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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


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Welcome to the
Vinalhaven Sightings Report

April 1st, 2018


We proudly accept the support of both VLT and MCHT!

And thanks for your support, too!

mink trail

Happy Easter! Easter people.

And a special “Rabbit, Rabbit” to the easter bunny!

little turkey tail for yah!

Highlights – northern shrike. American woodcock, otter den, brown tailed moth killing, eagles, purple sandpiper, loon morphage, and the continuation of the estrus story…

"bunch o' scoters!"
Business – contact us – – send in your photos, your sightings, your stories and we’ll stuff them into the next VSR post. Also feel free to send us (the royal “us”) your email address to be added to our ever-so-growing list of people who receive a kind reminder email – complete with a link and all – whenever we (the royal “we”) post a new VSR. It’s cool and painless. Or at least in theory it will be both of those.


Upcoming eventTuesday, April 3rdAmphibian Migration! – With much of “snow everlasting” finally melting over the past week it looks like we are lined up for a wet evening Tuesday. Temps at first darkness look to be in the 40-degree range which is perfect for spotted salamanders to migrate from their wintering burrows to vernal pools where their “mating action is at”. Drive slowly “around the island road” after dark and keep your eyes peeled for sizable salamanders crossing! Hop out and help them out – hands wet first please! If Tuesday doesn’t work for you – Wednesday evening conditions look just as good. Many to all of the islands spotted salamander population will likely move these two nights! Great way to see the island! If you go cruising and find stuff please let us know! We’d love to report some salamander sightings! – this also goes for a lot of areas along the coast that are not Vinalhaven.

"i'm still hungry"

Also – Woodcocks are going off in my neighborhood on the mainland – undoubtedly, they are in most fields on Vinalhaven – so go check out that sweet, sweet aerial courtship display! Lane’s Island is still the best place to observe – go there for sunset and stay until it gets dark – listen for the “peent” vocalization and then for the rising, circling buzzy flight as they rise a couple of hundred feet before zig zagging their way back to earth. My favorite spot to observe this is the picnic table closest to the graveyard on Lane’s. 


Tiit trick - click on photos to make them huge!

Sightings – Who’s singing?Cardinals, Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, American Goldfinch, Purple Finch, Dark-eyed Junco, Song Sparrow, Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet…lots of song out there these days…

Who’s drumming – woodpeckers of all flavors are stating their presence with authority these days. Be it through vocalizations, drumming, or displays, woodpeckers are one of the first birds I’ve been hearing in the mornings.


"going through the changes"
From the Ferry – and so march can be like, kind of low in total numbers of birds from the ferry, but there is always something to observe. Here’s a little photo gallery…

Lunatics – yes, the common loon is somewhat of an honorary mascot for the ferry these days. A spectrum of loon looks can be viewed as head and body feathers are being swapped out for newer threads (or in reality, newer feathers).
this guy had only a feather or two on the head to go

Some of the loons looked a little beat up, others look pretty sharp. And while I saw no loons who had gone completely through the changes, a few were pretty darn close.

this guy had a few more feathers to go but was close

bin of young loons


Also, young loons that are apparently not molting with breeding in mind this year (it can 4 or more years before a loon is “mature” enough to mate) create rafts or small what’s locally known as “Bins”. Bins of youngsters can have 13+ individuals and create a little wakey patch when they are heavily paddling (kicking) under the water. Look for a bin near you!

Bald Eagles – let’s just say that something must have washed up on the ledges outside of Lairey’s narrows because there were 6 eagles jockeying for position as the ferry weaved its way past. 4 adults – guessing pairs from both the white islands and dogfish were representing, as well as two younger eagles.


The eagle scene on the rocks was cool enough, and then an adult eagle from the whites flew south, almost directly behind the boat. I snapped about a gagillion photos, but have scaled back the total to post in this VSR to just these three. Enjoy the eagles!

first approach


coming on in

move it on over!

