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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 20, 2015

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report –
Feb 18th, 2015

With the kind support of MCHT and VLT


Highlights – Bohemian Waxwings, Sharp-shinned Hawk, when the basin freezes over, Barrow's Goldeneye, Red-tail Hawk, Green Winged Teal, etc.

Bohemian Waxwings
photo by Sally Conway

Business – Contact us – with sightings, photos, comments, concerns whatever. This is the place to share – . Hey – you can even write your own stuff - more below


Tiit trick – click on the photos to make them huge
maybe you want to write something
about ice


Idea - Why don’t you write something…or….aren’t we lucky! – Hey, if you have some knowledge*   (and we know you do) or do some research in an area of nature observation feel free to write a paragraph or two about a topic/sighting that you have made and send it in. We’ll print it (or blog it or whatever) and you will get the glory that you deserve! You can use your own words and I can avoid the “you made me sound like an idiot” complaint that I have received twice over the years.  In truth both people made themselves sound like idiots, I was just the messanger. (*editor’s note - passion does not necessarily equal knowledge)


Anyway, (and speaking of writing) we are lucky enough to have some words sent in from the Javier Penalosa on the hot topic of  Skunk Cabbage and the photo placed prominently in a recent  VSR post. Javier’s writing, of course, was inspired by his complaint that I “didn’t write enough spraint” about the darned plant (or something like that), to which I replied “why don’t you write something” (or something like that). Whatever the inspiration, or truth of the matter/story, we are excited to receive writings that others send in – as long as they are not too fluffy.

Enough already – here’s some stuff on Skunk Cabbage “in the words of Penalosa”…enjoy

the Skunk Cabbage photo
 from earlier this month

The thing punching though the snow in your nice photograph is the inflorescence or flower containing structure of the plant (skunk cabbage, Symplocarpus foetidus). In late winter, responding to signals that are poorly understood (soil temperature? day length? internal clock?) the inflorescence begins to generate heat and grows upward, melting its way through frozen soil and snow so that is can be displayed to insect pollinators.  This  "inflorescence thermogenesis" is known in a few plant species, especially many members of the Araceae or Aroid family.  The Araceae is a family of over 3700 species, mostly occurring in the New World tropics -- the familiar houseplant Philodendrum is a member.  Besides skunk cabbage, we have two other members of the family on Vinalhaven: Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) and wild calla (Calla palustris).  If someone finds duckweed (Lemna) on the island, that would be an additional member of the family.  So, a tropical family with a few temperate zone outliers.
another plant thing - in honor of Penalosa
"Goldenrod Ball Gall" - bulbous gall cause by
the larvae of the spotted-winged fly
(Eruosta solidaginis)

An amazing amount of heat can be generated by Aroids. A couple of examples: Arum maculatum generates more heat (per gram of body weight) than a flying hummingbird.  A 125g inflorescence of Philodendrum selloum generates more heat than a 125g rat.  The heat in these plants is generated by the exact same mechanism as in animals: respiration or oxidation of food reserves.   It's easy to understand the benefits of inflorescence thermogenesis in skunk cabbage as the plant is thereby able to get an early start on pollination and seed production, but why would it benefit a tropical rain forest Aroid to heat up its flowers?  There has been much speculation about this, but one attractive idea is that the warm flowers of tropical Aroids benefit large insect pollinators (beetles) who need to get their body temperatures up to be active.  The ancestor of our skunk cabbage was undoubtedly a tropical Aroid, so this is yet another example of an adaptation arising for one function to be turned to another.


white out conditions
in the Reach
Oh, the smell of skunk cabbage -- it's supposed to attract pollinating insects, but it's not clear which ones are involved.  Seems like this should be pretty easy to determine, but from what I've read, apparently not. - JP


Hot damn that was packed with good wholesome info! Thanks for the words Javier, we hope to get more from JP and others in the future. Here’s a little of what I was able to find about skunk cabbage pollinators – from “Swamp and Bog” by John “who the heck is John” Eastman.

SC “ probably the first pollen source in spring for honeybees (Apis mellifera). Honeybees do not fly well below 65 degrees, but they are sometimes seen inside skunk-cabbage plants when air temperatures drop as low as 42 degrees. The warmth in successive spathes, it is theorized, serve as “heat stops” for the bee, allowing it to restore energy for flights between spathes and to and from the hive. Other pollinators are chiefly flesh flies (Sarcophagidae) and carrion or blow flies (Calliphoridae). These early-season scavengers are attracted by the plants liver-colored streaks and fetid odor, some botanists site this as an example of dung mimicry, which may have evolved as and attractant for these pollinators”


I’m just happy I got to type “dung mimicry” – ain’t that the spraint!


