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.



1 comment:

  1. Nice to see you're back amongst some birds Brian! Great close-up of the Skua!