Dominican Republic Birding, with a stop in Puerto Rico — March, 2019

From March 2 through March 9, 2019 I participated in the Wings Birding Tour of The Dominican Republic.  The Dominican Republic occupies the eastern half of the Greater Antilles island of Hispaniola, and Haiti occupies the western half of Hispaniola.  The Dominican Republic achieved independence from Haiti in 1844.  Each country has about 10,000,000 inhabitants.  At the end of the Dominican Republic tour, I flew the short distance east to Puerto Rico for a couple more days of birding.

The tour leader in the Dominican Republic was Evan Obercian (from Maine) and the local guide was Miguel Landestoy.  I was one of 8 participants.  The others were 2 women from Australia, and 5 men, respectively from Ontario, Oregon, California, Utah and Kansas.  Our guides were excellent.  In the Dominican Republic they dealt cooly with bad roads, unreliable suppliers of vehicles, and a breakdown of one of our 4-wheel drive vehicles in a remote mountain preserve.   But we did not miss a beat notwithstanding our temporary setbacks.  In Puerto Rico my guide, Julio Salgado, introduced me and his one other customer, John, to fish tacos for more of which I want to go back. The devastation caused by Hurricane Maria was not terribly apparent, but Julio and his family went without electricity for 7 months, ultimately buying a generator to end the nightmare.  One practical result for me was that the loss of many, perhaps most, of the rare Puerto Rican Parrots has resulted in closing the preserves where they could formerly be seen.  I hope they can recover.

In the past couple of years my main objective in birding has been to see at least one species of as many of the 250 bird families as is practical for me.  Prior to the Dominican Republic trip I had seen at least one species in 212 of the 250 families.  My goal was to add 5 families in the Dominican Republic, which I did.  Three of those families exist only on Hispaniola: Palmchats, Hispaniolan Tanagers, and Chat-Tanagers; the other 2 families, found there and elsewhere in the Caribbean, are the Todies and Spindalises.

After leaving The Dominican Republic I birded in Puerto Rico with Julio and there I found my 6th new family for the trip, Puerto Rican Tanager, as well as another Spindalis (Puerto Rican Spindalis), and another Tody (Puerto Rican Tody).    Todies are beautifully colored, tiny birds, found only in the Caribbean area, with 2 species in The Dominican Republic where I saw several of each of its 2 species, and added a third in Puerto Rico.

The Palmchat is the only species in its family, quite plain, and found only on Hispaniola, where they are numerous and easily viewed.

Palmchats and Todies have been families for years.  The other 4 families I sought were recently created, by splitting them, primarily out of the large Tanager family, and assigning them, based on newly available DNA analysis, to much smaller family groups:  (1) Spindalis with 4 species in the Caribbean, 1 of them being on Hispaniola and 1 in Puerto Rico (both of which I saw); (2) Hispaniolan Tanagers with 4 species (2 from the Tanager family and 2 from the Warbler family), all found only on Hispaniola,  with 1 mostly in Haiti, which I did not see ; (3) Chat-Tanagers with 2 species only on Hispaniola (I saw the Western species only); and (4) Puerto Rican Tanager, 1 specie, found only in Puerto Rico.  The net result of my birding in The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico was the addition of 6 families to my life list, increasing the total from 212 to 218.  Only Madagascar holds more potential new families for me (7), so this was an unmitigated success.  Madagascar lies ahead.

At the species level I was able to add 44 new species in The Dominican Republic and 16 in Puerto Rico, to bring my World Life List to 3,704 species.  Only about 7,000 more to go.  But at the family level, I may get to the 90% level if all goes well in Madagascar.

I apologize for the absence of pictures with this blog.  My faithful photographer, Barbara, did not accompany me on this trip, and the leaders in both areas were not photographers, so you have to go to the internet to see any of the birds mentioned.

Brazil’s Cristalino Jungle Lodge Birding – 2018

In 2015 Barbara and I went to Brazil to visit old friends in Brasilia followed by a Field Guides sponsored birding trip to Garden of the Amazon north of Cuiaba, and to the Pantanal, south of Cuiaba, both in the state of Mato Grosso.  My report on that trip can be found in this Blog, in 2 segments, published in September and October, 2015.

In August, 2018 I went back to Brazil for a shorter birding outing with Rockjumper Bird Tours at the famous Cristalino Lodge, in the southern part of the Amazon Rain Forest, in and very close to the northern border of the state of Mato Grosso.  My primary target bird for this trip was the Dark-winged Trumpeter, one of three species in the Trumpeter (Psophiadae) family, a family I had never seen and which can be found only in the Amazonia area of South America.

At Cristalino I joined a group of 6 other birders who had participated in 2 earlier segments of this Rockjumper trip, one to the Pantanal and one to Iguaszu Falls.  They welcomed me warmly to their group and the week with them and with our Rockjumper leader, Rob Williams, could not have been more enjoyable. [Side note:  the bartender at Cristalino makes a good Tanqueray and Tonic].

Cristalino Lodge is located on the banks of the dark water, Cristalino River.  I was surprised at the paucity of bothersome insects, such as mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, flies, etc.  I had come prepared with malaria pills, treated long shirts and pants, and plenty of insecticide, but I am pretty sure none of it would have been necessary, at least at this time of year, just before the wet season sets in.  I was told that mosquitoes, in particular, do not habituate well to dark water rivers because of the tannins contained in them.  True or not, their absence was a welcome surprise.  Also surprising was the nonchalance of the swimmers (most of the tour participants) who cooled off in the river every day.  I did not, maybe because I could not quite get past the thought of the possibility that the Caiman (siblings to the alligators, but just a cousin to the crocodiles) that we had seen along the river bank not far away, might wander into the swimming area.

The Lodge is very nice, the accommodations spacious and clean, the fans keep them comfortably cool, and the food, served buffet style at the central lodge, was exceptional.  A crew of hired guides works for the Lodge and I was pleased at the efforts Rob made to connect me with one of them for one day of dedicated, though unsuccessful, search for the Trumpeter, while the others took a trip down river on the boat.  In the category of small world, my lodge supplied guide is a native of Burlington, Iowa.

At Cristalino one can, and we did, walk the jungle trails, climb to the tops of canopy towers, hike to a secret “garden” and a rocky outcrop, sit quietly by a hide as the day darkened, and, my favorite, sit back in a comfortable boat for a birding trip on the dark water river.

It was in the evening while sitting quietly by a hide as birds came to bathe in the tiny water hole, that this Giant Anteater walked close to us, apparently oblivious of its human observers.

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And it was during the course of our daily river trips that we saw Lowland Tapirs 

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And on our final trip leaving Cristalino, a trio of Giant Otters, fishing casually along the shore and then launching themselves onto a fallen tree trunk over the water, to digest and warm up in the sun.

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But wait a minute, wasn’t this supposed to be a birding trip?  Yes, indeed, and the birds were plentiful, but in the Amazon the animal life is spectacular also.  In addition to the mammals pictured above, during the course of the week we saw or heard Tufted Capuchin monkeys, Red-handed Howler Monkeys, White-cheeked Spider Monkeys,

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Capybaras, Spotted Pacas, Azara’s Agoutis, Brazilian Porcupine, Proboscis Bats, Greater Sac-winged Bats, Fishing Bats (Greater Bulldogs), Geoffroy’s Side-necked Turtles, Spectacled, Dwarf (Curvier’s) and Black Caiman, Running Lizards and a Tree Boa.

