The Fish Story

Snowy Owls Act as Gateway Wildlife; Mind-Boggling Nights Beneath Sputnik 1

By JAY MANN | Dec 05, 2018
Photo by: Jay Mann

Last week, I got some fine ganders at much-beloved snowy owls, arriving here on wintery winds. I saw two of them down Holgate way, both females, which have more flecks of black on their snowy exterior. I shot some pics, though from a goodly distance. I don’t like to irk the newly arrived over-winterers. It’s best to let them settle in a bit – to get slowly acclimated to the fact they’re local famed. Folks swarm to see these gorgeous, Harry Pottered birds. And for good reason. They are lookers!

When it comes to local snowy owl presences, I’m of a sharing mind-set, unlike many birders who want snowy owl sites kept under don’t-tell wraps. Not me. The more snowy owl watchers, the merrier.

That said, when it comes to throngs of snowy owl watchers, I’ll be the first to admit the crush of human gawkers can get a bit invasive, though not to any great or damaging degree. If owls are truly miffed by hovering human numbers, they can nonchalantly fly off whenever and wherever they please, nary a feather overly ruffled.

As to the upside of their popularity, this species, by merely assuming a sit-and-look-white perch, can single-wingedly attract flocks of folks into the much-needed wildlife-preserving fold. Admittedly, a perched owl does squat when on a serious squat, short of statuesquely posing and occasionally swiveling its head 180 degrees or so. One year, when I was regularly driving first-time folks to see the Holgate snowys, I would eventually be asked, “Do they do anything?” I’d mildly smile and say, “Not really … now, those sandpipers, on the other hand.”

Even when being utterly admired, they’re really not being threatened by the adoring humans. My come-one/come-all thinking is sound. They bring legions of admirers into the nature-appreciation fold. The snowy owl irruption we had about a decade back caused an eruption of interest in all bird life. Loads of owl-amazed folks joined bird groups and other nature organizations. A given: The more nature-minded N.J. residents become, the greater the chances of garnering support for the preservation of our remaining natural areas.

It should be noted that the overall biomass of snowys is far from threatened or endangered. A recent head count indicates close to 300,000 members, though that number could be very modest considering the chore of hand-counting them in the tundra. Also, one good lemming year – lemming being the owls’ prime Arctic foodstuff – can spike the population upward by as much as 30 percent … in a single nesting pop. When hereabouts, overwintering snowy owls fall under the protective wing of the U.S. Migratory Bird Act, which mainly means you can’t shoot them, though during the above-mentioned irruption they were ignobly dispatched after too many had gathered near airports. It was mainly all those birders and photographers standing right on the runway.

There doesn’t seem to be squadrons of snowys heading our way this winter, though possibly enough of them to offer a wave of birdwatching thrills – and chills. For insights into general vicinities where they can be found on LBI, maybe check in at my fishlbi.com. By the by, as open as I am to sharing snowys, I don’t offer exact GPS coordinates to them. You’ll have to put in some healthy legwork and binocular-assisted look-abouts to home in on their sitting posts. You’ll thank me in the end. Winter beach walks are the best.

SNOWY TO ASHEN: This is where I feel compelled to go from snowy white to Boomer gray.

With the rapid graying of Jersey, as Baby Boomers fade into the fixed-income sunset, it has gotten fiercely tough to muster votes aimed toward local wilderness preservation. Failed open-spaces resolutions in recent elections have confirmed a saddening swing from a wilderness preservation mindset to pretty much self-preservation. It’s the old “keep my taxes down … at any cost” mentality – from the same people who once brought you Mother Earth and Save the Planet thinking.

I can freely take potshots at seniors since I’m now well within that wrinkled fold. I’ll even repeat a mantra I’m now proud to bandy about: I was never a hippie when I was younger, but I’ve somehow managed to become an old hippie.” Right on … and rock on.

DON’T TELL THE MOON!: With fishing so slow, I’m really getting spacey when it comes to vignettes for in here. In fact, I’d like to launch into a subject that’s out-there; astronomically fascinating. The closest to fishing it gets is the fact a longtime angling amigo is from Edison, N.J. Now, hold onto your visors for one seriously circuitous ride.

Last week, NASA announced plans to return to the moon, post haste – as in this coming year! Say what?! The warp-speed rush to lunar surface falls under a NASA-run venture called Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS). In fiscal essence, it’s a way NASA can target the moon without needing support from the president, who, it’s rumored, says the moon doesn’t really exist.

CLPS is predicated on future moon-surface landings being left in the hands – and bank accounts – of well-heeled American companies. At its recent moon announcement, NASA has invited nine highly hand-picked companies that it feels can financially fuel a moon-utilization effort. One of the carefully chosen companies is Orbit Beyond, located in Edison. Voila … el fishing connection.

According to solarsystem.nasa.gov, “These companies will be able to bid on delivering science and technology payloads for NASA, including payload integration and operations, launching from Earth and landing on the surface of the Moon. NASA expects to be one of many customers that will use these commercial landing services.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine added, “Today’s announcement marks tangible progress in America’s return to the Moon’s surface to stay. The innovation of America’s aerospace companies, wedded with our big goals in science and human exploration, are going to help us achieve amazing things on the Moon and feed forward to Mars.”

If you listen closely to this announcement – and once over that “Mars” part – there is no missing Bridenstine’s verbal emphasis on the word “stay.”  This moon-landing go ’round, we’re not talking about leaving a mere plaque reading: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon July 1969, A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.” The Earthling return to the moon will be loaded for lunar bear. Contributing companies will have any number of gadgets and gizmos to be placed on the moon’s highly-eligible surface.

