Wednesday, 6 March 2013

El Parque Nacional Los Glaciares - Argentina

Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina is situated in the Patagonia region on the border with Chile.  In fact, the border is not clearly demarcated at the north end of the park (check out Google maps) due to an unresolved border dispute.  The snow cap in the park and in the adjoining park in Chile is the 3rd largest repository of fresh water in the world (after Antarctica and Greenland) and has many glaciers that can be seen easily by tourists.  The glaciers, along with the hiking trails in the park were the reason we came – not the birds (which is a good thing because there weren’t many!).

On Tuesday Feb. 26, we flew from Ushuaia to El Calafete.  Our itinerary was to view some glaciers near El Calafate and then travel a bit further north to do some hiking.   The checklists suggested that Magellanic Plover and Gray-breasted Seedsnipe were a possibility but my realistic targets were Magellanic Woodpecker and Andean Condor.
Reserva Municipal - Laguna Nimez
Upon arriving at our hotel in El Calafate, I was delighted to discover that there was a reserve just 800 m from the hotel.  With nothing scheduled for the afternoon, Barb and I walked down to the reserve – Laguna Nimez.  It turned out to be a great place with a small lagoon bordering Lago Argentina.  The first birds we saw were Black-faced Ibis.
Black-faced Ibis
Continuing around the perimeter of the lagoon, we soon encountered Patagonia Mockingbird, Long-tailed Meadowlark and Chiloe Wigeon.

Long-tailed Meadowlark
The reserve had higher water levels than normal and some of the trails and all of the shorebird habitat was under water (so little hope of the Magellanic Plover and seedsnipe).  Still, we enjoyed the walk around the lagoon and, for me, the highlight was a Plumbeous Rail hiding in the reeds – its metallic-looking bill was spectacular!
Plumbeous Rail
We took a bus tour to the national park to view the Perito Moreno Glacier – in the park we took a boat to within 250 m of the glacier’s edge and then spent the afternoon on a ridge opposite the glacier.  The views were incredible; the birding was not.  However, I did get two lifers – a distant view of 2 Chilean Flickers and a fly-by of a Magellanic Woodpecker.
Perito Moreno Glacier
The next day, we visited two other glaciers by boat – the Upsala and Spegazzini glaciers.  Once again, the views were fantastic and the birding non-existent –7 hours on the boat and I did not see a single bird! 
Spegazzeni Glacier
We then journeyed to El Chalten by bus and spent 3 days hiking in the mountains.  Based  our first two days in the park, I was resigned to a paucity of birds.  We did hike through some nice forests and saw some birds though not many new ones.  Even though we were only at 400 m, Andean Condors were common in the area.  At first, I only had distant views but finally one crossed the valley at low altitude (perhaps it thought I was dying after a 15 km hike!) and I finally got a decent look.
Andean Condor
The other birding highlight was the Magellanic Woodpecker.  It turned out to be one of the most common birds in the mountain forests and usually allowed a close approach.
Magellanic Woodpecker
Perhaps the highlight of our Argentina travels (though they are not yet concluded) was the views we had of Mount Fitz Roy and the surrounding mountains.
Our group in front of Mount Fitz Roy
Cerro Torre
In conclusion, the scenery was great but the birding quiet (perhaps due to the late summer timing?).  Still, I managed to find 18 life birds (most at the Laguna Nimez). From Patagonia, our next stop is Iguazu Falls in the northeast corner of Argentina.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Brian, fantastic bird shots as always - wow a frame filler of Magellanic Woodpecker - that's got to be worth at least 20 Furnariids !
    That scenery is awesome too - you're both in for a treat at Iguazu as well...I'm sure you know, but avoid weekends if at all possible.
    You should get loads of lifers in the area - lots of hummers, Great Dusky Swifts diving through the water, and Brazilian Cavies and South American Coatis to boost the mammal list !
    Already looking forward to the next installment.
    Cheers, Steve.