So now to the birds:  We had 5 full days of birding with no Trumpeter.  On the last day we had a very short morning available for a concentrated effort by all to find some Trumpeters.  With time running out on my effort to add this family to my life list, Rob suddenly asked for complete silence as he cupped his ear to the distant sound of—what–?  Trumpeters in the jungle undergrowth.  The first sign we had had all week.  With luck he might call them near the trail.  And luck we had.  Soon, one, two, three, four, five Trumpeters showed up on the trail (behind us), and put on a 3-4 minute show for us all.

Alisdair Hunter of Ottawa captured the moment.  With his permission, I include here his photographs of our Dark-winged Trumpeters.

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You can also Google “Dark-winged Trumpeter” at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology, “Multimedia/Neotropical Birds on Line” where you can see many images of this most interesting bird, and also hear the unusual calls and moans of these noisy characters, made as they cover great swaths of territory in the jungle undergrowth.

So with the Trumpeter family added to my list, I now have 215 of the current Clement’s List of 250 Avian families.  More families are being created every year due to DNA sequencing and the resulting reclassification that is in process.  When the Clements World List was last published as a hard bound volume in 2007, which was about when I started keeping track of families, there were 203 of them.  From 203 families in 2007 to 250 in 2018 is a rapid expansion.  As for my species count, at Cristalino it increased by a modest 54 to a total of 3,708.

Following are some of the more interesting birds we saw at or near Cristalino. All of the following photos are by Alasdair Hunter, one of the participants in the tour, and are included here with his permission:

Curl-crested Aracari

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Bare-faced Currassow (female)

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Red-throated Piping Guan

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Ornate Hawk-eagle

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Agami Heron

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Hoatzin

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Blue and Yellow Macaws

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Point-tailed Palmcreeper

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Crimson-bellied Parakeets

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Sunbittern

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Blue-necked Tanager

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White-throated Toucan

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Capuchin Monkey

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My next international trip will be to the Dominican Republic in March, 2019.  Within this relatively small country it is possible for me to add 5 families, a personal gold mine, as the number of new families available to me, especially in the western hemisphere, dwindle.  The 5 new (to me) Dominican Republic families are:  Tody (2 species, Broad-billed and Narrow-billed Tody),  Palmchat (Dulus Dominicus), Hispaniolan Spindalis, Black-crowned Palm-Tanager, and Chat-Tanager (2 species, Eastern and Western). Assuming 100% success, which seems likely based on prior tour reports, that will leave only 4 families unseen (by me) in the western hemisphere: Sapayoa, missed due to safety concerns in my recent trip to Ecuador; Sharpbill, reliable only in southeast Brazil, Cuban Warblers, (2 species), and Puerto Rican Tanager.  Whether or not I will try for any of them remains to be determined.

Ecuador Northwest Birding – 2018

We arrived in Quito (elevation 9,350 feet) on August 8th, a day before our tour was to begin. This gave us an opportunity, although short, to explore Quito on the 9th.  On the morning of the 9th we taxied from the Hotel Quito to the Teleferiqo Gondola, for a cool (literally and figuratively) ride up the lower slopes of the still active Pichincha Volcano (peak elevation, 15,696 feet, last eruption 2002).   The City of Quito was built in the 16th and 17th centuries on the site of an old Inca city, and the city and its environs wraps around the eastern slopes of Pichincha.  With its current 1.6 million inhabitants, in a narrow valley, the city spreads out for miles.  We enjoyed the downward view to the city and its buildings and the upward view to Pichincha from the top of the gondola, and a bit further, as we took a short upward hike in the wind, so I was doubly winded.

Another taxi ride took us down to Old Town, where we found the enclosed market and sampled the very inexpensive lunch offerings available at the little stands in the market.  From there we took a hike up to the extremely ornate Compania de Jesus Jesuit Church.  Once again I abandoned discretion, and climbed the rickety scaffolding to the interior top of the church for an inside view of the great old church, and from its ramparts, a view west to the gigantic statue of the Winged Virgin.

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One more taxi ride took us to the Square, with its multitudes, many offers of shoeshines, excellent Gelato, and in general, a relaxing walk about the square and some of the surrounding architectural attractions. In anticipation of a strenuous week of birding beginning at 5:00 a.m. on the morrow, we took an early exit from the city to return to the hotel and a pleasant dinner with some good Chilean wine.

I have previously posted a short blog relating only to some of the Hummingbirds seen and photographed by our guide, Andres Vasquez. For context, here is a summary of our complete itinerary:  August 10, Quito to Yanacocha, where we hiked for the morning; then on to our Tandayapa Lodge for the next 3 nights; August 11, birding the upper Tandayapa Valley (7,200-5000 elevation);   August 12, birding Mashpi Amagusa area and Milpe;  August 13, at the wonderful Paz de Las Aves, for the Cock of the Rock lek and the Pittas, among others, night at Mirador del Rio Blanco; August 14, Mashpi Shungo Reserve, night at Mirador del Rio Blanco; long drive to Guango on the eastern slope, night at Guango Lodge; 15 August, back toward Quito via Papallacta and Antisana; to our hotel near the airport in Puembo, with time, arranged by Andres on the spur of the moment, for a side visit to Puembo Birding Garden nicely hosted by Mercedes.

Andres authorized me to include the following photos taken by him during our tour.

A great look at a low overhead Andean Condor at Antisano:

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A Chestnut-crowned Antpitta:

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A Flame-faced Tanager:

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A Lemon-rumped Tanager:

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A Many-striped Canastero, at about 14,000 feet on a cold, cloudy, wet and windy day, with a few snow patches along the way-yes, at the Equator:

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An Orange-breasted Fruiteater:

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A target bird, new family, Rufous-crowned Gnatpitta:

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A Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanager:

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A Tawny Antpitta:

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A target bird, new family, Toucan Barbet at Amarosa:

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A White-bearded Manakin:

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A White-throated Quail-dove at Amarosa:

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Along the way, Adam and I tried to snap a few pictures on our cell phones, and here are a few of our best efforts, first mine:

Adam at TeleferiQo 

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Crimson-rumped Toucanet

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Black-backed Wood Quail   

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Adam and I at Refugio Paz de las Aves

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An Agouti 

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Cocoa tree, with cocoa bean pods (and we sampled the product, chocolate bars).

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And here are some of Adam’s shots:

The two of us:

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Here is a long view of a Black and Chestnut Eagle, which Adam was the first to spot as we relaxed at a beautiful overlook.  Andres was quite excited to find this rarity, and as we soaked in the view of one, a second flew in.

