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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, December 31, 2011

Welcome to the  vinalhaven sightings report – December 31st, 2011
thanks to vlt and mcht for supporting the VSR
"i heard the coyote left"

Highlights – Red-bellied Woodpecker, purple sandpipers, mink den dissection, common murre still in the basin (and then gone?), trail camera wrap-up, fungus photo gallery
Business – No videos.

we were gone for a stretch during the holiday times, so there may be more photos than notes in this one. Who cares? Hope you had a nice time over these festive times.

I did miss the first snow that stuck over the hoidays, so tracking will have to wait. at this point last year i had followed 3 trails the coyote had laid. every year is different, we live in the now, but appreciate what a treat last winter was snow wise. i may be on my own on that one.

Sightings - Thoroughfare - (12/20) Terry Goodhue reports about a dozen or so Purple Sandpipers flying down the thoroughfare on this windy morning. Purples are observed yearly on the Loafs ledges (observed from Brown’s Head Light) and by the sparkplug and Little Thoroughfare, but this is the first report of a thoroughfare crossing sighting (in my experience).

red-bellied woodpecker - note the red
splash on the belly
photo taken last week in florida

Red-bellied Woodpecker!- (12/29) - Jim Clayter reports a red-bellied woodpecker at his feeder over near Pumpkin Ridge. Readers will note that ewvery few winters Red-bellieds are reported around the island, somewhat out of their "range" - which has been moving northward steadily over the last 20 plus years (or since the begining of time). This is the first report of a red-bellied in 3 years or so! Watch your feeders, feeder watchers! Red-bellieds may be coming to a feeding station near you!

Saw-whet in the mink house.  Or not a good place for a Saw-whet to find itself. Carla and Pete over at Peaceful Harbor Farms were taking apart a mink den that was in built in their shed (I believe) when they uncovered a dead Saw-whet Owl inside. Super cool find, and fun to think about how a mink might just get a Saw-whet Owl? (already dead?). 

Alan Lazaro - mentioned that he had a close encounter with the Great Horned Owl out in back of his house. Flew right by and the owl was startled enough to flap audibly. Cool sighting
Ferry Rides – (12/17) Rockland Christmas Bird Count  – Each year gazillions of birdwatchers and birders alike pick a day between mid- December and early january, to head out and count all the birds they can. The area(s) they cover are well defined (15 mile radius of a selected spot) and are located completely within the Western Hemisphere. These organized outings are referred to as Christmas Bird Counts, or CBCs, and have been going on for a long time. And as with many forms of nature observation, the CBC had a less than completely sensitive beginning . From the Wikipedia …

“Up through the 19th century, many North Americans participated in the tradition of Christmas "side hunts", in which they competed at how many birds they could kill, regardless of whether they had any use for the carcasses and of whether the birds were beneficial, beautiful, or rare. At the end of that century the U.S. ornithologist Frank Chapman, an officer in the recently formed National Audubon Society, proposed counting birds on Christmas instead of killing them.”

And then the "north americans" put down their guns (thank you Frank Chapman), picked up some glass (binos)and started counting birds.  25 people counted in 27 places (completely within the western hemisphere) in 1900 (were there only 25 people in the side hunt?) and the volunteer love fest began.   its been going on and growing on ever since - In the winter of 2000–2001, there were 52,471 people in 1,823 places in 17 countries (all completely within the western hemisphere). It’s the longest (and largest) volunteer powered bird survey known to mankind (or at least Kirky-kind).

sunrise up the reach
 I was able to participate in the Rockland/Thomaston CBC as the last leg of the ferry route cuts thru a section of the survey area that is hard to see from the mainland. I caught the 7am on this Saturday morning and the lighting was wonderful.  Here’s the count from port to port for the ride…

20 Old-tailed Ducks, 23 Surf Scoters,  25 Black guillemots, 21 Common Loons, 4 Red-throated Loons, 16 Red-breasted Mergansers, 1 Bufflehead, 1 Common Goldeneye, 1 White-winged Scoter, 1 Black Scoter, 2 Black Duck, 2 Great Cormorants, 11 Razorbill, 79 Bonaparte’s  Gulls, 18 Black-legged Kittiwake,  3 Red-necked Grebe, and 20 Common Eider – 2 Harbor Porpoise and many Harbor Seal to boot.

