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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, April 21, 2015

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report

April 21, 2015

…with the helpful sponsorship of VLT and MCHT


Highlights – woodcocks, killdeer, fox sparrow, eastern towhee, flickers and other wood peckers, belted kingfisher, great blue heron, osprey, harriers, kestrel, harlequin ducks, great cormorants, palm warbler, winter wren, hermit thrush, brown creeper, ruby-crowned and golden-crowned kinglets, mystery webbing, mink, otter, salamanders, snakes,


Business – Contact us – check out all the tasty photos that were sent in for this post! Imagine your photos right here in the mix. You feel better about your life already, I know. So send in your sightings and photos to . And feel better about your life.


American woodcock
photo by Karen Oakes
Another year, another website…getting all geared up to get out to the islands and check out some birdies and the such? Well, then you gotst to check out John Drury’s new website (#2 for those keeping track at home) - . So check it out and reserve your spot on a boat trip before they are all gone!


Sightings - What a year for woodcocks! (is there ever a “bad year” for woodcocks?). they are everywhere, and not just out on Vinalhaven apparently. Good to hear! And here are a few amazing woodcock photos Karen Oakes took recently – right in her back yard! (I think…maybe).


American woodcock
photo by Karen Oakes
--news flash – I did my good deed for the year this morning and brought the school announcements to the Wind. While I was there “the wind women” or “the women of the wind” gossiped to me (well, told me really) that Karen’s woodcock shot made it onto the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website.Gossiping Wind Women are far from the most trustworthy” (ancient Estonian proverb) – and far from the least trustworthy characters I have met as well (sorry botanists!) – so I checked it out for myself and behold its true! Here’s the link – check it out!

photo by Karen Oakes

And so congrats to Karen with her great wildlife photos! And here are some more shots Karen sent in recently. !

Fox Sparrow
photo by Karen Oakes

American Tree Sparrow
photo by Karen Oakes


Thanks for sharing Karen! Keep ‘em coming!


Squirrel Feeding
photo by Karen Oakes
One warbler – (4/16) Ocean view road – Palm Warbler – so we lied – one warbler here.


Pileated Woodpecker
photo by Erin Creelman

Wharf Quarry Road(4/12 – recent) Erin Creelman sent in these shots of a Pileated Woodpecker near the beginning of Wharf Quarry Road. Andy Creelman confirmed the authenticity of the photos and commented recently that they still have been seeing and hearing the woodpecker. Pileateds, while numerous and quite pleasant on the mainland, are an uncommon sight out here, with one a year spotted if that. And they are often pleasant when spotted.
pileated giving the cold shoulder
photo by Erin Creelman


Erin also reports Great Horned Owl activity along Wharf Quarry Road.


Niall Conlan sent in these shots of some deer activity out towards the end of Wharf Quarry Road. These “digging in the dirt” kind of scrapes have been observed with somewhat regularity around the island  over the last few years, leading to much speculation as it what the deer are looking for. Or maybe they are just playful, and that’s how deer play – by digging in the dirt. If this was done by an otter it would be interpreted as play!

when deer scrape
photo by Niall Conlan

Anyway, in these particular scrapes Niall found these “tuber like things” that might make a tasty treat for a hungry deer. Looks juicy on the inside! Lots of animals will dig for roots, bulbs and truffles (false truffles in our case – but don’t tell the fungus that!) and after a pretty tough winter for the deer I bet that sniffin’ out those fresh bulbs and mackin’ ‘em must have hit the spot! Thanks for sending Niall!
these almost look yummy
photo by Niall Conlan


photo by Niall Conlan

While we’re there – wharf quarry road – (4/11) Belted Kingfisher, Great Blue Heron – both first of the season for me, or a seasonal VNM. But that kind of defeats the purpose of the VNM in the first place. Anyway….
Fox Sparrow
photo by Sally Conway


Skin Hill Sally sent in these photos of Killdeer and Fox Sparrow from “up in the hood”. Nice shots and thanks for sharing!

Who’s singing – Brown Creeper (Huber, long cove), Winter Wren (long cove), Hermit Thrush (Huber, long cove) Chickadees, Purple Finch (lane’s), Song Sparrow, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Goldfinch, Junco, White-crowned Sparrow, Cardinals, golden-crowned Kinglet eastern towhee and spring peepers of course! First heard/reported on the woodcock walk (4/11)!
Killdeer catchin' and mackin'
photo by Sally Conway


Fallout – impressive numbers of Killdeer, Song sparrow, Woodcocks, Robins observed around the island.