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Quail Dove at Amagua:

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A toucanet:

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At the Cock of the Rock lek:

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Golden headed Quetzel:

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Toucan:

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Snow on the mountain at the Equator:

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The two birder dudes:

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My new families for this trip were the Toucan-Barbet, the Chestnut-crowned Gnatpitta (now in the Gnateater family), and the new split from the big Tanager (Thraupidae) family, the Mitrospingidae family, consisting of just 3 former tanagers.  The one I saw was the Dusky-faced Tanager.  My fourth Ecuadorean family target, the Sapayoa, will have to await another trip, perhaps to a safer destination. In the meantime, Adam returned home and I went to the Cristalino Jungle Lodge in Brazil, primarily to see another new family for me, a Trumpeter.

 

 

 

 

 

Ecuador Hummingbirds – August 2018

Son-in-law Adam and I signed on with Tropical Birding for a private birding tour of northern Ecuador.  We engaged in extended email correspondence trying to come up with an itinerary that would include a Cock-of-the Rock lek and 4 bird families I had never seen:  Toucan Barbet, Gnateater, Sapayoa and the Mitrospingidae tanager family recently split from the greater Tanager family, Thraupidae.  Several weeks before the planned tour, Tropical Birding informed us that there had been terrorist activities in the far northern area along the Columbia border, where we would have expected to find Sapayoa.  That area was deleted from our itinerary.

Barbara and I had spent a day with a guide in the Tandayapa area near Quito when we stopped there on our way to a cruise in the Galapagos Islands a few years ago, so I had seen a number of the birds of the area.  Nevertheless, this trip produced a grand total of 158 new life birds for me, out of a total of about 320 species. Our guide, Andres, and Adam, saw and heard quite a few more than that, but with my aging eyes, I am unable to distinguish some of the birds, especially those that dwell high up in the trees, or in dark, brushy areas, so the trip actually yielded significantly more than the 320 that I was able to claim.

As the trip began, I told Andres that I would welcome his photography as the trip went along, as neither I nor Adam are adept at, nor particularly interested in, photography.  The condition attached to that invitation to take a lot of pictures, was that he would send me his better photos and allow me to use them in this blog.  He readily agreed, and the first installment of those pictures “The Hummingbirds of northern Ecuador”, follow.

The Tropical Birding list of potential sightings for the entire trip contains 65 different Hummingbird species.  That figure is startlingly large, but the mountains of Ecuador are the Mecca of the Hummingbird family.  Compare that to our 1 specie, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, the only specie commonly seen anywhere east of the Rockies in North America.  Of the 65 potential Hummingbirds, I was able to see and identify 42.  Of the 42, 15 were new life birds for me.  The 7 that Andres chose to send to me for inclusion in this blog are:

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Buff-tailed Coronet

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Collared Inca

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Long-tailed Sylph

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Purple-throated Woodstar

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Rufous-tailed Hummingbird

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Sword-billed Hummingbird

 

 

Punta Arenas Birding – February 2018

I spent 12 days birding in central and northern Chile in December, 2015. That trip was reported on my blog, emptynestbirder.com, and the reports can be found under the March 1916 locator index on the blog.  In central Chile I used the guide services of Albatross Birding and Nature Tours and for northern Chile I engaged Far South Expeditions.  My guide in northern Chile was Rodrigo Tapia.  He invited me to return some day to see southern Chile.  The closing line of my prior report was: “I would go back again, perhaps next time to see southern Chile and its natural wonders.” And so I did.

In the past several years I have focused more on seeing as many of the bird families as is reasonably possible (approximately 250 of them), and less on the number of species (approximately 10,000 of them).  In South America there are 6 or 7 families of which I have seen none of the species (noting that several of these families are monotypical, i.e., have only one species).  One of these families is the Magellanic Plover, the sole member of its family.  It used to be considered a member of the large plover family (Charadriidae), but behavioural and genetic studies led to the conclusion that it is not related to the plovers, but is in  it own family, Pluvianellidae.  They are found only in southern South America, and most reliably in southern Chile.  Late last year I contacted Far South Expeditions, which is headquartered in Punta Arenas in southern Chile, and signed up for two of their one-day tours out of Punta Arenas.  I was happy to learn that Rodrigo still works for them, that he now lives in Punta Arenas, and that he would be my guide.

On my first trip to Chile I was able in the 12 days I was there to identify about 215 species, of which 108 were new life birds for me.  In preparation for my trip to southern Chile, I prepared a list of new birds that my Chile Field Guide showed as being possible to find in far southern Chile.  It was quite short, because of my prior success in Chile and in southern Argentina.  My targets for this trip was as follows:

  • Magellanic Plover  (Number 1 Objective)
  • Magellanic Diving Petrel
  • Rufous-chested Dotterl
  • Tawny-throated Dotterl
  • Short-billed Miner
  • Austral Canastero
  • Chocolate-vented Tyrant
  • Cinnamon-bellied Ground Tyrant
  • Patagonian Yellow Finch
  • Patagonian Mockingbird
  • Least Sandsnipe
  • Rufous-legged Owl
  • Common Miner
  • Band-tailed Earth Creeper
  • Great Shrike Tyrant (a total of 15 potential new species)

When I showed the list to Rodrigo, he said we would not see Magellanic Diving Petrel (generally seen only from ocean-going vessels, which we were not taking), and indicated that it was doubtful we would find Short-billed Miner, Cinnamon-bellied Ground Tyrant, Patagonian Mockingbird, or Great Shrike Tyrant because they were not to be found in the area we would be covering, at least not at this time of year.  He held out hope for the  remaining 10.

But I get ahead of myself.  Before connecting with Rodrigo (on day 3 in Punta Arenas), we enjoyed a relaxing day and a half exploring the town on foot and indulging in the really good food and wine available in a number of local restaurants.

We arrived in Punta Arenas about noon on the 20th, took a cab from the airport and checked into our hotel, the Rey Don Felipe, just a little up-hill from, and a short walk to, the main drag.  This was our residence for the next 4 nights.  We used the rest of the day to walk about the city center (population about 125,000).  The waterfront shows the wear of the centuries.

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The town is on the west coast of the Strait of Magellan.  The Strait (if you were Magellan in 1520) is accessed from the Atlantic, meanders westerly for a ways, then widens and bends to the south, before narrowing again and angling northwest to the Pacific.  The Strait lies to the north of the famous Beagle Channel, used by Darwin to cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific on his centuries’ later expeditions along the west coast of South America.

Around Punta Arenas, sheep ranching is a big deal, and has been for a long time.  For our first dinner in Punta Arenas we chose Parillo Los Ganaderos which features a ranch-like décor and atmosphere, and specializes in the local favorite, spit-roasted lamb (cordero al ruedo), cooked over a big fire in the dining room.  Vegans and vegetarians would probably not appreciate the ambiance therein, but we went “whole lamb”, (to paraphrase our Iowa expression, “going whole hog”), and ordered the three courses of cuts of lamb from the spit: ribs, shoulder and shank.  It was a lot of lamb, but I now know why it is a local favorite.

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On day 2 (the 21st) we walked to the Municipal Cemetery.

