Brought to you by

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, December 19, 2019

Mack's Pond

Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report – November 22, 2019
December 19 2019

Brought to you with pleasure by MCHT and VLT

Blip it good.
Lane's Island



PSA – hey – its winter and the preserves on Vinalhaven are ready to be explored. Animal tracking and snowshoeing are the two activities most normal people get do after a snow, but regardless of whatever gets you out there, here’s a word of caution. At certain times each winter, puddles that have formed in trails freeze up and create slippery situations (for stretches). The ice is not constant for the winter (some winters it may feel like it) and any ice may come and go, or only be found in select locations.  Grippy, spikey shoe things that prevent slippage may come in handy, but usually just being ready for the ice and adjusting walking style can be enough to prevent a fall.  Just a heads up!


bay berry
Thanks of course to all those who have shared and continue to share sightings – natural and beyond – because sharing is what the VSR is all about. Send your photos, stories and emails to – its what the cool kids are doing!


New stuff –

Lane’s island – lots of bay berry….. and some winterberry – what a year for them! Yellow-rumped warblers were around. A quick visit after a morning snow.


Here’s something I wrote about winterberry for the St George Dragon last month….


With some tracking and winter photos mixed in…


Nature Bummin with Kirk Gentalen                                     November 11, 2019

The nature never stopped


By now you’re  aware that the St George Dragon Community Newsletter will cease its publicating-ways. Just a few issues left to treasure, we know! Decisions such as this are never made lightly and  the entire Nature Bummin’ staff wants to extend heartfelt thanks and appreciation to Julie and Betsy, the backbone of the Dragon. Their incredible dedication, efforts and logistical/nitty gritty/dirty work kept the dragon informational, fun and afloat all these years. The Dragon will be sorely missed and all of us here at Nature Bummin’ share in the sadness of losing such a wonderful community resource and learning tool that is/was “the Dragon” . In other words, we are “bummed” in the more traditional sense of the word. And so….  HEARTFELT THANKS! & APPRECITAION! What a great run, will be sorely missed!


And while the Dragon is stopping, “nature” itself will continue to chug along, hopefully and of course. And strolling right along it will be “Nature Bummin’” ! Maine Coast Heritage Trust (MCHT) will continue its support for the column and has offered to post current (and past) posts on their website. It’s an offer too good to pass up – thanks MCHT!


With that, after the December 18th issue of the Dragon , Nature Bummin’ will be moving to a new home - . We’ll keep pumping out the column every two weeks (roughly) as with the Dragon. And who knows, if a new incarnation of the Dragon (or something similar) develops on the peninsula we’ll be ready to jump back on! The nature will be there, that is for sure!


Now for something a little different…


It’s been an interesting stretch of weather this fall. Rains, winds and now snow(!) have been creating havoc for outdoor-work schedules (namely mine) and gave the St. George School students two of the warmest “snow” days I’ve ever heard of.


A silver lining that came with these weather events was the local deciduous trees – maples, oaks, birches, etc. – losing their leaves. Seemingly overnight, trees that had been loaded with yellows, reds and oranges (or what I like to call – equal parts yellow & red) quickly became bare, with fully exposed trunks (racy). These “dropping of the leaves” events made the world a little safer, however, as the “pretty” colors can be distracting to humans at times when they should be focused - like when driving. It’s also now a bit easier to scan he forest “canopy” for owls and other critters as things aren’t so cluttered up there (I know, what part of “canopy” do I not understand!). By the time the green leaves change color they’ve already served their photosynthetic purpose for tree right, so what’s the point? But the biggest bonus of this year’s dramatic leaf dropping has probably been the unveiling of the Winterberry.

lots of raccoon tracks in Seal Bay

Local Winterberry shrubs (Ilex verticillate) have spent most of 2019 quietly doing “natural things” - like growing and losing small (3 in.) leaves and blooming an impressive amount of tiny (.25 in) white flowers. Once surrounding trees and shrubs lost their leaves this fall it became close to impossible not to notice the loaded, red Winterberry shrubs lining 131 at stretches. It’s a “winterberry fall” - my favorite season to drive 131.

