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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


Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report – Dec 31, 2017

Thanks for another great year MCHT, VLT and You all!

Happy New Year! May it be warm and toasty for you!


Highlights – Ferry Ride- including tracking from the ferry, Christmas Bird Count, Fisher Tracking….


Business: Contact us! – send us your sightings, your photos, your concerns and your critiques. Any ideas to make this whole thing better? Now is your chance. Thanks for the feedback this (last) year!


Tiit trick – click on the photos to make them jumbo!


Get on the list – send your email address to to join the exclusive few (hundred) who get an email announcing the posting of yet another VSR. You get nothing else with your membership in this club – and that’s a warning and a promise!


Also – its “bu**-cold” out there, we at the VSR hope everyone is staying safe and warm. Which is totally possible to accomplish outside (the safe and warm thing) with a little strategy. Anyway, hope folks have been able to enjoy the freeze as well as one can. Bet there’s a lot of babies born 9 months from now – October 1st babies! This is a pre-emptive congratulation!

Golden-crowned Kinglets are hardcore.

Thanks to our favorite naturalist and VSR reader in PembrokeFred Gralinski -  for identifying the frozen caterpillars from our backyard. Apparently they are – “Winter Cutworm”. Otherwise known as the caterpillar of a Large Yellow Underwing Moth. Leif and I found about a dozen of these bad boys, frozen on the snow, and not looking too good after thawing.


Here’s what we found after about 10 minutes of research – “this species was accidentally introduced into eastern Canada around 1979 from Europe. (Thanks a lot Canada!). It has since spread very rapidly south and west from its first reported occurrences in the Maritime Provinces.” – Wagner, David L. – “Caterpillars of Eastern North America” . So far no word on impact on native species, the Winter Cutworm is a general feeder on grasses  


Sightings – This VSR brings us up to speed for around December 29th. The coldness has resulted in incredible (judgment) tracking days (Dec 30-Jan 1) with lessons that require more space than is available in this VSR. In other words, there will be another VSR out shortly, with tales of trails inspired (and impressed (literally) by Otter, Coyote, Bobcat, and other stuff. Just you wait. Wait- don’t wait – read below!


three headless ducks
photo by Jim Conlan
That all said, with the holidays happenin’ we have been out of state for a chunk of the last few weeks. We’ll include what we’ve got going, but this edition is going to be a little lite. Think of it as easy reading……


Jim Conlan sent in this shot of three ducks hanging by the bridge in town.


Ferry Ride – (12/19) 7am to Vinalhaven – 49 Old-tailed Ducks, 31 Common Loon, 21 Black Guillemot, 2 Razorbills, 49 Bonaparte’s Gulls, 5 Ring-billed Gull, 5 Great Cormorants, 19 Surf Scoter, 3 Black Duck, 10 Red-breasted Merganser, 3 Bufflehead, 2 Purple Sandpipers, common Eider (lots). Harbor Seal. Otter slide.

leadbetter is also a good place to look for belly slides

The story here…..was the otter slide of course! At the head of Lairey’s (Lairey’s head maybe?) the there is an otter den under a stump that has been used for at least 8 years. A fresh snow showed sign that this den is still being used. With a mink bound no less! Razorbills, Purples and Great Cormorants were the trifecta this morning.

otter belly slides (I think that's at least two together

Christmas Bird Count - Here’s a column I wrote for the St George Dragon that I don’t think is going to get published as the publication slides into winter “hours” and comes out once a month. It’s about the trials of trying to ignore tracks and trails while counting birds. Enjoy!


Nature bummin’ with Kirk Gentalen – December 25, 2107

Stay Focused!


The annual Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a “citizen science” (buzzword alert!) effort to document trends and changes in the bird life and behavior of overwintering North American birds. Organized by the National Audubon Society, the count  “celebrated” its 117th year in 2017 and here’s how it works. 15-mile diameter circles are drawn on maps to create “count” areas. Each count area is then broken into sections, and each section is assigned to a team of volunteer birders and bird watchers. A random day is then chosen (within a few weeks of either side of Christmas) and teams count all the birds they can find in their assigned section on that day. The counts started in 1900 with 27 bird watchers surveying 25 count areas and has grown to 2016 levels where 2,505 circles were surveyed in North America and parts of the Caribbean, with76,669 (human) participants and 58,878,071 birds “counted”. The “Thomaston CBC” took place on December 16th and since I like to help (when I can be helpful) I signed up for my third year as a team of one surveying section “E”. Section “E” covers an area from the St George River (to the west) to Grierson Road (to the east) and south to north from 73 to highway 1 (roughly) and includes Clark Island road. Not a bad little section to survey.

