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A R G E N T I N A
 
     
27 December 2009 - 08 January 2010 and 26 January 2010 - 27 January 2010
 

   

Introduction:

As we were going to be leaving from Ushuaia in the south of Argentina for our upcoming cruise to the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula, the decision was not difficult to consider adding on a little extra time to the trip and spend it birding our way south through Patagonia. After some time spent seeing whether we could actually afford to do this, we eventually convinced ourselves that we would be able to make it happen and so the planning started. Friends of ours, Alvin and Flick Cope, who would also be on the cruise with us, then also agreed to join us on the pre-extension trip through Argentina and, before long, a basic itinerary was in place. Given the fact that both Alvin and I had birded in South America several times before, but that neither Margaret nor Flick had set foot on the continent yet, the itinerary was also set up taking this into account with a couple of days in the beginning of the trip which would introduce them to a number of bird families that we would otherwise not encounter on the rest of the trip.

 

Overview:

Known officially as the Argentine Republic, this is the second largest country in South America, after Brazil. At around 2,7 million km2, it shares its western boundary with Chile, is neighboured in the north by Bolivia and Paraguay and is bounded in the north-east by Brazil and Uruguay. The Atlantic Ocean makes up most of the eastern boundary of the country with some 4 665km of coastline. With a population of around 41 million people, the climate and landscapes vary from very tropical in the north through to open barren tundra in the south with everything imaginable in between. The country is a federation consisting of 23 provinces and an autonomous city, Buenos Aires, its capital city with some 13,3 million inhabitants.

Its name comes from the Latin word "Argentum" and could be translated as "Land of Silver". It is truly a land of extremes and boasts both the highest and lowest points in the Southern Hemisphere – the highest being Mount Aconcagua at 6 962 m in Mendoza province and the lowest being Laguna del Carbon at -105 m in Santa Cruz province.

Birds:

With a total bird list of around 1 026 species recorded within the country, this destination is a big attraction to any world birder. Of these, 20 species are considered truly endemic whilst a good number of others are considered to be Southern Cone specials shared only with Chile. The true endemics are Chubut Steamer Duck, Bare-eyed Ground Dove, Tucuman Pygmy Owl, Rothschild's Swift, Buff-breasted and Band-tailed Earthcreepers, Olrog's and Comechingone's Cinclodes, Steinbach's and Patagonian Canasteros, White-throated Cachalote, Sandy Gallito, Rusty-backed and Salinas Monjitas, Rufous-throated Dipper, Carbonated Sierra Finch, Cinnamon Warbling Finch, Tucuman Mountain Finch, Narosky's Seedeater and Yellow-striped Brush Finch. Given the fact that Argentina is such a vast country and we had such a short time to spend there, we could obviously not target all of the endemics. However, we managed to find most of the ones that we could target and generally found the birding in the country relatively easy. By contrast to our previous experience in the more tropical parts of the continent, the birding was a lot slower in the south and one had to work a lot harder to build up a reasonable trip list, however, the south also produced a higher percentage of specials in the somewhat smaller list.

     
Chubut Steamer Duck Cinnamon Warbling Finch
     

Mammals:

With around 325 species recorded in the country, the high level of endemicity is rather attractive with some 47 species being classed as truly endemic. Many of these (or rather most of them) are actually rodents, but there are also a number of other mammals shared only with Chile i.e. restricted to the Southern Cone. Obviously, when on a more birding-orientated trip, it is difficult to target most of the endemic mammals, but we found that we still managed to pick up a good selection of mammals along the way and thought that it was probably one of the easier countries in South America that we have experienced for mammal watching.

     
Patagonian Mara Guanaco
     

Our trip:

With the assistance of our friends at Rockjumper Birding Tours (www.rockjumper.co.za), we were put in touch with Luis Segura of Trogon Tours (www.trogontours.com) to begin planning our trip. Luis was extremely helpful and produced an initial itinerary even including which internal flights he recommended that we take. I am sure at some point he must have gotten irritated with me as I kept going back making minor amendments to the itinerary to try and maximize our chances of getting as many birds as possible, but he was always extremely accommodating and eventually, we settled on a final route.

