Print

Print


HELLO AGAIN TO ALL:  10Th Anniversary of Smew 

       A Stunning Birding Adventure:  First Sighting of a Smew in Missouri
                                                by Paul Bauer

Yes, I was also one of some 40 birders at Riverlands on Saturday,  January 13, 
2001.
We were there to view a confirmed sighting of a Barrow's Goldeneye Duck, seen 
on the previous day.  However, the involvement by an eight year-old girl in the 
chance 
discovery of a tiny Eurasian merganser-type duck, considered accidental  except 
in the
Aleutians, became one of those once-in-lifetime events  for everyone present.  
Certainly 
this sighting of the Smew, a new bird record for Missouri, was the high event 
for that day !
These memories attempt to share the excitement of this "Stunning Birding 
Adventure".

On the previous day, I believe Charlene Malone had reported sighting a male
Barrow's Goldeneye duck in the shallow west end of Ellis Bay at Riverlands. 
Along with 

many I charged up to see this bird, since it would be a new state bird for me.   
[ In June 
1974, I had seen them as a life bird in Yellowstone National Park.]  This 
Barrow's was 

easily found and identified by the odd shaped (not round) white patch on the 
head in 

front of, and below the eye.  

Now that I had seen this bird, and could count it for my Missouri life list, my 
efforts 

focused on trying to get a photograph.  [Today my priorities are completely 
reversed: 

get the photo first to document that unique instant, and at the same time you 
have also
seen the bird !  Now I call this thinking process "Photo-Birding", and it only 
possible with
the newest digital cameras, that have very rapid auto-focus and a viewfinder 
image 

quality almost as good as many binoculars, and most likely at a higher 
magnification ! ]     

This golden eye duck was too quick for me.  Repeatedly it would quickly surface, 
and in 

less than a few seconds it would dive, and later resurface in a new location.  
[My guess is 

that it was hyper-hungry since it was about 800 miles east of where it was 
expected.] With 

my cameras of that era, I could not find the bird, and manually focus the lens 
before it would 

dive.  Sadly, I must admit, I gave up my photo efforts that day; maybe the light 
got poor !.
But everyone there made plans to try again the next day, since many birders from 
across 

the state were known to be planning to visit Riverlands in the morning. 

On that Saturday, Jan. 13, 2001, a mob of birders assembled at Ellis Bay in 
Riverlands. At 

least 40 birders from four organizations were present.  Audubon groups from 
Kansas 

City, and Columbia, Missouri joined sizable groups of local birders representing 

St. Louis Audubon, and the Webster Groves Nature Study Society.  But the bird 
had 

moved !   Fortunately it was quickly re-found in the deeper water of the 
Mississippi River
about 200 yards below the Clark Bridge spanning the River to Alton, IL   There 
was a mad 

dash and a stampede of cars that descended on the limited road space below the 
bridge.
Everyone was frantic to set up their telescopes. All I could hear was slamming 
car doors 

and trunk lids.

Again the Barrow's Goldeneye was quickly found, and the tension to see the 
Barrow's  was
more relaxed.   Now the fun begins; this story is just starting, but the action 
is almost finished !
Near where I was standing at my scope, I overheard Anna Hendricks, an 8-year old 
girl,  ask 

one of those innocent questions that only a child would be brave enough to ask: 
What's the 

name of that little white duck out there ?  With my binoculars, I looked at 
where she was 

pointing and realized that I didn't know it's name.   Anna's father had brought 
her on several 

birding trips during the Fall, and I remember being impressed that Anna knew 
that it was a 

duck and not a gull.   

Instantly pandemonium's swept over the group.   I don't know his name, but a 
very tall man from the 

Kansas City group looked at the bird and clearly shouted without any hesitation: 
IT'S A SMEW !
Also I believe Mike Grant was credited with the initial species 
identification.   Checking our field 

guides, they were right; an adult male SMEW.  For me and I would guess for most 
people 

present this was a: New Life Bird; a new US-area bird; and a new Missouri and 
St. Louis area
bird.  No sooner had this thought crossed my mind, when I realized it might be 
an escaped bird
and it would not count for anything; just a minus-wow !  

Now the intense documentation started. Nearly everyone was taking photographs (I 
never did 

get photos of the Barrow's), and taking notes. After floating downstream, this 
little duck would 

fly back upstream almost to the bridge.  When this bird was flying,  the path 
was straight, and 

landings were well controlled (no clipped wings) , and no leg bands or damaged 
feathers were 

observed.   The consensus was that this bird was NOT a captive bird that had 
escaped from 

a private collection or gun club.  With several previous rare waterfowl we had 
gone down this 

sad path before.   Also the Mute Swan is an example of this issue.
  
Then I remembered the St. Louis Zoo.  Some years earlier Dick Anderson and I 
were involved 

in identifying an East African Superb Starling seen in nearby Godfry, IL (that 
had escaped from 

our zoo).   That evening I called Ron Goellner who was then the General Curator 
at the 

St. Louis Zoo.  Later Ron called me back to say that his helpers had confirmed 
to him that "all 

seven of their Smews were present and accounted for."  The last reported Smew 
sighting  was 

on March 5, 2001.  The documentation was submitted and accepted, and  "everyone 
lived happily 

ever after!"   Reliving this experience by sharing these memories, was also 
exciting for me.  

P.S.        When I was asked to add my detailed memories to this Smew 
discussion,  I didn't 

               want to use my time for this, and wondered why it was necessary.  
Now I can admit 

               that I really enjoyed reliving this unique adventure.          
Several side thoughts: 

               o  This could be easier to do with a tape recorder, and maybe 
more exciting with 

               voice and emotions added.  Also their would be no spelling or 
grammar issues.  

               o  Say,  this might really be fun with a small group sitting 
around a large fireplace.
               o A collection for some 20 or 30 similar experiences like this 
might excite beginners 

               to get a more intense interest in birding.   Is this a new 
project for someone ?

Now these thoughts may start another avalanche of comments and discussion on  
MOBIRDS.     

P.S.S.   Newsletter editors have my permission to use this material if they 
desire to: PEB.

Always Have Fun; Go Birding !   Paul Bauer;  St. Louis County, MO.


------------------------------------------------------------
The Audubon Society of Missouri's Wild Bird Discussion Forum
To unsubscribe or change subscription options:
https://po.missouri.edu/cgi-bin/wa?SUBED1=mobirds-l&A=1