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Jerry Vovcsko

First dunked a worm in Otsego Lake (upstate NY) some 68 years ago and began pursuing striped bass in Cape Cod waters 40 years ago. Pretty soon I should be able to get it right...maybe.

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December 14, 2013

Careful Where You Step

by Jerry Vovcsko

Hunting season in Massachusetts continues to bring out elements of the strange and bizarre behavior that makes a person ask: "Say what?"

Like the Marshfield family that may be facing criminal charges for allegedly threatening hunters in a no-hunting zone and using an air horn to scare away ducks. Police Chief Phil Tavares says the allegations have been referred to a clerk magistrate who will schedule a hearing to decide whether there is probable cause to charge the family members with hunter interference and threatening to commit a crime.

Chief Tavares said the three hunters had set up stands in an area in which hunting is not permitted, but which had not been posted as a no-hunting zone. (No hunting signs have since been put up.) He says the family members threatened the hunters with physical harm. Their names were not released because no charges have been filed.

Over on Nantucket Island, when Cam Dutton came home from work Wednesday, she discovered a bullet hole the size of a saucer through her second-story kitchen window on Barrett Farm Road and after looking around, found the shotgun slug lodged in the hallway ceiling three rooms away from the window. With only a few houses on Barrett Farm Road, the land in that area is often used by hunters. But even with a hunting club regularly renting land at the end of Barrett Farm Road, Dutton said she's never been worried about being shot, since she feels most of the hunters are responsible and keep 500 feet away from houses as required by law.

"The gun club people tend to be responsible but I suppose there are other cowboys walking around randomly shooting. The environmental police spent a lot of time trying to figure out the trajectory and calculating how it could have gotten that high, unless they were trying to shoot Santa's reindeer. I just would like to see more responsible hunting and see the more experienced hunters policing some of these cowboys that are out back," Dutton said.

The environmental police told Dutton her house was the first to be hit by a stray bullet this year, although such incidents are not uncommon, she said. Last year, a bullet went through someone's dining room window while they were home, and she believes that sooner or later someone will end up as the unintended target of a careless hunter.

Meanwhile, way south of us, scientists have been focusing on enormous herds of rhino-like animals that turned parts of what is now Argentina into pastures of dung, new fossils reveal. These giant herb eaters were dicynodonts, mammal-like reptiles that some say looked something like a cross between a rhinoceros and the demon dogs from "Ghostbusters." Argentine researchers have now found that these dicynodonts pooped in communal latrines, designated areas for depositing dung - guess you had to be careful where you stepped back in the day.

Lots of modern-day animals, including elephants, llamas and rhinos, poop in communal latrines. Scientists have even discovered fossilized hyena poop from several hundred thousand years ago that was deposited in communal latrines, but the behavior has not been found further back in the fossil record.

"This is the only case of megaherbivore latrine and it's the oldest found fossilized", said study researcher Lucas Fiorelli of the Centro Regional de Investigaciones Científicas y Transferencia Tecnológica in La Rioja, Argentina.

Fiorelli and his colleagues began excavating in northwest Argentina two years ago and quickly uncovered fossilized poop — known as coprolites — by the bucket load. These coprolites date back to the middle Triassic, 240 million years ago. In this era, small dinosaurs were just beginning to appear. In some areas, there were as many as 94 rounded fossil poops every 10 square feet (1 square meter). The coprolites varied in size from just about half an inch (1 centimeter) in diameter to more than a foot (35 cm) wide. Such variation in such a small area strongly suggested a herd of young and old animals living together, defecating communally.

In total, the researchers found eight separate latrine spots. Most of the coprolites were oval or spherical, with a few "sausagelike" outliers and a few shaped like cow patties. The only animal large enough to produce dung balls more than a foot in diameter in this region was Dinodontosaurus, a beaky, tusked bruiser that could weigh up to 6,600 pounds (3,000 kilograms). In comparison, a modern African female bush elephant weighs about 8,000 lbs. (3,600 kg).

Modern animals use communal latrines for communication — a big pile of dung can say anything from "dominant male lives here" to "fertile female nearby!" Communal defecation also prevents animals from spreading parasites, because they don't poop where they eat, Fiorelli said. It's not possible to know why Dinodontosaurus engaged in communal pooping, but the behavior could have served a similar purpose. Fiorelli and his colleagues have plans for more excavations in the region. They also plan to take a closer look at the Dinodontosaurus poop, which provides direct evidence of the kind of plants that were in the area 240 million years ago. My guess is they'll simply discover what many of us already know: poop happens.

The weather is having a dampening effect on local fishing efforts these days: too cold for comfort; not cold enough to form safe ice. Some ponds have started to form an ice slick but nowhere near what's needed to support an angler's weight. And now the weekend forecast is calling for snow turning so we probably won't know what we've got until early next week. What we do know, however, is that there has been plenty of trout showing up in recent catch reports, including rainbow, brook and brown varieties. Smallmouth bass have also been providing some action lately and yellow perch continue to show up locally in good numbers. While it's true that not many anglers set their sights on perch as a first-choice option, these small critters are tasty in the extreme when corn-flour-coated and fried up in bacon fat in a hot, cast iron skillet…calories be damned

Scargo Pond in Dennis may not get much mention when the talk turns to good trout locations, but this fifty acre pond with a maximum depth of forty-eight feet is stocked annually by the state environmental folks and harbors populations of brook, rainbow and brown trout. Because Scargo has a kind of "shelf" where shallow waters drop off into plus-twenty foot depths, it's a favorite of fly casters other wader-wearing anglers. In general Scargo Pond doesn't get the same fishing pressure that other, more popular, ponds receive but it's definitely worth a visit.

Depending on what the winter of 2013/2014 has in store for us, we may be transitioning over to ice fishing before long. Best to have a little patience on that score, though. It may be some time before solid ice cover becomes sufficiently weight-bearing to support those of us closing in on the 300 pound category. I'm among those packing on the calories. I tell my wife it won't be long before the NFL holds its annual draft and I hear the Patriots are in need of offensive linemen. Well, I've certainly been considered as offensive as the next guy, so I figure I've got a chance to go by maybe the third or fourth round. But in the meantime I guess I'll stay off the ice until it's a good four inches thick …and you should, too.

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