Luis had allocated one of their top guides, Patricio Ramirez Llorens, to accompany us on our trip for the entire duration except for the last couple of days after our cruise where we would be assisted by one of the local guides in Ushuaia, Marcelo de Cruz. Patricio was an excellent and friendly guide and worked hard for us throughout the trip, often putting in many more hours than even we anticipated. He was always friendly and, throughout the trip, provided lots of useful information on the country and its people and their traditions. I am sure, at times, Patricio must have wondered about these South Africans that he was taking around as, no matter how many birds we had actually seen, he was always questioned about the ones we had yet to see! Patricio really went out of his way to make sure everyone on the trip had a good time from being the translator (many times!), through to introducing us to the fine art of drinking mate, a local Argentinean tea and even having to hold the snakes that I caught (since none of the rest of the group would!) so that I could photograph them! Marcelo was a very lively guide and, after having already being on the birding road for some 30 odd days and therefore being a little run down, it was quite an adjustment to get used to his pace. He was constantly on the move and, at times, we battled to keep up with him. Nevertheless, he seemed to know where the birds were and ably assisted us in cleaning up a last few species in our final couple of days in the country.

The local currency, the Argentina Peso (ARS), was trading at about 1,00 ARS = ZAR 2,00 (South African Rand) at the time of our visit, so it made conversions on the move relatively easy. We also found that, in a number of places along the way, we were actually able to make payments in US dollars rather than the local currency. Typically, we found the country to be a little more expensive than other parts of South America, particularly as we moved further south, but it was certainly still affordable and not over the top.

Medically, there were no real problems to deal with either. We were too far south to have to worry about malaria and there were no real other major threats. We felt safe throughout the trip and always found the locals to be friendly and helpful.

The only problems we really encountered on the entire trip was on the internal flights where the baggage weight limit was a little too low and we had to part with unnecessary payments several times to take our luggage along with us on the flights. The check in limit is 15kg which is tough at the best of times, but of course, if you are planning to go to Antarctica, you need to carry lots of heavy clothing with you. One would assume that, since this is the gateway for most of the world's Antarctic tourists to use, they would consider upping this limit for those who have proof that they are travelling on one of these trips. We had tried to keep our packing down to a minimum to cover the whole trip (which ranged from tropical climes in the beginning of the trip through to polar conditions at the end), but even then, we were always over this limit. What was even worse was the 5kg limit on the carry on luggage. Given all the optical equipment that we, as birders, carry with us, this was never going to work. With binoculars, scopes and cameras, we were always way over this limit (closer to the check in luggage limit!) and it took several long explanations to airport officials to let us take our optical equipment bags on to the planes.

   
Margaret and Trevor Hardaker Alvin and Flick Cope
     
Patricio Ramirez Llorens Marcelo de Cruz
     

Daily account:

27 December 2009

After arriving on our Air Malaysia flight direct from Cape Town to Buenos Aires, we were met at the airport by our guide, Patricio, and transferred across to our hotel for the next few days, the Lafayette Hotel (www.hotellafayette.com.ar). Our hotel was situated in the central CBD along a pedestrian route and, although there were some smallish trees in the area, it seemed pretty birdless. After freshening up a bit, we decided to go out for a while and headed off to downtown Buenos Aires. This was a great area with lots of colourful buildings, interesting mannequins hanging out of windows and on balconies, lots of wide pedestrian routes with many trees, streetside market stalls, many outside cafes and just a general lively buzz about it. Given that we were in Argentina, we also went to watch a bit of tango dancing (which seemed to be taking place at a number of venues in the area). This was certainly popular amongst the locals and one had to squeeze in to the venues to try and get a decent view of the dancing.

Of course, we were always on the look out for birds and managed to catch up with a number of the locally common species like Chimango Caracara, Picazuro Pigeon, Eared Dove, Grey-headed Gull, Great Kiskadee and Grey-breasted Martin amongst others. After an earlyish dinner at our hotel, it was then off to bed to prepare for our first real day of birding.

