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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


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

needs no words
Awesome shot Sally! Thanks for sharing!
photo by Sally Conway

Welcome to the vinalhaven sightings report – March 23rd, 2015


Wondering what the snow fleas have been up to


Highlights – otter, owls and mink. Red tail hawk, snow fleas!!!! ,   boat ride, when seal bay freezes over!


Upcoming EventsVLT/MCHT Woodcock Walk – Saturday April 4th, 7pm at Lane’s Island. Be there or be somewhere else!
roger covered in snow


VLT/MCHT Basin Clean-up – Sunday April 12th, 9am at Skoog to carpool. We’ll be cleaning up near the Basin bridge for a few hours, come on out and help!
seal bay

Businesscontact – where else can you share your nature sightings and photos? Facebook? That’s soooooo 2014. I mean, feel free to get Facebooked and all that…but then send them over to the VSR! We’d love to see what you have seen.


Tiit trick – click on the photos to make them jumbo sized.
seal bay has these ice formation too!

ice caves at seal bay

how deer made it to seal bay!
Sightings – John Drury reports an adult Red-tail Hawk on Greens Island for much of the past few weeks, if not longer.


Grackles for a day – the “true harbinger of late-winter”, a handful of Common Grackles, was spotted between up the sands (3/11). Not reported since.


These days - Spring singers, drummers and callers- black-capped chickadee, cardinals, red-breasted nuthatch, song sparrow, downy and hairy woodpeckers, Great-horned Owl



it's snow flea season!
Snow Fleas – With all the wondrous snow this winter, it is no surprise that so many people have approached me with concerns about the wildlife on Vinalhaven. Even raccoons have brought out sympathy from some, but there is one species that literally (not really) has been on everyone’s minds – Snow Fleas!

In reality, snow fleas have been on (at least) two people’s mind (if you count mine as a mind) as of late. Just wondering out loud really – (1) does this winter – with little melt and little warmth – affect the snow fleas at all? I hadn’t seen a single snow flea all winter and wouldn’t until (3/13). I had read that often populations of ¼ to ½ a million snow fleas cross the snow not only to look for food, but to find the next area to work over. (2) Does this winter’s snow affect their migration patterns? I mean – (3) could there be legions of stressed snow fleas under the snow, starving only because they weren’t able to migrate to new feeding grounds? (4) Could breeding/offspring stats and numbers skewed with this “migration blockage” as the “fleas” couldn’t get enough food to produce offspring? (5) Could this be the end of our island snow fleas?

"gang of fleas"

Figuring the answers to my questions were as follows – (1) “fine”, (2) “not at all”, (3) “probably not”, (4) “what?” and (5) “idiot” – soon after I lost whatever “concerns” I had. But then (3/13) came along and all my vanished “concerns” vanished even more. None more concerns. (“The answer is none. None more black” – Nigel Tufnel).


Fox Rocks area – (3/13) a half mile hike on a nice warm day, resulted in a half mile back track back out following my old footsteps. And each and every one of my “less than an hour old” snowshoe prints having snow fleas in them, some filled more than others of course. I had never seen such a stretch of snow fleas in my life! Bursting onto the scene with such intensity and magnitude it was as if the snow fleas had been waiting for this moment for all their lives. Which might be true – I don’t know how long they live actually.


Hey – now’s a good time to drop some basic Snow Flea knowledge down –


Gwen person “Wired”


 “Technically, springtails aren’t proper insects at all, since their body has a different design than the standard insect plan.  Their taxonomic name is Collembola, and while they are in the group Hexapoda (which contains the Insecta), they are not classified as insects.  Their eyes are not proper compound eyes, and their abdomen has fewer segments and some special extra appendages that insects don’t have. Springtails also keep molting (shedding their exoskeleton) through their lives; the world record is 52 moults. That’s way more than any insect or spider, and kind of amazing for such a tiny animal.”


