Argentina 2002 report
ARGENTINA March 2002
by Teus Luijendijk (and Hans Ackered, Lennart Falk, Yngve Hareland, Jan-Olov Hedblad & Jan Wendeby)
From 15th March until 15th of April I made a tour with Wildwings onboard the Professor Molchanov, from Ushuaia in Southern Argentina to the Antarctic peninsula, the South Orkneys, South Georgia, Tristan da Cunha, St. Helena and Ascension.
In the week before boarding this (great!) trip, I traveled a bit through Argentina, together with my travel companions Hans Ackered, Lennart Falk, Yngve Hareland, Jan-Olov Hedblad and Jan Wendeby (all from Sweden).
We spent a few days near San Clemente del Tuyu (SE of Buenos Aires) and a few in Ushuaia (Tierra del Fuego), in order to find some good local birds.
In this report some logistical information and a species list is given. I also added some pictures from the video shots I took.
My thanks to John van der Woude for useful comments and recommendations. His trip report is available through Worldtwitch - Brazil.
I didn't have any tapes for either of the areas visited, but I brought my Sony walkman just to be able to record sounds and playback if necessary.
The Argentinian peso was coupled to the U$ dollar in the past, but this was recently abandoned. The peso rate plumeted immediately and it was the start of a further deterioration of the Argentinian economy.
You can cash your dollars almost everywhere, but it is better to find a cash machine and use your (Cirrus) bank card, for you will get a much better rate.
Credit cards are widely accepted, so bring it if you have one.
As people have less and less to spend these days in Argentina, it can at times be tough to find a restaurant. We searched for something in Magdalena but finally ended up in the only restaurant open in town. The food is OK, but not special. Don't be surprised if you're the only visitors! In tourist areas like San Clemente it is of course much less a problem to find something good.
In Ushuaia there are restaurants everywhere and they sometimes offer buffet dinners where you can eat as much as you like. In most of these, you will have plenty of food for something like U$ 9.
We arranged cars in advance both in Buenos Aires (from Avis at the airport) and in Ushuaia (Localiza). We didn't drive into the capital, but immediately left for San Clemente so we failed to experience the infamous driving style of the Buenos Aires people. Out on the motorways everything went smoothly although it was pissing with rain.
In Ushuaia traffic rules are slightly different: there is a main street that stays level, while streets crossing this lead up the hill or down towards the sea. You always have to yield to traffic coming down from these roads!
We stayed in a simple but OK hotel in San Clemente, spent a night in a very simple but pleasant guest house in Magdalena, and spent all our nights in Ushuaia in a Bed&Breakfast on the far east side of town (Familia Piatti, Bahia Paraiso No.812, Barrio Bosque del Faldeo, 9410 - Ushuaia - T.D.F. - Patagonia Argentina. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, tel.: +54-02901-15613485 & 437104, homepage: http://tierradelfuego.org.ar/piatti).
We mainly used the Collins guide Birds of Southern South America and Antarctica by de la Peña & Rumboll (although the flycatcher plates in particular are bad), Dunning's South American birds, and copies from Ridgely & Tudor's Birds of South America. The latter was invaluable: I would not like to travel in S-America without it! I also bring a small booklet of pictures taken from all the colour plates from these books.
Buenos Aires area: rain! Already from the airplane huge floodings could be seen and this was understandable when we got underway. It just continued pissing with rain. I had just been to SE-Brazil with lots of rain and this seemed to continue here in Argentina. Sparse moments of dry weather were used to make some video recordings, but I obviously could have had more opportunities if the weather had cooperated.
Mosquitoes were not abundant but still a nuisance every now and then.
I brought my new toy, a GPS, the size of a mobile phone. It is very useful to indicate spots accurately for future visitors, although the points stored ('waypoints') not always matched those of previous visitors. I have no idea what could have caused this.
Some bird pictures are included with this report. They were taken from video recordings using a Sony TRV-11E miniDV camera, equipped with a 2x converter. The resolution is not always satisfactory, but it's a very easy little device that I always bring when I am out birding. Some shots were taken through the Kowa TSN-824 telescope that I carried around as well.