Oh, I have no doubt there are a chorus of you chanting, “Don’t trash the moon!” Hell, that rounded rock can take tons of mankind droppings and never lose one ounce of its moonglow. Besides, it’s not like Coca-Cola plans to moon-plant some moon-wide advertisement, like a giant red retro bottle cap. No, it's Amazon eagerly eyeing the moon. In fact, thinking as an Amazon stockholder – one share – what a perfect place for the ultimate Amazon home-base headquarters, from whence to make deliveries around our world. Imagine using the “track your package” app and being updated that your “home laser tattoo remover” is currently “209,000 miles from Earth, traveling toward your address at 6,213.46 mph.” It would get to your door faster than ordering the same item from China, via Bangood.com.

SPUTNIK TERROR FLASHBACK: Onward and outward to something that will send many a trivial mind orbiting out of control. I place this insanely odd entry in here as both a form of un-fond personal remembrance and to alert younger minds that the world was once just as weird as it is now.

It’s 1957. Enter Sputnik 1, launched by the Soviet Union on Oct. 4. It’s a stunning space miracle; the first artificial Earth satellite. Even as a small child, I was drawn into its mystique, having just begun to read science fiction comic books. But it was Sputnik’s subtle terrorific effects on America as a nation that rattled me and my fellow kidlings, later to be known as Baby Boomers. We were the ripe recipients of horror stories regarding the invasive significance of the Sputnik 1 satellite, so close it could be seen at night, ominously glistening overhead.

I clearly recall being hand-led out into cold nights by my parents, to stand in the front yard looking heavenward for, as I recall being told, “a star that moved.” With nearby neighbors also scouring the overhead blackness, it was a weird neighborhood scene by my infantile thinking. And the dreaded moving star was occasionally seen, apparently. I recall Mr. Turazzi yelling out, “Look, there it is! Over there!” Despite my dad literally contorting and side-twisting my head upward in the direction of the seemingly-spotted satellite – and my mom with her nonstop “Can you see it!? Can you see it!?” – I still couldn’t see jack-s***. Oh, I said I did, fearing for the future of my neck. Even at 8 years of age, I recall thinking, “These people are all crazy.”

For you young’uns, I’m speaking of the first days of the modern space race, when the Sputnik1’s modest success was portrayed by our government as something so ominous that it surely indicated our most sworn enemy was already capable of raining down terror from far above. Not only was Sputnik so imposing it could be seen from Earth, it also sent forth an ungodly sound, said to be symbolic of its cruel and invasive intent. I later heard its sound on a recording. It was frickin’ eerie. (Go to YouTube and type in “Sputnik-1 Telemetry Signal.”)

For us kids, Sputnik’s sound was something straight from “outer space,” a term we erroneously used to describe this artificial satellite, which was barely a hop/skip/jump beyond our atmosphere. Despite its nearness, we were led to believe it was only a tad short of a Buck Rodger’s Martian spaceship.

Now, onto the insanely cool and trivial part.

With Cold War I long over, I can now legally expose, without fear of government men-in-black reprisal, that the whole Sputnik 1 scare was farcically propagandized. Imagine that? Propaganda during the Cold War. My fellow Boomers, are you ready for one of the most unfathomable factoids in modern history? Sputnik 1, that circling object of doom, was a whole 22 inches across! That’s the exact length of a football!

Adding another inch of comicality to this bigger-than-life enemy ball in the sky, it orbited for three weeks until … its batteries died. I kid you not. Bring on that pink rabbit.

Per recently-released documentation, the Soviets had encased Sputnik in a highly-reflective material simply to best reflect sunlight – solely for non-nefarious tracking purposes. In fact, former Soviet leaders openly admit that they were totally stunned that America and much of the world were so instantly terrified of what the Soviets saw as a highly-modest, 55-centimeter orbiting spaceball. Of course, they didn’t waste time tying into the terror aspect – as the U.S. raced to trump Sputnik 1 with Explorer 1, all 80 inches of it. “This can kick the stuffing out of your puny satellite!” … until the batteries run out.

Space race aside, as we are now commingling with Russians in the International Space Station, Sputnik 1 was immeasurably important, in a highly non-belligerent, non-propagandized way. All 22 inches of it would lead to men (and other stuff) reaching the moon. Paternally speaking, it is father to the 1,886 artificial satellites now orbiting the Earth. Then there’s the new push to the moon surface. Wow, can it get any farther away from fishing than the moon surface?

RUNDOWN: If you like tog and have a tough enough boat to handle bouncy seas while heading out to structure, you’re lovin’ angling life. Some of the blackfish takes have been extraordinary, with double-digit poundage on many a trophy tog. The number of keeper-sized tog have also been sweet.

Boat bassing is no longer bangingly big, though schoolie bass are occasionally overwhelming in numbers. Finding a keeper is tough. With many a boat now being yanked out for the season, it’s tougher getting a read on bass whereabouts. Any of you hardcore guys want to give me at least a general read on hooking, please email jmann99@hotmail.com.

Surf fishing remains horrid, not that many folks are even going the surfcasting route, with the 2018 LBI Surf Fishing Classic ending this weekend. As of 12/4, 39 bass have been weighed in by 686 entrants. For a 65-day event … well, you can do the fractional per-day striper-take math. Hey, I hear next fall is going to go gonzo on the surfcasting striper front. Just sayin’.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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