Highlights of the trip were the 3 Red-throated Loons in Rockland Harbor, and seeing all of the scoter species (3!) before getting out of Hurricane Sound.

Lane’s Island– (12/18) Windy and cold. So it goes. 15 Yellow-rumped Warblers, 2 Flickers, 8 Great Cormorants, 2 Red-necked Grebes, 7 Long-tailed Ducks, 3 Common Loon, 2 Razorbill, Black-legged Kittiwake,  4 Black Guillemot.

One thing that can be pointed out about Lane’s these days is/are the high productivity of Bayberry fruits. This is a good sign for hardcore Yellow-rumped Myrtle Butterbutt Warbler fans, known as “Butterbuttheads”. You see, Buttbutts are the only warbler that can digest the wax of these berries (and other berries as well).. What that means for me, you and all the dog walkers out there is that Butterbutts can, and will (sometimes) stay on Lane’s for the winter. Only during big Bayberry berry years, and it looks like this might be one of those winters! Now let’s see those “I’m a Butterbutthead and i vote” t-shirts and cheer on these hardy warblers as they weather out a winter on lane's!

this picture is not upside down

Basin (12/20) – all sightings in the basin include a splattering of Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, White-throated Sparrows, and Golden-crowned Kinglets. Lots of White-winged Crossbills to be seen as well and Otter sign (poop and stuff) too. (12/20 & 22) Common Murre still hanging in the Basin. (not seen 12/31). Sometimes known as “Sand Cove” but a more accurate name would be “Hot Corner”, the cove below Steep Mtn (neither steep nor a mtn.) has been harboring a Common Murre for a few weeks. Seems like it likes to hang out by one of the white and black lobster buoys there. I haven’t checked for a week now, but will get out there soon to see if it remains. We welcome it as a great winter visitor.

Mill River - (12/20) - Many White-winged Crossbills, Belted Kingfisher, and classic matted vegetation Otter sign.

Check out this photo> Used for rubbings, sliding and marking, the flattened area of Cattails lets you know otter have been around. And apparently love this zone.

(12/31) trail camera rewview. (or that this is a bonus, "it's about time").  I was hoping for otter shots (and got a few) when i put up the MCHT trail camera before we went south for the holiday. I didn't complain when the coyote ended up being in the first photo taken. I put the camera in a place where i haven't tracked the coyote before, but wasn't too surprising as the entire island is its territory. This shot was taken on the 26th, along the shores of the basin (of course). Hopefully more to come about the coyote as tracking season begins. this was more of a new year bonus.

Here's a crappy otter shot i got as well. I feel like i've finally been accepted in the woods out here as the otter also took a dump in front of the tree where i put the camera. I'd like to point out that the otter shot is at 1am. and it was 21 degrees. dumping and running at 1 in the morning. sounds like new years time to me.

With the warm fall a Fungal photo gallery is truly called for. enjoy.

Here's to a peaceful new year.

you all are the best.
thanks for reading.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

happy holidays
Welcome to the vinalhaven sightings report – December 15th, 2011
Brought to you by - MCHT, VLT, KTG, & Z
“looks like a chewed  mussel”

Highlights – octopus, eagle bath, parasitic jaeger, fungus, both flavors of crossbills, common murre in the basin, otter scat (and more!), owl pellets, and so much more!

the pressures of middle school seem to reflect
the pressures of the deep sea for this
deep sea octopus

Sightings - North Atlantic Octopus – Bathypolypus arcticus –(12/11) Troy Wadleigh brought in this really cool specimen to the middle school marine tank (maintenance sponsored by VLT!) and it appears to be doing well after a handful of days “in the can”.

North Atlantic Octopus is a member of the “Deep Sea Octopus’”group  which means little to most but i'm sure it's important to the octopus. Here’s some scoop from “Big” David  Wood, ph.d who did his stuff on this species –

 Bathypolypus arcticus is a deep sea octopus that is typically found at depths from 200-600 m in the Atlantic Ocean (Boyle 1987). This species of octopus is small; an average adult from the lower Bay of Fundy weighs around 45 grams, smaller than your hand.
this is not the deep sea.

