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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, March 31, 2014

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report  April 1st, 2014
MCHT and VLT joining together in support
“thela hun gingeet” -
Adrian Belew (I believe he wrote it)


Highlights – singing shrike, woodcock, raccoon, pellets, peregrine falcon, robins, grackle, otter tracks, and more pictures of pellets than you’ve ever dreamed of you pellet dreaming people!

phat, chunky and a stock photo
Upcoming event – This/next Friday (4/4) we’ll be having the annual VLT Woodcock Walk. This year we’ll be meeting at the Lane’s Island parking area at 7pm. This could be described as a “non-active” walk (depending on your definition of “active”), and will be standing around looking at treetops and the sky for the most part (sounds awesome). So dress accordingly and be prepared. Prepared not only for the weather and for being somewhat quiet (somewhat), but also be prepared to be excited. That is if “phat and chunky male shorebirds working hard to get the ladies worked up so they can work together for a moment or two of cloacal kiss bliss” excites you. And really, who doesn’t get worked up over Woodcocks in spring? Maybe people with allergies or issues dread woodcocks kissing - cloacally speaking of course. Anyway, and with that….

rolly-polly fish heads

Sightings – All American Woodcock – Lane’s (3/25) – (‘bout time!) – Leif and I were searching for the Buddha when we scared up a woodcock along one of the grassy fields out thataway (Lane’s Island way). First of the season for us, and a bit later than “normal” years, thinking that the foot of snow covered in ice that has lingered til this recent rain may have made it tough to get at worms. Maybe. & We did find the Buddha by the way… (3/26-28) no woodcocks, (3/29) nice warm day, plenty of woodcocks – at least 5 males could be seen/heard from the graveyard picnic tables doing their amazing aerial displays. Spring is here.  



northern shrike singing
photo by john drury
Singing Shrike (and other songbirds) – Greens Island (3/21) - John Drury sent in these shots of a  Northern Shrike which was reported to be singing its heart out on the morning of …. on Greens Island. National Geographic (the only bird guide for North America – “all the other guides they be put to shame” – David Lee Roth) describes the sweet song of the Northern Shrike as “a medley of low warbles and harsh squeaky notes”. Sibley’s (not an “accredited by the VSR” book) mentions them being “thrasher like” in song. Here’s how John described “sounded like it was mimicking a mockingbird, or a mockingbird with a mute like dizzy Gillespie”.  John went on to say “can’t remember one singing (out here) before”, which is always a cool thing to hear from John. Always something new happening, while so much happens that still happens even though it is never observed by humans. Deep, huh?

check out that bill.
photo by John Drury
John continued - “I thought I heard him mockin', robin, jay, squirrel, crossbill or junco, catbird”.
Pretty sweet. Any bird that mimics squirrels – and I can only hope the shrike mimicked with the most sarcastic and demeaning tone possible – is golden with me.


cool ice on calderwood
as opposed to warm ice everywhere else.

Around the island – Grackle (2/26) 31 Reach Road, (3/29) Northern Cardinal singing…. Basin – (3/29) Singing Golden-crowned Kinglets, Red-breasted Nuthatches, Ravens (kind of singing)…(3/28) Long cove – Robins, owl pellets, White-winged Crossbills (singing)
Calderwood Island – (3/26) lots of ice that morning, but little snow. 20 + Robins, and a Peregrine Falcon that came in fast going after the robins. Lots of old-tails, surf scoter, and eider on the ride out. Horned Grebes numerous.
belly slide
One of the last hurrahs? – A single otter (that admittedly could have been two otters) made its way from Old Harbor Pond to the Sands twice in one night after that nice, and possibly last ((3/31) note – it just snowed and I am on the ferry tomorrow! Yeehah!!!!!!!!), thick dusting of snow we got on (3/26). Could be two different otters but I like to think it was the same one who had to go back because he forgot something (and yes, we are thinking that the big solo town otter is a guy. Admittedly this gender assumption is based on a very limited amount of data. So it goes.

