TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
13 November - 1 December 1999
Marcelo Beccacecci (BA & Iguazu)
Luis Segura (Patagonia)
13th November - Travel Day
We travelled on the same flight out as a 'Sunbird' group and it took the combined leadership skills of the directors of both Sunbird and The Travelling Naturalist to negotiate our way through Madrid airport to catch our connecting flight. Several armed guards and 'no entry' doors later we were soon bound for Buenos Aires.
14th November - Buenos Aires
It was sunny and warm as we arrived, and we soon met Marcelo. We wasted no time after checking in at our hotel and were soon out again driving through the busy Buenos Aires traffic on the way to Costanera Sur, the remarkable town centre reserve.
There was some sort of local festival going on just beside the reserve, with the result that there were swarms of people and the whole place was incredibly busy. It was not easy trying to point out the subtleties of Argentinian birdsong over the roar of traffic, the shouts of holiday makers and the constant background of disco and oompa music. However Costanera Sur was absolutely full of birds with the water levels restored to some of their best, and we were soon watching three species of coot, several grebes and a superb variety of duck and other wildfowl, including hundreds of Black-necked Swans.
People wanting close views of birds were delighted by a couple of Guira Cuckoos that approached almost to our feet. Amongst the excellent variety of wildfowl we were delighted to see several Cinnamon Teal and a pair of Ringed Teal, while at one of the platforms overlooking the beds of rushes we saw several interesting smaller birds including Pied Water-Tyrant and the superb Many-coloured Rush- Tyrant.
We then negotiated our way back through the traffic to our excellent lunchtime restaurant. Here the style of Argentinian food was soon apparent from the open fire in the window and huge sides of beef and lamb being barbecued, not to mention the stuffed cow in the doorway with the menu impaled on its horns!
After a huge lunch we rested until about half past four and got taxis back to Costanera Sur. It was even busier now but not too bad inside and we got several new species including Glittering-bellied Emerald, excellent views of Picui Ground Dove and a superb pair of Green-barred Woodpecker.
As the gate was almost within sight of the end of our hotel road we thought we would walk back rather than sit in a taxi through the crowded one-way system and although it was crowded it was quite an easy walk. However just before we got to the hotel Tim and Barbara had mustard sprayed on them by a passer-by. This rather bizarre practice is actually a trick of pick-pockets that wanted to unzip their pockets as they cleaned them off. We had been pre-warned about this by Foreign Office advice and so Tim and Barbara managed to get away and walk back to the hundred yards or so up to the hotel, but it did remind us that maybe it wasn't worth walking around Buenos Aires on our own at present.
Overnight Buenos Aires
15th November - BA- San Clemente
Another sunny and warm day and we departed at 8 am with Marcelo and headed south out into the pampas. The landscape here is absolutely flat with mile upon mile of cattle pasture.
However there were some interesting roadside pools and after a couple of hours we stopped at one of these. It was full of waders and several species of wildfowl and we had good views of a superb Red-hooded Blackbird amongst other typical pampas species. On the pastures we had been seeing several Maguari Storks and pairs of Southern Screamers while we were hardly ever out of sight of Chimango Caracara, the most characteristic and commonest raptors of the pampas.
A little further along a stop by a river produced Grey-hooded Gull and a few other local species and then it was time for lunch at a roadside "Parilla" at Dolores. This is one of the places where they grill whole lambs on spits made into a pyramid over a fire right on the roadside and once again we were faced with huge quantities of very nice tender meat. This particular Parilla produced our only Spotted-winged Pigeons of the trip.
After Dolores the road got much better for birds as were going through mixed farmland and marshland. Long-winged Harriers were one of the great roadside birds and we had fine views of this superb raptor. At one point we flushed a pair of Spotted Tinamou whirling away like partridges. We started seeing our first Spectacled Tyrant, a rather startled-looking bird.
Nearer San Clemente we started driving a bit slower and keeping our eyes open on the fields. We had soon seen the first of about twenty-five Greater Rhea. These birds were much bigger and statelier than I had expected and we had at least three family groups with the males in charge of several younger birds. Greater Rheas are a declining species, but these individuals seemed to be quite happy mingling with the cattle in fairly ordinary looking pasture.