Seals and sandpipers – from the ferry both harbor seals and purple sandpipers are fun to observe – check the ledges outside of Lairey’s Narrows !

bunch of purples

here's what brown tailed moth cocoons look
like in a tree

Lane’s Island – spent some time on Lane’s removing Brown-tailed Moth cocoon things. These are the moths whose hairs apparently cause rashes, itchiness and general discomfort when they make contact with human skin – I can’t speak for other kinds of skin. Anyway, Morten Moesswilde turned us on to the small population out on lane’s last year. Linnell Mather (the Linnell Mather) and I went out last winter and cut down cocoons we found, but apparently we didn’t get them all. felt good to take these down! They went into the wood stove for assured destruction. Take a gander at your shrubs for these cocoon things and if you find them – cut them down and destroy completely! Another case of helping the earth through destruction. What a world!
and here are some of the ones I removed

Also on lane’ssnowshoe hare tracks (never seen snowshoe hare trails on lane’s before), and a Northern Shrike

brown tailed moth
this gull is giving wormin' his all! head first

Gulls are a wormin’ – check shallow coves at low tide to see groups of gulls swimming in circle and every now and then hopping out of the water only to dive head first after marine worms. The worms are there for the “nookie” so to speak, and their strategy must be to show up in overwhelming numbers (Blitzkrieg or “shock and awe” style) that giving up a few hundred (guestimate of worm loss based on no data whatsoever) worms to gulls has negligible impact on the populations overall breeding success. I mean, there’s a lot of impact on the worms that get eaten of course, but you know what I mean. 

three otters soft trail


Old Harbor Pond – had some time to check in with the otter scene on the south end of OHP. At first it was tricky to see if there had been any activity near the classic den in the rock pier there, but once I came around the zone it was obvious that the “gang of three” was not only using the overday accommodations, but where in there while I was snappin’ photos! Clear path and not clear at all spraint led the way to the tunnel that must lead to the den entrance deep under the snow. Love those old harbor otters!

slightly tilted photo showing approach
trail and den access. plus spraint!

the actual den entrance is maybe 5 feet to the right.
thus the cool tunnel.

estrus fertilizer for the hemlock cone!

Off island – when we last left off we had a bleeding otter named Larry in the marsh. That was the last sign of Larry from the back-yard zone we sometimes call the marsh.

From earlier tracking expeditions we learned that Larry leaves the marsh on a regular basis, so I went to an area called “Clark Island” where I had picked up on otter trails and sign before. Clark island also happens to be very close to where Larry’s trail from the marsh ends. In other words, this solo, female otter uses the marsh and long cove/Clark’s island grounds for fishing and denning and marking.

a little blood and spraint

With that in mind I wasn’t too surprised to find more bloody estrus areas at some of the otter latrines I am familiar with on Clark’s. Here the blood must have been spread (do otters “spread” blood?) when the snow was wet as it had a different consistency (or “feel” if you will) than the blood in the marsh previously reported. Most likely tasted the same though. Very cool to find.

drying estrus on ice

A revisit to the estrus zone in the marsh showed me what bloody estrus looks like after it dries up. It takes on an interesting cobwebby look. Probably still gets the message across though!  

dry estrus exposed!
the one thing krispies had going for it was
the lack of artificial colors.
that is what spring is for!

and at this time of spring wonder, lets not forget the foods that use the hope of spring to sell their products. not limited edition necessarily, but ones we wish were limited to none.

at least they always use real cocoa

and the leif man, in the snow

and excavating the hermit house ruins nearby.

Good times! now
get out there!


Saturday, March 17, 2018

Happy St Patrick's Day!
Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report

Special Estrus Edition!


March 17th, 2018


Proudly brought to you by VLT and MCHT –

“protecting habitat for estrus and estrus associated activities” for a long time now.

kirky trail

Trivia question – what movie from the 80s had a woman in it named Larry? More clues and the answer below.


The recent snows – March 6th and 13th/14th- where both impressive in amounts of snow and how long it took the snow for all to fall. Warm(ish) snows  like these tend to be wet and heavy – anyone who shoveled over the last two weeks knows what I am talking about. They are the kind of snow that drives home the difference between 35 degrees (and windy) snow and snow at 20 degrees – heavy and moist vs. light and fluffy. This is not winter.


mink bounding trail
The biggest difference for me (getting personal now) is how the wet snow sticks to a snowshoe thus making the going very labored. Labored snowshoeing means a sweaty Kirk. And while I fully respect folks who get out there and are looking to sweat (“exercise” is what some people call it – whatever gets you out there!), my goal with snowshoeing is always to “not sweat”. Getting sweaty means getting cold and having to keep moving. Labored and sweaty conditions basically mean that I don’t go as far or for as long, but I come back tired and drippy. Not the goal. St times like these I make mini-sweaty-expeditions instead.

