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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


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

let me stand next to your fire

Welcome to the vinalhaven sightings report –

March 3rd or so 2014

Thanks to vlt and mcht for their continued support

“dead birds find other homes”

andy richter is singing at the fire and ice ball

Highlights – rough-legged hawk, great horned owls both dead and alive, otter stuff, flickers, yellow-rumped warblers, northern shrike, Canadian robins, Grebes, Creepers, more otter stuff, red crossbill, tons of ducks,

reminder - "tiit trick" - simply click on photos to make then larger than life.
contact - send correspondence and stuff to . I think.

i'm more like lukewarm water

Thanks - Thanks to the hardcores, Mitch and Sheri who braved the out for the Feb 16th state beach snowshoe and tracking. From the walk – 3 Horned Grebes, Red-necked Grebes, Oldtails, Black Ducks, Common Loon, Common Godleneye, Peregrine Falcon (perched on ledge) and a wonderful fly-by of a Rough-legged Hawk. In classic form active cameras were found to be missing memory cards. Spraint happens. Anyway, great walk and fun times.


Sightings – We start with a joke – q: what do you call ambulance invoices? Red cross bills. And yes, John Drury shared this and saw 2 red crossbills around the Basin recently.
Canadian Robins - Dark robins around the island (they have been seen scattered around the island)are of the subspecies nigrideus, and exclusive group of American robins that only breed in coastal northern quebec, north to Labrador and newfoundland. This is just a reminder that the embargo against eating Canada Robins is still effect, these are American Robins that only breed on Canadian Soil, they are traitors that can cause severe gastrointestinal issues. Don't eat the robins!
state bird of alabama
Also, Brown Creepers singing on Reach Road for two weeks, and another Creeper singing on Greens.

Lane’s Island – (2/15) Northern Flicker, Great Cormorants, 2 Red-necked Grebe, 1  Horned Grebe, 10 Black Guillemot, 6 Purple Sandpiper, Red-breasted Merganser, Oldtail, Common Eider, Black Duck, Common Loon…(2/20) mink and deer trails and tracks, Shrike, Common Eider, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Bald Eagle, 8 Yellow-rumped Warblers


Off island, but close enough - Action in line!. Ferry line, Rockland ferry terminal (2/22)

Word from Jamus Drury -

“Dude! So we were sitting by the water in Rockland waiting for the ferry, and watching this mouse (vole) run around under this car next to us. It could smell their food or something, it was trying to find a way up. I was waiting to watch a gull snag it. Then it started running along the snowbank towards the truck…... so as I'm starting out the window waiting for thus mouse to come out the other side, bamm! Sharpie nailed him before I even saw him! Right there! Like 6 feet away! Soo sweet!...”…… so another rodent bites the dust, doing the noble thing and accepting its place in the food chain. Not that it had a choice in the matter….good story, good sighting, thanks for sharing!


dead owl
photo by Erin Creelman
And speaking of dead things – Great Horned Owl – (2/17) from the email from Erin Creelman - This morning Andy found this guy lying along the road at the head of the Bunin's driveway on Brown's Head Light Road.  Dead, but pretty much unmarked except for a what looks like a blow to his right eye area.  20 inches from ear to tail and 42 inch wing span.If you want the owl as a specimen I can hold him for you, otherwise I will…”  

talons and powerful legs to the end!
photo by Erin Creelman

I didn’t get the email until it was already checked out by john drury – (2/20) “Erin and Andy dropped off a GHO found road side on Brown's head road, if I can find my scale I will weigh it, not much breast meat, crossed bill, maybe trauma related, or maybe strategy to survive on spruce seeds during snowpack?”


"measuring the bird" as they say
photo by Erin Creelman
Cool visual – Great Horned’s opening up spruce cones like Crossbills. And it’s what happens when you don’t check your email for a few days – “dead birds find other homes”. Some final thoughts on this guy from John a few days later… “this dead owl weighs @850 gram, did I mention there is some evidence of frontal trauma? not much for breast meat, but the legs seemed meaty enough, Erin thought the legs felt like those of a healthy fowl, maybe the breast wastes first leaving the leg meat so that what’s left of the bird can hold on good still.”


he was fakin' the eye thing!
photo by Erin Creelman
Seems like it, at least in this case, the wasting away part. That Sibley guide has them listed as 1400g, and I’m no math major but 850 of 1400 is closer to 50% than 66% (or 100% when you think of it). Anyway, sounds like it was one starving bird and the cross bills and bum eye probably didn’t help the situation. A slow and maybe a little stressful and scary death. Except that great horned don’t get scared, they are too bad ass for that.

young (part) Estonian
looking to explore

Old Estonian proverb : “a bill that’s crossed on the face of an owl

with hurt eye has the legs of a fowl”.


Anyway, Leif and I heard the Greens Island Great Horned at 4:30pm from “across reach”.


Huber sunset

 From the ferry – cap’t Pete’s log – “it was a dark and stormy night”

  2/25 I saw a Black Guillemot in summer plumage, obviously doesn't follow the weather forecast.

I saw lots of Old Tails in flocks of 20-30 near Rockland Harbor also on the 25th

I also saw a "murder of crows" feeding on the shore near the ferry terminal in Rockland.  About 30 birds.