Soon after this, however, we passed one of the excellent pampas wildlife reserves and stopped as Tim saw one of the rarest creatures we were to see all trip, a pampas Deer, standing proudly amongst the scrub. Marcelo explained that this critically-endangered species is now the subject of some very intense study in this area.
At San Clemente we headed straight out to the Punta Rasa area which was absolutely covered in terns. There must have been at least a thousand Common Terns crowded on to the beach and amongst these were several Snowy-crowned Terns and a couple of Cayenne Terns. There were also hundreds of waders, mostly White-rumped Sandpiper, with some American Golden Plover and a few others. Perhaps the highlights were a flock of Black Skimmers that came in to feed quite close inshore. We checked into the excellent Hotel Fontaineblau at around 7pm from where we could watch the incredible passage of terns continuing until dusk.
Overnight San Clemente
16th November - San Clemente to BA
Sunny, cooler with a moderately north-easterly wind. A short sea-watch from the balconies told us that the tern passage was still continuing, but few other seabirds were visible.
In the morning Marcelo took us to the Campos del Tuyu reserve, which is a fragment of the pampas as it used to be. We met the warden and climbed into the back of his four wheel drive pickup and sat on hard benches for our tour of this reserve. It was quite an exciting ride and I kept banging the roof to tell the man to stop for a variety of raptors. Chimango Caracara were abundant but we had also good views of Crested Caracaras and a fine White-tailed Kite. Our first scheduled stop was at a flamingo lake which not only had a good number of Chilean Flamingos, but also many waders including several hundred Black-necked Stilt. Despite the wind it was a fine day and the air was full of the calls of Short-billed Pipits that Tim thought sounded like rewinding cameras.
We stopped at another lake further on which was actually a tidal pool and was full of waders. These were mostly White-rumped Sandpiper but there were many other species out on the mud. Around the lake was a heavily grazed area full of cattle and short turf interspersed with cow pats. American Golden Plover were running about amongst these, and it was from here that I saw a small wader fly up and land again. This turned out to a Buff-breasted Sandpiper, one of the more elusive species that winter down here.
The warden took us on to an excellent remnant of the Tala woodlands, the natural vegetation of the pampas. This was absolutely full of small birds. We stopped by a colony of Monk Parakeets. They were flying out of their hanging woven nests but we were startled to see a Speckled Teal emerge from one nest high in the tree. There were a variety of flycatchers here, including the absolutely stunning Vermilion Flycatcher sat proudly at the top of the tala trees. Not much can outdo these for colour, except perhaps the pair of Blue-and-Yellow Tanagers that we also saw.
On the way back we stopped by the wader pool again and saw a nice flock of twenty Wilson's Phalaropes in the middle. Then as we were passing an old cow carcass Tim flagged us to stop, and a Spotted Tinamou was seen walking quietly around the bones. All in all this had been a splendid reserve with a good variety of grassland, wetlands and forest, and strangely had no European weeds that by now we have become used to seeing.
For lunch we stopped at an Italian-type restaurant at a local roadside café with home made pasta and candied aubergine for pudding. After lunch we stopped at a small garage just by a kind of pampas zoo. Here we saw another Spotted Tinamou with chicks very briefly and had good views of Plumbeous Rail. We stopped several times at roadside pools on the way back to Buenos Aires before checking back into our hotel. Our evening meal was taken at another Italian restaurant in the town.
Overnight Buenos Aires
17th November - BA - Trelew - Punta Tombo
We left Buenos Aires later than expected at 0950. It was a hot sunny day when we left Buenos Aires and it was almost as hot as we landed in Trelew, and met our guide Luis who was going to show us Patagonia for the next ten days.
Luis thought that summer had come early, but reminded us that this was Patagonia and the weather could change almost within minutes. The famous Patagonian wind could chill us very quickly. He reminded us what the locals say about the best way to see Patagonia - you just stand in one place and wait for it to blow past.
