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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


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Welcome to the Vinalhaven sightings report

January 15th, 2015


This one “cleaned up nice”


Highlights varied thrush, Carolina wren, yellow-bellied sapsucker, gadwall, rough-legged hawk, northern goshawk, barrow’s goldeneye, belted kingfisher, deer whisperer


raccoon or big foot
Upcoming event – this Saturday! – January 17thMCHT Basin snowshoe/tracking/winter walk. 10am at Skoog Park (VLT office parking area) for carpooling. About 3 hours long (or so). Bring a snack, snowshoes not required.


Contact us! – Send us your sightings and your photos –


Tiit trick – click on photos to enlarge to jumbo size!



can you see how varied this thrush is?
photo by Jim Clayter
SightingsJim Clayter sees a lot out his back door (and side windows). His pumpkin ridge feeder sightings are legendary (at least with the VSR staff!), his heron observations over the years have been impressive, and we all saw his gross eagle shots from November. Well, it’s only January 15th and Jim’s has already sent in some photos of a Varied Thrush - an early nomination for the “Bird Of The Year”, or “BOoTY” award.


varied thrush
photo by Jim Clayter
If you look for a range map for the Varied Thrush (Ixoreus naevius) in your “birds of eastern north America” book you won’t find one. No map, no mention. When you see the range map for the Varied Thrush in the “National Geographic Birds of North America” it looks like a huge obstacle out west (the Rocky Mountains, maybe?) keeps Varied Thrushes nicely contained along the Pacific coast and coastal ranges (now if only the Rockies could keep the hippies contained!). It’s like the Ixoreus naevius (and let’s face it - with a Latin name like that you know it’s gotta be from the west coast) has trouble breathing at higher elevations or something and has to turn back.
the varied thrush may have taken
the ferry to Vinalhaven


There is a mention in the description – “very rare in winter as far east as New England and south to Virginia”. 


Anyway, Jim got these wonderful shots of a “very rare” male Varied Thrush in his yard (1/11). Blown in with the recent winds? It was pretty darned cold last week and breezy enough to push a varied thrush down from the great north nothingness (and it’s true, there is nothing north of us – it’s like we are at the north pole). Whatever the case – it’s cool.


When sharing the news and photos with “tweeter folk” (bird people) on the mainland the response was 100% excitement (alright, I just told one person about it – but they were psyched!). The bird was seen for two mornings (1/11-12), and because Jim keeps such meticulous notes on his feeders/yard he was able to confirm that he had never observed one in his yard before.


This is the only mention I have heard of a Varied Thrush on island - other than the famous (infamous?) Norm Famous night migration survey report (infamous report?) where Norm listened for migrating birds at the turbine spot (pre-turbines that is) and reported hearing a Varied Thrush’s calling as it flew over in the dark. Never did see the actual report… 


Jim sent in photos of 2 other “newbie” (VNMs!) bird species that he took in his yard - not a bad start for 2015!

Carolina Wren
photo by Jim Clayter

This handsome Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludivicianus) has been visiting Jim’s woodpile for over a week now – first reported 1/5, and is still appearing. The Carolina Wren is the state bird of South Carolina and one of our favorite “tea kettle, tea kettle, tea kettle” bird singers. Over the past couple years – or maybe just a little more than one – they have been spotted on both  Armbrust and Skin Hills, near the Town Hall, and even over at  good ol’ 31 Reach Road on Vinalhaven.


The range map I am looking at shows them breeding north thru Massachusetts, (but we’ve already discussed range map dynamics with the Varied Thrush). Here’s what the National Geo says – “Non-migratory (love that), but after mild winters resident populations expand north of mapped range (they admit their maps can’t represent the ebbs and flows of Carolina Wrens!). After harsh winters, range limits retract”. Simple expand and retract….

yellow-bellied sapsucker
photo by Jim Clayter

Another recent visitor to Jim’s feeders has been this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. First reported on the 7th, the Sapsucker came back again on the 8th as well. This youngster has less red on the throat than the one in Sally’s sapsucker photos from the last VSR, so maybe we had a rush (of at least 2) Sapsuckers in this early winter.


Jim also reports Common Redpolls at his feeders (1/13). Thanks for sharing Jim!


gadwall, baby!
Gadwall duck – well, after all that a Gadwall duck might not seem so huge, and that’s because it really isn’t. They breed as close to us as “not too far west” of the Canada/Maine border and are regularly seen in southern Maine.  They are “expected to be seen” if not common (even) along the Atlantic coast in winter. And yet, this Gadwall was only the second I have seen on Vinalhaven, and John Drury reports this being the second time he has seen a Gadwall and we both saw the same one in winter 2006 (or 2007?).

Anyway – good to see another one!


