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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, 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!