Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Fin del Mundo

On Saturday, Feb. 23 we flew to the end of the world – "fin del mundo" as the city of Ushuaia proudly proclaims.  It is not quite the end of the world but may have seemed that way in past centuries.  Ushuaia claims that it is the world’s most southerly city, dismissing a Chilean settlement on the south side of the channel as just a town.  This part of the continent is well known for its bad weather and we had packed accordingly.  I can’t say that we were disappointed when the weather was warm, calm and sunny!  We only had 2 ½ days in Ushuaia so we didn’t have time to explore all of the area.  We chose to do a 4 hour cruise in the Beagle Channel and a full day excursion to Estancia Harberton and Gable Island.

I had not been south of Buenos Aires before so almost all of the birds were new to me.  A walk along the shore near our hotel produced my first new bird for the area – Kelp Goose.  Along the shore there were hundreds of terns including South American Terns.  I think there were also Arctic and Antarctic Terns but I’ll have to check my reference books at home to be sure.
Kelp Goose
South American Tern
I picked a cruise boat that had a maximum of 26 paying customers and also had an upper observation deck; as a bonus, one of the crew knew his birds and would point out interesting birds to me.  The view of the mountains and the city was magnificent such that it was hard to focus on the birds!
View of Ushuaia as seen from the bay
The first new bird of the trip was Magellanic Penguin – nice to see but we would get much closer looks the following day.  The cruise got hijacked by a Humpback Whale for a while but eventually everyone had seen enough of the whale and we returned to the original route.  In the Beagle Channel there are a number of small islands which host South American Sea Lions and cormorants.
South American Sea Lions and Imperial Cormorants
Most of the cormorants were Imperial Cormorants but one island had a number of Rock Cormorants.
Rock Cormorants
In the sky, skuas – Brown and Chilean – were everywhere.  We also had distant looks at Black-browed Albatross and Southern Giant Petrel but, alas, no diving-petrels.  Near the end of the cruise, we docked at a small island and did a short hike.  Once again, the views were spectacular but close-ups of Chilean Skuas stole the show (at least in my opinion!).
Chilean Skua
The next day we went by van to Estancia Harberton, a 20,000 hectare ranch about 85 km from Ushuaia.  The ranch includes some islands in the Beagle Channel and this was the attraction for us.  We went for a 2 hour hike on Gable Island which is the largest island in the channel.  Birds weren’t plentiful but over the course of the hike I managed to find a few lifers.  At the end of the hike, we were treated to a delicious meal of chicken pizza (where the chicken replaces the dough of a normal pizza) complete with some Patagonian wine.
Thorn-tailed Rayodito
Austral Parakeet
We then went by zodiac to a small island which is a breeding colony for Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins.  There was even a special visitor in amongst the breeders – a King Penguin.
Penguin colony
Magellanic Penguin
Gentoo Penguin
King Penguin
After spending 3 weeks in Buenos Aires (albeit focusing on Spanish and tango lessons), it was nice to see a lot of new birds.  No doubt, a couple days more with some more boat trips, would have resulted in even more lifers but might not have been so interesting for my travel companions.  Barb has been great in accompanying me on birding outings and has also been taking some scenic and wide-angle shots which I am using in this and other Argentina posts.



Sunday, 17 February 2013

A Day on the Delta

Having spent most of the past two weeks in the city, we were looking forward to a boating excursion on Saturday from Tigre, a town located about 30 kilometres north of Buenos Aires city centre.  Barb did the research and found a small company, Safari Delta, which offered trips in a zodiac. This had more appeal than the big tourist boats and I figured we would see some birds as we explored some small channels.

Our trip was scheduled for noon – not ideal but reasonable given a 1 ½ trip by train and foot to get there. Our guide was to be Lucila, a young energetic lady who spoke excellent English (alas, no Spanish practice!) and we were soon on our way down a small channel.