ITINERARY & LOCALITY INFO
We arrived at Buenos Aires airport in the morning, arranged our rental cars and drove off southbound. We took an inland route towards San Clemente del Tuyu, via San Miguel de Monte. Amazing how we still could bird en route considering the amount of rainfall. The road here and there allowed parking near small wetlands and these proved to be very rich in birds. Always check these ponds, for they were the only sites where we saw e.g., Spot-flanked Gallinule Gallinula melanops. Other good birds were Great Grebe Podiceps major, Stripe-backed Bittern Ixobrychus involucris, Lake Duck Oxyura vittata, and Snowy-crowned tern Sterna trudeaui. Some freshly ploughed fields yielded Spot-winged Pigeon Columba maculosa.
After arrival in San Clemente and check-in in our hotel, we tried to spot seabirds, watching from our hotel room windows. Hopes were high for albatrosses, but these could not be added to the list, though. One White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis, however, did come along.
Heavy rain, but that could not prevent us from taking a look at the beach to find Olrog's Gull Larus atlanticus. We found at least 5 of them, mostly flying along the shore, but one was willing to land on the beach, allowing very good views. Other birds included Cayenne Tern Sterna eurygnatha, lots of 'Commic Terns' Sterna spec., Two-banded Plover Charadrius falklandicus and White-rumped Sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis. Several skuas Stercorarius flew past, but these could not be identified 100%.
We then drove to Punta Rasa, only to find out that the entrance road had turned into a gigantic pool of unclear depth. We decided not to risk getting stuck out there, so we birded the area around the junction instead. A few typical pampa species were found here, like Warbling Doradito Pseudocolopteryx flaviventris , Spectacled Tyrant Hymenops perspicillatus and Black & Rufous Warbling-finch Poospiza nigrorufa .
With the weather slightly improving we drove in the direction of Mar del Ajo, to find an old disused road opposite the exit road towards Mar del Tuyu (S 36°31.999' W 56°42.954', approx. at km pole 321). Birding along this road proved to be a good guess, for we saw (apart from the pampa species mentioned before) plenty of Long-winged Harriers Circus buffoni and Burrowing Owls Speotyto cunicularia, Hudson's Canastero Asthenes hudsoni, Freckle-breasted Thornbird Phacellodomus striaticollis, Wren-like Rushbird Phleocryptes melanops, Firewood-gatherer Anumbius annumbi, Great Pampa Finch Embernagra platensis, flocks of Brown & Yellow Marshbirds Pseudoleistes virescens and 3 European Greenfinches Carduelis chloris. We dipped on Bay-capped Wren-spinetail Spartanoica maluroides, but at dusk we were rewarded with some Plumbeous rails Pardirallus sanguinolentus and at least 6 S-American Painted Snipes Nycticryphes semicollaris. This was at a little pond next to the road, at S 36°31.898' W 56°44.203', that is, coming from Mar del Tuyu, just before the road curves left.
Made another attempt to reach Punta Rasa, but in vain. Continued instead to Bahia Aventura, an amusement park, where we birded the parking lot. Nice hummers here (Glittering-bellied Emerald Chlorostilbon aureoventris and White-throated Hummingbird Leucochloris albicollis ). We continued into the pampas and tried to find Rheas in the pampa reserve along the road towards Gral. Lavalle. Only found some footprints and some other birds like Maguari Stork Ciconia maguari, Southern Screamer Chauna torquata, Rosy-billed Pochard Netta peposaca and Austral Negrito Lessonia rufa.
We then drove north, following the coastal road 11 towards the town of Magdalena. It was along this road that I spotted a group of Greater Rhea Rhea americana (at S 36°09.014' W 57°25.183'). We also saw Spotted Nothura Nothura maculosa and a flock of Screaming Cowbird Molothrus rufoaxillaris. The latter was perhaps not the first group we saw, but as this species and Shiny Cowbird M. bonariensis are so much alike, we couldn't be sure. It was the presence of immature birds that made us realise it had to be 'screamers'. We spent the night in Magdalena, although it took some time to find the guest house (which is close to the main square, but not at all recognizable as such).
