Archive for the ‘Guanaco’ Tag

Argentina part 6: the Strobel Plateau and Rio Gallegos – December 2014   Leave a comment

This is the sixth and final account of my recent trip to Argentina. It covers the journey north from El Califarte to the Strubel Plateau and the La Angostera Estancia and then south to Rio Gallegos.

From here Mark (the leader) and two of the participants travelled on to Tierra del Fuego for the optional extension, but as we had already been to Tierra del Fuego on previous tours, myself and two others flew back to Buenos Aires and then home.

Most of this account covers birds seen on the plateau and the estancia, but a few birds seen near Rio Gallagos are shown at the start.

IMG_3903 Rhea and chicks

Along the road to Rio Gallegos we came across this Lesser Rhea and chicks trying to get through the wire fence.

IMG_1264 guanaco stuck on fence

Earlier on, crossing the plateau, we had seen a number of dead Guanacos on the stock fences that flanked the road, animals that had got their limbs caught between the wires and had remained trapped until they died. This individual was still alive and Mark and our driver were able to release it, albeit with a large gash to one leg.

IMG_3915 poss Austral Canestero

In the Rio Gallegos area we connected with the range restricted Austral Canestero ….

IMG_3912 pos Austral Canastero

…. which showed off its wing pattern nicely.

IMG_3910 Flying Steamer Duck

There are four steamer ducks, the flightless Chubut further north, two further flightless species on Tierra del Fuego and the Falklands/Malvinas and this one the Flying Steamer Duck, even in this species older birds loose the ability to fly. Flightlessness may have led to cryptic speciation in this group and it has been suggested that there are several more species to be described.

IMG_3939 Rufous-chested Dotterel

Other birds in the Rio Gallegos area included this Rufous-chested Dotterel.

IMG_3665 plateau

A couple of days earlier we had left Califarte and headed northwards to the Strobel Plateau. This is a wild, windswept and treeless landscape crossed only by a few dirt roads.

IMG_1216 Trelew - Califarte flight crater lake

We were heading for a number of crater lakes, the breeding ground for the rapidly declining and critically endangered Hooded Grebe. Fifteen lakes are accessible from the tracks and we checked them all. This crater lake was photographed as we flew over the area when we descended into Califarte

IMG_1268 flamingos on plateau lake

Of the fifteen lakes, twelve were dry and two others covered in a green algal slime. This was the only one that held any birds and there were no Hooded Grebes. This bird was the reason I had come on this trip and now it seemed that there was every chance that I would be going home empty handed.

IMG_3670 Patagonian Tinamou

Well not quite empty handed because there were other good birds up on the plateau; this Patagonian Tinamou ….

IMG_3636 Least Seedsnipe

…. Least Seedsnipe ….

IMG_3650 Tawny-throated Dotterel

…. Tawny-throated Dotterel ….

IMG_3681 CV Tyrant

…. and Chocolate-vented Tyrant.

IMG_3701 Estancia

We were staying at this traditional estancia at the foot of the plateau. An adjacent marsh held lots of good birds including the seldom seen Austral Rail (which we only heard), but our main interest was a lake some 5km away where Hooded Grebes had been seen in the past.

IMG_3812 dawn

We visited the lake in the late afternoon and again at dusk (in case any birds had come into roost) but again drew a blank. It looked like the trip would have to be summarised as ‘it was a great trip but I missed the bird I had travelled all this way to see’.

IMG_3707 Magellanic Horned Owl

But there was plenty to see around the estancia, including this Magellanic (or Lesser) Horned Owl ….

IMG_3787 Upland Geese

…. flocks of Upland Geese ….

IMG_3739 Upland Goose

…. which wandered around with their goslings just outside where we were staying ….

IMG_3741 Upland Goose

…. Upland Goose is a sexually dimorphic species, this is the highly distinctive male.

IMG_3719 Chiloe Wigeon

Chiloe Wigeon were common ….

IMG_3803 Crested Ducks

…. and there were small numbers of Crested Duck.

IMG_3797 Corendera Pipit

Corendera Pipits perched on the posts but inspite of a lot of tramping about up to our knees in the marsh Austral Rail remained a ‘heard only’.

IMG_3773 Cinereous Harrier

A feature of this marsh was the wonderful views we had a nesting Cinereous Harriers. I don’t think I have ever had such close and prolonged views of an harrier species before, including our breeding Western Marsh Harriers at home.

IMG_3730 Cinereous Harrier

The male (photo above) and female (shown here) were seen just yards from the estancia and appeared to be defending their territory against another pair. We had repeated good views throughout the afternoon and early the next morning ….

IMG_3725 Cinereous Harrier

…. and I was even able to photograph a food pass.

IMG_3827 Black-faced Ibis

Black-faced Ibis were common and relatively tame.

IMG_3893 Hooded Grebes

Although it was in the wrong direction we opted to make a third visit to the lake. Our spirits were raised when we realised that there were far more birds there than at dusk last night. Several of us got onto two distant birds simultaneously but it was Mark who got he scope on them and announced ‘Hooded Grebes’. A wave of relief and delight passed through the group!

IMG_3885 Hooded Grebes

The distant birds slowly swam towards us and even did a bit of display. This species, which was only described in 1976, is declining rapidly due to the drying out its breeding lakes, being killed introduced mink, its food supply being taken by introduced trout and predatory Kelp Gulls colonising the area due to poor waste management of the increasing human population. It was incredibly exciting to see this extreamly rare bird which looks likely to go extinct within 50 years of its discovery.

It had been a wonderful trip, full of interesting birds and mammals and great scenery. As I had been to many of the sites we visited I wasn’t expecting very many life birds. In the end I added 23 to my list, we had a few misses but that was to be expected. I very much enjoyed traveling in southern Argentina and would certainly recommend it to other birders.

