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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, January 14, 2018

baby, it's cold outside

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report – January 14th, 2018

Brought to you by MCHT and VLT (in tandem, like the bicycle)

Happy New Year everybody.

4 otter trails on Old Harbor Pond


Highlights – Glaucous Gull, Ferry rides and otter slides, signs of spring!, Indian pipe, cold and sea smoke, plenty of stuff from st george.



Business – contact us – send in your sightings, observations, comments to . it will not hurt you! I guarantee it! – if you get hurt you get your sightings back – no questions asked! With 30 days of sending of course.

harbor porpoise in January

Tiit trick – click on the photos to enlarge.


If you are on the instagram, check us out at baldfulmar. Check out the photos without dealing with the words


Upcoming events Local bird dude John Drury will be giving a presentation of slide sand stores of local bird life called “Changes in the Birdscapes”. The show will begin at 6:30pm on Sunday, January 28th up at the Town Hall. Be there or be somewhere else – but you should really be there. John always puts on a dynamite show. This is a VLT sponsored event.

my tracks and otter tracks

Basin Preserve Snowshoe – Sat. February 10th, at 10am. Meet at Skoog Park, snow or no snow. I’ll be there, maybe you’ll be there, but regardless of whose there we’ll see a bunch of cool stuff.

This is a VLT and MCHT sponsored event.


On the mainlandSat. February 3rd. 10am. Erickson Fields on Rte. 90 in Rockport. Snowshoe and animal sign walk with Kirk Gentalen (me). Should be a blast. Last year we tracked Coyote, smelled Fox urine and saw a porcupine. The Erickson Fields woodland trail system has grown and we are excited to see what we can find out there. If you are on the mainland, swing on by. This is a MCHT sponsored event.

sea urchin
photo by Claire Jackson


Sightings -  Thanks to Claire Jackson for sending in this sweet shot of a Sea UIrchin “test”, the exoskeleton an urchin. Certainly the warmest looking photo in this post. Thanks again for sharing!

From the FerryJohn Drury reports a Glaucous Gull mid-crossing (1/4). Winter time visitors to Maine, Glaucous Gulls are one of the two “white-winged” gulls that visits in the winter (along with Iceland Gull). Nice spot John!

the hills, 9 razorbill, & the FT bouy

The overall numbers of birds and wildlife viewed from the ferry has dwindled since peak times back in late November/early December the ferry rides have still been great. I’ve been on the boat a bunch lately, but only counted birds once. I think I was spoiled in late fall.         


its always a good day for Old tailed Ducks

Anyway- it’s been great weather to stand outside on the ferry. The wildlife has not been overwhelming (I don’t like being overwhelmed) but it’s been steady and consistent. Here’s what we’ve (the royal “we’ve”) been seeing….

common eider


(1/4) 8:45am to Vinalhaven – Oldtails, Bufflehead, Surf Scoter, Great Cormorants, Common Loon, Red-breasted Merganser, Eiders, several Black-legged Kittiwake, Black Guillemots, Razorbills,


(1/9) 7am  to Vinalhaven – 8 Black Ducks, 7 Red-breasted Merganser, 3 Bufflehead, 10 Surf Scoter, 30 Oldtail Ducks, 56 Common Eider, 2 Red-necked Grebe, 1 Great Cormorant, 16 Razorbill, 12 Black Guillemot,  25 Common Eider, 1 Black-legged Kittiwake, 19 American Crow flying to the mainland, 2 Bald Eagle

9 razorbills

The story here….other than what I dig into just below, the increase in Razorbills has been fun, with a group of 9 flying by the boat at times…and the user friendly birds and mammals for taking pictures, very photogenic these days….harbor porpoise in January made me feel cold…


harbor seals - chillin'

common loons should start molting soon
Signs of spring? - Length does matter - When it comes to daily changes in daylight, birds are in tune with the changes.  Daily daylight amounts started getting longer after December 20th, so by January 4th we (the royal “we”) were a couple of weeks into winter and had added several minutes of light to the heart of the day. Might have been hard for humans to notice with temperatures staying in the negative to single digits, but Black-capped Chickadees – those boisterous and gregarious 4.5 inch little nuggets – are some of the first to celebrate the “lengthening” of the day with male Chickadee singing that famous “Fee-bee” song on a clear, -12 degree January 3rd. Male Chickadees are always good to go, hats off to them, so maybe their singing isn’t necessarily a sign of spring, more like a sign of “love” (anthropomorphizing) -  or “hate” as their songs also call for the setting up of exclusive territories. Anyway.  


this Black Guillemot is going through the molt
For me, one of the earliest and clearest signs that “day” length is getting longer is to watch as Black Guillemots start molting from non-breeding plumage into their classic summertime black with white wing patches look. (1/4) and its butt cold, but this Guillemot was showing the changes already. On the 9th even more Guillemots were starting the big change. Birds have photoreceptors in their brains (and thin skulls) that tune in to changes in day length. These receptors then inspire the release of hormones that get the “juices flowing” and molt and singing going. Not all birds molt at the same time, Loons should be molting their wing feathers soon. We’ll keep posting what we find!