After collecting our bags we were soon heading south through the Patagonian scrub desert on a typical dusty road. We were making for Punta Tombo which has the largest land-based Magellanic Penguin colony in the world. On the way we stopped for our first views of Elegant-crested Tinamou and then asked the driver to stop because we had seen Lesser Rheas up on a hill. Just further on we saw our first Guanaco, and after driving a mile or so near to the colony realised that the whole place was absolutely swarming with these. We were told that the Estancia here protected Guanaco, and so they were easier to see here than elsewhere.
We had a box lunch at the Punta Tombo café before heading down to the colony itself. It was a great time to visit late in the afternoon when most of the people had gone home, and the penguins were just emerging from their burrows or hanging around on the beach, and at a time of year when they had both eggs and chicks to see. After watching penguins standing around, walking back to sea, walking across the car park, doing the Tango etc., we did a bit of seawatching seeing our first Southern Sea Lions as well as Rock Cormorants, a few gulls including a surprising Olrog's Gull and an Antarctic Skua. Luis also showed us out fist real Patagonian endemic land bird, the subtly-plumaged Lesser Canastero.
The other Patagonian endemic was sitting on the beach, a White-headed Steamer Duck only found in this very small part of the world, was seen in a telescope. We returned towards Trelew via a huge nest taking up most of one bush which we were told belonged to a Cachalote, a bird apparently only the size of a thrush: from its nest you would think it was about the size of a Condor! We returned after a long day to our hotel at Playa Union in time for a fabulous Patagonian sunset and an excellent fish dinner at a local restaurant.
Overnight Playa Union
18th November - Valdes Peninsula
We left our hotel early to drive up north into the Valdes Peninsula. After picking up Luis at a café in Puerto Madryn he took us straight to the first of the 'secret places' that he had up his sleeve. This was a colony of Burrowing Parrots , where Luis said there were about a hundred pairs. We saw getting on for fifty on the roadside wires and on the ground above their burrows. Here too we saw Patagonian Canastero, heard a distant Cachalote and saw a few other local species. Perhaps the most spectacular of the local birds apart from the parrots were the Red-backed Hawks, a fine buzzard-like raptor.
We continued on to Puerto Pyramides where it promptly started raining. We were an hour early for our boat and managed to have time to look at some local gift shops before heading down to the beach and climbing aboard the boat which was up on a trailer. Even from the beach we could already see whales swimming about in the bay. It was an absolutely flat calm in spite of the light drizzle and we thought this would be ideal viewing conditions for the whales. In fact our boatman took us out straight past the first two whales that we saw and on to a feeding mass of gulls. It soon became clear that there under the gulls were a huge school of Dusky Dolphins. The boat took us right into the feeding frenzy and we could watch the dolphins in the very clear water just below the boat ploughing through a swarm of anchovies. The dolphins were very excited about this and were also jumping clear of the water and giving us some breathtakingly good views. We could actually see the anchovy swarm that they were feeding on like a curtain of silver in the water below us. As a dolphin swam through the curtain, the fish curtain parted to leave a glittering snowstorm of scales.
On the surface and all around us were masses of birds feeding on the fish that the dolphins missed. These were mainly Kelp Gulls, but as well these South American Terns and several shearwaters. Although we had pretty good views of these medium-sized shearwaters we haven't yet conclusively identified them; they were probably Manx Shearwater. Our attention was also drawn to a Pomarine Skua which was pursuing several of the terns.
It had been a wonderful experience, and we returned via a colony of Rock Shags and our first Snowy Sheathbills to where the whales were feeding. Although we never got as close to the whales as we did to the dolphins, we had nice views of the head, the blow hole and the flukes of these hugely impressive creatures. After this it was time to go back and dry off in a café and have a late lunch.
While we were in the café about an inch of rain fell. This is about a tenth of the total annual rainfall for this part of the world, so it was not surprising perhaps that the road was in pretty bad condition. At times we were sliding all over the place, passing coaches coming in the opposite direction very slowly. The driver was obviously used to such conditions and his windscreen showed the toll that these dirt roads take. I counted twenty-nine dents amongst the crazy-paving pattern in the glass. Sometimes our driver stopped beside the coaches to ask about road conditions further on and or course to share a drink of matĒ. Towards Punta Delgada we stopped for some excellent views of Mara, the 'Patagonian Hare' and eventually reached the lighthouse late afternoon amidst a final run of mud puddles and a burst of cheering from the passengers.
