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.