Argentina part 5: El Califarte and the Glacier National Park – December 2014   Leave a comment

This is the fifth installment of my Argentina saga and covers the area around El Califarte and the Glacier National Park.

IMG_1209 Trelew - Califarte flight

From Trelew we caught a flight to El Califarte in the far south-west of Patagonia. It was a bumpy ride as we descended through the cloud ….

IMG_1219 Trelew - Califarte flight

…. but the views as we came into land were spectacular.

IMG_3354 Califarte

Near to El Califarte is Largo Argentino. There was a bitterly cold gale blowing as we battled our way along the shore looking for the rare and enigmatic Magellanic Plover.


It took about an hour battling into the wind before we found a pair of Magellanic Plovers, a species so unlike all other waders that it is put into its own family. I had a camera failure that day so had to take this picture from the Internet Bird Collection. Photo by R Lewis (no relation).

IMG_3373 Glacier NP

Later we drove up the hill where we had a commanding view of the lake, it was more sheltered here and we were able to get good views of Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, and a small rodent called a Tuco Tuco

IMG_3374 Glacier NP

The following day conditions had improved as we headed for the incredibly scenic Glacier National Park.

IMG_3355 BC Buzzard Eagle

On route we had good views this juvenile Black-chested Buzzard Eagle

IMG_3375 BF Ibis

…. and these Black-faced Ibis.

IMG_3368 Black-chinned Siskin

We saw our first Black-chinned Siskin on the edges of the forest.

IMG_3404 southern beech forest

As we approached the Andes the endless Patagonian steppe gave way to Southern Beech forest. These Nothofagus forests are very interesting as species in the same genus also occur in Australia and New Zealand and fossils have been found in Antarctica, showing that they were widespread when all those land masses were joined together as Gondwanaland.

IMG_3383 Chilean Eleania

Chilean Eleanias, with their erectile white crests, were quite common ….

IMG_3598 WT Treerunner

…. but we only saw a pair of White-throated Treerunners, a funarid restricted to the southern beech forests.

IMG_3495 Magellanic Woodpecker

However the highlight of these cool temperate forests was the pair of Magellanic Woodpeckers, one of the largest woodpeckers in the world. This male showed rather briefly but ….

IMG_3507 Magellanic Woodpecker

…. but the equally enormous female hung upside down on this bough for some time, allowing great views.

IMG_3461 marsh

The area around a small and largely overgrown marsh was quite productive with Magellanic Tapaculo (a life bird for me)

IMG_3471Plumbeous Rail

…. Plumbeous Rail ….

IMG_3585 Spectacled Duck

…. and the rare Spectacled (or Bronze-winged) Duck.

IMG_3475 Glacier NP

Good as the birding was it was the scenery that stole the day.

IMG_3456 Glacier NP

From a viewpoint some miles away you get a fantastic view of the Moreno Glacier as it spills down off the Patagonian Ice Sheet. Note the rainbow over the ice.

IMG_3454 Glacier NP

There were plenty of other tourists enjoying the view …..

IMG_3528 RCS

…. as was the inevitable Rufous-collared Sparrow.

IMG_3535 condor

Several Andean Condors were seen in the area, it is not very often that you get to see the upperparts of this high soaring bird.

IMG_3548 Glacier NP

Close up the Moreno Glacier is absolutely spectacular

IMG_3558 Glacier NP

The lake is V shaped with the glacier reaching into the lake at the apex of the V. Over a four-year cycle the glacier expands until it touches the land, cutting the lake in two. As rivers flow into the part of the lake visible in this photo the level of this part of this lake rises by up to 20m until the water pressure undermines the glacier and a tunnel is formed. This expands until a ice arch is all that remains, in time this collapses and the cycle starts all over again.

IMG_3559 Glacier NP

It was a warm day with temperatures in the mid-twenties, but a freezing cold katabatic wind blew off the glacier, so air  temperatures could soar just by stepping into a sheltered spot.

IMG_3572 Glacier NP

Where the ice is greatly compressed by the weight of the glacier beautiful blue colours are formed.

IMG_3574 Glacier NP

Chunks of ice were always falling off the glacier but as sound travels a lot slower than light, the ice had always fallen into the water by the time we heard the loud crack. We had just left the viewpoint when we heard a massive roar, a huge chunk of ice had fallen off as can be seen by the area of clear water in the photo above, but all we saw was a huge splash.

IMG_3541 Condor 3

One of the most memorable sights in the whole trip, indeed on any trip, was when this Condor flew in front of the glacier face.

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