About Martin Eayrs

San Martín de los Andes, Neuquén, Argentina This blog is an occasional dumping/sharing ground for random thoughts and ideas, mainly relating to birding, photography, travel, the English language and the teaching thereof and assorted verse and doggerel. I am a retired teacher/lecturer and now work as a language and education consultant with an interest in evaluation and testing, quality assessment and moderation. I divide my time between homes and families in San Martín de los Andes, Patagonia and Manchester, UK.

The rime of the unwanted wedding guest

With apologies to Coleridge and de la Mere

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Bailiff,
Knocking on the vestry door;
His super turbo 4×4
In sympathetic roar.
And an owl flew out of the belfry,
And a distant hawk did cry,
And a black cat hissed at the Bailiff,
And some travellers passed by.

But the wedding party was long gone
The bride and groom had kissed.
And all had gone to the Rose and Swan
Where most were fairly pissed.
And no one saw the Bailiff
Who came to church that day,
Walk back to car with writ unserved,
Rev up, and drive away.

A day at RECS, Wed 11 Dec 2017

Whenever I am in the city of Buenos Aires I like to take a trip to the Reserva Ecológica in the Costanera Sur (aka RECS). January visits are usually a bit hot and sticky, but on this occasion I was lucky: not only was the temperature a reasonable 24ºC but there was also a decent wind blowing.

Roseate Spoonbill (Sp. Espátula Rosada, Platalea ajaja)

I was lucky with the birds I saw too. You never know quite what you’re going to see at RECS, but I certainly wasn’t expecting a Spoonbill! Apparenty there are several around at the moment – this one was actually visible from the promenade outside the reserve.

Southern Screamer (Sp. Chajá, Chauna torquata)

I don’t recall having seen Southern Screamers in RECS before either, but as I said you’re never quite sure what you’ll see there. These two were also in the front lagoon, visible from the Promenade.

White-faced Whistling-Duck or White-faced Tree-Duck (Sp. Sirirí Pampa, Dendrocygna viduata)

I’ll let the remainder of the photos speak for themselves. They are only a small selection; I didn’t keep count, I very rarely do, but I must have seen 50-60 species in the five or so hours I was there. RECS really is a great place to while away a few hours when in the Capital.

Green-barred Woodpecker (Sp. Carpintero-Real Común, Colaptes melanochloros)

Gray-necked Wood-Rail (Sp. Chiricote, Aramides cajaneus)

Black-crowned Night-Heron (Sp. Garza Bruja, Nicticorax nicticorax)

Great Egret (Sp. Garza Blanca, Ardea alba)

Snowy Egret (Sp. Garcita Blanca, Egretta thula)

Giant Wood-Rail (Sp. Ipacaá, Aramides ypecaha)

Muscovy Duck (Sp. Pato Real, Cairina moschata)

 

Anahí and the Ceibo tree

The Ceibo or Seibo tree with its beautiful red blossom was declared the national flower of Argentina on the 24th November, 1942. This Guarani story tells of where the Ceibo came from.

On the shores of the river Paraná there once lived an ugly old woman called Anahí. Ugly she might have been, and old she certainly was, but she was much loved in the tribe and still sang with the voice of an angel. In the summer evenings she would often delight her tribe with her songs; songs of the tribe, of the gods and of the land in which they lived. Life was plain and uncomplicated, and good for her and her people.

And then one day the white people arrived and took away their lands, their gods, their freedom. Many of the tribe, including Anahí, were taken captive, and spent several days locked up while their captors decided what to do with them.

Anahí did not lose hope and bided her time, keeping her eyes open for any chances of escape. Her luck came when one of her guards had had too much to drink and fell asleep close to the bars of her cage. Anahí was able reach the keys which he had hanging on his belt and she used these to free herself. As she opened her cell door and tiptoed to freedom the guard was lying on the floor, moaning and groaning in his sleep.

He must have noticed her, because he suddenly started shouting and the noise alerted other white men, who came to investigate. Anahí could hear the sound of voices and footsteps approaching, and although she had wanted to free the other prisoners she felt this was not now an option, and that it was better to get away while she could and see later what she could do to help the others.

Anahí hobbled out of the prison and stumbled through the prison garden, through the fields, through the woods, across streams, until she reached the thick forest. Tired and frightened, she rested there. But luck was against her; the white men had brought dogs who could smell her presence. They took little time to find her, and the men dragged the old woman to a clearing where they tied her to a thorny old bush.