By now the coach looked like something out of the Paris-Dakar Rally, absolutely plastered with the yellow mud of Patagonia. There was still time to walk down the steps towards the Elephant Seal colony although it was rather too dark for taking photos. We got pretty close to these fine creatures. Perhaps the best thing in the evening was to hear the noises: the grunts and belches made by the young males fighting. At this time of the year there are mostly young males and females with pups on the beach. Off-shore Southern Giant Petrels were constantly patrolling. The Punta Delgada lighthouse makes a superb place to stay and we enjoyed the fine food and the 'free' help yourself bar !
Overnight Punta Delgada
19th November - Valdes Peninsula
Several of us got up early and walked down to the Elephant Seal colony before breakfast. The light was fantastic and the photographers must have used up a lot of film that morning. It was nice to get here before many of the coach parties and before the Elephant Seals got disturbed.
We left the lighthouse at 9am in brilliant sunshine and a strong south wind. Luis took us round to where you could look down on a Southern Sea Lion colony, and then we went slowly back along the Valdes Peninsula stopping at various good spots for endemic species. There were plenty of interesting flowers to look at as well. Perhaps pride of place was taken by the cacti, some of whose blooms were absolutely magnificent. Although it was lovely to be wandering about in the typical Patagonian desert habitat in beautiful clear sunshine, we tore ourselves away to Puerto Pyramides for lunch and then continued up to a local viewpoint just in time to see a very tame Grey Fox cross the road behind us.
We continued back to Puerto Madryn for a quick café stop and then onto Trelew Sewage Pools. These are an absolutely cracking habitat with masses of birds, especially grebes, and we saw our first Silvery Grebes here as well as White-cheeked Pintail, a great finale to what had been an absolutely superb day. We returned to Playa Union for a third night in the Chubut area.
Overnight Playa Union
20th November - Trelew - Rio Gallegos - Calafate
A sunny start at Playa Union and we caught our morning flight down to Rio Gallegos (pronounced 'Rio Gashegos'). It was much cooler here than up at Trelew and we were soon en route for the first mountains that we were to see during the trip. On the way we stopped at Esperanza for a rather noisy lunch in a café and then continued on through the endless Patagonian scrub desert. The landscape here was peppered with bright red bushes. These are called Guanaco bushes but I am not sure whether it is because the Guanaco eat them or don't eat them! We stopped to get pictures of these and had excellent views of Least Seedsnipe sitting on the roadside fence posts.
A little further on around the corner the great chain of the Andes hove into view including the sky-pointing finger of Mt. Fitzroy in the distance. After the endless rolling steppe the suddenness of the mountains came as a breathtaking view and we also had our first distant views of Andean Condor as well. Overhead as if to greet us were an adult and two immature Black-chested Buzzard Eagles. We continued on past the very rapidly developing town of Calafate (the tourist business must be really booming here with the amount of building going on), and past a considerable amount of road works to Estancia Alice where we were to stay for three nights.
Estancia Alice is in a superb location high on a bluff overlooking a reed-fringed freshwater lagoon and the sweep of the huge Lago Argentino. From the bar you can look out over Upland Geese and their goslings, Black-faced Ibis constantly flying to and from their reed bed colony, Chiloe Wigeon, Andean Ruddy Duck and icebergs on Lago Argentino in the distance. On both sides of the Estancia you can see the magnificent snow-capped Andean peaks as a backdrop. Amazingly we were the first British bird watching group ever to stay here although I suspect we won't be the last.
Overnight Estancia Alice
21st November - Estancia Alice - Perito Moreno Glacier NP
A sunny calm start with a freshening north-westerly wind. The pre-breakfast walk around the Estancia gave us the usual birds but also showed us how rich this area was in flowers at this time of year. The air was full of the jasmine-like scent of at least two Juniella species. The multitude of orange hairy caterpilllars provided another interesting feature.
After breakfast we met our local National Park guide Flor who was to take us into Los Glaciares National Park. At 8am we were driving away from our Estancia through the huge (70,000 hectare) Estancia Anita stopping for lovely views of Condor and Black-chested Buzzard Eagle. Here there was a fine flock of Ashy-headed Geese and our first decent views of Magellanic Oystercatcher. We drove to within thirty or forty yards of a adult Black-chested Buzzard Eagle perched on a bush. Below it rather improbably was sat one of the local hares (these are introduced European Brown Hares). After a bit we hit another road that was busy with coaches. This is perhaps the peak time of year to visit this area with the flowers at their best, and many Argentinians were taking the chance to visit one of the loveliest parts of their country.
We stopped at a lake to look at Chilean Flamingos and ducks and almost instantly four or five other coaches and mini-buses pulled up around us. From one of these out jumped a film crew which immediately started filming us taking pictures of roadside flowers. The camera man was a bit enthusiastic and Robby told him off for trampling on some of 'our' flowers.
We continued on into the Southern Beech forest for our first Austral Parakeets and a brief glimpse of Austral Pygmy-Owl. Flor knew exactly where to stop for the best displays of one of the most amazing plants we were to see during the trip, the Chilean Fire Bush (Embothrium coccineum). Suddenly round the corner we had the breathtaking view of a hillside full of Chilean Firebushes and the blue and white sweep of the Perito Moreno glacier across the waters of Lago Argentino. The photographers had got through several mental rolls of film before they had left the bus, I suspect and the cameras were soon clicking here. The birds were not to be sniffed at and we had our first Rufous-tailed Plantcutter here as well as Austral Blackbird and fine views of Field Flicker. Around the Firebushes was a sort of meadow type habitat full of flowers and butterflies and it was very difficult to tear ourselves away from this place.
We continued on through much deeper forest where Luis was going to take us to another secret place. Here on a shady pool he beckoned to us and pointed to a pair of Spectacled Duck, one of the most sought-after species in this area. Despite the very fierce mosquitoes round here we had excellent views of the Spectacled Duck and also our first views of the woodland flora including lovely Dog Orchid. We took our box lunches down to the picnic place beside the restaurant, getting good views of a flock of Black-chinned Siskin, and accompanied by Austral Blackbirds that came down to the picnic table.
Then we continued up on to the glacier viewpoint. Here there are a series of walkways cut into the hillside and although it was quite busy with people it was still a wonderful place from which to view the magnificence of Perito Moreno. Perhaps the best moment came when three Andean Condors flew low overhead and across the face of the glacier, a really inspiring and truly Andean spectacle. Late afternoon we headed back on the long drive down the dirt road back towards Calafate in the hope of getting some replacement camera parts and our tickets for the boat trip tomorrow. We returned to Alice just before dinner. It had been a long day, but what wonderful sights we had seen.
Overnight Estancia Alice
22nd November - Los Glaciares NP
A calm sunny start with a light cloud and a light westerly-wind boded well for our boat trip. We arrived at the jetty at half past eight ready to depart on the catamaran, Sarac, on the waters of Lago Argentino. The boat was pretty full, mainly it seemed with Germans claiming seats, but we were soon away from the crowds up on the deck marvelling at the blue icebergs.
The icebergs gradually increased as we headed towards the Upsala Glacier amidst increasingly breathtaking scenery. The conditions were superbly calm with sunny intervals, making photography an absolute delight. We weaved our way in and out of the icebergs towards the Upsala Glacier, which is low and wide with strikingly dark central moraines. We and our companion boat passed close into this impressive spectacle before heading back towards another inlet in the lake up towards the Onelli Glacier. Our companion boat tried to get into the landing, but the way was completely blocked with small icebergs so we were unable to land here.
We turned back and after half an hour or so headed down another iceberg- filled inlet, where we landed amongst the impressively wild Nothofagus Forest. Almost our first Condors of the day flew low overhead and then perched, although conditions were not very good for flying. The crowds from two boats landing made it rather difficult to watch birds here, although we did see a good flock of Austral Parakeets.
After a short time here we got back on to our boats and headed towards the Spegazzini Glacier. With a hundred and fifty metre high ice cliffs and the huge peaks behind this was the most spectacular part of the trip. We headed in very close under the ice cliffs amongst myriad icebergs and freshly thawing brash ice on the water surface. As we headed back the light conditions, if anything, improved and we began to see more Condors. A flock of six seemed to follow us as we went back (or we might have seen several flocks of six!).