Deep sea octopuses generally do not have ink sacks, have low fecundity (which means they don't lay very many eggs), lay large eggs from which benthic young hatch, and often have large reproductive organs. Female B. arcticus brood their eggs for over 400 days in the wild! During this time they stop eating and slowly waste away as they metabolize their own bodies to provide energy to care for their young.”

Hard core parenting and a very cool find. Octopuseses are hands down always the coolest find in any tide pool, any trap, any snorkel session (judgement). No contest.     

Eagle Bathing – videoheads will recall the October 7th, VSR ( where we showed a video (questionable quality) of an adult Bald Eagle bathing in Folly Pond. Bob Delsandro has reported witnessing the same activity (and maybe the same eagle) bathing in Round Pond. Sounds like the eagle was sitting on a partially submerged log close to the road (you know, the one that sometimes has turtles on it) , entered the water and splashed a bunch like in the video. Both Bob abd Sofia got great looks  

Ferry ride - (12/4) Captain Pete , famous for his tongue wagging, spotted a Parasitic Jaeger from the ferry. It was chasing a Bonaparte's Gull and word is that all the observers who were observing that bird got great looks.

crossbills were seen in these trees last week

Crossbills – (12/8) - 10 Red Crossbills passed by the turbines – reported by John Drury. Good spot, way more White-winged Crossbills than Red Crossbills on Vinalhaven. ….(12/10)White-winged Crossbills- When working on the trails it’s not uncommon to be serenaded by songbirds. (and i get that they are not singing for me). “when working I hear the serenations of male songbirds as they try to convince females to copulate with them” would be more correct. (by the way, Good luck fellas!).

Needless to say, the serenations are “thickest” in the spring. This is the time when photoreceptors in their brains (bird brains!) detect the increased length of daylight which then stimulates the release of hormones, hormones of the reproductive kind. Hormones = singing. Singing=smooching (of the cloacal kind). Days then get shorter, hormones chill, singing slows then stops. Bird dudes in a nutshell. 
Sure, on any warm day in December one might hear an excited male Chickadee singing away. It puts a smile of your face but in truth  the singing probably isn't getting that male any smooches (cloacally speaking that is). That’s all fine, since kissing leads to babies and a Chickadee raising a brood in the winter? Fat to slim chance – (never has there been an analogy spectrum where both ends (of the spectrum) mean pretty much the same thing. Would "fair chance" be in the middle of fat and slim? Whatever, never mind). Even as cavity nesters, Chickadees are programed not to be parental in the winter. that's when they shiver.
crossbills are more than just a
cool set of mandibles
-stock photo
Are there song birds that breed in the winter? Ones that built nests on spruce branches, made of twigs, grasses and moss? I know what you are thinking - what kind of moronic songbird would wait until its freezing outside to give the ol’ “but baby its cold outside” snuggle line a try?  the answer is simply Crossbills.(they've always seemed a little off).

Locally we are lucky enough to have both flavors of Crossbills, White-winged and Red, and both appear to have the option of breeding at just about anytime – luck stiffs! The key to their winter promiscuity status? Food. yes, apparently its grub gets them going. so it's the more spruce cones the better. They ain't really dumb, their just coneheads

do coned covered spruce get you randy?
if so there is a fair chance that you are a crossbill

For the last four days the woods in the Basin (12/ 10 -14) have been dominated (bird wise) by White-winged Crossbills. Crossbills were consistently heard each day with flocks of 20+ pass overhead calling and – here’s the big part – singing like there’s no tomorrow.  Now, while its not uncommon to hear White-winged Crossbills calling any time of the year (if they are around), it sure ain’t even every year that you can hear Crossbills singing on the island. As mentioned early Singing = smooching…blah,blah,blah.

Cone covered spruce trees are common in the Basin this year, and several folks have noted they've been seeing more trees such as these. There always seems to be some in the woods. The Crossbills seem to really like them.

