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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, December 29, 2015

photo by Munch
Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report –
Dec 30th, 2015

With the support of VLT and MCHT

A happy and safe new years to all!


Highlights – otters, CBC, Seal camera on Seal Island



Upcoming Events – “Owls are easy, otters are easier” - Every weekend is great to be outdoors in Maine, but only two weekends are copyrighted as “Great Maine Outdoor Weekends”. One of those weekends is 2nd weekend in February – the 12th, 13th, and 14th – and this year VLT and MCHT are teaming up to offer a wonderful night of slides and discussion about the Otters and Owls of Vinalhaven, followed the next morning with an animal tracking walk on one of the island’s preserves.  

I am starting to get tired of getting pictures of this deer

On Friday February 12th @ 7pm at the Washington School/Town Hall we’ll be presenting our non-award winning, mind numbing slide show “Owls are easy, otters are easier: Year-round animal tracking on Vinalhaven” to be followed the next morning (Saturday February 13th for those who can’t figure it out) with a tracking walk/snowshoe (come on snow!) most likely in the Basin. We’ll meet at Skoog at 9:30am for that one. See you there!


fat and with fish scales on it's back?
Seal Camera – “Gray Seal Pup Cam is Back- Providing Amazing Views of Seal Pups, Bald Eagles and Winter Birds” – well, they’re back (Grey Seals) , it’s back (Seal camera), it’s functional and it’s access to a local winter phenomenon. 100s of Grey Seals congregate on Seal Island (where else?) each winter to pop out some pups and then get impregnated (the female seals that is) in a ritual that leaves humans saying “I’m glad I am not a female grey seal!”. But hey – the story here is the cute fuzzy pups that lay around looking cute, sleeping or sucking down some fatty milk that only a grey seal mother can provide. You don’t want to miss the view so check it out and then go outside and make your own discoveries! -  (


wait - there are three?
Sightings Otters – They’re back!!!!! – Actually they never left, or if they did they didn’t go too far, or we don’t know …… When we last tracked the otters of Old Harbor Pond (last winter) – the group of otterly local favorites known as “the gang of 4” appeared to have broken up (which is hard to do).  Photos and tracks revealed a “gang of 2” had taken over the zone, and it was assumed that the two were remnants of the original “gang of 4”. Something had happened (“good” or “bad”) to the “other two” that we had watched/tracked/loved over the last 4 years or so. These things happen when your species average life span is 8 or 9 years in the wild.


nope, there are 4!
Being the curious bunch that we (the “royal” we) put up the trail camera on our favorite otter latrine on Old Harbor Pond in early December to “get a feel” (not “cop a” which is something totally different) for what the local otter status is currently. Well, if there is one thing we know about our knowledge of otters on island is that we don’t really know much! A week’s worth of photos from the latrine scene in early December showed that there 4 otters “running” together and using the latrine in a “gang formation” (this is not an official scientific otter term). So what gives? Did the original two “gangs of two” reconnect after a winter apart? Were two “newbie” otters recruited to join the remnant two? Is this an entirely fresh and new group? How did the previous gang of 4 come together anyway?

we love all the sniffin' going on....
until we realize they are sniffin' spraint!

These are good questions unless you are looking for answers. Whatever the case may be its fun to have these 4 continuing the tradition of group bathroom visits at Old Harbor Pond. And giving us just the tiniest of views into their lives, even if it concentrates on the last stage of their digestive systems- “the movement of spraint”.