fisher tracks

The thought of spending an entire day looking at birds sounds “blissful” to some. Others, and dare I say “most others”, might describe such a day as “brutal”. I fall somewhere in between, viewing CBC days as “blissfully brutal” (not to be confused with “brutally blissful”). I love birds and always have time for them, but the thought of exclusively observing one aspect of nature and not allowing the day to flow on its own sounds forced, unnatural and an impossible reality for this bald observer. In hopes of minimalizing distractions (love those distractions!) I find myself regularly saying “stay focused” out loud when tracks, trails, mushrooms or snow fleas would “normally” be welcomed distractions. “Stay focused” had become somewhat of a mantra for me on CBC days.


the fisher trail is right in the middle
heading towards the bald photographer
I headed out at 5:15 and the thermometer read 15 degrees, but with no breeze it was downright delightful outside.  A fresh couple inches of snow covered the ground – prime tracking conditions – and I could tell already that focusing on birds was going to be a challenge. I made it about 50 feet down (or “up” depending on how you look at it) the road before I passed a fresh coyote trail that cut across the way and I muttered my first “stay focused”. By 5:30 I was on the town forest loop off Kinney Woods Road for a little owling (my favorite sport). While walking in to my favorite owling spot on the loop (we all have a favorite owling spot) the light from my headlamp lit up a fox trail which would have “normally” been followed. I moved on with a quick “stay focused”. Both Great Horned and Barred owls called on this morning, which was a bonus and made the focusing worth it (of course). As the dawn brightened, songbirds awoke and the chip calls of Brown Creepers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Black-capped Chickadees, American Robins, Red-breasted Nuthatches created a chorus (of chip notes) in the woods and my feet seemed to thaw a little. It’s impressive how observing warms the tootsies.



It didn’t take too long before I got into the conundrum of the day. A fisher had loped about a ¼ mile down (or up) a dirt road I was surveying leaving a fresh, beautiful trail (with a fisher at the end of it) just begging to be followed. Unfortunately, the fisher headed off the road and into an area I had surveyed by ear and scope, and there was a songbird flock calling me on in the opposite direction. I blurted out my loudest “stay focused” at this point (sprinkled with other choice, colorful words) and followed the birds but not my heart. That went with the fisher.


coyote access
A Northern Goshawk shot across 131 as I was pulling into the Fort Point parking area, hunting the resident mixed songbird flock that hangs near the spring. The walk to the point was quiet (Goshawks will do that) but the river remained productive with birds. Between Long Cove, Wheeler Bay, and the St. George River the list of water birds was great – Common and Red-throated Loon, Horned and Red-necked Grebe, Surf, Black and White-winged Scoters, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Common Eider, Long-tailed Duck, Green-winged Teal, Black Guillemot and Great Cormorants.


vesper sparrow

the orange tells you that this
dude is a dude
A small, but sizable chunk of any CBC day is spent checking out bird feeders in people’s yards. Winter feeders support lots of birds, even some staying further north than their range maps would indicate. Sitting in a vehicle and pointing binoculars at feeders (and the houses behind them) however, also increases the chance of awkward interactions with home owners and neighbors alike. Toss in a long goatee and some dark shades and the creepiness level can exceed most people’s comfort zone. On this day, I spotted a Vesper Sparrow at a feeder on Kinney Woods Road, an individual well out of its “normal” winter range and would turn out to be the “bird of the day” for my section. While I was watching the Vesper, a truck came up behind me, paused for a bit and then pulled up alongside of me. “We doing alright?” was the line tossed my way, to which I replied “yeah, I am just counting birds”.  His reaction was pure “non-interest” as he pulled away, and I’d be lying if I said I felt super cool at that point. That said, the Vesper Sparrow made me feel like I had done my job while putting a smile on my face as I drove on to the next set of feeders and the next potentially awkward interaction.

re-frozen coyote track


All in all, the day was a success – 48 species of birds counted in the “E” section (79 species total for the Thomaston CBC) with the “stay focused” mantra muttered about a dozen times. I was thankful for the species that were observed because of the focus – like the Vesper Sparrow and the Northern Goshawk - while appreciating the mammals that would be visited another time. Just another blissfully brutal CBC, the way the day was meant to pan out. I can do that about once a year, and I’m glad it counted for something!    


you tell me. no claws showing.
(its a largish cat)

The St. George marsh – (12/23) – about 5 inches of snow fell the day/evening before (12/22). Things turned to frozen rain (or “snain” if you will) in the wee hours and finally ceased (and desisted) around 6 (in the AM). The weather report called for temperatures to rise (wouldn’t that be lovely) and rain (the wet type) to start up again around 9 (in the AM), and so being the math whiz I am I understood that I had a 3 hour window to find any evidence of critters moving around in the snow.

I call this a "soft" otter trail.
"Soft" trails are fun and challenging
to follow. sometimes.