Carver’s Pond – Hooded Merganser (John Drury reported)


Basin – (1/12) Barrow’s Goldeneye (male)


Sheep Island – (1/14) Rough-legged Hawk


Tip-toe Mountain – (1/13) Belted Kingfisher, murder of crows
mink with a slight tail drag


Old Harbor Pond – (1/11) Pine Grosbeak


State Beach - (1/14) Song Sparrow, Red-necked Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Oldtails, Eiders, Crows, Ravens, Common Loons


31 Reach Road – Brown Creeper, Goldfinch,


Woods – Red-breasted Nuthatch, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Black-capped chickadees, Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers

sunrise is best for tracking

Tracking – early returns on the last snow imply that it’s a good year for mink and snowshoe hare. Like their tracks are everywhere. Limited otter tracking. It’s not fair how their trails will go under the ice at times. More to come!

this mink seemed to wake up slow
and stretch before bounding away from
the den

otter den opening lined with ice

even found a new otter latrine this week

we have appreciated the mink trails
this last week

And the deer whisperer….special “hat’s off” goes out to Adam White who took a little time before school the other day to help release a deer that had been caught in a soccer net…on the soccer field. The name of the deer is being withheld for security reasons – but Adam was quick to use his “ninja and sheep herding skills” to keep the exhausted deer at ease while release the deer from it knotty predicament. Is sinking/break away soccer netting the answer to avoid any more senseless deer snaggings? Are the nets up for winter soccer league? Anyway – good work Adam – local nature hero.  

and lets not forget our local snow hero, having some good times in the snow!

there was way more speed than could be captured here

see you out there!


Saturday, January 3, 2015

Welcome to the Vinalhaven sightings report- Jan 2, 2015!

Happy 2105 everybody!

And thanks to MCHT and VLT for their continued support


purple sandpipers
photo by John Drury
Highlights – Seal island in December, Otters, yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Tree Swallow, Red-necked Grebes, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Razorbill, other stuff


Business – contact us . send photos and sightings.


3 outta 4 otters agree
they are cute

Tiit trick – click on photos to make them bigger.

our simple dream is to one day have otter spraint shots in 3-D posted on the VSR, which will be amazing! Then you can click on them and they would get jumbo. 


male Grey Seals patrolling the cove
photo by John Drury
Upcoming events – 2 Events –

MCHT Basin Snowshoeing/TrackingSat. (1/17 – 10am – meet at Skoog to carpool) hopefully a snowshoe, but maybe just a fine winter’s walk!

 And Sat. January 31st big moon evening snowshoe (and bonfire (?)) @ MCHT’s Huber preserve – more info to come on that one. More to come in February as well!

yellow -bellied sapsucker
photo by Sally Conway

Sightings – Perspectives program at the school found 5 red-backed salamanders on December 17th. Seems kind of late. It was not the warmest day ever, either!

Skin Hill Sally (or Sally as she is known to me) sent in these wonderful photos of a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker that visited her feeder in mid-December. It was the first Sally’d seen at her feeders, snackin’ on some grub that doesn’t include sap (sucka!!!!).

photo by Sally Conway
Hillary Bunker reports a sighting of a Tree Swallow in her yard. The bird – which according to Maine bird lists “should” have left the state a few months ago – has been observed for two weeks or so, and has been seen swooping and diving - apparently snaggin’ food out of the air (no winter moths though!). Hillary, being the kind person that she is, has grown concerned about the future of this swallow (B.O.T.L.) and called Avian Haven (also kind people) who told her that if she “doesn’t catch it, it will die”. So how do you catch a swallow? Gaff hook? Maybe the genes from this particular swallow are best “not passed down”. (We've all thought that about someone, haven't we?) Anyway, if any ideas come to mind please share them with Hillary. 


big fella on the left. this year's stud?
or is it a "too early" arrival?
photo by John Drury

Seal Island – (12/16) Captain John Drury and the entire crew of the Skua (that would be pretty much John) took some camera people out to Seal to set up the “seal camera” (formerly known as the Puffin Camera). The camera is up “for the viewing pleasure of the wonderfully horsey looking grey seals and their cute pups”.

purple sandpipers are cool
photo by John Drury
Every year loads of these big dudes and dudettes (male -  up to 8.5 ft. & 770 lbs, female up to 6.5 ft., & 440 lbs) come to Seal island to give birth (just the females) and then mate (just the adults, please!). The main seal “action” on Seal Island takes place for just a few months (dec-feb/march) before adults return to the sea and the young venture out into an aquatic world of unknown, which is probably not too scary since they are seals! They are built for the water as they are seals of course…

Anyway check this site out for all the tasty seal pup watching action you can handle -

And then go outside and find yourself something on your own. Time better spent (biased opinion)….

Anyway, here’s what John reports from the day - 50 seals ashore, 10 or so new pups,  10 eagles, 150 purple sandpiper,  3 snow bunting, one song sparrow, 3 harlequin ducks at Seal, 8 at Otter, 4 gannet, 6 kittiwake one Iceland gull, red necked grebe, 15 Razorbill,  guillemots, loons and long squaws, mergansers and black ducks.


Thanks to John for sharing the report and the photos – check out his blog -  - for all kinds of shots!


