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Snowy Owls By the Number; Mushrooms Make Their Own Weather By JAY MANN | Dec 05, 2013  Photo by: Jay Mann Owls View More... The snowy owls have returned to roost in Holgate, and they are some lo…

Snowy Owls By the Number; Mushrooms Make Their Own Weather

By JAY MANN | Dec 05, 2013
Photo by: Jay Mann

The snowy owls have returned to roost in Holgate, and they are some lookers. That’s one gorgeously appointed species of bird. I went kinda crazy videoing our super-sudden influx of Holgate owls. Check it out atwww.jaymanntoday.ning.com.

To my untrained eye, this current cruise of owls sure looks like the same birds that overwintered here a goodly number of years back. Can’t recall the year by number. I’m real bad on estimating time past. I watch these police shows where they ask, “Where were you three weeks ago, Friday, at 10 p.m.?” Just shoot me now.

But New Jersey Audubon’s Society’s Pete Dunne – the birdman of N.J., in the most positive way possible – shot down my return visitors theory. He explained that the arriving snowy owls – a species currently making an amazing showing in many coastal areas of the nation – are actually juveniles, both feeling their oats and also seeking territories of their own. They have also most likely been driven off better foraging grounds by larger, adult birds.

That territoriality thing reared up between the two close-quartered juvenile owls I saw at the Holgate Rip on Monday. In the short time I was there, the two kept taking turns bumping each other off perches, albeit in a low-belligerency manner. First, one would slowly glide up on the other, which would, as disinterestedly as possible, lift off its perch and fly maybe 50 yards away to re-light on a sandy high point. The arriver would steal the seemingly much-sought-after perch. Soon, though, the dislocated one would wing on back to its original haunt, returning the displacement favor. Despite the obvious territorial touchiness, there was no open hostility or audible hiss-fits – something truly enraged owls are very capable of displaying.

To perch, our snowy owls prefer higher mounds of sands, the skeletons of dead shrubberies, or patches of vegetation amid open, sandy stretches. They aren’t overly inclined to light upon living vegetation. Most likely, the color contrast of white on green isn’t a boon when sizing up the always-observant local menu. In the case of New Jersey, the menu could be as small as mice and as large as ducks, per Dunne. Snowy owls eat during the day, favoring early a.m.

If it’s food they want, they’ve come to a perfect venue to overwinter. Since Sandy, the mammal count in Holgate has itself erupted.

Now leaving tracks in the south-end wilderness area (and flying vicinity) are possums, raccoons, rabbits, meadow and pine voles, coastal rats, mice of many flavors (including deer, house, white-footed), and a few shrews thrown in for good measure. The bay sedges hold young otters and, I’m told, nutria.

Birds of various feathers – a proven favorite foodstuff of snowy owls – are always in buffet-quantity numbers on the south end.

Appearance-wise, adult snowy owls are the whitest. The younger ones have brown, gravelly markings, i.e. like the ones here now.

SO MANY, SO QUICKLY: So, why the owl incursion? “Every once in a while, snowy owls have a (population) eruption. We’re not sure why,” said Dunne, offering a possible connection between available forage and fledgling success during nesting.

Such population eruptions occur with regularity, he said, noting that smaller upsurges can come in fairly short order, as frequently as every four or five years. “Such eruptions really aren’t that unusual,” he said.

However, there are also Vesuvius-type population eruptions. The last blast of that magnitude took place back in the 1920s, when literally thousands of snowy owls inexplicably converged on Jersey – many to be blown out of the air for mounting or to supply feathers to trendy clothing manufacturers.

While the current rush of snowys isn’t of Mount St. Helens caliber, sightings are coming in hot and heavy across much of LBI, particularly the north end. This week’s SandPaper cover photo was taken in Barnegat Light.

The glamorous coloring and high-profile perchiness of snowy owls can make for quite a show.

“They’re extraordinary to see. They have sex appeal. It’s like having a National Geographic special right in your back yard,” said Dunne.

It’s the glowing appeal of the snowy owls that can lead to their being over-relished.

“People should be responsible not to get too close to them,” said Dunne. “You have to be responsible. Forcing them to fly causes them to use up energy.”