Some soldiers gathered dry wood and built up a pyre around Anahi’s legs. The wood was slow to burn but eventually the fire took, and flames began to encircle the poor old woman and then climb up her frail body.  This was to be her fate.

What happened next was a miracle. As she stood there, unconscious, her aged body sagging against the ropes and her head twisted to one side, her limbs slowly began to meld into the tree which she was tied to, and the two became one.  And the bush did not burn, in fact it seemed oblivious to the fire, or rather it seemed to relish the flames as it grew greener and stronger.

The flames slowly died out as all the wood the soldiers had gathered was consumed, and there, in the place where a wizened old thorn bush had propped up Anahí’s body, had sprung to life the most magnificent tree, in full green bloom and all ablaze with bright red flowers. The shrivelled bush and the ugly old woman had fused into a beautiful, colourful tree that before long, with help from the birds and animals, multiplied itself and can be found today throughout the land.

The Tale of Antú and Cuyen

A Pehuenche creation tale

Image from http://www.veselka.by

At the very beginning of all time Ngünechen created Antú, the sun, and Cuyen, the moon. He fashioned them in the form of two young lovers who would reign over the Pehuenche lands and care for the people. Cuyen was pale of face, with wide eyes that sparkled light blue; she was warm, tender and caring and looked after the women and children. Antú was made tall and strong, with the flaming red hair and the ruddy face of a warrior; it was his job to care for the men of the tribe.

At first all went well between them, but as the years went by Antú became more self-centred and began to lose some of the care and fondness he had previously shown for the Pehuenche people. He became bad tempered, and when he was angry he would give off so much heat that those near him would get burned. When Cuyen reproached him for this he became even more furious with her and struck her around the head and face so hard that she nearly fell to earth. So angry was he that all the Pehuenches around him were exposed to the heat of his temper, which is why they are dark-skinned today.

Cuyen was beaten so badly that her face was for ever marked with the fingers of Antú, as you can see today if you look up to the night sky. After that it was clear that the flame that had been their love was extinguished and they hardly ever saw each other again, with one of them only coming out during the day and the other in the night.

For the sensitive Cuyen this separation brought great sadness. She could be seen at night, wan and downhearted, wandering through the fields of amancays and mutisias, through the forests of pehuenes y coihues. She still loved Antú, and her loss hurt her badly.

Night after night she reflected on what had been, until each dawn announced the arrival of Antú and it was time for her to retire. Sometimes she dreamed of their getting back together, but could not now see how, when they never even talked to each other any more. Had she but known it, Antú, who was not such a bad person apart from his short temper, had been harbouring similar thoughts but he was too proud to approach his wife and beg her pardon.

And so things stayed, until in the fading light of a young spring day Antú saw a young Pehuenche girl gathering flowers by a meadow brook. He fell for her immediately and swept her up, flying high, high into the firmament where he set her to be his companion for ever. He called her Collipal, or ‘Golden Star’; we still see her today and know her as the Evening Star, or more properly the planet Venus.

Such was Antú’s new love that he forgot completely and for ever his old love Cuyen, but it didn’t take long for her to realise that something had changed. At dusk one evening Cuyen saw Antú and Collipal close together, and it was crystal clear to her that her dreams of their getting back together were dashed for ever, and that she could and would never be with Antú again.

Realising that it really was all over her eyes filled with tears and she cried and cried and cried. She cried for such a long time that her tears formed a large pool, and that pool we know today as the Alumine Lake. From there, the water spilled into all the other streams and rivers of the south that we see today.

And since that day, in the clear and calm Patagonian nights, those limpid waters reflect Cuyen’s eternal yet hopeless love for Antú.

 

 

The tale of Copahue

The village of Copahue can be found in the Andes, some 2000 metres above sea-level and set in a wild landscape moulded by storming winds, creeping glaciers and endless volcanic eruptions. Today it is known for its thermal springs. Here is a legend of how it got its name.

There was once a people who lived high in the Andes. Theirs was a peaceful land, and little ever happened to disturb the tranquillity of the region.

The chieftain of this tribe had a young son called Copahue. One day, bored with life, Copahue decided to explore what lay beyond the mountains where he lived. He gathered together a few friends and set out in search of adventure.

On the morning of the third day Copahue left the others and went for a walk in a leafy forest near where they had camped. Through the trees he saw a crystal blue lake, and swimming in it, all alone, was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. Tall and slender, she had shining black hair that reached to her waist. He stood, watching her, mesmerised. She saw him, smiled, came modestly out of the water and walked towards him.