I think they are aware of the camera
Thomaston Christmas Bird Count - (12/19) – I had the pleasure of helping out with the local Christmas Bird Count (CBC) sponsored by the National Audubon Society (I think?). The CBC is a day when you are assigned an area of land/ocean to go and count all the birds you can see. And while at times it can be tedious to count every single Herring Gull or to stay focused on “just” birds for a ten hour period or so, the overall experience is a good one and the results go to some database somewhere and long term tendencies and patterns of bird movement (not bowel!) are documented. I guess this has been going on for over a hundred years, so really its adding information to a long term “study”. I did it mostly because I knew my friends Don and Kristen (and Paul!) would be at the tally gathering at the end of the day with other mid-coast birdy types and it is always nice to see them. Guess who else was there? The “creepy guy from the bridge” from Old Harbor Pond bridge several years ago! He looked exactly the same – somewhat ageless I would say – which makes him seem even creepier! Apparently he’s a nice guy though I didn’t chat with him at all. Anyway…



yellow-throated warbler
photo by Don Reimer
The final tally for the day was 73 species of birds seen in an area between Port Clyde, Rockland and Warren, which apparently was a pretty good number of species for the day. My turf went from Clark Island in Spruce Head to train tracks way up on 131, which included St. George Town Forest and Fort Point parks. With the mild day and the fact I was on my own I was able to cover the area by bicycle and I am happy to say I added Red-bellied Woodpecker to the final tally while also being the only section that didn’t see any Blue Jays (take that Toronto!). A special tweeter that was on the count was this Yellow-throated Warbler that has taken up residency at the Samoset Resort. Bird’s got style I guess!


first Clark Island otter photo - startled
Clark Island otter(s) – and of course, and let’s be honest, there is no way I was going to be able to stay focused all day on “just” birds when there is so much to be seen out there! Between my scouting mission and the actual bird count I found 5 otter latrines on the western shore of Clark Island. Each latrine showed hefty use and a hefty diet of fish and crab. Early estimations and guesses were for multiple otters with overlapping territories, most likely with at least one den along that shoreline. As we mentioned before, we know little about the otters of old harbor pond after 4 or 5 years of tracking them, so any guesses based on spraint are pretty speculative to say the least. Does that last sentence even make sense?
went back to sniffin' quickly

And so I took a break during the CBC to put the ol’ camera up for a couple of days at the “coolest” latrine I found (judgment) and returned a few days later to see what we captured. Otter photos were collected and not surprisingly the otter (or otters) did not look like they were used to having their photo taken. I’m not sure what happens when the camera goes off – a sound? It’s infra-red I think in lighting, but whatever the case may be the otter knew the camera was there right away.


is this the same dude as....
And so we begin to piece together the otter scene on the St. George peninsula and we come back to the realization that it is hard to tell individual otters apart from photos.  Is this one otter or two? What’s up with that smear job on the otter’s throat? Did it roll in something or does its fur always look like that (doubt it)? Chatting with some of the local lobster folk who have seen otters “along the shore” they are quick to mention that ten or 15 years ago you didn’t see them at all – not that they see them on a consistent basis now, but you know what I mean. River otters appear to be somewhat recent arrivals along the mainland coast as well. Its gunna be fun to learn more about these dudes.
...this slimy fellow?

either way they both were fully aware of the camera

at all times

I see you!


photo by Erik Gentalen
And, as is my yearly tradition I will now complain about missing the first significant snow/ice pellet storm that would result in decent tracking. Visiting mom, Erik and Julius (we miss you Aunt Missy!) in South Carolina is worth it even though it is a little too hot for me. Can’t wait to get back home! Save some snow for me!

river basin free publicity
photo by Amy Palmer

Beard and Binoculars
photo by Erik Gentalen

Happy and healthy new years to all! Happy exploring in 2016!


Thursday, December 3, 2015

feel free to blow the brains out of every
squirrel you come across.
Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report- December 3rd, 2015
Brought to you in part with the support of MCHT and VLT
“There is an awakening in the otter dynamics, can you feel it?”


7 years today.
Happy birthday Leif! 7 years! Time just keeps getting better! My favorite sightings are with Leif.
What a treasure!
beaver lodge in marsh, tenants harbor


Highlights – Goldfinches and Crossbills, otter sign, ferry ride comparisons, three other things…and a last minute winter moth report


this is a fox. that open area is out back yard.
This one is kind of all over the place and from all over the place. It is what it is.


