Sunday, 28 December 2014

Argentina: Part 4 - Parc Nacional Los Glaciares

I am now writing from home having finished our trip: a computer became difficult to come by as we traveled north which was a wonderful thing. Our final stop on our route south was Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, most famous for Glaciar Perito Moreno, but so much more than that. Don't get me wrong, it was stunning, however El Calafate (the base town for it) was not, and El Chalten in the North of the park was infinitely better. However, the Laguna Nimez reserve on the Northern edge of Calafate was a hidden gem, and we spent 3 hours in this tiny reserve, which had much to offer. It consists of a few small lagoons filled with wildfowl and Flamingos, access to the shore of Lago Argentino (Argentina's largest lake) and plenty of scrub too. We were afforded fantastic views of South American Snipe, Plumbeous Rail, Chilean Flamingo, Grass Wren Red Shoveler, Crested Duck and many more. A group of Oxyura spp. ducks also caused much confusion.

South American Snipe

Plumbeous Rail, incredibly showy
Chilean Flamingo, wonderful to see them in the wild

Grass Wren singing his heart out.

Southern Lapwing

Just a quick note about the Southern Lapwing above. This species really is absolutely everywhere. Nature reserves, parks, roadsides, town centres.... There wasn't a single place we visited where they weren't present. I imagine that this is what it was once like in Britain for our Northern Lapwing, now a distant dream, but not one that is out of reach....

Also, an obligatory photo of the glacier. It was rather spectacular. Stretching for 2.5km in either direction, this photo shows only the central leading face of it. It advances at a lightning quick 2 meters a day, and is over 14km long and 180 meters deep (of which around 55 metres are above the water).

Perito Moreno glacier

Also competing for attention was this young Rufous-collared Sparrow....


On to El Chalten, which had a much more relaxed and wild vibe to it, nestled in the mountains in the shadow of the simply breathtaking Cerro Fitz Roy. It is truly astonishing to think that some Human Beings have the skills and physical capability to ascend this peak. I spent a lot of time staring at it in admiration of them. Luckily this didn't distract form the birds for too long. Some wonderful hiking was accompanied by two much sought after species. The first came on a what could just about get away with being called a lake, but in truth was more like a large pond, surrounded by Pine trees on a short but steep trail up to a viewpoint over El Chalten. It was with a slightly sarcastic tone that we suggested a look just in case, and not long after "there was much rejoicing". Only a family of BRONZE-WINGED DUCK!!!! What absolute stunners. These scarce Andean breeders were tricky to come by, and to find a family of them in what seemed like the least likely of places was very satisfying indeed. While we watched them we were also joined by a family of 5 Chilean Flickers.

Bronze-winged Duck, showing the iridescent speculum looking bronze here...

And green here.

The next day saw us hiking out into the national park, and we managed to time it so that we were virtually alone along most of the trails. Whenever the tree canopy thinned out we had amazing views of the Cerro Fitz Roy and its neighboring peaks flanking us, and in the forest we managed to find not one but two pairs of Magellanic Woodpeckers, showing down to a couple of feet at times. These are splendid, not just for the elaborate plumage of both sexes, but also the size; they are big birds! If fears are realised and the Ivory-billed and Imperial Woodpecker are indeed extinct, the larger individuals of the species can rank themselves in the top five largest woodpecker species in the world. We were lucky enough to observe them feeding for a good 10 minutes, and a male even decided to have a quick drum while we were there.

Male Magellanic Woodpecker, one smart bird

Female Magellanic Woodpecker, less colour more crest.

Standing at 3405m, the Cerro Fitz Roy

To round this post off, a quick mention for a place we stayed before we arrived in Calafate, Estancia El Condor. 4 hours from Ruta 40, this was a complete haven from everything modern, and here we enjoyed our first and only encounter with Austral Parakeet, the southern most species of Parrot in the Americas. If visiting anywhere within 200 miles of El Condor, it is an absolute must. A taste of what life in the Andes and southern Argentina used to be like it was by far and away the best location we visited in Patagonia. It was also the location for my first (and probably last as I survived completely intact and don't want to push my luck) horse ride, for six hours into the mountains. What an incredible experience it was.

A pair of Austral Parakeet

Proof - that is me on that horse there! 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Argentina: Part 3

Although it may seem strange to think, there are things here worth looking at other than birds..... We visited Los Arrayanes national park, a 12km long peninsula full of beautiful flowers and some very old (300-600 years old) Arrayan Trees. With lonely planet, a bird book and butterfly book, we ran out of space for a flower book, so for now some species remain unidentified by us, but it in no way detracts from how delicately beautiful they are.

Lady´s Slipper spp.

Unsure as yet.... Wow though

Dog Orchid

Arrayan trees

Heading further south we visited the beautiful Los Alerces national park, home to some incredibly beautiful and some very old Alerces trees and where we added our first of many Andean Condor to the trip list. On the drive south on Ruta 40 we had a mad raptor fest, within an hour being treated to more Condors, Black-chested Buzzard Eagle, Aplomado Falcon and Cinerous Harrier (the later escaped the camera, but not for long)!

Soaring Barn Door

On a fresh kill. For size, that is a large Hare that bird is on.

What a little stunner!

As we left the lush forests on the Eastern slopes of the Andes and headed south again, the landscape changed and Patagonian Steppe became the dominant feature. We started easily spotting species like Tawny-throated Dotteral and Gray-headed Sierra Finch. Roaming Guanacos have also become and almost permanent fixture.

Tawny-throated Dotteral, common by the road.

Gray-hooded Sierra Finch

Cute!! Mother and baby Guanaco

That´s another round up completed. It tells a small fraction of the story behind this beautiful country, and a small fraction of the now 152 bird species we´ve seen so far. We are now down in El Calafate, and hiking is taking a front seat. However, it won´t be long until we head north, where an entirely new set of spcies and landscapes await us.