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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


Friday, February 14, 2014

Welcome to the Vinalhaven sightings Report

February 14th, 2014

Big thanks to VLT & MCHT

“Its making my head spin how many activities we can do” – step brothers


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Highlightsowl activity, otter activities, alcid activities – including Dovekie and Common Murre, and non-active horned grebes, beaver activity, ice photos, other stuff


Business: Upcoming activities – The Sunday of Presidents day weekend (Feb 16th) can only mean these 3 thing – (1) jumping in the water at the polar bear swim! 11:30am at state beach to benefit the library!, (2) going home and warming up, and then (3) heading back to state beach to track otters and whatever else we find. We’ll meet at Skoog to carpool at 1pm for a snowshoe/winter walk (Sunday Feb. 16th!). I’ll have my scope and we’ll take a closer look at stuff. See you there!

3-toed and bold, baby

Other things - Mystery Tracks, photos group #1 – Stumper set of tracks found in the neighborhood. See if you can figure them out. More to come lower, lower, lower down this VSR…

odd trail pattern

Photo quality admission – while fumbling with my tiny camera in cold conditions (2/4) I somehow (I know exactly how!) lowered the “megapixel” setting on my camera from “lots” to “crappy” levels and a set of otter track photos in ice were compromised in quality. The shots were too cool to not include even in their crappy state. Just to give you a heads up to you otter freaks that some shots do not meet your standards but have been included anyway. Just deal with it, and that goes for me too!


snow angel
photo by Michael Seif

SightingsMichael Seif, of  fame, is a nice guy with a camera who was in the ARC at least once this week. Whatsmore, he was kind enough to send in some wonderful shots of wing and body imprints in some Lane’s Island snow (I know you recognize that snow).


photo by Michael Seif
(2/12) Fresh wing imprints in the snow on lane’s will take the dedicated VSR reader all the way back to December when the Whites sent in photos of Long-eared Owl imprints (actual photographer of imprints up for discussion apparently – not to bring that up). Owl sightings have been low ever since, like zero, but that’s not too surprising when it comes to Long-eareds.  In fact, one might say that ”Long-eared Owls overwintering on Lane's are pretty much nocturnal unless starving or stressed, so not seeing them is kind of expected. And that's how you know they are there and doing well, by not seeing them! Or something like that.” Yes, I am quoting myself.


Anyway, Michael found these imprints along the loop trail closest to the graveyard (creepy). Roughly the same area where the Whites found the prints in December and close to where I watched a Long-eared hunting not too long after. Michael noted that it appeared the prey in the scene was dragged a little between sets of tracks. Possibly the owl nailed it and then hopped to readjust before taking off to feast.  We’re going to file these in the “most likely Long-eared imprints” file, which is awesome. Either way and whatever they are they are great shots – thanks for sharing!


this is for Javier
hot mess or icy moss?
Capt’n Pete, from the ferry– Here’s what Capt’n Pete (supposedly) sent in on the 4th - (2/1) – “Common Murre. I saw a murre twice. Probably the same individual. Second time very close and I got a good ID… 3 Red Necked Grebes.

(2/2) I saw many flocks of 20 to 30 Razor bills. 5-6 flocks so a lot of birds. Also there are a lot of Black Guillemots, 100's. There was a Golden Eye in Lawries narrows too.”


And sometimes he’s even looking when he’s not working – here’s a special edition of “on the water”- “Capt’n Pete off the ferry, but still representin’!”



 Not the ferry, on the way to Green's yesterday I saw a Dovekie!
Just outside the Tombs, I was able to stop (no schedule) and watch a little.
At first I thought it was a Black Guillemot changing to breeding plumage, little bird on the water lots of black, but no it was a Dovekie.

