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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


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report – January 1. 2014
Brought to you by co-team MCHT & VLT
Happy freakin’ new year

May all your dreams come true this year, all the nice ones at least


Highlights – Otters and Owls including Snowy, Long-eared and Great Horned, plus horned lark, snow buntings, rough-legged hawk, double-crested and great cormorants, other stuff…


Business – contact – sightings, comments and the such.


Thanks for another year of support from MCHT and VLT. Projects like the VSR and Tip-toe Mountain would not happen without all the partners (it takes two to make things go right) – MCHT & VLT.

And let’s not forget all the VSR contributors & readers! Thanks again for reading, looking and sharing. Don’t expect to be thanked again til next year.  


Tiit trick – click on the photos to enlarge. We miss him dearly, especially around the holidays. Thanks for everything dad…and with that in mind


“Pussy Riot” – In the most recent VSR we professed our appreciation for cats (it’s true!, we are out of the “feline closet” so to speak), and now that our “favorite Russian punk band that no one had ever heard of” has been released from a Russian jail – just in time for the Olympics in that great progressive “country” (not to get too political but the VSR does have an Estonian bias here) – it’s time to share a link in a recent Bangor Daily News about the feral cat situation in Maine. Fun reading for a new year! Enjoy! the way - no cat people wrote to congratulate me on being a cat hero. We don't do it for the glory, but where's that kitty love?



And by the way…the neuter and release thing doesn’t work……


Hot topic - “Poop in a bag” or “Piab” – Onto dogs (or continuing with the dog topic) - a few VSRs back we mentioned a curious happening of “Piabs” being left (and thusly found) along a few of the trails on the island. We at the VSR are certainly fans of poop in bags (especially if they are lit on fire) but at the time we wondered what statement “they” (dog and owner) were attempting to make by this moronic gesture. We (the royal VSR “we”) understand poop bags being left in parking lots as a call for the need of garbage cans in parking lots, but bagging poop and then leaving them along trails a distance from trailheads, well, we just don’t get it.  On the surface it seems kinda stupid – why even bother “baggin’ that doo” if you are just going to leave it in the grass or moss. It has been proven that both grass and moss love poop! Here’s a link to a “blog” (not an article or necessarily to be taken as fact) about dog poop and lawns. I love link, but if you send me one I probably won’t go to it. It’s the way I am- happy New Year!



Over the years poo enablers have mentioned that maybe (maybe!) folks left them (“piabs” along the trails) with the good intentions of picking them up later – like on the return trip to the parking lot or a week later or what have you. That does not seem to be the case as these bags lasted days until, well, I picked them up.


A curious perspective on the topic comes from Banner Moffat of Crockett Cove who mentions…

I think maybe you have someone from Southern California on the island. In recent years we have had a big problem with hikers "dutifully" putting their dog poop into plastic bags and leaving the bags along the side of the trail or on the ground at the trail head. These are trails in National Forest or State Forest where picking up poop is not even required in the first place though it is nice not to leave it in the middle of the trail (the way our many coyotes do to mark their territory). In places it gets ridiculous with a string of colorful plastic bags along the trail smoldering in the summer heat. Even though I spend a lot of time walking, biking and doing trail maintenance on local trails, I have yet to observe anyone actually committing this strange behavior. I would really love to quiz them to find out what they are thinking!   


My guess is that they are not thinking. Anyway, if we do have a “poo baggin’” Southern Californian (as opposed to a Bilbo Baggin’) on island it should be easy to spot them by the amount of plastic and plastic surgery they sport (generalization and joke! Not necessarily a funny one either). Please listen “Plastic People” by the Mothers of Invention on the album “Absolutely Free” (editor’s note – it is not free at all) or on Zappa’s “You can’t do that on stage anymore volume 1” to get more information on this topic.


“…I’m sure that love will never be….a product of plasticity……


And in conclusion, if you see someone with that “plastic vibe” walking a dog please tell them in a nice way that you hope they take “their bagged sh*t with them”.


We at the VSR officially don’t give a toot whether anyone picks up their dog’s poop or not. That said it’s just considerate to move it off the trail or out of the field at Lane’s. So flick it to the side with a stick or a rock or even your tongue– but not a bag! That’s just silly!


owl imprint
photo by Adam White
SightingsOwls – Snowy Owl – Doreen Jones spotted a Snowy “in her yard” at Roberts Harbor!


