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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!