Showing posts from January, 2009

Antarctica: Outline of the trip

From home base in Ohio, Kenn writes: We traveled to the Antarctic on board the Clipper Adventurer from January 7 to 25, 2009, on a birding and wildlife expedition sponsored by Victor Emanuel Nature Tours. Before and after the voyage we were in Argentina, starting in the capital city of Buenos Aires and joining the ship in the southern outpost city of Ushuaia. The map below will help to put these points in a world perspective. Points for reference: 1. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 2. Ushuaia, Argentina. 3. Antarctic Peninsula. The vast majority of expedition cruises to Antarctica go from South America to the Antarctic Peninsula, and the map shows why. South America extends much farther south than Africa or Australia, and the Antarctic Peninsula is the northernmost point of the white continent, so the crossing is feasible for many kinds of ships. There are also some expedition cruises that go south from New Zealand and take in the subantarctic islands of that country, and a few cruises tha

Degrees of Separation

Drygalski Fjord, South Georgia Island, Antarctic Region Oak Harbor, Ohio, United States of America From the snow belt, Kenn writes: During our whole trip to Antarctica, the coldest air temperature we experienced was about 29 degrees Fahrenheit, or just below freezing. When our flight from Buenos Aires landed at Dallas-Fort Worth, it was 16 degrees out, and our connection was delayed by three hours because of complications in de-icing the plane. And when we finally made it back to the Detroit airport, our dear friends Vic and Lois were there to meet us, but they had braved icy winds and snow-covered roads to be there. Were we cold in the Antarctic? No! But coming home was something of a shock! Our first morning back at home, we had to shovel a path to the bird feeders, but soon we were rewarded by returning guests: our first Northern Cardinals of the year, our first Blue Jays of the year. After weeks of novelty among the penguins and petrels and other southern seabirds, it was

Homeward Bound

From Buenos Aires, Argentina, Kenn and Kim write: Our Antarctic trip finished up with our return to Tierra del Fuego, in southernmost Argentina, on January 25. We'll be home in Ohio in another day or so. But having found a good internet connection here in Buenos Aires, we couldn't resist sending our greetings -- and a few teaser photos to share just a tiny bit of our experience. This is a distant view of a tiny fraction of the King Penguin colony at Salisbury Plain on South Georgia Island. Look closely! Each little black and brown figure in this photo is a penguin! The brown ones are the big, fat woolly youngsters. They looked so much like bowling pins in fur coats! We saw tens of thousands of penguins on this trip, representing eight species, and we'll describe each species in separate posts after we get home. Encounters with marine mammals provided some of the non-avian highlights of the trip. Whales, dolphins, and seals are all part of the Antarctic birding experien

Whitecaps and White-chins

From the Clipper Adventurer in the middle of the Drake Passage, Kenn and Kim write: Yesterday evening, the Chinstrap Penguins and Gentoo Penguins bid us farewell as we left Barrientos Island in the South Shetlands and headed north for the crossing back to Ushuaia. The Drake Passage -- the stretch of water between the northern tip of Antarctica and the southernmost point of South America -- is renowned for its potentially rough seas. Kenn has observed on past trips that it can produce huge waves, but that it can also be flat calm at times (sometimes even earning the term "Drake Lake"). Today was somewhere between these extremes. For much of the morning we couldn’t stand on any of the open decks without holding on to something, making it hard to scan out among the tossing whitecaps and driving spray. Even by late afternoon the ship was still rolling and unpredictably lurching at times. But throughout the day, the ship was being followed by a variety of birds, including at leas

Random Bird: Abert's Towhee

Kenn wrote this back in December: (Today, January 22, we're scheduled to be finishing our exploration of the Antarctic Peninsula and starting to head toward the legendary rough waters of the Drake Passage. Internet access is unlikely, so we pre-set this post to appear in our absence.) If you’re more than about 300 miles away from Phoenix, Arizona, I can pretty much guarantee that you won’t be seeing Abert’s Towhee today. And neither will we. This is a bird with a very limited range, found only in thickets along lowland streams in the American southwest. Some southwestern birds become more common as you head south into Mexico, but not Abert’s Towhee; it barely crosses the border into the northern edge of Mexico. Most of its range is in Arizona and a small area of southeastern California, with tiny toeholds in New Mexico, Nevada, and Utah. In most places this bird lurks inside dense thickets, scratching among the leaf-litter with both feet in the manner of other towhees, and it’s us

