S.America impressions 1

Subject: S.America impressions 1
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Thu, 13 Nov 2003 09:04:08 +0100

"You won't ever get rich as a professional biologist, but you'll get
around!"  The last month I have had the chance to visit several places in
Latin America, as usual in relation to my professional work on amphipod
crustaceans, but this time I also grabbed the chance to visit my daughter
Anna and her partner Kjetil, who are sailing around the world ontheir 32 ft
yacht Ægir, and who have stayed for more than a year in the Falkland
islands. They started out from Tromsø summer 2001 and I had not seen them
since, so this was a great opportunity.
I hope these glimpses from an exotic continent may have some interest, even
if of course I only scratched the surface lightly.

Once more I find myself in Chile, this time at the university of Coquimbo
in Central Chile. Coquimbo is a busy fisheries and commercial port of ca
150 000 inhabitants about 500 km N of Santiago de Chile. My very hospitable
hosts were the director of the Marine Biology Department, Exequiel
Gonzales, and its scientist Dr Martin Thiel. Coquimbo is in a pretty dry
area: it rains only a few times a year but the frequent sea mists help
augment the humidity somewhat. When I arrived, it was overcast and drizzly,
while today is overcast calm, cool and dry.

From the window in the bedroom of the house I have got to my disposition I
look out at Coquimbo Bay, with in the foreground a small fisheries harbour,
invariably thronged with Kelp Gulls and Chilean Brown Pelicans, while
sinister-looking Black Vultures overlook the scenery from telephone poles
and the like. There are also Turkey Vultures here, but these seem to to
prefer to soar overhead or retreat to the nearby hillsides. Closer by House
Sparrows dominate (as so many places in Chile), together with half or
entirely feral dogs of all sizes and breeds. But there are also other
birds: already before first light I heard the melancholy strophes of the
Chingol, the Rufous-collared Sparrow, and almost every house seems to have
its pair of House Wrens. Austral Thrushes frequent grassy corners, and both
Blue-and-white and Chilean Swallows hunt overhead. This morning I was
treated to the unexpected spectacle of no less than 4 immature Night Herons
squabbling with the gulls and a small dog over a pile of fish bones
somebody had dropped on the street outside my house.

The University campus, also close to the sea, with pelicans begging on the
sea shore and Kelp Gulls nesting on the roofs, is much more leafy, with
many exotic trees (Eucalypts, Casuarina, Monterey cypresses) and also
irrigation; consequently it has also more birds. No less than three species
of doves (Eared Doves, Picui Ground Doves, and Black-winged Ground Doves),
vie with the numerous feral pigeons, Shiny Cowbirds are common on the
lawns, and Grassland Yellow Finches flock in the neglected grassy areas. A
very Chaffinch-like optimistic song had me stumped for a long time, until I
finally saw the culprit in the open---it was the Black-chinned Siskin.

Exequiel followed me this morning to Punta Teatinos, a protected area some
20 km N of Coquimbo, where a small river runs out (or rather would run out,
if it was not dammed by a sand bar) over a sandy beach. Here a reed-lined
freshwater lake has developed, with a rich birdlife. Unfortunately a new
golf course development encroaches on the area and clearly already has
diminished its value somewhat already.

The beach itself is full of the shells of the local Mesodesma clam,
apparently a delicacy. I found also a long dead Peruvian Penguin here.
Otherwise the always screeching Chilean Lapwings steal the show also here,
even in the presence of the also quite loud American and Blackish
Oystercatchers and of Whimbrels, who to my amazement even showed some
half-hearted display songs. The dainty and elegnat Snowy Plovers are mostly
silent; we found a single Semipalmated Plover among them. Three different
gulls: in addition to the ubiquitous Kelp Gulls, there are Grey Gulls, who
live up to their specific epithet 'modestus', and the much more colourful
Dolphin Gulls. A Great Grebe and some Neotropic Cormorants swim offshore.
The lake itself was dominated by the yellow-billed and -knobbed
White-winged Coots (not much white wing to see on these guys, if you ask
me!), and a nice suite of ducks: blue-billed Lake Ducks (with a single
Ruddy) on the open water, colourful Cinnamon Teals and Chiloe Wigeons and
yellow-billed Southern Pintails along the shores. Also here lapwings and
stilts, and somewhat unexpectedly two elegant and nervous Lesser
Yellowlegs. Steady ticking from the high reeds betrays the presence of the
Trabajador, the Wren-like Rushbird, and also the gaudy Many-coloured
Rushbird, which the Chileans more precisely call Siete Colores (6 colours)
lets itself briefly glimpse a few times. In the air Correndera Pipits 'play
skylark' persistently, and higher up Turkey Vultures and a Bay-winged Hawk
soar and overlook everything. Also here both swallow species hunt over the
lake, now and then dipping down for a quick drink. Oh yeah, and I almost
forgot the frantically hunting Snowy Egret.

The vegetation around the water consists in the low-lying areas mostly of
salt-hardy plants of different sorts: large , bushy Salicornia, what looks
like the small white stars of Sagina, and several Suaeda-like plants. Here
foraged a loose group of the red-bellied Long-tailed Meadowlark, while a
pair of Shiny Cowbirds closely followed some foraging horses. To my great
pleasure I also found a third icterid, this one a totally new acquaintance
for me, the starkly beautiful Yellow-winged Blackbird. Also the
incongruously large Giant Hummingbird up in a nearby tree was the first I
ever saw.

On the large morning students Erasmo and Eva drove me out to Tongoy, some
30 km S of Coquimbo, where we ate delicious seafood empanadas, and found
some loafing Skimmers on a sandy beach, that also held a flock of
Black-bellied Plovers , a lone Sanderling and a single Greater Yellowlegs.
And the last, but far from least impression was a tight flock of some 200
Silvery Grebes bobbing just offshore on another sandy beach, where I also
saw the first Ruddy Turnstones of the trip.

                                                                Coquimbo, 15 
oct. 2003
                                                                Wim Vader, 
Tromsø Museum
                                                                9037 Tromsø, 

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