Little did Copahue know, nor could,  that this lovely apparition was in fact a witch, who had guided Copahue to this place with a charm. In his love and ignorance Copahue fell head-over-heels in love with her and, surprisingly, she fell in love with him too. Love conquers all, and in this case it transformed the witch’s evil intentions into those of a normal human being.

Their love was real, and Copahue and the beautiful girl, who not only had long dark hair but also had flashing black eyes to match, decided to get married. But when they heard of this the other people of the tribe were against the union. For them the girl was an outsider, and they feared the unknown. A meeting of the elders was called, and they forbade the marriage on pain of death.

The two young people didn’t care. They were in love, and that was all that mattered to them. So they disobeyed the tribal elders and got married anyway. But punishment was at hand, and even though Copahue’s son was the chief of the tribe justice must be met. After a second, brief meeting of the elders Copahue was condemned to death for disobeying the orders of his father and the elders. He was dragged from his home to the edge of the village and hanged from the branch of an algarrobo tree.

On hearing his sentence his young wife had run away; there was no place for her there now. She ran and ran and ran, until she found herself back by the lake where they had met. Here she sat down and started to cry.  Her tears fell into the lake, and immediately the water started to turn yellow, and then to boil. A horrible, sulphur like smell filled the air. The girl, who was a witch we should perhaps remember, threw herself into the steaming pool and was seen no more.

Today this place is called Copahue, and can be found in Ñorquín, in the north of Neuquén Province. If you find yourself there some time enjoying the thermal springs, do remember the fate of Copahue and the girl he loved.

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Two tales of Calafate

The Calafate is a bush that grows in Patagonia. There is a legend that anyone who eats the berries from this bush will always return to the region. Here are two tales relating to this; one from the Ona people that used to live in Tierra del Fuego and the other from the Tehuelches, a nomadic people that lived further north. Sadly both of these peoples are no longer with us.

Tale 1

There was once a tribal chieftain of a race that lived at the bottom of the world and is now completely lost to us. He had a beautiful daughter called Calafate who had jet black hair and huge yellow-golden eyes, and he was very proud and very protective of her.

One day a young man named Selk’nam from another tribe happened to pass by where the young girl lived. He spotted Calafate walking on the shore and approached her; their eyes met and they were both immediately smitten. They met once again, and that day they pledged undying love and a lifetime together.

But their tribes warred with each other and the young lovers knew their elders would never accept them marrying, so they decided to run away together. The chieftain heard of their plans and was very upset. After long thought he decided that his daughter must have become possessed by the evil spirit Gualicho; why else would she consort with his enemies?  In his anger he consulted his shaman and told him to do whatever was necessary to stop Calafate and Selk’nam escaping.

The shaman was not a bad person but he was obedient to his chief, and he used his magic to turn the young girl into a bush with yellow flowers, the bush that we know today as the Calafate bush. She would be going nowhere now.

Selk’nam soon found out that she had been transformed and was now covered with sharp thorns. He could look at her, but could never touch her. His frustration was overbearing. Each yellow flower reminded him of her deep, golden eyes. Heart-broken, he died in the night of grief.

When the shaman heard of Selk’nam’s death he felt bad and caused the flowers on the bush to change into delicious purple berries, formed from the heart of the brave young man. These are the berries that appear each year in the Autumn, and it is said today that anyone who eats these berries is bewitched by the shaman’s spells on Calafate and Selk’nam, and once they have tasted the fruit they will always be drawn magically back to Patagonia.

Tale 2

The Tehuelche people were indigenous, nomadic tribesmen who inhabitated the Patagonian pampas where today are the Provinces of Chubut and Santa Cruz. Tourists visiting the region today may have seen the caves filled with painted hands that their ancestors left hundreds of years ago.

One day, many moons ago, the chief of the tribe decided it was time to move north. Winter was approaching and they needed to be further away from the snow and ice that would soon arrive. An elderly woman in the tribe realized that she was too old and weak to travel with the others, so when the time to leave came she hid and was left behind to endure the hardships of winter alone.  Some women in the tribe left for her a tent made from guanaco skins and some wood and food to keep her alive, but her companions didn’t think she would survive the harsh winter weather.

But the old woman did not die. Not exactly. Through some kind of magic, and it is not clear whose, she was mysteriously transformed into a bush with yellow flowers; the bush we know today as the Calafate. The bush provided shelter for the birds, protecting them from the cold wind and ice. And each year, as winter approached, the bush bore berries which provided them with food. Year on year the birds would return to safety of the the magical calafate bush.