Contact us – Do it! I dare you!


Tiit trick – click the photos to make them larger than life! Or at least as big as your monitor! Nice monitor, by the way.

saw some split gill mushroom in upstate
New York over Thanksgiving.
Always reminds me of my dad.


Remember Winter moth? I just heard from Linnell Mather (12/1) that the winter moth scene has been slow so far – as reports go – on Vinalhaven, which very well could be a good thing. Then tonight (12/2) on the mainland (Tenants Harbor) we had about a ton of winter moths buzzin’ around the windows and the one outside light.


Linnell then confirmed that (12/2) was a “good” night for moths in her neighborhood. Two other reports flowed in from the pumpkin ridge area about impressive flights of moths, including Adam White mentioning, in his own words…

"orange mock oysters" are a fall/winter classic on
birches around island. what a beauty!

all over windows and around lights last night coming in the door when coming and going, plus up on hill last night.”


Nobody likes it when moths enter a house under any circumstances (even if they were invited!). But what does this mean for your weekend? Not much probably, we are currently in the 10 year or so holding pattern, waiting to see if the parasitic flies take to the moth and mack on them enough to lower winter moth numbers to a negligible place. Time will tell.


"false chantrelles" seem to be in numbers around the island
But I do know if you have a winter moth sighting and need to get it out of your system the VSR is the place for you! Send in your winter moth info and sightings - no questions asked! Send in your confessional if you think you brought the little buggers (literally) out here in the first place.


Sightings – Loads of Goldfinch! Here and on the mainland Goldfinch have been a staple of every walk and bike ride. The difference on Vinalhaven has been the White-winged Crossbill groups tossed into the mix. I have heard/seen small groups – maybe 3-5 individuals – of Crossbills on my bike rides up island, especially up North Haven Road past Folly Pond. We dig those crossbills, hopefully a taste of more to come!

kittiwakes are one of the numerous avian benefits
of a winter ferry ride or two. dark wingtips,
a little ring around the collar and the pure yellow bill
can't remember why I love them so much
but it was a good reason or two.

November tends to be a slower month for reporting sightings, largely due to rifle season and a limited number of eyes (non-hunting eyes that is) out and about and looking. That said there are (like) a million beautiful things to observe outside on Vinalhaven every day, so at times we almost can’t help but nail sightings, or we can’t help but notice how things are a little different….


Comparison 2014-2015 – November ferry rides – “Spoiled” – I probably don’t need to bring this up but we were really spoiled last November on the ferry. Cold and snowy, something was in the air last year…take a look at these numbers…


we love those Bonaparte's gulls.
fly like terns, white leading edge,
there can be hundreds seen from a single ferry ride,
just not this year.
(11/12/14) 116 Old-tail Ducks, 98 Common Loons, 79 Black guillemots, 13 Bufflehead, 6 Bonaparte’s Gulls, 6 Black Ducks, 2 Red-breasted Merganser, Surf Scoter, Black Scoter,  Bald Eagle, Red-throated Loon, Red-necked Grebe, Purple Sandpiper, Great Blue Heron, 27 Harbor Seal, 4 Harbor Porpoise


and the Bonaparte's gulls are pure white below.
dark underwings could mean black-headed gull
eiders (and most ducks) starting some displaying.
Let me be the latest to moan about the mild fall we are having (we don’t deserve this)! Very bikable for sure. The tallies from this fall’s ferry rides are shocking. (11/30/15) A dozen old tails, maybe 20 loons, and 20-30 guillemots, and a single (or two) of kittiwakes. In fact, each weekly ferry ride this November was a bit “slow” to say the least – handful of Kittiwakes and maybe a few more Bonaparte’s Gulls has been the norm. Beautiful yes. Maybe if (IF!) things cool down more stuff from the north will be pushed down and fill up the bay – December is the best month for bird watching from the ferry! May the kittiwakes and razorbills soar by your windows this December!


otter latrine and map in same picture!
life is good
Otter sign – “there is a shift in the dynamics of the island otters, can you feel it?”
basin spraint

Basin – hadn’t been on the platform trail in weeks, if not more (or less), the trail is full of memories both past and present (and future present I guess) and at the first junction I was welcomed by a fresh, new otter latrine.


