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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, July 22, 2014

this story has to do with this yellowthroat
who has no tail and lived along North Haven
Road right at Folly Pond
Welcome to the mini-series VSR July 22nd, 2014

We appreciate VLT and MCHT as always

Quick/long story about a bird nest


Upcoming events – Thursday morning birdwalks continue – Thur. July 24th, 8am at Skoog. Good times for sure – lots to see out there – shorebirds, songbirds, smart birds, numb birds. See you there.


MCHT Elderbirds – Friday July 25th, 10am state beach. If you or someone you know would like to come on the bird walks but doesn’t want to “slow the group down” (“whatever" by the way – bird walks are supposed to be slow!) or whatever, then this is the outing for you or someone you know. We’ll have a few scopes and we won’t go far. Not that we go far with the Thursday walks, but you get what I am talking about. If you need help getting a ride to state beach write to the VSR email – – and we’ll try to set something up. Groovy?


Cancelation – Thursday morning birdwalk – July 31st at 7am – has been canceled. We’ll be looking for Blackbeard’s treasure on isle o’ shoals or whatever they are called somewhere south of here. Everyone should still go birdwatching. Thursday morning bird walks will start up again august 7th, at 8am.



What started out as a quick story……..Yellowthroat nest- At Folly Pond – Towards the end of last week’s bird walk (7/17) a pair of Common Yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas) popped up in some shrubbery really close to us by the beaver damn, right along North Haven Road. With bills full of insects the (hot) pair came within 5 feet or so of the group to check us out and they didn’t appear to know what to make of us (have you seen us?).


the yellowthroats were so close you didn't
have to use binoculars to see them
Their chipping was light at best though, more of a “honey, do you seen them”….”they are still there”…”do you think they can see us?” kind of action, rather than the “intruder alert!”…. “Get the hell out of here!!!!!!”…”they are after my babies” kind of chipping that yellowthroats are somewhat known for even when you are like 40 feet away from a nest! These guys (well, one male and one female actually) were loaded (bills) and mellow (two states that go so well together), and not that I have the largest set of personal data to go by, but they were the mellowest behaving pair of yellowthroats I have seen with young nearby (young yellowthroats).


They were so mellow that the group got back to talking about how we can tell there was a nest nearby.   If those birds didn’t have mouths to feed they wouldn’t be flying around with food hanging out of their bills, simple as that. And with no “chasing and begging” fledglings in tow, the mouths they had to fill were in a nest. And since they stayed with us we knew it was close.

We discussed how Yellowthroat are warblers that nest low in shrubs and thick areas, sometimes on the ground – sometimes within 3 feet of the ground, but never too high at all. This was perfect habitat. Other than the road so close, but that didn’t appear to bother them.


All I know (and it’s not that much) is that within minutes as we discussed Yellowthroat natural history (fascinating stuff) the Yellowthroat pair flew across the path, and landed in a modest meadowsweet (not a steeplebush) shrub. The male went down, disappearing into the ground cover and grasses straight below with a bill full of food. Moments later (like really quickly) he came back up with no food. Straight and simple (is that offensive?), the nest was right in the grasses below that thinnest of meadowsweets (not a steeplebush) about 5 feet from the road and less than 2 feet from where the roadside had been mowed. It was right there.


I think we watched the female go down next, and after she reappeared and flew off – in search of more grub no doubt – I turned to the group and said “I’m going in”. It was a straight and simple plan, and one that invoked several responses from the group none of which seemed to think it was a good idea. Folks were concerned with impact, with nest abandoning, with being part of something like that – all concerns we respect and advocate at the VSR. “But the nest is right there!” I pleaded like a pleader in a lame attempt to rally the gang, but no one was anymore the more convinced that this was a good idea.   


“Well, I’m going to come back in an hour to check it out” I boldly stated. Which was the truth - the nest was going to be found – find me now, find me later. Might as well find it with this relatively small group (it was the 7am trip) so they can see it. Executive decision, and apparently I had decided I was an executive.


finding an active nest is awesome
I told the group I was going in (again) and that I would bolt if things got dicey – like pissed off Yellowthroats or something - but I’d call them over if I found the nest. I marched up the road to the skeleton that was a meadowsweet (and not a steeplebush) and slowly (but quickly) pulled apart the grasses below the non-steeplebush and there were 4 little yellowthroats in clear view. The nest finding took no more 3 seconds. I called the group to hustle, and most folks hurriedly came over and took a gander at these cuties before booking it back to the dam area. In the meantime the male Yellowthroat returned to the area and called out our actions, once again not overly aggressive or upset in chipping tone (biased judgment) I would guess partly maybe because we were in retreat so quickly. “We’re not messing around”. The whole undertaking took less than 15 seconds.