Indeed, some birds stopped migrating altogether and as the news spread many of those who had left returned to try the new fruit. So did the Tehuelches when they returned the following spring, and they quickly adopted this new plant as part of their diet. Slowly the plant propagated throughout the region and now it can be seen everywhere, And they say that for ever after, like the birds and the Tehueches of old, for they are long gone too, “whosoever eats of the Calafate berry will always return to Patagonia”.

 

 

 

 

The Tale of Amancay and Quintral

The Vuriloche peoples have it that to give another an amancay flower is to offer them your heart. This belief comes from a very old legend; read on.

Amancay (Alstroemeria aurea)

In time long gone by a Vuriloche clan lived near a place called Ten-Ten Mahuida. On maps today you will find it as Thunder Mountain.

The chief of this clan had a young son called Quintral. He was strong, brave and good-looking, and there was no girl in the valley, nor in the neighbouring valleys, who didn’t sigh when he pased, or tremble at the sound of his voice.

Quintral could have had any girl in the region to be his, but although no one else knew, he was desperately in love with a poor girl named Amancay, though he kept quiet about this as he feared that his father would never let him marry a girl from such a humble family.

What young Quintral never imagined in his wildest dreams was that Amancay was also hopelessly in love with him, but she had never said a word to anyone because she thought a future chief like Quintral could never love a humble girl like her.

This undeclared love was one day to be put to the test. A violent fever broke out in the valley, and soon half of the clan was dead or dying. Many of those who had escaped the deadly disease had deserted the village in fear of their lives.

Quintral was one of the first to fall to the fever. In his delirium he began to babble, and his father, who was sitting with him, heard him mumble again and again the name ‘Amancay, Amancay, Amancay …’.

The chief made some enquiries and didn’t take long to find out who the ‘Amancay’ was, and to discover the secret love his son felt for her. Thinking that the sight of Amancay might brighten his son’s spirits he ordered his men to bring her to him immediately at his son’s death bed.

But Amancay was nowhere to be found. On the advice of the village medicine woman, she had struggled painfully up into the heights of Mount Thunder. The medicine woman had told her that the only way to combat the fever –and save Quiltran– was to make a potion from a yellow flower that could only be found at the very top of the mountain.

With knees grazed and hands bleeding, Amancay finally reached the mountaintop.  In front of her she saw the yellow flower, its petals reflecting the yellow of the sun. She reached out to pick the flower, but barely was it in her hand when she heard a mighty roar of wind and her world went dark.

Raising her eyes she saw a huge condor standing before her. Each thrash of its wings raised a terrible wind as she cowered against the rock face.

Finally the bird spoke and in a voice of thunder announced that he was charged by the gods to protect the mountain and that she was taking away something that belonged to them.

Trembling with fear,  Amancay told the condor through her tears how the people in the valley were dying, especially Quintral whom she loved, and that the flower was her only hope.

The condor told her if she wanted Quintral to be cured from his fever she would have to agree to give up her own heart. Amancay could not imagine living in a world where Quintral did not exist, and if she had to give up her life in return for his; well, she did not care about her own life without him.

She tore open her bodice and shift and offered her breast to the Condor. in an instant the bird ripped out her heart with his strong beak. As her life ebbed, the last words Amancay were to pronounce were the repeated name ‘Quintral, Quintral, Quintral …’.

With Amancay’s heart gripped tightly in its claws and the yellow flower in its beak the condor rose, flying higher and higher on the hot air currents to where the gods live, to ask them to send a cure for the disease. And as the bird flew, drops of blood from Amancay’s heart fell like rain on the valleys and mountains.

In a moment, all the hills and valleys were covered with small yellow flowers, each one speckled with red stains. Every drop of Amancay’s blood had given birth to a small plant, the same plant that once grew only on the summit of Thunder Mountain, the plant we know today as the Amancay.

Trip to Chile, 19-21 December 2016

I took four days off to visit Chile, scheduling two nights on the Pacific coast and one in the Parque Nacional Puyehue. On the Pacific coast I stayed at Bahía Mansa (visiting the uncommercialised villages of Pucatrihue, Maicolpue and Trill Trill). On the third night I stayed on the shores of Lago Puyehue, within striking distance of the entrance to the National Park at Aguas Calientes.

The weather was absolutely appalling, with only occasional patches of viable light. Using these I managed to get a few shots, but only two lifers: the choroy (slender-billed parakeet), Enicognathus leptorhynchus, and the remolinera araucana (Dark-bellied Cinclodes), Cinclodes patagonicus.

