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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, February 14, 2014

Welcome to the Vinalhaven sightings Report

February 14th, 2014

Big thanks to VLT & MCHT

“Its making my head spin how many activities we can do” – step brothers


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Highlightsowl activity, otter activities, alcid activities – including Dovekie and Common Murre, and non-active horned grebes, beaver activity, ice photos, other stuff


Business: Upcoming activities – The Sunday of Presidents day weekend (Feb 16th) can only mean these 3 thing – (1) jumping in the water at the polar bear swim! 11:30am at state beach to benefit the library!, (2) going home and warming up, and then (3) heading back to state beach to track otters and whatever else we find. We’ll meet at Skoog to carpool at 1pm for a snowshoe/winter walk (Sunday Feb. 16th!). I’ll have my scope and we’ll take a closer look at stuff. See you there!

3-toed and bold, baby

Other things - Mystery Tracks, photos group #1 – Stumper set of tracks found in the neighborhood. See if you can figure them out. More to come lower, lower, lower down this VSR…

odd trail pattern

Photo quality admission – while fumbling with my tiny camera in cold conditions (2/4) I somehow (I know exactly how!) lowered the “megapixel” setting on my camera from “lots” to “crappy” levels and a set of otter track photos in ice were compromised in quality. The shots were too cool to not include even in their crappy state. Just to give you a heads up to you otter freaks that some shots do not meet your standards but have been included anyway. Just deal with it, and that goes for me too!


snow angel
photo by Michael Seif

SightingsMichael Seif, of  fame, is a nice guy with a camera who was in the ARC at least once this week. Whatsmore, he was kind enough to send in some wonderful shots of wing and body imprints in some Lane’s Island snow (I know you recognize that snow).


photo by Michael Seif
(2/12) Fresh wing imprints in the snow on lane’s will take the dedicated VSR reader all the way back to December when the Whites sent in photos of Long-eared Owl imprints (actual photographer of imprints up for discussion apparently – not to bring that up). Owl sightings have been low ever since, like zero, but that’s not too surprising when it comes to Long-eareds.  In fact, one might say that ”Long-eared Owls overwintering on Lane's are pretty much nocturnal unless starving or stressed, so not seeing them is kind of expected. And that's how you know they are there and doing well, by not seeing them! Or something like that.” Yes, I am quoting myself.


Anyway, Michael found these imprints along the loop trail closest to the graveyard (creepy). Roughly the same area where the Whites found the prints in December and close to where I watched a Long-eared hunting not too long after. Michael noted that it appeared the prey in the scene was dragged a little between sets of tracks. Possibly the owl nailed it and then hopped to readjust before taking off to feast.  We’re going to file these in the “most likely Long-eared imprints” file, which is awesome. Either way and whatever they are they are great shots – thanks for sharing!


this is for Javier
hot mess or icy moss?
Capt’n Pete, from the ferry– Here’s what Capt’n Pete (supposedly) sent in on the 4th - (2/1) – “Common Murre. I saw a murre twice. Probably the same individual. Second time very close and I got a good ID… 3 Red Necked Grebes.

(2/2) I saw many flocks of 20 to 30 Razor bills. 5-6 flocks so a lot of birds. Also there are a lot of Black Guillemots, 100's. There was a Golden Eye in Lawries narrows too.”


And sometimes he’s even looking when he’s not working – here’s a special edition of “on the water”- “Capt’n Pete off the ferry, but still representin’!”



 Not the ferry, on the way to Green's yesterday I saw a Dovekie!
Just outside the Tombs, I was able to stop (no schedule) and watch a little.
At first I thought it was a Black Guillemot changing to breeding plumage, little bird on the water lots of black, but no it was a Dovekie.

Stay warm, Peter



Nice sightings and kind warm fuzzies at the end.

beaver are back at long pond
and this is ice, not sure how these photos
got stuck together

Round the islandThorofare – (2/3) Northern Goshawk, Common Loon, Surf Scoter, Oldtails, …..Basin - (2/4) 2 Red Crossbill, 3 Bald Eagles, 3 Hairy Woodpecker, Beaver and Otter sign on Long Pond…Basin -(2/9) Horned Grebe, Surf Scoter, Old Tail, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Black Ducks, Common Loon…Reach Road – (2/6) – Sharp-shinned Hawk across the road… Carver’s Pond – (2/10) male Hooded Merganser…(2/11) Ferry Ride – Razorbill (3), lots of Black guillemot, Oldtails, Bufflehead, Black Duck, Common Loon, mustelid tracking
sharpie in the yard
Mystery Tracks!
more three-toed tracks

scales were big in this scat
Otter spraint – Reports of Otters are being reported to me while on the ferry and while watching kids skate at the ball ground. Stories of belly slides on Hurricane Island and along the shore of old harbor pond are looking to be shared, and now they have been. There is a significant otter population out here, and winter is the best time to get a feel for the activity out there (and around us). And with that out of the way - more of the never ending otter story/saga that just needs to be told…. – first up today – “before the snow

long pond was dry, as in not wet

First few days of Feb. were dry ones. And windy too. That left ponds looking like this….(Long Pond – 2/4)



And while we were jonesin’ (Hey Big Al!) for some new snow, the early month tracking was not all for lost as otter sign from a guestimated 10 days prior was captured “on ice”. Belly slides laid in snow evolved and morphed into ice slides and tracks actually located within the ice (I love this kind of tracking!). Here’s what we found…