The otter latrines closest to home showed no activity, which gave me the opportunity to head up marsh to an area I have seldom ventured to in the part - mostly because of the distractions closer to home, but also because of the location of home! I love snowshoeing on snow covered ice, and made my way towards a starting/finishing point of an otter trail that heads over land to connect the marsh with the ocean at a spot called Seavey Cove. I was stoked to find the remains of an otter trail made the sometime the night before. My guess was around 3am, as snow hadn’t accumulated in the trail as much as the rain had softened the sign. It was a fun trail to follow, full of slides but tricky as it was broken and the correct angle had to be taken to even see the soft slides at all.

seeing other animals slide makes me
feel better about my antics on the ice.
this is a coyote slide


fisher tracks

Fisher trail, hopped onto to the close up
log and bounded off on its way

The otter had come from Seavey cove and the plan was to follow that trail, but enough snow had fallen from the trees (and onto the trail) that it was hard to catch any visual at all of the otter sign in the woods. So I followed it out and over the open marsh, right to a latrine (of course – creatures of habit, baby!) and lost it (not mentally, that was to come later) as it headed through the woods and in theory to a den. My efforts to follow any further were fruitless, and so I did a sweep of marsh shoreline thinking I may find another otter trail or whatever- which meant head home. From the next latrine I saw no otter sign, but I did see what looked to be (from my angle) a super fresh deer trail just off in the woods and so I figured I might just (drink a little beer - FZ) check it out and maybe get some steamin’ deer poop photos or something.

To my happiness, it wasn’t a deer trail at all….but a fisher trail and a super freakin’ fresh one at that. No sign of rain or snow effecting the trail, and so I figured this dude was making this trail while I was making my snowshoe trails. I mean – I was no more than about an hour behind this nugget of love (alternate name for a fisher) and while I am told that ethically trackers should back track whenever possible (follow the trail from where the critter came from) I called bull-spraint on that and was like “I wanna see where this bad boy is going!” before the rains settled in. I was hoping for a den, but that’s what I always hope for – nothing new there.


not sure what happened here
fisher trail - not leaping high enough
when bounding through deep snow?

Overall I followed the trail for about a half mile (maybe). At two points the fisher stopped to mark its territory the old fashioned way (peeing) – one on a branch that – let’s be honest – needed to be peed on, and one on a small mound in the woods – which apparently needed to be peed on as well. I have no shame in saying that I got down on my knees and took a big whiff of the yellow snow (did not eat any, thank you!) and either the snow held the smell, I lack something olfactorially speaking, or it just didn’t smell that strong at all. To say I was disappointed in this development would be a lie. More surprised.

I think we all would have peed on this
seemingly random stick in the woods

not as smelly as I would have thought.
maybe I am used to musky smells.

sometimes you just have to stop, drop
and roll


In a couple of spots the fisher appeared to roll or smear its belly on the snow. Belly rubbing apparently is a common pastime for Fisher in an effort to mark territories or presence. The snow was stained after each rub or roll, giving hints about just how clean a fisher’s coat is.

rub from above. the stain in the snow came
off the fisher. I did not smell this, but now
wish I had

there is a dead deer attached to this antler.
or its cryogenically frozen, but I doubt it 

dead buck. a feast of friends..
..alive she cried!


The trail was unwavering and nonwandering , not a direct line per se, but also not an explorative outing. There had to be a den at the end of this line- this dude was going straight home! (at least my third wrong thought of the morning). Anyway, and to make a long story short – the fisher took me right to a dead buck. With one antler sticking up, and its rump-roast dismantled for easy access, this dead deer had hip bones exposed and much of the hind quarter meat was gone. In other words, the fisher (and whatever woodland friends he dines with) were doing a number on this one – with a lot more to eat!

the buck's butt looked like this that morning.


At this point my time was running out, especially if I wanted to make it back to the house to snag the trail camera and put it up on this deer. The fisher may have a den nearby this feastly zone, but that would be another story for another snow. By the time  Amy and I made it back to set the camera up the rain had started.  This is where the story pauses until next VSR. See you then!

the rains were coming, the melt was on.
hasn't melted since!

leif warning Mr. Andrew not to mess with him....

Mr. Andrew pays no heed to the warning...
so Leif pummels him

and Mr. Andrew gives him the
green belt he so deserves!

leif on the ice
seems like its snow day everyday
And Leif getting his green belt. What a hard worker! What a determined boy! So proud of him!


this seems kind of stupid to me

I tried one. it was kind of gross.
unless you are the one who gave it to Amy-
then I think they tasted awesome!

salted caramel thumbprints. I'm not sure if I want thumbprints
in my cookies!

a very humble boy

and some limited edition foods.

See you out there! Staying warm!