Daily Fishing and Outdoor Report
Friday, January 16, 2015: There were three snowies in Holgate today: The persistent “regular” one still hanging around 14,000 feet; the white one, today hanging right at the bend in the vegetation as you start to turn west; and the final one, way up on the top of the high dunes.
OWLS PAST: I got word from a birder going to the Rip who saw a snowy owl right near the water. That reminded me of the first snowy owl I ever saw in Holgate, going back maybe eight years – long before last year’s irruption.
Below: Jim V. photo ... see https://exit63.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/lbi-snow-owl-list-off.jpg
I was driving along next to the water, heading to the Rip. There was a pretty steep cutaway along the beach. Almost to the Rip, I looked to my right and here’s this big-ass owl decoy – which was exactly what I (and numerous others) thought upon first seeing the dead-still owlish thing.
It took me a second to register the sight and I was past it before I afterthought, “Man, I gotta grab that decoy.”
I jumped out of my truck and nonchalantly walked back toward it ... when the thing turned its head toward me. I’m only 20 feet away.
My brain was unwilling to compute. Instead I thought, “Wow, it’s one of those mechanical decoys.” And there are such things.
It was actually upon making eye-to-eye contact that I stopped me in my tracks. That sunker's alive. Am I trippin here, or what?
That realization of liveness hiked its size up to just under that of a polar bear. Hey, up close and looming these are some big-ass birds. What's more, this one was at eye-level on a berm, staring daggers at me and seemingly fully unwilling to give up one grain of sandy ground. None of my training and survival manuals had addressed any such snowy owl confrontation scenarios.
I did me a stop-action reappraisal of the situation at hand. Had it opened its five-foot wingspan, I just might have taken flight -- straight into the ocean.
Don't go gettin' on me for beating a hasty retreat in a situation like that, check this out:
Anyway, through an instinctive human response mechanism commonly drawn upon when an animal suddenly comes on scene, I commenced with a bit of idle man-to-owl chatter. I kid you not.
“Hey there, big guy. Whadda you doin’ in these here parts?”
Not even a raised eyebrow on its part.
“I see. Well, I'll just be movin' on." I offered, as I backed away, smiling moronically.
Reaching my truck, I jumped in and drove off, fully thinking, “OK, was that just the weirdest thing ever, or what?"
by the by, I have a slew of other buggyists – Tony C. among them – who had the exact same driving-along near-water experience with that snowy.
That first Holgate snowy -- I have never read of another having been seen down there, going back over a century – simply preferred to perch on sandy high points right next to the water, even when faced with very nearby buggies. It eventually took to perching back in the vegetated area.
By the by, that very same owl specialized in eating smaller birds, which might explain its penchant for hanging near the wet sand, where sanderlings and such gather. I know it diet for a fact after opening a slew of its regurgitated pellets/boluses. All were filled with feathers and tiny bird parts.
Below is a video look at a piece of erosion now going on near the washover area of Holgate. It’s a weird look at soil/sand/vegetative layers from when the refuge was a maritime forest, i.e. recently. Weirdest looking of all are the thick sausage-like root systems of the phragmites australis. Those roots not only bit look a bamboo-like but are similarly hollow inside. They smell really weird when busted open and unadvisedly sniffed. If you’ve ever wondered why it’s so hard to kill Phragmites, the fairly wispy tall-grass portion we see on the surface belies the monstrous root system that lurks below. Freaky. (Lots of wind noise so turn down sound.)
(Very interesting read below)
SEAFOODNEWS.COM [New York Times] By Carl Zimmer - January 16, 2015 -
A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of causing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.
"We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event," said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.
But there is still time to avert catastrophe, Dr. McCauley and his colleagues also found. Compared with the continents, the oceans are mostly intact, still wild enough to bounce back to ecological health.
"We're lucky in many ways," said Malin L. Pinsky, a marine biologist at Rutgers University and another author of the new report. "The impacts are accelerating, but they're not so bad we can't reverse them."
Scientific assessments of the oceans' health are dogged by uncertainty: It's much harder for researchers to judge the well-being of a species living underwater, over thousands of miles, than to track the health of a species on land. And changes that scientists observe in particular ocean ecosystems may not reflect trends across the planet.
