Sunday, 11 December 2011

Tierra del Fuego

19 November 2011 - Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia
Austral Thrush
A day of guided birding with Marcelo Cruz of Magellanic Bird Tours, taking in the Marshall Glacier in the morning and the Tierra Del Fuego National Park in the afternoon. We focused on some of the target species, hoping to take in the supporting cast as we birded. Despite immense and exhausting efforts walking up and down the mountainside above the treeline, and finding large amounts of White-breasted Seedsnipe droppings we just could not find the birds. However the scenery was stunning as we reached the treeline/snowline and looked back towards Ushuaia and the south.

We did see Yellow-bridled Finch, Dark-faced Tyrant, Patagonian Sierra Finch, Ochre-naped Tyrant, Bar-winged Cinclodes and Grey-flanked Cinclodes. Walking back to the coach we watched Black-chinned Siskin, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, White-crested Eleania, Patagonian Sierra Finch and Austral Thrush. The weather was beautiful with blue skies and bright sunshine. An occasional gust of wind coming off the mountainside kept us all alert - David nearly got blown away in one huge gust.

Yellow-bridled Finch
Patagonian Sierra Finch
Dark-faced Ground Tyrant
Bar-winged Cinclodes
Mistletoe grows in the endemic Beech Trees

Late morning we tried a range of habitats around the Tierra Del Fuego National Park. Flying Steamer Duck and Chiloe Wigeon were feeding in the river and Great Grebes nested just off the bank. There are flightless and flying Steamer Ducks in Ushuaia. Marcelo, asked why were these of the Flying variety (in an attempt to understand the intricacies of plumage identification) quickly retorted 'How do you think they got up here!'. 

Flying Steamer Duck

Chiloe Wigeon

Great Grebe

In a peat bog a Yellow-billed Pintail and Ashy-headed Goose were seen while a Fire-eyed Duican and Tufted Tit-Tyrant flicked around in the open vegetation. 

Tufted Tit Tyrant
Lunch at the cafe was eventful for the amazing number and cheek of the Chimango Caracara which took pieces of sausage almost from the hand. A small flock of Austral Parakeet flew in to the campsite and showed well above our heads, but we could not find a woodpecker anywhere.

Austral Parrakeet
Chimango Caracara
After lunch we drove to a nest site for Magellanic Horned Owl, found the male at roost and the female sat on the nest – awesome and privileged views before we quickly and quietly left. Bar-winged, Grey-flanked Cincloides and Austral Negrito performed around the edge of the river and two stunning Black-Chested Buzzard Eagles circled up out of the woods. A Southern Crested Caracara flew in to join some picnickers and briefly gave good views. 
Male Magellanic Horned Owl
Female Magellanic Horned Owl sitting on nest
Southern Crested Caracara
Black-chested Buzzard Eagle
Austral Negrito
Ashy-headed Goose

Upland Geese
Flying Steamer Duck
Dog Orchid
Primula magellanica
Grey-flanked Cinclodes

Dark-bellied Cinclodes
Bar-winged Cinclodes 
The very common Rufous-collared Sparrow 

Still searching further for woodpeckers we called in an Austral Pygmy Owl which gave great views, but still no pecker. These are very aggressive little owls and respond to tapes or imitations of their calls. The owl was seriously mobbed by every passerine in the vicinity for its trouble, so after five minutes we let it be to hopefully find a quiet place to rest. 

Austral Pygmy Owl
Black-crowned Night Heron
In desperation we tried one last spot. Just about to give up we had a roving flock that included a White-breasted Treerunner and several Thorn-tailed Rayadito’s. Suddenly from behind us came a double blast with the volume and force of an anti-tank gun - unbelievable. We raced to the source and found a stunning male Magellanic Woodpecker which was soon joined his mate. They performed for some time before dropping out of sight. Returning to the road I found them sat in a lower tree and then to my surprise the female flew down to the ground and showed well as it pecked in the bark of a small dead tree. Amazing!

Male Magellanic Woodpecker
Female Magellanic Woodpecker
Male Magellanic Woodpecker

Returning to Ushuaia we asked Marcelo to drop us at the Tolkeyen Hotel renowned for good numbers of waders along the beaches, and offering a stunning panoramic view across the bay. After a hot drink in the hotel we walked back to Ushuaia seeing numbers of Bairds and White-rumped Sandpiper, Magellanic and Blackish Oysercatcher, Kelp Gull, Dolphin Gull, Chilean Skua, Southern Lapwing, Southern Giant Petrel, Black-browed Albatross and South American Tern. Austral Negrito’s showed along the banks and a couple of very smart Long-tailed Meadowlarks (Military Starlings) gave great views. A long day and a lot of walking – we needed to flag down a cab for the last couple of km back to the hotel. A fantastic Argentinian Steak in a local restaurant was much appreciated. 

Male Long-tailed Meadowlark (I guess whoever named these found a female. How did they not notice that red throat?)
Male Long-tailed Meadowlark
Female Long-tailed Meadowlark
Kelp Gull (Dave liked these)
The beautiful Dolphin Gull (even Gill liked these!)
Chilean Skua (the gulls don't like these)
Blackish Oystercatcher
Magellanic Oystercatcher

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