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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


Monday, February 22, 2016

Welcome to the vinalhaven sightings report – Feb. 20th 2016

Brought to you by MCHT and VLT

Great year for a leap year! One more day of winter! Thank you Ben Franklin! (not sure if he had anything to do with leap year, but he sounds like a funky guy).

this was a "cold" morning

Highlights – terrific otterific, owlific, blizzardific, off islandific, pretty photos of snow and more


Tiit trick – click on the photos to make them fill up your screen. There are some nice ones in this edition. Enjoy!


bagged poop in a tree in Cambridge mass.
photo by Gabe Peter Harp.
Share it, don’t spray it! – why talk to people when you can write or maybe even type up your sightings and send them to us! You will see, and it will be clearly obviously after reading this post that we don’t really care where the sightings are from anyway, so if you see bagged poop in a tree in Cambridge Mass, as Gabe Peter Harp did, or something else you think we might like – well then send it in. And if you have sightings or photos from vinalhaven then it is a no brainer – share your observations! Makes the world a better place and angels get their wings.


seal island tropicbird
photo by John Drury
“Some other nature blog” -We all have been aware of the red-billed tropic bird that has been residing on seal island for the past, well 7 or 8 summers, 11 or 12 in the gulf of Maine. Maybe some of us have actually seen the bird, and maybe a few of us have seen it multiple times, less than a handful of times probably. And now think about John Drury. Between delivering researchers and leading tours to Seal John Drury has seen our red-billed tropicbird so many times it could be considered “his” bird. Well, john has written – in the form of one draft or another – about his observations and interpretations of the seal island tropic bird on his blog and if you are a nature appreciator this is an article for you. The link is….

the marsh



And to get to the rest of john’s blog just visit…..


Time to make your reservations for a boat ride with John aboard the Skua. There must be details somewhere on there.



Thanks – to those folks who came out to see the “owls are easy, otters are easier” slide show and talk on both Vinalhaven and at the Camden Library with Mid-coast Audubon. Nice to see familiar faces and meet some new folk at the events. Now go outside and look for stuff!

polar snakes have white scales
photo by Jim Conlan

SightingsPolar snake – compliments of the Jim Conlan and his creative eye…


hummingbird almost made it to house
photo by Gabe Peter Harp

.And Gabe Peter Harp sent in somehots of a humming bird frozen in time, apparently in some sort of torpor state. With the recent snow melt it is expected that the bird flew off after a week or so in its suspended state.



from the house to under this bend scene.
otters – made it out for an overnight on Vinalhaven for the Great Maine Outdoor Weekend (2/12) and got to walk to Reach Road thru town and of course, by the famous otter crossing to the Sands. As we (the royal “we”) have mentioned this winter, a new gang of otters seems to have taken over the scene – the gang of three – and from their tracks they appear to be new to the scene as their trails seem to journey all over the place. Or, maybe they are just wanderers, a group of adventurous, beatnik weasels ready to get “on the road” and set out to see the world. Will be interesting to see if they fall into a groove of habits. Soon enough.


Anyway, the gang of three were up to their antics, and for the first time I found tracks where they visited the house on the property. They barely hesitated at the south east corner of the house before belly sliding down to rock wall with den. The den was frozen over and with being denied access the three exited the Old Harbor Pond scene and crossed into the Sands. They took the “new” route under the side porch. What I liked about their trail from the house was that instead of taking a direct route to the den they slid under the bend in this old apple tree. Fun or survival instincts? It’s what they do.


I did not see where the trail came from, but the otters left the road way up towards the top of the first, slight hill of old harbor road. I figured I would have time the next day to track them, maybe even with a group of friends on snowshoes. But they were no tracks to be found that morning…..

after one trip in the

harbor view from the ferry
… (2/13) because there was a blizzard that sat on vinalhaven all day that day. Snowshoe was canceled, and if anyone did show up all I can say is that I question your survival instincts. Anyway, I took these shots as I left on the 1pm. Awesome snow, not so much in st. George…

grimes park

just another hole to you and me - on frenchboro
Island hop - …Frenchboro – and why the heck not? It’s another island right? – anyway, MCHT sent me and “Little” Dougy McMullin to Frenchboro for an overnight with 4 hikes lined up with 2/3s of the regular students (one student is on the mainland for February). Anyway, we found some nice mink activity, lots of deer – no snowshoe hare to be found (not sure why I found that disappointing. Maybe because it means fewer owls.). On the morning hike we went to a place called Eastern Beach at the request of the 8 year old student. After walking the beach we hooked up with an otter slide that came down a decently inclined hillside. We followed what basically amounted to a 200-250 ft. belly slide right up to a den. Natural opening in the rocks out there and the sign was plenty around the opening and the hillside.

up up and away, we followed this belly slide
straight up a hill, up to a den

but the otter activity said otherwise.

Way too easy I would say. It should take more than a day to find an otter home on an island you haven’t been to in years, and only twice totally. Anyway.


