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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


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report –
February 1st, 2014
MCHT & VLT teaming up for support


Highlights – Green-winged Teal, Ferry rides featuring Iceland Gull and an epic gull trip, Red-throated Loon, Horned Grebe, otters, accipiter at pumpkin ridge,

this burl looks pixelized on my computer
something about this reminds me
of zappa
First the bad news - Actual headline -
"Ice fishermen can no longer get beer via drones". 
What's the point of ice fishing or drones if not to bring beer to thirsty Minnesotans? I hope this doesn't mean no drones dropping refreshments to bird watchers.

Word of caution - Blogspot is acting a little screwier than usual uploading photos. Some photos appear "over pixelated" on my computer. This is the blog doing that, we are at the mercy of the blog....anyway, if some shots don't look right it's because it doesn't look right. anyway, we're going to roll thru with it. Hope at least some of these shots look alright.

If shots look over pixelated please be kind and imagine what it would look like better. Or something like that.

when seal bay freezes over
Business: Upcoming events…well, last week’s Huber trip last week was a bust, we mostly got weathered that day but Seal Bay was frozen anyway which wouldn’t have helped out with duck sightings. So – we move on and now we’ve got a new one! On Sunday, February 16th at 1pm we’re going to offer a “State Beach Snowshoe & Tracking” outing. Hopefully there will be tracks and snow. Either way, we’ll track our way thru the state beach area to 2 historical otter marking spots, tracking mammals, sea birds and whatever else we can find. 1pm, Sunday Feb. 16th – meet at Skoog Park to carpool!


This is an MCHT trip and is part of the “Great Maine Outdoor Weekend”, .  This name kind of implies that other weekends aren’t as great as this one to be outside. That is simply not the case, all weekends in Maine are great to be outdoors, and this one will be great as well, if not greaterer.


Seal Island Seal Cam is up! – hey – here’s something to look at on your computer that won’t make you go blind and is not reading the VSR! - The grey seal pupping camera is back on on (on) Seal Island and is aimed to satisfy all your grey seal watching fantasies (as long as your fantasies have them lying around popping out youngsters and nursing for the most part).!/live-cams/player/seal-pups-cam - It turns “on” at 10am for “live action”, but even if its dark out you can go to the website and watch a highlight reel – with births and battles and eagles caught on film! Anyway, check it out!  


snow covered roger - from huber


some, if not all of these ducks are inbred.
Big thanks – to Susan Raven and the “Perspectives” afterschool program (ARC & PIE) for inviting me (& MCHT) to help out with two afternoons of bird watching with pre-K – 5th graders. It was super fun, we saw some good stuff, everyone got to use binos and all went home with a bird feeder! Thanks again – looking forward to the next session!

let sleepin' green winged teals lie
scopin' out the starlings!


green-winged teal
we'll let you guess who took the shot!
Sightings – Green-winged Teal – probably the most popular bird on the island over the last couple of weeks has been the Green-winged Teal that looks to be over-wintering at Carver’s Pond.  It has been spotted and reported by a small handful (missing 2 fingers) of observers over the past month and a half. Originally spotted in December by John Drury (see those old VSRs if you don’t believe us. Might have been November.), the 3-5 kids who came to the “perspectives” bird watching session got great views of it thru the scope, sleeping and standing on the ice. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen one out here, but we don’t “scan the pond” like we used to when we lived just down the street. Figures. Here’s our list for the days:  

nappin' with the big boys

Anyway, the best (judgment) Green-winged Teal report and photos were sent in by Sally, documented in this “skin hill sally - off the hill” special edition. Apparently Sally spotted the bird while at work, trekked up the hill (that’s “skin hill” to you, buddy) and schlepped back to the back of the store and got some great photos of the bird. Being keen on things Sally then went back and looked it up in her bird book. And it was a “field guide success” story – correctly identified and a new bird for sally to brag about – VNM! Congrats!


wolf's milk and snow
Accipiter at Pumpkin Ridge – Jim Clayter reports seeing a small hawk with a long tail hunting low in shrubs and even heading to the ground in his neighborhood. Sounds like an accipiter and Jim narrowed it down to Sharpie or Coopers, and as hawky people now a quick view is often not long enough to tell those apart!



ghost lichen
Anyway, Jim’s feeders have been active -doves & juncos, jays, cardinals, chickadees, nuthatch, sparrows – not as quiet as other parts of the island. Anyway, Jim has mentioned he’s never seen an accipiter hunting birds at his feeder. The Sharpie or Cooper’s Jim saw recently was not hunting his feeders either.