That’s right, right in the trail in front of the map! Not to be ego centric or anything but I know that this was a message for me. What it was, was awesome – just the thought of otters using our trail system fills me with the urge to smile and hug!


long cove sprainting activity
Old harbor Pond – I visited my personal favorite otter latrine (in the world!) and have to say, there has been a shift in the spraint numbers – lower numbers, maybe from use of one or two individuals. The “gang of four” days may be gone. Maybe – the camera is up, we should have more info next VSR!

basin latrine. nice view.

Long Cove – I visited my favorite otter latrine on Long Cove and found it to have significantly more spraints that my historic experience. Like 10 spraints instead of 5, probably still an individual otter, but it appears to be spending more time in the area. Always a good a time to find some spraint.

this is a great blue heron, the one I propped up on a tree.
in tenants harbor.

Three things - #1 – here is something to consider, something we can all pause and reflect on. Botantist and longtime supporter of the VSR and good friend Javier Penalosa recently finished up some moss survey work for the island and found some cool ones at Mack’s Pond. Here’s penalosa in his own words-


this is a super fat/phat raccoon that makced on the dead
GBH for a night or so
 I just finished identifying my 2015 moss specimens and two more peatmosses turned up: Sphagnum angermanicum and S. pulchrum, both from Mack's Pond.  These are new records for Knox County.  This brings the number of peatmoss species on Vinalhaven to 22, making it the most species-rich plant genus on the island (the sedge genus Carex is runner-up, with 20 species.)”

it pulled off some meat, but didn't stay long in the grand scope
of things
Did you think Carex would be the runner-up genus for peatmosses on the island? Of course you did, no brainer even. Very good. And a “good work” and a “tip of the hat” goes out to Javier for getting low and looking and sharing. 22 Sphagnums on island. What a country!


And what does “Sphagnum angermanicum” really mean. Sounds like some pissed off moss.


this stupid deer (judgment, albeit a correct one)
was more focused on sniffin the camera than smelling the
decaying great blue heron behind it.
#2 RIPhipps Ranch, Pescadero California. Phipps ranch and its wonderful riparian zone was a huge part for much of the 5 years before Amy and I moved to Vinalhaven. Known for their heirloom beans (recommended in the Deborah Madison veggie cookbook) and fields of strawberries, Phipps was also the best migrant trap around (don’t tell trump). And we are talking about birds of course - we saw lots of “east coast” warblers and lots of good stuff in general there. It was usually our first stop in the morning on bike rides and on at least a few occasions it was our overnight stop as well. Sleeping by the pescadero creek, ain’t nothing finer.


Here’s Big Al Jones with the report - in his own words.


this might be a good time to remind "readers" that if you
click on the photos you can flip thru them and see the
trail camera stories unfold in a more "legible" manner
I woke up early and went up to Pescadero today with the Hot Corner in mind, drove Cloverdale without seeing any bobcats or coyotes, took that cutoff past the high school, turned back on Pescadero to park at Phipps and encountered a dry and dusty husk of a building--no signs, no nothing---it's gone! I had no idea. Maybe it's been like that for years, but I don't think so. It's all posted with no trespassing signs at all the entrances, effectively cutting off the Hot Corner unless you cross the riparian zone from over on Cloverdale, I guess. It felt weird.” BAJ


I moved to Loma Mar California (from Cape Cod and Harriman State Park) in September 1999 to work at an Environmental Education center in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I met Amy and big all jones there, so it’s a very, very special place for me.