(12/18) Adam White recently sent in a “platinum tip” (keep the tip!). Adam had taken his (and Heather’s) dogs for a walk at Lane’s after some pretty hefty snow and estimated that he saw “40-50 owl imprints” along the trail (way cooler than 40-50 Piabs). The imprints were found mostly along the trail between sunset rock and the graveyard (creepy). Adam sent in some amazing shots he took of some of the imprints that day, sounds like a truly epic scene! Here's a little Adam White gallery...

what the heck is going on in this picture?
did the owl walk thru the snow before taking off?
photo by Adam White

The snow was a fine mix of powder and fluff, and was really deep (in case you didn’t know). Deep enough for critters to tunnel thru while being fluffy enough for owls to hear those critters and thusly dive into feet first into said snow in order to nab.   


another slide and take off
photo by Adam White


So, what kind of owl were these imprints from? Hard to judge size and species from photos but from historical knowledge a fair guess would be that these came from Long-eared Owls.


lane's owl imprint
photo by Adam White

In any case the slides and impact are impressive. Thanks for sharing Adam!


one less Long-eared to worry about

(12/19) Lane’s again – With this info we ventured out to Lane’s in search of more imprints and maybe a pellet or two (I am a sucker for pellets). The walk to Lane’s was full of distractions – (see otter stuff below) – but the visit to Lane’s was packed with good owl info laid in the snow.


On the beach I found this set of imprints (below), and enough Long-eared Owl feathers to realize that an owl met its end the night before. Another one bites the dust, as they say, and let’s all be honest – we are sick of Long-eared Owls!


the "crater" in the snow is where it looks
like the long-eared owl was nailed and
slightly defeathered
This is now the 10th straight winter of Long-eared sightings or sign being found at Lane’s, which makes it possibly the most consistent (known) place in Maine for Long-eareds over that stretch. In all likelihood they have been out there for years and you are bound to cross paths with them if you go there enough, at the right time, and they are there. That said, they are apparently somewhat difficult to find in the real world.


Anyway, the feathers along the beach tell a different story. In the photo included there is an “impact crater”  most likely created by the impact when this Long-eared was nailed. But who would eat an owl? Another owl maybe, a bigger one perhaps? A Great Horned was my guess, even though we’ve (the royal “we’ve”) have only seen one Great horned out on Lane’s over all these years (10 to be exact).


last licks for the Long-eared - Final imprint?
About 10 feet to the left of the “kill zone” was an imprint that most likely the Long-eared made moments before the (assumed) Great Horned nailed it. The long-eared went in for a kill and then was nailed not so long after takeoff. It’s all about being part of the food chain you could say. A story in the snow (on the beach!) for sure….


Continuing around the bend and over to where Adam found the owl imprints the day before sure enough there were a few new imprints along the trail. Funny, we’ve been seeing the Long-eared activity out there for 10 winters and these were the first imprints we’ve seen out there (Thanks so much for the tip Adam!).


(12/20) A crepuscular visit the next night turned up a live Long-eared Owl (we like live ones too) hunting the shrubs and trails just north of the graveyard. Fun to see a live one (feel like I’ve seen enough dead owls for a while) and this dude couldn’t have cared less about me or anyone else walking by. Bob (human) and Jake (dog, not his wife) passed by and Bob was able to catch a little bit of the show with my binos as the Long-eared continued to hunt from a handful of spruces for over a half an hour. Always seems funny to leave an owl, but it was getting dark, and the owl needed to concentrate on what it was doing.


(12/21) return to crepuscular lane’s – Milissa and Justin from Washington joined Amy, Leif and I for an evening trip to Lane’s searching for owls. On this night we saw no Long-eareds, but we did catch a long glimpse of a Great Horned Owl, hunting over by the houses and harbor. This owl will be referred to as “Big Pig” (thank you Kristen Lindquist for the nickname) as it is most likely the owl that macked on the long-eared whose feathers I found on the beach.