“Springtails get their name from their jumping apparatus -– they don’t use their legs to jump like fleas and grasshoppers, but have a special little appendage that flicks them up and around. This furcula is like a spring; when it’s released, it flings the springtail up over 100 times its body length. Alas for the springtail, they can’t control where they go -– but it’s still effective for predator avoidance.”

the sun has not set on snow fleas

“The mechanics of their jump are pretty fascinating — snow fleas’ exoskeletons power their flips. It contains a rubber-like protein called resilin, where a lot of the potential energy for the jump is stored, but blood pressure and muscles also are involved.”


“Snow flea courtship involves a lot of head banging. Females are usually larger than males, and it's thought that she assesses a male's suitability by making him push her around. Literally”



Eating habits – from “Fairfax County Public Schools” website- thank you public schools!

Snow Fleas, and other springtails, live in soil, leaf litter, mosses, fungi, and along shores of ponds. Sometimes they can be found on the surface of ponds. Since they are so light, they can walk on the surface without sinking.


They eat old dead plant matter, bacteria, fungi, algae, pollen, roundworms, rotifers, and sap. Roundworms and rotifers are tiny microscopic animals.”



raccoons do not eat snow fleas - unless by accident
And of course from Wiki – “Researchers at Queen's University (Canada) have sequenced and synthesised the anti-freeze-like protein that allows snow fleas to operate in sub-zero environments,[2] and found it to be glycine-rich, and unlike any previously known protein. There are hopes that similar proteins may be useful for storing transplant organs and for producing better ice cream. [3] By preventing the formation of ice crystals in tissues, organs could be stored at lower temperatures, increasing the time of their viability outside a living body. Unlike proteins with similar functions in other species, the protein found in snow fleas breaks down easily at higher temperatures.”[
been nice to see the raccoon highways
once again


And finally back to Gwen Person from Wired - “Here’s what some People may not realize it, but Snow Fleas, and all springtails, are very important. They are decomposers, and help break down old dead plant matter and other items in the soil. After the springtails are done with them, plants can pull the nutrients back from the soil and use them to grow. Then, people and other animals can use the plants. Springtails are an important part of nature's cycle”.

Of course, we all knew how important snow fleas are simply because of their aesthetic value and cuteness. Good to see snow fleas again! The platform trail in the Basin is another great spot to find them!


dead saw-whet

Great Horned Owl – when visiting veterinarians Melissa and Allison were taking star photos from the yard the other night they heard a Great Horned Owl hooting it up on Greens

feathers and owl spraint

(3/19) Lane’s – on a quick snowshoe on Lane’s I found some Saw-whet Owl feathers that had been ripped out of a Saw-whet owl (makes sense) presumably by a Great Horned, but maybe a Long-eared could have done it I guess. Either way it’s one less Saw-whet to worry about....

owl scat looks like this
they don't lift their tails, so the
scat comes straight down

part of a frozen and thawed pellet
Long Cove - well, last year's nest may have fallen, but that hasn't kept the Great Horneds away from the area! I found this owl scat under the same tree where I had found owl scat and pellets last year. i checked out a tree that had more pellets under it than any other tree last year, and sure enough there was a pellet waiting for me!
Brimstone in snow

Boat Ride(3/19) on the Skua –Capt. John Drury was kind enough to take me for a spin around the Whites (islands not Heather and Adam) and over to Brimstone.

great cormorants on the rocks

looking good and ready to go
Highlights included - Great Cormorants, Harlequin Ducks, Purple Sandpipers, Horned Grebe, and of course – otter trails and sign from the boat! Thanks John for the ride and for sharing some photos!
Harlequins on the move





horned grebe
photo by John Drury
purple sandpipers
photo by John Drury


Mink - So it’s about the time of the year where we talk estrus again.

So what is estrus?  Definitions thanks to Merriam Webster


Estrus – noun - regularly recurrent state of sexual excitability during which the female of most mammals will accept the male and is capable of conceiving:  heat; also:  a single occurrence of this state,

a little estrus in your bound

And their “student definition” - a periodic state during which the female of most mammals is willing to mate with the male and is capable of becoming pregnant

Since there has been snow – which has been for a while now – we have been posting about what a great year it has been for Mink out here, and now the year is apparently getting even greater! I was tracking a pair of mink out on Lane’s (3/17) who appeared (from their tracks) to be getting along from the way their trails were crossing and interacting (interacting trails? Whatever). Then I came upon this scene.