 Clark Island – (2/17) went out for sunrise on a -9 degree morning. Couldn’t feel it at all so excited about looking for otter trails. Could see the cold in the sea smoke but that was far from me. Anyway - up to this point – 5 latrines, I slide and photos of one otter on Clark. Just hoping to see some sign.

three otter bellies and one fox


I followed a fox trail up, over and off trail but eventually came back to the water. That when I noticed the three belly slides that went the length of the land below me (say what?). The entire length of “human maintained” in front of me had slides marking a trifecta of otters. So cool, I finally found a use of the panoramic setting on the camera!

otter slides below!

this is what I mean by red. at the latrine

The otter trail continued and then disappeared into Long Cove. The next latrine, being the first latrine I checked for sign and there was this red stuff and snow matted way down from lots of activity. The latrine is no more than 10 ft from shore and so I followed the activity back to the water. It was really no surprise to see the trail continue along the shore above the high tide line and directly to an opening into the roots of a shoreline spruce. Too easy.


so many times up and down turn the snow
into ice and then I bet its even faster!
see the den opening at the top?

Marsh – love walking to this place. right out the back door! Camera check – the latrine next to one of the local otter dens had some activity, two of the three otters were captured on film, one sprainting.

I am standing on a beaver dam


big eyes and a little extra baggage on the side

with a little hamburger grease I smeared a log close to the woodland edge along the marsh to hopefully attract some large predator over and what I got was this flying squirrel. Well, that and this peace sign (thank you very much to whoever discovered my camera and left the thoughtful message). Anyway, active at 321 in the AM, big old eyes, flat tail, little extra baggage on the sides, not really a muffin top, or a muffin man for that matter. Anyway – this is new to me. But I am done with baiting for the camera. Has been fun and informative.


big eyes, flat tail, 3:48 in the AM

peace out

big eyes, 3:55 in the AM, holding tail flat

day one - janu 31st
tracks look to have been made two nights before

The evolution of otter tracks- snow  to ice. Here are the tracks in the marsh -from a latrine to an active den. couple days old when found. the ice tracks at the end are my favorite kind of track.

day one to my left

day 2

and then the next day starting/continuing transformation….


day 4

And thirdly on day 4…. Ice on ice. There is no missing link here.


Enjoy! It’s been enjoyable!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report

Feb 5th, 2016
MCHT and VLT sponsored - thanks!

Happy Birthday Dad. Still miss you!


Addy and her snow flea
photo by Susan Raven

Highlights – otter stuff, finchy days, dead thick-billed murre, kid stuff


Contact us – . Send us whatever you got, we are always grateful!


Tiit trick – click the photos to enlarge!


Upcoming events – Great Maine Outdoor Weekend – Owls/otters Slide show - Friday Feb 12th. 7pm at Washington School/Town hall. Tracking outing – Saturday Feb 13th. 9:30am Skoog Park to carpool.  Good clean fun.

heading out
photo by Susan Raven

Kids stuffBig thanks to the Perspectives program (Partners in Education & VLT) and MCHT for setting up and sponsoring a couple of afternoons with students in the woods. “Animal tracking” was the topic, and even with the old snow (we are talking old, like more than a week!) the groups were tipped off about cat, deer, squirrel, and snowshoe hare that live in the area. Snow fleas too!

never did find that kid
photo b y Susan Raven
never too young to rock climb
photo by Susan Raven

We capped it off with some totally safe mountain climbing and games. Always a good time with perspectives! Looking forward to next time   

Safe travels to the Ravens as they embark on an epic journey "cruising the land of the free".

dead thick-billed murre
photo by John Drury

Sightings – Owl imprints – Heather and Adam White were walking Sawyer and Shamus out on Lane’s after the most recent snow and they found some classic owl prints in the snow. Heather and Adam have spotted Long-eared owl prints in years past on Lane’s.


Worth going over at dusk to see about hunting or after a fresh snow to look for fresh imprints! Long-eareds, Short-eareds, Great Horned and Snowy are all owl possibilities out there!


still dead
photo by John Drury

Freshly washed up – John Drury sent in this photo of a “washed up” Thick-billed Murre that came ashore on Greens Island. Winter time visitor, some winters 3-5 are reported from around island, other years few to none sightings. So far this winter we have 1 dead thick-billed murre reported.


Finch days – I’ve had a couple of nice days on the platform/Mack’s pond trails in the basin lately, one day checking the trails (1/27) and then returning to clear the trail (2/2).  Both days were highlighted by “winter” finch activity high up and above the spruce.


Kirk in estrus? always...
actually you can track how I spill my
pomegranate and blueberry tea.

(1/27) Mack’s pond lollipop – the hike out was low on activity but once I got a visual of Mack’s Pond the bubbly bubbles of finch calls and song were heard en mass. Started off with a White-winged Crossbill singing and performing a flight display (not for me I suppose). Somewhat like a flitter-flight, but he was holding his wings at somewhat of a “V” with quick flitters of the wings to keep it somewhat aloft above the trees (or so it looked from below). White-wingeds were heard in small numbers the rest of the way along the Mack’s pond trail and the back loop to the platform.