Stay warm, Peter



Nice sightings and kind warm fuzzies at the end.

beaver are back at long pond
and this is ice, not sure how these photos
got stuck together

Round the islandThorofare – (2/3) Northern Goshawk, Common Loon, Surf Scoter, Oldtails, …..Basin - (2/4) 2 Red Crossbill, 3 Bald Eagles, 3 Hairy Woodpecker, Beaver and Otter sign on Long Pond…Basin -(2/9) Horned Grebe, Surf Scoter, Old Tail, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Black Ducks, Common Loon…Reach Road – (2/6) – Sharp-shinned Hawk across the road… Carver’s Pond – (2/10) male Hooded Merganser…(2/11) Ferry Ride – Razorbill (3), lots of Black guillemot, Oldtails, Bufflehead, Black Duck, Common Loon, mustelid tracking
sharpie in the yard
Mystery Tracks!
more three-toed tracks

scales were big in this scat
Otter spraint – Reports of Otters are being reported to me while on the ferry and while watching kids skate at the ball ground. Stories of belly slides on Hurricane Island and along the shore of old harbor pond are looking to be shared, and now they have been. There is a significant otter population out here, and winter is the best time to get a feel for the activity out there (and around us). And with that out of the way - more of the never ending otter story/saga that just needs to be told…. – first up today – “before the snow

long pond was dry, as in not wet

First few days of Feb. were dry ones. And windy too. That left ponds looking like this….(Long Pond – 2/4)



And while we were jonesin’ (Hey Big Al!) for some new snow, the early month tracking was not all for lost as otter sign from a guestimated 10 days prior was captured “on ice”. Belly slides laid in snow evolved and morphed into ice slides and tracks actually located within the ice (I love this kind of tracking!). Here’s what we found…


Basin (2/4) – Long Pond – Belly slide from the outflow creek along the east side of the pond…Historic spraint latrines around the basin were found to be freshly marked as well…


in the ice
…(2/4) Old Harbor Pond – frozen slides. With no snow or tracks/trails for miles (or something like that) these isolated slides were fun to find. Close to the Old Harbor bridge end of things, 7 slides in formations were found together – 6 slides had the otter heading toward old harbor and one set had an otter heading towards the sands end of the pond. We figure that the 6 slides heading out were made by the “gang of four” possibly on two different trips. A couple of the slides appeared to be used by more than one otter (wider, multiple sets of tracks)– as in one otter following the next in deep snow. Or maybe 2 doubled back and came thru again….or maybe there were two others that came thru…or…bottom line – we don’t know.  What we do know is that there were 7 slides together, and they were cool.


wait! that's a three-toed

This was the last check in before the next snow, and we ended up tracking stuff from a week or more back into January. Classic….



you may be familiar with the
dock piece along the shores of
old harbor pond
(2/6) Old Harbor Pond thick with snow – the surprising lack of otter tracks on the pond was surprising. Deer and a domesticated dog had a ball on the ice that morning (not together), but no otters were seen to have been active. Here’s a note from Elbroch…   



sure shot ... to the pond
“Winter only really affects their basic activities when ice forms over water. As long as there is a hole somewhere nearby, they are perfectly capable of foraging under the ice. Where lowered water levels open air spaces under the ice, an otter may roam far and wide beneath the ice without needing to “surface” above it.”


nothing for miles and kilometers
Case in point, by the time I got close to the Mack’s Pond inflow I had given up on otters really. There were no trails across the pond, no tracks crossing the road and no sign of comings and goings to/fro established resting spots/dens. But then I came upon the piece of dock along the eastern shoreline (you know the one, its been there for a while). Apparently the "dock piece" was substantial enough to provide shelter for what looked to be a single otter.



first hole
If I had said “I have not seen otter sign at the “dock piece” before” then I would be correct, and the amount of times I have walked right by said “piece” is in the “many times” folder. But sign was minimal here as well – a 3 foot long slide that went between a still open hole in the ice and the opening to under the dock. Looked to have been crossed a few times…no other hole or crack in the ice for like forever!


otter trails in the woods look like this
Walking back thru the woods I came across another otter trail. This was slightly surprising in that the only otter sign I had seen at all on OHP was the “dock piece” otter sign. I followed this trail away from OHP, up and over towards Carvers. After a bit it became clear that this was a trail that an otter going “both ways” traveled the night before. The snow was fresh, and it ends up that this otter made it all the way to Mack’s Pond Road (Private) before turning around and heading back to OHP.