A shrub in the Holly family (Aquifoliaceae), Winterberry is creatively named for its bright red fruits and for the season into which said berries frequently remain on the plant. And while the Winterberry flowers are pollinated each spring, it’s not every year the shrubs are covered and almost screaming with red berries. There are winterberries every fall, but not every fall is a “winterberry fall”. We like winterberry falls.

with snow fleas

How many migrating songbirds and overwintering Corvids will tap into this fruity resource, fueling wings and life in an effort to sustain the never ending quest for nourishment? How many Raccoons will plop themselves in the middle of a shrub and eat every red berry they can reach? How many Winterberry seeds will be deposited, fertilized, and eventually fruitful themselves with the “help” of animals? How long will that red last before critters pick them clean? So many questions. Will be fun to get some answers, while driving safely of course.


Of course, Winterberries are not just on 131. Last Sunday I was on the Les Hyde Nature Trail by the library and school, sitting on a bench that overlooks the marsh. Winds were calm and the view was comforting as I sat there decked out in orange (a good habit for November). I was looking for anything perched but all I could see was the Winterberry shrubs across the water over by the beaver dam. Clear as day and all lit up red, from my perspective they were the story of the marsh as the sky started to darken at what felt like an obscenely early hour.


And it was the story until an oddly-shaped (judgment), non-duck critter was spotted swimming in the waters between the bench and the Winterberry. A swimming red fox with its fluffy tail pointed and almost entirely out of the water, what a sight. Never seen a fox swim before and I was glad I had been looking in that direction when it doggy-paddled by. It looked like a small reddish boat being pulled backwards. From one shade of red to another, or what I like to call “orange without the yellow”.


Before long (and before darkness) a muskrat swam through the scene as close to the bench as possible. With its thin, scaley tail mostly submerged, the muskrat offered a nice contrast in swimming form to the red fox, which had  exited the water in full view (racy). One view led to another, and pretty soon the story was the marsh itself. The focus and presentation kept changing, but the nature never stopped.

greens island otter latrines

Greens island report – (11/11) kestrel, sharp shinned hawk, 5 bluebirds, dark eyed junco, golden crowned kinglet, cedar waxwing.


Robins and Black-throated Blue Warbler stayed into late November


14 buffleheads up in the Tombs
wintermint ding dong.
you are what you eat
a couple of classic limited editions...
leif on the mic!
.... and some Leif. More to come shortly....

Monday, November 11, 2019

carvers harbor
Welcome to the Vinalhaven Sightings Report/Blip – November 11th 2019

Brought to you with pleasure by MCHT and VLT

Happy Veteran's Day. Thanks to all veterans for your service!
seal bay

Focus on: boat ride – gannets, black-legged kittiwake, Bonaparte’s gull, great cormorant, bufflehead, old-tail ducks, raven, bald eagles, common loons, and so much more!


PSA – You should be wearing orange when out in the woods these days – it is deer hunting time in Maine. It’s fire arm season (Nov 2-30) and muzzleloader/expanded archery extends the season until mid-December (Dec 14). Exciting times in the woods, for sure. Good idea to get in the habit of orange hats, jacket, vest, gloves, etc. just to announce your presence a little more.  Especially when close to deer habitat which is pretty much the entire island.

northern gannet narrowly missing turbines

There is no hunting statewide on Sundays and hunting is never allowed on the Lane’s Island Preserve. 


northern gannet narrowly missing Camden Hills

Thanks of course to all those who have shared and continue to share sightings – natural and beyond – because sharing is what the VSR is all about. Send your photos, stories and emails to – it’s what the cool kids are doing!


New stuff – 11/6 – 7am ferry ride.

adult northern gannet. so mature....

Now that it’s cooled down a bit (finally!) its perfect conditions for standing outside on the ferry and look at tweeters on the water and on the wing. My ride last Wednesday was eventful in many, many ways….


Northern Gannets were active, as they have been, close, far and all distances in-between.  


2nd year?
Largest seabird to be found in these parts, a couple different “flavors”/looks of this species were abound.


Full on adult Northern Gannets are white with black wing-tips with a cool tawny head.

appears to be with the dark back

Plus some second year gannets – black back with whitish


And youngsters – this year’s model of Gannets – were also around


Common Loons – starting to stack up, saw about 30 on that trip. Including this one that made no effort to get out of the way of the ferry! Neither dove, nor flew, just kind of stared, let the ferry wake crash and the water roll off its back. It was cool.

how many great cormorants can you count in this photo?

Great Cormorant – two actually were mixed in with a few Double-crested Cormorants on “Cormorant rock” (I may be the only one who calls it that) between Green Island and Leadbetter. Stood out from the DC’s by size and white at the base of their bills. The white was tricky to see as they were preening hard (Hard preening!) and busy. Not the best picture,

Bonaparte's gull. not a very good photo

Bonaparte’s Gulls – again, not the best photos, but 60 or so of these small gulls were spotted off the ferry on this ride. In the bay and in Hurricane Sound, Bonaparte’s Gulls often appear/behave more “tern-like” than “gullish”, breaking down barriers and stereotypes that these gulls have been fighting for generations. Fight the power Bonaparte’s!


black-leggwed kittiwake. not a very good photo
Black-legged Kittiwake – an even “worse” photo, but this was the only Black-legged Kittiwake I spotted mixed in with the Bonaparte’s (undoubtedly there were many more out there). Another gull that re-defines what gulls are “supposed” to be, we should be seeing many more of these classics from way up north as the season progresses….

nice user friendly raven


Common Raven – a pair of Ravens flew over the boat as we passed through the Reach. Like literally over the boat. Their feathers were pretty well worn, looking like they could use a little molt. That’s goes for most of my friends as well. Fun to see the detail of feathers as they sailed directly overhead!

bunch of buffleheads, way in there

Ducks – only the beginning, but maybe 10 Oldtail Ducks and 10 Buffleheads were spotted that ride. Buffleheads were in the Reach, and the Oldtails were out in the bay and in the Reach. More to come duck wise – tons more actually! Keep yer eyes peeled for ‘em! Or not, it’s up to you!

mountain ash berries pre-digested

Scats with a view, and views of scats
how many ash berries can you count in this scat?
sometimes you can tell that Mountain Ash berries are ripe by looking up at Mountain Ash trees.


closer look
Other times you can look at fresh Raccoon scat and pick out the berries (if you are into that). Actually, don’t pick at Raccoon scat or scat in general, at least not without a stick. For all the scat photos we post here it should be mentioned that we (the royal we) don’t touch scat ever. Pellets on the other hand, now that is a different story….
oak point latrine


Otter latrines – new one at Huber – oak point – makes you wonder why they don’t spraint there more often. It’s beautiful!

basin latrine. aka - skinny dippin' rock
not gross at all

And in the basin at a classic latrine – 12 years of observing otter spraint at this spot! How many years before 2007 was this active? Only the otters know….and they shouldn’t really since they live, what – 12 years in the wild? River otter sightings before the late 90’s were – from what I’ve been told – were rare to non-existent. So is this a second generation of otters to the island whose spraint I am taking photos of – or dare I ask if its poop from a third generation of Vinalhaven river otters? Who is asking and why is this important? Some questions just have no answers. Just because.

Tabitha & Stephen King's house

Couple of the family on a road trip to Bangor (comic books, coins, and Stephen King) and Mount Desert (Precipice trail and Bob and Sofia Delsandro!)   . Always fun to hit the road with these two!

precipice trail isn't scary enough so we
went when there was ice!
ice not seen in the photo
lots of rebar
quick way to the top of Champlain
with banana and shadow
choppin' wood
proud father and son at the King's!
photo by Amy Palmer

See you out there!