Archive for the ‘Hooded Grebe’ 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 1- the Buenos Aires area – November 2014.   Leave a comment

I visited Argentina on a four week long BirdQuest trip in 1997, however the following year they added extra areas and divided the tour into two, one to the north and the other to the central and southern regions. Thus I would have to go back and do both tours if I was to get to see the majority of the birds of this fascinating and scenic country. One bird I particularly wanted to see was the beautiful, yet rare Hooded Grebe, in 1997 we visited the lake where it was first described in 1974 but it was only an occasional visitor to this lake and we dipped. Subsequent tours drove to the lakes on the remote plateau in southern Patagonia with considerable success but a recent article by the Neotropical Bird Club indicated that the species was now facing many problems and was heading for extinction. If I wanted to see it I need to go now! The account of the search for the Hooded Grebe will be posted later.

This post covers a pre-tour day in the capital plus a day with the group in the same area five days later.

IMG_1289 Buenos Aires

The international airport lies someway from the centre but at the end of the tour we returned from Patagonia to the domestic airport which is situated on the shore of the huge Rio de La Plata, close to the downtown high rise apartments.

IMG_1291 Buenos Aires

Buenos Aires is a very modern and prosperous city, however as can be seen from this aerial shot more basic accommodation exists sandwiched between the railway line and various freeways.

IMG_1287 Costenera Sur

Flying into the domestic terminal you get a very good view of the main birding site in Buenos Aires, Costanera Sur. Popular with locals as a place to relax, jog or picnic it is an outstanding nature reserve, but in recent years the open water and muddy pools have been colonised by vegetation and now the only place to watch the once abundant wildfowl is the narrow strip of water between the park entrance and the high rise blocks.

IMG_1150 Costanera Sur

The tour started in the city of Cordoba, but I decided rather than continue on to Cordoba from Buenos Aires to stay overnight and bird Costanera Sur in the afternoon. Having met up with my room mate Terry at the airport we dropped our gear off at the hotel and got a taxi into the downtown area where we first walked along the promenade that runs parallel to the park.

IMG_1987 Coscoroba Swan

The first birds we saw were a family party of Coscoroba Swans ….

IMG_1980 Ringed Teal

…. but soon we found something much rarer, a pair of Ringed Teal, a scarce duck that I have managed to miss on all my previous visits to South America and which was the last waterfowl for my Neotropical list.

IMG_1992 Costanera Sur

It was very hot out on the promenade and we were glad to enter the park and get into the shade.

IMG_2003 Costanera Sur

On previous visits to Costenera Sur I have seen such goodies as South American Painted-snipe and Spotted Rail but now with most of the open water closed over pickings were thin ….

IMG_2001 Spectacled Tyrant

… that said we saw some marsh birds like the strange Spectacled Tyrant …

IMG_1989 Great Kiskadee

… as well as commoner species like the widespread Great Kiskadee ….

IMG_1997 Green-barred Woodpecker

…. Green-barred Woodpecker ….

IMG_2005 Picazuro Pigeon

…. the common Picazuro Pigeon ….

IMG_2009 Monk Parakeet

…. and the vociferous Monk Parakeet.

IMG_2004 Brazillian Cavy

The once common Coypu aren’t so easy to see now that most pen water has gone but we saw a few endearing Brazilian Cavies (or Guinea Pigs) on the paths.

IMG_2288 Otamendi

The first four days of the actual tour were spent in the Cordoba region (see next post) but on day five we were back in the Buenos Aires area and paid an early morning visit to Otemendi, a reserve to the north-west of the city.

IMG_2276 White-faced Ibis

Large flocks of White-faced Ibis flew overhead ….

IMG_2283 Long-winged Harrier

…. and a beautiful Long-winged Harrier (above) joined the many Snail Kites in the air above us

IMG_2263 Dark-billed Cuckoo

Trees bordering the marsh held Dark-billed Cuckoos ….

IMG_2297 Curve-billed Reedhaunter

…. whilst the reeds held both Curve-billed (above) and Straight-billed Reedhaunters.

IMG_2302 9th July Av

We returned to our hotel on the famous 9 de Julio Avenue in Buenos Aires during the heat of the day. Named after the date of independence in 1816, this enormous avenue is 14 lanes wide.

IMG_1160 Eva Peron

The image of Eva Peron stares down on the traffic jams.

IMG_1158 Buenos Aires

Later in the day we drove through the city to Costanera Sur ….

IMG_2303 Costanera Sur

…. but the day was a Bank Holiday and the place was packed with many cyclists, noisy kids and loud music. Hardly surprisingly we hardly saw any wildfowl and the much envied Ringed Teal had gone. Terry and I were so glad we made the effort to get here under our own steam before the tour started.