And speaking of sharing….

bohemians have a better name than cedars
nothing personal against cedars -
photo by Sally Conway

Skin Hill Sally – it would be nice to chalk it all up to “location, location, location” but let’s face it Sally Conway has earned all her great sightings over the years by being so nice. She’s good with the feeders and great with the camera, and that’s a winning combination. In-between recent storms Sally had some Bohemian Waxwings in her yard….

sharpie in the trees
photo by Sally Conway

And as she feeds the birds she also feeds the predatory…birds. Couple more sharpies showed up in Sally’s yard recently – you know you are onto something when the predators show up – nice ecosystem Sally!
so cute this little dude with the extra spots
photo by Sally Conway


Sharpie in the snow
photo by Sally Conway

Ring-billed Gull
photo by John Drury

John Drury sent in this photo of a Ring-billed Gull and reports a Red-tailed Hawk (2/3) in town and a male Green-winged Teal at the Millrace.

tip-toe mailboxes
Tip-toe times, good times, otter times
(2/8) Tip-toe otter -this big guy came cruisin' thru the Tip-toe scene, from the shore, thru the woods and the heart of the cattail marsh and back.
running up the hill
It ran up one hill just to mark it's zone, a week later this was presumedly buried in snow.
Fun to follow it thru the woods, where it went under logs and made some impressive belly slides along straightaways.
hardy group!
deer thru the marsh

impressive mink belly slide
(2/14) - Tip-toe snowshoe - Red-tailed Hawk, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, mink, otter, snowshoe hare, deer tracks. Bubble Rocks.

the mink bounds were pretty close
together - sign of tough bounding

So after little to no debate, the VLT/MCHT/GMOW snowshoe group opted to snowshoe at Tip-toe Mountain instead of Fox Rocks. The road is plowed to the parking area and that was a major part of the decision.  It was a great walk, with lots of mink trails and slides, otter slides by the coast and bubble rocks (Rhyolite?) in the ledges. Very cool!

not a true belly slide - more of a mink
downhill bound.
"a belly slide snob, I am" - Yoda

pam searching for bubble rocka

"bubble rocks" were like treasures in the snow

no snowshoe is complete without the scope


tip-toe ice

basin ice

Basin - (2/17) - When the Basin freezes over - Barrow's Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Black Guillemot, Old-tails, Bald Eagle, Mink tracks, Harbor Seals -

Good morning in the Basin with John, snowshoeing and skiing in to catch some views of a chilly basin.
john at the scope

frozen basin
deer have been spending lots of time close to shore

tracking from the ferry - one of our favorite parts of winter ferry riding. otters and deer on this crossing...somewhat quiet on the bird front...

otter action on Lairey's
here the otter came out of the water, rolled,
probably marked and then head to the left....

spraintloads of loons are out there

... and then continued to run along the tree line
before banking and belly sliding into the ocean 

deep snow means cool sets are being

...and that efforts made to traverse require some high energy
who is that masked man?
and that dramatic rescues are made
 Editor’s note – while some folks have been commenting on what a tough winter it must be for deer (not that  anyone seems too overlly concerned for their wellbeing), most have commented on how little wildlife they feel they are seeing. Tough winter for those of us with houses (and refrigerators), the "other species" out there are certainly feeling it as well. There's life under the snow, but there's also life that has to search elsewhere to survive. That said, Great Horned Owls should be just about sitting on eggs any day now!  Woodcocks in about a month! Salamander migration at the end of March! Spring is in the air, or a month to go on the calendar! "11 more hours to go!". Not really sure why this was written.
and lots of laughter can be heard
thank you spiderman! see you out there!


Friday, February 6, 2015

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report – Feb 3rd, 2015

MCHT and VLT in co-supportive roles

this is skunk cabbage, this is the edge

“Now I know Pine Siskins have been coming to my feeder”


Post 2 of 2


Sightings one for Javier! – Here’s this year’s Skunk Cabbage flower starting to plow thru ice…that’s enough plants for a while….


Song Sparrows in winter – January - John reported Song sparrow on his January Seal Island trip, the same week I took this video of song sparrows at state beach. The book says that they are “uncommon” in winter for the state – which may mean that they hang in “toasty warm Kittery” most winters – but I can’t recall seeing Song Sparrows in the snow before.


At “the Wind” the other afternoon Song Sparrows were mentioned in hushed tones “ I think I saw Song Sparrows at my feeder” as if a Song Sparrow here in winter was like wearing white after labor day! No self respecting Song Sparrow would be caught dead here! Anyway- Song Sparrows have been seen this winter – not what you figure to see most winters – in my experience.


Sally Conway reports seeing 3 or 4 Tree Sparrows at her feeders.