So if it’s the same, just how did he get back you ask? Well, obviously he has a sneaky back way or something and you are asking too many questions. Actually, if he fished his way around Norton’s point and back thru old harbor pond he could totally make it in a small portion of the night! Of course! What? We’ve seen the gang of 4 come and go on the same night. Work with me here people!


Anyway, the two trails were about 70 feet from each other and looked as if the otters were not traveling together (same route different paths). Hard to compare ages of tracks here, but the ones with no snow in the pads felt older. They might have felt older because they had no snow in the pad tracks, but that could be snow conditions as much as age. Anyway, great to see – kind of a surprise- last otter snow trails for the season?

 Oh, and I can’t believe I spaced this in the last VSR, but long time friend of the VSR, poet and all around great person Kristen Lindquist ( ) sent in this awesome link with a story of an otter “attackin’ and mackin’” on one of those crocagators down south! Check it out and check out Kristen’s Haiku’s on her blog! Thanks Kristen! – otter vs. gator –



The great melt – People really seem to be “into”, with some even “digging”, the time when the snow melts and the birds start singing and the flowers start to bloom and all that spraint. I mean, who doesn’t like that stuff? Maybe people with allergies and issues dread the sun – pollenly speaking of course. But anyway, while that’s all fine and good let’s not forget that there is much exploring to do and many lessons to be learned before the hayscented ferns unfiddle and the poison ivy leafs out. it’s time to survey the feasts, the remains of winter.

The snow, in snow form,
holds the tracks
and trails
and all the many shades of the yellow rainbow.
The snow, in melt form,
releases the casualties,
the remains, the glacier mummies,
but most of all – the pellets….
first long-eared pellet of the day.
Full disclosure – I am a “pellet guy”. (As well as an “amanita man”). And for all of us “pellet people” (never met a pellet person I didn’t like) this is one of the best times of the year….to find yourself crawling under trees. The great thaw unearths (unsnows?) treasures and stories of feasts from recent months and so now it’s time for the annual tradition of looking for bird pellets. These were frozen, fresh maybe days, weeks or even months ago and Lane’s island is the best spot I’ve found in the US east of Pescadero, CA to find pellets (Pescadero is and should be considered the “exception” to all generalizations nature observation wise). Good evening Pescaedro!
a little older long-eared owl pellet
And while we are talking pellets the VSR would also like to honor other popular types of pellets - Tidy Cat Breeze Cat Litter Pellets, Maine wood pellets, pellets citricos, a Pellet courts. To name a few!  
Back to tweeter pellets and to bring us all up to speed we’re inviting “Wiki” to join in the conversation –
look at this beautiful Snowy Owl pellet
Wiki pellet - A pellet, in ornithology, is the mass of undigested parts of a bird's food that some bird species occasionally regurgitate. The contents of a bird's pellet depend on its diet, but can include the exoskeletons of insects, indigestible plant matter, bones, fur, feathers, bills, claws, and teeth. In falconry, the pellet is called a casting.
The passing of pellets allows a bird to remove indigestible material from its proventriculus, or glandular stomach. In birds of prey, the regurgitation of pellets serves the bird's health in another way, by "scouring" parts of the digestive tract, including the gullet. Pellets are formed within six to ten hours of a meal in the bird's gizzard (muscular stomach).
my pellet feels like a pair of maracas
"satchel pellet"
Lane’s (3/23) Anyway and with all that said and out of the way – Lane’s didn’t disappoint after the big melt. 30 pellets found this day – 5 small ones (Shrike), 6 Snowy Owl pellets, and 19 Long-eared.
 No surprises here – long –eared pellets -between wing-prints in early winter and recent sightings, Long-eared owls (LEO) certainly have had an observable presence on Lane’s this winter. Some of the LEO pellets were recent; including one slumped satchel-like over a small branch about 4 feet off the ground (photo on right). We also checked a tree that has been productive – pellet speaking of course – for as long as I can remember (admittedly not that long) and a dozen were found below – they all looked faded, looked to have been around for a while – frozen and thawed and rained on several times. Probably from November/December, they looked as if they had been rained on and frozen a bunch of times, like the weather back in Nov/Dec. But hey – a dozen under one tree – good tree.
this snowy owl pellet was along the edge of
the main field on lane's
The snowy owl pellets were along the paths and fields and open areas. They were huge and still in pretty condition. I had tracked a Snowy, purely by scat on new years on lane’s – quick visit after being away, but the snow came heavy the next day and lasted pretty much thru last weekend. My guess is that these were from that visit, a pellet frozen since then would still be looking somewhat good.
shrike pellets are small
Shrike pellets– a Shrike spent much of the winter on lane’s – they are the true bad asses of the songbird world (sorry jays) and the one on lane’s probably ate a bunch of mice and voles and we thank them all for being part of the food chain. The shrike pellets were tight and they often show backbone in my experience – not that I have found that many. I did watch a shrike cough up a pellet once on Lane’s. Still forthy when I picked it up. Frothy is the pellet person’s dream.