Adult and juvenile Southern Pudu, Puda puda

On the first day I had the good luck to see a couple of Pudu, the smallest deer in the world. Apologies for cruddy photo: I was so excited when I saw them, and had so little time to grab a shot that I forget that I had been shooting video and didn’t reset the camera to photo – result, very artistic but not very clear. It wasn’t helped by heavy rain either.  I was very lucky to see these creatures; they are classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List and are not at all easy to find.

carancho (Southern Caracara) Caracara plancus

The first set of photos is from the coast. I’m not too sure why this carancho is paddling around on the shoreline; perhaps he has aspirations to become a wader.

garza blanca (Great Egret) Ardea alba

ostrero negro (Blackish Oystercatcher) Haematopus ater)

Playero Trinador trinador (Whimbrel) Numenius phaeopus

cabecita negra austral (Black-chinned Siskin) Spinus barbata

golondrina patagonica (Chilean Swallow) Tachycineta meyeni

jote cabeza negra (Black Vulture) Coragyps atratus

The weather in the Puyehue National Park was pretty much unforgiving. I did drive up to a volcanic crater but it was cold, wet and misty, with little to see. A highlight was at the bridge on the way in, where I saw a family of torrent ducks working their way down the river.

pato de torrente (Torrent duck) Merganetta armata

Although I was familiar with the Austral Thrush I had not seen such splendidly coloured juveniles before.

zorzal patagonico (Austral Thrush) Turdus falcklandii)

choroy (slender-billed parakeet) Enicognathus leptorhynchus

remolinera araucana (Dark-bellied Cinclodes) Cinclodes patagonicus

paloma araucana aka chilena (Chilean Pigeon) Patagioenas araucana

Finally, as I was leaving, I saw a delicately woven humming birds nest – a slim canister in a place that was very hard to get a lens into – it’s amazing how these tiny little things already have the long beaks they will need to feed themselves. They are the picaflor rubí (Green-backed Firecrown), Sephanoides sephanoides

Despite the weather, it had been a worthwhile trip.

In retrospect: trip to Argentinian Central Sierras, September/October 2016

In September and October 2016 I combined giving talks at the Argentine English Teachers’ [FAAPI] Conference in San Juan and the South American Bird Fair in San Isidro, Buenos Aires with a thirty day road trip through much of central Argentina. I drove through the provinces of Neuquén, Mendoza, San Luis, San Juan, La Rioja, Córdoba, Santa Fé, Buenos Aires and La Pampa.

Lifers from trip

I seem to have photographed 147 different species, 22 of these being lifers. I certainly saw quite a few more which I didn’t or couldn’t photograph. I include the lifers only for the record.

 

Trip through Chile and [Welsh] Patagonia – some stats

22 November, 2016 : San Martín de los Andes

Finally home. Surprisingly, our eventual itinerary bears a surprising similarity to our original plan.

final-route

We spent 12 days on the road and travelled a total distance of 4,517 kilometres (2806.73 miles. Our average km per litre was 7.46 (21.07 mpg) – but this varied enormously day on day according to road surface (Silver has a six cylinder 4.1 litre appetite) which was miraculously exactly the same on my Ruta 40 (South) trip in 2014.

We kept mostly to tarmac, with about 20% of gravel roads, and engaged 4WD twice only; once on an iffy, gravelly mountain road and once when Martin reversed into a ditch.

We slept 4 nights in hotels, 4 in self-catering apartments, 1 in a motel, 1 in a bungalow and 1 in a purple cabin.

We concluded that WiFi in Patagonia is mostly crap and that finding a cash dispenser that works is like looking for gold.

We bought books on Butch Cassidy and Birds in Chile, a Welsh teapot with hand-knitted tea cosy and a ‘torta negra galesa’ (the Patagonian version of a Welsh fruit cake)  in Trelew and Gaiman, straw birds from Chiloe, a teeshirt from the paleontological museum in Trelew and a bunch of other stuff

We saw penguins, sea lions, seals, dolphinselephant seals, rheas, armadillos, guanacosred foxes, grey foxes, hares, rabbits, a mink, a number of lizards and maybe a pudu.. Lots of birds too (Caroline spotted an owl and took her first bird photo) but this was not a birding trip. Sadly we missed the whales and orcas (and the killer bunnies), but it’s good to have a reason to go back (as if we needed one).

We have travelled through snowcapped mountains, forests, lush green pastures and deserts, and have seen the rising and setting sun on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts

Miraculously, we seem to have kept our total costs within budget.