From the looks of it one of the mink – assumed to be the female – let out a spraintload of red liquid –assumed to be blood – in mid run. The mink didn’t break stride as the gush flowed for a few bounds, eventually bleeding into some of its own tracks.


Now, back in March 2005 – the 15th I believe – I found a similar scene out on lane’s – lots of mink trails and rolls with spots of blood sprinkled throughout. This year’s female looks to be even more “good to go” than the 2005 female as this was no sprinkling of blood, but a splashing.
can you hear the "sploosh" sound
of estrus being released


I did a something search on “mink estrus photos” was pleased to see the VSR as one of the first links, but the photos in general should little estrus and more mink trails. I did not do a something search on “what does mink estrus sound like” but I would have to assume (lot of assuming here) that it sounds a little like “sploosh”. I should have sniffed it, but I didn’t want to be tricked into pursuing the female – I am a male whether other males accept me in their clan or not.


Anyway – what a cool scene to find. I bet they are “shagging like mink” out there as we speak!


nice tail

Otters – and no winter VSR would be complete without some otter stuff.


Crockett River Road – Adam White and Jamus Drury spotted some otters slides where freshwater flows into the cove – very cool!


Norton’s Point – Oscar looks to have gotten over his grumpiness at getting his photo taken, and tuned up at this one latrine 3 times in a week. Rolling and tumbling, Oscar was marking up a storm!

Oscar rolling

heading up stream
Basin to Vinal Cove – one of my favorite lessons I have learned on Vinalhaven is that otters run across the island. The first cross island trail that I observed was the “Basin-Long Pond-thru the woods – Folly pond shoreline- to Vinal Cove” otter runs from 2008. I hadn’t crossed paths with this route being used pretty much since, but an otter made that run on the 18th, and I was fortunate enough to be in the area on the 19th for some fun tracking!
crossing long pond

The otter came out of the Basin by the Long Pond outflow – the cross island runs I have come across have all have freshwater drainages as the starting and ending places. It (he most likely) worked its way up the stream – under ice and snow – until it got to the pond. There it bounded and slid its way along the entire length of the pond, and then booked it thru the woods!

letter "j" or a quarter note?
the yellow in the trail is peeing
and the phat part is rolling


Up, up, up – why would an otter head up and over the highest point around instead of going along the lower (though longer) and somewhat easier to traverse valley system that could also take him to Folly Pond? Maybe less time out of the water means less time for predators to snag – but really – who is getting an otter out here? I doubt even a Great Horned would be silly enough to go after them. Survival instinct.  Yeah sure.

otter thru the woods

Or maybe he wanted to get the longest slide he could get? That was what I was going with – unfortunately he took such a zig zaggy route down there was hardly room to belly slide much. He actually was sliding just as much on the flat frozen lake!

heading down the hill -
about the biggest slides in the woods

So I have come to the conclusion that it is simply the way he goes. The otter in 2008 was possibly another otter – they don’t live too too long - but it took the same route. And that’s why we love otters – they are creatures of habit and that makes them easy!


and finally down to folly pond

Anyway – there you have it and enough already! Hope you enjoyed and hope to see you out there!

here's a few of Leif in Howe Caverns - stalagmites that were allowed to be touched!

rock on everyone!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report –
March 8th, 2015

Brought to you in part by the kindly support of VLT and MCHT


Highlights – Glaucous Gull, Northern Pintail, great horned owls, woodpeckers, otters, mink, snow, other things…




callin' the shots
photo by Pat Lundholm
Standard -Send in your sightings! - Contact us (the royal “us”) with all your nature sightings and photos – don’t be stingy or competitive – there is no room for competition in nature observation!


So share – it will make you a better person and an angel will get some wings - preferably buffalo wings!

Anyway – – is the place to send your photos and stories. We’ll be nice to you – I promise.

Thanks for your patience - to Par Lundholm, you sent in this rockin' shot of a dominant raccoon out on Greens Island. With the little melt that has happened, raccoon trails and tracks are being found after being absent for most of February. Apparently Pat and Lucy had to walk off the trail for this guy.

bagged a "K" in otter slides.... 