It had been a long trip and we got back to the landing at 6pm, stopping at a nearby lake for views of Andean Ruddy Duck and a fine male Cinereous Harrier. Back at the Estancia we found Tim and Barbara, whom we had left to botanise all day, had been interviewed by the film crew we had seen yesterday. They turned out to be Craig Doyle and crew from the B.B.C. Holiday programme! They seemed to have forgiven us for telling them off yesterday. Luis meanwhile was out looking at the poplars behind our house and found a Great-horned Owl perched in full view. We had excellent views of this bird before going and fetching the film crew that also delighted in taking shots of this. It later appeared on the programme in January, as did David videoing flowers - but Tim & Barbara's interview sadly didn't - perhaps they should have demonstrated the tango as well.
The wind by now had got up very strongly and overnight the gale roared all round us bringing several branches down from the poplars.
Overnight Estancia Alice
23rd November - Estancia Alice - Rio Gallegos - Ushuaia
We awoke to a still fresh westerly wind and a very clear and sunny morning. Six Condors appeared at breakfast and hung around the area until at least mid-morning. We could watch them soaring from the restaurant. Tim and Barbara who again went out botanising probably had the best view of them as they soared directly overhead.
After spending a relaxing morning around the Estancia we headed back after lunch to Rio Gallegos for an evening flight to Ushuaia. The wind at Rio Gallegos was incredibly strong and it was hard even to stand up as we moved our luggage from the coach into the terminal. Flying south we suddenly crossed the mountains about half way across Tierra del Fuego and landed amongst spectacular scenery at Ushuaia before being taken to our hotel on the shores of the Beagle Channel. We had dinner in the restaurant overlooking Steamer Ducks, Kelp Geese, and the snow-capped mountains of this land 'at the end of the world'.
24th November - Tierra del Fuego NP
A calm start with showers. I was quite surprised to draw back my curtains and find that the first bird of the day was a female Magellanic Woodpecker low in the trees behind my room! I took the pre-breakfast group to look for this bird and we soon found it a bit further along, but showing well. The shore-line also gave us excellent views of Kelp Geese and Ashy-headed Geese as well as good views of the Black-browed Albatross that we were to see later on our boat trip.
Today we were to head into the nearby Tierra del Fuego National Park. At our first stop we saw a couple of Andean Condors and had fine views of Black-chested Buzzard Eagle. In the trees a mixed flock of small birds drew our attention to what David pointed out was a Austral Pygmy Owl being mobbed by Thorn-tailed Rayadito, White-throated Treerunner and many more. It was an excellent introduction to the birds of the woodland here.
We went round to a quiet inlet by an old Indian settlement and had good views of both the Steamer Ducks and Black-faced Ground Tyrant together with more geese here. Luis then took us to an area that he had been tipped off by his local contact might produce something interesting. It was an area where the trees had been killed by Beavers to build a huge dam. Luis played his tape and out popped what John described as a 'flying squash ball', a round black bird darting about in the earth bank: Magellanic Tapaculo. We had incredible views of this bird down to a few feet away from us calling all the time.
It was beginning to rain and we headed towards the café for lunch and although the rain held off the conditions were not very good for bird watching. The coach left us for a while and most of the group went for a walk by the lake. On the way back again tipped of by Luis's contact I tried a small area for scrub and soon found Tufted Tit-Tyrants which the group much enjoyed. We returned via another try for Magellanic Woodpeckers, and then via one of the more famous birding sites around here, Ushuaia rubbish dump. Here we duly saw the White-throated Caracara that are virtually guaranteed at this spot before heading back to our hotel.
We got back rather surprised to find that dinner had been postponed to 8.30 and that we weren't having it in the usual restaurant. We were directed out to a kind of shed at the back where an absolutely superb lamb roast was awaiting us. They seemed to have prepared a whole lamb between the nine of us and we did struggle a bit to get through our food that night. It was perhaps the most memorable meal of the whole trip!
25th November - Ushuaia - Beagle Channel - Harberton
We awoke to rain, which stopped us from having a pre-breakfast walk or search for woodpeckers. This continued for the first couple of hours of the day and we headed into Ushuaia and devoted this time to shopping. After a quick shuttle back to the hotel and then back again into town we had lunch in a local restaurant and headed down to the quay for our afternoon boat trip.
