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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


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report

November 15th, 2014

Proud to be sponsored by the VLT and the MCHT



Highlights – pipits, horned lark, harlequin ducks and a “bunch of other ducks”, grebes, bittern, raptors, short-eared owl, other stuff

black-bellied plover tracks

Contact us – . with sightings, words of wisdom, or emails to be added to our list. Thanks for reading!


Tiit Trick – click on the photos to enlarge.


just about all that remained of a peregrine falcon
photo by John Drury
Sightings Jamus Drury reports an Iceland Gull in the Bay.

 John Drury sent in this photo of some Peregrine Falcon feathers – leftover from a Peregrine that met an untimely death (or maybe it was time) at the talons of a Great Horned Owl. Doesn’t matter who are out here – no one is as bad ass as a Great Horned. No one.

Thanks for sharing John and Jamus!


Ferry rides are back in style again! – November is one of the best 12 months to ride the ferry and we’ve (the royal “we’ve”) gotten the pleasure to catch the 7am to Rockland a few times in the last few weeks. Here are some lists –


there are a lot of loons these days.
"loose bin"

(11/6) 111 Black Guillemots, 85 Old-tail Ducks, 69 Common Loons, 12 Bonaparte’s Gulls, 7 red-breasted Merganser, 6 Double-crested Cormorants, 2 Great Cormorants, 5 Surf Scoter, 4 Crow, Bald Eagle, male Northern Harrier, lots of eiders and gulls. 4 Harbor Seals


(11/12) 116 Old-tail Ducks, 98 Common Loons, 79 Black guillemots, 13 Bufflehead, 6 Bonaparte’s Gulls, 6 Black Ducks, 2 Red-breasted Merganser, Surf Scoter, Black Scoter,  Bald Eagle, Red-throated Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Purple Sandpiper, Great Blue Heron, 27 Harbor Seal, 4 Harbor Porpoise


Great rides on the boat –these mornings were the "warm after storm” sort of days, when you (the royal “you”) would expect new arrivals to be doing their "arrival thing". Brought in by the winds – big numbers of Oldtail Ducks, Loons and Guillemots – kinda bummed I didn’t get to 100 loons on the 12th but I think the 98 are the most I have seen in a day in Maine. Remember those 2000+ loon days at Pigeon Point, BAJ? ….Male Harrier hunting over the green island just outside the narrows was a nice one on the 6thPurple Sandpiper and red-throated Loon were a bonus on the 12th – really just glad to see so many birds on those trips…  Captain Pete reports a huge Double-crested Cormorant day (10/28) - thousands to a gagillion Cormorants migrated thru that day.

preening yellow-rumped at lane's beach

Lane’s Island – (11/5) American Bittern, Peregrine Falcon, Goldfinch…

(11/8) Short-eared Owl, American Woodcock…

(11/10) 4 Red-breasted Mergansers, Northern Gannet, Black Duck, Common Loon, lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers…

(11/11) Common Loon, Northern Gannet, Merlin


With lane’s it could have been the Bittern that circled the field when I was meeting with Jane Arbuckle (all around great person), or the Peregrine that flew over us minutes later. Or it could have been the mass amount of yellow-rumped warblers that are in the marsh, on the beach, flycatchin’, eating bayberries – basically doing their super adaptive thing.  Here's a video or two of Yellow-rumpeds in action...
It was the Short-eared Owl hunting the field crepuscular style that really got my blood pumping (or is it shunting?). There were fist pumps (or shunts?) and muddled calls of enthusiasm – muddled as to not scare the owl, but the most excited I have been (nature-wise that is) in a long time. Good times, and the short-eared is our (the royal “our”) bird. Super romantic. We heart Short-eareds.


State Beach – (11/3) – song and savannah sparrows, horned lark, 10 Red-necked Grebe…

(11/8) – 4 common loon, 7 Horned Lark, 15 Red-necked Grebe, Song Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black Guillemot…

(11/9) – 2 Horned Lark, Pipit, 10 Old-tailed Duck, 17 Red-necked Grebe, 10 Common Loon…

(11/10) – 10 Red-breasted Merganser, 42 Red-necked Grebe, 2 Horned Lark, Pipit, Song Sparrow, Old-tailed Duck, Ring-billed Gull, 2 Bufflehead, Common Loon, Black Guillemot, Pine Siskin...

