The larks and pipit are cool and are dissected more below….At the tail end of a pretty good southerly blow (11/11) several groups of Harlequins Ducks were blown into Eastern Penobscot Bay (or maybe they meant to be there) close enough for easy identification and observation. Group of 11 Harlequins in the surf at Greens Ledge was the highlight. Only the second time I have seen Harlequins from State Beach. November also means Red-necked Grebe days at State Beach – high count of 42 so far, but there’s many more to come.  Or not, suddenly their numbers have dropped. And snow buntings! Good to see some back. Never seen a northern cardinal at state beach before!
this young surf scoter was in round pond.
and this photo is randomly placed in this VSR

premium habitat
What’s the deal with pipits, larks and snow buntings? Pipit and lark sightings have always been “noteworthy”, and snow bunting sightings are a little more special (totally biased here – acknowledged and accepted). Maybe they are noteworthy cuz we don’t see all that many of them. Take Pipits for example- I have gone years between sightings out here. Is that why they are noteworthy? Other than the intrinsic “pipits are beings, amazing warm blooded feathered things” I mean.

Pipits are small to medium-size passerines from the Family Motacillidae, a family which they share with Wagtails, cousins to a certain extent. So goes the old saying “…pipits are not wagtails, and not all pipits wag their tail, but of course our pipit does…. “ the family is subdivided into two distinct groups, the brightly colored wagtails and the drab pipits. “

snow on roger

“The most widespread North American species (of this here family), the American Pipit, was formerly lumped with the Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta). However there are substantial mDNA differences and they don’t interbreed where ranges overlap”. Sounds like two species to us!

So is it because “our” pipit – the American Pipit (Anthus rubscens) for Christmas sake! - was recently recognized as its own species? That can’t be it.  I mean really, what’s the deal with pipits?


I asked the most localist “passionate pipit person” I know – Palmer (of whom I am husband to) – what’s the coolest thing about Pipits? Amy immediately started beautifully “waggin’ her tail” , almost as if she had been waiting for someone to ask about the pipit dance. I didn’t get a video of that (but I have one etched into my mind) but I did get a video of a pipit waggin –


And so the old saying goes “…pipits are not wagtails, and not all pipits wag their tail, but of course our pipit does….” “Take back the American Pipit” speech and march on Washington

So there you have it the coolest thing about a pipit. Impressed?

is that it?” I asked the “passionate pipit person – princess palmer” (PPPPP), and that only got her all worked up – “they are bad ass! I’ve seen them at the top of a volcano in new Zealand , and in volcano country in the Alaskan peninsula. They pick some harsh places to be!”. Point well taken palmer – even here in the state (of Maine) they breed only in one locale – at the top (or close enough to the top) of mount katahdin. Katahdin is no state beach - don't get me wrong!


Alright then – so what’s the deal with Horned Larks and Snow Buntings? Surely aesthetics play a role in these species being noteworthy – striking pair they are.


Horned lark – Eremophila alpestris “Ground dwellers of open fields, lark’s are slender billed seed- and insect eaters.  On the ground they walk rather than hop” - here's a video of one searching for food.


Look at the Horned Lark range map and you will see most of North America covered – except for much of the unchartered territory of south/central Canada where no one lives anyway, so we as a species do not care about.  And yet even though they are found everywhere they seem to be a species that I just don’t see that often – except for on Cape Cod.

 here's a video of one doing a little feather stretch

lbj in snow
photo by John Drury
Is it this “infrequency of crossing paths” with them? Or is it that yellow face? Or maybe it’s the “horns” – (Palmer’s guess). Could be the huge Horned Lark flocks you read about “winter flocks, often immense, occ with snow buntings , Lapland longspur”, but somehow I have only seen on like one occasion –  thank you BAJ. Head scratcher.
false chantrelle in snow


For snow buntings it’s clear that their aesthetical beauty plays a role in their noteworthiness (sorry, looks go a long way with people diggin’ birdies). Especially for a sparrow – the family which has been voted “least impressive looking (ugliest) songbird family” for the last 45 years. Drab is the norm and this sparrow is hot. Or at least warm.

“Snow Buntings breed in the high Arctic in sparse, dry, rocky areas, such as shores, mountain slopes, and outcrops. In migration and winter they are characteristically found in fields, pastures, roadsides and along the shore”.

 “In winter, Snow Buntings are usually found in flocks, often fairly large ones. As they move through a field they appear to “roll  along, like blowing snow as birds toward the back of the flock leap-frog (leap-bunt) over those in the front”.


It all sounds cool – but really the reason Larks, Pipits and Buntings are noteworthy is because they are on island right now and easily observable! You may have already interacted with them if you’ve walked at State Beach. These are the tweeters that get scared up on the walk out to and back from the point with the picnic table. 

Alright, that’s it.  Put on some orange and get out there!