     
The Lafayette Hotel Pedestrian route outside our hotel
   
Downtown Buenos Aires Downtown Buenos Aires
   
"Green" pedestrian routes Streetside cafe
   
Visiting the market stalls Taking it all in
   
Colourful buildings Colourful buildings
   
Interesting building decorations Interesting building decorations
   
Tango dancers Tango dancers
   

28 December 2009

After an earlyish start, we hit the road and headed north for about 100km or so to Reserva Natural Otamendi. Birding here is pretty much restricted to roadside birding, but it is a long road that runs through a variety of different habitats from thick bush to open wetland areas and our first day's birding was simply superb. On arrival, we had bright sunshine and were soon greeted with the likes of Guira Cuckoo, Whistling Heron, Picui Ground Dove, Black-hooded Siskin, Brown-and-yellow Marshbird, Glittering-bellied Emerald and Masked Yellowthroat. Raptors were also on show including many Snail Kites, Roadside Hawks and several Long-winged Harriers whilst other distractions included Spectacled Tyrant, Silver Teal, Sulphur-bearded Spinetail, Freckle-breasted Thornbird and Yellow-winged Blackbird. We were also introduced to our first mammal of the trip, Brazilian Guinea Pig, of which there were many feeding in the short grass on the sides of the road. As we moved further along the road, we added species like Pampa Finch, Southern Beardless, White-crested and Sooty Tyrannulets, Spix's and Yellow-chinned Spinetails, Rufous-capped Antshrike, Green-barred (Golden-breasted) and Checkered Woodpeckers, Limpkin and Giant Wood Rail as well as our first frog of the trip, Creole Frog.

A lunchtime stop had us on the banks of a large river which seemed to be a route for large ships to use. Unfortunately, by this stage, the weather had also started closing in and we had totally overcast conditions with some rain. As we sat in the vehicle enjoying our lunch, we had Creamy-bellied Thrushes and White-rumped Swallows around us all the time. After lunch, we started the trek back along the road stopping at various points to bird again. New species included Sayaca Tanager, Solitary Cacique, Double-collared Seedeater, Small-billed Elaenia and South American Snipe as well as good views of several other species already seen earlier in the day.

With only a few hours of daylight remaining, we headed even further north to a place called Ibicuy where we spent the last few hours of the day. This stop added things like Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Great and Snowy Egrets, Amazon Kingfisher and Bare-faced Ibis as well as Dark-billed Cuckoo, Greyish Saltator, Long-tailed Reed Finch, Black-capped Warbling Finch, Suiriri, Swainson's and Vermilion Flycatchers and Narrow-billed Woodcreeper whilst a stunning Nacunda Nighthawk over the fields just before dusk was a nice surprise. I was also lucky to see a small group of Coypu here, the only other mammal of the day.

     
Entrance to Reserva Natural Otamendi Wetland areas at Otamendi
   
View along the road at Otamendi View along the road at Otamendi
   
View of the river from our lunch stop Large ship using the river
   
Roadside birding at Otamendi Roadside birding at Otamendi
   

29 December 2009

With only half a day left in the Buenos Aires area, we packed up early and headed off to Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur, a lovely reserve situated on the the southern edge of the city. The reserve has a good network of paths running through it which wind their way through nice thick bush at times and along open wetland areas as well and is truly a birding gem so close to the city. Species seen soon after arriving included Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Rufous Hornero (Argentina's national bird), Rufous-bellied Thrush, Shiny and Bay-winged Cowbirds, Monk Parakeet and Saffron Finch. As we moved on through the more thickly wooded areas, we added Masked Gnatcatcher, Black-and-rufous Warbling Finch and Tropical Kingbird whilst the wetland areas held White-winged, Red-gartered and Red-fronted Coots, Coscoroba Swans, Yellow-billed Pintail, Lake Duck, Brazilian and Yellow-billed Teals and Spot-flanked Gallinule. After much calling, we eventually managed reasonable views of Wren-like Rushbird, whilst we also managed to scratch out Olrog's Gull, Rusty-collared Seedeater, Gilded Sapphire, Blue-and-yellow Tanager and Yellow-billed Cardinal. Lifting up some dead logs down near the Rio Plata also revealed several Bella Vista Toads whilst Black Tegu was our first reptile of the trip.

Before long, we had to leave and make our way to the airport where we caught an afternoon flight south to Trelew. Arriving at Trelew, we were pleasantly surprised to find that Luis, one of the owners of Trogon Tours, was there to greet us and just as well as there seemed to be some confusion with our hire car. After quite some time, it was eventually resolved and we made our way from the airport into town. The wind was literally howling in Trelew and, fortunately, it was already quite late because, in those conditions, birding would have been very difficult. Anyway, we booked into our hotel for the next few days, the Hotel Libertador (www.hotellibertadortw.com) and, after freshening up a bit, headed out for dinner and then off to bed.