(3/7) the first noticeable tracking action I came across was a pair of mink trails bounding through the yard. I had only seen one set of mink tracks all winter, and so to have this pair weaving their trails led me to believe that something was up. I followed (and sweated) these two mink for a labored ¼ mile and found bits and pieces of their soft trail over the course of a mile long stretch. These two had spent some serious time together.


mink bounding trail on Greens Island
photo by John Drury
And while there was no outward sign of mink courtship from their tracks and trails – other than maybe running together (is that courtship?) – from tracking mink on Lane’s Island over the years we know that March is mating time for mink. The timing  of mink breeding in the Marsh would be pretty similar to those mink on Lane’s I would suppose, and these two hopefully – for their sakes – would be “hooking up” to promote and create the next generation. John Drury reports mink activity and lots of trails on Greens.

local otter ice-hole. on our property!
otter came out and went back down
check out the tail print to the right of the hole.


Other observation (3/7) –an otter made an ice-hole through the thick but slushy ice – and right along “our” shore! A single otter, presumed to be Larry, came out and turned around. Check out that tail imprint. We got an ice-hole! The royal “we”!


Back to the mink pair - We know March is mink mating time from finding “estrus” in mink trails twice on Lane’s over the years.  Here are some definitions -  

typical mink bounding trail
across old harbor pond!

Estrus – noun - “a recurring period of sexual receptivity and fertility in many female mammals; heat.

estrus es·trus or oes·trus (ěs'trəs) n. The periodic state of sexual excitement in the female of most mammals, excluding humans, that immediately precedes ovulation and during which the female is most receptive to mating; heat.

Being a “periodic state”, it would seem that “estrus” would usually fall into the “thing” category of nouns, rather than either a “person” or a “place”. When finding sign such as the blood in the mink trails on Lane’s, it seems like estrus is morphs into being  a “place”. Especially since the snow on Lane’s in 2015 could theoretically hold the bloody markings for weeks (probably) if nto longer.  

not your everyday mink bounding trail
lane's island - winter 2015

Estrus can be “people” as well - I just looked it up and found 4 people in the states with the name “Estrus”. Probably more that fly under the radar, go by “Jimmy” or something. Please don’t contact them – unless you are already friends with one. I am sure they know what their name means. Whatever.


Movie trivia – famous line from the 80s movie in question – “I love your body Larry”

serious estrus in a mink trail
lane's islan march 2015

Back to now -


Anyway, (3/14) so the story goes that after the snow finally stopped I went out to see if the mink were in session and whether Larry had come returned to our property!

The snow had stopped mid-day, so any tracks or trails from the night before would be covered by a thin layer of snow. A little soft, but all trails are educational opportunities and any tracks laid through the night should be observable.


odd trail going through the slush ice
The mink continued their bounding, weaving trails in and out of the water or into the subnivium layer hunting voles, playing hard to get or whatever. The otter, though had not re-used its ice hole from the previous storm as the ice was noticeably thinner with more open zones than the snow from a week before. An otter had more options and could go, essentially, wherever it wanted instead of at the mercy of its ice-hole.


mink trail leading to a disturbed area in the snow
I followed the mink trail, which was my dream for that day anyway, and after a few steps spied an odd formation in the slush ice  - the slush ice that had been created during the previous 36 hours of continual snow! From watching the late Feb/early March slush ice form, retreat and reform I saw a line in the slush seemed particularly odd. I thought to myself – if an otter swam through the slush to the shore that might be what the ice would look like.  I actually thought that – no spraint! One of my best thoughts ever!

clearly disturbed (area)

Following the mink trail and keeping my eye on the trail through the pond slush I noticed an area of disturbance in the snow along the shore.  Something had clearly rolled or bounced around or belly smeared its way around this spot, and even though the mink trail went right to the disturbance, it was clear that the animal that created this area came from the water and was bigger than a mink. And it was right next to the spot where the odd break in the slush led to. These are the days that dreams are made of.
coming and going


It wasn’t too tricky to tell that an otter made the impressions in the snow. As mentioned,
the trail through the ice was the path the otter took to the shore and you could see where Larry (I presume) came out and went back into the water. Thank you Larry!