From the ferryPete’s report – Captain Pete earning the big bucks by pulling his weight and looking for wildlife while driving the boat – with his knees perhaps? Here are some words - “straight from the crow’s nest”


windsor orange number 34

day one
“Leaving Rockland at 4:30 on Tuesday, 1/28 we saw a lot of gulls. At the mouth of Rockland Harbor, near the breakwater lighthouse. Three "kettles" near each other but distinct with some overlap. Several hundreds of birds. I'll say 500, it could be 1,000. They were all "gulls" hard to get species at height and with the sun behind them. 500 to 1,000 feet up, not low over the water.

For a few minutes we watched, then the gulls started to stream west. Toward Rockland or someplace else. It appeared that the western most birds started to go then the others. Against the clouds you could see individuals in the "kettle" start to soar west.

It got dark and we were moving away. I thought it was cool. Maybe I was just bored. Lots of Razorbills this week too.

8 days later
More from peter…


1/17 One Iceland Gull at Rockland at noon
1/19 Lots of Black Guillemots (100 more or less) and Razorbills feeding just west of "FT"
Great Cormorants around too.


Thanks Pete – also from the ferry – non cap’t Pete- 1/16 – lots of razorbills, handful of kittiwakes, Red-throated Loon

 Great Horned Owl - Vinal Cove - Erin Creelman reports seeing a Great Horned fly over the cove.

Our otters….alright, so I was researching on the “wide world web”, I did a “something” search on “river otters spraint estrus” – along with many readers at home. A link with photos came up, including some shots of what looked like tracks in snow. I said – now those look cool – and when I clicked on them I found out they were from a VSR last year!  My own photos! What a world.


yes, we are still finding this
white goo

Carver’s Pond - Johnny McCarthy (member of the Johnny & Ali McCarthy team) pulled over the other day to tell me about a family otter sighting. Yes, it was both a family of otters (must have been 3 or 4 – “pond otters”) and several members of his family were lucky enough to see it – Johnny was not one of the lucky ones. “Bella spotted them” Johnny confided and its no surprise that she did - Bella being the resident 3rd grader with eagle eyes for wildlife. It should be noted that Johnny mentioned all this while parked head on into traffic on a blind curve with like a 45% slope (editor’s honesty - we have no idea what percent slope it was). Well, we all survived and Bella’s sighting goes along with some of what we’ve (the royal “we’ve” ) been finding at old harbor pond.


this is a confusing one. the otters
are going away, 3 otters in 4 lines
they stop almost at the top and
then retreat to the right
there is some back and forth
towards the bottom
“Coming and goings” Snow tracking has been on this side of the “pretty lame” line for a while, but with conditions being what they are/were (and appear to remain being (what?)) we did catch a glimpse into the otter world after a snow ended late afternoon on (1/19).….(1/20) Looks like the Pond otters or “gang of 4” (noted from December and above) came out of the Old Harbor Pond den closest to the Sand’s (south den), headed out to the salt water for an evening of fishing and frolicking, and then came back. They didn’t return to the south den that night (1/19-20), instead they headed up pond towards one of the north dens in the pond.


back and forth
The trails heading back to the pond are clearly fresher, which makes sense since they were made after the howling winds blowing snow all over the place subsided. Cool to see where they came and went. I especially like the visual of three otters running together and breaking thru the ice as one. The 4 were seen by Bella and family a few days later or so.


running together, breaking the ice
 all three end up in the drink
three for one

coming and going,
rather - going and coming
the bottom 4 sets are the otters "going pond"

access to/fro old harbor pond
muddy prints on the left are from otters coming out
two belly slides on the right are otters going head first

fresh otter tracks in my tracks,
made just the day before in falling snow 

was it something i ate?
this gooey number turned the snow around it red
(1/20 continued) The sweet spraint spot along “the banks of the sands” was freshly marked, with a spraintload of crustacean exoskeleton which was “bleeding red” into the snow around it (the spraint that is). A solo, red spot in the snow was located a foot away or so – or like a “third of a meter”. Red spots in the snow, and around the spraints, are something we have seen once before with otters –up at Tip-toe last winter. With knowledge and previous experience (personal experience, but not that personal) with Mink and “Red dots in the snow” the spots last year were figured to be at least potentially left as a sign of a female being in estrus or "heat" (that’s what mink do). Our research on signs of otter estrus takes us back to our own speculation last year. Can we use our own historical speculation as a reference? Bad form. Bottomline - we don't know what the red spots means.
Maybe its a big storm.