Basin (2/4) – Long Pond – Belly slide from the outflow creek along the east side of the pond…Historic spraint latrines around the basin were found to be freshly marked as well…


in the ice
…(2/4) Old Harbor Pond – frozen slides. With no snow or tracks/trails for miles (or something like that) these isolated slides were fun to find. Close to the Old Harbor bridge end of things, 7 slides in formations were found together – 6 slides had the otter heading toward old harbor and one set had an otter heading towards the sands end of the pond. We figure that the 6 slides heading out were made by the “gang of four” possibly on two different trips. A couple of the slides appeared to be used by more than one otter (wider, multiple sets of tracks)– as in one otter following the next in deep snow. Or maybe 2 doubled back and came thru again….or maybe there were two others that came thru…or…bottom line – we don’t know.  What we do know is that there were 7 slides together, and they were cool.


wait! that's a three-toed

This was the last check in before the next snow, and we ended up tracking stuff from a week or more back into January. Classic….



you may be familiar with the
dock piece along the shores of
old harbor pond
(2/6) Old Harbor Pond thick with snow – the surprising lack of otter tracks on the pond was surprising. Deer and a domesticated dog had a ball on the ice that morning (not together), but no otters were seen to have been active. Here’s a note from Elbroch…   



sure shot ... to the pond
“Winter only really affects their basic activities when ice forms over water. As long as there is a hole somewhere nearby, they are perfectly capable of foraging under the ice. Where lowered water levels open air spaces under the ice, an otter may roam far and wide beneath the ice without needing to “surface” above it.”


nothing for miles and kilometers
Case in point, by the time I got close to the Mack’s Pond inflow I had given up on otters really. There were no trails across the pond, no tracks crossing the road and no sign of comings and goings to/fro established resting spots/dens. But then I came upon the piece of dock along the eastern shoreline (you know the one, its been there for a while). Apparently the "dock piece" was substantial enough to provide shelter for what looked to be a single otter.



first hole
If I had said “I have not seen otter sign at the “dock piece” before” then I would be correct, and the amount of times I have walked right by said “piece” is in the “many times” folder. But sign was minimal here as well – a 3 foot long slide that went between a still open hole in the ice and the opening to under the dock. Looked to have been crossed a few times…no other hole or crack in the ice for like forever!


otter trails in the woods look like this
Walking back thru the woods I came across another otter trail. This was slightly surprising in that the only otter sign I had seen at all on OHP was the “dock piece” otter sign. I followed this trail away from OHP, up and over towards Carvers. After a bit it became clear that this was a trail that an otter going “both ways” traveled the night before. The snow was fresh, and it ends up that this otter made it all the way to Mack’s Pond Road (Private) before turning around and heading back to OHP.


“Why the sea-ward matriarch reversed course and headed for shore is still a mystery” john beard


"the other hole"
with slides and a trail that goes right into the woods
and one that comes out of the woods
I followed the trail(s) back to OHP (are you with me?) where I learned quickly why I hadn’t seen this otter’s trails earlier in the snow on the pond. Because there weren’t any! This otter came out from under the ice about a ¼ mile south of the “dock piece” and immediately went up into the woods. Upon returning from its woodland adventure it re-entered the hole and assumedly went back to the “dock piece” fishing its way under the ice. Both openings in the ice were still open at 11am or so, so it seemed a little more than circumstantial that might be a connection between the dock piece and the trail thru the woods. Or I could be full of spraint.

another angle on the other hole

(2/7) a return visit the next morning showed that ice had closed up at both openings in the pond.


iced up access
So what? This all happening – a “new” den (to me) being used while 3 historic ones were available and a trail thru the woods that at times seemed confused (small backtracking and indecisive/”searching for a way” sections) which was eventually backtracked all the way to the pond- made it seem like this dude might not have been super familiar with the area. Or possibly it knows the zone about 100 gagillion times better than I and was just scouting. Or something else. Either and any way we’ll be keeping close tabs on the woods crossing with each snow. We’ll see…

this may be too big of a clue


And!!!! It’s another reminder of the under ice trails and activities that go on all winter with the otters!


Elaine's den is active
Carver’s otters – the classic “Elaine den” showed sign of hefty activity (2/7), and with the amount of slides and footprints “the gang of 4” is suspected to be of current residence. Looked like another example of otters heading under the ice for long stretches as their slides led to cracks and openings along Carver’s shoreline.
Big hellos to Willie and Elaine by the way



Tip-toe area – (2/8) a revisitation to  the classic den and marking zone told us that the otters hadn’t come thru in the 3 nights since the snow. That was fine, a separate marking spot and slide along the shore told of a few visits in the last few days, otters coming out of the salt water, sprainting and sliding back in. Tis the life.


What we did see from the car driving in was a spot where the otters came out of whitmore pond/crockett cove, crossed tip-toe mtn road and went up and over into whatever the little cove is to the west before you get to Brown’s Head light. On a map this is the shortest distance between Crockett Cove and said body of water. New cross island path for me – those are always special days…..


what is the minimal age for making torches?
this one is made from TP and safflower oil

mystery tracker - lacking three toes

And certainly more, but we are done here, as in its time to post!


when the torch goes out
a troll is formed
Thanks for reading and we’ll see you out there! Unless we see you first! Whatever that means!