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The monuments and the names and dates are always fascinating.  The cosmopolitan history of the area is signified by the names on the monuments: many Croatian, German, Italian, Spanish, and others.  (The main street of the town is O’Higgins Avenue, in honor of the part Irish founder of the Chilean Navy, and his name appears everywhere in Chile.)  We found our way to the north end of the cemetery, where stands a statue to commemorate the Unknown Indian.  As in many places, the original inhabitants were exterminated, but they are memorialized in strange ways.  The last survivor of the Selk’nam tribe is buried here. Good luck attends those who rub the left knee of the statue raised by his conquerors (or those who followed them) to the Last Selk’nam, and, as you can see, a lot of rubbing must occur.

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From the cemetery we walked to the Salesian Museum.  The Salesians, an  Italian Catholic missionary order, arrived in Punta Arenas in the 19th century.  With what I assume to be good intentions, they evangelized and relocated many of the indigenous survivors of the European onslaught, only to see them die of diseases for which they had little or no immunity.  The museum they compiled is fascinating.  One can easily spend several hours moving from floor to floor of this small and succinctly organized museum housing an extraordinary collection of historical artifacts and exhibits.  Well worth a visit; especially for those of us who customarily feel overwhelmed and worn out in museums.

On our way to the Cemetery we passed the Chocolate House, a unique combination of a coffee house, bakery and chocolate shop. I had read about it in our Fodor’s, and I was determined to sample the wares as we were about to walk by it again at lunch time.  Great idea.  Do not pass up the raspberry cheesecake.

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Our days in Punta Arenas were unstructured and naturally we therefore concentrated on fine food.  Another of Fodor’s recommendations for dinner was La Cuisine, as the name implies, a French influenced, small café.  Oh my, the king crab lasagna was like nothing else I have tasted.  Minimal noodle, maximum king crab (a local staple, according to some).

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And the dessert was WOW also:  three-flavors of crème brulee.

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For those of you who do not know my culinary tastes, perhaps you sense a theme here:  Desserts are Good!  In keeping with Spanish custom, the more expensive cafes (none of them in Punta Arenas are really that expensive) open late and stay open late, and if you lack the foresight to make reservations, it is best to arrive just as it opens, or you may not get a table.  Oh, did I mention the wine?  The locally available Chilean wines are unforgettable. We discovered this jewel on night 3, and went back again on night 4.

Early on day 3  Rodrigo and his driver picked us up at the Hotel and we drove south of Punta Arenas keeping quite close to the Strait of Magellan  and in generally wet areas.  We saw large numbers of Upland Geese.

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A pair of the dimorphic Kelp Geese (males white, females barred) were foraging on the banks of the Strait.

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Spectacled Ducks  were quite attractive.

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A pair of Crested Ducks with Ducklings  battled the waves along the shore.

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Thorn-billed Rayaditos responded to Rodrigo’s call.

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Also, Patagonian Sierra Finches:

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A White-crowned Elaenia displayed the reason for its name:

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A small (pod?) of Peale’s Dolphins cruised by not far off shore.

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One of the more interesting ducks found in Patagonia are the Flying and the Flightless Steamer Ducks. To the unpracticed eye they look a lot alike.  Here is what I think is one of the Flying Steamer Ducks:

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The trip along the Strait was yielding a lot of birds, but nothing that was new to me (no “lifers”).  Consulting with Rodrigo, we decided to cut this part of the trip short and go north of Punta Arenas in search of the Magellanic Plovers.  Originally, this was scheduled for the next day, but we concluded it would be better to increase the chances of finding them, by searching this afternoon, and if we failed we would still have a chance tomorrow.

And so we drove north, right into the face of the driving wind.  Wind is almost constant in this part of Patagonia, and this day was special:  I am not good at guessing wind speed, but conservatively, it was 40 miles per hour, with stronger gusts.  Arriving at the shallow lake where he had seen Magellanic Plovers in the past, we climbed through and over the barbed wire fence and struggled against the wind over the sheep-feces covered landscape bordering the lake.  And we walked and we walked and we walked.  Half-way around the lake, Rodrigo, in the lead, signaled for us to come ahead quickly.  He had located not one, but a pair of our target bird, the MAGELANNIC PLOVER!!! 

The two were foraging along the rocks on the shore of the lake, and seemed oblivious of our presence, as they came closer.  Barbara could not hold herself, much less her camera, steady, so she just pointed it in the general direction and clicked away.  Here are the results:  the targeted Magellanic Plovers:

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Well, they are not the most colorful birds, nor especially charismatic, but to me they were the culmination of our trip.

Success on the first day meant that we could spend a relaxing second day looking for the rest of the birds on my target list.  This required driving even further north of Punta Arenas, and more fence climbing and hiking, although the winds were not nearly as bad.

Today was the big day for Guanacos, the wild camel of Patagonia,

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and Lesser (Darwin’s) Rheas, our Western Hemisphere ostriches.

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Although these particular Rheas are Lesser Rheas, the Lesser Rhea population is widely disjunct, with the northern mountain birds separately identified in the Chilean Bird Guide as Puna Rheas, and these southern representatives as Darwin’s Rheas.  Maybe someday they will be split into two species.

Two other species of goose can be found in Patagona, in addition to the Upland and Kelp Geese we had seen the day before.  One is the relatively common Ashy Headed Goose, shown among some Upland Geese below.

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Much rarer on the South American mainland is the Ruddy Headed Goose.  Although fairly common in the Falklands, where I saw a number of them several years ago, they are rare and endangered on the mainland, primarily due to over-hunting in Argentina where they migrate, along with a lot of other hunted waterfowl, in the South American winter.  On one of our cross country forays, across boulders and ruts, we finally came across a pair Ruddy-headed Geese across a small lake which contained a lot of other waterfowl.

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At the same location another of my target birds, a pair of Least Seedsnipes, flew in along our vehicle, but departed again before their picture could be had.

A gaucho approached us on horseback, and we thought we were being busted for trespassing again, but he just thought (hoped?) we were with the power company and his internet connection was malfunctioning.

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During the course of the morning we were able to locate a few more of my targeted, new life birds, including:

Austral Canastero

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Tawny-throated Dotterl

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Yellow-bridled Finches

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Chocolate-vented Tyrant

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This Grey Fox was suspicious of our vehicle, and disappeared quickly.

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Toward the end of the afternoon we searched along a ferry landing on the Strait, for one of my target life birds, Patagonian Yellow Finches, but this was the only one of my target birds that survived Rodrigo’s initial culling, but that we did not find.  As we were returning to our vehicle, someone told us that there was a blue whale that had beached and died near the ferry landing.  The Blue Whale autopsy was in progress as we walked down the shoreline.

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We returned to our Hotel Rey Don Felipe, said goodbye to Rodrigo and our driver, and prepared for our second dinner at the wonderful La Cuisine.  We headed out early the next morning for our flight to Santiago, where we hoped to get on the evening Delta flight to Atlanta.  But, best laid plans go oft awry, and we were bumped in favor of a  paying load of fish.  (Delta refers to this as “pay-load optimization.”) We scrambled a bit, finally bought a round trip ticket (cheaper than  one-way) on Latam, and ended up at Kennedy in New York, a couple of hours later than we would have arrived in Atlanta on Delta.  From there we were able to get Delta to Atlanta and from there back to Des Moines just a few hours later than had our wished for connections all worked out.