Tracking report….
snowshoe hare -heavy traffic
just hopping - snowshoe hare


Snowshoe Hare – in my limited and humble observational opinion I would say I am seeing a lot of snowshoe hare tracks these days. In the basin, Norton’s point, Huber, everywhere. Lots of owl food, we love prey.



Red Squirrel - chowing on sumac atop a red-belted conk.

some deer action
Deer are the only “big animals with long legs and small feet” dumb enough to walk thru the deep snow. Survival, gotta do what you gotta do. Plenty of deer as always.

the letter "A"


Otters – Spraint letters – in my quest to spell the alphabet in otter spraints and slides I picked up one of what I guessed would be one of the tricky letters – may we introduce you to the letter “A”. More letters below.


Snow and otters - In theory (and limited personal experience) otters don’t cross deep snow. I have only seen otter snow tunnels right at dens, where in order to leave the den you have to tunnel. Other than that I have not seen otter tunnels, so I figure they don’t do that much. They don’t seem to belly slide in these conditions either, maybe they are too heavy for thick snow and would sink. No one wants to get stuck in a snowdrift.
So when we get these big storms – you know, the ones with 20 inch drifts and the such (like we have been getting the last few weeks)-  the depth and conditions seem to limit otter movement. How much? Slightly I would think. Sure – so they can’t cross from Old Harbor Pond to the sands right now. Not a big deal. spend more time under the ice I would think.

here's what conditions were one day on OHP


belly slide sunrise


Carver’s Pond – Ali McCarthy spotted a single otter from her house a few days back.


Old Harbor Pond (OHP) (1/25) Headed out not expecting much (never do!)- deep snow, pretty darned cold and windy –that night and that morning. But a few of the OHP otter marking areas had enough sign to understand that access to them was not only easily accessible for local otters, but that there had been some activity the night before. A pair – possibly a spinoff of the “gang of four” (roughly half) – had visited a few marking latrines, and left some cool slides.
this otter stopped to shake
its booty for a moment

coming out of the water

this is the "y"

The marking areas along the edge were conveniently located near (or pretty close to) open spots along the shore. Makes you wonder if the otters somehow help keep the openings in the ice, well, open. They are certainly aware of them. Anyway…


I found three openings in the pond ice along on eastern shore where the otters had visited that night. The northern most opening was where the otters went under the ice after running across the pond, opting not to swim under as they went across. For a quarter mile or so I tracked the otters as they worked their way under the ice, just coming up at the other two openings to mark marking areas. Otters are so regular….

you can see where the otter
came out of the water, visited the marking
area and returned

The letter “Y” was found in belly slides along this shore.


Backtracking now, the windblown belly slides were followed back across the pond to the western shore, where the otters had run over floats and thru supplies stashed along the banks. Once again “they came from below” was the theme as they weaved in and out of the openings, leaving slides and this nice slosh into the thawing ice along the shore. Makes me wonder if they were having a time deciding whether to go under or over when they crossed the pond. Probably a no brainer.
they went thataway



the letter "x"

all otter trails lead to....

sometimes storms look like this

(1/28) Just a few days later, and another storm has set in. we have grown fond of snowshoeing in such storms. Still windy from the night before…

from here they came

 this was how we (the royal "we")
could tell there were two otters
surprisingly slushy, the two otters (could be a different pair, could be the same) came out of a slushy opening at the very far south end of the pond. From there the pair went directly to the “island’s most photographed otter latrine”. Their trails disappeared under the windblown snow, or maybe under the ice again.


The local den was completely covered in snow; entrances show no sign of use.     



Norton’s Point – (1/26) – in part one of this 2 part post  the possibility that overnight activity on Norton’s Point and Greens Island – pretty much straight shot across – was from the same, solo otter. Checking two known latrines/marking areas on Norton’s that morning found sign of activity at both.


The Sands side marking area showed scratching, bounding, mound building from one otter. Fresh spraint was also observed.
twas a nice jump


belly slide and a view to greens
scratches and scapes
The marking area on "the reach side" (of Norton’s point) marking area showed a quick roll and scat (the letter “A” came from there).



otter bounding away
snowshoe hare hopping towards us

active mink den entrance

Mink - always fun to find a mink den, unless you don't like mink, then its probably not the same. Anyway, psyched to find this active den out on Norton's Point and then to return after a few storms to see what the mink has been up to.

check out this beautiful entrance to the mink tunnel
As opposed to otters, Mink have no problem with tunneling. they tunnel and actively hunt the subnivean zone network of  vole tunnels and activity.
mink tracks lead away from the tunnel opening


the tunnel went about 20 feet from the foreground to
the shrub thing. easily could be a network of tunnels all over
the neighborhood -and yours too


more leif action. 

cold is psychological when you are snowshoeing

see you for the snowshoe on feb 14th.!  and now for some rare footage...