Tiit trick – click on the photos

...and and "I" with the tunnel opening
the "sweet, sweet dot on the top"
kind of looks like an anchor

Business – Upcoming events – VLT/MCHT Woodcock Walk – April 5th, 7pm at Lane’s Island. Come and watch North America’s coolest avian flight display (no offense Snipes and Nighthawks) as male American Woodcocks fly in buzzy circles hundreds of feet into the air only to zig-zag, free fall back to earth and announce their landing with an authoritative “PEENT!”. We’ll meet in the parking lot. This is a low to non-active outing so dress appropriately.



Editor’s Note: End of February- this is the time of the year – 2/3rd (plus) of the way thru “winter” – when I get a little sentimental. The snow will melt (at some point) and take all of its stories with it. Winter transition to spring is the only seasonal flow that’s tricky for me. Bittersweet. I miss the snow already, and treat every snowshoe like it will be my last for the season and one will eventually will be (the last snowshoe of the season).  So with a heavy heart we look at the bright side thru “woodcock, salamander, and warbler colored” goggles. But we never move on. Really – what compares to a good belly slide? Looking forward to next winter! 


And on that note…the Basin looked pretty great after the month of snow (Feb).. Tides, snow and ledges working together like I have not seen before on island, but apparently happens somewhat frequently on the mainland. Or something like that. I like to think that aliens made these, or Incas….enjoy!




Kid’s Stuff – Thanks to the “Perspectives” crew of Susan and Deb (not Debbie) for having me over for an afternoon of tracking fun in the woods around the school with 10 3rd and 4th graders. For a trail we (the royal "we") meandered thru the woods around the school with snowshoes for a few days before. It was super fun and the timing was right for lots of snowshoe hare, red squirrel, and local cat.

Perspectives is a cool program Susan Raven runs thru the ARC, which is no longer sells coffee (pomegranate tea is where it’s at – judgment) but still does some successful stuff.

Lincoln is in there

bunch of kids having fun in the snow
Also, thanks to the 5th Graders for having me over for a tracking walk the other day. Good times with some recently active snowshoe hares in the fresh snow.




there's a phat grebe, in the bathroom
Sightings - Horned Grebe - Quick story – Chase Wadleigh came knocking the other night with saying his dad found a small seabird in the road. By the time I got over the Horned Grebe was resting comfortably in the bath tub and several minnows had been tossed in the tub, which the grebe apparently gobbled up immediately. This was obviously a good place for the grebe to be, better than the road as grebes can't walk (nice one grebes!). The plan was then to release the bird back into the wild after a pleasant night in the tub. There has been a lot of horned grebes out here for sure this winter.

horned grebe
photo by John Drury

Here’s some shots of a horned grebe that John Drury got in the harbor area. Amy and I spotted a Horned Grebe in the southern end of the reach (2/28) from the ferry. Could be that same grebe. Thanks Chase!    


Horned Grebe on the water
photo by John Drury

And thanks john. More from john in a little bit…

horned grebe in the air
photo by John Drury

trail to nowhere

“Darned good window bird” – “window sightings” are a category of observation that takes special note in my mind. This is not birds killed by your window – or stunned or whatever. This is more when you see something cool from your window.


“Be it from bathroom, bedroom, bkitchen, basement or below!” window sightings are always special. How about a coyote on Vinalhaven from your window? It’s happened. 



Anyway – Adam and Heather White watched a Great Horned Owl from their windows recently. By the way, you know you live somewhere cool when you get owl window sighting. Adam and Heather have been hearing the local  Great Horneds for years, often in the distance, and this was their first sighting. And from the window no less. Now that is cool.

