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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


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report –
                          Feb. 25th, 2017

   Brought to you by the supportive support
                         of MCHT and VLT



do you recognize this guy?

Highlights: snow. Northern Shrike, Purple Sandpiper, Red-necked Grebe, Razorbills, and (too) many things observed off island – Fisher, Porcupine, Snapping Turtle, otter slides. Hot snow fun.



Contact us – send us your photos, your sightings, your questions, your concerns, your martial issues (please don’t) to . There. It’s in your court now!


Tiit trick: “bittersweet like”, my dad was the one who told me that if you click on the photos in the VSR they will appear jumbo sized on your computer. And he’s like a “tech god” in my mind for that. Anyway, feel free to click away!


snowshoeing is not only the right speed,
but its a workout and an exploration all
wrapped into one

Upcoming event: Huber snowshoe/hike/bonfire/full moon walk. At least three of the four will happen in two Fridays from now – Friday March 10th at 5pm. meet at Skoog to carpool. Should be fun!

I think this guy watches the line sometimes at the rockland
ferry terminal. I think this is the friendliest I have ever
seen him

Sightings: Snow, and lots of it!

Ferry ride – (2/23) – 7 am from Rockland – Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Surf Scoter, Oldtail, Common Loons, Bald Eagle, Purple Sandpipers, Northern Shrike, Fog…


some of the purple sandpipers

..The story here was the thick fog that started to break just as we (the royal “we”) pulled close to the archipelago. The fog broke slowly, affording wonderful views in slow motion, slow enough for this bald guy to catch some photos. And quick enough for purple sandpipers and a northern shrike to be spotted on a tree top in the harbor.

loon butt

(2/23) Steve Walker reports – 8:45 from Rockland – 3 Red-necked Grebe, 4 razorbill, 12 common loons….

black guillemot starting
to change to black


…the story here is that an hour and 45 minutes later the fog had lifted out in the middle of the bay enough to see razorbills. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on if you are a fog fan) the fog rolled back in and remained high on the “thick and chunky fog” meter for most of the rest of all day.


snowfleas in foot print

(2/23) – Basin -   Oldtails, Surf Scoter, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Eiders and snowfleas!


otter spraint from the basin

(2/23) Lane’s – northern flicker, spider.


The story here was – Northern Flicker – the species of bird that eats more ants than any other – was on lane’s island after all this snow and weather. Hard core – just like the spider!!!!

the view for most of the ride was this


Off island – with the snow effecting woods work I (the royal “I”) was “forced” to work and explore more on the mainland the last few weeks as well as took a sweet vacation to visit Amy’s parents, my  in-laws (my “innies”), Jeff and Sandy – (Hi Sandy and Jeff – thanks for a great visit!). Normally upstate New York sightings would fall out of the VSR range but there were some exceptional experiences (in my opinion) that I’ll share with you. Thanks for your patience.


overview and up the hill in the bottom left

A quick note on St. George river otters – deep snow limits otter movement, behavior and thusly sign. The dozen or so spots where I found otter sign the last two winters in St. George (that includes this one) were pretty much devoid of sign (actually not pretty much at all. They were devoid!) And my guess is the deep snow is keeping them away. On Vinalhaven there were no otter crossings from Old Harbor Pond to the Sands – a classic crossing with sign in most snows – even a week after the last snow. 


I like this trail

But I was happy to spot this otter trail – complete with belly slides- in Seavey Cove on 131 in Tenants Harbor while I was driving about 50 miles an hour. The belly slides could be seen for miles, it was screaming to be observed.


I pulled around and got these shots and realized there was a den right below me in the rocks, but I couldn’t get to it with all the snow. I will go back soon! Before the ticks get thick. Anyway, good to see.


Porcupines – alright, so it seems like years ago at this point, but recently I totally fell for porcupines. I am not the biggest fan of rodents, be them in the house or in the woods (squirrels are my nemesis). I mean, beavers are cool (and so are gibnuts!) and can certainly have an interesting effect on as huge on an area. They are very much trackable - you know when a beaver is in your neighborhood.  Fun to watch for sure as well.


But I’ve never seen beaver tracks in snow, and it’s funny that its tracks in snow that have gotten me hooked on porkies (remember those dumb movies?).  The first rodent I have fallen for and part of it is because of tracks and trails in the snow.


And their trails are becoming legendary. With the last snow I got to follow porcupines on Clark Island in St George and at Witherle Woods in Castine. Here’s a quick run down


quill marks

Clark Island – (2/12) – with the big snows came some big snowshoeing. I checked out a zone where I had recently crossed paths with a porcupine and found its den when there was no snow on the ground. The visit in snow was wonderful.


trails in and out of the porcupine den in the rocks

The trails were wide and obvious. Here’s a little Paul Rezendes, “Tracking and the art of seeing” –


“(In) Deep. Fluffy snow….. Here the stubby legged porcupine turns into a snowplow, making a deep trough as it shuffles back and forth from its den to its feeding area. “


Fun to see the quill drag marks within the trail.

bark fragments tell of recent evening chewing

Unlike raccoons (why compare to raccoons?), porcupines do not have specific latrines and will urinate and defecate wherever they might be. “ well, there definitely was porcupine pee.


The trails led from the den in the rocks


To a tree that had been feasted upon. Here’s a little Elboch and Rinehart, “Behavior of north American mammals”


In winter…dens are in rocky crevices where available”


“The area around a den will have several feeding runs radiating outward. In the winter the snow might be packed down, stained with urine, and littered with feces and quills”


Later I came across another set of porcupine trails…these being long braids going up and down the main road on Clark Island. They (it) made a ”V” formation by connecting the braided trails. They just looked so cool, how could you not fall for the little porkers.