Dr. Pinsky, Dr. McCauley and their colleagues sought a clearer picture of the oceans' health by pulling together data from an enormous range of sources, from discoveries in the fossil record to statistics on modern container shipping, fish catches and seabed mining. While many of the findings already existed, they had never been juxtaposed in such a way.
A number of experts said the result was a remarkable synthesis, along with a nuanced and encouraging prognosis.
"I see this as a call for action to close the gap between conservation on land and in the sea," said Loren McClenachan of Colby College, who was not involved in the study.
There are clear signs already that humans are harming the oceans to a remarkable degree, the scientists found. Some ocean species are certainly overharvested, but even greater damage results from large-scale habitat loss, which is likely to accelerate as technology advances the human footprint, the scientists reported.
Coral reefs, for example, have declined by 40 percent worldwide, partly as a result of climate-change-driven warming.
Some fish are migrating to cooler waters already. Black sea bass, once most common off the coast of Virginia, have moved up to New Jersey. Less fortunate species may not be able to find new ranges. At the same time, carbon emissions are altering the chemistry of seawater, making it more acidic.
"If you cranked up the aquarium heater and dumped some acid in the water, your fish would not be very happy," Dr. Pinsky said. "In effect, that's what we're doing to the oceans."
Fragile ecosystems like mangroves are being replaced by fish farms, which are projected to provide most of the fish we consume within 20 years. Bottom trawlers scraping large nets across the sea floor have already affected 20 million square miles of ocean, turning parts of the continental shelf to rubble. Whales may no longer be widely hunted, the analysis noted, but they are now colliding more often as the number of container ships rises.
Mining operations, too, are poised to transform the ocean. Contracts for seabed mining now cover 460,000 square miles underwater, the researchers found, up from zero in 2000. Seabed mining has the potential to tear up unique ecosystems and introduce pollution into the deep sea.
The oceans are so vast that their ecosystems may seem impervious to change. But Dr. McClenachan warned that the fossil record shows that global disasters have wrecked the seas before. "Marine species are not immune to extinction on a large scale," she said.
Until now, the seas largely have been spared the carnage visited on terrestrial species, the new analysis also found.
The fossil record indicates that a number of large animal species became extinct as humans arrived on continents and islands. For example, the moa, a giant bird that once lived on New Zealand, was wiped out by arriving Polynesians in the 1300s, probably within a century.
But it was only after 1800, with the Industrial Revolution, that extinctions on land really accelerated.
Humans began to alter the habitat that wildlife depended on, wiping out forests for timber, plowing under prairie for farmland, and laying down roads and railroads across continents.
Species began going extinct at a much faster pace. Over the past five centuries, researchers have recorded 514 animal extinctions on land. But the authors of the new study found that documented extinctions are far rarer in the ocean.
Before 1500, a few species of seabirds are known to have vanished. Since then, scientists have documented only 15 ocean extinctions, including animals such as the Caribbean monk seal and the Steller's sea cow.
While these figures are likely underestimates, Dr. McCauley said that the difference was nonetheless revealing.
"Fundamentally, we're a terrestrial predator," he said. "It's hard for an ape to drive something in the ocean extinct."
Many marine species that have become extinct or are endangered depend on land — seabirds that nest on cliffs, for example, or sea turtles that lay eggs on beaches.
Still, there is time for humans to halt the damage, Dr. McCauley said, with effective programs limiting the exploitation of the oceans. The tiger may not be salvageable in the wild — but the tiger shark may well be, he said.
"There are a lot of tools we can use," he said. "We better pick them up and use them seriously."
Dr. McCauley and his colleagues argue that limiting the industrialization of the oceans to some regions could allow threatened species to recover in other ones. "I fervently believe that our best partner in saving the ocean is the ocean itself," said Stephen R. Palumbi of Stanford University, an author of the new study.
The scientists also argued that these reserves had to be designed with climate change in mind, so that species escaping high temperatures or low pH would be able to find refuge.
"It's creating a hopscotch pattern up and down the coasts to help these species adapt," Dr. Pinsky said.
Ultimately, Dr. Palumbi warned, slowing extinctions in the oceans will mean cutting back on carbon emissions, not just adapting to them.
"If by the end of the century we're not off the business-as-usual curve we are now, I honestly feel there's not much hope for normal ecosystems in the ocean," he said. "But in the meantime, we do have a chance to do what we can. We have a couple decades more than we thought we had, so let's please not waste it."