Just a post-script.  The people of Chile are very friendly and helpful.  Wherever we went we felt safe and could ask for help and be assured of getting it.  We experienced nothing but kindness throughout our trip.  The country itself is varied (from desert in the north, to glaciers several thousand miles to the south), with good infrastructure everywhere.  The food and wine are excellent.  Consider a trip to this beautiful and welcoming country.

Chile – February 2018 – Part 2 Easter Island

Our trip to Easter Island was serendipitous in many ways:  adding such a highlight to our trip at the last minute, being there at the finale of the annual festival, and finding a knowledgeable guide.

I remember reading about Easter Island in National Geographic when I was in elementary school.  I was captivated by pictures of the moai.  I can’t say that finally being there was a dream come true because it seemed far too remote to even dream about for a girl from Iowa.

The island is a Chilean territory, but is not just a little off the coast of Chile.  It’s 2,334 miles from Santiago and takes about 5½ hours to fly there.

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The island covers 63 square miles.  That’s 3/4 the size of Des Moines, Iowa.  There’s only one real town, Hanga Roa.  Easter Island consists mainly of three extinct volcanoes which have combined to form one island.

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In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage Site, with much of the island protected within Rapa Nui National Park.

Easter Island is a special territory of Chile that was annexed in 1888.  According to the 2017 Chilean census, the island has 7,750 residents, of whom some 60 percent are descendants of the original Rapa Nui.

The name “Easter Island” was given by the island’s first recorded European visitor, a Dutch explorer who encountered it on Easter Sunday in 1722.  He named it  Paasch-Eyland (18th-century Dutch for “Easter Island”).  The island’s official Spanish name, Isla de Pascua, also means “Easter Island”.

After decades of scientific investigation, the history of Rapa Nui continues to be very controversial.  However, the main oral tradition with respect to the origin of its first inhabitants is supported today by scientific findings in different fields.

Archaeological excavations reveal three distinct cultural phases: the early period (700-850 A.D.), the middle period (1050-1680) and the late period (post-1680).  Between the early and middle periods, evidence has shown that many early statues were deliberately destroyed and rebuilt as larger and heavier moai for which the island is most famous.

During the middle period, ahu,(stone platforms) also contained burial chambers, and the images portrayed by moai are thought to have represented important figures that were deified after death.

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The late period of the island’s civilization was characterized by civil wars and general destruction; more statues were toppled, and many obsidian spearpoints have been found dating to that period.  Internal warfare, the dramatic impact of Peruvian slave raids, and the introduction of unknown diseases to the population almost completely exterminated the Rapa Nui people in the second half of the 19th century.

The Rapa Nui sponsor the Tapati, an annual 2-week festival in February, held since 1975.  The festival began as a way of maintaining and promoting the Rapa Nui culture among the islanders, and in particular for generating interest and a sense of identity among the children.  February is now very much high season on the island.

The festival consists of numerous dancing and singing competitions, as well as traditional sporting.  Each year, two young females compete with each other to become the Queen of the Tapati for that year, and all of the above competitions carry points, meaning that the candidate with the most points at the end of the festival is crowned the Queen.

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By chance, we arrived the day of the big parade and had dinner on the deck of a restaurant along the parade route.  The parade consisted of several floats

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and many local participants in native dress.

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After dinner, we watched the dancers and listened to their music.

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It was quite an introduction to the island.

The next morning our guide picked us up at our hotel.  He is an American who studied anthropology and archeology.  Because of this interest, he went to Easter Island to do research.  As fate would have it, he met a local girl, started a family, and has lived there for 18 years.

The archaeological site of Tahai  is one of the oldest settlements on the island whose earliest remains date back to 700 AD.  The occupation of Tahai by the first settlers was well-planned.  In this place they had easy access to the sea to go fishing and a regular supply of fresh water from underground springs.

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Nearby is Ahu Ko Te Riku, the only remaining moai with eyes made from coral.

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According to oral tradition, the island was colonized by a group of villagers from a Polynesian island led by Hotu Matu’a, an ancestor of the Rapa Nui people.  The tradition says his landing place was Anakena, a beautiful beach of white coral sand.

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Ahu Ature overlooks Anakena beach.

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Nearby is Ahu Nao-Nao, one of the best preserved sites.

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Te Pito Kura meaning “Navel of the Earth” is a perfectly round sacred stone.  It supposedly emits spiritual power to those who sit on the small rocks and place their hands on it. It is thought to have magnetic qualities.

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Here lies the largest moai ever moved to an ahu.  It weighed 80 tons and is no longer standing.  The topknot weighed another 12 tons.

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Tongariki is the longest (200 feet) ahu on the island.  It has 15 moai.

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and two newer additions the day we were there  ;-)

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The moai were toppled during the civil wars and swept inland by a tsunami in 1960.  The setting is beautiful with the Poike volcano,  the oldest on the island, in the background.

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We walked among these giants in the quarry Rano Raraku.

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A total of 887 monolithic stone statues have been inventoried on the island and in museum collections.  The quarry at Rano Raraku is where the majority of moais were created on a hillside before being transported to all corners of the island.  This 300 foot volcano remnant provided the stones for the great figures and is where a visitor can see various stages of the carving, as well as partially-finished figures scattered around.

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The native islanders who carved them used only stone hand chisels, mainly basalt. While many teams worked on different statues at the same time, a single moai took a team of five or six men approximately a year to complete.

Many statues at Rano Raraku are buried halfway or more into the ground.

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This is where the misconception of calling the moai statues “Easter Island heads” comes from.   In fact they all have bodies, even though sometimes only a head is sticking out of the ground.

At the end of the path is the only moai with legs, known as Moai Tukuturi, meaning “kneeling moai”.

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After the decline of the moai culture, a new cult of bird worship developed on Easter Island.  It was centered on a ceremonial village called Orongo, built on the rim of the crater of the Rano Kau volcano looking out towards the sea.

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Rano Kau is the remains of a volcanic cinder cone which is filled with fresh rainwater and nearly covered by reeds which give it an unusual mottled appearance.  The crater measures a mile across.

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Houses at Orongo are not the common hare paenga, a house with an elliptical foundation, made with basalt slabs and covered with a thatched roof that resembled an overturned boat,

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but are hare oka, made entirely out of flat stones.  Being of this material makes the houses survive the strong winds at the top of the volcano.

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Settlements also contain hare moa (“chicken house”), oblong stone structures that housed chickens. The houses at the ceremonial village of Orongo are unique in that they are shaped like hare paenga but are made entirely of flat basalt slabs found inside Rano Kao crater. The entrances to all the houses are very low, and entry requires crawling.

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The annual “birdman” competitions took place here in which a representative from each of the tribes fought.

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Each year competitors would dive down dangerous cliffs, swim out to the islet called Motu Nui, retrieve a newly laid egg from the manutara bird (sooty tern), swim back with the egg carefully lodged in a special headdress, and climb back up the 656-foot cliff. The first competitor to return with an intact egg was declared winner and his elder, or patron, would earn the privileges of the king for the next 12 months.

There are distinct variations around the island in the frequency of themes among petroglyphs, with a concentration of Birdmen at Orongo.