(11/11) – Bald Eagle, 31 Red-necked Grebe, 34 Harlequin Ducks, 4 Horned Larks, Pipit, Red-throated Loon, Black Guillemots, Ring-billed Gull, 7 Red-breasted Merganser, Northern Cardinal…

(11/14) (after an AM snow) 6 Snow Buntings, 11 Horned Lark, 3 Red-necked Grebe, 5 Common Loons, Song Sparrows, Dark Eyed Junco

"lark's toes in snow"

Summary - State beach is a relatively safe place (feels safe, you know) to go during hunting season. It also happens to be a great place for November observing…The larks and pipit are cool and are dissected more below….At the tail end of a pretty good southerly blow (11/11) several groups of Harlequins Ducks were blown into Eastern Penobscot Bay (or maybe they meant to be there) close enough for easy identification and observation. Group of 11 Harlequins in the surf at Greens Ledge was the highlight. Only the second time I have seen Harlequins from State Beach. November also means Red-necked Grebe days at State Beach – high count of 42 so far, but there’s many more to come.  Or not, suddenly their numbers have dropped. And snow buntings! Good to see some back. Never seen a northern cardinal at state beach before!
this young surf scoter was in round pond.
and this photo is randomly placed in this VSR

premium habitat
What’s the deal with pipits, larks and snow buntings? Pipit and lark sightings have always been “noteworthy”, and snow bunting sightings are a little more special (totally biased here – acknowledged and accepted). Maybe they are noteworthy cuz we don’t see all that many of them. Take Pipits for example- I have gone years between sightings out here. Is that why they are noteworthy? Other than the intrinsic “pipits are beings, amazing warm blooded feathered things” I mean.

Pipits are small to medium-size passerines from the Family Motacillidae, a family which they share with Wagtails, cousins to a certain extent. So goes the old saying “…pipits are not wagtails, and not all pipits wag their tail, but of course our pipit does…. “ the family is subdivided into two distinct groups, the brightly colored wagtails and the drab pipits. “

snow on roger

“The most widespread North American species (of this here family), the American Pipit, was formerly lumped with the Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta). However there are substantial mDNA differences and they don’t interbreed where ranges overlap”. Sounds like two species to us!

So is it because “our” pipit – the American Pipit (Anthus rubscens) for Christmas sake! - was recently recognized as its own species? That can’t be it.  I mean really, what’s the deal with pipits?


I asked the most localist “passionate pipit person” I know – Palmer (of whom I am husband to) – what’s the coolest thing about Pipits? Amy immediately started beautifully “waggin’ her tail” , almost as if she had been waiting for someone to ask about the pipit dance. I didn’t get a video of that (but I have one etched into my mind) but I did get a video of a pipit waggin –


And so the old saying goes “…pipits are not wagtails, and not all pipits wag their tail, but of course our pipit does….” “Take back the American Pipit” speech and march on Washington

So there you have it the coolest thing about a pipit. Impressed?

is that it?” I asked the “passionate pipit person – princess palmer” (PPPPP), and that only got her all worked up – “they are bad ass! I’ve seen them at the top of a volcano in new Zealand , and in volcano country in the Alaskan peninsula. They pick some harsh places to be!”. Point well taken palmer – even here in the state (of Maine) they breed only in one locale – at the top (or close enough to the top) of mount katahdin. Katahdin is no state beach - don't get me wrong!


Alright then – so what’s the deal with Horned Larks and Snow Buntings? Surely aesthetics play a role in these species being noteworthy – striking pair they are.


Horned lark – Eremophila alpestris “Ground dwellers of open fields, lark’s are slender billed seed- and insect eaters.  On the ground they walk rather than hop” - here's a video of one searching for food.


Look at the Horned Lark range map and you will see most of North America covered – except for much of the unchartered territory of south/central Canada where no one lives anyway, so we as a species do not care about.  And yet even though they are found everywhere they seem to be a species that I just don’t see that often – except for on Cape Cod.

 here's a video of one doing a little feather stretch

lbj in snow
photo by John Drury
Is it this “infrequency of crossing paths” with them? Or is it that yellow face? Or maybe it’s the “horns” – (Palmer’s guess). Could be the huge Horned Lark flocks you read about “winter flocks, often immense, occ with snow buntings , Lapland longspur”, but somehow I have only seen on like one occasion –  thank you BAJ. Head scratcher.
false chantrelle in snow


For snow buntings it’s clear that their aesthetical beauty plays a role in their noteworthiness (sorry, looks go a long way with people diggin’ birdies). Especially for a sparrow – the family which has been voted “least impressive looking (ugliest) songbird family” for the last 45 years. Drab is the norm and this sparrow is hot. Or at least warm.