     
The sign says it all... Map of the reserve
   
Pathways at Costanera Sur Pathways at Costanera Sur
   
Costanera Sur is on the edge of the city Costanera Sur is on the edge of the city
   
Birding at Costanera Sur Birding at Costanera Sur
   
Alvin trying his hand at photography The ladies swopping photographic tips
   
Hotel Libertador in Trelew Hotel Libertador in Trelew
   

30 December 2009

Up early this morning and, after breakfast at the hotel, we hit the road driving out of town and then turning on to a dirt road heading south. Immediately, we were in a new habitat with vast open plains with low sparse scrub, very much like the Karoo areas that we have back home. An American Kestrel on the way out of town was a small distraction, but as soon as we were properly out of town, we started encountering a number of new species. Initial additions included Cordilleran Canastero, Rusty-backed Monjita (our first Argentinean endemic of the trip), Chocolate-vented Tyrant, Patagonian Mockingbird, Austral Negrito, Common Duica Finch and Tawny-throated Dotterel. As we headed further south, we also started picking up a few mammals like Culpeo Fox and Patagonian Mara whilst the birds continued with Burrowing Owl, Long-tailed Meadowlark and Mourning Sierra Finch. After a fair distance, we eventually reached the coast and found a spot to stop for lunch. Lunchtime distractions on this patch of beach included Rock Shag, Two-banded Plover, American Oystercatcher and Great Grebe whilst there were also a small group of Southern Elephant Seals lazing pretty close to us.

After lunch, we traveled the last short distance to Punta Tombo, a huge Magellanic Penguin colony. This is a really well run reserve with lovely laid out pathways through the colony and several "wardens" constantly walking around to check up on everybody. Spending a few hours there, we managed to take up quite a few gigs worth of photographs of the penguins, but there were also some other distractions including lovely Dolphin Gulls, Subantarctic (Brown) Skua, Royal Tern, Cinerous Harrier, Grey-hooded Sierra Finch, Tufted Tit-tyrant, Blackish Oystercatcher, Lesser Rhea, Elegant Crested Tinamou (who have no idea how shy tinamous are actually meant to be!) and another Argentinean endemic, Chubut Steamer Duck. Mammals were also quite obvious and included South American Sea Lion, Guanaco and Southern Mountain Cavy (aka Dwarf Cavy). There were also several fairly long-tailed mice running around between the penguin burrows and, if anyone out there happens to know which species they might be, I would be happy to hear from you. It was eventually time to hit the road and we made our way back to Trelew after another great day out in the field.

     
The long road south from Trelew Typical habitat south of Trelew
   
Our first view of the Atlantic coastline Arriving at our lunchtime stop
   
Our lunchtime stop Our lunchtime stop
   
Trevor, Alvin and Patricio enjoying the lunch break Trevor photographing Rock Shags
   
The sign says it all... ...as does this one
   
Birding at Punta Tombo Birding at Punta Tombo
   
   
Enjoying the penguins at Punta Tombo Flick and Margaret at Punta Tombo
   
Time to move on to the next penguin... Flick, Alvin, Margaret and Patricio at Punta Tombo
   

31 December 2009

After breakfast at the hotel, Luis once again joined us and we headed off to Trelew Sewage Works. The wind was howling this morning and it was also relatively cold, so it made birding a little more difficult, but we still managed to catch up with a number of good species there. New birds included White-tufted and Silvery Grebes, Brown-headed Gull, Chilean Flamingo, Chiloe Wigeon, Red Shoveler, Rosy-billed Pochard, White-backed Stilt and Black-faced Ibis whilst Correndera Pipit, Lesser Yellowlegs and Wilson's Phalarope were also welcome distractions. On our way back to the hotel to pick up our luggage, we also quickly stopped off at Lake Trelew where most of the same species were seen again including a huge flock of Wilson's Phalaropes.

After packing up at the hotel, we headed northwards and stopped off in Puerto Madryn for lunch picking up Crested Duck and Cayenne Tern along the coast there and Southern Martins overhead in town. We then continued on our way north making a roadside stop at a Burrowing Parrot colony which also produced Variable Hawk, White-winged Black Tyrant and our first of many Darwin's Lizards.

Our last stretch of traveling towards our destination produced several Turkey Vultures, Common Diuca Finch and, eventually, another Argentinean endemic, Carbonated Sierra Finch. Eventually arriving at Puerto Pirámides in the late afternoon, we booked into our accommodation at Motel Aca Puerto Pirámides (www.motelacapiramides.com) and relaxed and caught up on notes and downloading photos before heading off to a New Years Eve dinner at a local restaurant. We were also treated to a fairly spectacular fireworks display at midnight and welcomed in 2010.