Question: “Owls eating owls? Isn’t that like cannibalism?” While cannibalism certainly happens in the owl world, a Great Horned owl eating a Long-eared owl technically isn’t cannibalism at all. The two aren’t even in the same genus, so it’s not even like if we (Homo sapiens) ate another Homo (like Homo erectus, historically speaking of course if you know what I mean).

this shrike was at State Beach huntng snow buntings

“What it is” is more of a statement about how badass Great Horned Owls are, they are the top predators on Vinalhaven. They have been known to eat Osprey, Great Blue Herons and I have seen them go after Long-eareds before (once on Lane’s of all places) – I bet Great Horned takes another Great Horned when the opportunity arises. So it’s not so much “creepy” as it is “everything is food”.


Also on Lane’s – Northern shrike, Northern Flickers and Yellow-rumped Warblers. And otters….


And so onto Otters….We have 4 otter trail sightings to report – 3 from classic spots –


otter slide off leadbetters
(12/17) Ferry ride – there is nothing “more funner” than tracking from the ferry. And the zone to look for Otter slides is from Pond Island thru Lairey’s narrows – a small stretch to scan for otter knowledge I would say! On the 7am ride out of Vinalhaven an Otter slide was seen on the southern end of Leadbetters, and clearly the otter slid down and off Leadbetters as opposed to climbing out of the water and up onto the island. The otter then swam over to Laireys and visited a classic otter roll and marking spot – one that has been used for several years at least….Captain Pete knows this spot – ask him, it’s part of his job.


otter marking and slides
Lairey's Island

(12/19) – old harbor pond to sands – for a few years now we have focused on this well used route, for no other reason than its on my walk to town. It’s also the only place where I’ve spotted otter trails from a car. Anyway, on my walk to Lane’s I spotted an otter trail on the pond and then followed where the 3-4 (I now think 3) otters crossed the road and made their way to the Sands.

makin' a run to the sands

It was cool to see where the otters spread out and made separate paths, and then where the snow was so deep that it only made sense for the otters to line up (nose to tail!) and follow the same path. They took a moment or two to spraint before sliding into the chilly waters down below (the ol’ spraint and slide!).

when the snow is deep it makes sense to go nose to tail
and form one track

the ol' spraint and slide into the sands


a big ol' otter cruised thru this habitat on Lane's...

to get to this frozen pond
and there it started diggin'
(12/19) – Lane’s -  while looking for more owl sign I visited the “little pond” (like tiny) on lane’s and saw where a big otter (figured to be a male) had slid on the frozen waters and seemingly tried to dig its way thru the icy covering of the pond. What was classic here was that its path to and fro the pond was thru steeplebush and bayberry – not really the classic otter habitat of our dreams, but it’s what you cross to get to the pond (otterly speaking).


(12/21) – State Beach – viewed from the spit there, an otter made its way along an historical path and marking spot, clearly seen with binos. State Beach is the first place I ever found an otter den. Special spot.


stud Belted Kingfisher "on the rocks"
carver's pond
Non-owl/otter stuff - (12/21) State Beach -  24+ Snow Buntings, 1 Horned Lark, 60+ Red-necked Grebe, Bald Eagle, Northern Shrike, 7 Common Loon, 15+ Oldtails, 8 Red-breasted Mergs, 5 Great Cormorants, 4 Common Goldeneye, Rough-legged Hawk…(12/21) Carver’s Pond – Belted Kingfisher, 10 Black Ducks, 15 Bufflehead, 1 Red-breasted Merg, 4 American Robins…Double-crested Cormorant reported from Harbor by John Drury

From John Drury - Double-crested Cormorant reported from Harbor , Red-tail Hawk, 20 Black Duck, Kittiwake, Ring-billed Gull, Loons, oldsquaw, around greens on boxingday, and purple sandpipers at bull rock..

here's a couple of videos from state beach - snow buntings video!

horned lark video!

Red-necked Grebe video (that's them floating in the waves)

And a Leify and mom shot in the yard.

2013 was a good mammal year for Leif -
he saw his first Bobcat, Coyote, Fin and Humpback Whales, and Elephant Seals
and then after that he saw his first Raccoon (all off island of course).
But really who sees a Blue Whale before they see a Raccoon?
Topped it off with Manatees over the holidays. (Don't forget his first King Bolete too!)
Hope your 2013 wrapped up  nicely and that 2014 kicks butt!
Rabbit, Rabbit!