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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, May 22, 2015

you can come around, but don't you talk to me

Welcome to the vinalhaven sightings report – May 21st, 2015

Brought to you by the kind efforts of VLT and MCHT

turtle head pokin'
Highlights – red-billed tropicbird, songbird migration ragin’-  scarlet tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak, white-crowned sparrow, Long-eared Owl pellets, brown thrasher, “towhee spring” continues, plant stuff with penalosa, fetchin’ turtles with persons,

first roadkill baby turtle this year.... what kind you ask?
answer down below

 lots of herps in this's a roadkill

Upcoming event – “rich with warblers” - John Drury will be leading the VLT warbler walk on Saturday May 30th, 8-9:30am. Gather at skoog park to carpool. Lots of warblers and lesser (judgment and joke) songbirds been coming thru these days and John knows how to find them. See you there! 


Kid stuff – thanks again to the “perspectives” afterschool program for letting me tag along for a couple of visits last week to  everyone’s favorite place (even if it isn’t) – Lane’s Island. The crab searches were fun albeit not so impressive in what we caught– I do worry about local green crabs populations – and it was fun to be the kids again.  Thanks to Susan and Deb for setting these outings up, and to the ARC, PIE and MCHT for supporting such programs. It was super fun. photos by Susan Raven



Sightings – around the island – State Beach – local legend Bill Chilles reported a Snowy Egret in the state beach area earlier in the month and on a bike ride the next day I saw the snowy egret in the area. we believed bill from the beginning...

Brown thrasher on the way to school one day..


Skin hill migration hotspotSally Conway’s yard has been keeping Sally busy with some of the more striking songbirds visiting her feeding station, bird bath, and trees. Take and look and thanks for sharing Sally! Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, Bobolink, Baltimore oriole.


Sally also reports an Indigo Bunting at her feeders, adding another great one to the list!

photos by sally conway

fox rocks magnolia
photo gallery by Sally Conway

thanks sally!

Warblers- Fox Rocks – (5/16) Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Yellow-rumped, Black and White, Black throated Green, Yellow, Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Parula, Redstart… Armbrust Hill – nashvilles and black-throated blue to add...Blackburnian as well


parula checking out the usnea

upstart redstart
Other songbirds singing– Blue-headed Vireos, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Winter Wren, Brown Creeper, Gray Catbird, White-throated, White-crowned, and Song Sparrow.       

black-throated green


eastern towhee, previously known as the
rufous sided towhee. one of the cooler names
to go by the wayside in my lifetime.

Eastern Towhee – seen several in the last few weeks, including a male coming to the feeders, been singing in the yard and now has a female companion joining him. Things are heating up quickly
this armbrust hill hairy drills on this tree by the parking lot


Lots of woodpecker action these days – hairys and downies defending their turfs!

another random dead thing
from arbrust hill trail


And speaking of Seal Island – the red-billed tropicbird is back for its 11th summer in the gulf of Maine, and the 6th or 7th at Seal Island. Check out Captain John Drury’s website - www.maineseabirdtours.comto set up your trip to Seal before all the trips fill up!
this long eared owl pellet had shrew skulls in it.


“Plant chat with penalosa” – Friendly botanist Javier Penalosa sent in some may flora photos and commentary. Thanks for sharing Javier! series of photos by Javier Penalosa


Viola pallens (Smooth white violet). Seems to occur everywhere, from dry roadsides to wetland margins. I like the purple markings on the lower petal, there to guide the pollinators.



Skunk cabbage under a leafless canopy. This species seems to be the first major photosynthesizer of the year, getting a huge head start before the alders and so forth leaf out.


Equisetum arvense (Field horsetail). Fertile colorless reproductive shoots and green photosynthesizing shoots. The fertile shoots soon senesce after shedding their spores. I had thought they might be connected under ground, but I dug up several and was unable to find any connection. I’m not sure how the gametophyte decides to send up a green or reproductive shoot. I will look into it.


Tussilago farfara (Coltsfoot). This has got to be one of the finest non-native species on the island. Very elegant with its bright yellow heads and light green stems stems with dark green rudimentary leaves. Roadsides and forest clearings — flowers before leaves.



And here is a coltsfoot leaf. Gray furry undersides. All summer they suck carbon out of the atmosphere, storing it underground for the spring flower display.


