Argentina 1 - 13 November 1999
Please note that due to the large number of bird photographs from this trip, they can be viewed elsewhere on this site. To view them click on the link: Argentina birdsWe travelled to Argentina with Naturetrek to explore the Pampas and Patagonia. The itinerary was advertised as Buenos Aires (2 nts), San Clemente (2 nts), Valdes Peninsula (4 nts), El Calafate (2 nts) and Ushuaia (3 nts). Last minute changes introduced new stops at Rio Gallegos and Rio Grande and added a further 2 days of coach travel to the holiday. We subsequently discovered that the planned flight from El Calafate that had been "removed" from our trip had never actually been possible to catch in the past as the plane is only a 25 seater, so there are hardly likely to be 18 spare seats.
Even worse, fog in Europe on the day of departure and a very optimistic transit time allowed in Madrid caused us to miss the connecting flight, leaving us stranded for 2 days. As a result, after 48 hours of tedium in Madrid, the planned day at the Costanera Sur reserve in Buenos Aires and a day exploring private ranches and the coast of the Pampas (probably the most productive birding days of the holiday) were both lost - not a good start to the trip.
Whilst waiting at Buenos Aires airport for onward flights to be confirmed, an ovenbird nest was spotted followed by the likely owner, a rufous hornero. Also, the first of many rufous collared sparrows, a very attractive and surprisingly tuneful bird which was present in almost every habitat in every location subsequently visited, as well as chalk-browed mockingbird, grey-breasted martin,white-rumped swallow, eared dove, chimango caracara and bay-winged hawk.
By late morning, we set off on the 300 km drive to San Clemente for our very curtailed visit to the Pampas, a huge area of lush grassland occupied by cattle ranches. The drive took the rest of the day and, to add to our woes, included an enforced stop to repair a puncture. Despite the weather getting increasingly windy, birdlife was extremely plentiful but had to be viewed from the bus or roadside. An exception was a stop at a roadside lake containg many ducks, greater and lesser yellowlegs, plumbeous rail and coypu. A captive lesser rhea allowed us to get very close - it seemed to be as interested in us as we were in it.
A total of 71 species were seen (the highest day total for the trip) including greater rhea, maguari stork, green-barred woodpecker, spectacled tyrant, vermillion flycatcher, snail kite, southern screamer and many wildfowl and waders.
The next morning was very stormy with high winds and rain as we retraced the previous day's journey back to Buenos Aires in order to catch a plane to Trelew. This was a tedious journey with the one attempt at exploring off the main road resulting in the bus getting stuck in mud. To make things worse, the flight was delayed for over 2 hours, and after arrival at Trelew there was then a 2 hour drive in the dark to Puerto Piramide on the Valdes Peninsula where we arrived about midnight. Definitely one of the worse days of the trip, and by now we were starting to doubt if things would ever start to improve.
Fortunately, the sun was shining the next day although the strong wind remained as we set off on a tour of the Valdes Peninsula. The landscape was still very flat but considerably less fertile than the Pampas with no trees or even many bushes.
Whilst the birds seen were of interest including superb views of burrowing owl, the unending landscapes with accompanying huge skies and coastal scenes inhabited by numerous sea lions, elephant seals and offshore whales were the most memorable aspects.
We first drove to the extreme north end of the peninsula, Punta Norte, where there are superb views along the coast. This area is famous for the annual sight of killer whales beaching themselves in attempts to catch seals and although this was not the time of year to view that spectacle, a couple of orcas were spotted well offshore. There were still plenty of female elephant seals present with their pups on the beaches.
Typical birds of the coast seen included kelp gull, giant petrel, black-browed albatross, snowy sheathbill, rock cormorant, blackish and american oystercatchers, royal and south american terns, etc.
The next day, we took a boat trip from Puerto Piramide into the Golfo Nuevo in an attempt to get close to the Southern Right Whales that spend the summer in these waters. These trips are a well established tourism experience, and run very efficiently with a novel method of launching and landing to cope with the gently sloping beach. Despite the difficult conditions, we managed to get very close to some whales.
After the boat trip, we went over to the southeastern coast of the peninsula to see more seals, sea lions and sea birds before retracing our route and continuing to Trelew. The weather now improved with some very welcome sun although the strong wind remained.
The next day we went to Punta Tombo to see the vast Magellanic Penguin colony, and on the way at the roadside came across a hairy armadillo which our Argentinian guide, Ricardo, managed to catch temporarily after a swift chase.
The penguins excavate burrows over a huge area extending well inland which means a long walk up a well worn network of paths when they bring back food from the sea. They are incredibly tolerant of humans who also come in large numbers to watch them. Other sea birds were also plentiful including several white-headed steamer ducks.