It will be interesting to see if some or most or any of the Crossbills stick around for the winter, if they'll shack up or are singing on their way to a shack up zone somewhere else. either way its nice to have them around again.

fish scales and that white secretion that
looks like a chewed shellfish

Otter Sign – One of my favorite things about the Basin (and Vinalhaven in general) is the River Otter scene. (Readers of the report will recognize that as the editor I hold no grudges against birds or mammals even though they clearly are not fungus). All the beings have cool ecology stuff to observe and learn about but River Otters have so many readily observable that they seem to have more to offer than most. (i'm playing favorites.). On the island they are the funnest, and easiest to track year round. certainly a favorite. 

this is the view from one of the otter latrine sites

There’s no place where River Otter sign is more consistent or easier to observe than in the Basin - and two historic otter marking spots were visited this week.  Otter Point- (12/10) A month or so after my last visit (you’re welcome hunters) “Otter Point” - what i call it-  was covered with otter sign. (seems to be always covered with sign). Poop and that "other secretion" are what we are talking about. Many scats and two“gooey” white spots were observed on this day – this area has been marked by otters for at least the last 5 years.  

otter point is a latrine

Our tracking books still don’t know exactly where or why the white “goo” is made – other than it’s a scent marking of some sorts.  Its always cool to find and was spotted at Otter Point, but not at the mouth of “Long Pond Creek”, no more than a ½ mile away, where the same otters have a mark spot, and have been marking recently. 

here's a video of the scene surrounding the second latrine. the poops are in the spartina across the creek and should not be able to be seen here. if you can see them you either have way too good of eyesight or you are a liar.

murres look like penguins in the summer
stock photo from point reyes

Nothing Common about this MurreBasin (12/5) Common MurreCommon Murres are pretty much the flying penguins of the northern hemishpere (oversimplification and not totally true. They do make  a fine example of convergent evolution though). Last year a pair (or two) of Common Murres laid an egg (or eggs) on Matinicus Rock, marking the first time in recent history that Common Murres have bred in the "North Atlantic, along her western shores, as far down as Maine". How 'about that? a species moving south. anyway.

lots of white on the face, no white on the bill

Common Murres are seen (somewhat commonly) on summer trips to Seal Island and Matinicus Rock, but never in high numbers. (They were numerous to abundant in California and Alaska, but only in the breeding season). I had not seen a Common Murre from Vinalhaven proper before this day (VVNM). And actually had only seen a Common Murre in non-breeding plumage once before. (1st time - Race Point, Cape Cod January 1999).

Thick-billed Murres (close relatives) are seen eacch winter around Vinalhaven, one even spent 3 weeks or so in the Basin maybe 3 winters back. Thick-billeds faces stay dark in the winter where Common Murres have white that extends thru the face and behind the eye. Murres arre in the Puffin family, Alcidae along with Razorbills and Guillemots. More like the Puffins are in the Murre family. That sounds better.   

the photos are fuzzy and the video is fuzzed out as well. had to over zoom to photo any sort of view of the face. Anyway, here's the mure in the basin, hasn't been relocated since.

stop jawing
Owl Pellets - (12/12) Once again, in the Basin, walking along the platform loop I found two saw-whet owl pellets on the trail, about .5 mile apart . Finding owl pellets on the trail is a great reason to look down as you walk. Finding mushrooms is another one. Not tripping over roots is a good reason too.

cool claws, tough toenails

Anyway, the first pellet sported a lower mandible of some digested rodent (probably a vole). The second had claws/toenails in it. Both were very fun to find.

Lane's Island - (12/14) - 1st Long-eared Owl pellet of the season out on lane's.

Common Loons calling....for a while there i was hearing Loons daily almost. I took this video when i went crepuscular in the Basin marsh. it was so still that the calls echoed 3 times at least. video doesn't capture the echoes.

leify was a little uncomfortable
around the flying santa.
loved the copter though!

its been a good run for the leifyman. turned three on the third, hung with santa and went jumping with Isa. those two were really cute (and so was addy!) and even called out "ready, set, go" but just couldn't get the timing down. everyone thought it was funny.

fungus gets bumped again, hopefully in the next...

see ya out there.

state beach sunset