Hooded Grebes - Strobel Plateau, Argentina

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Monday, 28 November 2016

Argentina - 28/11/16

Tierra Del Fuego NP
I woke up and immediately heard the gale force winds outside. This wasn't the weather I had in mind for seeing a Magellanic Woodpecker, and so I was right. Despite 10+ hours in suitable woodland I just couldn't find one. I'm not sure how I've failed to see such an obvious and what is often a noisy bird in the areas of Patagonia I've been to, but I guess that's birding. I had to get a bit of bad luck at some point, and after seeing Austral Rail and Hooded Grebe on my own accord, I can safely say I've been very fortunate on the first leg of this 5-week trip. Even thinking back makes me realise how lucky I've been.
Today was a good day though as I managed to see a couple of new birds including the ridiculous Flightless Steamer Duck, and some very smart and long overdue Ashy-headed Geese. I came across a Rail species that I'm yet to identify, mainly as my literature on non-passerines is shocking to say the least, but it looked interesting. A Magellanic Tapaculo was also heard.
So, this was my last full day on the mainland as tomorrow I shall set sail on a voyage bound for the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsular leaving Ushuaia at some point in the early evening, but with things to sort out, I don't think I'll have much time for birding in the area. Also this may be my last blog post for some time, as although the ship does have wifi connection, it won't be that great I suspect, but I'll do my best to update when I can.

Highlights for the day are as follows:
Black-browed Albatross
Flightless Steamer Duck - 23
Rock Cormorant
Ashy-headed Goose - 5
Magellanic Oystercatcher
Chilean Skua
Austral Parakeet
Dark-bellied Cinclodes
Magellanic Tapaculo - 1 heard only
Austral Blackbird

 Ashy-headed Goose - great to finally catch up with this species
 Flightless Steamer Ducks - quality birds with wing lengths that barely reach the base of the rump. A flock of 20 were sat like these slightly further back, but with the scope they looked brilliant. Some were sat next to Kelp Gulls and they outsized them easily.
 Chilean Swallow
Black-chinned Siskin



Sunday, 27 November 2016

Argentina - 27/11/16

My first day without a car so I walked from the B&B, through the town and up onto the Martial Glacier, which there and back took just under 7 hours. For birding it wasn't really worth it despite good looking forest for you know what. A White-throated Treerunner kept me entertained for a short while, this being picked up by its distinctive call. A distant Cinclodes frustratingly stayed distant, but was probably a Bar-winged. The views all the way up however, looking back down towards the town and across the Beagle Channel, were superb and was worth the pain in my legs. I treated myself to some apple pie on the way down for my efforts, or due to the fact I hadn't taken any food with me.
Once back I set up the scope on the front porch of my accommodation and scanned the Beagle Channel where several Black-browed Albatrosses were passing, as well as other likely species, mainly Southern Giant Petrels.
I picked up my hire car early evening and then drove east out of town along a coastal track to a good looking vantage point and again continued seawatching. A good array of species seen, but the Albatrosses once again performed, with some coming close enough to even see their black eyebrows. Afterwards I checked several sheltered bays for Flightless Steamer Duck to no avail. Over dinner a massive rain storm and gales arrived out of nowhere, but I'm hoping this clears before my final attempt at a Woodpecker tomorrow.

Highlights for today are as follows:
Black-browed Albatross
Sooty Shearwater
Rock Cormorant
Imperial Cormorant
Kelp Goose
Magellanic Oystercatcher
Blackish Oystercatcher
Snowy Sheathbill
Chilean Skua
Austral Parakeet
Dark-bellied Cinclodes
Thorn-tailed Rayadito
White-throated Treerunner
Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrant
Patagonian Sierra-Finch
Black-chinned Siskin

White-throated Treerunner
Black-browed Albatross - brilliant to watch these from a vantage point instead of a boat. Gives more hope of seeing one in Sussex
 Southern Giant Petrel - these beasts were using the cliff I was sitting on as a push to head back out, and therefore showed brilliantly, with some so close you could hear them pushing through the air
 Magellanic Oystercatchers and Kelp Gulls
 Kelp Goose with two Upland Geese
 about half way to the glacier. The finishing point was just below the main chunk of ice
 the view from the top looking back down towards the Beagle Channel
my seawatch point for the evening

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Argentina - 26/11/16

Rio Gallegos & Ushuaia
Yesterday wasn't posted as it was rather uneventful and Rio Gallegos was the biggest dive going. I felt as if I was amongst the shanty towns in Cape Town. My hotel was that bad I walked out after ten minutes and booked into a rather plush 4* hotel around the corner. The only bird of note during the whole day were some Imperial Cormorants at Punta Loyola.

Today I visited a small reserve just south of Rio Gallegos (Costera Urbana) as it seemed the only birding option within close proximity to the airport. The area was good but the tide was going out meaning most Waders had already gone, though watching large flocks of White-rumped Sandpipers flying out was impressive. Back at the car I gave it a deep clean and drove to the airport that was more like a ghost town. Apart from cleaners, all staff didn't arrive until two hours before the departure time. Handing the car back was very stressful as the company wasn't aware I was handing it back at the airport. After a few calls a member of staff got to see me five minutes before I had to clear security. All so stressful and I was relieved when the plane departed heading south to Ushuaia.

The approach into Ushuaia was stunning and beneath me I could make out Giant-Petrels shearing. The taxi ride to my accommodation was three minutes and I went straight out into the bay and photographed the tame Dolphin Gulls. I then walked into town and around which accumulated into a very long walk. Completely out of the blue, I bumped into the Italian couple that I had met a few days ago to see the Penguins at Monte Leon NP. They had hitched two lifts to reach Ushuaia. The highlight of the walk from along the waterfront where a group of six Southern Giant Petrels were sat on the water a few metres away. Such impressive beasts, despite their savage nature. The town was again a bit rough but ten times better then the last, with only a few noisy exhausts here.

Highlights for the day are as follows:
Southern Giant Petrel
Imperial Cormorant
Turkey Vulture
Two-banded Plover
White-rumped Sandpiper
South American Snipe
Dolphin Gull
Austral Canastero
Chilean Swallow
Correndera Pipit

Hopefully a better mix tomorrow.

 Least Seed-Snipe
 Austral Canastero
 White-rumped Sandpipers
Dolphin Gull

Friday, 25 November 2016

Argentina - 24/11/16

Estancia La Angostura - Mt. Leone NP, Patagonia
Today was the long journey to the east coast. I hardly stopped along the way as I wasn't sure how long it would take me, but just so happens it didn't take as long as I thought and I arrived at my accommodation (Doraike) just after 2pm. It was a shame to leave the Estancia as this was a site I had long been wanting to visit ever since I started planning this trip. Along the way I got some signal on the phone, which was the first since a few days ago, so I quickly pulled over and phoned a concerned Paula to let her know I wasn't stuck on a mountain somewhere. Whilst chatting, an Elegant-crested Tinamou appeared in front and was a welcome tick. I filled with fuel at Gobernador Gregores and carried on.
Once at Doraike, I enquired about the closest Penguin colony, and thankfully the entrance was opposite the entrance to Doraike, with just a 20km track to follow. There was a nice Italian couple at the entrance to the track who also wanted to see the Penguins so they got in, and then a few minutes later an Aussie Sheila joined the party too, and together we walked out and shared our travelling stories. It was nice to speak to some English speakers, this being the first time since being out here.
The Magellanic Penguins were brilliant, and unexpectedly a few Southern Giant Petrels and Dolphin Gulls flew through.
After this and dropping everyone off I went to the park HQ to get some wifi, and whilst doing so got talking to the guide there. Seeing pictures of Pumas around the room got me asking where's best to see them in the park. He regularly sees them near the penguin colony so after dark I went into safari mode and set about trying to track one down from the comfort of my hire car. After a while, a set of eyes were spotted, being very bright and motionless, while every now and the head turned away and then back again, just like a cat. The distance the animal was at made it impossible to see any shape, but with the eyes being so bright and few animals about, I assume this could only have been a Puma. I torched some Guanacos later on in the night and the eye shine was very different. So close and yet so far.
A funny moment from today was at a bank. I was swapping USD for Pesos and my face was obviously more redder then normal. I had to handover my passport for the exchange to take place and him and his female colleagues had a good chuckle at my expense. It all made sense when after he had given back my passport, handed over the money, he then put a baseball cap through the slot for me. Obviously my face was unlike the paleness of the passport photo and was in desperate need of a hat, and now I've got a hat after my broken one fell out my pocket in El Chalten. Excellent service!!

