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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


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

needs no words
Awesome shot Sally! Thanks for sharing!
photo by Sally Conway

Welcome to the vinalhaven sightings report – March 23rd, 2015


Wondering what the snow fleas have been up to


Highlights – otter, owls and mink. Red tail hawk, snow fleas!!!! ,   boat ride, when seal bay freezes over!


Upcoming EventsVLT/MCHT Woodcock Walk – Saturday April 4th, 7pm at Lane’s Island. Be there or be somewhere else!
roger covered in snow


VLT/MCHT Basin Clean-up – Sunday April 12th, 9am at Skoog to carpool. We’ll be cleaning up near the Basin bridge for a few hours, come on out and help!
seal bay

Businesscontact – where else can you share your nature sightings and photos? Facebook? That’s soooooo 2014. I mean, feel free to get Facebooked and all that…but then send them over to the VSR! We’d love to see what you have seen.


Tiit trick – click on the photos to make them jumbo sized.
seal bay has these ice formation too!

ice caves at seal bay

how deer made it to seal bay!
Sightings – John Drury reports an adult Red-tail Hawk on Greens Island for much of the past few weeks, if not longer.


Grackles for a day – the “true harbinger of late-winter”, a handful of Common Grackles, was spotted between up the sands (3/11). Not reported since.


These days - Spring singers, drummers and callers- black-capped chickadee, cardinals, red-breasted nuthatch, song sparrow, downy and hairy woodpeckers, Great-horned Owl



it's snow flea season!
Snow Fleas – With all the wondrous snow this winter, it is no surprise that so many people have approached me with concerns about the wildlife on Vinalhaven. Even raccoons have brought out sympathy from some, but there is one species that literally (not really) has been on everyone’s minds – Snow Fleas!

In reality, snow fleas have been on (at least) two people’s mind (if you count mine as a mind) as of late. Just wondering out loud really – (1) does this winter – with little melt and little warmth – affect the snow fleas at all? I hadn’t seen a single snow flea all winter and wouldn’t until (3/13). I had read that often populations of ¼ to ½ a million snow fleas cross the snow not only to look for food, but to find the next area to work over. (2) Does this winter’s snow affect their migration patterns? I mean – (3) could there be legions of stressed snow fleas under the snow, starving only because they weren’t able to migrate to new feeding grounds? (4) Could breeding/offspring stats and numbers skewed with this “migration blockage” as the “fleas” couldn’t get enough food to produce offspring? (5) Could this be the end of our island snow fleas?

"gang of fleas"

Figuring the answers to my questions were as follows – (1) “fine”, (2) “not at all”, (3) “probably not”, (4) “what?” and (5) “idiot” – soon after I lost whatever “concerns” I had. But then (3/13) came along and all my vanished “concerns” vanished even more. None more concerns. (“The answer is none. None more black” – Nigel Tufnel).


Fox Rocks area – (3/13) a half mile hike on a nice warm day, resulted in a half mile back track back out following my old footsteps. And each and every one of my “less than an hour old” snowshoe prints having snow fleas in them, some filled more than others of course. I had never seen such a stretch of snow fleas in my life! Bursting onto the scene with such intensity and magnitude it was as if the snow fleas had been waiting for this moment for all their lives. Which might be true – I don’t know how long they live actually.


Hey – now’s a good time to drop some basic Snow Flea knowledge down –


Gwen person “Wired”


 “Technically, springtails aren’t proper insects at all, since their body has a different design than the standard insect plan.  Their taxonomic name is Collembola, and while they are in the group Hexapoda (which contains the Insecta), they are not classified as insects.  Their eyes are not proper compound eyes, and their abdomen has fewer segments and some special extra appendages that insects don’t have. Springtails also keep molting (shedding their exoskeleton) through their lives; the world record is 52 moults. That’s way more than any insect or spider, and kind of amazing for such a tiny animal.”


“Springtails get their name from their jumping apparatus -– they don’t use their legs to jump like fleas and grasshoppers, but have a special little appendage that flicks them up and around. This furcula is like a spring; when it’s released, it flings the springtail up over 100 times its body length. Alas for the springtail, they can’t control where they go -– but it’s still effective for predator avoidance.”

the sun has not set on snow fleas

“The mechanics of their jump are pretty fascinating — snow fleas’ exoskeletons power their flips. It contains a rubber-like protein called resilin, where a lot of the potential energy for the jump is stored, but blood pressure and muscles also are involved.”


“Snow flea courtship involves a lot of head banging. Females are usually larger than males, and it's thought that she assesses a male's suitability by making him push her around. Literally”



Eating habits – from “Fairfax County Public Schools” website- thank you public schools!

Snow Fleas, and other springtails, live in soil, leaf litter, mosses, fungi, and along shores of ponds. Sometimes they can be found on the surface of ponds. Since they are so light, they can walk on the surface without sinking.


They eat old dead plant matter, bacteria, fungi, algae, pollen, roundworms, rotifers, and sap. Roundworms and rotifers are tiny microscopic animals.”



raccoons do not eat snow fleas - unless by accident
And of course from Wiki – “Researchers at Queen's University (Canada) have sequenced and synthesised the anti-freeze-like protein that allows snow fleas to operate in sub-zero environments,[2] and found it to be glycine-rich, and unlike any previously known protein. There are hopes that similar proteins may be useful for storing transplant organs and for producing better ice cream. [3] By preventing the formation of ice crystals in tissues, organs could be stored at lower temperatures, increasing the time of their viability outside a living body. Unlike proteins with similar functions in other species, the protein found in snow fleas breaks down easily at higher temperatures.”[
been nice to see the raccoon highways
once again


And finally back to Gwen Person from Wired - “Here’s what some People may not realize it, but Snow Fleas, and all springtails, are very important. They are decomposers, and help break down old dead plant matter and other items in the soil. After the springtails are done with them, plants can pull the nutrients back from the soil and use them to grow. Then, people and other animals can use the plants. Springtails are an important part of nature's cycle”.