Great Cormorant in flight

black-legged kittiwake


otter tracks on the head of Lairey's Island

side of the road...

Old Harbor Pond (1/9) – took an extra hour on my walk to the MCHT shed to catch up with my favorite otters – the ones at Old Harbor Pond! Now, I’m not saying these are still the same otters from a few years back, I just like any otters that spend time in Old Harbor Pond. Why wouldn’t they!

and into the sands

I hooked up with a single otter trail linking the pond to Sands Cove. This classic otter trail has been used for years, and is always a thrill to pick up on. I followed the trail back up to the Pond (the otter had headed out to Sands Cove) and was impressed that this lone otter didn’t bother to stop at the closest den or closest latrine. Both the den and the latrine were snow covered so the otter apparently just ran by them. From there the otter trail got super soft – fragmented and tricky to follow. This was not the end of the story though.

non-soft trail


Historically, Old Harbor Pond otters have spent some time on the ice over by Pumpkin Ridge so I headed over that way. I picked up the solo otter trail near shore – trails in open areas on the ice are more likely to have windblown snow cover up the tracks. At first glance, the scene got busy with otter tracks, as it looked like the otter ran back and forth on the ice, investigating a hole in a spruce’s root system. To my joy, these tracks were not from the single otter at all, instead I had hooked up with the trails of 3 other otters – 3 in a group – and could see that they  had come out from under the ice thru the spruce roots, ran along the shore and then went through another tunnel in the snow – either to a den or back under the ice. Since there was no spraint on the ice, it seemed more likely that the otters had just gone back under the ice to fish some more. Anyway, the original solo otter headed through the VLT property on the east side of the pond. Once again I was familiar with the trail and figured the trail would continue on the pond a little further north.

3 otter trails came out from the roots above


the otters worked their way along the shoreline

underworld access

The otter had used the historic shortcut across land, but the trail was easy to find again on the ice just where it was supposed to be. That’s when I noticed another hole in the ice with multiple otter trails leading to it. There was an area that had been rolled in by the otters, a little spraint left behind and then some classic red dots in the snow. This is where the three otters had gone under the ice and fished there way over to the hole in the spruce roots by Pumpkin Ridge. Super cool to find.

the opening in the ice is in on the left side of the photo
the rolling area is on the right

not sure what was going on here in the rolling area

another opening in the ice

otter trails along the shoreline

From here I followed the trails north along VLT and MCHT properties, just as otter trails have gone over the years - the trails actually headed north to south, so I was seeing where the otters had come from. All four trails together, but probably not made at the same time. I stopped by an area where an opening in the ice had been kept open by otters in years past. Sure enough the opening was clear for access, and a healthy amount of spraint was deposited outside the opening. Maybe where the otters had spent the day before (they sleep during the day) as tracks led in and out of the hole. There is an historic otter den there, and with the spraint left out to announce their usage of the den, it seems like a strong possibility that the three spent some time resting there. Anyway.

another opening. with spraint


yet another hole in the ice.

all four went in this groovy groove

I followed the four trails north and it didn’t take long before the trio of otters headed across the pond to another opening in the snow – where their time on the ice appears to have started.   

solo otter slide

classic historic otter den

The solo otter trail stayed along the eastern shore of OHPond, visited another historic otter den (OHPond is loaded with dens!), where is may have spent some time resting. The trail then led to Old Harbor Bridge. This dude hadn’t spent too much time in OHP before heading out to the sands.


coyote track - off island
Anyway, it was awesome to spend some time with my favorite otter scene. Super productive too, felt efficient. And then off to work….


coyote trail


Off island – it turns out the frigid “week and a half or so” plus was one of the best “week and a half or so”’s of my life. It was so nice to be on the ice and having absolutely no concerns about breaking through. Not that I worry too much, but things like that cross your mind when the ice starting moanin’. Anyway, with things so cold tracks and trails stuck around forever, it was a magical time on the ice.


otter slide

Tenants harbor – the marsh – where did we leave off…..(12/30) Got up early and headed out to retrieve the camera. It was -12* which was fine. I was so stoked to see what was captured on the camera pointed at the deer carcass that a fisher led me to on the 23rd I didn’t mind it at all. (check out the previous VSR for the complete back story).


phat raccoon at the deer carcass
I guess it was not surprising that there was little activity at the carcass after the 26th as temperatures dropped to frigid levels (in case you hadn’t heard). The deer would be solid by the 27th - frozen venison anyone?  Before the  26th the camera captured little activity other than a passing raccoon that took just one piece of the deer and then boogied. Fisher are known to sleep for extended periods of time after gorging themselves on a carcass, so maybe this one was on an extended power nap. I decided to wait a few days for things to warm up before putting up the camera again.