“Snow Buntings breed in the high Arctic in sparse, dry, rocky areas, such as shores, mountain slopes, and outcrops. In migration and winter they are characteristically found in fields, pastures, roadsides and along the shore”.

 “In winter, Snow Buntings are usually found in flocks, often fairly large ones. As they move through a field they appear to “roll  along, like blowing snow as birds toward the back of the flock leap-frog (leap-bunt) over those in the front”.


It all sounds cool – but really the reason Larks, Pipits and Buntings are noteworthy is because they are on island right now and easily observable! You may have already interacted with them if you’ve walked at State Beach. These are the tweeters that get scared up on the walk out to and back from the point with the picnic table. 

Alright, that’s it.  Put on some orange and get out there! 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report

November 2nd, 2014

Thanks to MCHT and VLT for their support over the years



Highlights – Sparrows (including Lapland Longspur), Pipits (including Pipits), Ducks (including Oldtails & Hooded Merganser), Salamanders, Mushrooms, Pine Siskins, White-winged Crossbill, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Carolina Wren, other stuff…


Stuff Contact Stuff – send your sightings, photos and email addresses (to get on the exclusive reminder list) to – simple as that.

 Tiit stuff - click on the photos to enlarge

no kids in the quarry this day
Hunting Stuff – it’s November, which of course means ‘tis the season for hunting with firearms (including guns). It doesn’t mean you have to stay out of the woods but be smart about when you go if you do – and wear your orange! Don’t blend!


Kid Stuff – Thanks to Susan Raven and the “Perspectives” afterschool program for having me over for some good ol’ salamander hunting. Bald guy expectations were low, which I have to say is a good way to go thru life (low expectations that is), going so “late” in the season (10/21 & 23) but the results were undeniable! Good salamanders, great kids and lots of fun! Thanks to MCHT too!


Sightings! - Songbirds – Sparrows – So we had “nor-easter” like (they call them “nor’easter”s) weather-like patterns last week and it messed with ferry schedule and just about everything else. It also brought with it was a ton of sparrows – lining the roads, fields, and marshes.
Here’s some videos giving a taste of the sparrow action….first a song sparrow doing the seed dance - to the beat of the hit single “Turn up the duff” …

 and here's a savannah sparrow in the thick of it - goldenrod style

nelson's sharp-tailed sparrow - out in the open
State Beach – (8/25) – Song, Savannah, Swamp, Nelson’s Sharp-tailed, White-crowned, White-throated Sparrows, Lapland Longspur, Dark-eyed Junco. Toss in an Ipswich Sparrow and you have 8 species and an extra subspecies to boot – 9 flavors of sparrows! Most numerous were the Song, Savannah, White-throated and Juncos.
savannah of state beach
We always love seeing Swamp (personal favorite sparrow - PFS) and Nelson’s S-tailed, but the highlight was the Lapland Longspur – only the second I have seen on Vinalhaven.
typical Junco scene these days..
Here’s a quick video of the longspur…



Lapland longspur - poor and tasty
 And here’s what Audubon (Johnny J. Audubon, that is) had to say about his first encounter with them in Kentucky (“Getting’ lucky in Kentucky!) in the good ol’ month of Feb 1819 –


“I saw immense flocks scattered over the open grounds on the elevated grassy banks of the Ohio. Having my gun with me, as usual, I procured more than 60 in a few minutes…Although in rather poor condition, we found them excellent eating”.

these slugs do not taste like

So apparently they are easy to shoot and quite tasty. I neither shot nor ate them, but will think about it for next time. Maybe I’ll try and bait them….


5 more Longspur were seen on Seal Island (10/28) by John Drury. Pipits, Iceland Gull, Red-necked Grebe and 3 Peregrines were also seen on that trip.
Also from John - Long-eared Owl on Greens, and a Great Horned Owl that ate a Peregrine. More on that next VSR....