Of course, we all knew how important snow fleas are simply because of their aesthetic value and cuteness. Good to see snow fleas again! The platform trail in the Basin is another great spot to find them!


dead saw-whet

Great Horned Owl – when visiting veterinarians Melissa and Allison were taking star photos from the yard the other night they heard a Great Horned Owl hooting it up on Greens

feathers and owl spraint

(3/19) Lane’s – on a quick snowshoe on Lane’s I found some Saw-whet Owl feathers that had been ripped out of a Saw-whet owl (makes sense) presumably by a Great Horned, but maybe a Long-eared could have done it I guess. Either way it’s one less Saw-whet to worry about....

owl scat looks like this
they don't lift their tails, so the
scat comes straight down

part of a frozen and thawed pellet
Long Cove - well, last year's nest may have fallen, but that hasn't kept the Great Horneds away from the area! I found this owl scat under the same tree where I had found owl scat and pellets last year. i checked out a tree that had more pellets under it than any other tree last year, and sure enough there was a pellet waiting for me!
Brimstone in snow

Boat Ride(3/19) on the Skua –Capt. John Drury was kind enough to take me for a spin around the Whites (islands not Heather and Adam) and over to Brimstone.

great cormorants on the rocks

looking good and ready to go
Highlights included - Great Cormorants, Harlequin Ducks, Purple Sandpipers, Horned Grebe, and of course – otter trails and sign from the boat! Thanks John for the ride and for sharing some photos!
Harlequins on the move





horned grebe
photo by John Drury
purple sandpipers
photo by John Drury


Mink - So it’s about the time of the year where we talk estrus again.

So what is estrus?  Definitions thanks to Merriam Webster


Estrus – noun - regularly recurrent state of sexual excitability during which the female of most mammals will accept the male and is capable of conceiving:  heat; also:  a single occurrence of this state,

a little estrus in your bound

And their “student definition” - a periodic state during which the female of most mammals is willing to mate with the male and is capable of becoming pregnant

Since there has been snow – which has been for a while now – we have been posting about what a great year it has been for Mink out here, and now the year is apparently getting even greater! I was tracking a pair of mink out on Lane’s (3/17) who appeared (from their tracks) to be getting along from the way their trails were crossing and interacting (interacting trails? Whatever). Then I came upon this scene.



From the looks of it one of the mink – assumed to be the female – let out a spraintload of red liquid –assumed to be blood – in mid run. The mink didn’t break stride as the gush flowed for a few bounds, eventually bleeding into some of its own tracks.


Now, back in March 2005 – the 15th I believe – I found a similar scene out on lane’s – lots of mink trails and rolls with spots of blood sprinkled throughout. This year’s female looks to be even more “good to go” than the 2005 female as this was no sprinkling of blood, but a splashing.
can you hear the "sploosh" sound
of estrus being released


I did a something search on “mink estrus photos” was pleased to see the VSR as one of the first links, but the photos in general should little estrus and more mink trails. I did not do a something search on “what does mink estrus sound like” but I would have to assume (lot of assuming here) that it sounds a little like “sploosh”. I should have sniffed it, but I didn’t want to be tricked into pursuing the female – I am a male whether other males accept me in their clan or not.


Anyway – what a cool scene to find. I bet they are “shagging like mink” out there as we speak!


nice tail

Otters – and no winter VSR would be complete without some otter stuff.


Crockett River Road – Adam White and Jamus Drury spotted some otters slides where freshwater flows into the cove – very cool!


Norton’s Point – Oscar looks to have gotten over his grumpiness at getting his photo taken, and tuned up at this one latrine 3 times in a week. Rolling and tumbling, Oscar was marking up a storm!

Oscar rolling

heading up stream
Basin to Vinal Cove – one of my favorite lessons I have learned on Vinalhaven is that otters run across the island. The first cross island trail that I observed was the “Basin-Long Pond-thru the woods – Folly pond shoreline- to Vinal Cove” otter runs from 2008. I hadn’t crossed paths with this route being used pretty much since, but an otter made that run on the 18th, and I was fortunate enough to be in the area on the 19th for some fun tracking!
crossing long pond

The otter came out of the Basin by the Long Pond outflow – the cross island runs I have come across have all have freshwater drainages as the starting and ending places. It (he most likely) worked its way up the stream – under ice and snow – until it got to the pond. There it bounded and slid its way along the entire length of the pond, and then booked it thru the woods!

letter "j" or a quarter note?
the yellow in the trail is peeing
and the phat part is rolling


Up, up, up – why would an otter head up and over the highest point around instead of going along the lower (though longer) and somewhat easier to traverse valley system that could also take him to Folly Pond? Maybe less time out of the water means less time for predators to snag – but really – who is getting an otter out here? I doubt even a Great Horned would be silly enough to go after them. Survival instinct.  Yeah sure.

otter thru the woods

Or maybe he wanted to get the longest slide he could get? That was what I was going with – unfortunately he took such a zig zaggy route down there was hardly room to belly slide much. He actually was sliding just as much on the flat frozen lake!

heading down the hill -
about the biggest slides in the woods

So I have come to the conclusion that it is simply the way he goes. The otter in 2008 was possibly another otter – they don’t live too too long - but it took the same route. And that’s why we love otters – they are creatures of habit and that makes them easy!


and finally down to folly pond

Anyway – there you have it and enough already! Hope you enjoyed and hope to see you out there!

here's a few of Leif in Howe Caverns - stalagmites that were allowed to be touched!

rock on everyone!