Thursday, July 17, 2008: Waves: Caution: Midday is seeing a significant push in wave size, building to 3-5 feet with dangerous rips as long-period swells hit and then tons of water rips back out to sea. Water temps: Mid-60s but south winds could cause very rapid upwelling, dropping temps back into the 50s (hypothermia threat). Water clarity: Fair.
Surfcasting will continue to suffer from wave action – just as a very good kingfish bite was showing. Half 5-gallon bucket catches of kingfish were happening, mainly south end. Natural baits and fake-o baits are working.
Bayside and inlet fluking is fine. I’m getting mixed reports of keepers, with a few folks saying they’re not doing that badly. H.S. had five take-homes onboard, all 20-plus inches, using GULP! “sheets” cut into strips. By the by, the surf is loaded with fluke, especially near the jetties, often north side.
By the by, I had written in June that the fluke fishing pressure was way down this year. No more. The boys are now back in town, as serious boat launchings (public ramps) and marina berth-use action has led to busy waterways and major anglerizing. Hey, it’s summertime and the livin’ is queasy – whoops, make that easy. Odd note: There seems to be quite a few outbursts at marinas. Nope, not drunken sailors but actual fires. Along with some biggies (fire company material), a couple folks told of some close calls. Keep those extinguishers handy – and up-to-date. The “close calls” were all quelled with nearby extinguishers.
NATURE STUFF-AGE: Ahhhh, the soft sound of pattering upon the leaves in the Pinelands.
A passing shower? Dew dropping, early a.m.? Nope. Try a cloudburst of gypsy moth caterpillars excreting for all they’re worth.
I recently had a few outdoorsy folks tell me they are now regularly hearing that syncopated sound of seepage, as these destructive insects eat their weight in forest leaves – every fifteen minutes.
Last year, I wrote about that bizarre rain-sounding phenomenon and folks thought it was just the result of my crazed over consumption of energy drinks playing tricks on my hearing. Well, you of a doubting nature are invited to go eavesdropping beneath large oaks in infested areas of the Pines. Bring your tape recorders -- and an umbrella if caterpillar droppings aren’t part of your daily hair-softening regimen.
Note: If caterpillar droppings are, in fact, a regular part of your hair care regimen I’d sure like an exclusive interview. Stop by my office, post haste.
Scene 1: So, here I’m sitting in my office, air conditioning busted, bills staring at me from across my desk like hitmen when in sashays this incredible dame with the most gorgeous hair I’ve ever seen. Vavavavoom. Our eyes lock; hers vivid blue, mine red from energy drinks. My head cocks slightly, seeking the source of this odd pattering sound, as if a gentle rain were falling at her sexy 5-inch L.L. Bean stiletto heals.
“I’m the gal who uses caterpillar droppings to soften my hair,” she says, offering me a hint of a wink from one of those baby blues.
“If that was my only weakness, I’d be a happier man. Sit down, doll.”
I kick her a rolling chair from beside my desk. In a heartbeat, she lifts her leg and stops the chair in its tracks. Almost smiling, she glides onto it, offering a small waggle before finally sitting down. “I wrinkle easily,” she offers coyly.
I glance down at a spray bottle of Downy Wrinkle Release I keep under my desk and smirk to myself.
“And where do my caterpillars sit?” she asks, matter-of-factly, running long ring-less fingers through that sultry mane.
As I look around for a cardboard box I keep handy for just such emergencies, all I can think is, “The boys down at Mickey’s are never gonna believe this.”
(To be continued).
Closer to reality, the fight against gypsy moths is not going well. I therefore jump ahead to the potential eco-damage from these deforesters. Pondering same, some odd elements come into the picture. These are fully my read so don’t bank on them – just yet.
I’ll begin by noting that I’m a fanatic fan of fiery searchers.
“Say, what?” you say.
Well, fiery searchers are arguably our country’s most colorful beetles, and among the largest. Their iridescent metallic green wings are edged with a brilliant coppery metal color, also iridescent. Their legs are a glimmering, deep purple iridescence. When viewed from different angles, all those iridescent hues swirl and shift, occasionally going full rainbow.
Not as appealing to many folks, are the fiery searchers fierce jaws; giving the beetle’s face a look only Spielberg could fully appreciate.
I bring up these brilliant beetles because they are the also known as caterpillar hunters. You do not want to be caterpillar and accidentally mosey onto a card game worth of fiery searchers.
Enter millions of gypsy moth caterpillars and up shoots the population of these highly eco-important beetles. Not such a bad thing.
Another beetle genus of considerable benefit is the fairly-famed tiger beetle, family Cicindelidae.
Many beetle-admiring folks consider tiger beetles the best looking bugs in the nation. We of a fiery searcher ilk sometimes debate the point with them – often ending in friendly exchanges of full-auto assault rifle fire.
New Jersey has as many Cicindelidae species as any state in the nation. Like so many sacred Pinelands residents, these beetles have suffered from habitat loss. Their best hope for survival is to proliferate within the areas they still inhabit. Enter those despicable gypsy moth caterpillars.
Remember those fierce pinchers on the jaws of fiery searchers? Tiger beetles, gram for gram, could all but chew up searchers. No debate there (beside, I’m out of ammo). Tiger beetles have a jaw cutlery system so formidable that many vulnerable insects just keel over dead just seeing them. (Exaggeration). Anyway, Cicindelidae also dine royally on caterpillars – and, thereafter, reproduce like nobody’s business. Yet another up aspect of over-caterpillerization.
Passing beyond my personal insect infatuations, a great many rare and even endangered herptiles also go hog wild on caterpillars.