Since the first mere mention of snowy owls in Holgate, there has been a veritable gold rush of fervent watchers, gawkers and photogs. I agree this is a bona fide wonderful thing. It not only brings the miracles of birding into focus, but puts Holgate in a fine light. The more Holgate-aphiles there are, the more appreciated that last LBI natural wonder becomes – and the more folks willing to fight for its very existence. Oorah!

A MUSHROOM CLOUD OF GENIUS: When bandying about a term like sheer genius, mushrooms seldom spring to mind. Well, hide your pride and recognize that fungus, in their own funny little fungal way, might be outdoing humans. Take, for instance, the famed human foible intrinsic in the saying “Everybody talks about the weather but nobody does anything about it.”

Outside of some generally laughable efforts on our parts to seed clouds with silver iodine, we pretty much meekly take what the weather is dealing – though we’re not immune from running like hell to get out of its way. When it comes to mushrooms, it’s “Not so fast, Kimosabe.”

While sitting there still as tombstones – and looking pretty much dumb as manure – some mushrooms are actually straining like bodybuilders to cleverly push water vapor out of their flesh. No, they’re not simply sweating out the possibility of being added to a steaming miso soup with floating tofu chunks. They’re sweating bullets to, well, change the weather.

What they’re doing, technically, is so advanced that it took the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics in Pittsburgh, Pa., to mathematically ferret out what might be called the rationale.

In layman’s terms – rhymes with jaymann’s terms – those fungal-brained little buggers are making their own on-site weather. I kid you not.

Studies done on the heavily-dined-upon oyster and shitake mushrooms proved they loosed enough water vapor to cool the air around them, creating something known as a convective air current; nothing less than a mushroom-made wind – albeit it a teeny weeny, itsy bitsy … in other words, it’s not going to be used in any remake of “The Seven Year Itch.” (By the by, Monroe’s dress from that uplifting scene recently sold for $5 million.)

As small as it might seem, a mushroom-made upward air current is easily enough to carry off the mushrooms’ spores, which are teeny weeny, itsy bitsy …

By the way, that convection thing, when taken to huge levels, is the driving force behind everything from our land-and-sea breezes to the big-ball flow of planetary air currents, including the jet streams.

“Our research shows that these ‘machines’ … control their local environments, and create winds where there were none in nature,” lead scientist Professor Emilie Dressaire from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., was quoted as saying. “That’s pretty amazing, but fungi are ingenious engineers.”

There you have it. With a lot of sweat, mushrooms have gone from being dubbed “dumb as dirt” to being “ingenious engineers.”

Ergo, those of you who believe in reincarnation no longer have to fear going fungal in the next life. To practice for it, you might do some wind sprints followed by a steam room. The spore-making will come naturally.

HOLGATE HAPPENINGS: The snowy owl thing is so big it has overshadowed most other comings and goings down there. However, I do have to alert that there is now a kinda critical buggy passage problem at the far south tip.

Just north of the Rip area, a well-marked sand berm has formed along the front beach, where the waves break. This sand build-up has created low points toward the dunes. This is very similar to what has been happening in Ship Bottom. Higher tides over-wash the berm and fill in the low parts of the beach. The aftereffects, when the tides drop, are elongated ponds. There’s no driving through those.

These ponds are becoming more and more headache-ish, creating bypassing problems toward both the beach and the dunes.

While low tide offers relatively safe buggy passage toward the ocean side of the ponds, there are also these outpour gullies with some nasty cliffs.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSoc6Ai_Lbw&feature=youtu.be

I harp on this because Holgate buggying will not be dropping off (bad choice of expression), as it often does around now. The snowy owl birdwatchers could take off during the holidays. I’ve already had half a dozen communiqués asking the same thing: “If I come down, will I be able to see the owls?” These are unquestionably folks who otherwise had no intention of heading this way. Hey, stop by and see the Ship Bottom Christmas Parade this Saturday. I’ll be cohosting with Don Myers. Give me a wave on the podium. In fact, afterward you can just take my truck and drive down to Holgate. I’ll gas her up.

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Report from Hutch ...

Hi,

            Enclosed is this week’s fishing report for the Beach Haven Charter Fishing Association. It is pasted below and also attached as a file. If you have any questions, my cell phone number is 609-290-5942 and my e-mail address is jamesghutch1@aol.com

Thanks for your help,

Jim Hutchinson Sr.