Norton’s Point - (2/26) – I saw a great horned that agitated a few crows. I learned it’s really hard to sneak up on owls
in snowshoes.

the deer have been spending a lot of time at the shore.
who can blame them?
And so, this is the time for great horneds, conditions being what they are. Great horneds should be on eggs now, much like the bald eagle riding out snowstorms in the nest somewhere – you’ve seen the pictures – Colorado maybe? Unfortunately the nest found last spring in the Long Cove area has fallen down. Great Horneds don’t make their own nests, nor do they add to any nest they take over – crow, ravens, osprey, and ostrich. With no up keep, these are bound to fall apart sooner than later. Nests fall. It happens…


glaucous gull on ice
Carver’s Harbor – this Glaucous Gull was spotted towering within a group of herring gulls on the ice behind the store.  I think this was the first time I have seen one perched, or standing or whatever – first one not in flight! in other words and in flight - a big white gull, no black at the wingtips, larger than an Iceland gull. fun to see one relaxing


As Don Reimer always says … “With its light yellow eye (juvs have dark eyes), this guy looks like a second-winter glaucous. The huge size, flat crown and long sloping forehead (not to mention his under-sized primordial eye) and heavy dark-tipped bill all look good for glaucous.”

glacous gull, relaxin'

As Frank Zappa said “Thanks Don”.  Glaucous Gulls are seen yearly in Maine, and John often reports them from trips to seal in the "non-tropicbird" seasons. A "white-winged" gull, the Glaucous  is famous for not having black at the wing-tips. 


pintail on ice
Also seen on this frigid day – North Pintail. Which also was relaxing.


pintail on ice, relaxin'

Black ducks on ice-
Good winter to be a Mink - as mentioned in previous VSRs, the mink sign is numerous to more than numerous this winter, and recently I even got some rare otter cam photos of a local mink.

mink crossing - deep bounds
snowshoeing at mack's pond in the deep snow, it was me and a mink crossing.  with the mink working hard, bounding tough.
this is a triple bounce,
without the pounce

this one has the dip in it

this dip in the snow had the creek that feeds mack's pond underneath it.

one mink comes in from the right

but it was more than a dip - two mink made their way thru the dip.

the snowshoeing is great right now

riddle :why do mink hang out together?
answer: because spring is in the air...
I'm not a big fan of riddles. or the riddler.

please step away from the camera

just a mention - having the camera focused on otter latrines is a fun excuse for a snowshoe from home. and when the camera says 365 photos there is a level of anticipation on the way home, that maybe there are otter photos by the dozen captured on that memory card held within.

only to get 365 photos of this deer sniffing the camera, sniffin me!. ugh.


otter tunnels, spraint, slides and prints
hefty activity, den underneath
photo by John Drury

otters- den on greens! john drury has been tracking otters out on greens for many years now, and has wondered and now has confirmed an otter den out on "ma's point" across from the harbor opening and Norton's point.

the downhill slide
photo by John Drury

the uphill bound
photo by John Drury

While checking in on marking areas and land crossing John found signs of tunneling thru the snow  and we all know what that means....under the ice or into the ground (or both!).

 John also found slides and sign in reliable otter spots around Greens. 

That is one of our favorite things about tracking otters...they're habitual.   

otter stuff
Around the same time John was finding dens out on Greens, a single otter was being tracked on Norton's Point - once again directly across the way. With an historic latrine showing sign of use Feb 26th - 28th. Spraint, slides and prints presumedly from a single otter were found, but the otter did not trigger the cam. 

Oscar seems a little grouchy,
and a little too aware of the camera
The otter cam did get this one photo of the big otter (2/28), presumedly a male and not-so-presumedly not impressed with having his picture taken. this was a one second shot and then he turned and ran. do I smell that much? be honest.....or does the camera make a sound? I think we know the answer.

Anyway - I am calling him Oscar.  he is the first otter I have ever named

also . old harbor pond the return snowshoe from Mack's Pond (and the mink) turned up otter activity - slides, tunnels and possibly scent marking on trees. Looked to be made by the two otters that we have been tracking for much of the winter.

I saw no sign of spraint or much venturing, beyond the letters written and a loop to connect a network below the snow. Undoubtedly the tunnels led to under the ice where the fish wait so patiently.

could be a den, but maybe not. their other options around the pond might just be frozen at this point.

this was the first sign I have seen at this particular point, and was very lucky to find while bushwhacking back to the pond after wandering. And I picked up the letters "K" and "i"! what a day!  

and with the days there has been sledding, skiing, legos and friends.

photo by susan raven

see you out there!