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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, May 11, 2014

Welcome to the Vinalhaven sightings report –
May 11th, 2014

VLT, MCHT and u and me

“There’s an owl” – Jamus Drury

Highlights – great horned owls, otter den, migration – songbird and raptor. Salamander eggs. Other stuff.
Exclusive owl videos too!

a mother and son
looking for owlettes

HAPPY MOTHER”S DAY!!!!!! - Special shout out to all the moms out there (and all those expecting!) on this special mother’s day edition vsr (SMDEVSR) especially to my mom as this is her mother’s day card (hey – she’s traveling!). Anyway – For all you do and for all you are - we love you moms soooooo much. And I love you mom – soooooooooooooo much! Enough mushiness!
this is what Leif and Amy were looking at

 And in honor of Mothers Day we listened to several Mothers of Invention albums while writing this SMDEVSR, but only listened to "Burnt Weeny Sandwich" twice. Man I love that album. Plus a listening of "Atom Heart Mother" by Pink Floyd, I am a sucker for "Funky Dung". All in honor of Mother's Day, which apparently we honor a lot since we listen to "The Mothers" pretty frequently.

Bella was brave
with the salamander
photo by Susan Raven

Tiit trick - click on the photos and magically they will fill your screen. or at least get bigger.

Contact us! - the address to contact the VSR staff with questions, comments or concerns is . feel free to write about things.

& Eleanor loved them
photo by Susan Raven
Kid stuff – the salamanders have been making the rounds some more, this time as MCHT teams up with the ARC and their afterschool program “Perspectives”. There is nothing better than sharing some salamanders with kids. Try it some time, I bet you’ll like it.

Isa and Becca dug them too!
photo by Susan Raven


Sightings - Lists – Town – looks like we may have 2 Carolina Wrens on the hill as the Town Hall male continues to belt it out, while another has been consistently heard from Skin Hill Sally’s neck of the woods. Sally also sent in this photo of a beautiful White-crowned Sparrow. She’s good that Sally.

white-crowned sparrow
photo by Skin Hill Sally

(5/3) Armbrust Hill – 2 white-tailed deer, Black and White, Palm, Yellow-rumped and Black-throated Blue Warblers, Blue-headed Vireo, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrush, Robin, Purple Finch, Chickadee, Grackle...(5/9) – Black and White, Magnolia, Yellow-rumped warblers, Northern Parula, Golden-crowned Kinglets

White-throated are pretty

Lane’s (5/3) – Goldfinch, White-throated, Song & Savannah Sparrows, Downy Woodpecker, Eastern Phoebe, Merlin going after yellow-rumped


this is a winter wren nest
Basin/old harbor pond – (5/3) – osprey attacking eagle (escorting it out of turf), Golden-crowned Kinglet, Great Blue Heron, Belted Kingfisher, White-throated Sparrow, Hairy Woodpecker, Northern Parula, Merlin displaying (two places)….(5/5) Merlin displaying, winter wren, etc.


31 Reach Road – Winter Wren (and nest), Northern Parula, Black-throated Green and Yellow-rumped Warblers, Brown Creeper, White-throated Sparrow, and for the last week…White-eyed Vireo!

this is not carver's pond

Carver’s Pond – Ali McCarthy reports (with much joy) that the local otters have been seen once again from her window. Shame to go a few months without seeing an otter from the comforts of your own home, huh? Ali reports that she saw 2 or 3 pull a cameo on the ledges by her house before disappearing. Awesome.


Robert’s Harbor – (5/2) Donna from the store reports that a Snowy Owl was perched on a wharf near her house. So cool to see one in the neighborhood, and so cool to receive this report while one line at the store – my absolute favorite place to hear about nature stuff! Seriously, I don’t know what it is, I love store reports! Keep ‘em coming!