Barb and our gude Lucila
Lucila warned us that we probably wouldn’t see too many birds because of all the weekend boaters but there couldn’t be that many … could there?
Boats on the river with Buenos Aires in the background
It turns out that all of the navigable channels on the delta have homes or cabins on them so we were never far from people.  I kept looking for birds and eventually saw a Snowy Egret, Cocoi Heron and Kiskadee – not much for such wonderful looking habitat.  Lucila took us to a quiet channel and we went for a swim in the chocolate brown water – very refreshing on a hot summer day.
Swimming in the warm (but not clear!) water
Knowing that I was keen to find some birds, Lucila then went down a shallow channel.  We could hear a few birds and watched Streaked Flycatchers swoop down for insects just above the water.  However, the channel became too shallow for the zodiac so we had to turn around.  On the way out, I spotted a Green Kingfisher hiding in the shade.
A quiet channel
To cap the afternoon off, we stopped for lunch along the river where Lucila cooked a wonderful steak (best we’ve had in Argentina so far) which I washed down with a litre of beer.  It was a great outing but not very good for birds.  If you are ever in Tigre and want to see some birds, go early and don’t go on a weekend … the habitat looks great so there should be birds around.  Below is a map of the area showing our route for the afternoon.

Our route (Buenos Aires is to the southeast)
 Hopefully I'll have some bird and/or mammal photos for the next post! 



Tuesday, 12 February 2013

An Outing North of Buenos Aires

On Sunday, Barb and I met up with two young naturalists, Leonel and Martina.  I had contacted Leonel through Birding Pal and he suggested taking us to two reserves north of Buenos Aires.  The plan sounded great to me and even appealed to Barb who is not a birder.
Martina and Leonel with me at the entrance to Ribera Norte
We started birding at Ribera Norte in San Isidro.  The reserve borders the River Plata and features various habitats – extensive wetlands including a small lagoon, some dense forested areas and reedy areas along the river.
Lagoon at Ribera Norte
At the lagoon, there is a raised blind and we stayed there for about 30 minutes enjoying the views.  On the lagoon there were Common Gallinules, Brazilian Teals, a Striated Heron and a couple of Coypus (my second Argentine mammal.  Thanks Steve – that was a Brazilian Guinea Pig that I saw last week which the local guide book calls a South American Guinea Pig). 
Brazilian Teal

Beyond the lagoon, there were Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets and a Cocoi Heron in the trees.
Cocoi Heron
While walking through the forest, we came across species such as Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Tropical Parula and had numerous glimpses of the Gray-necked Wood-Rail. In the reeds at the river we found my lifer for the day – a Wren-like Rushbird.
Wren-like Rushbird
Our next stop was a small reserve in Vicente López which is just south of San Isidro.  At a playing field on the way to the reserve, we saw a mixed flock of Shiny Cowbirds, European Starlings, Cattle Tyrants and Southern Lapwing.  This reserve featured a large lagoon with a trail around it.  On the lagoon, there was Wattled Jacana with 3 young ones and a Black-crowned Night-Heron juvenile.  On the trail, we found Sooty Tyrannulet, Sayaca Tanager and Green-winged Saltator.
Birding in the Vicente López researve
After a pleasant lunch, we made a couple of stops in Palermo on the way back to our apartment.  By now, the temperature was over 30o C so the birding was quiet.  Still we found a Dark-billed Cuckoo, Limpkin and got better looks at the Narrow-billed Woodcreeper.
Dark-billed Cuckoo
Narrow-billed Woodcreeper
All in all, it was a great introduction to some great urban birding locations and we are very thankful to Leonel and Martina for taking us around and patiently answering all of our questions.  They not only told us about the birds but also the mammals, trees, flowers and butterflies and general ecology of the area. 

The bird names that I use in this blog are based on the most recent Clements update and, as such, do not always correspond to those in the Argentina guidebook.  For example, the guidebook uses Brazilian Duck instead of Brazilian Teal and White-necked Heron instead of Cocoi Heron. 



Friday, 8 February 2013

Common Birds of Buenos Aires

Barb and I arrived in Buenos Aires last Friday afternoon and soon were settled in an apartment in the Palermo district of the city.  We chose this area due to its proximity to a number of parks, quick access to the subway (“subte”) and because it was within walking distance of our Spanish and tango lessons.  When I saw the comment on this blog from my friend, Jose Gustavo, I was even more motivated to improve my Spanish.  We birded many times together in Venezuela and he very patiently tried to teach me some birding Spanish.