 The discussions took off then – how could they nest so close to the road? 5 feet from the asphalt probably, just a few feet from where the mower came by. Could a road as active as North Haven Road be a determent to predators like cats? I don’t know, but maybe the road activity keeps things moving. How much impact does it take to make a bird abandon a nest?

This was a topic I have thought a lot about as I like to find nests and strive to observe them with the lowest impact possible. (And for all the nests I’ve watched I have never caused a bird to abandon a nest that I know of). Tolerance around as nest certainly differs with each species, with each nest and with each individual bird really. Sometimes it depends on where the birds are in the nesting process -when birds are first making nests they can be spooked easily and may bail, but that once all the eggs are laid and incubation starts – the investment is there -it is less likely that birds will abandon. They may fly off and scold, but they’ll come back once the impact has moved on – as long as it isn’t too long and too often (phrasing!). Once the eggs hatch it becomes even less likely that they will bail if a nest is found. All that said, we try to minimalize our impact so we never get anywhere close to “abandonment” – the goal is not to “not have them abandon” but to observe with the lowest impact, negligible preferred.


So why not leave the nest alone then? We can rationalize just about anything, and my rationalization with nests is this –they are a reward. Or they can be a reward. A reward for patience. The vast majority of nests I become aware of in the woods I never see – due to their location, or the amount of time I have, or displeased parental birds. But sometimes birds take you right to the nest (not to show you of course) as if they don’t look at you as a threat. Or they wouldn’t take you to the nest. These Yellowthroats didn’t see us as a threat. This is all a rationalization, but the group had stood in that spot for a while watching baby wood ducks and an eagle. we were patient.


We figured the nest probably took a week or so to build, the eggs were incubated for at least a week, and that the babies were about 7 days old (good guess!). All in all, the Yellowthroats had used the area for roughly 3 weeks, and this is possibly the only 15 seconds of impact from humans they’ve had to deal with. “Negligible impact”. Short of actually ripping out the nest or harming the young it would’ve be hard to make those parents abandon that scene. Everyone seemed to be on board at this point.


there are only three in this photo
What’s the point if you don’t go back? – (7/18) – so of course I went back the next day to document growth – how could I not? And to my surprise when I looked at the nest 3 little heads were looking back at me. Where was the 4th? I heard one of the mellow adults coming back, so I took a photo and got out of there.


“Sh*t”. There was no way it left the nest on its own, right? The young clearly couldn’t fly (pin feathers seen in the photo), why would it leave the nest? Was the nest stressed yesterday and that’s why the adults ignored the group and went in to feed with us standing about 15 feet from it? Was there a youngster teetering on the edge of survival after two days of pretty steady rain and possibly less food brought to the nest? Many observations in nature are due to wildlife being stressed (relax already).  Nah though, they all looked good the day before. Only two things I could do – go back and read up on yellowthroats (which I should have done the previous night!) and then come back the next day (which I was going to anyway). Either way I was finding it hard to convince myself that our 15 seconds had anything to do with this. I wasn’t trying too hard though.


Here’s what we found in “Bird Behavior I” by good ol’ Donny Stokes –


“Nestling phase - Both parents feed the young, but sometimes the male will bring the food to the female, who will then pass it on to the young. The young spend a relatively short period in the nest, leaving it, before they can fly, by hopping and walking into nearby shrubbery. 8-9 days. ”


Sweet! I had caught them mid-bolt, mid-fledge. One gone, three to go….


fecal sac present in the middle of the nest
(7/20) – And so it was no surprise that I found an empty nest the next day. The adult male could be heard mellowly chippin’ in the vicinity, letting me know that 4 flightless yellowthroats were in the shrubs around – tread lightly. It will take three days for them to be able to fly – so right about now I guess they are taking their first attempts.


….and the nest wasn’t completely empty – there was one last fecal sac in the bottom. A little message for the next pair of eyes (maybe 4 or 6 (with the sunglasses) eyes) that happen to look in? Or maybe it was scared scatless of leaving the nest? Or a final “never liked this place anyway” upper decker? I bet it just had to go.


Impact (a neutral word) – to influence, to effect – this topic has come up a few times in the last few weeks and I think we all understand that no matter how lightly we tread in the woods we have impact by simply being there. And when we are not there the trail still has an impact with edge effects and hardening of soils. It would be na├»ve of me to believe my peering or scoping into nests has no impact, and I guess the goal is to have “negligible impact”.  Taking kids ponds scooping or groups into the woods tracking increases impact exponentially (especially with some people!) if by nothing more than shear mass. But a certain amount of impact is expected and accepted for getting the folks out there exploring. Jogging or walking a dog on a trail, talking to a friend you are hiking with, chainsawing in the woods – all good things, all important thing, all impactful things. How much impact do you accept from yourself when you are in the woods? This is something I ask myself often – just not in those words usually. It’s a personal thing. Not to get too personal.


Anyway – too long – thanks for reading.
Rock on!