And so the pellets came fast and hard that day, and with memories of past pellet hang ups that hung well over a week, they seemed to all be right where they were supposed to be. And in honor of the oddly worded sentence I just wrote - here’s another odd and dated wording (phrasing!) from a field guide or bird book, straight from “Owls by Day and Night” – (Tyler/Phillips 1978!)
these 3 or 4 LEO pellets were still frozen together at the base
of a spruce. part of the mound 
if the entire mound (of pellets I presume) is dissected by a scientist, he can construct an informative and complete list of that owl’s food items.”
And,  “Sometimes, when it is determined that the owl casting the pellets is of a species about which food information in your area is scarce, it will be worthwhile notifying some local biologist who may want to have the contents analyzed”.
an old LEO pellet
fur is matted down from weather
Well, I’m glad I included these quotes if for no other reason than to show far we’ve come with common pellet stereotypes. Today in 2014 I can name like at least 5 women scientists that currently can probably “construct an informative and complete list of (an) owl’s food items” up from apparently the 0 women scientists that could do that at the book’s writing (1978). Things have gotten so good - I think I can name like a bunch of non-scientist men and even some non-scientist women who are most likely can “analyze the contents” of a pellet. In fact – everybody can! How hard can it be to look at bones and fur and guess what the latest meal was? Notify a local biologist who may want to have the contents analyzed? How ‘bout pick up a book and look it up? Call a scientist to look at a pellet? Seriously man - this ain’t rocket science.   
this pellet, along the loop trail, felt like it could have
been from a short-eared, but was determined to be
part of a snowy pellet. so it goes
Also, the second quote about the “food information being scarce” could only be written by a man. I don’t know (and I may be feeling overly sarcastic – I am going thru a les claypool and “catcher in the rye” phase), but how much owl “food information” is needed to be known before it is not considered “scarce” and subsequently not worth telling someone about? Secrets are fun, but it’s nice to tell others about what you find. Everyone should know about the pellet you found, so shout it from the rooftops - even if it ends up being raccoon scat.
another phat snowy owl pellet
Enough! These were silly, non-focused rants that I really don’t feel that strongly about.

And so at long cove (3/28) Jamus and I found 8 more pellets7 long-eared and one great-horned – along a field with a similar feel to lane’s. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year. And some cool ice too. 
ice tooth
long cove ice
Dead Snowy Owl - (3/23) And speaking of which - it’s not everyday that Angie Olson hands you a clump of snowy owl feathers at the ferry terminal. Apparently one met its end over pocus point way. Could this be the one from lane’s? maybe, but it seems like there was ton of them this winter all over new England and other state’s close enough to want to be in New England.
wild raccoon of perry creek
And I think that’s where we are going to leave it. Salamanders have not made their dash yet – close but just not warm enough with these last night rains -, no peepers reported yet. Things feel ready.
at first this guy looked like a kangaroo...
...but we all know that
kangaroos grow up to be deer
"this is the perfect place for a picnic!"
So we’ll see you out there. it's picnic time!