     
Trelew Sewage Works Trelew Sewage Works
   
Birding at Trelew Sewage Works Birding at Trelew Sewage Works
   
Scanning the coast at Puerto Madryn Scanning the coast at Puerto Madryn
   
View of Puerto Pirámides Enjoying the view over Puerto Pirámides
   
View of Puerto Pirámides View of Puerto Pirámides
   
Motel Aca Puerto Pirámides View from our room
   

01 January 2010

Today was to be our day on the Valdez Peninsula. We made a beeline for the South American Sea Lion colony where we held a vigil for the next few hours in the hope that we might be lucky enough to see the Killer Whales coming up on to the beach. Fortunately, there was a small look out point which provided some cover from the sun and protection for the howling wind for the next few hours. Knowing that we were not there at the right time of the year, we didn't really hold out too much hope and so therefore, were not that disappointed when we did not see them, but this is certainly something that I would like to go back and try again at the right time of year. However, there were at least some distractions for us while we waited. Mourning Sierra Finch, Cordilleran Canastero, Chocolate-vented Tyrant and Elegant Crested Tinamou kept us entertained from the vegetation whilst, along the coast, we saw several species of cormorant, Royal Tern, American Oystercatcher. Red Phalarope, Hudsonian Godwit and Southern Giant Petrel. We also managed to see our first Goetsch's Lizards here.

After eventually resigning ourselves to the fact that we were not going to see the Killer Whale spectacle, we decided to move on and investigate the rest of the peninsula. Scanning of the coastline added Magellanic Penguin, Great Grebe and Crested Duck whilst Common Diuca Finch and Carbontated Sierra Finch were also seen. A lunch time stop at the only restaurant on the peninsula produced Lesser Rhea, Blue-and-white Swallow, American Kestrel and Carbonated Sierra Finch whilst we had fantastic interactions with both South American Grey Fox and Pichi. The rest of the day saw us slowly meandering around the peninsula seeing many of the species again that we had already encountered as well as things like Least Seedsnipe, Hellmayr's Pipit and Common Miner. Other mammals on the peninsula included many Guanacos and European Hares (introduced obviously!) and a really fun interaction with a Big Hairy Armadillo.

It was then back to Puerto Pirámides picking up a stunning pair of Variable Hawks along the way and Southern Martins over our accommodation.

     
View across South American Sea Lion colony View across South American Sea Lion colony
   
Our vantage point Scanning for Killer Whales
   
Valdez Peninsula scenery Valdez Peninsula scenery
   
Birding on the Valdez Peninsula Birding on the Valdez Peninsula
   

02 January 2010

A pre-breakfast outing just a short distance from our accommodation quickly added another Argentinean endemic, Patagonian Canastero as well as a couple of new reptiles, Bell's Lizard and Burmeister's Green Racer. I was able to actually catch the snake and then had to force Patricio to "extend" his guiding requirements when no-one else in the group would hold it so that I could photograph it. Well done Patricio! Another stop at a smaller South American Sea Lion colony added Plain-mantled Tit-spinetail in the bushes and South American Tern along the coast. It was then time to head back to our motel and pack up.

We then made a bit of a drive northwards towards the San Antonio Oeste area picking up things like Peregrine, Yellow-billed Pintail, Burrowing Parrot, Fork-tailed Flycatcher and Brown-chested Martin along the way. Arriving at the small seaside town of Las Grutas, we booked ourselves into the Hotel Portovenere (www.portovenere.com.ar). Alvin and Flick lucked out here and were given an absolutely enormous room, something reminiscent of a presidential suite! After some time spent freshening up, we headed out in the late afternoon just outside of town and spent the rest of the time walking up and down a dry river bed. This produced some really exciting birding including Cinnamon Warbling Finch (an Argentinean endemic), Sandy Gallito (another endemic) Tufted Tit-tyrant, White-winged and Hudson's Black Tyrants, Black-crowned Monjita, Scale-throated Earthcreeper and the contentious Grey-crowned Tyrannulet, a species as yet not officially described to science.