“Why the sea-ward matriarch reversed course and headed for shore is still a mystery” john beard


"the other hole"
with slides and a trail that goes right into the woods
and one that comes out of the woods
I followed the trail(s) back to OHP (are you with me?) where I learned quickly why I hadn’t seen this otter’s trails earlier in the snow on the pond. Because there weren’t any! This otter came out from under the ice about a ¼ mile south of the “dock piece” and immediately went up into the woods. Upon returning from its woodland adventure it re-entered the hole and assumedly went back to the “dock piece” fishing its way under the ice. Both openings in the ice were still open at 11am or so, so it seemed a little more than circumstantial that might be a connection between the dock piece and the trail thru the woods. Or I could be full of spraint.

another angle on the other hole

(2/7) a return visit the next morning showed that ice had closed up at both openings in the pond.


iced up access
So what? This all happening – a “new” den (to me) being used while 3 historic ones were available and a trail thru the woods that at times seemed confused (small backtracking and indecisive/”searching for a way” sections) which was eventually backtracked all the way to the pond- made it seem like this dude might not have been super familiar with the area. Or possibly it knows the zone about 100 gagillion times better than I and was just scouting. Or something else. Either and any way we’ll be keeping close tabs on the woods crossing with each snow. We’ll see…

this may be too big of a clue


And!!!! It’s another reminder of the under ice trails and activities that go on all winter with the otters!


Elaine's den is active
Carver’s otters – the classic “Elaine den” showed sign of hefty activity (2/7), and with the amount of slides and footprints “the gang of 4” is suspected to be of current residence. Looked like another example of otters heading under the ice for long stretches as their slides led to cracks and openings along Carver’s shoreline.
Big hellos to Willie and Elaine by the way



Tip-toe area – (2/8) a revisitation to  the classic den and marking zone told us that the otters hadn’t come thru in the 3 nights since the snow. That was fine, a separate marking spot and slide along the shore told of a few visits in the last few days, otters coming out of the salt water, sprainting and sliding back in. Tis the life.


What we did see from the car driving in was a spot where the otters came out of whitmore pond/crockett cove, crossed tip-toe mtn road and went up and over into whatever the little cove is to the west before you get to Brown’s Head light. On a map this is the shortest distance between Crockett Cove and said body of water. New cross island path for me – those are always special days…..


what is the minimal age for making torches?
this one is made from TP and safflower oil

mystery tracker - lacking three toes

And certainly more, but we are done here, as in its time to post!


when the torch goes out
a troll is formed
Thanks for reading and we’ll see you out there! Unless we see you first! Whatever that means!   


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report –
February 1st, 2014
MCHT & VLT teaming up for support


Highlights – Green-winged Teal, Ferry rides featuring Iceland Gull and an epic gull trip, Red-throated Loon, Horned Grebe, otters, accipiter at pumpkin ridge,

this burl looks pixelized on my computer
something about this reminds me
of zappa
First the bad news - Actual headline -
"Ice fishermen can no longer get beer via drones". 
What's the point of ice fishing or drones if not to bring beer to thirsty Minnesotans? I hope this doesn't mean no drones dropping refreshments to bird watchers.

Word of caution - Blogspot is acting a little screwier than usual uploading photos. Some photos appear "over pixelated" on my computer. This is the blog doing that, we are at the mercy of the blog....anyway, if some shots don't look right it's because it doesn't look right. anyway, we're going to roll thru with it. Hope at least some of these shots look alright.