Update from Antarctica

From the Clipper Adventurer in the Southern Ocean, approaching the Antarctic Peninsula, Kenn and Kim write: If you're reading this, we've just succeeded in connecting with the Internet again, and we were amazed to see all the comments posted regarding our bird puzzle feature! Thank you, everyone who looked at this puzzle and who commented on it. We appreciate your interest! Kim says we should make this kind of puzzle a monthly feature; does anyone else agree? Anyway -- It appears that we won't be able to attach any photos to this message, so we'll just have to paint a picture with words for the moment. Today (Monday January 19) we were at sea all day, cruising south from the South Orkney Islands toward the Antarctic Peninsula. We saw no land today, but we saw hundreds of icebergs, some of them huge towering mountains of ice, others great flat tabular bergs more than a quarter of a mile across. Birds were not as abundant today as on some of our previous at-sea days

An update from the open ocean ...

From the Clipper Adventurer in the Southern Ocean, approaching South Georgia Island, Kenn and Kim write: If you're reading this, then we've succeeded in connecting to the Internet from this ship. The last few days have been packed with birding adventure in Tierra del Fuego, the Falkland Islands, and the open ocean. We just spent the last 48 hours completely out of sight of any land, but there hasn't been a moment when no birds were visible -- the southern ocean is alive with seabirds. We'll write in more detail when we can, but in the meantime, here's a photo of a Wandering Albatross from earlier today. It's a magnificent bird, with a wingspan of a good eleven feet, one of the largest flying birds in the world. So far we've seen four species of albatrosses, four species of penguins, and yes, Kim got her first photos of baby penguins! More later --

A Link to the Falklands

From cyberspace, Kenn writes: If we're on schedule, today we'll be on the Falklands, those cold but beautiful rocky islands east of the southern tip of South America. We probably won't be able to post from out there. But for a taste of what we might be seeing, you can check out Alan Henry's blog, Birding in the Falkland Islands. Alan has lived in the Falklands since 1987 and is an expert on the birdlife there. Naturally, it's exciting for him to find birds that are rare on the islands -- including visitors that would be common for us in North America, like Barn Swallow and Lesser Yellowlegs. But he also includes photos of his everyday local birds, like Falkland Steamer Ducks and Rockhopper Penguins!

Random Bird: Blackbird

Kenn wrote this back in December: (Today, January 7, we're supposed to be boarding ship in Tierra del Fuego to head toward the Antarctic, and we set this post to be published in our absence.) So who would call a bird simply "Blackbird?" The British. Look at bird books from England, especially older ones, and you’ll see bird names like Blackbird, Heron, Wren, Jay, Swallow, etc., as if there were only one bird in each of these groups. Those British sometimes act as if they had invented the English language! Anyway, The Blackbird (which Americans often refer to as "Eurasian Blackbird") is not at all related to the blackbird family (Icteridae), a strictly New World group which includes our familiar Red-winged Blackbird as well as grackles, cowbirds, American orioles, meadowlarks, and others. In fact, the (Eurasian) Blackbird is a very close relative of the American Robin (which is not closely related to the European Robin ... Got that? There will be a quiz in the

Random Bird: Purple-bibbed Whitetip

Kenn wrote this back in December: (Today, January 5, we're supposed to be leading a group of birders to the Otamendi Nature Reserve north of Buenos Aires, Argentina. It's unlikely that we'll have a chance to post anything, so this "random bird" is set to post in our absence.) That’s one of the great things about being a bird blogger. Who else gets to title a post "Purple-bibbed Whitetip?" This small hummingbird (technically Urosticte benjamini ) occurs only on the west slope of the Andes in Colombia and Ecuador, mostly in the understory of dense forest in the subtropical zone. It had been considered "rare to uncommon and perhaps local" and "not often seen" as recently as 2001. That was when the outstanding two-volume "The Birds of Ecuador," by Bob Ridgely and Paul Greenfield, was published. But since then, a number of ecotourism lodges in Ecuador have put up hummingbird feeders, and suddenly this rare-and-not-often-seen hu