Few birds today but the highlights are as follows:
Elegant-crested Tinamou
Southern Giant Petrel
Magellanic Penguin
Silver Teal
Brown Skua
Dolphin Gull
Wren-like Rushbird
Cordilleran Canastero
Grey-bellied Shrike-Tyrant
Blue-and-white Swallow
Patagonian Mockingbird
Grey-hooded Sierra Finch
Austral Blackbird
Yellow-winged Blackbird


 Magellanic Penguins
 shading the two chicks
 Penguin life isn't always easy
 Austral Negrito
 Estancia La Angostura - probably the only place to regularly have Hooded Grebe, Austral Rail and Patagonian Tinamou on the garden list at the same time
 the view from my patio


Argentina - 23/11/16

Strobel Plateau, Patagonia
Before commencing this trip I had found the breeding lakes for the Hooded Grebe on Google Earth thanks to the info given out on eBird. In reality this wasn't possible one bit. The plateau is huge and a large area is restricted. I hadn't a clue where I was all day and if it wasn't for a fenceline that I had parked my car next to, I could quite easily still be up there searching for it.
The journey up onto the plateau was good with a nice mixture of species seen. The track however was hard going and I was restricted to no more then 20kph. This meant it took an age to where I parked the car, this being next to gate that said no further access. This was very downbeat as I knew I hadn't reached the area of the plateau I had wanted to get to, and a couple of pools along the way were dried out, again adding to the misery of the potential feeling of not seeing my most wanted bird of the trip.
Anyway I set off on the long hike not knowing where I was going, nor where any pools were. I headed west for an hour, NW for two hours and NE for another hour during which time I had only found four pools worthy of holding any birds. Magellanic &  Two-banded Plovers and hundreds of Chilean Flamingos being the highlights so far. During the NE walk, I found a fenceline and decided to cross over it as some good looking lakes were just ahead. The first big lake held plenty of Ducks, the second pool the same (and I stopped to have lunch here having already hiked around for nearly four hours over ragged terrain) and the third pool was much more welcome. This pool held the red weeds which is prime breeding habitat for the Grebe, but a thorough search produced zero Grebe activity. Thinking this was it I casually started scanning the fourth lake in the line of lakes, and amazingly, in the glare of the sun was a Grebe with gleaming white flanks and an orange tuft, it was a stunning Hooded Grebe. I just couldn't believe it one bit. The effort to find, the planning and build up was now all worth it and I leapt around with sheer joy and amazement. After composing myself, a further scan produced more birds, totalling twelve individuals that seemingly had paired up. I re-positioned myself and savoured the moment, yet taking many photos at the same time. I had imagined for some time watching these birds with clear blue skies above, a fresh breeze and clear blue water, and that's exactly what was happening. A male Hooded Grebe was calling to the females that echoed around the area, and a pair were also seen in courtship. I couldn't have asked for more!! Well, I would've liked to have known where my car was. I re-found the fence and walked in a SE direction praying my car was at the end of it. It took a nervous 90 minutes before I started to recognise the area I had first started, and then there was my car in the distance. Phew!! The walk back was also good as I flushed two Patagonian Tinamous, and saw two Cows which was a trip tick and not a place I thought they would be in.
Back at the car I was battered but still had a 2.5 hour drive back to the Estancia. It was beer o'clock again!! Memorable day with four of the five Patagonian targets seen, the Woodpecker now being the last one.

Highlights for the day are a follows:
Lesser Rhea
Patagonian Tinamou - 2
HOODED GREBE - 12
Flying Steamer Duck
Neotropical Cormorant
Aplomado Falcon - 1
White-winged Coot
Two-banded Plover
Magellanic Plover - 4
Least Seed-Snipe
Common Miner
Grey-flanked Cinclodes
Cordilleran Canastero
Cinnamon-bellied Ground-Tyrant
Tawny-throated Dotterel



 Hooded Grebes
 Magellanic Plovers
 Two-banded Plover
 Chilean Flamingos
 Guanacos
 Tawny-throated Dotterel

sums up how bleak the Strobel Plateau is.









