Monday, February 2, 2009

Antarctica: Day One, Pre-trip Birding in Ushuaia

From home base in Ohio, Kim and Kenn write: In terms of overall bird diversity, there tend to be fewer species as you go from the Equator toward the poles, and fewer species on islands than on equivalent mainland areas. Because of these basic trends, a trip to islands of the Antarctic region won't produce a huge list of bird species ... huge numbers of individuals, yes, and fascinating creatures to watch, but not a huge amount of variety. So birders headed for the Antarctic usually take advantage of South American stopovers to add more birds to their total trip lists.

We've already written about some of the birds we saw around Buenos Aires, and we saw more on the official pre-trip to Otamendi on January 5, but things really got underway on January 7th in Ushuaia. This city, located on the Beagle Channel in southernmost Argentina, prides itself on being at the "end of the Earth" -- or "Fin Del Mundo," as the signs say on the edge of town. Ushuaia has become a major stopover point for tourists, as almost all the cruises going to Antarctica make their turnarounds here.

Here's a distant view of the harbor at Ushuaia with a few of the cruise ships tied up at the dock. But on this day we took most of the group (from Victor Emanuel Nature Tours) out to the Tierra Del Fuego National Park to see some of the specialty birds of South America's southern tip.
Here's part of our group birding the edge of the marsh in
Tierra Del Fuego National Park.

Our friend, your friend, heck, it's everybody's friend, the Rufous-collared Sparrow.
We've seen these birds all over South America, but the ones here in the extreme south are slightly different, with a plainer gray look to the head. Plainer, yes. But, still kinda cute.

The local American Robin look alike--the Austral Thrush. Kim loves the name of this bird. This is obviously a juvenile, all decked out and bedazzled with spots galore.

One of many species of caracara (which is a really fun word to type, btw) the Chimango Caracara was the first life bird for Kim in Argentina, spotted from the plane as we landed in Buenos Aires back on January 1st.

The act is getting classier. This beautiful bird is the Patagonian Sierra-Finch. It was all over the National Park, frequenting camp sites, looking for scraps left behind by campers. It reminded Kim of a Mourning Warbler at first glance.

This bird was, without a doubt, a highlight for everyone in the group! The Magellanic Woodpecker is a glorious looking bird. In the genus Campephilus (yes, the same genus as the Ivory-billed) one thing that's particularly fun about this species is that the female is the really gorgeous one in the pair. She sports this amazing top-knot with a forward-curving crest of slightly curled feathers. The photo is of the male, but we had stunning looks at the female too. A hell of a time for one's camera battery to go dead. Wouldn't you say?! [Kim's screams of frustration echo through the night...]

On the way back into town we stopped the bus in the middle of the street to enjoy watching a small group of Austral Parakeets. Clambering about and performing impressive acrobatic manuevers among the branches of the Southern Beech Trees, they were a blast to watch. Even if we had to perform our own acrobatic manuevers in the bus seats to get in position to take this photo.

Back into Ushuaia, we birded a series of ponds and coastal lagoons on the edge of the city. This Crested Duck was one of several species of waterfowl that we saw.

The lovely Dolphin Gulls were a nice change of pace from looking at Ohio's rather drab and homely Ring-bills and Herring Gulls. [Kim's thought...Kenn asks for a disclaimer here.] Not quite as sharp as Heermann's Gulls, but close.

You are one day closer to BABY PENGUIN PICTURES!


  1. The stirrings in my soul for a South American trip are growing stronger, and this is only Day 1? Things aren't going to end well for me.

    Wonderful post and images (I do have a thing for Campephilus, any species), but you left me wondering, what bass line does the keyboard fingering of "C-a-r-a-c-a-r-a" mimic? Seems simple enough to be a '60s rock standard of some sort, but I'm drawing a blank.

    Looking forward to upcoming (penguin!) posts.

  2. I am just loving these odd birds. Keep 'em coming. I love seeing things undreamt!