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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


Thursday, April 26, 2018

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report

April 26th, 2018


Underwritten by the (the royal “the”) Vinalhaven Land Trust and the Maine Coast Heritage Trust



Highlights – Blue Grosbeak, Woodcocks, Raptors,  Turkey Vultures, Palm Warblers, Vernal Pools, Songbird singing!, mushrooms


Business: contact us – send us your sightings and nature photos and stuff – Do the right thing and share! And if you have already shared, then share and share again!


Tiit trick – click on photos to make them jumbo sized. Use this power wisely.

leif - in the studio


On the radio – like the great Donna Summer song, Leif and I have a music show on the local Rockland station – 93.3 WRFR – on Sunday nights 7-8pm. We call the show “Built for Comfort” and our mission statement clearly states that we provide groovy, pain-free music for people to tap their toes to, dance around with, and at times bang their noggin’s along to/with. It’s a public service we are happy to provide. Listen in if you get the chance and the website lets you listen! We are having a ball grooving in the studio.


blue grosbeak!
photo by Jake Tuminski

Sightings – (4/24) Claire Jackson was kind enough to send in these shots that her mom – the woman formerly known as Jake Jackson– took at her feeders last weekend. This is a Blue Grosbeak, he’s a male and he’s a handsome one at that (judgement). Brightly colored blue birds of this size seen at feeders around Vinalhaven are “usually” Indigo Buntings – indigo buntings are seen every year on island and are known local breeders – which we don’t judge either way. The bird that Jake captured on “film” differs from an indigo bunting by the honkin’, seed crackin’ bill – which requires a close view (like the one Jake got) to see– and by the reddish markings on the wings – which can be seen from a distance.  Indigo Bunting wings are jet/pure/completely black.

blue grosbeak II!
photo by Jake Tuminski

You may be thinking – Blue Grosbeak, huh? I haven’t heard many reports of those, have I? Both are good questions and both are correct, if questions can be correct. Let’s start with the later – this is officially the first Blue Grosbeak reported to the VSR in our 9 years (or so) history. One April I found evidence – wings and body feathers - from two dead blue grosbeaks killed and eaten on Calderwood Island. This interpretation was based on the piles of blue feathers sprinkled with 2 blue wings with reddish feathers – just like in the picture! Other than that I personally have only seen one Blue Grosbeak in my life – Cape May New Jersey August 1999. In thinking about this wonderful sighting I am realizing that I have seen more dead Blue Grosbeaks than live ones!

seal - oh, are you still here?
eagle - oh, are you not dead yet?

The bird charts in the back of the “a birder’s guide to Maine” by Pierson, Pierson and Vickery report that Blue Grosbeak are considered “Rare” for Maine. It’s during migration - mid-April through May and then again in post-breeding migration for most of September and into October – when the grosbeaks peak at their “Rare” status – which is understood to mean (by this particular book’s standards) “1-4 typically present in the state at that time of the year”. The species also has a special “C” next to its chart, meaning that they are found in migration typically within 10 miles of the coast.  You can’t get 10 miles away from the coast on Vinalhaven! Awesome bird, awesome photos, awesome sharing – way to go Jackson/Tuminki’s!

Leif with some water logged Tree Ear
mushrooms that were submerged in
our favorite local vernal pool

Who’s singing – Song and White-throated Sparrow, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Hermit Thrush, Brown Creeper, Brown-headed Cowbirds, Eastern Phoebe, Common Grackles, Blue Jays (acting weird too!) , Northern Cardinal, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickadee, Purple Finch, Goldfinch, Tree and Barn swallows


Who’s seen not singing – Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers, Northern Flicker, Osprey, Bald Eagles, Northern Harrier, Broad winged Hawk, American Kestrel, Merlin, Greater Yellowlegs

how many pups will be seen from the ferry?
in the basin? in seal bay? a bunch!

Harbor Seals – three weeks or so before pups start popping! Wonderful time of the year to be pupped, or so I am told.