Viola sororia (Wooly blue violet). Not sure why “wooly” - maybe the dense hairs on the inside of the lateral petals. I’ve recorded two more violet species on the island, but haven’t seen them yet this year.


Amelanchier arborea (Downy shadbush). I had no idea this was so common. In the summer it’s a rather nondescript shrub or small tree, but this past week the display has been glorious. One of the distinguishing characteristics of this species is that the leaves are only partially expanded when the flowers are fully developed. “Downy” well describes the hairy under surface of the leaves.


Amelanchier laevis (Smooth shadbush), doesn’t seem to be as common as A. arborea. In this species the leaves are more expanded while the plant is in flower and the leaves are nearly hairless


Freedom of information act - Hippy poop bagger story developments – three more bags were located recently at the dogtown trailhead parking for the basin preserve. The bags were inflated, and looked to have been there for a while. We have received several leads/conspiracy ideas about this situation, and have scared off each source with comments like “everyone is a suspect” and “you seem crispy enough to use decomposable dog poop sacks”.  It’s a work in progress, and any info sent to our hot line will be addressed seriously.

Or not.
Salamander eggs with Zo. Leif and his buddy Zo transplanted some spotted salamander eggs from a dry sunny spot in the motion/vernal pool at the granite island trail, to a moist and shadier spot. Then we rock climbed and they deserved cookies.



Spotted Turtles – the turtle neighbor you never see. Spotted Turtles are considered Threatened by the state of Maine and thusly even our governor. And that means…..something. probably that there are not that many of them, but not so few to make it a high priority.

this is what it looks like when a
turtle is being weighed


 We (the royal “we”) have heard of 4 sightings of spotted turtles on the island over the last 9 years. We presume that there have been more, but those are the ones that we know of for fact.  And apparently 4 is enough sightings to interest the governor and the state’s wildlife people and have them send out a crew to do a little spotted turtle survey.


With that Trevor Persons (who turned out to be just one person) brought out some turtle traps and spent this last week baiting (with sardines) and catching turtles in some pretty mucky habitats! Otter pond outlet to folly pond he caught 7 individuals (at writing), as well as individuals at Mack’s Pond and along Seal Bay Road (Gid and Sally that’s your spotted neighbor!).


Trevor was kind enough to let Leif and I join on his checking of traps at Otter Pond and man was it exciting. 2 in one and then 4 in another – for a total of 6 spotted turtles for those keeping track at home. Cool to see and cool to learn about, and from what Trevor says the island has got a healthy population. We just don’t see them because of preferred habitat and habits like not basking on logs.


And maybe even cooler than all of that turtle spraint, Trevor was exploring down Wharf Quarry Road and checked what I have recently heard referred to as the “kettle hole” , and found 4 different four-toed salamander nests. Not only are those considered to be the hardest nest around to find (in my mind at least) but these were the first four-toed salamander nest he has found. So Trevor gets a true VVNM/VNM bonus.

if you guessed painted turtle you were right!

So congrats Trevor and thanks for helping us learn more about the wildlife we are so fortunate to have out here.



Anyway, life is good – get outside and check it out! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Kailyn enjoying her red-backed find
photo by Deb
Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report

May 5th, 2015

Thanks to VLT and MCHT!

"Parula in the Yard!" - Amy Palmer


Highlights – Vernal Pools!, Salamanders, Owls, Warblers featuring Pine, Woodpeckers, Mushrooms, Springtails, 2 part mystery section, dragonfly, and a whole bunch of other stuff
this raccoon is alive
Spoiler - there are dead raccoon photos later!


Contact us -

Tiit trick - click on the photos to make them jumbo!

Salutations! While we (the VSR “we”) celebrate Snow Fleas and Tidepool Springtails every year, we acknowledge that there are many unidentified and under/non-appreciated species of springtails roaming our woods, hopping ‘round and helping things decay – puttin’ the “I” in the FBI of decomposition – Fungus, Bacteria, and Invertebrates.  And so when we came across a sizable group of springtails crossing the trail we just had to catch a video or two. We with this in mind we say ---- Springtails…we salute you! And so we start with a springtail hopping video…


2 part mystery series – part I -
Mystery Solved!...

