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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!