Early morning we drove to a little swamp near the village of Atalaya, supposedly a good site to see Giant Wood-Rail Aramides ypecaha. Indeed we heard some and saw two birds well, but after their disappearance into the growth we failed to find any more. This (little) patch of original coastal woodland further yielded Gilded Hummingbird Hylocharis chrysura, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper Lepidocolaptes angustirostris, Curve-billed Reedhaunter Limnornis curvirostris, White-winged Becard Pachyramphus polychopterus and Masked Yellowthroat Geothlypis aequinoctialis.
We drove back to Buenos Aires to take the flight to Ushuaia. After arrival there we had some difficulty finding the B&B, but in the end everything turned out fine, including some Thorn-tailed Rayaditos Aphrastura spinicauda 'pished' into view in the 'garden' at dusk.
13 & 14 March
Birded the National Park of Tierra del Fuego. Entrance is 5 pesos p.p. and it's worth every penny! There is a variety of biotopes (seashore, meadows, lakes, forest) and we birded most of them. Fortunately the weather cooperated, with only a little rain shower in the morning. The park is amazingly quiet and undisturbed and in two days we saw many good birds like Magellanic Diving-Petrel Pelecanoides magellani, Rock Shag Phalacrocorax magellanicus, Black-faced Ibis Theristicus melanopis, Andean Condor Vultur gryphus, Chilean Hawk Accipiter chilensis, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle Geranoaetus melanoleucus, Blackish Oystercatcher Haematopus ater, Austral Parakeet Enicognathus ferrugineus, Magellanic Woodpecker Campephilus magellanicus, Dark-bellied Cinclodes Cinclodes patagonicus, Thorn-tailed Rayadito Aphrastura spinicauda, White-throated Treerunner Pygarrhichas albogularis, Patagonian Sierra-Finch Phrygilus patagonicus and Black-chinned Siskin Carduelis barbata .
Driving towards the NP, you will notice the old rubbish tip (just before reaching a golf course). This held some White-throated Caracaras Phalcoboenus albogularis and (in the vicinity) Fire-eyed Diucon Xolmis pyrope and Austral Thrush Turdus falcklandii. At the golf course we saw a group of Ashy-headed Geese Chloephaga poliocephala. These were just about to take off, so it's advisable to try for this species early in the morning.
After a morning stroll through the park, and awaiting the Beagle Channel boat trip, we drove a bit into the mountains along the main road towards Pso. de Garibaldi. Amazingly beautiful scenery, but not too many birds.
The boat tour was fabulous, though: it took us along several of the rocky islets, which held not only mammals like S-American Fur Seals Arctocephalus australis and S-American Sea-lions Otaria flavescens, but also birds like Rock Shag Phalacrocorax magellanicus, Rufous-chested Dotterel Charadrius modestus, Snowy Sheathbill Chionis alba, Chilean Skua Catharacta chilensis and South American Tern Sterna hirundinacea. We went as far as a penguin colony (Magellanic Spheniscus magellanicus and Gentoo Penguin Pygoscelis papua ) and got a good deal of seabirds (Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris, Southern Giant-Petrel Macronectes giganteus, Magellanic Diving-Petrel Pelecanoides magellani, Wilson's Storm-Petrel Oceanites oceanicus) on the way.
A bit of a lost day, for we should, after boarding the Professor Molchanov, have left in the late afternoon for Antarctica. Instead, because of radar problems, we spent the night on the ship, only to leave the following morning. Not too bad actually, since we were thus allowed to make the transit through coastal waters by daylight.
The day itself was mainly spent in and around the Ushuaia harbour, where I made some video recordings of Kelp Geese Chloephaga hybrida, Flying Steamer-duck Tachyeres patachonicus, Crested Duck Anas specularioides;, Magellanic Oystercatcher Haematopus leucopodus, Rufous-chested Dotterel Charadrius modestus and White-rumped Sandpiper Calidris fuscicollis. South American Snipe Gallinago paraguaiae, Gray-flanked Cinclodes Cinclodes oustaleti and Long-tailed Meadowlark Sturnella loyca were other birds that we added to our list here.
We left Ushuaia at 10.20 h and cleared the Beagle Channel around 16.20 h. We then continued with a heading of 150°. For a report of the remainder of the trip, see the Atlantic Odyssey page.
Copyright ©Teus Luijendijk 2003