Leave it to longtime VSR reader and all around great guy Mike Windsor (yes, that mild mannered, strong-chinned and strikingly handsome Scarborough librarian) to have the scoop on what all that webbing was under the snow.



Mike had to go all the way back to his Wyoming days – and fortunately did not have to visit his foul mouthed Cape Cod days – to come up with “Snow Mold”. Now – how cool is that, it sounds like the best of both world – snow and mold! Here’s what Mike shared, form the mouth of mike…

“Gray snow mold,

lots of razor clam shells washing up these days

"Apparently it can damage lawns/turf, for folks who care about their lawn.  We would often see a pink color to the snow out West when it was melting, although that was caused by an algae (  Anyway, that's what gave me a hint about your subnivean spider webs.


I can hardly remember snow it’s been so long, but I look forward to tracking molds under the snow too! Thanks so much Mike for turning us all onto snow mold. We will never be the same.

yellow-rumped warbler on the suet!
photo by Sally Conway


Lists - Warblers – tricklin’ in – John Drury spotted a Pine Warbler on East Main StreetPalm Warbler (Seal Island (thanks again John), Fox Rocks) …Yellow-rumpeds (scattered around island), and just this morning Amy Palmer excitedly ran back into the house and reported “Parula in the yard!” (5/4)… Black-throated Green – (5/5) Reach road, round pond. Black and White  warbler (5/5) Bike ride! Welcome back everyone!

yellow-rumped showing a little "butter butt"
photo by Sally Conway


Skinhill Sally was kind enough to send in these shots of a Yellow-rumped Warbler visiting her suet feeder and esaw them ating off the ground recently. Sally asked if we (the royal “we”) had ever heard of such a thing and up to a week ago my answer would have been no, but… Funnily enough just a week ago Steve “southern Maine” Walker told me about yellow rumpeds going to his suet feeders. Protein hard to come by these days? What - springtails aren’t nutritious enough for you? Birds are snobs. Not too surprising though, Yellow-rumpeds are the most diverse snackers of the warbler family.

chipping sparrow
photo by Sally conway

Sally also documented this Chipping Sparrow feasting at her feeder, and from the sound of it she has not seen them at the feeder much. While somewhat common on the mainland, Chipping Sparrows are far and few out here, I’ve maybe seen a handful out here.


More Lists – (4/22) Skating area - Savannah sparrow, Killdeer…
this raccoon is dead...


Lane’s Island – (4/26) Laughing Gull, 7 Harlequin Ducks, 8 Oldtail Ducks, 279 Black Scoter, 16 Common Loon, 4 Double-crested Cormorants, 16 White-winged Scoters…(5/4) Belted Kingfisher, Flickers, Green-winged Teal – editor note – the green winged teal has been hanging in the “cess pool” kind of area along the preserve driveway on the left for over a week now. It’s the tiny duck there – take a look while you are heading in!

...right where an eagle ate it

Huber – (4/27) 103 Surf Scoter, 9 Bufflehead, 10 Common Eiders, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, Chickadee, live raccoon….(4/28) Dead Raccoon in the tree


Basin – (4/27) Winter Wren, Brown Creeper, Otter Scratch and mound

Downy Woodpecker
photo by Jim Clayter

Ferry ride – (4/30) 6 Tree Swallows


State Beach (4/27) 3 Greater Yellowlegs, 5 Bufflehead, 14 Common Loon, 12 Black guillemot, 1 Red-throated Loon, 6 Red-necked Grebe, 7 Purple Sandpiper, 2 Surf Scoter, 1 white-winged Scoter, 15 Black Scoter, 5 Oldtails, 17 Red-breasted Merganser,


Merlin displaying continues – Reach Road, School grounds, Ferry Terminal
there are plenty of skunk cabbage flowers around these days


Fiddleheads pokin’-

 Pileated Woodpecker still at the beginning of Wharf Quarry Road

Skunk cabbage looking good.