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The wall at Vinapu is perfectly fitted together with irregularly-shaped stones, and has rounded edges, and small triangular stones filling in gaps.  It is by far the most perfectly fit ahu rock wall of Rapa Nui.  The flawless fittings are made with a different engineering philosophy than virtually all other ahus: the stone blocks were constructed and polished for a perfect fit, as opposed to randomly trying to fit naturally shaped rocks. The back wall is still in perfect condition, except for the center.

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It started to rain while we were at Aku Akivi, but it was only slightly inconvenient.  The site has seven moai, all of equal shape and size, and is also known as a celestial observatory that was set up around the 16th century.  The site is located inland, rather than along the coast.  The moai are looking out towards the Pacific Ocean.

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A particular feature of the seven moai statues is that they exactly face sunset during the spring equinox and have their backs to the sunrise during the autumn equinox. Such an astronomically precise feature is seen only at this location on the island.

This report would not be complete without including photos of a few of the many outstanding dinners we enjoyed of seafood and wine.

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And we end this portion of our trip as the sun set outside the patio of our hotel room.

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Don will take back his blog to report on Punta Arenas.

 

 

 

 

 

Chile – February 2018 – Part 1 Santiago and Valparaiso

I visited central and northern Chile from December 2 -14, 2015 for intensive birding.  Barbara did not go on that trip.  Those trip reports are filed earlier on this blog.  They are in 2 segments, one published March 23, 2016, and the second published one day later.  For those interested in checking those blogs, as a kind of background for this one, there is a prophetic conclusion:

“Sorry, I have no pictures to include in this Blog.  Maybe I will have
some photos on my next trip, when Barbara accompanies me and
exercises her photographic magic.”

I originally planned this trip for me only.  My primary objective was to go to
Patagonia to see Magellanic Plovers.

I went on-line and found out that Far South Expeditions sponsors privately guided birding day trips out of Punta Arenas (a cruise ship port for Antarctic expeditions) and that Rodrigo would be available for the dates I wanted.  I signed up, thinking that
maybe Barbara would like to join me.  She wasn’t interested, so I sweetened the offer by proposing we spend a few days exploring Santiago and Valparaiso before or after birding around Punta Arenas.  She decided that would be interesting, so the trip was expanded to include a few days in each of those cities.

In casual conversation a few days later, I mentioned that quite a few years ago a good friend of mine had highly recommended a visit to Easter Island for its cultural and historical interest.  Barbara, to my surprise, said she had dreamed of going to Easter Island ever since she was a child, but did not think she would because it is so remote.  If ever there would be a good time to do it, though, it would be by adding it onto our trip to Santiago, the only place with regular plane service to the island.  And so we did, and the trip to Chile was expanded from its originally planned 2 or 3 days for me only to 2 weeks for both of us.

Barbara will report on Santiago and Valparaiso.

Santiago is Chile’s capital and largest city with a population of 5.15 million.  It sits in a valley surrounded by the snow-capped Andes and the Chilean Coast Range.

Due to early morning flights out on a couple mornings, we found staying at the Holiday Inn across the street from the airport very convenient.  It was also a handy place to take advantage of an excellent transportation system. We caught the bus which went to a metro station.  From there we could take the subway anywhere in the city.  The public transportation system works very well.

Instead of taking organized tours, we prefer to set out on our own to see the sights of our choosing.  Our first visit was to Cerro San Cristóbal, the second highest point in the middle of the city.

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It provides a wonderful panorama a of the city.

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We rode the funicular up,

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and the gondola down the other side, saving a lot of walking and climbing.

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Plaza de Armas is the heart of the city’s old colonial core.

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It is home to 2 neoclassical landmarks: the 1808 Palacio de la Real Audiencia, housing the National History Museum,

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and the 18th-century Metropolitan Cathedral.

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We enjoyed people-watching and walking around the plaza.  Several men were playing chess under the shade of the trees.

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The Centro (Downtown area) is a nice place for a stroll down some of its major streets turned pedestrian walkways.  There are also many stores, shopping arcades, fast food restaurants, coffee shops, etc.  And a shop with generous portions of tasty gelato.

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Iglesia de San Francisco, a colonial-period Catholic church, is thought to be Chile’s oldest.  It has a neoclassical clock tower.

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The Gran Torre Santiago, the tallest (62-story) building in South America, is quite a contrast.

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Valparaiso is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a deserved award for its architecture, design, history and cultural contributions.

It’s known for its steep streets

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and colorful, clifftop homes.

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Valparaíso played an important role in the second half of the 19th century, when the city served as a major stopover for ships traveling between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans by crossing the Straits of Magellan.  Valparaíso mushroomed during its golden age, as a magnet for European immigrants, when the city was known by international sailors as  “The Jewel of the Pacific”.

However, in the first half of the 20th century, the wealthy residents abandoned the city. The opening of the Panama Canal and reduction in ship traffic dealt a serious blow to Valparaíso’s port-based economy.

Over the past few years, the city has seen a recovery, attracting artists and cultural entrepreneurs who have set up in the city’s hillside historic districts.  Today, many thousands of tourists visit Valparaíso from around the world to enjoy the city’s labyrinth of cobbled alleys and colorful buildings.

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The port of Valparaíso  continues to be a major distribution center for container traffic, copper, and fruit exports.

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We watched container ships being loaded

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while dining on Conger Eel, a favorite fish in Chile, both grilled

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and fried

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The navy has an impressive presence at the beautiful Plaza Sotomayor.

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Alice Springs Birding – October 2017

This report has been delayed for the reasons noted at the end of my fourth Australia segment, Darwin.  My guide at Alice Springs, Mark Carter, took pictures along the way and agreed that I could use them in my blog. However, his equipment and the pictures were later damaged by the great Alice Springs flood, and although he indicated that he expected to be able to recover them, I haven’t heard from him yet and assume they could not be restored. I know most of you like pictures better than the words.  As this report will be without pictures, I will try to keep the words to a minimum; just enough to record the highlights at Alice Springs.

I landed at the Alice Springs Airport around 9:00 a.m. on October 27th.  Mark met me and we tried to do some birding but the outrageous winds kept most of the birds under cover and wore us down.  We quit before we saw much that morning.  I spent most of the day at my hotel, the Hilton Doubletree, where I did some window birding, caught up on my notes and enjoyed a couple of good meals. The list for the day, including the few we saw while we tried to combat the wind, was as follows: an Eastern (or bearded) Dragon (not a bird), Australian Wood Ducks, a tame Peacock in the Hotel garden, a couple of Black Kites, some Masked Lapwings, Crested Pigeons, lots of Galahs, an Australian (Pt. Lincoln) Ringneck (a parrot), a pair of Western Bowerbirds at their bower, many Yellow-throated Miners, a Grey-crowned Babbler, Australian Magpies, Magpie-larks, and a few Little Crows.

The most interesting “bird” event of the day was a raid by two Magpies on the tree-top nest of a pair of Yellow-throated Miners just outside my hotel window.  The Miners had babies, but they only watched without confrontation as the Magpies consumed them.  Not such a fuzzy spectacle.