     
SA Sea Lion colony near our motel Birding at the SA Sea Lion colony
   
The sign says it all... Our hotel
   

03 January 2010

After breakfast, we headed slightly north out of town to an area with more open and low vegetation. It was interesting to pick up 3 species of Mockingbird here - Chalk-browed, Patagonian and White-banded, whilst other species included White Monjita, Swainson's and Vermilion Flycatchers, Sharp-billed (aka Lesser) and Short-billed Canasteros, Blue-and-yellow Tanager and Spot-winged Pigeon. Red-tailed Lizard was a new reptile for us and we also managed to find another Burmeister's Green Racer here as well. We then made a lunch time stop back at the coast where it was interesting to see a large flock of Chilean Flamingos on the sea sand whilst other distractions included Royal Tern, Crested Duck, Neotropic Cormorant, Brown-headed Gull and Austral Negrito. After heading back to the hotel to pick up our things, it was then a long drive back to Trelew where we spent the evening again at the Hotel Libertador (the same one we had stayed in a few days before).

     
Flick and Patricio along the coast Alvin on the prowl
   

04 January 2010

Up early this morning, we headed off to the airport to catch our Aerolineas Argentinas flight to El Calafate. After landing in El Calafate, sorting out the usual logistics with the hire car and then driving the approximately 20km into town, we booked ourselves into the Michelangelo Hotel (www.michelangelohotel.com.ar). After freshening up, we headed off in the direction of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. We made frequent stops en route to do birding. Stopping along the shores of Lago Argentina, we added a number of new species including Upland and Ashy-headed Geese and Black-necked Swan and roadside stops at wooded areas revealed Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Black-chinned Siskin, White-crested Elaenia and Austral Thrush amongst others whilst an Andean Condor soaring effortlessly overhead was enjoyed by all. Once inside the park, we made stops at several sites and added species like Austral Parakeet, Chilean Swallow, Patagonian Sierra Finch, Magellanic Tapaculo (being typically as skulking as tapaculos generally are!), Fire-eyed Duicon, Patagonian Sierra Finch and the much sought after Magellanic Woodpecker.

Obviously, no visit to the park is complete without visiting the Perito Moreno glacier and this was a truly spectacular experience. For a short while, one even became totally oblivious of the birds while we took this awesome glacier in. New walkways had just been built from the car park down to the glacier and run through some fantastic Beech forests and this really was one of the absolute highlights of our entire Argentina trip.

The trip back out of the park added a few more species like Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Bi-coloured Hawk and Rufous-tailed Plantcutter while a Humboldt's Hog-nosed Skunk was a really nice find too. Closer to El Calafate, we were also fortunate to find a Short-eared Owl hunting right next to the road and stopped for a short while to enjoy this before heading back to our hotel and a very late dinner.

     
Michelangelo Hotel Michelangelo Hotel
   
View across Lago Argentina View across Lago Argentina
   
The sign says it all... Typical Beech forest habitat
   
Margaret scanning across Lago Argentina Perito Moreno glacier in the distance
   
Visitor centre at the glacier The sign says it all...
   
Walkway down to the glacier Taking it all in...
   
View of Perito Moreno glacier View of Perito Moreno glacier
   
Margaret up close and personal with the glacier Close up view of Perito Moreno glacier
   

05 January 2010

This morning we birded around the shores of Lago Argentina around El Calafate. Species in the area included Black-faced Ibis, South American Snipe, White-winged and Red-gartered Coots, Andean Duck, Correndera Pipit, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, Baird's Sandpiper, Two-banded Plover, South American Tern and Patagonian Yellow Finch amongst others but, despite intensive searching, we were unable to find our main target here, Magellanic Plover. This was extremely disappointing as this was one of my main wants for the trip, being a monotypic family and all. Nevertheless, we still saw some great birds and other species included Black-necked and Coscoroba Swans, Least Seedsnipe, Chiloe Wigeon, Yellow-billed Teal and Red Shoveler.

It was eventually time to hit the road and we made our way northwards for the long drive to the Strobel Plateau area. The wind had also picked up tremendously, so it was fortuitous that we were traveling rather than birding. A lunch time stop at a small roadside restaurant and motel called La Leona in the middle of nowhere was quite interesting as they also had a small "museum" there. Apparently, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had spent a month staying there in 1905 after they had robbed the Bank of London in Rio Gallegos and were on the run to Chile. They even had photos to prove this claim.