The white-winged crossbill chatter appeared to attract other finches in the area (or it was just perfect timing) and within moments a group of about 15 pine siskins graced the scene with lots of loud chips (crunchy even) and buzzes. Several groups of Siskins were seen along the rest of the walk. Also mixed in were a few American Goldfinch, but for some reason we are not talking about them much.


vole tunnels from under the snow
the snow has melted
(2/2) 3 finch days are fun, and so one might think that 4 finch days must be funner (it’s a word in my dictionary!) and then even more fun on top of that. All of the above is true. Once again the woods were quiet on my way out, but like many times before the rattle and hum of the chainsaw seemed to spark a curiosity in some of the siskins, because each time I turned off the saw there was chatter in the trees above. Chatter that was not heard prior. Or it could be timing. Have noticed it with Pine Grosbeaks (historically) at Huber. Anyway…


Things were similar to last time, less Goldfinch I think, but when we (the royal “we”) got to the pitch pine/red spruce zone up at the top 3 Red Crossbills were feasting on pine seeds (in pine cones). Great looks and lots of chatter, next siskins and goldfinch came in. we are talking clear views, eye level (if you are 10 feet tall) as they busily macked on pine and spruce seeds. White-winged Crossbills flew over singing while I was soaking up the view from the platform.

you know you love otter  latrines and all the lesson found there

Speaking of otters – Otter latrines along the south-eastern Basin shoreline continue to be used.


Mainland – the marsh - Leif and I made just about as most out of the Marsh ice as we could before it melted to unsafe thickness and stamina-ess (and an adventure after that point too!). The non-otterish photos are down below….


We found no otter sign on the “rocks in the middle of the marsh” where I had seen “spraint thru the scope”, but Leif found a swiss army knife and we read a book so things were cool.

otter and leif tracks


(1/31) The last time we went out on the ice (it was barely passable as “safe”, but was) we got turned onto a group of otter trails that went along a shore “where the sun don’t shine” and thusly held snow and tracks longer. The belly slides were visible from a distance and were our inspiration to find a relatively safe way to access. Sketchy, only along the edges really.


We made our way (of course) and found the trails of 3 otters left at the pretty much the same time, so three otters going from a heavily used latrine, along the shore for about 50 feet (enough for a few good belly slides) and into a hole in the ground. As far as dens go it doesn’t get any simpler than that!

leif took to "testing" the ice to see if
it would hold me by smashing it
very kind of him

1st den I have found on the mainland, Leif’s first den altogether, so it was a good day already. Our goal was to make it to a second beaver dam (we were above the lower, big one) and when we approached we were delighted to find that the otters had been there too!

the tracks led to this hole.

lots of tracks and activity at the beaver dam

At first we took the activity to be a sign of denning, or of a resting place. Two in close proximity is not unheard of as access to dens changes with snow and ice and the such. I had crossed this dam a few times and certainly had not seen such an opening in the dam nor had the flow seemed so significant. Limited data to go by for sure.

check out this big hole in the dam - work of otters?

Anyway, what still may turn out to be a den (that would be #2 on the mainland) also may be sign of an otter strategy for fishing. We turn to Elbroch and Rinehart “Behavior of North American Mammals”


otters have been known to breach beaver dams beneath the ice, creating air spaces under the ice and concentrating fish as the water flows out of the impoundment”.


"mother/child" spraint
Great sentence! Plenty of otter spraint on the top and downhill side of the dam. No shortage of successful fishing and plenty of water (melt off from a very small snow) was still flowing thru the dam. Fun to think about the possibilities!


All in all our adventure turned up two new latrines, a den, and a possible den/breached beaver dam. Another step in learning about our neighbors.

this track went from the photo with leif above..
to this the next day...

....and then to this 2 days later

raccoon fir and bone

Cool to find fox and coyote scat as well. Well, the coyote scat at least. Raccoon fur and bone chunks are cool and a coyote scat in the middle of one of the new otter latrines says all there is to know about coyote attitude. They think they are a big deal.


there is just something gross about fox scat

Judgment paragraph! - Fox scat on the other hand I am finding a little disturbing, and up front I should say that few things really disturb me in nature. The fox scats on snow have been showing this wetness around them, which makes me realize that the fox scats I find not in the snow probably also have that liquid around them and I just don’t notice it. I don’t know what it is – not a big fan of the wet fox scats.


leif looking at a snowy owl. its on the middle island

And of course, Leif and I ventured to Marshall Point lighthouse and a quick scan of the grassy ledges to the east turned up a Snowy Owl – Leif’s first Snowy Owl – which we watched while we snacked. Good times….

and lots of leif on the ice.
cattail battle. not sure why that face was made

and cattail battles....

...and ice sharding...
the ice broke cool like.
ice sharding

we thought this looked cool

and then soup, hot chocolate and.....minecraft legos! life is pretty good these days!

see you out there!