The next morning a couple from England joined us for a very productive day of birding.  Part of the day was spent in the country-side outside Alice Springs and part of the day was spent at the Alice Springs Sewage Ponds.  The Sewage Ponds are extensive and held numerous birds, probably because it is one of the few reliable water sources in the area.  Among my New Life Birds for the day were:  Black-breasted Buzzard, Red-necked Avocet, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Red-backed Kingfisher, Mulga Parrots, Budgerigars, Bourke’s Parrots, White-browed Treecreepers, Splendid Fairy Wrens, White-winged Fairy Wrens, Rufous-crowned Emu Wrens, Dusky Grasswrens, Grey-headed Honeyeaters, Grey-fronted Honeyeaters, a Crimson Chat, Orange Chats, Chestnut-rumped Thornbill, Southern Whitefaces, Banded Whitefaces, Little Woodswallows, Hooded Robins, and, at the cost of a lot of sharp little seeds stuck in my socks, Spinifex Birds.  All in all, a really good day for new species.   Not only that, but the beautiful morning hiking in the country-side outside Alice Springs was most agreeable.

We went out again the next morning and drove quite a long way south of Alice Springs to a unique geophysical area with many small rocks on the surface of the rolling landscape. Mark had a name for it, something like “grapple”, but I cannot now recall it.  We spent most of the morning wandering about the rather barren landscape.

A flock of Cockatiels flew over. Not a good look, but another life bird for me.  White-winged Fairy Wrens showed well.  But the three prize birds of the day were well seen Cinnamon Quail-thrushes, a Chiming Wedgebill and Crested Bellbirds.  All three were on my “hope to-see birds of special interest” list.  By the way, if any of you would like to see what any of these birds looks like, just Google the name and images will come up.

Mark delivered me to the airport in time to make my noon flight.  The few days of birding around Alice Springs produced 82 total species, of which 29 were new life birds.  As this was the last of my five birding destinations in Australia, I had not expected so much.  From Alice Springs, I flew at noon to Sydney and onward for the long trip home.

This was my third trip to Australia, and the only one dedicated largely to birding.   The land with its vast open spaces of varied characteristics, and the people there, make it one of the most interesting and pleasant destinations in the world.  This was probably my last trip to Australia, but I can imagine that if I were to have a good opportunity and the stamina, I would go back again.  It is a birder’s dream.  Thank you Australia.

 

Darwin, Kakadu and Northern Territory Birding-October, 2017

On October 22 I boarded the 1:45 p.m. bus from Deniliquin to Melbourne’s Southern Cross Station, and then the Skybus to the airport, in time to board my 7:55 p.m. flight to Darwin.  Arriving in Darwin after 10:00 p.m., the Darwin Airport Novotel Hotel turned out to be an easy, and short, walk from the airport.  My scheduled 7:00 a.m. next morning start for a day of birding at Fogg Dam fell through due to the illness of the guide that Experience the Wild had assigned to me.  I used the morning to bird in the park near the hotel.  In the afternoon, my guide, Diana, was well enough to provide an interesting afternoon of birding in areas around Darwin.

During the morning I saw a few new birds, including several Torresian Imperial Pigeons and Red-collared Lorikeets.  In the afternoon Diana drove us to a nearby mangrove park where we were able walk on a boardwalk to a bench in the mangroves where we sat quietly and observed several flycatchers, kingfishers and other small birds.  We then drove to a park overlooking the water, where good sightings included a nesting Eastern Reef Heron with chick and several Beach Stone-curlews.  We then drove out of the city to a location where Diana has had success in the past with Rainbow Pittas, but none was to be seen, the first miss for her in 18 trips.  Sitting high in a large tree where we entered the park, were 2 Radjah Shelducks, completing my sweep of the Australian ducks.  We were able to observe a few Magpie Geese, the seventh and final new family that I had been hoping to see, and did see, in Australia. Although called a goose, the Magpie Goose is not part of the large Anatadae family, but instead is the sole member of the Anseranatadae family.  We saw a few Magpie Geese in Darwin, but in subsequent days they numbered in the 1000s in the Fogg Dam area and Kakadu National Park.

Diana was not well enough to conduct the rest of the Northern Territory tour to Kakadu. Experience the Wild owner, Mike Jarvis, arranged to have an independent guide, Luke Paterson, fill in for the next few days.  Luke, along with 2 other birders, Graham and Susan Kearns from Canberra, picked me up at the hotel the next morning and we headed for Kakadu, some 100 miles or so to the east.  But first, we stopped at Fogg Dam.  One of the first birds to show was a colorful Rainbow Pitta, the one that Diana and I had searched for the day before with no success.  Water birds present, some in large numbers, included Brolgas (storks) and many Magpie Geese.  As we ate our “take-out” breakfast in a little pull-out near the dam, Rose-crowned Fruit Doves dined high in the trees above us.  After venturing on foot out on the dam, always on the lookout for crocs, we drove on toward Kakadu.

Kakadu is a large national park.  The land is owned by several aboriginal clans, or groups, and is jointly(?) managed with the government.  It has been designated an important UNESCO World Heritage Area. It boasts woodlands, wetlands, plateaus, escarpments, waterfalls, rivers, aboriginal rock art sites, birds, mammals, crocodiles, and unique vegetation.   Unfortunately, invasive species of animals and vegetation create serious problems for the native flora and fauna. Many feral (domestic animals gone wild) buffalo (not the bison kind), pigs, horses (brumbies), and donkeys, roam and damage the park.  Invasive Cane Toads, toxic to much wild life, are present.  Invasive grasses have spread and pose a problem for native vegetation and wildlife, including birds.

We stopped at the entrance to Kakadu for a picture of Graham and Susan Kearns and me.

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and Luke:

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Toward evening we visited one of the rock art sites, an old occupational site called Burrungkuy (often misidentified as Nourlangie Rock).  One of the more famous and interesting works is this aborigine depiction of the Creator in the dreamtime, (the larger figure), and his wife.

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The rock art is definitely worth seeing.  We hiked on up to a vantage point  looking to the east toward the large territory within Northern Territory, called Arnhem Land, the name reflecting the influence of the Dutch historical explorations of the northern coast of Australia.  This Arnhem Land Escarpment shone in the afternoon light.

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Among the birds seen at Kakadu were:

Comb-crested Jacanas

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Lemon-bellied Flycatcher

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Forest Kingfisher

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Pied Heron

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Whistling Ducks and Magpie Geese

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The next morning we arose very early (at Luke’s insistence) to claim the best birding seats on board a ~30 passenger sightseeing boat on a slow cruise of the Yellow Water.

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This slow-paced cruise was perfect for viewing the life of the River, including

this Nankeen Night Heron dangerously close to one of the many Salt Water Crocodiles.

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Buffalo bull was cooling himself at the edge of the river, serving as a perch for a Western Cattle Egret.

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We were pleased to find two lovely Kingfishers, an Azure Kingfisher

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and a Little Kingfisher

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Other photographs by Luke include:

Great-billed Heron

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Grey Goshawk

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Pied Cormorant

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Plumed Whistling Duck

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White-gaped Honeyeater

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Susan is here pictured with one of the many Giant Termite Mounds scattered throughout the Park.