After lunch, we continued northwards on a dirt road that seemed to continue for ever! Intermittent distractions included several pairs of Least Seedsnipe with chicks that could not have been more than just a couple of days old, Chocolate-vented Tyrant, Bar-winged Cinclodes and White-throated Caracara while we also encountered several mammals including good numbers of Guanacos, South American Grey Fox and yet another Pichi that was extremely inquisitive and came right over to us to have a closer look.

Eventually arriving at our destination, we quickly visited a small dam and hit our target bird, Hooded Grebe, almost instantly. This endemic was only described for the first time in 1974 and is one of the most sought after birds for birders visiting the country. It can prove to be quite difficult as well and another group that visited the area just a couple of days prior to us had missed it. So it was a satisfied group that then booked themselves into Estancia La Angostura (www.estanciasdesantacruz.com/LaAngostura/laangostura.htm), a working farm in the area which has some rustic, but comfortable, accommodation available on it and dinner was served in the main farm house by the owners of the farm, a really welcome and hearty meal after a long day.

     
Accommodation at Estancia La Angostura Accommodation at Estancia La Angostura
   

06 January 2010

Up early and out birding on the farm before breakfast, we worked some of the wetland areas in this small oasis close to our accommodation. Our main target here was Austral Rail which called for a long time before eventually giving some of us a brief glimpse of it. Other species in the area included Cinereous Harrier, Spectacled Tyrant, Long-tailed Meadowlark, Yellow-winged Blackbird, Chiloe Wigeon, Yellow-billed Pintail, Chilean Flamingo, Lesser Yellowlegs and Black-faced Ibis. After a good breakfast, we packed up and quickly visited the same dam as the evening before. Although we saw good numbers of Silvery Grebes there, we were unable to relocate the Hooded Grebe. Just as well we had stopped in the evening before! Black-necked and Coscoroba Swans, Kelp and Brown-headed Gulls and Baird's and White-rumped Sandpipers were also present on the dam.

We then made the long drive back to El Calafate, stopping off for a short time at Lago Argentina again for another fruitless search for Magellanic Plover, before heading off to the airport to catch our flight to Ushuaia. Before long, we were landing in the southernmost city in the world and, after sorting out the hire car, we headed off to book ourselves into the Hostería América (www.hosteriaamerica.com.ar) and enjoyed a good dinner at the hotel restaurant.

     
Main farmhouse at Estancia La Angostura Habitat at Estancia La Angostura
   
Hostería América Hostería América
   

07 January 2010

After breakfast at the hotel, we headed off to Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego where we would spend the rest of the day. The park was really scenic with the snow-capped extension of the Andes overlooking large tracts of Beech forests and many lakes. Species encountered early on included Chilean Swallow, Austral Thrush, Black-chinned Siskin, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, White-crested Elaenia and Ringed Kingfisher. There were also many European Rabbits (introduced) running around. Other good species that we caught up with included White-throated Treerunner, Great Grebe, Flying Steamer Duck, Tufted Tit-tyrant, Patagonian Sierra Finch and Bar-winged Cinclodes. A search at a day time roost eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, revealed an adult and chick Lesser (aka Magellanic) Horned Owl whilst Peregrine and Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle soared overhead. Although the park looks potentially fantastic for birds, we found the birding to be quite slow and would have expected much larger numbers of birds in the area. Perhaps it is as a result of it being so far south and normally quite cold.

Nevertheless, we pushed on through the rest of the day and finally managed to add a few more species like Fuegian (aka Flightless) Steamer Duck, Kelp Goose, Blackish Oystercatcher, Austral Parakeet, Dark-bellied Cinclodes and Black-crowned Night Heron, a bird which is a lot darker than the ones we are used to in South Africa. A friendly Culpeo Fox was also a welcome distraction. It was then back to the hotel for dinner and our last night before our upcoming cruise.

     
The sign says it all... ...as does this one
   
Information Centre at the entrance to the park Road through the park
   
Habitat in the park Habitat in the park
   
Scenery in the park Scenery in the park
   
Birding in the park Birding in the park
   
Flick takes aim Margaret's all smiles after finally bagging the owl
   

08 January 2010

Our last morning in Ushuaia saw us working along the coastline to try and pick up a few extra species. The coast line revealed several Magellanic Oystercatchers as well as Dolphin Gull, White-rumped and Baird's Sandpipers, Crested and Fuegian (aka Flightless) Steamer Ducks and Austral Negrito. It was then time to shoot off to the local dump (one gets to visit such fantastic places on birding trips...) where we added Chimango, Southern Crested and White-throated Caracaras, Turkey Vulture and Chilean Skua as well as a small flock of Black-chinned Siskins. By this time, it had started raining, so we beat a hasty retreat back into town to do some last minute shopping before Patricio transferred us to the harbour and we said our good-byes.