The catamaran we used, the Azequil, was quite small and even so was less than half full as we headed out into the Beagle Channel. The weather was improving all the time and miraculously the wind completely dropped as we went further out towards the Islas Bridges. The boatman was excellent and got us really close into the colonies of Imperial Shags, the Sea Lions and our first Southern Fur Seals. All were highly entertaining and photogenic. We had wonderful clear views of the Beagle Channel in both directions and soon we were amongst plenty of Black-browed Albatross flying on both sides of the boat. One of the star birds of the trip was Magellanic Diving Petrel, of which we had at least eight sightings at least one pretty close to the boat.
After a couple of hours we started heading through very narrow passageways between the islands heading towards the penguin colony. Having seen the penguins at Punta Tombo these ones on the beach were perhaps less impressive to us than to other people on the boat. However, Yvonne called the photographers up on to the top deck, from where she could see two Gentoo Penguins slumped on their nests further up the island. Luis was delighted as this represented a doubling in size of the colonies since his last visit!
Then we continued to Harberton, the oldest settlement in Tierra del Fuego where we were welcomed by the fourth generation descendent of the original founder. A visiting English girl gave us a tour of the Estancia, sadly in the rain but we saw enough to realise what an atmospheric and peaceful place this was: the farm that gave its name to the book 'The Uttermost Place on Earth'. After tea and some rather nice cakes in the farmhouse we drove back to Ushuaia through superb Fuegian scenery for a late dinner at 9 pm.
26th November - Martial Glacier, Ushuaia, flight to BA
We had a late start this morning to pack and clear our rooms. We left at 9am in fabulous sunny and calm weather. We were heading up the mountains behind Ushuaia to try and walk up into the alpine zone. The coach took us to the bottom of the chair-lift but unfortunately there was no electricity available, and so the chair-lift would not work until the afternoon. We walked slowly through the forest accompanied by Luis and local guide Marcelo. The flowers here were superb and very varied although spring here is well behind Calafate. The birds here were scarce but above the tree-line we started to see a few including Black-faced Ground Tyrant and the sought after Yellow-bridled Finch. There were also Ochre-naped Ground Tyrants on the snowline.
It is worth coming up here just for the views of Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel alone. Today the weather was really excellent for walking in this beautiful environment and although there were cold blasts of wind down from the peaks above us and the snowfields (although I still failed to see a glacier up here !) and we had a very pleasant two hours pottering about the alpine zone. We then wandered slowly back down stopping at a rather twee teashop which supplied us with hot chocolate and brownies, and then took the bus back down to the hotel. We still had a little bit of time around here and I managed to find the female Magellanic Woodpecker again nearby and took various people to see this magnificent bird for a great finale to our stay in Tierra del Fuego. We then headed into town for a quick snack before returning to our hotel for our luggage at 6.30 and thence to the airport. We arrived in Buenos Aires just before midnight and Marcelo and Gerado were there to meet us and take us back to our hotel- we were in our rooms by 1.00 am.
Overnight Buenos Aires
27th November - BA - Iguazu
Thankfully we had a midday flight today so we could have a late start in Buenos Aires. Iguazu, when we landed, was something of a contrasting temperature to Tierra del Fuego from approximately 10øC in the south, to 35øC at Iguazu. The airport is virtually inside the National Park and it only took us twenty minutes to reach the fabulously situated International Hotel from where we could see, as we checked in, the amazing spectacle of the Falls thundering away in the distance.
We decided to rest up during the heat of the day, and several of us saw a variety of new species - toucans, caciques and so on - from our bedroom balconies. Habitat here is sub-tropical forest and we went to explore it with Marcelo in the late afternoon. It is low, fairly open woodland, and at this time of year it is pretty dry. The thunder of the Falls is always present in the background. The birds were very colourful in startling contrast to those of Patagonia. Red-rumped Caciques were probably the commonest, and there was a very busy colony outside one of the ranger's huts. We also saw our first Toco Toucan and several hummingbirds attending a Flame Tree in bloom? Another common bird which is a real stunner is Plush-crested Jay, and these were flying around in small flocks.
