from 70*N

Subject: from 70*N
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Thu, 11 Apr 2002 23:35:05 +0100

        Several people kindly have mailed me in March and asked whether I
was ill, as I had not sent in any mails for  weeks; I must have written
even more often than I feared. I was not ill, though, only abroad, with a
few days in Chile and a whole month in the Weddell Sea, chasing deepsea
amphipods. And I DID write also there, only I was prevented from mailing
the stuff. It will come now in the coming weeks; please let me know if it
is a surfeit!
                                                                Wim Vader

IN                                                                FEBRUARY

My niece Anja and her husband Tjitze have moved temporarily from Holland to
Chile, where they occupy a house on the shores of lake Llanquihue near P.
Varas, in the Chilean lake district. On my way to the research vessel
Polarstern in P.Arenas in southernmost Chile, I accompanied my sister Nel
for a few days family visit to her daughter and grandchild, and this gave
me another occasion to try to come to grips with an entirely new bird
fauna, something that always gives me a special thrill.(I had been two days
in Chile before, in the Santiago area years ago, so the birds were not
altogether unknown).
We flew in via P. Montt, and were driven the last 20 km or so, the last bit
via rather three-dimensional sandy roads to the house, situated  along the
shores of large lake Llanquihue (pronounced ca Yankeewe) in the middle of a
cluster of fairly new houses, and sharing a compound with another house.
Across the lake one can on sunny days see the impressive and still partly
snow-covered volcano Osorno, but when we arrived the skies were hazy
because of many forest fires in the neighbourhood. The weather was
beautiful and warm, and the sun burned dangerously strong for us arriving
from winter-Europe: ozone-layer thinning is a serious problem here.

The compound is mostly grassy lawn, with a few young trees---the houses are
new. In front the fence divides the area from the quite steep slope down to
the lake; its banks are stony, and the lake seems to be quite shallow close
to the shore. Along the narrow sand road there are mostly European ruderal
plants, with lots of seeding thistles Cirsium sp, and a garrigue-like bushy
vegetation, with Fuchsia and the imported Ulex much to the fore. The grassy
valleys in between also seem to sport mainly European grasses. Brambles are
ubiquitous and now in fruit and the local Chileans are everywhere
collecting them.  Somewhat older neighbouring gardens provide larger bushes
and trees for shelter, and the entire area proved quite interesting
birdwise, with 33 spp listed in the course of some hours watching from the
garden, or when the weather turned nasty the last two days, from inside the

The lake is not a rich bird habitat, although it attracts lots and lots of
gulls. These turned out to come in three sorts, the Blackback-like Kelp
Gulls, and two smaller gulls, both in principle hooded gulls, although one
kind had mainly lost their hoods and had reverted to the head-phone spots
we know so well from our Black-hooded Gulls back home in Europe. This was
the Brown-hooded Gull, a close relative and also with a similar
wing-pattern; I was surprised that these birds already mainly were in
winter plumage, since they are local nesters and here it is only late
summer-early autumn. Still more surprising was it to find many birds of the
other species, the Franklin?s Gull, still with their beautiful black hoods
with white-marked eyes, as these gulls must have already migrated from
N.America, since they do not nest in Chile
Besides the gulls there were not all that many water birds on the lake. Now
and then a slender Neotropic Cormorant flew past, and the last day we found
a flock of eight Yellow-billed Pintails and a lone White-tufted Grebe,
while elsewhere on the lake we also came across a few pairs of the large
Red-gartered Coots, with their all-yellow bills and head-shields. A lone
Great Egret flew past the house one morning, and a dejected looking Night
Heron stood on a stone on the lake shore, these night herons here are very
dark, and do not look at all like their picture in the bird books (A fate
shared with several other birds in the field guides available to me, by the

Another bird ceaselessly patrolling the lake shore, as well as most other
areas, is the somehow a bit cozy-looking Chimango, small caracara?s (the
large one was also glimpsed a few times) that may have usurped the role of
the entirely missing crows in this avifauna. They are quite tame too, and
often settled for a while on the fence posts or even on the roof of the
house, where the other birds took no notice of them whatsoever. Chimangos
are very common birds, and once I saw at least 60 in a single pasture,
sharing it with the also ubiquitous Southern Lapwings and Buff-necked
Ibises. The area has also vultures, both Black and Turkey Vultures, but I
never saw any of them alight in the garden. A single falcon, no doubt an
American Kestrel, flying past during the downpour (34 mm of rain that day,
and the road to L. Todos Santos washed away!)of the Monday. The other birds
of the air were the many Blue-and-White Swallows, that also have nested in
the outhouse.