Long Cove – (5/6) Creeper, nuthatch, Great Horned Owl!!!!! (more below), lots of Turkey Vultures....(5/9) Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk


On the road – Ovenbird (5/11),


Long Cove – (5/5) – “There’s an owl” Jamus exclaimed (“exclaimed” is one of my favorite verbs – fun to say out loud “wow, you really exclaimed that one!” Try to use it every day!), “and it called” Jamus continued. We’d found some pellets in the area before, but the owl calling during the day was a little surprising. The Great Horned (and it was and is a Great Horned) was being followed by a loud raven (mobster) and we could still hear the raven calling just a short distance away – the owl hadn’t gone far.

this was a snowshoe hare

The first tree we checked had about 15 pellets under it. The owl had clearly spent a lot of time in the area. We searched on and found multiple trees with pellets under them – roughly 45-50 pellets found in all – as well as lots of owl scat. We even found a giant bird skull and vertebrae under one tree – possibly from a gannet? Man I would love to see an owl nail a gannet – (“pelagic owl” – Paul). The owl had certainly been spending a lot of time in the area, and all those pellets didn’t come from just one – there had to be babies around. The adult owl came back after a bit – owls are somewhat easy to out patience. Why would it come back to where the humanoids were? Gotta be babies in the area.

this was a big bird
probably not big bird though

Twice Jamus pointed out an osprey nest in the vicinity, and twice the possibility of owls nesting there was dismissed – too out in the open for an owl (like really out in the open) and a lack of pellets under the tree were part of the reasoning. Plus we looked up at the nest from different angles and didn’t see scat, much less a baby owl.


pellets were hanging in the trees
We searched in the rain for a bit, feeling like we were so close to seeing the youngsters. Going back on previous experience (limited data for sure) with Great Horned nesting we figured that the young had fledged already and they were hiding in a tree or under some brush or something – the pellets were everywhere, so they could be anywhere was the thinking. We were thinking too much I’d say, the bane of many human’s existence. Anyway, we left buzzin’. We were sooooo close.

and scat too!

(5/9) – after a few days off island (hiatus) I made my way back to the zone, sat down along the perimeter of the owl exploration and waited. Within 10 minutes I heard the begging call of a baby owl – “this is sooo easy” – I even said that out loud. Discipline was the key, and for the next hour I slowly made my way, inching closer to the grumble of a demanding youngster. It waited til I got way close – like really close – and it had to have heard my approach – (hell if they can hear a mouse’s heart beat from a quarter mile away (roughly a gagillion millimeters) they can hear a bald guy bumbling thru the woods with his hands full of optics). And suddenly it was gone! Nearby crows chimed in – the cavalry is coming, our friends the mobsters were coming to lead me to my owlly destination – and quickly an adult Great Horned appeared and led the crows away from the zone, and away from the babies!
I like finding pellets


“Dumb crows” I exclaimed in my head,(not really, but it makes the story better) tricked by an owl! I waited for the excitement to settle, and settled in with my coffee to see what turned up next. Sure enough after a handful of minutes I heard the baby owl call again – this time from where I had started. The youngster had flown! I must have been bumbling at the time and missed the flight. So now it was a stealth retreat back to where we’d started.


you looking at me?
I made it almost back to my bag when I realized I was no closer to seeing an owl than I was to begin with. 2 hours and I was back to where I started! Nothing to show for it, which is typical for many owl outings I should mention. Away, I sat down for like the 10th time (sitting or “popping a squat” are the best ways to approach owls) to restrategize and the adult owl flew in and landed a tree in front of me. It didn’t see me – blocked by the trunk – and I felt better about the whole experience. I took a few shot of its tail sticking out from the side of the tree, and for some reason my digital camera likes to sound like an “old fashioned” camera and make that shutter clicking sound. Well, the adult heard that! It gave a look and then took off. I felt close again.

adult Great Horned takes flight

And that’s when I saw the movement – looked like a wing stretching out of ….. that freakin’ osprey nest Jamus pointed out three days before! Hard to get a good view from where I was sitting.  And in searching for the perfect spot to peer into the nest I found myself back at the spot where Jamus first called out that he saw an owl! Full circle!


We all know Great Horned Owls are “badbutts” (censored for mother’s day), but this takes it to the extreme. Those youngsters were incubated, hatched and have grown to this size since early February, in a fully exposed nest that has gotten like a gagillion inches of snow and dealt with some pretty cold times (to find out how cold it was this winter was just say “what a nice winter it was” near pretty much anyone in town!). We (the royal “we”) all understand the parents cozying up when it’s cold out, but man these two have been through a ton already. Does the owl’s choice of the exposed osprey nest mean that there are not enough dead trees for them to nest in? Probably not, just not enough old crow nests in the area.


