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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


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!