If shots look over pixelated please be kind and imagine what it would look like better. Or something like that.

when seal bay freezes over
Business: Upcoming events…well, last week’s Huber trip last week was a bust, we mostly got weathered that day but Seal Bay was frozen anyway which wouldn’t have helped out with duck sightings. So – we move on and now we’ve got a new one! On Sunday, February 16th at 1pm we’re going to offer a “State Beach Snowshoe & Tracking” outing. Hopefully there will be tracks and snow. Either way, we’ll track our way thru the state beach area to 2 historical otter marking spots, tracking mammals, sea birds and whatever else we can find. 1pm, Sunday Feb. 16th – meet at Skoog Park to carpool!


This is an MCHT trip and is part of the “Great Maine Outdoor Weekend”, .  This name kind of implies that other weekends aren’t as great as this one to be outside. That is simply not the case, all weekends in Maine are great to be outdoors, and this one will be great as well, if not greaterer.


Seal Island Seal Cam is up! – hey – here’s something to look at on your computer that won’t make you go blind and is not reading the VSR! - The grey seal pupping camera is back on on (on) Seal Island and is aimed to satisfy all your grey seal watching fantasies (as long as your fantasies have them lying around popping out youngsters and nursing for the most part).!/live-cams/player/seal-pups-cam - It turns “on” at 10am for “live action”, but even if its dark out you can go to the website and watch a highlight reel – with births and battles and eagles caught on film! Anyway, check it out!  


snow covered roger - from huber


some, if not all of these ducks are inbred.
Big thanks – to Susan Raven and the “Perspectives” afterschool program (ARC & PIE) for inviting me (& MCHT) to help out with two afternoons of bird watching with pre-K – 5th graders. It was super fun, we saw some good stuff, everyone got to use binos and all went home with a bird feeder! Thanks again – looking forward to the next session!

let sleepin' green winged teals lie
scopin' out the starlings!


green-winged teal
we'll let you guess who took the shot!
Sightings – Green-winged Teal – probably the most popular bird on the island over the last couple of weeks has been the Green-winged Teal that looks to be over-wintering at Carver’s Pond.  It has been spotted and reported by a small handful (missing 2 fingers) of observers over the past month and a half. Originally spotted in December by John Drury (see those old VSRs if you don’t believe us. Might have been November.), the 3-5 kids who came to the “perspectives” bird watching session got great views of it thru the scope, sleeping and standing on the ice. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen one out here, but we don’t “scan the pond” like we used to when we lived just down the street. Figures. Here’s our list for the days:  

nappin' with the big boys

Anyway, the best (judgment) Green-winged Teal report and photos were sent in by Sally, documented in this “skin hill sally - off the hill” special edition. Apparently Sally spotted the bird while at work, trekked up the hill (that’s “skin hill” to you, buddy) and schlepped back to the back of the store and got some great photos of the bird. Being keen on things Sally then went back and looked it up in her bird book. And it was a “field guide success” story – correctly identified and a new bird for sally to brag about – VNM! Congrats!


wolf's milk and snow
Accipiter at Pumpkin Ridge – Jim Clayter reports seeing a small hawk with a long tail hunting low in shrubs and even heading to the ground in his neighborhood. Sounds like an accipiter and Jim narrowed it down to Sharpie or Coopers, and as hawky people now a quick view is often not long enough to tell those apart!



ghost lichen
Anyway, Jim’s feeders have been active -doves & juncos, jays, cardinals, chickadees, nuthatch, sparrows – not as quiet as other parts of the island. Anyway, Jim has mentioned he’s never seen an accipiter hunting birds at his feeder. The Sharpie or Cooper’s Jim saw recently was not hunting his feeders either.


From the ferryPete’s report – Captain Pete earning the big bucks by pulling his weight and looking for wildlife while driving the boat – with his knees perhaps? Here are some words - “straight from the crow’s nest”


windsor orange number 34

day one
“Leaving Rockland at 4:30 on Tuesday, 1/28 we saw a lot of gulls. At the mouth of Rockland Harbor, near the breakwater lighthouse. Three "kettles" near each other but distinct with some overlap. Several hundreds of birds. I'll say 500, it could be 1,000. They were all "gulls" hard to get species at height and with the sun behind them. 500 to 1,000 feet up, not low over the water.

