Friday, 27 December 2013

Don't cry for me, I'm in Argentina!

People say every long journey begins with just one small step. Mine was just a little step at 3am on 16th November, the alarm had woken me, (but woken was a loose term as I was so excited I hardly slept)! I showered, changed & I was ready for the off!
Mohammed picked me up on time & we sped away through the night to Dubai, for me to catch my flight to Buenos Aries. However, all was not well, as just  as I had checked in, I realised I didn't have my reading glasses! They must have fallen out as I dozed in the back seat. Luckily, I bought a pair in the airport. The thought of a 25 hour flight without being able to read filled me with dread, but catastrophe was averted. I boarded the flight & even though it was full, Emirates looked after me quite well.
We arrived in Rio de Janeiro in late afternoon. Beautiful light, but still hot & humid, not helped by no AC in the airport! 4 Magnificent Frigate birds soared over the bay as we landed & there were plenty of American Black Vultures spiralling over the land.

Male Magnificent Frigatebird - 
I didn't see anymore on this trip!

The very common American Black Vulture

After an hour we were on our way to Buenos Aries & arrived around 9pm. I crashed at the nearby Holiday Inn & was up at dawn for my flight to Ushuaia, arriving just after 1pm local time.

My first view of the Beagle channel!

Hotel Tolkeyen - a brilliant hotel in a brilliant setting!

The distant mountain range is in Chile!

Hotel Tolkeyen - showing the wonderful picture window
 in the restaurant. 
If you are a birder, one of the very best views ever!

The view from that window!

Looking from the hotel towards Ushuaia.

These two shots were taken only a few minutes apart!
The weather changes by the minute!

Just one view of the wonderful Beagle Channel.

Looking towards the city! What city?

Here is the city - the wonderfully eccentric Ushuaia.

Would you believe that this is the town centre?

Views of the town.

Rush hour!
As we prepared to land, there was some great scenery: the combination of snow capped mountains all around at sea level, with the Beagle Channel dissecting the view was amazing. Bags arrived & I caught a taxi to my hotel right on the shores of the Beagle Channel. This proved to be an inspired choice as the birding around the hotel was superb -13 new species in a few hours was pretty special! I walked the shores & then headed inland to work some small patches of coastal forest.

Male Upland Goose

And the different looking female!

Juvenile Southern Giant Petrel - 
found all along the channel, even on the edge of town.

The very common Southern Lapwing

The beautiful Ashy-headed Goose

One of the many Imperial Cormorants

Crested Duck

Chiloe Wigeon

Southern Giant Petrels patrolled the channel & I also recorded at least 3 Southern Fulmars. Imperial Cormorants were in good numbers with smaller number of Rock Cormorants as well. Black faced Ibis foraged on the pastures with plenty of Upland Geese & 2 Kelp Geese. Amazingly I found 2 Ashy-headed Geese as well. What a beautiful goose! Pairs of Flightless Steamer Ducks loafed offshore, with over 30 Crested Ducks & 4 Chiloe Wigeon. Overhead 2 Turkey Vultures; 2 Southern Caracaras & at least 8 Chimango Caracaras patrolled looking for easy meals.

Southern Caracara

Black-faced Ibis - common along the shores
 of the Beagle Channel.

Chimango Caracara

Adult Kelp Gull - this was to prove a 
constant companion throughout this trip.

Adult Dolphin Gull

Blackish Oystercatcher feeding on mussels.

Maganellic Oystercatcher - just look at those legs!

On the rocky shores were both Blackish & Maganellic Oystercatchers & plenty of Chilean Skuas kept the numerous Kelp & Dolphin Gulls wary. South American Terns were breeding on small islets in the channel.

Chilean Swallow - often feeding over the sea!
Many insects out there?

Austral Negrito

The very common Austral Thrush - 
found anywhere where there was tree cover.

Patagonian Sierra Finch - 
common, once you know the call.

