back to safety at Estancia la angostura.
Reaching the Estancia after surviving the rough gravel roads was such a relief, knowing my little Chevy and I survived without any punctures I met up with Maria and her husband running their remote little Estancia. They were truly nice people and treated me like a member of the family. We sat in their kitchen, talking Spanish and talked about the big and small things in life. I learned they spend half the year here and the other half in Buenos Aires, and they told me a lot of things about life in Argentina I had no clue about. In return, I could tell them about my life as a Swede with my limited Spanish. Over and over again I felt grateful, just like I did when I visited Morocco earlier this year, for my life and the opportunities I’ve been given. Just take my ability to speak Spanish as an example. I’ve been taught not one, but two languages for free through the Swedish school system. All I had to do was to understand the importance of paying attention in school and be grateful for all the knowledge I was given.
Today that’s easy to say, but I’m so thankful that I took it seriously as a teenager and had such strong inner drive and good guidance from my parents. Little did I know that Spanish would be essential during many of my travels, or that it would help me increase my knowledge of the World to such an extent as it has done. Both here in Argentina, but also in Morocco and mainland Spain.
Anyhow, back to the birds. I was completely exhausted when I came back to the Estancia after camping on bedrock recovering from the residues of a fever. Therefore a good night’s sleep in a heated room after a ”Cordero Asado” (grilled lamb) was highly appreciated. The next morning I woke up to some fantastic back-lit conditions in the River Valley. I found a couple of male Upland Geese in a territorial fight that I spent some time with. The water splashes really turned out nice against the brownish back-drop. I used the rest of the day to clean up and dry my gear and get some rest.
Moving on south.
The following morning I got up an hour ahead on sunrise to be at the site with breeding Magellanic Plovers that Héctor showed us a couple of days ago. I quickly found the birds and was able to get reasonably close. Unfortunately it was very windy and a bit overcast, so both water reflections and the sweetest light were both out of the equation.
With the plovers in the bag, I headed to the remote town of Gobernador Gregores to fill up gas, get my first cellular reception and WiFi in a couple of days. After a break at the gas station I headed east through the desert landscape until I reached the coast at Comandante Luis Piedra Buena. From there on I headed south on the main coastal road to Rio Gallegos. I stayed at a hotel in town to rest up from the long trip, thankfully on paved roads all the way from Lago Cardiel.
I the evening I took a trip to Punta Loyola, a coastal spit with large tidal mudflats. The area was littered with seabirds, such as Great Grebe, Kelp Gull, Magellanic Oystercatcher and White-rumped Sandpiper among many other species.
Gallery: PUNTA LOYOLA 2018-11-25
The following day I headed south from Rio Gallegos towards Cabo Virgenes, the southeastern-most point of mainland Argentina. My goal was to find and photograph the beautifully colored Rufous-chested Plover. I knew that the chances of finding it on the route with the group were slim, which was why I headed down to Rio Gallegos after our trip. The plover is still quite hard to find in Argentina, but luckily a local birder found a couple along the Cabo Virgenes road and put them out on eBird.com just a couple of days before I got to Rio Gallegos, so I knew in which area to look for it.
I drove about an hour south on the gravel road leading to Cabo Virgenes before I stopped and thoroughly searched the area without any success. After a couple of hours of searching I started to drive south and saw a plover at a pond. There it was – my first Rufous-chested Plover! The light was very harsh, but I still went to take a couple of shots. I was able to get quite close and remember thinking ”well, this will be easy, I just need to get here in better light conditions”. That conclusion turned out to be so wrong, because the bird (presumably a female) left and I found another really nice male on the other side of the road. He was very skittish and took off at 100 m distance and that seemed to be the standard for these pretty plovers.
I moved on south to Estancia Monte Dinero, a remote place far out on the peninsula. The road kept getting worse and worse and I had to take it extremely careful. After more than 3 hours of driving slower than 20 km/h I arrived for dinner.
