Chile bird impressions 2

Subject: Chile bird impressions 2
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sat, 13 Apr 2002 22:40:17 +0200


Punta Arenas is a sizeable city in southern Chile, on the banks of the
Straits of Magellan. It is also the place where our research cruise ANDEEP
II to the Weddell Sea starts, and to be on the sure side, I arrived two
days early, still in company with my sister Nel and her daughter and family.

Shortly after arrival, we walked a short trip through town (not a very
birdy area, although House Sparrows were common enough) and to the
waterside, where gulls thronged the beaches. Mostly they were Kelp Gulls,
here very numerous indeed, as anywhere in this area. But also Brown-hooded
Gulls were present in numbers, and here and there there is a much more
colourful smallish gull, with grey head and breast and red bill and feet,
the Dolphin Gull.
A few derelict piers have been taken over completely by cormorants, mostly
the Imperial Cormorant (earlier generally known as Blue-eyed Shag), but
also with a few Rock Cormorants , which I personally think is the most
beautiful of all. As far as I can judge, there are even some Neotropical
Cormorants present also here; as immature Rock Cormorants also are
virtually black, care is necessary to distinguish the two. Steamer Ducks
lounge around near the waterline; I find it difficult to see the
differences between Flying and Flightless Steamer ducks, but had the
impression that most, if not all, here were of the former species.There
were Speckled Ducks in the river mouth, and the odd Chilean Skua patroling
the area .

In the afternoon we followed a commercial tour by minibus to the
?penguineria? at Otway, and that turned out to be a wise decision. On the
way we came across pairs and small groups of Lesser Rheas in the endless
pastures, as well as pairs and here and there larger flocks of geese,
mostly Upland Geese, with their whitish striped males and very dark also
striped females.
The colony of Magellanic Penguins at Otway has increased substantially in
later years , thanks mainly to protection. An extensive walkway leads
through the colony, but does not seem to discomfort the birds in any major
way and one can watch the penguins from close by, while they go quite
unconcernedly about their business. Just now the already large young were
shedding their down, prior to going to sea in mid March. Very fascinating
were also the Patagonian Foxes, looking sleek and well-fed and unbelievably
unafraid; some were surprisingly picking berries from one of the local
bushes. A Cinereous Harrier quartered the area in typical harrier fashion,
and also here there were Chimango?s, as there are most places in Chile.
The viewing platform near the beach was built near a creek, where Steamer
Ducks paddled and active Dark-bellied Cinclodes fed near the shoreline;
they also frequented the wrack on the beach, while the smaller Grey-flanked
Cinclodes kept more inland. Largish flocks of beautifully marked
Rufous-collared Sparrows also foraged here, many of them (immatures??) with
all grey heads, but otherwise with all the well-demarcated markings of the
 On the beach itself the ubiquitous gulls got company of some Magellanic
Oystercatchers, while impressive Rock Cormorants posed on outlying rocks.

On the other side of the walkway a rickety viewing tower permitted a view
of a small lagoon full of geese, mostly Upland Geese also here, but with a
large admixture of the not sexually dimorphic Ashy-headed Goose.
Unfortunately the lagoon was just too far away from the tower to view the
birds properly, so we never found out what were the other ducks and the
lone grebe there. A flushed Snipe was easier to recognize, and Plumbeous
Sierra Finches foraged in the vegetation here. All in all well worth the
entrance fee!

The next day we hired a car and drove first to the southern end of the road
at San Juan, via Fuerte Bulnes, where an American Kestrel hovered over the
reconstructed fort. On the way we stopped a few times and had i.a. the
chance to see Black-browed Albatrosses and White-chinned Petrels over the
Straits, and a largish flock of Austral Blackbirds foraging in the
saltmarsh. Here we could also admire the Kelp Geese with their immaculate
white males (not even black wingtips), and their strangely enough almost
black spouses.  Later we stopped for a for a flying flock of shorebirds,
that after landing on the foreshore turned out to consist of mixed plovers
and sandpipers: the local Rufous-chested Dotterels, many still in full
summer-plumage, together with the long-distance migrants Baird?s Sandpipers.

The last stop of the day was on a side road, i.e. near the park around the
lagoon Parillar, where it turned out a most beautiful walk was laid out
through the lichen-covered and very atmospheric Krummholz-forest along the
lagoon. Fortunately, after initial hesitation, we did not let the strong
rain stop us; we got wet, but the walk still remains one of the best
memories of this visit to Chile. The lagoon itself was mostly the province
of sports fishermen, chasing the imported Rainbow Trouts; the pair of Great
Grebes no doubt contented themselves with smaller fish. Along the shore
also here Dark-bellied Cinclodes foraged, and in the forest itself there
were any numbers of the cozy tit-like Thorn-tailed Rayadito, a colourful
bird, always in movement, and here foraging both in the tree crowns, along
the thickly lichen-covered trunks,, and even in the heather undergrowth.
There were also other birds, but they mostly stayed hidden, apart from (of
course) Fiofio, some Austral Thrushes and a single White-throated
Treerunner. On the way back to the car we got the largest surprise of all:
a pair of wonderfully intricately patterned large Cordilleran Snipe walked
unconcernedly within a few m in front of us through the marshy grass on the
lagoon bank! It was a wonderful end to a great day of family birding!

Sea, 4 March 2002
                                                                Wim Vader,
Tromsø Museum
Tromsø, Norway

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