28th November - Iguazu, Brazil & Argentina
To get the best out of this place you have to be out first thing in the morning , so 6.00 am saw us out in front of the hotel looking at our mixed flocks of tanagers, including Bananaquit, Green-hooded and Swallow Tanagers. At this time of day we were confined to the hotel grounds as apparently a Puma had attacked someone on one of the trails a couple of years ago, and so people are banned from the trails outside what you might term 'office hours' when the guides are around.
By the car park we also had nice views of Grey-breasted Wood Rail. After breakfast we met Nousha, our local guide from Brazil who was to guide us on both sides of the Falls, but we started over on the Brazilian side. There was a twenty minute drive to the border and another twenty minutes over to the Falls on the other side. Nousha mentioned that we might see a few Coatis, but in fact the 'catwalks' down to the Falls were absolutely swarming with them. It was also incredibly busy today as it was Sunday. Although we got there early, the catwalks were soon filling up with school parties and others. However the views from of the falls from here are breathtaking and the catwalks take you right into the spray above some of the steepest and most spectacular falls. We wandered back up for some shopping near the border and back to our hotel for lunch.
After the usual afternoon siesta we were out on the trail late afternoon and took one of the narrow forest trails. This was disappointingly quiet, and the birds didn't really get active till about 6.00 pm. The trail somewhat unfortunately closed at 6.30 pm! Tim, however, saw a Small-billed Tinamou well enough to identify while later on John and myself saw another pair of tinamous which may have been the large Solitary Tinamou, but they were off in the undergrowth before identification could really be clinched. Perhaps the most startling event of this walk was when David nearly got crowned by a falling branch that crashed to the ground moments after he had leapt aside as he heard a crack above him.
29th November - Iguazu, Argentinian side
Another sunny, clear day, and the early morning walk was very productive. As we stood outside the hotel a Bat Falcon flew past and we saw all three toucan species very well. A male Red-crested Finch was a nice addition, but perhaps the star birds of the morning were the Blond-crested Woodpeckers which hung around long enough for us to see well in some low scrub.
After breakfast we headed down to the Argentinian side of the Falls. The cat walks here seem more varied and certainly less crowded than on the Brazilian side and there were more birds including many tanagers and euphonias. From the walks above the falls we saw two species of Kingfisher and had fine views of Tropical Parula at eye level, not a common sight. It was getting very hot in the full sunshine here and so we headed back for lunch well before noon. The hotel had recorded a temperature well in excess of 36øC today.
At teatime we headed off to the broken catwalk above the Falls. To reach this you have to drive to a jetty and get a small boat. Several years ago the walks here had been washed away in a flood. By getting here late in the day you miss most of the crowds and so it wasn't till about 5pm that we ended up at the jetty. The boat nosed its way through rocks and the shattered remains of the old bridge. We were soon walking along right above the "Devils Throat", an awe-inspiring place and an excellent place for the tour finale. Even at this time of day it was incredibly hot, and several people were really feeling it, so when we reached the jetty, we headed back to the hotel, stopping all too briefly to look at the many birds in the trees around here including several new species of parrot.
30th November - Iguazu and return BA - London
A few of us went back to the top catwalk, although it was extremely busy as soon as it opened. We saw nothing new this morning, but perhaps the most interesting sight were a group of at least a dozen Plush-crested Jays all gathered round a snake which was hanging in a tree. The jays were playing 'tug of war' with this poor hapless snake, and even grabbing it by the bill and swinging from it ! As a real finale, just as we got back off the cat walks an American Swallow-tailed Kite flew overhead, giving David the chance to video it.
Then it was time for the long journey and three flights home, to arrive late the next day.
Thanks are due to all our local guides in the various places we visited but thanks particularly to Marcelo and to Luis who made this tour of a vast and varied country so enthralling from start to finish.
The 'Holiday' programme featured Argentina in January. On the slot appeared Estancia Alice, 'our' Great Horned Owl, and a frighteningly full-frame shot of David videoing some white anemones. Not a mention of The Travelling Naturalist, though - the only British company that actually has run a tour staying in the place they featured ! Never mind, we're famous enough as it is...