After my first week of training (9/99) I had my first weekend and first free time in the area and I wanted to go to the pescadero marsh and see what the bird action was. I had my scope but I didn’t have my bike yet – UPS still did! I got up early and started to walk the 9 miles to the ocean and marsh hoping I could maybe bum a ride before too long.


After like a half an hour a car came zooming up from behind and so I turned and stuck out my thumb. I felt like my prospects were low but sure enough the call pulled over and the woman driving said “I picked you up because of your scope”. Not the first time my scope had shown some magic, some gravity.
here are some fox photos....
Ended up she was the president of the local Audubon chapter and she was going to join a bird walk being given at somewhere called Phipps ranch. She was kind enough to invite me to the walk, but I had my heart set on the marsh (afterword I was going to hitch to Santa Cruz to stay with David and Elizabeth) and I wasn’t really ready (ami ever?) to meet the local bird people so I declined. By the next weekend my bike was there and Phipps was my first stop and a Magnolia Warbler was one of the first birds I saw there. Phipps quickly became the first stop of most bike rides to pescadero, and breakfast at Duarte’s was the second stop for sure.


Of course none of this matters. The birds will still be there, probably more now with the farm action turned to inaction. Glad I was living there when it was what it was, Phipps will be missed. Thanks for the memories…
here are some new local memories, a fox macking on our GBH...


#3 – the gift that keeps on giving… Tenants Harbor - I was recently given a freshly “hit” (hit and run apparently) and killed Great Blue Heron (GBH) and it wasn’t even my birthday (April 28th for those keeping track). What do you do with the dead great blue heron you are given? Reminds me of that old Estonian saying “when life gives you dead herons, turn them into bait!”


So we (the royal we) propped up my fresh/limp GBH to be a mascot along the 2 minute trail that Leif and Amy take to school each day. Having a dead heron propped up along “our” (the royal “our”) trail led to the expected bursts of laughter as the ludicrousness of a heron mascot caught us off guard for weeks and weeks. And then one day Leif and I noticed that one of the GBH legs was missing. And so we slapped the trail camera onto a tree across from the “unintentional bait” and were excited to learn about our neighbors…


GBH and zombies
... First up was this fat raccoon. Like really fat, looked almost too fat to climb up the tree to get to the GBH. This dude spent just one night nibblin’ on the open wound from where the missing leg had been tugged. The open wound was nasty and just getting nastier and so it was no surprise when it attracted these…


…Two zombies! I really shouldn’t be surprised about the zombie pictures, especially since I am one of them (the fuzzy one on the right)….but after the zombies left….


…this cute (judgment) red fox showed up and began his/her/it’s leaping ways as the fox needed to get completely airborne to reach the nasty open wound of the GBH. Leif named the fox “tiny tim” as it was so much smaller than the raccoon and could be heard singing “tip toe thru the tulips”.

what a punk with his tongue out!

On the first night the fox spend the better part of 20 minutes jumping and pulling on our “carcass in the trees”. It must have tasted so good, truly irresistible, and the fox returned the next day (mid-day) to continue the pushing and pulling (I won’t fight, if you want to push and pull with me all night). We like it when the animals show up on the trail camera during the day. It came back that night, and then another several days later as the GBH began the slow process of looking more like mush than a GBH.


When I wrote to the gift giver that the GBH had attracted wildlife I got the response “I knew you would put it to good use”. Which I think we did. It’s still up on the trail but the camera is back on Vinalhaven. Nice taste of what’ in “our” woods and what to look for once the snow begins. I have never found a fox den before and I still haven’t. We’ll keep you posted on developments…


…and it should be no surprise that with the hefty amount of family traffic that passed the GBH there would secret messages left behind. The biggest laugh was inspired with this message Leif left me as he walked to school with the beautiful Amy palmer. What a punk!


Hope everyone has had a great fall and that winter treats everyone kindly.


See you out there!