Who’s displayingAmerican Woodcocks – Here’s a fun video of a woodcock walking. Jamus Drury caught a video of this guy strolling.  


Heller field – with some time on my hands and already being pretty much up in the area I visited the Tip-toe Mtn zone for a sunset session and swung by Heller field for crepuscularity. This particular field, and one spot within the field in particular, has a history of providing a platform for a male American Woodcock to display its little heart. About 4 years ago the “usual” male failed to show after 5 or 6 years of a consistent presence (can’t be sure it was the same woodcock, but we will go with it). Anyway, it was reasoned that that particular woodcock had passed into woodcock heaven (or whatever). Sure enough, a male woodcock came out to use the venue, just like old times…


Are woodcock creatures of habit? I would say so  - if a second Woodcock has taken over the display area and is using the exact same spot to perform – I mean the exact same spot. Something magical about that field. Check a field near you – got a few more weeks before the performing stops! Woodcock watching is a family friendly activity!


palmer warbler - doesn't mind to get on the ground
Warblers – seen a group of yellow birds flicking their tails? Palm (or Palmer) Warblers have been around in numbers for the last week or more. Bright yellow on the body, with a reddish cap, and lots of white on the tail underside are things to note when seeing, but a warbler silhouette flicking its tail at this time of the year is almost always a Palm Warbler, with 100%

red cap

eye line, streaks, and lots of white on that


Yellow-rumped warbler singing. Return of the butterbutts!


Turkey Vultures – three vultures spent time around the Harbor and up the Reach (not literally) – got this photo from the comforts of my truck on the ferry. Nice welcome to the island, in at least one culture vultures are a sign of luck and a signal for a time for prospering. Not sure where that culture is located.

pool looked a little low on the 24th

Huber – (4/24) – checking on the trail and the trailside vernal pool, it was clear from a distance that water levels were low. This has been the case with Vernal Pools I have visited on the mainland as well. “Only” two spotted salamander egg masses where found in the pool that day. In years past egg masses may have been as numerous at 8 or 10. There have also been a lower number of egg masses in vernal pools hen compared to last year on the mainland that as well.

can eggs look tasty in a way other than digesting them?

While many factors most likely factor (please allow myself to introduce…myself) in to just how many masses are laid, water levels at breeding time is certainly one of those factors. I just used the word “factor” three times in one sentence!


Granted - it is pouring as this VSR is being typed so egg masses – water levels in this pool are going to be much higher as a result, and if the weather follows predictions the pool should stay relatively high (water wise) for a while. That is good and wonderful for the masses already laid (there we go again). Makes you (the royal “you”) wonder if the pool had higher water levels a week ago might have resulted in more masses. Makes me wonder.
mass reflection


Further down the trail - where water is present on the left side and flows under the trail and off to the right 0 (zero) egg masses above the trail could be seen. Several below the trail, after the water flow


Anyway – the masses were freshly placed, we will keep visiting and posting – let us know what’s the scene at your favorite vernal pool!

there is no denying the skunk cabbage

Also at HuberSkunk Cabbage – everyone’s favorite plant is back at it, growing and ready to dominate wetlands around the island.  Flowers have been out for a bit, and the big leaves are just getting going. They are wonderful to photograph at all stages!

brown cup (of some flavor)

Huber shrooms – some of the earliest fungus to bloom are “cups” Brown cup and black hairy cups are find to search for in mossy patches along the trail. Just before Roger’s tree is a good spot. But look close – these dudes are tiny! More mushrooms to come!

black hairy cups
osprey are around. can't argue with that either

On the mainland

watchin' a vernal pool for the first time. right across the road.
herons have been nailing wood frogs. interesting to watch

Photo gallery – vernal pools and more


Leif and eggs

spotted salamander eggs

spotted salamander egg masses

salamanders again

wood frog eggs

wood frog egg mass

leif found this grey tree frog in the woods. chilled for a few days

Leif is a great kid. Fun to travel with.

More vernal pool, egg mass and Azores pictures posted on instagram – under the code name “baldfulmar”

thank you Cheerios!

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!