Birding wasn’t on the agenda but, with all of the large trees lining the streets, there were always birds to be seen.  From the apartment balcony, I have seen about 10 species including one lifer – Burrowing Parrot.  One landed on the balcony above me but I was not fast enough with the camera.  I have been trying to learn the calls of the 3 parrot species in the area and this morning I heard squawks that sounded like a car trying to start.  “Hmm, I wonder which one that is” and I listened closely.  The sound was repeated a few times and then the engine caught!
View from our apartment
A walk in the local park on Saturday produced many common birds, some of which are the same as in Calgary – Rock Pigeon, European Starling, House Wren and the ubiquitous House Sparrow; some which make it to the southern U.S. – Neotropic Cormorant, Snowy Egret, Kiskadee and Monk Parakeet; some are southern cousins of North American birds – Chalk-browed Mockingbird,Rufous-bellied Thrush; and some which common throughout South America – Rufous-Collared Sparrow, Eared Dove, Rufous Hornero.
Snowy Egret

Chalk-browed Mockingbird
Rufous Hornero
Sunday, we ventured to the street market in San Telmo.  There I found an Argentina bird guidebook (I had looked earlier in some book stores without success), albeit without the accompanying DVD.  It is an excellent guide with both Spanish and English, photos and illustrations and a numerical code indicating the likelihood of finding a bird (all of the birds I’ve seen so far are common, thus the title of this posting).  I don’t know why the book isn’t available in North America. There were not many birds in this old part of town but we saw some interesting sights. 
Tango - we just learned this step so perhaps Barb needs a dress like this!
This week, we have developed a bit of a routine:  an early morning walk in the park, Spanish lessons at noon, mid-afternoon by the pool or perhaps another outing, a tango lesson (just two per week) and then dinner at a nearby restaurant.  It is mid-summer here so the daytime highs are in the high 20’s and overnight lows around 18 … quite pleasant compared to Calgary at this time of year!

Buenos Aires has a well know ecological reserve – reserva ecologica Costanera Sur – which is just a half hour walk from the city centre.  I had visited it over 10 years ago while on a business trip and remembered it as a fantastic place.  However, it has been very dry in Buenos Aires the past few years and the lagoons have all dried up!  Still, there is a lot of good habitat but one has to work a lot harder to see the birds.  To compound problems, the reserve doesn’t open until 8 a.m. which is about an hour and a half after sunrise. I went to the reserve on Tuesday and by 10 a.m. it was too hot for me and the birds.  Some of the birds I saw were Green-barred Woodpecker, Streaked Flycatcher, Hooded Siskin, Saffron Finch, and Double-collared Seedeater.  I had one lifer in the reserve – a Golden-billed Saltator.  I also found my first mammal of the trip but am not sure what is was.  I asked a man who was watching it and he called it a “Cu-ee”.  This is a medium-sized rodent with prominent (but not large) ears and no apparent tail.  I was just about to take a photo when a jogger ran by and the animal scurried into the bushes.
Green-barred Woodpecker
Streaked Flycatcher
The parks nearby the apartment have many beautiful large trees but no understory.  Thus, most of the birds I’m seeing are those found in inhabited or open areas.  There are a few small lakes that have a variety of waterfowl, most of which appears to be of the barnyard variety.  Still, I have picked up some life birds such as White-winged Coot and Red-fronted Coot.
Red-fronted Coot
Some of the trees are still in bloom and the Palo Barracho with its pink flowers attracts the parakeets and hummingbirds.
Palo Barracho trees

Monk Parakeet
Gilded Hummingbird
In English we have an expression “trash bird” which usually refers to a bird that one was hoping to find and which turns out to be very common.  Here, the Monk Parakeet is truly a trash bird!
Trash birds!  Monk Parakeets
In this post, I have shown a few of the birds I have seen.  If you wish to view photos of all the birds I have photographed in Argentina, go to:

I have made contact with a local birder and, in the coming week, I am hoping to venture a little further afield.  Maybe I’ll have some uncommon birds to show you in the next post!