This morning there was a big flock of what I thought was Purple Sandpipers.


Thanks for sharing Pete!


What’s more and further more…incomplete boat rides – afternoon trips have recently resulted in naps at some point. At a certain point that is the best use of one’s time – anyway - (2/18) – 30 Common Loon, 10 Black Guillemot, 9 red-breasted merganser, 10 old-tail ducks, 17 common eider, 1 bald eagle, 1 bufflehead, 2 surf scoter, 2 common goldeneye, otter sign on lairey’s island…(2/19) 29 old tails, 1 red-breasted merganser, 2 black guillemot, 2 rd-necked grebe, Norton’s otters.


Pretty much the story here is how sleeping is a sure way to not see wildlife from the ferry. (2/18) We got pounded in the late afternoon/early evening with unforecasted (I think) snow. Phresh beautiful snow made up of the phattest phlakes, a tracking phools paradise greeted us as we came out of the Lego movie – and that was like 8:30 at night. There was anticipation for the morning boat ride back home, the potential of ripe tracking from the high seas even with the boat going in “the wrong direction” – morning trips to the island often have poor conditions for nature observation. Bright sun, back lit conditions = frustrated bald guy with binos. Hard to imagine an uglier picture. Anyway.


the snow was so phluffy, this is the otter going up hill -
see the multiple footprints in the track
everything was a belly slide that day
(2/19) – 10:30 return ferry - With this in mind I fell asleep (untimely) around Owls Head (thus the duck numbers slowed down). Crashed out and snoozin’ in the southerly cabin warmth only to wake up in Hurricane Sound (not literally) just past the 3 most often used otter tracking spots – Lairey’s, Leadbetter’s, & Pond or the LLP. I missed them! Things were getting uglier. Not really. I got over it in moments.


downhill looked funner
And then passing Norton’s Point I noticed an otter slide in the snow along the shore just below the “Worst Ever” foundation. It’s a latrine I had found on a search last winter that appeared not well used nor loved really (we’re talking small handful of spraints and low volumes here) and had not seen otter trails in the area since. It was bound to happen sometime, seeing sign at this spot from the ferry, but still more unexpected than not.


the otter was going right to left
uphill after a nice slide
That afternoon I snowshoed over to the latrine and got these belly slide photos that look like they were taken thru an electron microscope. No fresh spraint, but some nice rolling and slides. Certainly a marking visit, may have peed. How much do you really want to know?
not sure whats going on here.
looks like the otter was facing the other direction
possibly "pee'd" - as in the melted snow
then scraped at the snow with its foot,
possibly scent marking

I then visited a latrine area on the Sands side of Nortons (you know, that side) where I found nothing but deep snow and sign of deer strugglin’ in it. I was already frozen and it was going to get dark soon so I figured I would check out the point that truly (or truly in my mind) separates the sands from whatever the body of water outside it is (where the hell does the reach start?). Logical spot for a latrine, nice view of the harbor and all.


What I first found was this 70+ ft long belly slide (check out the video below!), only an otter could pull something like this off! It was beautiful, looked like it was probably a fun ride (but we know that efficiency is the point here, and what’s more efficient than fun! or more fun than efficiency?).

once again this is going uphill
otter hopping, working hard

I eventually followed it up and over the ridge to the rocky shores of Norton’s point (directly across from grimes park). Tracks of different ages/stages/wages/sages told me that the otter had been here a bit before the snow ended and then again once after the snow was over. Repeat visitation requires closer examination and so with a sketchy snowshoe step or two down “the death rocks” I found myself face to face, eye to eye, belly to belly with the entry way for “den #13”.


view from the den
one of three entrances
found to the den
"the A"
The den ended up having 3 entries that I found, including one that was covered in snow, and thusly the otter had to burrow its way out and thru “to get up and go” over the hill for the 70 ft slide. First otter tunneling I have seen out here (or anywhere!), this one was probably 2 or 3 feet long, in some of the photos.


hard to see the tunnel since it is under the snow
starts in the lower right and goes to the uprooted
What’s this mean? What we know, or seem to know, is that this was made by a solo otter, probably the same otter than marked up the other side of Norton’s Point with the slide I saw from the ferry. What we interpret – the otter came out of the water during the snow, laid low in the den/resting area and then carried on after the storm settled. It did not look like the otter was in the den when I visited, the fresh 70 ft slide was its leaving, no sign of returning.  What we speculate on  - that this solo dude is a dude and is the same solo dude that has visited old harbor pond, lane’s island and greens. Or maybe this is an emergency den that for whatever reason the snowy storm chased him into. Seems like a nice central location.

another angle on the tunnel

sometimes slides look
like other things


Speaking of which – Greens - Jamus Drury and Adam White spotted an otter slide crossing the thin spot between Deep Cove and the Tombs. Looked like only one - could be the same culprit out on Norton’s Point.



Well, that’s actually what we’ve got from here, I think. A few more snows wouldn’t be too bad I’d say. And the sledding has been a blast

two tongues
photo by the lovely Amy Palmer

and a sneak view into "the research kitchen", official office and process center of the VSR
where every distraction is a good distraction