same crusty (acean) spraint - 7 days later


could have been the beets. or the crustaceans.
or the hormones. must have been the roses

Anyway, cool to see, and if we ever get snow again we’ll report what we find. Love may be in the air, but anyone familiar with river otter mating positions knows that love has nothing to do with it.


in the ice, many days later
Otter rebooted - (1/31) I got out on old harbor pond for the first time this season! There was little snow and tracking seemed to have a low potential., this prediction was acknowledged prior to getting on the ice. I wanted to check the den at the north end of the pond for spraints, figured that was about all the sign I might find. Wrong again baldy!


From the hefty pile of spraints by the north den it was obvious that the had visited this spot many times this winter (spraint here often?). Whether they spent the day (their sleepy time) of the 21st in the den could not be told, they weren’t in there at the moment that was for sure as the den was frozen shut. What was cool was a set of tracks in the ice that was found by the den area. Hard to tell when they were made, but all tracks to and fro had been wiped clean on the ice, I got the feeling these were made a while ago and were just in a protected spot.

spraints and a hole. icy den at this point


We (the royal “we”) then crossed the pond to see if the 3rd known den on the pond had any sign of use. What we found was old deer and fresh raccoon tracks, but nothing from the otters.

this raccoon walked across (what seemed to be) the only patch of snow on the ice.
seemed to go out of his way
i wonder if it was smelling
maybe the snow holds something


It was time to go, so north we trugged along the western shore towards the old harbor pond bridge, when I came upon a single, large set of otter tracks and belly slides heading south that were captured in the ice. As I worked north several more sections of this trail were found as well.
first slide found, big one


From watching tracks and trails morph over the years this frozen trail was probably made in the snow a while ago. With different melting rates in the nooks and crannies of the tracks and belly slides and the snow melting and refreezing (as ice) a raised trail in the ice/on top of the ice is created. There has been no new snow to speak of since the 20th, and the pond was de-iced by wind and rain shortly after. The tracks looked to be maybe 9 days or so old. I believe this was the local big male patrolling thru his territory.
Gettin' that  vibe
the solo ice trail
belly slide at the top

Anyway, going a little further we crossed 4 sets of frozen tracks and trails in/on top of the ice similar to the trail mentioned above, but these were heading north. They were made at the same time (roughly) as the trail heading south, with frozen trails and tracks such as these taking time to morph into this wonderful state, with many melting and freezing sessions.

frozen four. criss cross. criss cross
My guess, and its only a guess, is that these trails were made either on the 20th or 21st depending on if the “gang of 4” spent a day in the north den. Either way, the tracks made when they crossed the pond were gone, only the protected stretch along the western shore was found. The trails did not extend to the bridge, instead heading into a wetlands where a new latrine was found and possibly where the otters headed into the woods to get to Old Harbor. There was no sign that they headed back onto the ice directly from this latrine.


great kind of tracking,
where the otters slid many days ago

But, the otters have undoubtedly been back on the pond since the 22nd – fresh dirt at the entrance to the southern den showed that there has been recent activity. But with conditions being what they are and have been (and will continue to remain be?) the otters have left tracks, trails, and messages in a way  to otters – but not visible to me! In other words they have been scootin’ across the slippery ice for a week or more, but the only tracks I can find are from like 9 days ago. Such is tracking, always learning something but seldom is it living in the now. Days behind.
new spraint at a new latrine.
the otters have taken over


Anyway, it’s always great to be on the ice, and the tracking was better than I anticipated, but I am from jersey so I don’t get my hopes up very often.


Anyway – horned grebes at state beach and in the reach. Lots of the “regulars” whatever they are.     


Warm days for picnics at state beach, codl days full of legos (thank you farley!) and buddies coming over.


leif approves this picnic spot

Hope February treats everyone well, and we’ll see you out there