Saw a dragonfly – Basin (5/5)

Natalie and Brandon enjoying
photo by Susan Raven



Kid Stuff – Thanks again to the wonderful Perspectives program staff Susan and Deb  for having me over for an afterschool salamander session a few weeks back. The kids were great, the salamanders very patient, and everyone had a pretty good time. Next week we are off to Lane’s for some exploring! Should be a blast! Thanks to MCHT too!)

leif helping me explain where to find
photo by Susan Raven

I don't think she's buying whatever
I am lying about
photo by Susan Raven

the hunt is on!
photo by Susan Raven


kids in the woods, looking for salamanders
photo by Susan Raven

Vernal pool action update – “the moist before the dry” – and things are happening quickly.
some Huber eggs


this boy loves his eggs

In the last VSR we reported that the “big night” of Spotted Salamander migration this 2015 – April 18th -  was one of the latest “big night” movements we have observed  in our 9 years or so of observing.  Most of those last 9 springs the salamanders moved from their winter burrows to vernal pools in late march, maybe 6 out of 9 times. What if 6 turned out to be 9? I don’t mind.


In years when the salamanders migrated in late march/early April the first clumps of eggs were usually found in early May or maybe the last few days of April. Those years the salamanders would be in these vernal pools for a month or so before laying eggs. This year, however, the salamanders – which once again migrated pretty late (4/18) – have already laid their eggs within a week of being in the pools – with eggs being found in multiple vernal pools on (4/24). What gives you may say?


"a little blubbery!"
What gives is that these salamanders know stuff we don’t (feel smart?). They clue into something – water depth, temperature, daylight length, amount of food – and know when to hurry up. Because even with all that snow we had this winter (and all that melting) the woods are somewhat dry these days. Across the board the vernal pools I have visited in the last week are down/low.


this has nothing to do with salamander eggs
but is two eagles macking with a turkey vulture
patiently waiting its turn

We use our “favorite” vernal pool - the human dug pit (HDP!) along the Huber Trail – as our litmus test most years to judge pool depth. The pit has had anywhere from 0 – 8 salamander egg cases in it in a year and it drains fairly quickly – over days and weeks – and needs a somewhat frequent supply of rain water in the spring (season) to keep any eggs covered with water.


these are not salamanders at all
but are greater yellowlegs in breeding plumage
In years when the salamanders migrate and the pool is low there has been an absence of eggs. In years when the pool is full in April there often will be multiple egg cases, and more often than not this pool has egg cases in it.  Numbers of egg cases have fluctuated and gone back and forth over the years and of course, this year it is empty.


Anyway – did the dryness - or even better – did the lowness of the vernal pools inspire the salamanders to “get a move on and get reproducing”? maybe. Is this what “normal” really is and the last 9 years were an anomaly?

a small part of long cove

Am I over simplifying things so I can fool myself into thinking I understand this? Am I  giving salamanders a little more credit than they deserve? Maybe, but they deserve to get a little more than they deserve! And that my friends is entitlement!


Whatever the case – now is the time to head out and check out your favorite and least favorite (and all the favorites inbetween) vernal pools to see what the eggs are all about!


I can be happy  the rest of my life
with the cinnamon fern
Crepuscular at Fox Rocks – (5/1) went up to see if the Long Cove pair of Great Horneds owls (that we crossed paths with last year) might be the same individuals that nested along Perry Creek in years past. With the nest being relatively close seemed like they might just have moved across the road for some reason - better hunting, nesting possibilities, basic nest rotation. You know, sometimes it’s just time to move.


We also figured that if there were two pairs then Fox Rocks itself might be a good place to see any territorial interactions. So let’s go, run and see.



this silly birch polypore is trying to look like
a dryad's saddle! - silly polypore
At sunset the male of the Perry Creek Great Horneds started hooting, relatively close to Fox Rocks and a lot closer than I had heard in years past. The female joined in later on in the crepuscular session, pretty close to the trail and I got some really good looks at her. As things started to get a little darker, a third great horned started hooting, from the long cove side of the tracks! (not tracks literally, but you know what I mean). Within a couple of hoots, the female GHO I was watching took off towards Long Cove hooting ferociously (judgment) and ended up perching on a tree near the top of Fox Rocks, and continued hooting until the Long Cove owl had retreated and started hooting further away. This was cool.
this is an otter scrape from the basin


So, it was cool to see/hear the Perry Creek owls again – it’s been a few years! A return trip the next night and an extensive search for pellets and scat near where the Perry Creek owls hooted turned up zilch, zippo, nada. For owls to be roaming around far from young at this time of the year makes you wonder if their nest failed with the winter we had – they do start sitting on eggs in Feb! Always a treat to see owls…


this is otter poop from the Basin
Also represented – at least 6 Woodcocks were displaying up at Fox Rocks.  It feels weird hearing woodcocks in May. There is still one at Lane’s, pretty comfortable conditions to go watch. Much warmer than April 10th.