In the afternoon, we returned to Trelew via the fertile Chubut Valley including a stop at Gaiman, the centre of the historic Welsh community. The birding highlight here was a flock of burrowing parrots, almost equalled shortly afterwards at a reedbed in Trelew by many-coloured rush tyrant. We had expected to see the latter earlier in the tour but had missed it due to the flight problems so this was something of a bonus at this location.
Other species at the lake included wren-like rushbird, black-necked and coscoroba swan, cinnamon and speckled teal, white-tufted grebe, red-fronted coot, lake duck, southern wigeon, yellow-winged blackbird and south american stilt.
On day 6 we flew from Trelew to Rio Gallegos, and after lunch headed south across vast plains towards the distant mountains of Chile. The terrain was flat and the vegetation sparse compared to the northern grasslands but the birds which we came across were first class and easy to see. In just a few hours, we were treated to least and grey-breasted seedsnipe, tawny-throated and rufous-chested dotterel, black-throated yellow-finch, chocolate-vented tyrant, chilian flamingo, white-rumped sandpiper, 2-banded plover, common miner and others.
The following day, we set off on the 300km drive to El Calafate stopping at Laguna de las Escardados on the way where we saw magellanic plover, flying steamer duck and baird's sandpiper. This involved quite a trek from the road as the gate across the access road has been permanently locked by the estate owner, Benetton.
Day 8 consisted of a trip to the Moreno Glacier. On the way, we came across andean condor, black-chested buzzard-eagle, cinereous harrier, chilean flicker, austral parakeet, austral blackbird, white-crested elaenia, austral pygmy-owl, patagonian yellow-finch, white-throated treerunner, thorn-tailed rayadito, spectacled duck and many more.
The glacier terminates in a branch of Lake Argentina in a 60m high wall of ice. Historically, the glacier completely dams the lake on a 13 year cycle causing the water level to rise by 20m on the upstream side before rupture occurs allowing the lake to drain again.
The following morning, we enjoyed a superb walk around a small lake in El Calafate with very pleasant weather, superb light, and great views of birds including a pair nesting cinereous harriers.
We then had to retrace the journey to Rio Gallegos for the flight to Ushuaia. Unfortunately, a stop for lunch at the only restaurant available on the route was to cause much discomfort over the next few days as almost the entire party suffered food poisoning as a result.
Ushuaia claims to be the southernmost city in the world, and has a unique atmosphere. Surrounded by sea and mountains, it is the departure point for many antarctic cruise ships and has expanded at an incredible rate over the last 10 years after being given tax-free status leading to a large influx of industry and people.
The need for housing and some strange local planning laws has led to a confused mess of shacks and portable homes. The next day, after a morning trip up a nearby ski-lift, we had a trip on the Beagle Channel to enjoy the scenery and the colonies of seabirds and seals on the many islands.
Birds seen included south polar and great skua, black-browed albatross, southern giant and diving petrel, dolphin and kelp gull, south american tern, whimbrel, flightless and flying steamer duck, gentoo and magellanic penguin, southern fulmar, rock cormorant, imperial shag, and snowy sheathbill.
On day 11, we had a full day touring the Tierra del Fuego National Park. This produced several excellent bird sightings including andean condor, tufted tit-tyrant and magellanic woodpecker plus close views of a red fox. A visit to the rubbish dump also brought us white-throated caracara to add to the much more common chimango and crested varieties.
Day 12 consisted of the long drive across Tierra del Fuego from Ushuaia to Rio Grande, a strange ramshackle town with a vast collection of hideous concrete street furniture adorning almost every open space. On the way, we stopped to view a very impressive beaver dam. Whilst their industrious activity has to be admired, beavers are just one of the many introduced species that have made a big adverse impact on the landscape.
On the final day of the holiday, we just had time to see hudsonian godwit before commencing the 26 hour journey home via Buenos Aires and Madrid.
During the trip, we saw 191 species which was well short of the 230-240 target due to the disastrous start.
|1 Nov||Buenos Aires - San Clemente|
|2 Nov||San Clemente - Buenos Aires - Punta Pyramides|
|3 Nov||Valdes Peninsula|
|4 Nov||Punta Pyramides - Trelew|
|5 Nov||Punta Tombo - Chubut Valley - Gaiman|
|6 Nov||Trelew - Rio Gallegos - Santa Cruz Province|
|7 Nov||Rio Gallegos - El Calafate|
|8 Nov||Moreno Glacier|
|9 Nov||El Calafate - Rio Gallegos - Ushuaia|
|10 Nov||Ushuaia Ski Lift - Beagle Channel|
|11 Nov||Tierra del Fuego National Park|
|12 Nov||Ushuaia - Rio Grande|
|13 Nov||Rio Grande - Buenos Aires|