otter belly slide on the marsh

After i got the camera, and once the sun came up, I took a closer look at any trails on the ice. Coyote had been active the night before, but it was the otter trails that I got into. Like I mentioned above, under the freezing conditions trails and tracks on the ice lasted for days, and the otter pair (pancho and lefty) I have been tracking on the marsh so far this winter had been very active. That first day I found 4 new dens (new for me) that the pair had used over the last four days nights, and some sweet belly slides all over the place. I followed what appeared to be activity from the night before, a double trail that went about a quarter mile before heading into the woods.
den entrance under the log

den opening

larry the otter came out of this hole in the ice

larry went into this den, and then it got so cold that
ice crystals covered the opening

pancho and lefty heading out of the marsh area

The trail went about a half mile to the ocean, a spot called Seavey Cove just off 131. I followed the trail, did a face plant into the snow where the otters had smoothly slide down to the cove. It was awesome.

otters in the woods


I face planted into the snow on my way down
this slope

Over the next few days I made my “morning snowshoe” a priority, and I tracked coyote, bobcat, otter and fisher.

bobcat track

bobcat trail

coyote, or coydog or whatever you want to call it. on the marsh

coyote trail

bobcat slowing down as it approaches shore


two otter and two coyote

a coyote trail led me to this great blue heron wing.
can I count this as a January sighting?

otter again

Lefty and Pancho returned from Seavey Cove a few days later and took me on a cool exploration of the marsh. These two took me to yet another opening in the ice that they maintain, and then a long run to the “upper” beaver dam where they scooted under the ice again and probably ended at a nearby den.  So much fun to see.


yet another access to the water

both otter used this slide. I like the claw marks

the above ice part of the trail ended when the
otters entered the hole at the beaver dam.
i'm sure the trail continued under the ice

On the 5th i went out to retrieve the second stint of the trail camera on the deer. It was a wondrous retrieve to say the least. 1320 photos on the camera. Ended up 20 were of me, the rest of the fisher. Check out the next VSR (to be posted minutes after this one) for the top 50 or so of the fisher pictures. Best trail camera stuff on the mainland. Even though there was a fresh fisher trail in the snow, I had to go back and look at these photos. I was pleased.

dead buck with new access to meat opened up
fisher bounding trail

fisher bounding trail

I went back out the next day to follow the fisher trail which I suspected would lead to a nearby den. That was not the case at all. After about a quarter mile the fisher trail ran perpendicularly into a long otter belly slide coming from the west. Now, up to this point I had only found otter trails heading east back and forth to Seavey Cove (as mentioned earlier). This was unexpected, I was torn. I hadn’t allotted too much time for all of this, but it was a Saturday and I had already broken my rule of never bailing on an otter trail on the 23rd. I had to follow the otter slide, pretty much a no brainer.

the fisher bounding came in from the right.


The otter slide took me on a gradual climb up and up to the top of a hill I had never been to before. A single otter made the trail – I believe it was the same otter I tracked on the 23rd that had come from Seavey. I call him Larry. Anyway, I followed it for hundreds of feet – I measured the rough distance of the belly slide on Google Maps which said if the otter had taken a straight path (it didn’t) from the hill to the marsh the trail would be 1995.9 ft. Simply put, this belly slide was on the north side of 1200 ft., with only a few spots where the otter had to bound for  a step or two where roots were in the way. it was awesome


only in a few spots did the otter have to make
a bound or two between slides


To make matters better the fisher had walked up the otter slide for stretches in two places. The otter slide would easier going than bounding through deep snow (I suppose), so the fisher reusing the trail was refreshingly smart to see.

fisher tracks in otter slide


Come to think of it, I also got pictures of a coyote trail that used otter belly slide to cruise along in while on the ice.
coyote trail in otter slide
the coyote jumped back into the trail


The otter trail continued down (once again the otter had come up actually, west to east) the other side of the hill and meandered to a body of water called the Ponderosa. I got a little ahead of myself with dreams of otter den - for some reason I like knowing where neighboring animals live – and found yet another hole in the ice (and tunnel in the snow) where the otter had gone under and fished under the ice (assumption).

opening in the ice at the Pondersoa

But the trail didn’t start/end there, it continued on and worked its way to the St George River to the west. So there it was – I had just followed Larry’s trail a mile or so from the marsh to the St. George. From the marsh to Seavey Cove is another half mile, so here is the dream 1.5 mile otter trail that crosses the peninsula from salt water to salt water. Man, I love otters.

the fisher crossed the ice at the spot where
its the shortest distance across


I made my way back and tracked the fisher for another half mile to a small rocky bump where the trails began and ended. Here was the den – closer to my house than the dead deer! What a world!

the fisher spent at least a few days under these rocks


And there you have it – not much more to say. Other than “get out there”! there is so much to observe in the winter, lessons laid out like in no other season.


Leif had a great Christmas. chillin' with Santa

See you out there!