Pine Siskins!!!! - And in come the siskins….recent storms have also brought in a wave of finches including White-winged Crossbill (small group, state beach 10/24), American Goldfinch (feeder and lane’s 10/30) and Purple Finch (feeder 10/30). On my return from Greens the other day (10/29) I was greeted by 25 or so Pine Siskins in the yard and it’s been pretty much siskins ever since. State Beach, Lane’s, The Basin, Reach Road – its Siskins everywhere and lots of them.  Easily the #1 song bird (by numbers) in my world (perspective) over the last few days. Hadn’t seen many since the “summer of Big Al” – 2008 – when we saw lots of siskins, but even more Crossbills.  Tame and coming to feeders, keep your eyes out for siskins and maybe redpolls!


Other ones…..Mill River – Snow Bunting (10/29)…31 Reach Road – 2 White-breasted Nuthatches, Carolina Wren (singing)…  walking to school –(10/28) – Yellow-billed Cuckoo along the ball field…(10/31) Basin - Swainson’s Thrush …School (10/27) – Turkey Vulture..


There are also a lot of these birds these days….Canada Geese, American Robins, Yellow-rumped Warblers (lane’s island)….

Ducks – welcome back! – Old tail Ducks (formerly known as “Old squaw” but too many young squaws complained about being left out of the name) were first reported by John Drury (10/21) in the Reach. Oldtails turned up on ferry rides (10/23 & 24), and just today (10/31) were seen and heard in Seal Bay off the Huber Preserve. “Bundles of oldtails” will soon be observable from the ferry and many other places around the island. A bundle of oldtails is called a “bag”, or “BOO”. I just made that up!


Hooded Mergansers – (10/25) 10 in pleasant river (seen each day since), lots in Carver’s Pond, and a random one has been seen twice in Round Pond


Bufflehead – (10/27) 2 seen in the Basin, (10/31) 20 in Indian Creek, 77 in Seal Bay, and 15 in Old Harbor Pond. Bufflehead suddenly en masse, in Maine.


Red-breasted Mergansers – (10/31) 8 in the Basin, Lane’s this morning.


As for the ferry – lots of loons, Laughing, Bonaparte’s, Ring-billed, Herring and Black-backed Gulls – 5 gulls days are cool! Looking forward to some Kittiwakes! Many Gannets as well.

gannets are being seen
from the ferry these days

Lane’s (11/1) – 4 Greater Yellowlegs, Great Blue Heron, Black Duck, White-winged, Black and Surf Scoters (scoter Trifecta, baby!), Loons, Gannets, Eiders (UTW), Yellow-rumped Warblers (UTW), White-winged Crossbill, Chickadee, Great Cormorants, Double-crested Corms, Red-breasted Merganser, Pine Siskin.
stack of wolf's milk slime


Slime Molds – Wolf’s Milk Slime (PFSATM – personal favorite slime at the moment) - is making a nice late season run here’s a few shots. Lookin’ good WMS!
fresh milk


Herps – peepers still peeping, red-bellied snake at armbrust hill, garter snake in the yard.


going thru the changes
puffball - gem-studded style

Fungus – “Better late than never” for the rains as they say, and even though mushrooms were a little slim this fall, we’ve seen a nice late rush with the rains. Here’s a few of what we’ve been seeing.

irregular earthtongues

and an old friend in Jelly Tooth. three different states of being for the jelly tooth

I like this VTP, with the little mushrooms
growing on top. or are they slimes?


gilled polypore - just starting out

Delicous milky>>>>>

<<<<lackluster laccaria
maze polypores are amazing

 how about this shaggy mane and it's progression as it deliquesces - liquefies into an inky mess of spores and goo.

current state, as of this posting
raccoon scat comes in many
shapes and flavors
Tracking – Summer and Fall (and even spring) are what we like to call “non-winter seasons”. These NWS are often (but not always) known for their lack of snow. Snow tracking is our favorite, but with no snow (until tomorrow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) we deal more with Scat Trackin’ or Spraint watchin’! The dens, the trails and the poop are all still out there to be found. Here’s some recent “scatterific” raccoon, mink and otter presents…..
funk it up fishbone!
otter spraint - scales and bones

this mink had been eating
baby lobster



more baby lobster scat
eagle pellet for good measure
feathers and no bones about it!
and of course there was Halloween - I had forgot had much fun trick or treating is!
stay safe and wear orange! see you out there!

leif as hiccup from how to train your dragon