 

            It is starting to look like the 2013 fishing season in Beach Haven waters for the captains of the Beach Haven Charter Fishing Association is coming to an end. After waiting for many weeks for the striped bass to arrive, a sudden drop in air and water temperatures put the brakes on what was a nice 2-week run on stripers. As a result most of the area captains are putting their boats away for the winter and thinking about the 2014 fishing season already.

            Captain John Lewis returned to chartering fulltime on the “Insatiable” this year after several years of splitting his time between chartering and running a boat for a private individual. Captain John declared this year as a decent one after Hurricane Sandy and a poor spring got things off to a slow start.

            Captain Lindsay Fuller is keeping the “June Bug” in Forked River for the first time this year after many years in North Carolina. Captain John Koegler has run the “Pop’s Pride up the Delaware River to a spot above Philadelphia close to his winter home where he can keep a close eye on the craft.

            Captain Fran Verdi had the “Francesca Marie” out fishing for stripers right to the point that they stopped biting completely. He says that he intends to have the “Francesca Marie” ready for the start of striper season in March, 2014.

            At this time the captains and crews of all of the boats of the Beach Haven Charter Association wish to wish everyone a healthy and enjoyable holiday season and great start to the New Year.        

Additional information on the association can be found at www.fishbeachhaven.com.

 

RUNDOWN: Welcome to the start of December and the end of the 2013 Long Beach Island Surf Fishing Classic. If you didn’t weigh in even one fish, don’t feel like the odd angler out. It was as odd a tourney as has ever been seen. I have resorted to blaming Sandy or global warming or too many blazing sunsets. That last one was my utterly last-gasp guess at why we had the worst fall bass fishing in more than 50 years.

Sure there is that decentish run of boat stripers we’ve been seeing of late, but that microburst of bass doesn’t come close to curing whatever the hell has ailed the stripering since September.

As to the possibility of there being a long-term fish problem out there, perish the thought – and just watch bassing and bluefishing detonate next fall.

Back to the Classic, congrats to the winners. They doubly earned their stripes after factoring in the solid slowness of all hooking. By next Classic, the turn-over of the leadership should be finalized, leaving the contest in the hands of shops, clubs and dedicated individuals.

FRIEND ME ON FB: Facebook, this fall, has been a thoroughly astounding source of angling data – and late-breaking news. Making FB hotter yet is the prevalence of photo evidence. Photos don’t lie – though they have been caught fibbing (Photoshop).

Hopefully some regular readers of this column will consider friending me.

No, this isn’t a veiled cry for help and companionship. I get plenty of that through my collection of fiery searcher beetles. I’m just suddenly finding all y’all are way more interesting than I first thought. No offense or anything.

Anyway, the best way to get to me is to write “Jay Mann” in the box at the very top of the FB homepage, where it says “Search for people, places, things.”

Caution: There is apparently more than one of me, so look for the one related to N.J. No, I am not the African-American Christian Scientist who likes smoking cheroots, though he’s more than welcome to friend me. 

CRETACEOUS BEACH FIND: I got an utterly weird beach-pickin’ find: a very nice pebble of clear amber. And I know amber, having been one of the prime (multiyear) diggers of the famed Cretaceous amber pit in Sayreville, N.J. I have also traveled far and wide digging this petrified sap. 

My nickel-sized beach find was minuscule compared to the volleyball-sized piece of amber found up near Monmouth Beach. That monster chunk of amber was found amid sand being dredged on the beach from a mile out. My piece was also likely a replenishment artifact.

I have yet to open a window to look inside my amber pebble. That’s a procedure where you sand and polish a section of an amber piece to look inside for what are technically called inclusions. They can be anything from vegetative matter to – the ultimate – insects.

The ultracool thing about most N.J. amber is its ancienticity. Hailing from the Cretaceous era, it is almost 92 million years old. It’s up there with the oldest amber on the planet.

The ultracoolness: N.J. amber holds biting insects containing the blood/DNA of dinosaurs. That’s for real, not like the insufferable anachronism seen in the movie “Jurassic Park,” in which actor scientists were tapping Dominican Republic amber for Jurassic dino-DNA.

The problem: So-called Dominican amber is 25 million years of age, tops. Dinosaurs had been extinct for nearly 50 million years. Ooops.

They should have filmed the DNA-extraction scene in Jersey. I would have gotten my Screen Actors’ Guild card.

I’ll report back if I find any cool inclusions in my amber pebble.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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