Ambrust Hill - (4/18) Garter Snake!

photo by Karen Oakes

are so cool
photo by Karen Oakes
Lane’s Island – sea watch – made a few late season watches. Usually just a half an hour 6:30 – 7am. (4/5) 80 Black Scoters, 5 White-winged Scoter, 4 Great Cormorants, 2 Red-breasted Merganser. Also phoebe, killdeer, common loon, common eider, black guillemot, Oldtailed Duck…. (4/11) 3 Great Cormorants, 1 Red-necked Grebe, 3 Black Guillemots, 83 Black Scoters, 143 Common Eiders, 1 Surf Scoter, 31 Purple Sandpipers…(4/12) 134 Common Eider, 92 Black Scoter, 3 White-winged Scoter, 6 Oldtailed Ducks. Also Red-winged Blackbirds, Purple Finch singing, lots of song sparrows…(4/19) 42 Double-crested Cormorants. And an Eastern Towhee singing – drink your teaaaaa!

otter on ice
photo by Ali McCarthy

Otters – Ali McCarthy took this shot of a solo otter on the ice in Carver’s pond. Johnny McCarthy mentioned it looked pretty big (pictures can be tough to judge size from), and since it was solo (and big) it might be Oscar, the lone otter that goes between Greens and Norton’s Point. Maybe – either way it’s cool! Thanks for sending in the photo!


otter trail from the pond
Otter trails – found this otter slide by the pond along Wharf Quarry Road. Also – two otters crossed from Old Harbor Pond to the Sands during that recent thick, wet snow. This is a traditional otter crossing, but no otters crossed for Feb/March as the snow was too deep. Good to see them crossing again!
Trip to Calderwood - (4/15) Rough-legged Hawk, Norther Harrier, American Kestrel, Osprey, Bald Eagle, Harlequin Ducks, Great Cormorants. And of course - Calderwood sheep!




the webs look something like this
Mystery Web – everyone likes a good mystery (except for the person in the story who gets killed). One mystery that has recently been solved was called the “what does my yard look like?” mystery. The retreating seasonal glaciers (oxymoron) have exposed a wondrous labyrinth of vole tunnels that have been documented ad nausea in the previous VSR post! This is a yearly occurrence to some degree, and this year’s degree of vole tunneling is impressively higher than most other years.


Anyway, in many places around the island the retreating seasonal glaciers have also exposed a layer of what appears to be some sort webbing. Makes you wonder what the hell was going on under all that snow for so long? It’s all part of the mystery.

coming right out from under the snow

What we know – snow can be a buffer from harsh weather for animals. The thicker the snow, the thicker the buffer. This year’s snow was a bumper buffer. They call the world below the snow “the subnivean”, but I’ve never heard it refer to itself as that. It stays somewhat warm in the subnivean zone, around 32 degrees, no matter what kind of windy coolness is going on above. As for snow I’ve read that to have a “minimum subnivean” you need at least 6 inches but I have no further comment on that.


Anyway – what we don’t know (we being the lower case, royal “we”) is if the subnivean sticks around as it gets warmer above does it (the subnivean) warm up over time? Warm enough for a spider or some sort of cold blooded critter to cruise around and pump out some web. I mean, as it got warmer out here – in the real world!- and the snow didn’t go anywhere could it have gotten warm enough for undersnow cold blooded activity. Doesn’t take too much warmth for snow fleas to get going, other insect species must have been chomping at the bit to get moving – which probably looks like an insect sleeping. 
this is not webbing, but owl pellets are cool


I wonder if it started to really smell like a pet store after the second month, with all those voles and such.


Anyway – any thoughts on the webbing? Maybe not from a creature at all? Not from an earthly creature that is!  

I bet skunk cabbage tastes like spraint!

tracking the wild honey mushroom
its right there


found this dude - lead back phase of a red-backed salamander
in the snow! I didn't put it there! that would be cruel.

62 spotted salamanders are like a gang
Salamander Drive 2015! (4/18) the exploratory drive turned up 62 spotted salamanders on one pass around Round the Island Road! Huge night, it wasn’t even that warm, but these manders were so ready! Hundreds, maybe thousands must have crossed the road that night. In my limited experience most years these guys are crossing the road by April 1st  (at the latest) but I guess it’s hard to boogie when you are under 2 feet of snow!


 (4/20) With Sophia in town and rain on the forecast we hit the road for some “mandering” this week. A total of 13 spotted salamanders (and two tadpoles in the ditch!) were seen on two passes of Round the Island Road (including the ride home). Quite a difference from two nights prior, but still so exciting! Half the fun was the salamander dances in the headlights!


dancing in the street

And that’s where we are going to leave it. Lots more birdies coming with this storm! More warmth too!


Hope this VSR found you doing well. We look forward to bumping into you out in the woods!