So, hats off to the good parents. The best part of this for me was learning that the adult owl had totally tricked me with the fake baby owl call and had led me away from the nest. And that Leif and Amy came to check it out on mother’s day! Yippee!
And here's a few videos to document the owls - all taken thru my scope so please pardon any shakeyness. We'll start with the head boppin' one that turns into the owlette scratching his throat. Wonder if owls ever poke thru their skin while scratching, those talons are pretty pokey. 

the next one has the owlette in the back spreading his wings and then at about the 5 second mark you'll see him lift up a snowshoe hare leg out of the nest. apparently there is a snowshoe hare with one leg hopping around in circles somewhere. enjoy!

this last one was filmed today, mother's day, and I totally agree with this panting owlette - it's getting way to hot, I miss winter already and its only been a couple of days...
Vernal Pool/wildlife SurveyBasin/Old Harbor Pond – (5/3 & 5/5) – a two afternoon search for vernal pools and any sign of wildlife led to 17 Vernal Pools being found with a total of 210 sets of Spotted Salamander eggs in them. Not bad at all. One motion – those small quarry remnants in the middle of nowhere – hosted 145 eggs in one!  That spot was a flutter of activity as I approached since Green Frog tadpoles were mingling about some of the egg mass caches. Do they eat the eggs? Don’t think so. Do they eat freshly hatched baby salamanders? Probably. Caddisflies, another predator were seen in the motion as well.
caddisfly is underwater on the right
water strider op top of the water, where it should be
is this tadpole stoked?

you bet he is!

this deer is dead
Other things seen/found – Merlin displaying, ruby-crowned kinglet, raven, Black-throated Green Warbler, White-winged Crossbill, and a complete deer skeleton (dead deer) was found, and then my favorite 5-year old demanded to go “get it”. It’s in our kitchen now if anyone wants to come see it. The big thing though was the otter sign, and I’m not playing favorites!

and this kid is stoked

Right along Old Harbor Pond itself were two hefty latrines that I had not seen before. One had about 20 scats and was in a spot where I tracked a solo otter that had come out of the pond ice this previous winter and gone exploring the woods above but retraced its steps and went back to the pond.

when it comes to otter scat
fresh is the best!

gunnel maybe? was a gunnel I mean
The latrine happens to also be by a clump of 3 spruces that hang over the water. The rootstock of said spruces would/could make a perfect den – with underwater access possibly. The hole in the ice (months ago) was kept open impressively enough even with the “coolish” winter we had – sign that it was used multiple times. This is speculation, of course, I/you/we will never know if there is an underwater access to any den there, but the spot screams den – and the location and number of spraints would hint at a solo otter – possibly new to the scene. We’ll make up more things about it in our head and get back to you all on this one. What we know is we didn’t see any of this before this last winter. Pretty cool, I think we’ll call that “potential den #15” – I think that’s the number we are up to. Maybe not.

fish scale spraint

The second latrine along the pond was not far from the first – but was accompanied by an “otter run” of about 200 feet. In other words the otter or otters that use this latrine get out of the water at one spot (that had like 3 spraints at it) and then run along the shore of the pond for 200 feet and then poop. The run was very well used, and the latrine had maybe 15 spraints in it. Pretty cool. No speculation here – the otter runs to the bathroom, just like the rest of us.


how are your eyes not tearing?
look at that den! its the whole
mound to the left of the creek.
Have I mentioned the otter den I found the other day? – # 16 baby! – (5/5) the coolest thing (for me) since the last sightings report, but before the owl babies, was this incredible otter den I came across along the creek that runs from Cedar Pond to Mack’s Pond. Approaching from the north I stopped to get a refreshing drink (of coffee) and looked down to find a handful (not literally) of spraints. “ahh” I was heard to exclaim out loud “otter spraints out in the middle of nowhere – that’s what I’m talking about”. But before the caffeine could even kick in (I take my coffee intravenously) I spotted another pile of spraints, and then another group and then another. Spraint city! I started counting (115 when all was said and done) and then realized – I’m standing on top of an otter den! But this was no ordinary den – it was the den of dens! At least 6 openings, right along the creek – this den was so beautiful my eyes teared up. As far as otter dens go – this one is "the spraint"!
otter waterfront hotel


When I got home I told Leif I’d found an otter hobbit house to which he remarked “it must be Bilbo otter!”. But then he saw the pictures and said – that’s an otter hotel!. He was right. Needless to say – the trail camera will be mounted soon.  
and with all's beautiful out so we're going back out there. see you on the trail!