The following two days were slow, as I realized the area around the estancia and the tip of the peninsula wasn’t very birdy. I didn’t want to head back to the plovers, fearing my car would break down. So I decided to get rested and take it easy. In the evenings I went down to take photos of the Magellanic Penguins walking up from the ocean, but it wasn’t easy to get really good photos of them walking on the beach, as most of the area was protected. As a bonus, I saw the only Ruddy-headed Goose of the trip walking on a gravel road. Otherwise the photo opportunities were quite limited to common species like Upland Goose, Long-tailed Meadowlark and Austral Negrito.
gallery: Cabo VIRGENES 2018-11-27 & 28
Staying at Estancia Monte Dinero was brilliant, with great staff, food and rooms. I really took the time to get rested here after almost a month of traveling through Argentina. In hindsight, that was a clever move since the trip back to Sweden would be very long and exhausting and the workload after being away for a month was immense.
The following day I left the Estancia around 4 AM to get another chance to shoot the Rufous-chested Plovers which were about 2 hours of rough gravel road away. The weather was the best I’ve had in Patagonia, with almost no wind (!!!) and clear skies. After driving an hour I saw a medium-sized plover flying next to the road, dropping into a valley a couple of hundred meters away. Instantly I felt that it couldn’t have been a Two-banded Plover (which is more common in the area) so I stopped and went out to have a look with my binoculars. A few hundred meters away were not only one, but two Rufous-chested Plovers! I went back to the car to get my gear (waders and camera) and I was able to relocate four plovers that I could photograph for an hour in very nice light. They were not very easy to approach and their moorland was covered in small thorn-bushes, making it both difficult and painful to photograph them.
I was now very happy, as my long-shot strategy worked out and I found four of these striking plovers in the middle of nowhere in nice light. My final target bird of the trip was in the bag and I wouldn’t have to drive into Chile to get it.
After the nice and unexpected encounter with the Rufous-chested Plovers I headed north to the other site where I studied a very skittish male feeding in the very same pond as a couple of days ago, before flying back up into the open moorland. I figured that the pond was a regular feeding site for them as well as the wintering Baird’s and White-rumped Sandpipers plus the local Upland Geese and Two-banded Plovers.
After studying their behavior I kept on moving north towards Rio Gallegos where I would stay another 2 nights before heading back to El Calafate. On the way back I got close to some of the local breeding shorebird species, such as Least Seedsnipe, Magellanic Oystercatcher, Tawny-throated Dotterel and Two-banded Plover.
A very nice area indeed!
The following day I went back to the wetland where the plovers were feeding the other day. I didn’t see any plover but I still decided to take the chance and get under my camouflage net in the strong winds. I waited there for about 30 minutes before I heard a call and saw the plover flying right at me! I landed in front of me and started to feed for a couple of minutes, before it took off and disappeared again. I waited for another couple of hours but it never came back. This shows how important it is to study the birds behavior properly and be patient. I went back to Rio Gallegos to pack up and get ready to drive back to El Calafate.
back to el calafate.
The drive to El Calafate goes through some very monotonous terrain and the road is usually a straight line for several kilometers. Therefore I made sure I was properly rested to stay alert during the boring drive with loads of Rheas and Guanacos lining the roads. In the afternoon I checked into El Calafate for the third time and went for something to eat while I was getting laundry done in town. I then spend the evening birding Laguna Nimez on the shore of Lago Argentino that I missed out on due to fever previously on the trip. This turned out to a fantastic area for birding but especially for photography. There were a couple of places where I could get down to the water edge and shoot ducks in sheltered area of the lagoon, enabling nice smooth backgrounds reflecting in the water. The lagoon was packed with birds and in over a couple of hours I got Crested, Andean and Ruddy Ducks, Chiloe Wigeon, Red Shoveler, Upland Goose and Chilean Flamingo in very nice conditions.
The final day I decided to head up a mountain to the north of El Calafate to try to get shots of Andean Condors from above. It was quite a tough hike in the loose gravel slopes without much success. I managed to find a Black-chested Buzzard-eagle sitting on a cliff, before heading down again to pack up and get ready to fly back to Europe. After 48 hours of traveling with a stop-over in Buenos Aires I was safely back home again.