For a few minutes we watched, then the gulls started to stream west. Toward Rockland or someplace else. It appeared that the western most birds started to go then the others. Against the clouds you could see individuals in the "kettle" start to soar west.

It got dark and we were moving away. I thought it was cool. Maybe I was just bored. Lots of Razorbills this week too.

8 days later
More from peter…


1/17 One Iceland Gull at Rockland at noon
1/19 Lots of Black Guillemots (100 more or less) and Razorbills feeding just west of "FT"
Great Cormorants around too.


Thanks Pete – also from the ferry – non cap’t Pete- 1/16 – lots of razorbills, handful of kittiwakes, Red-throated Loon

 Great Horned Owl - Vinal Cove - Erin Creelman reports seeing a Great Horned fly over the cove.

Our otters….alright, so I was researching on the “wide world web”, I did a “something” search on “river otters spraint estrus” – along with many readers at home. A link with photos came up, including some shots of what looked like tracks in snow. I said – now those look cool – and when I clicked on them I found out they were from a VSR last year!  My own photos! What a world.


yes, we are still finding this
white goo

Carver’s Pond - Johnny McCarthy (member of the Johnny & Ali McCarthy team) pulled over the other day to tell me about a family otter sighting. Yes, it was both a family of otters (must have been 3 or 4 – “pond otters”) and several members of his family were lucky enough to see it – Johnny was not one of the lucky ones. “Bella spotted them” Johnny confided and its no surprise that she did - Bella being the resident 3rd grader with eagle eyes for wildlife. It should be noted that Johnny mentioned all this while parked head on into traffic on a blind curve with like a 45% slope (editor’s honesty - we have no idea what percent slope it was). Well, we all survived and Bella’s sighting goes along with some of what we’ve (the royal “we’ve” ) been finding at old harbor pond.


this is a confusing one. the otters
are going away, 3 otters in 4 lines
they stop almost at the top and
then retreat to the right
there is some back and forth
towards the bottom
“Coming and goings” Snow tracking has been on this side of the “pretty lame” line for a while, but with conditions being what they are/were (and appear to remain being (what?)) we did catch a glimpse into the otter world after a snow ended late afternoon on (1/19).….(1/20) Looks like the Pond otters or “gang of 4” (noted from December and above) came out of the Old Harbor Pond den closest to the Sand’s (south den), headed out to the salt water for an evening of fishing and frolicking, and then came back. They didn’t return to the south den that night (1/19-20), instead they headed up pond towards one of the north dens in the pond.


back and forth
The trails heading back to the pond are clearly fresher, which makes sense since they were made after the howling winds blowing snow all over the place subsided. Cool to see where they came and went. I especially like the visual of three otters running together and breaking thru the ice as one. The 4 were seen by Bella and family a few days later or so.


running together, breaking the ice
 all three end up in the drink
three for one

coming and going,
rather - going and coming
the bottom 4 sets are the otters "going pond"

access to/fro old harbor pond
muddy prints on the left are from otters coming out
two belly slides on the right are otters going head first

fresh otter tracks in my tracks,
made just the day before in falling snow 

was it something i ate?
this gooey number turned the snow around it red
(1/20 continued) The sweet spraint spot along “the banks of the sands” was freshly marked, with a spraintload of crustacean exoskeleton which was “bleeding red” into the snow around it (the spraint that is). A solo, red spot in the snow was located a foot away or so – or like a “third of a meter”. Red spots in the snow, and around the spraints, are something we have seen once before with otters –up at Tip-toe last winter. With knowledge and previous experience (personal experience, but not that personal) with Mink and “Red dots in the snow” the spots last year were figured to be at least potentially left as a sign of a female being in estrus or "heat" (that’s what mink do). Our research on signs of otter estrus takes us back to our own speculation last year. Can we use our own historical speculation as a reference? Bad form. Bottomline - we don't know what the red spots means.
Maybe its a big storm.