Argentina - 22/11/16

El Chalten - Estancia La Angostura, Patagonia
Well this morning was my last chance to get the Woodpecker that I had somehow failed to see yesterday. Every hiker I had bumped into had seen one!! The hike up to above the treeline at a site where three birds had been seen last week was stunning as usual with clear blue skies above me and no wind yet again. However, I still couldn't find a Woodpecker despite excellent looking habitat, so I will have one more chance next week down in Ushuaia. A White-throated Treerunner was excellent though.
With this completed, I sent off some postcards, filled the car with fuel and stocked up on healthy food and started the long journey north to the Estancia La Angostura. It took around six hours with half paved, and annoyingly the other half being un-paved roads.
Last week Steve had told me he had seen Hooded Grebes on the small lagoon located close to the Estancia, and after checking in I went straight there, but as I thought there were no Hooded Grebes. One of my other top 5 Patagonian targets for the trip was the Tinamou, and so I searched the area by the main road by slowly driving and scanning. After 3km no sign of these either and my mood changed to being very despondent and missing home. This was until the slow return back where out of nowhere a pair of Patagonian Tinamous were spotted by the side of the road. Incredible luck and they stayed in view for about an hour. Probably the highlight here though were two awesome Armadillos that were scurrying about around the Tinamous and then up to me, with the male starting to chase me at one point as he and his lady friend wanted to get down to business. I was over the moon with what had just happened and thought a beer night was in order. The Estancia is also lovely hidden away in a valley by a riverbed.

Highlights for today are as follows:
PATAGONIAN TINAMOU - 2
Silvery Grebe
Variable Hawk
Red-backed Hawk
Tawny-throated Dotterel
Magellanic Oystercatcher
Least Seed-Snipe
White-throated Treerunner
Chocolate-vented Tyrant

 Silvery Grebes - so so close
 Least Seed-Snipe
 Patagonian Tinamou
 a rare photo I'm guessing

 Armadillos - just brilliant
 Mt Fitz Roy again
the end of another excellent day in Patagonia


Monday, 21 November 2016

Argentina - 21/11/16

El Chalten, Patagonia
Another calm day by Patagonian standards, which was just as well as today was a hiking day up to the Laguna de Los Tres at the base of Mt. Fitz Roy. Driving to the start point, a Chinese girl waved me down and wanted a lift slightly further on from where I was starting. It was no problem for me until she realised I was a birder and decided to show me a photo taken with her phone of a male Magellanic Woodpecker. It was tempting to make her walk after this but I resisted. The first half of the walk was through lovely woodland, and despite trying I just couldn't find a Magellanic Woodpecker, so one more chance tomorrow before having to rely on Ushuaia. The second part of the hike was a gruelling steep uphill zig-zag that took over an hour to complete, but it was certainly worth it as the views and setting were perfect at the top. The whole hike up and down took around 7 hours, all on a pack of shortbread and a litre bottle of water. The highlight from the walk was an unexpected Magellanic Tapaculo that was first seen creeping up a tree and into a hole, but sure enough it found its way onto the ground again. The rest of the afternoon was again searching likely Woodpecker sites but to no avail, and before checking out a waterfall I had a little nap in the car. Dinner was had at a place called 'Beers and Burgers', which is exactly what I needed, and in the correct order to.

Highlights for today are as follows:
Spectacled Duck - 5
Yellow-billed Pintail
Andean Condor
Austral Parakeet
Magellanic Tapaculo - 1
Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant
Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrant - 2
Peregrine Falcon
Austral Negrito
Austral Thrush
White-crested Elaenia
Upland Goose
Black-chested Buzzard Eagle

 Magellanic Tapaculo - my only chance of seeing this typically elusive species was today, but to see it in a tree wasn't on my radar.
 Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrant - the long primaries ruling out other close relatives
 White-crested Elaenia
 Spectacled Duck
 Austral Parakeet
Long-tailed Meadowlark
Mt Fitz Roy - the exposed peak is roughly 1km long