     
View along the coast View along the coast
   
View of Ushuaia Some last minute scanning
   
Some last minute photos And there is our boat in the background
   

08 - 26 January 2010

We spent the next few weeks on a cruise which visited the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica. See the separate trip report for information on that trip.

     

26 January 2010

After disembarking from the MV Plancius after our cruise, we were met on the dock by our new guide, Marcelo. As it turns out, John and Linda Donelson, who were on the cruise with us had also booked some birding with Marcelo and Rick and Betty Zarwell and Soren Skov, other participants on the cruise, would be staying at the same hotel as us in Ushuaia, the Hostería América (this was the same hotel we had stayed at prior to the cruise). After being transported to our hotel and booking in, the four of us together with John and Linda and Rick and Betty, headed off to Martial Glacier for the rest of the day for some birding. Given the choice of the long slog up to the glacier or paying a small fee and taking the chair lift up, it was an obvious choice. After buckling into our chairs, we started the ride up to the top station which took several minutes. It was good to see "old friends" again like Black-chinned Siskins and Chimango Caracaras on the way up and, once up there, we began looking for the few species we could still get. Much time was spent scrambling up and down the scree slopes in the hope of locating White-bellied Seedsnipe (this is a known site for them at certain times of the year), but luck was not on our side. However, we did manage to locate a few new species including Grey-flanked Cinclodes, Ochre-naped Ground Tyrant and Yellow-bridled Finch whilst it was also good to reconnect with things like Dark-faced Ground Tyrant, White-crested Elaenia and Bar-winged Cinclodes. After eventually giving our futile search for the seedsnipe up, we headed back down with the chair lifts picking up Bi-coloured Hawk on the way down.

It was then across to the town dump again where the White-throated Caracaras (as well as Southern Crested and Chimango) were still in attendance and other distractions included Chilean and Blue-and-white Swallows, Black-crowned Night Heron, Chilean Skua and Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle. Our last stop in a small thickly wooded area added Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Patagonian Sierra Finch, Austral Thrush and the ever-present House Wren before we headed back to the hotel for our last night.

     
The sign says it all... Chair lifts up to Martial Glacier
   
The ride to the top... Arriving at the top chair lift station
   
Scenery at Martial Glacier View down from Martial Glacier over Ushuaia
   
Rick on the chair lift Betty on the chair lift
   
Linda and John on the chair lift Flick and Alvin on the chair lift
   
Margaret in search of the seedsnipe Alvin patrolling the scree slopes
   
Marcelo in search of seedsnipes Marcelo in search of seedsnipes
   

27 January 2010

Our last morning's birding so, after collecting John and Linda at their hotel, we headed off to the Tierra del Fuego National Park again for a few hours. Once again, things like Black-chinned Siskin, White-crested Elaenia, Patagonian Sierra Finch and Austral Thursh were reasonably common and it was also good to catch up with the likes of Flying Steamer Duck, Austral Parakeet and White-throated Treerunner again. Scratching around in the Beech forests, we eventually also managed to pull out the last two new species of the trip, Patagonain Tyrant and Austral Pygmy Owl. Apart from the ever-present European Rabbits, the only other mammal we encountered was a friendly Culpeo Fox. It was then time to bid our farewells and head off to the airport only to find out that our flight to Buenos Aires had been delayed! This cut down our connecting time in BA substantially, but we were fortunately still able to make our homewardbound flight by the skin of our teeth and, after many hours stuck in an aeroplane seat, we eventually arrived back in Cape Town.

     

Conclusion:

Although the trip was a bit rushed and was perhaps not at the best time of the year for birding in Argentina, we still really enjoyed it and would love to go back. In particular, a March trip to the Valdez Peninsula to see the Killer Whales coming up on to the beach should be very much on the cards. The biggest disappointment of the trip (for me anyway!) was dipping out on the Magellanic Plover, but I suppose that is another good reason to go back. With only 2 weeks, we were satisfied with what we got to see managing a bird list of 226 species as well as 14 mammals, 6 reptiles and 2 frogs. Please click on the link below to see our full trip list as well as links to photos of many of them.

Link to full list of species recorded on the trip