same crusty (acean) spraint - 7 days later


could have been the beets. or the crustaceans.
or the hormones. must have been the roses

Anyway, cool to see, and if we ever get snow again we’ll report what we find. Love may be in the air, but anyone familiar with river otter mating positions knows that love has nothing to do with it.


in the ice, many days later
Otter rebooted - (1/31) I got out on old harbor pond for the first time this season! There was little snow and tracking seemed to have a low potential., this prediction was acknowledged prior to getting on the ice. I wanted to check the den at the north end of the pond for spraints, figured that was about all the sign I might find. Wrong again baldy!


From the hefty pile of spraints by the north den it was obvious that the had visited this spot many times this winter (spraint here often?). Whether they spent the day (their sleepy time) of the 21st in the den could not be told, they weren’t in there at the moment that was for sure as the den was frozen shut. What was cool was a set of tracks in the ice that was found by the den area. Hard to tell when they were made, but all tracks to and fro had been wiped clean on the ice, I got the feeling these were made a while ago and were just in a protected spot.

spraints and a hole. icy den at this point


We (the royal “we”) then crossed the pond to see if the 3rd known den on the pond had any sign of use. What we found was old deer and fresh raccoon tracks, but nothing from the otters.

this raccoon walked across (what seemed to be) the only patch of snow on the ice.
seemed to go out of his way
i wonder if it was smelling
maybe the snow holds something


It was time to go, so north we trugged along the western shore towards the old harbor pond bridge, when I came upon a single, large set of otter tracks and belly slides heading south that were captured in the ice. As I worked north several more sections of this trail were found as well.
first slide found, big one


From watching tracks and trails morph over the years this frozen trail was probably made in the snow a while ago. With different melting rates in the nooks and crannies of the tracks and belly slides and the snow melting and refreezing (as ice) a raised trail in the ice/on top of the ice is created. There has been no new snow to speak of since the 20th, and the pond was de-iced by wind and rain shortly after. The tracks looked to be maybe 9 days or so old. I believe this was the local big male patrolling thru his territory.
Gettin' that  vibe
the solo ice trail
belly slide at the top

Anyway, going a little further we crossed 4 sets of frozen tracks and trails in/on top of the ice similar to the trail mentioned above, but these were heading north. They were made at the same time (roughly) as the trail heading south, with frozen trails and tracks such as these taking time to morph into this wonderful state, with many melting and freezing sessions.

frozen four. criss cross. criss cross
My guess, and its only a guess, is that these trails were made either on the 20th or 21st depending on if the “gang of 4” spent a day in the north den. Either way, the tracks made when they crossed the pond were gone, only the protected stretch along the western shore was found. The trails did not extend to the bridge, instead heading into a wetlands where a new latrine was found and possibly where the otters headed into the woods to get to Old Harbor. There was no sign that they headed back onto the ice directly from this latrine.


great kind of tracking,
where the otters slid many days ago

But, the otters have undoubtedly been back on the pond since the 22nd – fresh dirt at the entrance to the southern den showed that there has been recent activity. But with conditions being what they are and have been (and will continue to remain be?) the otters have left tracks, trails, and messages in a way  to otters – but not visible to me! In other words they have been scootin’ across the slippery ice for a week or more, but the only tracks I can find are from like 9 days ago. Such is tracking, always learning something but seldom is it living in the now. Days behind.
new spraint at a new latrine.
the otters have taken over


Anyway, it’s always great to be on the ice, and the tracking was better than I anticipated, but I am from jersey so I don’t get my hopes up very often.


Anyway – horned grebes at state beach and in the reach. Lots of the “regulars” whatever they are.     


Warm days for picnics at state beach, codl days full of legos (thank you farley!) and buddies coming over.


leif approves this picnic spot

Hope February treats everyone well, and we’ll see you out there