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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, 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!

Friday, March 9, 2018

this is the first of two tail shots in this VSR
this is from an old tail

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report – March 9th, 2018

Thanks to MCHT and VLT for their continued support

HighlightsAmerican Wigeon, Ferry Rides and molting, Purple Sandpiper, Thick-billed Murre, Razorbill, Great Cormorant, Red-necked and Horned Grebe, Red Crossbill, Brown Creeper, Raven, otter slides, and other stuff – mushrooms in snow!

BusinessContact – send us your sightings, photos, and nature “whatnot nuggets”

Tiit trick – click on a photo to enlarge and make jumongo sized!

otter in the hole! - this is the 2nd tail shot in this VSR

Sightings – Who’s singing – I know, we literally just got dumped on with snow, but prior to this recent weather event the days were feeling a little long(er), the ice and snow melted away and birds were singing up a storm (not literally). Brown Creeper, Black-capped chickadees, red-breasted nuthatch, northern cardinal all have been singing. Multiple creepers singing in February is probably the most noteworthy here, and not only singing on Vinalhaven – Huber and Long Cove – but also many preserves on the mainland. We love brown creepers, and have for a long time it seems.

luminescent panellus

A little drumming going on – people may (or may not) know that I am a huge fan of “non-vocal communications”, but know you know. I am talking about some of the classics – like a “thumbs up” or a sticking out of the tongue to get a point across. In the woodpecker world (Picidae) there are many displays where wings can be tilted at certain angles, crests can be risen or bodies can freeze in a still pose for extended periods of time  all in the name of getting the point across about aggression or courtship (thin-line between). These displays are often accompanied with different vocalizations, which can soil the “non-vocal” part of the “non-vocal communications”, since there is corresponding vocalizations with the displays (with me?).

almost like he died mid yawn

That said (or moving on), the art of drumming for woodpeckers is a pure “non-vocal” outreach. Downy’s Hairy’s, Flicker’s, Pileated’s all have favorite hollow branches within their territories where a rapid succession of bill/beak poundings will result in a reverberated tone that reverberates long distances (it can be heard from afar). An expression of survival and territoriality, drumming acts in similar ways as a call or a song for the woodpeckers. Technically not song birds, so they technically don’t sing songs (syrinxes are overrated!) but woodpecker species still have distinctive calls that identify the caller. Anyway – listen for drumming from your favorite local woodpeckers – all species appear to be vocal and loud! Whole lotta drummin’ going on!

dos baldpates!

Ferry Rides – (2/20/18) – 7am to Vinalhaven – 3 American Wigeon, 5 Bufflehead, 70 common Eider, 30+ Black Guillemots, Surf Scoter, Red-necked and Horned Grebe, 8+ Common Loon, Harbor Seal, Otter Slides,

always otter activity on Lairey's
Nice morning ride after a snow. Otter slide on Lairey’s was classic, but the 3 American Wigeon chillin’ by the terminal – seen before the boat first set sail – was a wonderful way to start a ride. First for me from the ferry ride (VNM!) but not totally a surprise as a small contingent of American Wigeon have been spending most of, if not all of the last few winters  in Rockland harbor (and most likely many winter prior to that). Regardless of the frequency, it’s always great to see “baldpate” drake wigeons. And while they are not necessarily my favorite duck (Ruddy duck anyone? Maybe gadwall?) I do feel connected to it in a way I have seldom feel connected to animals I have observed. I think it’s the baldpate – very cool nature name!

two horned grebe

(2/22/18) 7am to Vinalhaven – 30 Common Loon, 28 old tailed duck, bufflehead, 9 surf scoter, 31 common eider, red-necked grebe, horned grebe, 4 red-breasted merganser, 20 purple sandpiper, 10 razorbill, 1 thick-billed murre, 10 black-guillemot, bald eagle, 3 common golden-eye…

Always good to see two species of grebes, but the thick-billed murre was probably the highlight on this morning cruise. I was given a hot tip from a couple of folks about numerous sightings of Dovekie and Thick-billed Murre being seen from land in southern Maine (and possibly elsewhere) - Cape Elizabeth is the epicenter of the sightings that I had been “hot tipped off to”. Anyway, it’s a big ocean, and even a bigger world, and no observations of increased dovekie or tbmurre number were observed by this bald observer from the ferry. There was a single tbmurre spotted from the ferry this day, and on my next ferry trip, but seeing a single tbmurre is not particularly uncommon from the ferry over the years. Anyway, always great to see tbmurre! Keep your eyes peeled for alcids of all kinds!

cozy pair o' oldtails

(3/1/18) – 7am to Vinalhaven – not super focused on counting

Bufflehead, oldtailed duck, common loon, black guillemot, surf scoter, common eider, razorbill, thick billed murre, red-necked grebe (molting), purple sandpipers, great cormorant, bald eagle, otter slide, harbor seal

A behavior thang that has not gone unnoticed recently has been that the old tailed ducks are paired up and appearing cozy – at least from this distance.

fact: guillemots are cute in all stages
of molt

An anatomically undertaking that is active at this very moment is “molt”. We’ve been reporting about “changing” black guillemots (going through the changes) for at least a month and a half now. They are continuing to “go thru the molt” (don’t worry, it’s only a phase) and are showing up in all kinds of mottled flavors from the ferry and by the terminal!

These days Loons are “losing it” - as in the flight feathers for many loons are gone – hard to see when resting, but a display/stretch that loons use (which I call “quick flap” (just made that up)) where body is lift off the water (from a sitting in the water position), the wings are stretched and flapped in a rapid manor. You’ve seen loons and ducks do it a million times. Recent “quick flaps”  shows that loon wings are essentially non-existent. Like no feathers at all – this observation made over the past two weeks now.
loon eating crab

 Red-necked grebe from the ferry starting to show red on the neck (thus its name, silly!).
wing feathers growing back on this loon

bunch of purple sandpipers on this ledge

Long cove – Red crossbills are the norm, Brown Creeper singing the first of March! They stuck around this winter, or so it seems….

Off island – River otter photo gallersy - a “pre storm”, snowless walk on the St George town forest loop trail turned up some action at a classic beaver pond. While getting a closer look at a stump along the pond shoreline that I was trying to turn into an otter, an actual otter came out of an unbeknownst (to me) hole in the ice between me and said stump! This was a big boy and while I was observing he was took maybe 7 (or so) dives of roughly a minute (at the most). Every time he came back onto the ice with Sunfish/Bluegill/whatever you want to call them. The waters below the hole must have been stacked with fish! It was the most impressive feat of fishing I have witnessed since 2009 on the ice along the ditch at the ballground. That otter was bringing up some tadpole looking fishies, the otter on in the beaver pond was bringing up fair sized sunnies – and eating them rather quickly.

...out of the water with treasure

down the hatch

And then just like that …. poof… he disappeared. Probably ate most of the fish in the area! So much fun to watch, a 20 minute or so session at 2 in the afternoon! Hard to argue with that!

Leif – of course, good times on the radio and out towards the Rockland harbor lighthouse. See if you can find him in the photos!

not as sharp as it looks..
he promises to only use for good!