Buenos Aires, Day Dos

From Buenos Aires, Argentina, Kim and Kenn write: Our friend Delores Cole (web guru for Black Swamp Bird Observatory and Ohio Young Birders Club) came in this morning, and walked out with us for another round at the Costanera Sur Nature Reserve. As indicated by the sign above, the reserve is internationally recognized as an Important Bird Area. A major Important Bird of this Area is the outlandish Guira Cuckoo. It looks weird enough standing still, but check out this video that Kim took of the bird calling and showing off (with authentic Latino music in the background): A bird that we found foraging in the high traffic area along the edge of the reserve was the totally gorgeous Red-crested Cardinal. But, unlike most good-looking humans I've encountered, these doggone birds did NOT want to have their picture taken. I chased them up and down the sidewalk, generating ZERO good photos, but lots of laughs from Kenn & Delores, and the locals who delighted in watching the bird come i

A few birds from Buenos Aires

From Buenos Aires, Argentina, Kenn writes: We were walking for hours and for miles in the huge Costanera Sur reserve right in the city today, developing a good January sunburn in the process. Buenos Aires is a city of around ten million people, and it's amazing to have this superb nature reserve within walking distance of the downtown hotels. A recurrent drought has dried up the ponds that usually have hordes of waterbirds, but we did see a great variety of landbirds. It's after midnight here in Argentina and we're too wasted to write anything, but here are a few pictures, anyway. Looking at a small part of the skyline of Buenos Aires, Argentina, from across the Costanera Sur Nature Reserve Picazuro Pigeon -- this native pigeon is abundant in the reserve Bay-winged Cowbird -- the most attractive of the three local species of cowbirds (this one is not a brood parasite, but its nests are parasitized by another species, the Screaming Cowbird) Green-barred Woodpecker,

Don´t Cry For Me (we're in) Argentina

From Buenos Aires, Kim and Kenn write: (Couldn´t resist the musical reference in the title.) Before we left home we weren´t sure we´d be able to post to the blog from here. But if you´re reading this, then evidently we can! That might change once we´re on the ship, but for now, woo hoo! (can you tell that Kim typed that part?!) So, yes, we´re here. We´re sleep-deprived and jet-lagged. But thanks to our dear friends Lois and Vic, we made it to the airport safe and sound, and made the long overnight flight so that we could be in Argentina today. Kim had a life bird (the very cool Chimango Caracara!!) before we even got off the plane! It was perched on a light pole and several Blue-and-white Swallows were harrassing it, giving away its location. The big nature reserve of Costanera Sur was closed today for New Years, but the beautiful cosmopolitan city of Buenos Aires is full of small parks that have their own attractions. In a park off Tucuman Avenue, we photographed this impressive ol

In With The New Year

From the Time Machine, Kenn writes: If this attempt at pre-publishing actually works, this will post at 6:55 in the morning (eastern standard time) on January 1, 2009. And if all goes according to plan, at that point Kim and I will be all bleary-eyed and hot. Not as a result of partying all night, but as a result of being on a plane all night, on a nine-hour flight from Dallas to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Buenos Aires is at the edge of the tropics, and January 1 is the height of summer there, which is where the "hot" part comes from. Or at least, most of it. We’ll be out of the country for about four weeks, with several days in northern Argentina, a couple in Tierra del Fuego, and then a long voyage by ship to the Falklands, South Georgia Island, and the Antarctic Peninsula. If possible -- if we can connect to the internet for less than a million dollars -- we’ll attempt to post some bird pix from Argentina, or maybe even from the ship, if the satellite hookup works. But it’s