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Monday, January 22, 2007

Is That Brand New? Is That a Smew???

I hankered for adventureFor more birds? Oh yeah, you bet’ chaSo I looked for big old thrills
to Sonora in them golden hills

Did I drive there for the view? 
Did I look for something new? 
Can you guess where I went too?
 I was hunting for the Smew!

Is a Smew a kind of tree? 
Can Smews make honey like a bee?
 Are Smews a thing you find for luck?
 Hell no you silly, a Smew’s a DUCK

Ok, enough Dr Seuss for today. Monday morning I was too hyped from birding over the weekend to sit still and having heard there was something exciting in the little gold country town of Soulsbyville, I decided take the 2 hour drive out there.

The drive was both scenic and historic – I had to pass through Angel’s Camp in Calaveras County; famous for Mark Twain and the celebrated jumping frog.
The Smew Drake The bird I was after is a small European diving duck called a Smew. This particular duck, if wild in origin most likely blew our way after getting lost on its annual flight in or out of Siberia. Cute little things male Smews are – looking rather like a ducky version of a Panda - white, with black eyes like they lost the fight and black patches where a Panda’s ears would be, and like Pandas they are Eurasian.



When at last I made it to the little Soulsbyville reservoir, it was obvious the duck was still present as evidenced by a happy row of birders, their spotting scopes at the ready. All were happy chatting as the Smew enjoyed having a lovely spot to perform some fancy diving while among his new mates, a group of Hooded Mergansers.
Being a tad randy, the Smew was oblivious to his admirers. His little crest was up and he bobbed his head back and forth reminding me of Richard Prior doing that ‘That’s right – I’m bad!’ thing from the movie Silver Streak. The Merganser hens paid Mr Smew no mind, reacting as if he were only some dirty old man ruining the sanctity of their afternoon. Perhaps that is why Mr Smew was not lost in the gold Country – perhaps he was only evading charges of being a known duck molester in his home land.


Birding circles and the Internet are abuzz with speculation as to whether this particular
Smew is an escapee from someone’s exotic duck farm or if he had managed flapping his eensie wings all the way from Siberia; in short, is the bird a zoo escapee or the genuine article?


Hooded Merganser Drake
The final decision on the Smew is now with the California Bird Records Committee - after careful study and probably a few beers - to either declare the little guy a countable wild-arse bird or an escapee, i.e., a pretender to the throne, a genuine rare 'vagrant' bird for California.In short - the Bristle-thighed Curlew is gone, long live the Smew.
Feel free to genuflect now.
Believe me, if the Smew is declared to be the real deal I will have to join my fellow birders who are driving to Soulsbyville from all over California and do some bad-arse head bobbing with my bad self because we’ll all have a new addition to our ABA area life lists.

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