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Smew continues in San Joaquin County
Mon, 24 Jan 2000 17:40:24 -0800
From: John Luther

Hi all,

The adult male Smew was seen again today in San Joaquin County north of Tracy on Tracy Blvd from the bridge over Old River. Birders arrived at dawn (I arrived about 10 AM). We had not seen the bird by about 12:30, but the folks (owners?) working in Sam's Market agreed to take us into the private Wildlife Area about a quarter mile west of their market. Debi and Juan were very kind to do this and everyone going to look for the bird should thank them and purchase items in their market. They were excited to know that their market was already on the internet!! The Wildlife Area is a private club (not for hunting, but just family picnics and fishing), so please do not enter without permission.

Four or five birder cars followed Juan into the area after he unlocked the gate. The lead car spotted the Smew on the river almost immediately. Three or four of us got a quick look (from about 30 feet) before it flew east about 50 yards and landed on the river again. Others got a quick look and then it flew farther east towards the Tracy Blvd bridge over the river. We went back to the bridge and those that had stayed there under the bridge already had it in their scopes west of the bridge. After a few minutes it flew east again (this time over the bridge) and then landed in the spot of the river east of the bridge where the river turns south. This is the farthest east spot that you can see in the river. There is a large tree hanging out over the river from the south bank at this spot.

Until I left at about 1:40 PM the Smew was in view most of the time. It actively fed for awhile, preened some and occasionally would swim out of view to the south, but returned quickly into the area where we could see it from the north side of the bridge while standing in the small dirt (mud) parking area and while standing under the bridge. Others were still watching the Smew when I left. It was raining most of the time we were there so do not let that stop you from going to look for it. Please be sure to go into Sam's Market (there is parking in front of the market) to thank Juan and Debi and buy a few goodies.

John Luther, Oakland

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Mountain Plovers in Solano County
Mon, 24 Jan 2000 17:54:11 -0800
From: John Luther

Hi all,

After having the privilege of seeing the Smew at around noon today (see preceding message) I decided to continue north to look for the Mountain Plovers reported in Solano County. It was raining extremely hard all the way to the spot in Solano County on Robinson Road. I only saw about 50 Mountain Plovers, but they were scattered all over the green field and it was raining very hard so I am sure that there were many more as reported. I came from the south and east. To get to the spot from Rio Vista take Hwy 12 west to Azevedo Road (not well marked, just a regular city street sign so look carefully) and turn right (north). This ends at Canright Rd - turn left and then the road turns right to the north. Cross McCormack Rd (Canright now becomes dirt) until it ends at Flannery Rd and turn left and in a very short distance (the first road) turn right (north) on Robinson Rd. Go north until it turns left.Ê At this corner look in the northwest field for the Mountain Plovers or continue north instead of turning left and then look west of the road for the plovers. Have Fun!!

John Luther, Oakland

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Smew north of Tracy - more information
Wed, 26 Jan 2000 17:30:24 -0800
From: Don Lewis

Further to the reports of Bob Lutman and Terry Ronneberg today (copied below from another list) concerning the San Joaquin County Smew:

The group of birders under the Tracy Blvd bridge had grown to 11 by the time Bob Lutman reported he and Sharon's success. We went along to the "Wildlife Park", carefully parking on the paved road and walking in to the Park gate but were unable to obtain permission to enter the attractive property. We sent just one emissary (me) to talk to Gordon but his largess for the day had been exhausted. Then ensued a fruitless period of trying at the bridge and to the west. Finally, a canoe carrying two ladies arrived back at the bridge from the east, reporting having seen the bird at noon, along the south bank 200 to 300 yards east of the bridge, out of sight from the bridge. It had departed for parts unknown.

There are houses just south of the bridge on each side of the road. We obtained permission to walk the levee road and went east. At around 2 PM, 0.5 to 0.75 mile up(?)stream, we spotted the bird near the north bank by a pile of riprap about 200 yards ahead of us. Those of us in the lead waited for the others to catch up, getting perhaps 10 minutes of great viewing as the bird calmly swam up(?)river, preening and wing-lifting but not diving. As the last birders caught up (some had opted to return toward the bridge and were summoned back by radio), the bird swam out of sight around a bend to the east. We then walked towards it but it surprised us by being closer than we expected around the bend and flushing. It flew west, giving us a superb passing view, then circled and headed east past us. We don't know how far it went.

It's a tremendous bird in beautiful adult plumage. It looked healthy and skittish but didn't tell us where it came from.

We are not sure whether the permission given to walk the south levees will be renewable. It's essential to keep in the good graces of these kind people. Having radios (supplied by a group from Southern California) helped immensely. Be sure to take your scopes as you walk; you aren't likely to get very close. We couldn't tell which way the river was flowing; for purpose of this report, I assumed that it flows from east to west. Don't ignore the sparrows; one was a White-throated Sparrow.