On the lawns itself there were almost always also birds. A pair of the
colourful Southern Lapwings, that seem to go shrieking through life, had
nested in the compound and they and their single surviving young, now
indistinguishable from its parents, still counted the garden as home, and
now and then half-heartedly chased the dog. Tens of lapwings regularly
passed also overhead and this often led to vehement altercations; one is
never in doubt that there are lapwings in the area! The quite trustful
ibises with their somehow a bit too short legs and their carhorn cries,
also landed on the lawn now and then, but unlike the lapwings they flew
when we came outside.

Among the smaller birds the most common were small brownish stripy birds,
with a flash of red in the wings when they flew up, that stumped me for
days. First I had them pinned down as pipits, but they did not behave as
pipits, more like some sort of ground flycatchers, although they also could
run fast over the lawn. Then I thought they might be some sort of Miners
(Furnariids, a family I do not know at all, so it is easy to fantasize),
but they did not tally with the pictures of those either (altogether too
No such problems existed for the funny all black tyrants with a white
?clown?s mask? (white bill and white-ringed eyes), as well as white fields
in the wings in flight; these tame and aggressive birds, flitting around on
the lawns or on the fence posts, and flycatching eagerly, clearly were
Spectacled Tyrants Hymenops perspicillata. Only slowly I realized that the
peculiar tail movements on alighting of these birds were exactly the same
as what I had noticed in the stripy brown ?miners?, and consultation of
another field guide that also showed the females, finally brought the
solution: they were all the same species! The black ones are the adult
males, the stripy ones the females (and immatures?); they were mercifully
chased by the black males, most of the time.

They were further tyrants in the garden. The largest ones, the ?mero? of
the Chileans (A language of short, nice , pithy bird-names: The black
tyrant is called Run-run, the small one Fio-fio, no doubt an onomatopeic)
is the Great Shrike-Tyrant, strong, large-billed, a trifle dingy, usually
sitting in a tree, on a wire or even on the roof. The next one down looks a
bit like a Kingbird: it is very neatly decked out in black and white, and
at close range sports a fiery red eye; this is the Fiery-eyed Diucon
(Diucon is the Chilean name), and it too keeps mostly to the trees (or the
top of the swing).The smallest of the common ones in the garden (I also saw
a single Rufous-backed Negrito there) is the aforementioned Fio-fio, the
White-crested Elaenia. It is an archetypical small tyrannid, with two
wing-stripes and a concealed white crown-spot, only visible when the bird
is excited, which fortunately is most of the time. They also betray
themselves by their incessant ?fio?-calls, and although not spectacular,
are almost impossible to overlook, and I grew fond of them---they occur
from town-gardens to the indigenous forests of the national parks, and in
such a habitat as the housing of Anja and Tjitze are among the more common
The final tyrannid of the suite I did not see in the garden itself, but in
the shrubbery along the sandy road nearby. They are the funny and feisty,
somewhat tit-like Tufted Tit-Tyrants, colourful lively and quite aggressive
sprites with wispy upcurled crests, the Cachudito of the Chileans.

Other birds of the garden lawns were a small not very conspicuous
furnariid, the Bar-winged Cinclodes, and a fat typical thrush, the Austral
Thrush, mostly keeping to the shaded corners. Once a portly Long-tailed
Meadowlark with its red underparts alighted in the garden, and there is
also a resident House Wren, that mostly keeps out of sight. There were no
House Sparrows here (There were in a nearby village), and I saw only a
single Austral Blackbird and no Chilean Mockingbirds in or around the
garden. In the bushes there were Rufous-tailed Plantcutters, though, and
twice a hummingbird zoomed by, too quickly to identify, but no doubt the
Green-backed Firecrown that we also saw elsewhere in the neighbourhood. In
the thistles along the sandy roads there were finches ( many Patagonian
Yellow-Finches, possibly others) and the ubiquitous Rufous-collared
Sparrow, and here I also saw the only two wild doves of the entire trip,
Eared Doves.

Two days only, and that in late summer, traditionally a bad time for
birding. So no doubt I have overlooked a lot, and a longer stay, in spring
would boost the bird list a lot. But these first impressions should suffice
to tell you that birding ?around the house? at a place not chosen for that
purpose can give a lot of rewards also in Chili. That is the great thing of
our hobby; it gives always and everywhere that extra dimension!!
Tusen takk, Anja, Tjitze and Jildou, for your hospitality and your patience
with a guest who constantly was looking out the window!
Scotia Sea, 2 March 2002
Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
9037 Tromsø, Norway

Birding-Aus is on the Web at
To unsubscribe from this mailing list, send the message
"unsubscribe birding-aus" (no quotes, no Subject line)

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>
  • from 70*N, Wim Vader <=

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU