Seven miles out in Penobscot Bay (and a mere 90-minute ferry ride away), Vinalhaven is an island rich with nature and scenic beauty. With striking sunsets, soaring bald eagles, and lounging seals there is something around every corner for even the most casual observers. Since 2007, MCHT Steward Kirk Gentalen has been collecting and showcasing these observations on the Vinalhaven Sightings Report. Supported by MCHT and the Vinalhaven Land Trust, the Vinalhaven Sightings Report is a nature blog that is part sharing, part education, and a whole lot of fun. While Kirk serves as the editor and writer, the blog also benefits from numerous contributors who share their photos, videos, and anecdotes. The end result is an ongoing story that captures the changing natural world through the eyes of a community experiencing it throughout the year. Here are but a few of the highlights enjoyed by blog followers in 2014.
While braving a bitterly cold winter, Vinalhaven families saw firsthand how their animal neighbors found nourishment and survived in the frozen landscape. Photographers found a raccoon clamming in the mudflats, snow buntings gleaning seeds, owls listening for prey from treetop perches, and sea ducks foraging within the island's icy waters.
By spring, waves of songbirds arrived during their annual northern migration, as frogs, salamanders, and snakes emerged to embrace the warmer weather. For the sixth year in a row, island residents welcomed the arrival of the red-bellied tropicbird to nearby Seal Island and for the first time that anyone could remember, folks enjoyed the melodious call of the wood thrush.
In the heat of summer, as the forest floor came to life with carpets of wildflowers, outdoor enthusiasts scanned the forest for broad-winged hawks on the hunt and discovered common yellowthroat fledglings leaving their cozy nest. During the dog days of August, picnickers flocked to the shore to partake of refreshing sea breezes and prime viewing of sandpipers, turnstones, and other southbound shorebirds.
Early autumn was once again prime time for Kirk and his son Leif to enjoy one of their favorite outdoor activities: uncovering and photographing Vinalhaven's wide variety of mushrooms, slime molds, and other fungi. As the days have slowly cooled and the nights grown longer, the blog has been populated with images of eagles, otters, and other critters preparing for the cold months ahead.
"Everybody has a nature story to share out here, the more people involved the better," Kirk noted recently. "And with over 16,000 hits so far this year, this nature blog on an island with 1200 residents has found its niche as a resource for those who live here and beyond."