Let Spinning Dogs Do Their Duty; Shooting a Sneering Snowy Owl Mar 13, 2014

Let Spinning Dogs Do Their Duty; Shooting a Sneering Snowy Owl

Photo by: Jay Mann

MAGNETIC DUMPS: Ever wonder why a dog often does a spin or two before hunkerin’ down to do his business? Neither have I. But Czech scientist Hynek Burda just couldn’t let the matter lie – and that’s not just because of strict Czech pooper-scooper regulations. Truth be told, I don’t know if that nation has ultra-strict pooper-scooper laws. I’m just trying to comprehend why Burda made it his, uh, duty to study why dogs circle before dumping.

Turns out that Burda’s findings are downright freaky – maybe not Nobel material, but surely in contention for my Freakiness-of-the-Week Award. Ready for this? In a report published in Frontiers of Zoology, Burda turned some heads when he offered smoking-gun proof (it’s cold in the Czech Republic) that dogs, upon point of poopage, are methodically ascertaining a north-south magnetic axis. This is quite a scoop.

Some deep-seated primordial urge spurs dogs to faithfully perform their duties only when facing north or south, in alignment with the North Magnetic Pole or the South Magnetic Pole. East and west are apparently kinda crappy when it comes to proper pre-plop positioning.

In the same way a compass might have a bit of trouble finding magnetic north, a dog can seemingly have a helluva time getting its north/south dump bearings. That’s the famed preparatory circling. I, too, thought it was merely the seeking of just the right, cozy position. Nope. I wonder if anyone would understand a cartoon with a distressed dog, pressing its back legs tightly together, and holding a compass, all desperate-like. Hey, maybe in the Czech Republic.

GOT YA!: I captured a snowy owl over the weekend. He was trying his hardest to fly away but I nailed him, mid-flight – and was gifted with a nasty glare on his part. He’s now mine, forever.

Calm down, kiddies. I’m using the word “captured” in a photographic sense. It’s the in-word used by photographers to signify nailing a particular shot – which I did in this case. The pic is in this issue and a looker, to be sure.


For this single snowy owl shot, I got a fun response from folks who loved the heck out of how it displayed many snowy owl features, including wing feather patterns (this was a darker model snowy), the significant size of the raptor and an ability to facially express feelings, including “Screw you, buddy!”

Background: I spooked the large snowy from some grasses near the back cut at Holgate. Deep grass is a very unusual haunt for an owl. They greatly prefer the high ground where they can keep a cagey eye out for food and enemies, especially hawks, which razz the ever-lovin’ hell outta owls.

I didn’t check, but I’ll bet this owl-in-the-grass had been dining. Since its facial feathers weren’t bloodied, it might have been enjoying a tasty, one-swallow mouse – with which Holgate is crawling. When a snowy feasts upon one of its favorite foodstuffs, a black duck, its face ends up looking like something out of a B-grade vampire movie.

Anyway, as this owl burst out of the bush, very pheasant-like, I leveled my camera and took maybe a dozen rapid-fire shots at it. On later computer review, only one hit the eye-catching mark – a mark shared by a load of folks photographing the assorted snowy owls still a-visit here.

The wingspan and the facial expression of my owl – surely aimed at me – brought the shot to life. I clearly see annoyance in its glare, though some folks see a smile – or even a purposeful, model-like posing for the camera. That modeling is not impossible, considering the army of shooters targeting the Holgate owls.

Despite the seeming alacrity of my shooting, it was still just the luck of an amateur shooter. Though I shoot tons of photos and videos, I’m not even remotely in league with true photographers, of which our area has some of the best.

I bring this up to throw a well-deserved bone to pro photographers. Working with some of the best, I’m the first to separate pros from you-and-me folks, who occasionally grab astounding shots – through the luck of the draw or just happening to be on this or that scene at the right time. But such snapshotting does not a professional photographer make.

There’s a world of difference between clicking at a shoot-worthy scene, and being assigned to capture a demanded shot – or else. Professional photographers are often under the gun when shooting. An assigned shot is not an option. Failing at photographing a wedding could end with the shooter getting shot (mob weddings).


Looking at the SandPaper photogs, I can’t imagine having to take 5, 10, 15, even 20 different assigned shots – in less than a week, week in and week out. There is the arranging and scheduling of a shoot, the drive to find the shoot site, the meeting/greeting and showing of credentials – all this before the actual shooting job begins. Then, every assignment has different shooting demands, often far beyond what even the brainiest of self-adjusting cameras can comprehend. Add in the human factor, as photos demand a certain look and feel – and hell to pay if an image doesn’t shed just the right light upon a person or business.

And it’s still not finished there. Assignments shot, it’s back to base (office) to download sometimes hundreds of raw shots, in search of one or two top choices. Then, it further comes down to perfecting the chosen captures, via software, to meet editorial, aesthetic or advertiser demands.

All that labor for a quick glance at the finished product in print before a flood of new assignments arrives. It’s tiring just thinking about it.

I’m fully satisfied with being a fair-weather amateur shooter who, less often than not, nabs something that looks sorta special.

CLOSURE CLOSES IN: There are only a few weeks left until the Holgate refuge area shuts down for the so-called “summer bird closure.”

Piping plovers arrive. Check out Jim V's latest shots at: http://exit63.wordpress.com/

HAbove is just one of Jim's shots today.

Technically, it’s the summer human closure – done by humans to keep humans out. The birds really don’t enter into it, closure-wise.

The birds do enter into the bird-friendly environment of the Holgate Wilderness Area, though other, nastier birds and plover-cruel critters are more than willing to eat the hell outta whatever small birds are nesting thereabouts. But that’s just nature’s way of showing all is right with the world.

Here’s a new closure question for 2014: What happens if these snowy owls hang around and look upon arriving piping plovers as tasty truffles with feathers? Endangered versus enjoyed. I guess the refuge will cross that bird bridge come April.

Fox eating bird ...

Then there's ...

The refuge will also be faced with the high fox presence in Holgate. I’ve been doing a load of track reading and thereby know maybe half a dozen “reds” are out and about. However, that’s way fewer than just a few months back. I’m betting any red fox excess, territorially speaking, have moseyed into nearby human territories. Humanly habited parts of Holgate often offer damn-decent trashcan buffets. But unlike raccoons and possums, foxes have more of a hankerin’ for open wilderness. I’m betting that the last fall’s overflow of foxes was reduced when LBI-stranded adult foxes used the solid freeze-over of the bay to pussyfoot over to Little Egg’s sedge islands and, eventually, to the mainland.

And foxes have a reason to hotfoot it outta Dodge. As I’ve written before, the refuge has been forced to use chemical warfare to de-fox the Holgate Wilderness Area. The chemical weapon of choice for refuges is government-approved sodium cyanide dispensers.

Here’s an EPA read on that allowable usage. No children allowed beyond this point! Seriously.

“Sodium cyanide is a single dose poison used in the M-44 ejector device on pastures, range and forest land to control coyote, red fox, gray fox and wild dog populations that prey upon (or are likely to prey upon) livestock, poultry or endangered species, or that are vectors of communicable diseases.

“The sodium cyanide capsule is loaded into a capsule holder which is screwed onto the ejector mechanism of an M-44 device. The capsule holder is then treated with a scent formulated to attract canids. When an animal tugs at the capsule holder, a spring-driven plunger ejects the sodium cyanide capsule into its mouth. Sodium cyanide causes death by inhibiting enzyme reactions in mammals that prevent oxygen flow to the blood.”

I’m guessing it’s not overly good to have oxygen flow to the blood prevented.

From what I’ve seen and heard, it’s just as often feral and domestic cats that do a number on nesting plovers. No, the refuge doesn’t use oxygen flow to the blood prevention methods. It does trap the felonious felines. Hey, it’s a federal offense to kill endangered species. And if Fifi and friends lead the refuge back to their owners, those folks could find themselves in the doghouse with the EPA – which owns an inordinate amount of sodium cyanide, Just sayin’.