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We drove south through the park to the little town of Pine Creek, where we would spend our last evening before returning to Darwin.  As we drove into Pine Creek, several lovely Hooded Parrots  were loitering near a water pipe.

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At dinner in the local restaurant that night we met Mike Jarvis, the owner of Experience the Wild, who was dining there with clients.  The next morning, Luke insisted (again) that we get a very early start to have the best shot of seeing one of Australia’s most colorful birds, Gouldian Finches, when they came to drink at a little hole in an otherwise dry river.

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Also making its appearance near the water hole was a Crimson Finch.

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Other birds seen as we wound our way back to Darwin were:

Pacific Baza

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Pink-eared Ducks and friends

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One of the more interesting features were these Magnetic Termite Mounds.

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Magnetic termites are only found in the Darwin area of Northern Territory.  The colony looks like a cemetery, with slab-shaped grave stones up to 10 feet high, all oriented with the narrow sides to the north and south.  Hence, “magnetic”, I suppose, for orientation toward the magnetic north pole.  It is said that this is to stabilize mound temperature by minimizing heat from the noon-day sun, while maximizing the heat from the cooler morning (east) and evening (west) rays.

I finished the Darwin, Northern Territory portion of my trip with 139 bird species seen, of which 62 were new life birds.  Luke was an excellent guide and fun to be with.  Graham and Susan were unexpected participants on the trip, and my thanks to them for making the time so enjoyable.  Graham and Luke provided the photographs for this blog and allowed me to use them.  Thanks to them both.

The next morning I will fly from Darwin to Alice Springs, about 1,000 kilometers south but still in Northern Territory, for my final 2 days of birding in Australia.  Mark Carter, Alice Springs Birding Guide, is supposed to meet me at the airport when I arrive at 9:00 a.m., and he does so in spite of some last minute confusion regarding the time of my arrival.  Birding around Alice Springs will be the subject of my 5th and final October, 2017 Australian birding blog.  That will be a while in coming, though, because Mark’s computer was ruined by torrential rains (Yes, in Alice Springs), but he expects to recover the pictures and send them to me for inclusion in my Alice Springs blog, sometime in January, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plains Wanderer Birding – October, 2017

If there were no Plains Wanderers in Australia, I would not have made this trip.  This strange little bird, the only species within its family (Pedionomidae), is critically endangered.  Birdlife International reports that there are less than 1,000 remaining.  They live in grasslands in various, widely separated pockets of southeastern Australia.  As agricultural acreage has expanded, the habitat for the Plains Wanders has nearly disappeared.  To add to their woes, introduced foxes prey on these little ground-nesters, who are also poor fliers, who escape from predators, if at all, by running.

If the Plains Wanderer is not to become extinct, substantial credit for its survival needs to be awarded to Philip Maher of Australian Ornithological Services, who conducts the Plains Wanderer weekends several times a year.  He has spent years studying the Plains Wanderer near Deniliquin, in the Murray River Valley of New South Wales.  Along with his own work on habitat restoration, he has enlisted the support of some local ranchers who have made adjustments to their practices to maintain habitat.  One of these, Robert Nevinson, served as a co-guide on Philip’s Plains Wanderer Weekend. They are a good team, and the results of this intensive 2 days of birding were impressive.  I, and I am quite sure I can speak for the other 7 guest-participants, could not have hoped for a more interesting and productive week-end of birding than Philip and Robert guided. Although the Plains Wanderer was the highlight, we saw many other Murray River Valley birds on this intensive week end of birding.

One of the trip participants was Peter Bundgard from Denmark, an avid photographer, who has graciously provided the pictures contained in this blog and allowed me to use them here. To go right to the point, here are his pictures of the male Plains Wanderer

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And the larger and more colorful female Plains Wanderer,

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Very difficult to spot in daylight, we spent a most interesting night, primarily on Robert’s ranch, looking for and finally spotting this pair.  They proved to be most cooperative, taking little notice of us as we sat in our vehicles nearby, and Peter photographed to his heart’s content.  These birds are unusual:  the male incubates the eggs and raises the young; the female, after laying her eggs and occupying her mate with hatching the eggs and raising the kids, seeks another male companion and reproduces again.  In good years, she can produce several broods through this efficient arrangement.

Also seen on the night drive were:

Banded Lapwings,

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Inland Dotterls,

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Barn Owls

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To add to this impressive list of grassland birds, we were treated to decent, if short, looks at Little Buttonquails and Stubble Quail.  Arriving back at our hotel around midnight we battened down for a short night’s rest, as the next morning our birding weekend was to continue.

To backtrack a bit, our weekend of birding began at 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning, recessed for a brief rest between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m., and continued with our night birding excursion beginning about 3:00 p.m. and ending at midnight.  Philip and Robert picked us up again about 7:00 a.m. Sunday morning and we birded until they delivered me to the Denilquin bus station about 1:45 p.m.

Among the birds photographed by Peter during these two days were:

Baillon’s Crake  (New)

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Royal Spoonbill

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Black Honeyeater (New)

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Crested Shrike-tit (Eastern Subspecies)(New)

creshrt-blog

 

Emus

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Rainbow Bee-eater

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Superb Parrot (New)

regpar-blog

 

Square-tailed Kite (New)

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White-fronted Honeyeater (New)

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and Yellow-billed Spoonbill

yfspo-blog

Other new species  seen on this weekend were:  Spotted Harrier, Collared Sparrowhawk, Black Falcon, Australian Spotted Crake, Long-billed Corellas (plentiful around our hotel), Yellow Rosellas, Blue Bonnets, Red-rumped Parrots (also plentiful), Horsfield’s Bronze Cuckoo, Tawny Frogmouth, Australian Owlet Nightjar, Azure Kingfisher,  Buff-rumped Thornbill, Yellow Thornbill, Spiny-cheeked Honeyeater, Little Friarbird, Blue-faced Honeyeater, Scarlet Honeyeater, Pied Honeyeater, Black Honeyeater, Red-capped Robin, White-browed Babbler, Varied Sitella, several Woodswallows, Pied Butcherbirds, Little Ravens, White-backed Swallows, Fairy Martins, and Brown Songlarks.

The participants represented several countries:  Australia, Wales, Denmark, Netherlands and the U.S. (of which I, like Tigger, was the only one).  Several of the participants have travelled widely and have an extensive world bird list.  I added 52 new species to mine in the two days.

For others who would like to participate in one of these Plains Wanderer Weekends in the future, and who do not feel comfortable driving on the wrong side of the road, I was pleased with the ease and affordability of  the public connections.  From the Melbourne Airport you can travel by Skybus (they run every few minutes) to the Southern Cross Bus Station in downtown Melbourne, and by bus (one a day) from there to Deniliquin (it takes about 4 hours).  Directions are clear.

On the return, the bus left Deniliquin at 1:45 and arrived at the Southern Cross Station about 5:30, in ample time for me to skybus to the airport and board my 7:55 p.m. flight to Darwin.  My next adventure, all in Northern Territory, was Darwin, Kakadu National Park, Pine Creek, and from thence to Alice Springs.  Blogs to follow.