Argentina part 4 – The Valdez Peninsula and Punto Tombo   Leave a comment

This the fourth update from Argentina and covers our time on the Valdez peninsula and at Punto Tombo a short distance to the south.

IMG_2845 Whale watching - Copy

We arrived at Puerto Piramides on the Valdez peninsula mid afternoon on the 28th and straight away boarded a whale watching boat similar to this.

IMG_2814 Southern Right Whale - Copy

There are two large sheltered bays on the Valdez, both are calving and mating grounds for large numbers of Southern Right Whales (so called because being slow and floating when dead they were considered the right whales to hunt).  The whale watching boats only operate in the southern bay, the whales often approach the boats quite closely allowing great views.

IMG_2819 Southern Right Whale - Copy

We had at least four whales close to the boat including two calves and at about 25 were seen throughout the bay.

IMG_2821 Southern Right Whale - Copy

The head and upper jaw of the Southern Right Whales are covered with areas of thickened tissue known as callosities which are even present on the young calves.

IMG_2850 Mark & Jim on boat - Copy

We were on a boat with about 30 other tourists (thousands of tourists visit the Valdez each year to see the whales) our leader Mark and participant Jim climb to the lookout platform ….

IMG_2854 Mark Pearman

…. but the captain neglects to tell them that he was returning at speed so they have to hang on for their lives.

IMG_3059 Valdez

The following day we drive around the rugged coast of the Valdez.

IMG_3028 Valdez

Unfortunately the wind was very strong, at least F7 probably gusting to F8 and it was impossible to stand in the most exposed places let alone use binoculars or a scope.

IMG_2912 Elephant Seals

We were able to see this haul out of young Southern Elephant Seals on the south east corner of the island but it was so windy that we beat a hasty retreat.

IMG_3048 Puerto Tombo

We continued north but ……

IMG_3042 Valdez

…. conditions weren’t much better.

IMG_3051 Valdez

Again only a brief visit was made to this lookout ….

IMG_2960 Valdez

…. however we had more success at this sheltered bay. Good numbers of Elephant Seals and a few birds were seen here, however last year the tour watched a party of Orcas (Killer Whales) and one took a seal pub by beaching itself as seen on Attenborough documentaries- no such luck this year.

IMG_2954 Giant Petrel

There were a number of Southern Giant Petrels in the area, major scavengers, they can often be seen around seal colonies.

IMG_2948 Patagonian Yellow Finch

In spite of the vicious wind, this Patagonian Yellow Finch perched nicely in front of us

IMG_2908 Darwin's Rheas

A little inland we saw lots of Lesser (or Darwin’s) Rheas …..

IMG_3069 Mara

….and these Pacas, large hare-sized guinea pigs with white mini-skirts. Unfortunately I was unable to open the window of the bus by my seat and getting in and out was a nightmare due to the wind blowing the door out of your hands, so this photo and that of the rheas had to be taken through the glass.

IMG_3157 Punta Rasa

The following day we left the Valdez and drove south to Punto Tombo, a reserve near Trelew.

IMG_3142 Magellanic Penguins

Access through the colony is by means of a boardwalk, this allows the penguins to waddle underneath in places, so it is possible to get very good views without getting in their way …. well that’s the theory.

IMG_3167 Magellanic Penguins

Although there are a million penguins in this colony they are spread out over a huge area and not packed together like some of the Antarctic species.

IMG_3164 Magellanic Penguins

As Magellanic Penguins are hole nesters they have to nest at well spaced intervals.

IMG_3152 Magellanic Penguin

Yet another Magellanic Penguin.

IMG_3232 underwater penguins

You can even watch them swimming underwater.

IMG_3242 Chubut Steamer Duck

One of the prime targets in this area was the Chubut Steamer Duck, a flightless species known only from this small part of the Argentine coast.

IMG_3258 Chubut Steamer Duck

Note the yellow spur on the carpal joint of the (rather stubby) wing of this female.

IMG_3212 Brown Skua

A few Brown Skuas, close relative of our Bonxie, patrolled the penguin colony on the look out for unguarded eggs or chicks.

IMG_3187 Chimango Caracara

…. as did the ubiquitous Chimango Caracara.

IMG_3138 Sharp-billed Canastero

Other birds included Sharp-billed Canastero ….

IMG_3112 Patagonian Mockingbird

…. Patagonian Mockingbird ….

IMG_3195 Dolphin Gull

…. and the only Dolphin Gulls of the trip.

IMG_3102 Guanaco

Both the Valdez and the Porto Tombo area are strongholds of the Guanaco, the wild ancestor of the Llama.

IMG_1194 Guanaco

…. although usually wary, here they fed close to the paths ….

IMG_3266 Guanaco

…. and allowed close approach …..

IMG_3159 cavy

…. as did this tiny Southern Mountain Cavy (which was nowhere near the mountains) ….

IMG_3132 Hairy Armadillo

…. and this remarkable Larger Hairy Armadillo.

IMG_3297 flamingos

The day ended with a visit to a rather unsavoury water treatment (= sewage) works, where we had good views of thesse Chilean Flamingos along with a variety of other waterfowl.

IMG_3305 BN Swan

We stayed overnight in Trelew, the capital of this formerly Welsh speaking part of Argentina. Before going to the airport of our flight to the south we visted a lake in the city where we had good views of Black-necked Swans ….

IMG_3319 Silvery Grebes and Lake Duck

…. and this pair of Silvery Grebes and a Lake Duck.

IMG_3328 WT Grebe + chick

In typical grebe fashion, this White-tufted Grebe carries its chick on its back.