Don Lewis
Lafayette, CA


Today started with the waking-up (in the Motel 6) remembering that an email-check last night said nobody had seen the Smew yesterday. But what are you gonna do? We didn't drive here just to turn around and go home. Besides, I'm beginning to build up a little internal patience for these situations.

I got information from the Sam's Market worker today (a fellow named Adam - Juan and Debi weren't there) that the caretaker (a fellow named Gordon, according to Adam) had let about five birders into the private area yesterday morning, but then the President had said "No More," when another "thirty" or so asked. This was all at two minutes past 7 AM, when Adam had opened the store.

But Adam had casually said to go ask Gordon, and see what he said.

I shared this information with Doug Aguillard, who had driven up from San Diego during the night, and another birder named Sam, from Hollister, but we all just kept watching the river from under the bridge, quietly wondering whether we could get into the private area. And whether the bird was even still here. The weather was clear and cool, and the tide was slowly making the river rise.

After a time, Sharon suggested that we drive along the five-mile road (according to Adam) by the river (west), and see if there was any public access (Adam had said that there might be). She and I did that (and had to go about 3(?) miles before we found any good, not no-trespassing-marked place to access the levee. No bird there), but I decided to stop in and check with Gordon during the return to the Sam's Market area.

I walked in and located Gordon on the private property, who told me that after yesterday, he had been given instructions from the Association president to let no more birders in. I told him of my wife's suggestion, that what they should do is just charge each person $5 or so, but then told him I'd respect his instructions, and thanked him anyway. As I turned and began walking back to the truck, he asked "How many of you are there?" I said two, not sure how many would be back at the bridge by now. He said ok, and I volunteered that we'd just walk in.

I went back to the truck, got Sharon and our gear, and we walked back onto the property. We decided that if we saw the bird and it flew, it would be better if it flew toward, rather than away from the bridge. So we stayed away from the river as we walked towards the far end of the island (away from the bridge). There is a point where the island narrows, and from about there, Sharon spotted the Smew, just before it dove, still farther to the right (west). She described the area, and I put the scope on it. He was down a long time - maybe 20 to 30 seconds, but then surfaced. We were about 50 yards away.

What an incredibly beautiful bird - white with contrasting black markings!

We watched a few minutes, then decided to try and get closer, but out of his sight. We went farther to the right side of the island, away from the main river, and continued in his direction, till we were beyond where we had spotted him. As we carefully made our way back over to the river, it became clear that he had moved, after a minute or so. We had not seen him fly, so concluded that he did fly, but it must have been very low on the river. But where? Toward the bridge, maybe?

Then Sharon spotted him again, about 60 yards in the wrong direction, past the farthest west end of the island. We set the scope up again, and watched him dive for maybe another ten minutes, but our first look had been closer.

But we were in a quandary. What was the best chance to get Doug and Sam onto the private property? And who knows how many more would be under the bridge by now.

We reviewed the choices: 1) leave and say nothing, then tell the group; 2) find Gordon and thank him, but say nothing more; 3) find Gordon, and ask if two more birders could get onto the island - that seemed short-sighted; 4) guessing that there would be more birders, ask if all the birders there at the time could get on, perhaps two at a time and on foot. The problem there is we didn't know how many there would be.

The problem with #3 and #4 was that he had every right to just say "No". Then where would that leave the remaining birders? Since I like deciding my own fate, we chose number 2, hoping to leave him in the best possible mood, so that the other birders could choose their own methods.

During our return to the car, we saw Gordon slowly driving around the gravel road on the island, and waited for him. "Did you see your bird?" he asked, very friendly and smiling. "We did. This might be only the second time one of these birds has been seen in California, " I said, passing on what Doug had told us earlier. "Thank you so much, for letting us look." He smiled, nodding, and continued driving.

We drove back to Sam's Market, and I went down to the area under the bridge. Now there were about 8 to 9 birders. I had drawn a map of the island, and the two places where we had seen the Smew, and gave it to Doug, I think. I tried to review everything we had seen and learned, so they would have all information possible.

They decided to go down in one group and ask for entry permission, and that's the end of our part of this story. Stay tuned for e-mails from Doug or others. I sure hope they got to see this fantastic bird.

And, well, I hope you get to see it too.

Good Birding,
Bob Lutman


Dear Birders,

On my way home from helping survey ducks at the Cosumnes River Preserve, I stopped by Old River where the Smew has been seen. To my knowledge, the Smew was not sighted yesterday, but today it was sighted by Chris Carter and several other women who were in a inflatable canoe at about noontime. Chris told me the bird was sighted east of the bridge and was very skittish.

That's the update for today.


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