COOL KID: Well, this is a quick tale of an oddly science-eluding phenomenon that now falls under the name Mpemba Effect. That name is where the coolness begins. You gotta hear this story because it’s so, well, icy cool.

Back in 1961, a 7-year-old Tanzanian student named Erasto Mpemba was making ice cream with his classmates in Tanganyika. OK, don’t be interrupting me by wondering out loud why African 7-year-olds are routinely taught ice cream-making. I’m sure there is some compelling cultural reason – one that the American education system is obviously sorely unable or unwilling to acknowledge.

Anyway, during his beloved ice cream course, Erasto made a seemingly innocent, kid-level observation. Little could he have known that his observations would make his name go down in world history, within the realms of physics, molecular science and Zamboni driving.

During his classes, Erasto swore up and down that warmer ice cream mixes froze faster than cooler ones. This led to ridicule from not just his over-sugared classmates, but, of all people, his teacher. The boy’s seemingly silly assertion damn near got him kicked out of school. In the end, he was allowed to remain in school but was deprived of any and all access to the chocolate section of Neapolitan ice cream.

Despite the cruel punishment, the lad hung fast to his warm-freezes-faster conviction as he entered into Magamba Secondary (High) School. When there, he had a chance meeting with famed physics professor Denis G. Osborne from the University College in Dar Es Salaam. After an Osborne lecture, Mpemba boldly asked the physicist, “If you take two similar containers with equal volumes of water, one at 95°F and the other at 212°F and put them into a freezer, the one that started at 212°F freezes first. Why?”

All those within earshot, including the good Dr. Osborne, got an instant chuckle, while strolling off to eat some Neapolitan ice cream.

But, somewhere between vanilla and strawberry, Osborne began getting a bit haunted by Erasto’s cocky question. Somewhat larkishly, the physicist experimented with Mpemba’s theory and damned if it didn’t hold water. In fact, it continually played out under some serious scientific scrutiny. Just like that, a seemingly impetuous question got Erasto Mpemba an invite and scholarship to costly University College.

In nothing flat, Osborne and Mpemba coauthored papers regarding the complex, nearly confounding findings that warm fluids can sometimes freeze faster than colder ones. The two men offered repeatable experiments to the world. Critical peer reviews further confirmed what is now dubbed the Mpemba Effect.

Not that everyone was on board. When the Mpemba Effect went wild – viral in modern terms – detractors came out of the woodwork. Many were just plain jealous, a goodly number claiming that they had known of this effect for a long time. Some pointed out that Aristotle, Descartes and Francis Bacon had all previously referenced the phenomenon.

Confusing the issue, numerous researchers proved that the phenomenon was not always in effect. For example, water near the freezing point will always freeze faster than scalding hot water. But that variable has added fire to the effect’s fame. Half a century after 7-year-old Erasto’s ice cream-making epiphany, physicists around the world have not been able to explain what’s taking place when warmer water drops in temperature faster than cooler water.

Which brings us to our bay. Hey, it was one of my long-route approaches. Ice cream lover Jay Mann now physicishly asks if the Mpemba Effect works in reverse – or might that be, in fact, the Mann Effect? Will our frigid, 33-degree bay water actually warm up more quickly than if the bay had dropped to only, say, 45 degrees? I’m hot to prove this concept and have actually begun intensive experimenting.

Counterproductively, the instant I see ice cream starting to melt, I panic and – well, let’s just say I’m not getting any thinner trying to prove the Mann Effect.

WINTER FLOUNDERING: Here’s the latest on the no-closed-season winter flounder regulation, per JCAA President Paul Haertel: At the NJMFC meeting on 3/6/14 the council voted in favor of a winter flounder season that will extend from 3/1-12/31. However, the regulation has to be written, reviewed and then signed by the DEP Commissioner before it becomes law. The winter flounder season is currently scheduled to open on 3/23 and it is doubtful that the Commissioner will sign it before that date. However, if he does so, the NJBMF will promptly announce the earlier opening. The bag and size limits will remain the same, 2 fish at 12.

When the season kicks in, I’ll offer some bayside beaches, bulkheads and piers where you can fish for blackbacks, a.k.a. winter flounder.