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By Ian Thompson
SUISUN CITY - A week ago, the Suisun Marsh's many water fowls and raptors were just a pleasant part of thescenery during cruises along the Suisun Slough for the tour boat California Sunset.
That all changed a week ago, when a large white snowy owl - rarely found outside of the arctic tundra - was spottedon a group of pilings on the north side of Suisun Bay.
"It has been a pretty phenomenal few days," said Captain Dan Thiemann, who on Monday was preparing theCalifornia Sunset for a cruise to ride the high tide into Suisun Bay.
Birders from as far away as Arizona have made their way to Suisun City to see the snow owl.
Bird watching, particularly watching the snowy owl while it makes a temporary home here, has been good forbusiness. And since the landowner where the owl perched won't allow birdwatchers on his land, the only way to reach the owl is by boat.
There were only a half-dozen bird watchers - or birders - on the Thursday cruise that struck paydirt by spotting theowl. Chilly weather had also kept boat cruises light.
But by the time Thiemann's boat made it back to his berth in Suisun City last week, he had booked tours throughMonday. They've resulted in 40 to 50 people lining up to see the owl.
"We are novice bird watchers," said Thiemann of his small crew. "We are learning more and more each day."
That has included the obligatory stop at a large flock of swans who are habitually found at one pond on the voyage south and a ringside seat for a fight between a Short-Eared Owl and a Harrier that occurred on Sunday.
So far, the owl hasn't let any birders down and Thiemann hopes the bird will stick around a while.
"This has done a lot for Suisun, establishing it as not only a birder's paradise but also as an ecological paradise,"Thiemann said, "and you have to see it by boat."
Thiemann's trips cast off from the public boat dock once a day depending on when the tide is rising, since the waternear the area with the owl is only three to four feet deep.
For more information about the cruises and the California Sunset, call Thiemann at (916) 289-8375.