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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


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

this is referred to as a spotted turtle

Welcome to the Vinalhaven sightings report – may 10th, 2016

Big thanks to VLT and MCHT

April Snow - photo by Jim Clayter
Highlights – Red Crossbill with young, Spotted Turtles, Warblers including Black and White and Ovenbird, Great Horned Owl pellets, Mourning Cloak butterfly, Great Blue Heron in the snow,


Photos– a mid-spring snow (4/25) caught some off guard, not Jim Clayter though. He got this shot of a Great Blue Heron in the late April snow in Old Harbor Pond. Thanks for sending this in Jim!


Sightings(5/10) on island – Norhtern Parula, Blue-headed Vireo, Black-throated Green, Ovenbird, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Brown Creeper, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, White-crowned Sparrow singing,

the sighting in this picture is muskrat scat
(5/10) – bike ride to ferry (from tenants harbor) – lots of Black-throated Green Warblers, Northern Parula, Ovenbird, Black and white warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Single Yellow Warbler and Bobolink.


its this time of the year
(4/29-30) here are some highlights from the two days on island with a bike – red crossbills with young, pitcher plants, bald eagle on rocks, calling red-necked grebe, deconstructing State Beach, spotted turtle, spotted salamander eggs (in new spots (for me) in the basin), savannah sparrow, American robins & yellow rumped warblers on the seaweed, black and white warbler singing at Huber parking, lots of yellow rumped singing, also singing hermit thrush, white-throated sparrow, brown creeper; loons, eiders, male harrier, otter spraint, 2 owl pellets, newts, geese, red-breasted merg, bufflehead, razorbill in lairy’s narrows, mourning cloak butterfly.  


we want a pitcher, not a belly itcher

Red Crossbills with young. Over the last few months we’ve (the royal “we’ve”) been reporting about the small, but consistent population of wintering Red Crossbills on island. Sightings have typically had groups of 2-3 individuals. Things have changed though as groups of 6-8 were witnessed (testify! It’s right outside your door) at Long Cove, Round the island Road, Mack’s Pond, and by the platform on the eastern side of the Basin (all of which are American dreams). Family groups out for beautiful day flights!


These areas are all have supported breeding red crossbill populations in the last 4-6 years.  


The round-the-island-road sighting was especially rewarding, a bright red adult male crossbill landed on the moss on the ground in a boggy area. Watching that red rascal drink up water from a pool was refreshing. Soon a young crossbill whose bill hadn’t crossed yet (takes a few weeks after fledging for the bills to cross) joined him lower than eye level. Seeing these from my bike made it all the more special-ech-tacular. You know what I mean.


these two were feeling it
on the side of my house
The bible (aka The Birder’s Handbook) says that Red Crossbills incubate – 12-18 days, and then fledge after 15-20 days. Quick math has the time period between egg laying and birds leaving the nest somewhere between 27 days and 38 days for Red Crossbills. Quick (but not exact) subtraction from the 4/30ish sightings put egg laying commencing (it takes a few days) somewhere between March 15th and April 1st.


afternoon a tip-toe beach
red-spotted newt - chillin'
savannah sparrows are lovely to hear
Here’s what else they (the royal “they”) say in the birder’s handbook – “usually breeds from late winter to early spring. Male feeds incubating and brooding female by regurgitation, accompanied by mutual calling. Tips of mandibles cross gradually over few weeks after fledging. Individuals are right- or left-handed in opening cones, according to which way the mandibles cross. Mandibles inserted into cone force and hold apart the scales, seed then lifted out by tongue. Reminiscent of small parrots when climbing slowly among braches using both bills and feet. In Rockies, may breed in year hatched. “


In other words, sometime back in March male red crossbills were regurgitating digested seed stuff (probably quite pulpy) into the mouths of female red crossbills who happened to be incubating eggs that the male (hopefully, for his sake) has fertilized, oh so many moons ago!

spotted salamander eggs from the basin

Apparently the “paste regurgitation” has paid off as (seemingly) loving groups of crossbills were seen to be feasting on a healthy crop of red spruce cones topping off many of the trees around.    


Spotted Turtle – (4/30) took a few moments to walk along the stream that feeds into “Mack’s pond” which is more like “Mack’s pool” these days, to look for spotted turtles. Trevor Persons (remember that guy from last year? Caught and “tagged” turtles in the Basin?) mentioned he had seen one there, and so I took a look.

spotted turtle heading into the muck
"into the mud scum queen!"

And it was way too easy to find one this day. The turtle looked surprised and then spooked – after a minute staring contest the turtle went head first into the muck. It wiggled its way into being gone over the span of a minute, and then the big bubble came up. Many would say that was “just an air bubble from under its carapace” and we all know that is more than just “likely” the source. But there is still some part of each of us that hopes that “the big bubble that creeps out many moments after the previous bubble barrage ended”, well we all hope that that bubble turns out to not be “just an air bubble from under its carapace” but instead is what is commonly referred to in “the trade” as a “turtle toot”.


Yes, possibly the last attempt of a turtle desperate to minimalize buoyancy so as to remain submerged in the muck, and what better way than releasing some gas. If you were a turtle, what would you do?


air bubble rising to the surface
Either way (toot. Or not a toot.) Spotted turtles are protected under the Maine state endangered species act. Always good to see them!


turtle toot ripples

The marsh – tenants harbor – (5/1) Red-winged Blackbird, Canada Geese, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Cowbird, phoebe, flicker, song sparrow, red-breasted nuthatch, chickadee, goldfinch, purple finch, ruby-crowned kinglets, downy and hairy woodpecker…(5/3) Brown Creeper, Black-throated Green Warbler, Red-winged Blackbird, Bald Eagles, Osprey, Wood ducks, Canada geese, peepers.

bluebird egg
photo by Carol Gentalen

wright brothers museum
photo by Amy palmer
South Carolina - the blue bird box in mom's front yard has had an active spring. here's a shot that my mom took of a bluebird egg in the box! good work mom!

leif and uto by the creek in yellow springs
photo by Amy Palmer

and leif in ohio visiting with his friend Uto from japan.