Chile impressions 3

Subject: Chile impressions 3
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Sat, 20 Apr 2002 12:56:11 +0200


On 1 April the Polarstern returned to P. Arenas in southernmost Chile. By
now it had clearly become autumn, and the Notofagus had become bronzy
green, while other trees showed more well-known autumn colours. A walk
through the town, accompanied throughout by some of the infamous loose dogs
of P. Arenas, led to our discovery of the small and somewhat polluted
lagoon near the cola factory, with its complement of ducks (mostly Chiloe
Wigeons, but also some Speckled Teals), and coots (White-winged Coots, with
also an immature present), but otherwise little new (Some Crested Ducks
with the Steamers off the beach)

On 2 April I rented a car with three Belgian colleagues and we drove north,
past the airport, to the pampas and pastures and the inland saltwater
basins of the Ceno Otway and the Rio Verde. The weather was mostly quite
pleasant, although with the strong winds that no doubt are habitual here
(Many of the trees are pictoresquely skewed), and now and then some
showers, the chubascos of the weather forecast. Low horizons and beautiful
cloudscapes, just as in Holland.

Most of the day we were on dirt roads, of quite reasonable quality, there
was very little traffic, and only  a few scattered houses and haciendas.
The first stretch led through an area where some bush is still left over
(often arranged in long rows), and here there are both  large flocks of
Upland Geese and regularly Lesser Rheas, while once more we also saw
Patagonian Foxes. Some birds flew up from a kill, among them at least one
White-throated Caracara, while we later also saw the Crested Caracara and
of course  Chimangos, although quite few of the latter. Lapwings and
ibises, that were regular here in Februar, we now did not see at all, but
Cattle Egrets were now quite common throughout.

We stopped at the old penguineria, now deserted and closed, in the
innermost parts of the Ceno Otway, where there were some smallish mudflats
and shell banks; here we found, besides the ubiquitous Kelp Gulls and
steamer ducks, also small flocks of Magellanic Oystercatchers, some few
Double-banded Plovers, and 2-3 White-rumped Sandpipers. Upland and
Ashy-throated Geese were the dominant birds virtually all day, also along
the Rio Verde, where most of the land was endless pasture land, giving  a
lasting impression of wide spaces and big skies.

The sound here is narrower and looks almost like a river, an impression
reinforced by the regular presence of pairs or small groups of the
impressive Black-necked Swans, and various other ducks, such as Crested
Ducks and Chiloe Wigeons. Steamer Ducks were still the most common ducks
here too, often in pairs sitting on stones a bit off the shore. I had the
strong impression that, in contradistinction to P. Arenas, the Flightless
species was by far the more common one here. Geese continued to be common,
and here and there loose , sometimes quite large, flocks of the loyca,
the  red-bellied Long-tailed Meadowlarks, were flushed. They never flew
far, but soon landed in some bushes or fences and let us admire their warm
belly-colours. The only other passerines that we saw in this windy area
were small groups of Austral Blackbirds and a few times Dark-bellied
Cinclodes foraging along the shoreline.

It is a bare, but most impressive landscape, and it was a pity to have to
leave so soon, in order to catch the plane home. But the pampa had one last
surprise for us! Completely unexpectedly, in this low-lying landscape of
low hills and far vistas, first one, then three and finally five enormous
raptors became visible and flew right over our heads: Andean Condors!! Two
immatures and three adults, and the best sight by far I ever have had of
these majestic birds. ?Oh la la! Magnifique!? expostulated my Belgian
friends around me---we had all quickly gone out of the car---, and they
were so right. It was the best farewell present we could have imagined!!
With thanks to Claude, Rudi and Wendy for a great day!

                                                        Tromsø, 15 April 2002
                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø
                                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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