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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 11, 2017

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report
Feb. 10th, 2017

Brought to you by the kind folks at MCHT and VLT.
 Only the kind ones….


a long, long, long, long time ago…

..Before the wind, before the snow…” - RHCP


HighlightsSnow! Tracks!, Barrow’s Goldeneye, Belted Kingfisher, Purple Sandpiper, Snow Fleas , stories from the mainland and a shout out to Charles Oakley

misplaced childhood?


Contact . Send in photos, reports, stories and email addresses to add to the exclusive list of VSR fans.



Tiit trick – click the photos to make them bigger. Even the ones



Upcoming Events:

The bonfire/snowshoe/full moon extravaganza scheduled for tonight (Friday Feb 10) has been rescheduled to Friday March 10th meeting at 5pm. This rescheduling was made talking into consideration the 12 degree weather matched with 15 m/hr winds that are predicted for Friday night. We can have it be more pleasant, or at least try.


Water bird talk – with John Drury7 pm Sunday, February 19th at the town office. Local bird legend John Drury will be talking seabirds and showing slides and no one knows the sea birds of mid-coast Maine like John. Not to be missed!

Milestones - important Birthdays in the Gentalen world - Birthday wishes and thoughts

January 30th Celia Gentalen (my grandmom) & Feb 5th Tiit Gentalen (Dad) - miss you both

February 1st Melissa Gentalen (sis-in-law) & February 10th Julius Gentalen (nephew) - happy birthday!

RIP - Lance Morton passed recently, great character and a good guy, he is missed already.

me grabbing the deer by the horns
photo by someone other than me (SOTM)


Kid Stuff –  

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join in with the Perspectives afterschool team this last week (2/7&8) for some tracking fun.
checking out bones
photo by SOTM

(2/7)  was loaded with snow, as in snow falling on us as we were in the woods. the kids got to track each other, check out skulls and pellets and had a great time.

apparently kid like to play games
photo by SOTM

(2/8) was snow covered and warm, which led to wonderful tracks, tracking and (most of all) Snow Fleas galore!

I was lucky enough to get to hang with Raymond
one of my all time favorite kids
photo by SOTM

snow fleas hopping off my hand
check out Finn! into it...
photo by SOTM

snow flea discovery
everyone into it - but look at Raymond's

whatsmore we sent the little ones home with a "owl pellet in a bag" to dissect at home, which some did and then shared their pellet findings with photos! super cool!

Finn working on his pellet, complete with skull!
Photo by Sarah Crossman, maybe?

Ezra working on his pellet at home
photo by Mae maybe?

the wonderful Perspectives crew that make the magic happen
Maddie, Luke, Kelly, Hillary, and Alice

Big thanks to the Perspectives crew, PIE, VLT and MCHT for sponsoring my time and providing the owl pellets. Great sessions! Looking forward to the spring visit!


snow flea video - watch 'em hop! -

more on snow fleas next time!

Sightings –

Huber – Niall Conlan reports seeing a Great Horned Owl at the Huber parking area on several evenings recently.


Ferry Rides – (2/1) – loads of snow – “limited visibility ain’t gunna breaka my stride” – 13 Common Loon, 15 Oldtails, 5 Black Guillemots, 45 Common Eider, 3 Black Scoter, 10 Surf Scoter, 4 Razorbill, 12 Red-breasted Merganser, 3 Bufflehead


this was the visibility
better than sun in the face!
The story here…. was in part the snow limiting visibility. Nothing shows up how much more you see when scanning the waters from the ferry than not being able to scan. Produce, Produce, Produce! And yet there was still a healthy mix of species to be found close to the ferry. The 4 razorbill were especially fun.


(2/8) 4:30 from Vinalhaven – half a ride before it got dark… 17 Black Guillemot, 23 Common Loon, 21 Red-breasted Merganser, 14 Bufflehead, 14 Common Eider, 25 Surf Scoter, 4 Oldtail, Belted Kingfisher.

Guillemot starting to go through
the changes

The story here…is a nice one….. with the lengthening of daylight hours Black Guillemots are starting to molt, with one individual observed appearing to have completed molt – for all intents and purposes being completely black, lest the white wing patches. Belted Kingfisher hunting off the old pier off 31 Reach Road was classic. Otter slides at Lairey’s….too dark for photos unfortunately!


not the best, but not the worst shot of a Barrow's Goldeneye

Basin (2/8) – 27 Black Duck, 13 Surf Scoter, 4 Red-breasted Merganser, 4 Oldtails, 1 Common Eider, 10 Common Goldeneye, 2 Barrow’s Goldeneye, 15 Bufflehead, 4 Common Loon.

female Barrow's Goldeneye with the bright orange bill

The story here…is the pair of Barrow’s Goldeneye seen scooting around the seal ledges just north of the Strawson Marsh. State listed as a threatened species, the Basin and Carver’s Pond are the more reliable places to find an individual or two of the handful of Barrow’s that overwinters around Vinalhaven.

red-breasted merganser doing a little feather maintenance

Carver’s Pond – (2/8) 2 Hooded Merganser, 14 Red-breasted Merganser, 31 Bufflehead, 2 Purple Sandpipers, Belted Kingfisher


pair o' purple sandpipers
The story here….is twofold – the kingfisher hunting from shoreline perches and the 2 purple sandpipers hunkering down on the rocks visible from chestnut. Never seen purples there before, never would have expected them. Maybe not too totally surprising, as large (60+) groups of purples are sometimes seen on ledges at the mouth of the harbor. Carver’s Pond provided a nice shelter from the storm

lane's was a bit slushy

Lane’s Island – (2/8) – 2 Red-necked Grebe, 5 Red-breasted Merganser, 15 Common Eider, 1 Common Loon, Mink tracks….


The story here ….. are the mink trails of Lane’s Island. The thick bayberry shrub lands of Lane’s Island are undercut by a network of paths and tributaries – only inches above the ground at points – where the local mink scurry and make their rounds. Many of these are well worn paths, as you can imagine. (Can you?)

do you recognize this poop bag?
under a foot of snow at the moment I bet!

The mink trails cross the human network of trails at a handful of spots throughout the preserve and these can be very dependable for mink tracks a day or two after a snow.


My favorite Lane’s Island mink crossing cuts across the path that goes past the cemetery and then bends to the left and heads to a rocky beach that faces  west and Greens Island. When you are heading on this path and you are almost to the beach below the sunset rock, the mink trail crosses the humanoid trail at the last set of spruces on your left. Are you with me (or against me)? The mink trail crosses the path and tucks under the spruce branch that is closest to the trail. With me? Go look! You’ll see tracks and a trail.

my favorite mink crossing on Lane's
heading into the bayberries!

13 winters in a row of documented mink crossings at this spot, confirmed with a quick visit to track on a clearing afternoon (12/8). Mink only live about 3 years average in the wild, so the potential of many generations of historic mink use of the trail system and crossing is almost a given. Historic mink. Lane’s - Where weasels rule!


and some snowy Basin shots - enjoy!

hard working Jamus Drury

wharf quarry road

when sea level rise meets sinking pier

what the heck?

Mainland storiesThomaston frozen trail- many of you probably drive on the mainland, and many of you probably drive south through Thomaston on your way somewhere other than Thomaston, unless you are going to see the New LEGO BATMAN MOVIE this weekend!!!!! Yeah man!


Anyway, if you have driven south through Thomaston on Rte. 1 you may have noticed a sign on the right that says something along the lines of - “Georges Highland Path”  Thomaston Town Forest , Georges River Land Trust –and has an arrow pointing you in the direction of a presumed trailhead.


Well, I parked at that trailhead on a sunny afternoon and was delighted to find the trails and woods all my own as I tracked fisher and fox in the ever so quickly melting snow. I had a good old time hoping to stay out til dark for some owling.


pollution control?

 had walked for a bit and I came to a junction in the trail.  An arrow on a tree pointed me in the direction of another trailhead called the “pollution control plant trailhead”. Catchy title indeed.


I wasn’t going to see what that meant, but when I turned in the general direction of the pollution control trail I saw a magical frozen land just off the trail and in the woods. It sang to me, it called to me like a toxic siren born of the wastelands of my birth – new jersey.


this uncomfortable looking thing may be
behind the pollution control
It was crazy, I had never seen anything else like it. On a day of melting, moisture and frozen water changing its state to liquid this area looked frozen in time. Was this the pollution plant? What was this frozen coating covering the trees? Did it come out of that multi-pronged, bath-house nozzled spraying apparatus? Was this a good thing to be around? Your guess is as good as mine, but I figured at least I should snap a shot or two. It was weird and I’ll leave it at that. No owls that night either!


saw this little dude on Clark Island

Porcupines – the new white meat? – editor’s note – There are NO PORCUPINES on Vinalhaven. Thank you.


Found a couple more dens and got to see three individuals since the last VSR. They tug at the heart strings. Here’s some about porcupines from Elbroch, Rinehart “Behavior of North American Mammals” Peterson reference guide.


Porcupines cannot throw or shoot their quills, but they are easily shed. Porcupines have a distinctive layer of musculature just below their skin with which they can raise and lower their quills and let them go when they come into contact with a predator


vsr editor note – is “let them go  what they mean here? They go from porcupines consciously moving their quills up and down to letting them go in the same sentence, implying that it is a conscious decision of the porcupine to “let go” of their quills? Is that a tough decision to make or is it one where if they are ever touched at all they come out automatically? Anyway…


“the quills are .8 to 4 inches long, with barbed tips that make them difficult and painful to remove. The barbs are angled in such a way that if the quills are left unattended, they dig deeper and deeper into an animal as it moves. Should the quills avoid large bones and vital organs, with enough time they can work their way straight through an animal and come out the other side……


snoozing under damage it inflicted/
chewed off this tree

…Porcupines do an amazing job of eking out a loving on the least nutritional foods in some of the harshest climates in North America. Their lethargic lifestyle is the cost of feeding on low-quality browse and aids in energy conservation.”


There you have it.


the yellowish hued snow in the middle of this picture
is frozen fox pee. I learned it still smells if you stick your nose
right (about) into it.
Fox Pee -  well, I’ve been tracking some fox in Tenants Harbor, Castine and Rockport recently and the one constant between the three areas was the Fox urine.


Elbroch in “ Mammals tracks and sign” says “Red fox urine is renowned among trackers because of its incredibly pungent and powerful odor, similar to the odor of striped skunk spray. It is most powerful during the mating season, when I’ve encountered clouds of scent wafting through the forest. I’ve backtracked some of these scents with my nose and found scent posts up to 50 yards away”.


Now that is hardcore – back tracking with your nose. I have picked up the scent many times, but my nose is not so disciplined. Here’s some from Elbroch, Rinehart “Mammals Behavior” reference guide.


which of the 12 accepted positions did this fox urinate from?
looks like it was sitting (nothing wrong with that)
the tracks of the hid legs are along the left edge of photo
with the pee landing near the grass in the top right
Red foxes employ any of 12 different positions to urinate upon precarious perches and signposts they choose along their travel routes….all foxes leave only tiny, token quantities of urine when they pee. Red fox urine has a very distinctive odor, especially during the second half of winter, when the smell becomes increasingly strong and their scent posts can be smelled hundreds of yards away”


The group at Erickson Field smelled a red fox scent post – not sure from how far – we failed to track it as my nose is not so disciplined. Have I mentioned that before?


Foxes urinate up to 70 times per hour when they are scavenging.”   - so it’s eat and pee for these guys when “botulated” food is on the table. That my friends is a lot of peeing.

rough legged coasting away

Anyway, I followed a couple of fox trails to scent marks in Castine. The urine was frozen in the snow, but I was able to get my nose close enough to catch some whiffs. Pungent snow – watch out where the huskies go.

rough legged hawk hovering

Rough-legged Hawk – From over at the Weskeag Marsh in Thomaston. Always great to see one – check out those black spots at the wing elbow, or the dark vest wrapped around his belly.


dug up my old Oakley jersey.
even heard from an old friend from high
school who knew how much
I loved Charles Oakley
In honor of Charles Oakley.  (weighing in the heavy topics of today!) -Leif has been enjoying watching basketball and we were watching the Knicks vs the Clippers the other night when the camera panned over to Charles Oakley in about the 4th row of Madison Square Garden. “that’s Charles Oakley” I said to Leif, “ he was always my favorite player”. “I used to wear his jersey to all the dead shows I went to”.  No sooner had I said the words when 8 or so security guards came in, restrained Charles (who resisted nicely!) and then dragged him out of the stands. “I can’t believe I just saw my favorite player get arrested at Madison Square Garden” I said to Leif. To which he responded – “at least you got to see your favorite!” . Love that kid.


Whatever the situation was, there is no way Charles Oakley should ever be dragged, or much less feel like he needed to defend himself, at Madison Square Garden. He’s an all time great Knick who should be honored every time he shows up for a game. Anyone who follows basketball knows that the Knicks are a joke, but they weren’t when I was growing up. They just couldn’t beat Jordan, like every other team. Disappointing to see. Well, I’m over it!

bowing with Mr. Andrew

Leif – getting his orange belt.

so proud


leif found a shell and a crab exoskeleton
in ice...

Picnic on Clark island

exploring by Marshal Light

and then found a way to get them out of the ice

 that's just about it! hope you enjoy the snow and we'll see you out there!

and one last video, taken from the town parking area, at just about high tide. cool bubbles...