And of course these trails lead me to another porcupine den in the ground - #4 porker den of the winter for me. Felt good.

den and trail leading up and out

(2/15) Witherle Woods/Castine – tracking Porcupines once again, this time in Castine, led to some pretty chewed up trees of all ages.


And two “new” porcupine dens (#5 & #6) along the way, one with a porcupine present. 

the trail to den #6

there is a porcupine in there somewhere

I think the fisher paused here for a second
What’s better though (for me, not necessarily the porcupines) was that the first porcupine trail led me to a Fisher trail that meandered through the woods, and led me to two other porcupine trails. Not too much of a jump to say this Fisher was hunting porcupines in the deep snow.


And how cool was it to follow a fisher trail long distance -.5 mile maybe -? Very cool.


The trail went up and down cliff faces, over piles of logs and up leaning dead trees.


acrobatic bounds track like this up a leaner

The leaners were the coolest. They had several inches of snow built up upon them and the Fisher’s acrobatic bounds going up the leaners resulted in snow being knocked off in patches every 8-12 inches or so. Like bounding up a leaning balance beam covered in snow, the prints of each bound made my smile grow.


super cute fisher print

these fisher bounds were cool

And then the ultimate (for me…at the time) – the fisher bounded up a downed tree, climbed to the top of the uprooted root stock and then leaped fully extended (editor’s embellishment) three or four feet and landed fully body in the snow!

nice leap from left to right

The Fisher’s outline - tail and all - was perfectly preserved in the snow. And from the tracks the fisher had no problem continuing on with its hunt – no struggle or chaotic movement in the snow. Just continued on its way.

view from the rootstock

fisher landing

no hesitation as the fisher continued on

That body track was awesome. Rezendez has a similar picture on page 130 in the book mentioned above. The caption reads “A fisher will occasionally jump out of a tree, leaving an impression of its body (including its tail) in the snow”. There you have it!


fresh tracks

(2/18) Nelson New York – We (the family “we”) arrived in the afternoon and after a long drive in the car went quickly for a snow exploration out Jeff and Sandy’s back door. Love exploring out their back door.


Anyway, no too far from the house Jeff mentioned that neighbors had seen a Fisher cross a road nearby. They had seen the critter a few times recently. Good info to have, and within a few minutes we were on a network of fisher trails, slightly melted, but clearly Fisher by size and pattern. I knew immediately where I was going the next morning…

cool grotto

(2/19) …an early morning return with snowshoes and I was on a fresh Fisher trail within minutes. The tracks were so clear and beautiful in the bottom of this small valley and then got fuzzy and meltier as the fisher worked his way to the top of the valley sides. Neat to see how temperature and snow conditions can change a single trail and the tracks within that trail so dramatically.

fur and hoof

hoof fragments

picked clean
Anyway, this first morning the Fisher took me to some hoof parts and then a deer leg that had been pretty much cleared of any meat.  You (the royal “you”) would figure (yes you would) that some deer probably met their ends  or were weakened with such deep snows covering the North East the previous two weeks. The fisher most likely scavenged the leg from an already dead carcass and then the feast was on! I love it when trails leads to dead stuff. What luck!

slight slide from fisher scat marking

fisher on left, raccoon on right

trail from the left is old
trail out of the den to the right is fresher

2/20) another early morning jaunt found me putting on my snowshoes at the bottom of the valley. While sitting on a log I scanned the opposite hillside and saw – once again within minutes – a spot where an old fisher trail lead to a dig spot in the ground and then continued off. I thought little of it, maybe the fisher smelled something and dug around and took off.


Until I looked closer and saw the trails around the den were obviously made at different times. In fact, the trail that led to the dig spot appeared to have been made one day and the trail leaving the den made the next. The dig didn’t look too deep, until I took a stick, poked it into the dig and it went in over a foot before I ran out of stick! (Editor’s note – there was no fresh trail leading back to the dig spot, so the Fisher was not in the den at that moment. I wouldn’t have stuck a stick in there if it had been present!).

fisher ice track

So it was a den, with tracks leading into it one day, and leaving from it the next. The fisher had spent at least one sleep pattern in this den! A fisher den about 700 hundred feet (or so) from my innies back door! Unbelievable! My first fisher den, and it was obvious to me I never would have found it without the snow! Thank you snow, thank you fisher!


raccoon tracks

…but the day wasn’t over yet. The whole gang went to another nearby trail for a stroll when I wandered off looking for porcupine and got onto a raccoon trail that was recently active along a stream side. Wasn’t long before there were blood marks in the trail – a sight that always gets the smile larger…


turtle on ice

…from the blood spot I scanned around and found, on the snow, the remains of a snapping turtle! What the heck! One leg gone, and much of the insides as well, and the throat had been cleared in a deadly manner, what could be the story here? a turtle in winter? Snappers hunker down for the winter in mud, which for this stream would probably be in the little side tributaries and ox bow bends rather than the main channel where the stream was flowing fast.

A spot like that was right below the turtle carcass, and my guess is that the turtle was there, minding its own business, when the raccoon found it and pulled out it’s sleeping (or heavily groggy) self out of the stream and had its way with the defenseless reptile. Amazing.


My Uncle Tom and Aunt Linda shared a story of seeing turtles active under ice on their old pond, which made us wonder if the snapper had stirred enough to attract the attention of the raccoon. Either way we have the carcass and are ordering “flesh eating beetles” to help out with the cleaning! Surprising find! Got everyone excited!


And here’s something I forgot last time – recent motion sensor shots of the neighborhood fisher in my neighborhood. So much fun to have around. Sometime I’d like to see it, someday….