From the ferry - Capt. Pete gave us the heads up on "lots of Razorbills these days" and so it is, with Razorbills and (personal fav) Black-legged Kittiwakes regular sightings from the ferry these days

Great Horned Owls (GHOs) – (12/30) a sunrise walk at Fox Rocks had a Great Horned calling, and being mobbed by a murder if crows (in the 1st degree!)… (12/31) A sunrise walk on Wharf Quarry Road had another murder (of f’in crows!) without the GHO calling. The mobbing took place in an area of historic nesting GHO presence. Whatever that means – probably a GHO out there...


And in other news, last year’s GHO nest that we documented on Long Cove has now officially fallen out of the tree it was in. Tough loss, but we are sure the owls will adapt and we will remain in pursuit of their nests. It’s what we do (the royal “we”).


Otters photo gallery - well, we (the royal “we”) just don’t know where to begin – the trail camera we use is a little funky and temperamental (aren’t we all…), and has battery issues (don’t get me started!). And yet we (the royal “me”) go back to it for those comforting views of the old harbor otters that we get from no other spot.
“The” latrine of/on old harbor pond (one of several really) is a classic marking spot - with otters returning every few days to check in and "stop, drop, and roll"
"the drop" - the one on the left is sprainting,
the one on the right is rolling


And to make a long story short (too late!) for the fourth year in a row the otter latrine at old harbor pond is pumping out the otter photo shoots. Each visit of the otters is in the 5-20 second range, so the action (and sprainting!) is fast and furious.

"the stop" - plenty of sniffin'
even if its only for a moment

and the roll - to get covered in smell,
possibly whatever you "dropped" their moments before

and sometimes all four come to shore

Red-necked rule! – here’s an extended shout out to a species that may get overlooked on certain days - Red-necked Grebes (Podiceps grisegena) – with a series of videos taken out at state beach. here's a bunch floating floating with a white -winged scoter in the foreground..


Now - We have been mentioning the impressive (to easily impressed observers) numbers of Red-necked Grebes that “hang out” for much of late fall (or autumn) at state beach. “it’s very grebey” I have been known to say to myself.


What's cool about Red-necked(?) and Grebes in general, is that they are most famous for eating their own feathers. Hard core, no?


Perhaps because the idea of swallowing hair is so unpleasant to us, it is difficult to believe the stories of birds deliberately eating their feathers”.
This is how the essay on “eating feathers” in “the birder’s handbook” (best book ever) begins.

But, really? Because hair is so (overrated and) unpleasant to eat it’s hard for the author to believe that birds of a different class of vertebrates (I'm not talking "socio-economic" here)  might eat something that grows out of/on them. What seems more unpleasant to me is what dogs eat (poop), and what otters roll in and we actually are in the same class as them (even if you are bald).

Well, I think I have eaten way more hairs than feathers – in fact I don’t think I have ever eaten a feather. I have no idea how unpleasant that might be. The type of feather would make a difference I would think. I bet flight feathers would not be pleasant to eat! Downy feathers? They are soft and cuddly….here’s more –


“Grebes, for example, consume their feathers by the hundreds” – Does this mean like a hundred at one time? or even hundreds at one time? Has to be downy feathers (or some glorified downy like  "filoplume" or whatever). That can’t be anything like if we ate 100 strands (or hundreds even!) of hair in one sitting.   Is this grebe in the video eating it's feathers?


Feathers taken from parents are found in the stomachs of chicks only a few days old!” we love this…”50% of the stomach contents of Horned or Pied-billed Grebe may be feathers. This odd behavior seems to have a purpose” . Yeah – "no spraint" it must serve a purpose –
I bet if there was a good reason  to eat our own hair - like we could digest corn easier (or something) – we would all be mackin' on our own hair. Baldness would have been removed from the gene pool over the millennia simply by survival rates.  Dream world? Too good to be true... because in reality no good (like really good) reason for keeping hair exists anymore….


Here’s the purpose – “the action of the gizzard in these primarily fish-eating birds is insufficient to crush the bones that are swallowed. The feather balls are thought to protect the stomach by padding the sharp fish bones and slowing down the process of digestion so that the bones dissolve rather than pass into the intestine.” How hot must the feather balls be to digest bones in them? Hot.


Anyway – we all know that cool stuff – here’s some other stuff about
Red-necked Grebes – (Podiceps grisegena) – stats - L 18”, ws 24”, wt 2.2 lb (1,000g).
Nest – floating platform in shallow water, anchored mass of fresh and decayed reeds.
Closest nesting – other side of Lake Superior – Minnesota up thru Alaska.
And then across much of Eurasia.
Also known as “Holboll’s Grebe” with an umlaut on the second “o”.  Probably somewhere in Eurasia



“Recent declines due to egg in viability and shell thinning from pesticides and PCBs, and to increased egg predation by raccoons” – Damn Raccoons! This was written in 1988.

 Anyway, here's leif and I looking at kestrels and vultures in florida. i'm the one on the right...
and a video of leif doing his best bon scott

Rock on VSR readers! Safe and healthy new year!