"rather fond of those split gills these days..."
Mushrooms – while clearing some of the platform trail in the basin I found some fresh Split Gills (Schizophyllum commune). Here’s from David Arora in Mushrooms Demystified…


“..the peculiar manner in which the gills split lengthwise is unique. The “split” gills are actually two adjacent plates which separate and roll up in dry weather, thus protecting the spore bearing surface. Specimens sealed in a tuber in 1911m then moistened 50 years later, unrolled their gills and began shedding spores!”

harbinger of spring? black hairy cups
Thanks David. Split Gill is a favorite of mine and reminds me of my dad, who I miss. So thanks split gill.


And another old favorite – Hairy Black Cup! (Pseudoplectania nigrella). Often one of the first mushrooms to pop up each spring, this little beauty can be seen in the moss on rocks, logs and even on the ground in much of the coniferous woods around the island.


these little nuggets are special
And then there is this little nugget. And what a nugget it is! I have been finding these “nugget dudes” in the woods for years out here – not very many – but maybe one or so a year. I’ve thought of them as a gall or funky small burl that a plant made after an insect laid an egg or two (or a dozen) inside of it (how rude!).


And now, with the help of “Mammal Tracks and Sign” by Mark Elbroch I have seen the error of my thoughts (not ways) and feel like a moron that I never put this together. But it’s a freakin’ false truffle! Of course!

oh false truffle, I will not eat you,

For years we (the royal “we”) have known about False Truffles being in our woods by seeing the mushroom of the Cordyceps fungal species that is parasitic on False Truffles! Little did I realize I was also seeing the false truffles every now and then. It is a thought with some of the deer scrapes over the last few years have been from deer in search of these “tasty” nuggets.  tasty for deer I guess! don't really hear about humanoids macking on these




2 part mystery series – part 2 - Mystery! To be solved…


this is an "EFBODS" on the ground
The “hippy poop-bagger” (HPB) returns…last spring I noticed a curious event on a few of the trails. Someone was walking their dog (not curious), bagging their dog’s poop (not so curious I guess, but certainly not what everyone is into) in “earth friendly” type bags (a little curious, I mean it is dog sh*t after all and you would think it would be thrown out when the owner returned home or whatever), and then leaving these “earth friendly bags of dog sh*t” (EFBODS) in parking lots or along trails (curious? Dog owning hippy litterbugs are probably not that uncommon – ever been to Santa Cruz? Ha-ha!).


and here's one in a shrub!
Anyway – so I have found 3 EFBODS in the last week or so1 at Huber and 2 at Lane’s. One at lane’s even made it into a shrub! I guess it’s nice to know that the earth friendly bag will decompose and release the fertilizer as opposed to being stuck in the shrub forever or however long plastics but I still don’t necessarily get the statement being made here. I mean, in a certain way I get the bag o’ poo in the shrub or trees – like there should be garbage cans or something - but why the earth friendly bags?

there is a diaper in this picture, see if you can find it!

So does any of this poop bagging remind you of any friends of yours? Or maybe an alter ego of your own that you only let out on full moon nights? If you have any info on the “HPB” I would love to know more about this! Humans can be so interesting and so boring at the same time!


And let us not forget human waste in the catastrophe that is “dropping bagged poop along trails”! One of us (the royal “us”, as in sapiens…our species?) would not be outdone by the HBP mentioned above and decided to stuff a full diaper along the trail on Lane’s Island. This is awesome! I mean, how long are those trails anyway? Are you really ever further than 15 minutes from the parking lot? I know, obviously a kid was there that would slow things down (damn kids! Sorry Leif!), so it might have been a 20 minute walk back to the car. I am curious here though - how is stuffing a full diaper under a shrub along the trail the right decision to make ever? Fortunately for us, the diaper was not an earth friendly poop bag, and so in theory the treasures inside would remain trailside forever!



But we can’t end on that note! Here’s a video of Leif explaining what it must be like to be stuck in one of the salamander eggs...
and don't forget to take it easy!
at least every now and then..
see you out there!