Rufous-collared Sparrow

Passerines were in short supply, but plenty of Chilean Swallows were overhead. Austral Negritos hovered and chased each other over the pastures next to the shore. I then worked the small patches of forest: 4 White-crested Elaenias; 5+ Austral Thrushes; a superb male Patagonian Sierra Finch & plenty of Black-chinned Siskins flitted around. Rufous collared Sparrow was the commonest passerine & it was interesting to see a smattering of House Sparrows as well. A recent arrival?
I was now tired, so I retired to the bar for a great Argentinian steak & a couple of beers, all the while looking at the amazing vista outside.

The next day I was up early for my long awaited visit to Tierra del Fuego National Park. However, things didn't go entirely smoothly getting there at around 11am! I elected to go to Lago Roca, which was in stunning scenery, but surprisingly there were hordes of visitors! Spent a long time in the forest but with little reward. Thorn-tailed Rayadito being a star bird & thankfully one of the commonest.

Tierra del Fuego National Park
Lago Roca

Ancient forests abound!

Thorn-tailed Rayadito - a bit of a stunner!

Both Black-necked Swans & Great Grebes were on the lake/river. I then did a long hike along the coast, stunning scenery, but few birds.

Black-necked Swan - one of ten I saw today.

Had great views of a fox along the track.

Then I walked nearly all the way home to the hotel in deteriorating conditions. Had another great steak dinner with wonderful, local cab sav. Another great day awaits!

Looking back towards the city
 & the Beagle Channel.

Looking the other way inland 
towards the edge of the mountains.
The quick way up the mountain!

The top of the ski lift - this is where the little trek starts!

Looking back, towards the Beagle Channel.

The 19th dawned bright, sunny & not very windy, so a visit to the Marital Glacier was a must. Bought a ticket for the ski lift & then hiked up & up! 

You very quickly hike up out of the forest cover.

Looking over my shoulder on the hike up the hill.

White-bellied Seedsnipe terrain - unfortunately 
they were not at home on this day!

Andean Condor - yes, they really are immense!

Ochre-naped Ground Tyrant

Dark-faced Ground Tyrant

Buff-banded Cinclodes

Male Yellow-bridled Finch

A localised & low density species - 
one of the big prizes of the southern Andes.

Fantastic scenery, very few birds at this altitude, but every one was quality: Andean Condor sailed high overhead. Ochre-naped and Dark-faced Ground Tyrants put on a good show, as did a couple of Buff banded Cinclodes  (a recent split from Bar-winged). pride of place went to the superb Yellow-bridled Finch: I found 3 males and a female & took some nice shots. The rest of the time was spent looking in vain for the almost mythical White-bellied Seedsnipe. I spent a lot of time & effort over this bird, but after many hours had to admit defeat and return to the hotel. Meeting up with the other four Rockjumper clients tonight. 
Alan, Avril, Rigton & John all arrived on time & we enjoyed a lovely evening meal together, making plans for birding the next day.

The view from my window on the 19th!

 I rose early & drew back my curtains to reveal deep snow carpeting the entire landscape & we are at sea level in summer! Despite this little set back, we all went out birding together but just around the immediate vicinity of the hotel. 

Fellow Rockjumper Avril, 
with John in the background.

Conditions were getting a little challenging!

We moved a little inland into the woodland to try & get even a little bit of shelter & it seemed to work, birds were slowly racked up, Austral Parakeet being one of the best. We also obtained good views of a White-throated Treerunner & Dark-bellied Cinclodes. 

The most southerly Parakeet in the world?

The superb White-throated Treerunner

Dark-bellied Cinclodes - a really smart looking bird.

As the snow eased off a little, a quick look in the channel revealed both Flying & Flightless Steamer Ducks and at least 45 White-rumped Sandpipers were along the shoreline, with at least 3 Baird's Sandpipers.

Flying Steamer Duck

White-rumped sandpiper - it has travelled an awful
 long way to get down here!

We checked out of the hotel and hired two taxis to take us to the municipal rubbish dump, our target being White-throated Caracara, which we saw, but I failed to get any photographs of, due to an overzealous official gateman! We left & went into town, to rendezvous with all the other travellers who were to join us on our trip of a lifetime! 

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