Everybody’s favorite herptile, the box turtle, can become so fixated on caterpillar dining that they have been known to abandon the safety of their usual nocturnal feed frame, coming out in the daylight, when caterpillars are most active. These sturdy, yet ecologically fragile, turtles also clean up at night when careless caterpillars fall out of trees – and thousands do so during over-infestations.
Toads and frogs also grow plump on caterpillars. A good thing since amphibians, worldwide, are among the most threatened creatures on the planet.
All that said, this is not to suggest our gypsy moth over-infestation is a good thing, lest the Prestigious Order of Caterpillar Haters of America members come after me with mace-laced Raid. I’m simply pointing out that nature, in the short run, often fattens up on imbalances wrought by mankind.
And the attack of the gypsy moths is surely manly in nature. They were introduced to America via a French scientist, Leopold Trouvelot, who imported them from Europe in an ill-advised experiment to cross breed this hearty European species with the wimpy local silk-spinning caterpillars of New England. He realized things wouldn’t work out when he put a boy gypsy moth caterpillar in with a girl silk-spinning caterpillar and all that came out was a bunch of wimpy bilingual New England caterpillars that couldn’t pronounce the word chowder.
As his interest in cross-breeding caterpillars waned – as often happens when anyone other than monks are do genetic experimenting – some of Leopold’s gypsy moths were loosed. That scientific faux pas led to worst threat to hardwoods in the nation.
Somewhat oddly, in the last decade the deleterious effects of the caterpillars have increased noticeably. Some geneticists believe it may be due to environmental strains on the hardwoods due to pollution. Whatever the cause of their population explosion, these moths and caterpillars are out there – and being none to quiet about their whereabouts.
BAYS ANS RAYS: Email: “Hey Jay. Was wading around the water in the bay beach at the end of 131st st. in Beach Haven Terrace and noticed a stingray swimming around, only a couple feet from my feet. I quickly scooped up my four-year-old and that ended our bay beach excursion. I've been living on the Barnegat Bay and fishing it for a long time and I've caught and seen plenty of skates but this was definitely not a skate. This was a stingray. … Have you ever seen a stingray in the bay? I know those cownose rays have been coming around but I thought they stayed out front.
Rays often enter the bay. In fact, bays are their specialty -- just ask down Chesapeake way, where they’d love to see the ravenous bottom-sucking over-feeding cow-nose rays become an ex-species.
In recent summers, schools comprised of over 100,000 rays have raked the Chesapeake Bay, literally eating every crustacean and shellfish they could crush – and each ray can crush a lot. As that bay tries to recover from a devastating loss of blue crabs, the last thing those baymen need to see are veritable clouds of rays vacuuming the bottom down to the bone.
I’m among those who believe the seeming population burst of cow-nose rays is due in large part to catastrophic collapse of most major shark species – due purely to mankind’s moronic shark fishing methods, including the totally repulsive act of “finning.” Sharks feast on rays. In fact, the remaining large nearshore sharks often stalk the cow-nosed ray schools as they move along the coast.
Cow-nose rays are currently out there in numbers heretofore unseen, even harkening back to olden times. I recall reading old fishing annals (back to the early 1800s) in which a single ray or two was written up due to their rarity.
Locally, the cow-nose rays have shown a major presence over the past decade, with a couple LBI beachfront in-water ray parades hosting thousands and thousands of stingrays, to the point they turned the water a light tan color because the fish were swimming so closely together. These swim-bys often caused a rolling fuss among bathers and lifeguards. A few summers back, I heard one likely over-energetic TV report that “millions of rays” were spotted along the Jersey Shore. Also noted, anecdotally and journalistically, were the sharks accompanying the rays.
When summering around LBI, cow-nose rays appear to hover along the beachline during the day, feeding on calico crabs. After dark, they often head in-bay, grinding away at tastier crustaceans, including blue claw crabs and assorted shrimp and such.
My guess is the ray you saw trapped had been among a major crowd of night cruising stingrays. It apparently got frisky – quite possibly smelling untapped bottom inside the fences – and either turned its body sideways to get through the fence slats or, more likely, burrowed under the fence. Why didn’t it just burrow back out? They’re plentiful, not intellectuals. Panic and short-term memory kept it behind bars.
Sidebar: Included among the cow-nose rays that enter bayside LBI are some mega-rays of undetermined species. At least that used to be the case.
As kids, my buddies and I would go out spotting at night. We’d get a fully charged car battery, float it inside a clamming inner tube and hook up a high-beam headlight. Though mainly looking for crabs, we’d always come cross rays of monumental size, primarily around the shallows on the south side of the Middle Grounds off Beach Haven. We’d find these mega-rays first spotting the odd color of their huge eyes (when beamed upon).
The rays we came across often had 8 –foot-plus wingspans. If you don’t believe that, just ask any old-time baymen about the width of those suckers. We called them boat-draggers, since every once and again an angler would hook one on heftier gear and the monster rays would easily drag the angler’s boat wherever it was headed in its escape. You could never hope to get one onboard but it was a blast doing battle with them.
Gospel truth: Our idea of fun was to jump on a huge ray’s back and have it take off like a bat outta hell, all but flipping us upside down in the water. We kids were plentiful, not intellectuals. How we never felt the wrath of a mega-ray’s spine was the result of dumb luck alone.
By the by, I have not heard of these monster rays being hooked or even seen in recent years. However, I recall that back in the day folks would say those huge rays were rarities but when we went out with spotlights we’d see a ton of ‘em. Maybe I’ll do some spotting this summer – using these new 3 million CP handheld rechargeable spotlight. In fact, I highly encourage folks to try night spotting in the bay. It’s a one-night crash course in marine biology. And check out those fully freaky clearworms (my word) that spin manically in the water column. Wear sneakers or reef walkers.