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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


Friday, February 6, 2015

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report – Feb 3rd, 2015

MCHT and VLT in co-supportive roles

this is skunk cabbage, this is the edge

“Now I know Pine Siskins have been coming to my feeder”


Post 2 of 2


Sightings one for Javier! – Here’s this year’s Skunk Cabbage flower starting to plow thru ice…that’s enough plants for a while….


Song Sparrows in winter – January - John reported Song sparrow on his January Seal Island trip, the same week I took this video of song sparrows at state beach. The book says that they are “uncommon” in winter for the state – which may mean that they hang in “toasty warm Kittery” most winters – but I can’t recall seeing Song Sparrows in the snow before.


At “the Wind” the other afternoon Song Sparrows were mentioned in hushed tones “ I think I saw Song Sparrows at my feeder” as if a Song Sparrow here in winter was like wearing white after labor day! No self respecting Song Sparrow would be caught dead here! Anyway- Song Sparrows have been seen this winter – not what you figure to see most winters – in my experience.


Sally Conway reports seeing 3 or 4 Tree Sparrows at her feeders.


Tracking report….
snowshoe hare -heavy traffic
just hopping - snowshoe hare


Snowshoe Hare – in my limited and humble observational opinion I would say I am seeing a lot of snowshoe hare tracks these days. In the basin, Norton’s point, Huber, everywhere. Lots of owl food, we love prey.



Red Squirrel - chowing on sumac atop a red-belted conk.

some deer action
Deer are the only “big animals with long legs and small feet” dumb enough to walk thru the deep snow. Survival, gotta do what you gotta do. Plenty of deer as always.

the letter "A"


Otters – Spraint letters – in my quest to spell the alphabet in otter spraints and slides I picked up one of what I guessed would be one of the tricky letters – may we introduce you to the letter “A”. More letters below.


Snow and otters - In theory (and limited personal experience) otters don’t cross deep snow. I have only seen otter snow tunnels right at dens, where in order to leave the den you have to tunnel. Other than that I have not seen otter tunnels, so I figure they don’t do that much. They don’t seem to belly slide in these conditions either, maybe they are too heavy for thick snow and would sink. No one wants to get stuck in a snowdrift.
So when we get these big storms – you know, the ones with 20 inch drifts and the such (like we have been getting the last few weeks)-  the depth and conditions seem to limit otter movement. How much? Slightly I would think. Sure – so they can’t cross from Old Harbor Pond to the sands right now. Not a big deal. spend more time under the ice I would think.

here's what conditions were one day on OHP


belly slide sunrise


Carver’s Pond – Ali McCarthy spotted a single otter from her house a few days back.


Old Harbor Pond (OHP) (1/25) Headed out not expecting much (never do!)- deep snow, pretty darned cold and windy –that night and that morning. But a few of the OHP otter marking areas had enough sign to understand that access to them was not only easily accessible for local otters, but that there had been some activity the night before. A pair – possibly a spinoff of the “gang of four” (roughly half) – had visited a few marking latrines, and left some cool slides.
this otter stopped to shake
its booty for a moment

coming out of the water

this is the "y"

The marking areas along the edge were conveniently located near (or pretty close to) open spots along the shore. Makes you wonder if the otters somehow help keep the openings in the ice, well, open. They are certainly aware of them. Anyway…


I found three openings in the pond ice along on eastern shore where the otters had visited that night. The northern most opening was where the otters went under the ice after running across the pond, opting not to swim under as they went across. For a quarter mile or so I tracked the otters as they worked their way under the ice, just coming up at the other two openings to mark marking areas. Otters are so regular….

you can see where the otter
came out of the water, visited the marking
area and returned

The letter “Y” was found in belly slides along this shore.


Backtracking now, the windblown belly slides were followed back across the pond to the western shore, where the otters had run over floats and thru supplies stashed along the banks. Once again “they came from below” was the theme as they weaved in and out of the openings, leaving slides and this nice slosh into the thawing ice along the shore. Makes me wonder if they were having a time deciding whether to go under or over when they crossed the pond. Probably a no brainer.
they went thataway



the letter "x"

all otter trails lead to....

sometimes storms look like this

(1/28) Just a few days later, and another storm has set in. we have grown fond of snowshoeing in such storms. Still windy from the night before…

from here they came

 this was how we (the royal "we")
could tell there were two otters
surprisingly slushy, the two otters (could be a different pair, could be the same) came out of a slushy opening at the very far south end of the pond. From there the pair went directly to the “island’s most photographed otter latrine”. Their trails disappeared under the windblown snow, or maybe under the ice again.


The local den was completely covered in snow; entrances show no sign of use.     



Norton’s Point – (1/26) – in part one of this 2 part post  the possibility that overnight activity on Norton’s Point and Greens Island – pretty much straight shot across – was from the same, solo otter. Checking two known latrines/marking areas on Norton’s that morning found sign of activity at both.


The Sands side marking area showed scratching, bounding, mound building from one otter. Fresh spraint was also observed.
twas a nice jump


belly slide and a view to greens
scratches and scapes
The marking area on "the reach side" (of Norton’s point) marking area showed a quick roll and scat (the letter “A” came from there).



otter bounding away
snowshoe hare hopping towards us

active mink den entrance

Mink - always fun to find a mink den, unless you don't like mink, then its probably not the same. Anyway, psyched to find this active den out on Norton's Point and then to return after a few storms to see what the mink has been up to.

check out this beautiful entrance to the mink tunnel
As opposed to otters, Mink have no problem with tunneling. they tunnel and actively hunt the subnivean zone network of  vole tunnels and activity.
mink tracks lead away from the tunnel opening


the tunnel went about 20 feet from the foreground to
the shrub thing. easily could be a network of tunnels all over
the neighborhood -and yours too


more leif action. 

cold is psychological when you are snowshoeing

see you for the snowshoe on feb 14th.!  and now for some rare footage...