Patches in the disturbed snow were clearly stained, mostly looking a yellowish color, but with hints of orange in a couple of spots. Hard to tell if it was urine, or some gross intestinal thing or maybe some dirtiness rubbed off the otter furs, which is most likely disturbingly disturbing (judgment) in its current “wild” state (but those otter furs do clean up super nice!).



Closer inspection showed hints of red and I felt a big smile hit my face. I cleared the snow off with my hand in a couple of spots and it became obvious that the scene was a bloody mess. That’s when I decided not to use my hand anymore.

once again, before...

Movie trivia clue #3 – It was the great actor Chevy Chase saying the last quote to the great actor Geena Davis over the phone. The last clue is the answer!


Finding a kill site, or a devouring site, (or a pooping site for that matter) of any animal is cool. Kill sites can be special because of all the blood. This was not a kill site.


snowshoe in the estrus

Otters eat fish, and most often eat them in the water. At times they will move to a rock or nearby dock to feast. I have never found sign of an otter devouring spot in Maine (doesn’t mean they don’t exist!). In Homer, Alaska the local river otters would sometimes leave fish heads (not phish heads) on the floating dock. I think that may have been because the species of sculpin up there where huge and had huge thorny things sticking out of their head, probably tricky to eat.

side view - cutting the cake

But this wasn’t a devouring spot, but could easily have been a latrine that I had never seen before. What was clear was that the blood was extensive. Forming an impressive layer of red between snow, like a layered cake.

kind of looks like a limited edition
hostess cake of some sorts.
heat season cake


I used my snowshoe to break though the scene a little and the blood that oozed out (did not really happen, it was frozen!) was beautiful. So bright and so much of it. It ended up being about a 2x5ft spread of blood under the snow. Impressive.

estrus cake - 2 parts snow, 1 part blood


Now, I have found what I interpreted as otter estrus before – a drip or two of blood in the snow, which may or may not be more typical. But never anything like this bloody spread. Got me thinking – is Larry a female? I guess so….Should I call him “Randy”?

estrus from a few years back

Funny how Larry seemed so big on the ice, but then when I saw this other big daddy it became clear that Larry was not a big male. Now it ends up that Larry is a female (if it turns out this is the same otter). How the world turns!


larry seemed big....

..until I saw this big dude at a different pond

not hard to see where the otter headed up the dam

I caught up with Larry’s trail above the beaver dam in hopes of finding a den but no such luck. She did bring me to two new latrines before heading out under the ice, probably not too far. Hopefully a family den in the upper marsh. That would be pleasant.



Finding the estrus means, of course, that Larry would consider being receptive to a male (Moe? Curly?) for some mating activities. Female otters come into estrus – the periodic state – for somewhere around a month a year – in early spring and coinciding with the birth of otter kits. There is a chance that Larry gave birth to some youngsters recently – or would have if she was impregnated last March. It’s a yearlong process, one where gestation happens to be only 60 days or so. That leaves about 10 months of “delayed implantation” – where fertilized eggs are not connected to the walls of the uterus and instead free float (that’s how I picture it) until the time is right. Cool adaptation that river and sea otters have, as well as bears and other mammals.


Anyway – and the point is – if otters and mink are feeling frisky on the mainland then undoubtedly the otters around Vinalhaven are feeling the same “fire down below”. In you go to Lane’s your eye out for bounding tracks of mink as pictured. See if there is any blood in the trails.  If you have a favorite otter spot, latrine or location where you have seen otters before – maybe walk that shoreline or visit that den area and see what turns up. Estrus spots make great family fun – and wonderful photo opps!


I asked leif if he was going to tell his class about the estrus.
He told me he's leave that to me
photo by Amy Palmer

Anyway, we’re psyched – see you out there! Spring is here! The heavy, wet, bloody snow told me so!

blood on the snowshoe

Oh yeah – the answer is the wonderful movie Fletch. Possibly the last great movie that Chevy Chase! His daydream about playing for the Lakers is the best!



Rock on!