Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay – Day 11

28 August 2017 – Ituzaingó – A slow day …

Anó Chico, a new bird for me.

It rained heavily all night, and was still pouring when I got up for breakfast. Rubén, the owner of Cabañas Tío Lucas (where I am staying) took me on a wet drive along some tarmac roads to see the beaches on the river Paraná, and to a couple of birding spots: a heronry and a bit of woodland known as Zanjón Loreto (the second looked very promising if it ever dries out here). Then back to the cabaña, where I made some coffee and worked on my talk for the FAAPI Conference at the weekend.

Lesser yellow-headed vulture – common in these parts

This concentration was broken by a huge lunch cooked by Rubén, who cooks the main dishes while his wife makes the deserts.  By about 15.00 it had stopped raining, and I first tried to get to the Isla Apiré, in the river Paraná and a short distance away where there is said to be extensive wild life. As there may well be, but I had no way of finding out; the lancha was full and there was no other way to get there until too late in the afternoon to make it worthwhile.

Gray monjita

So, I got in the car and drove out of town till I found the Reserva Santa María, with walkways and an observation tower looking onto the a mixture of grassland and wetlands. The sun was out by then, and I did manage to get an hour’s birding in, on what has been an otherwise wasted day. Plenty of big birds, but it was very windy and I think most of the smaller ones had hunkered down for the day.

well camouflaged, a red-winged tinamou

Back to review the day’s photos and type up these notes, until Rubén arrived with another huge meal – I can’t go on like this. I do have a programme for tomorrow, visiting Cambyretá (back in the Esteros de Iberá), so an early night’s sleep is called for, with fingers crossed for a full day’s birding tomorrow.

Giant wood rail

Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay – Day 10

27 August 2017 – Mburucuyá – Ituzaingó – Rain, rain, go away …

My only usable photo in a day of torrential rain,but not a bad one: a male long-winged harrier …

Slept extremely well. Torrential rain most of the night, so the Park ranger was right and I’ll not be able to have a second chance at the Mburucuyá national Park, which is a shame but hey, it is what it is. Not even in Silver for a day or so till it dries out a bit.

Breakfasted on a coffee bag and a packet of cream crackers and set off for Ituzaingó, retracing my steps some 50 km to Saladas as given last night’s rain I want to stick to tarmac today. Intention was to drive slowly through the Western side of the Esteros and see what I can see.

First half of the day was dull and overcast – poor light for photos. The sun came out a few times for a minute or so, but it was very windy and all the birds seem to have hunkered down. Stopped for lunch in a small town; huge and wholly unidentifiable cuts of roast meat accompanied by boiled cassava, with bread and wine. Filling, and reasonably tasty, but cordon bleu it wasn’t.

Back on the road and the last 200 km were done in horrendous rain, quite frightening, and very slow – at one stage I actually stopped as I could see nothing. Thunder and lightning all around, and I saw a lightning fork hit a tree not a hundred metres from the car – I could see flames and smoke through the rain – quite alarming, and I get telling myself that carts have rubber wheels.

Finally got to my cabin in Ituzaingó to find no one there, and had to wait an hour in the car in the pouring rain until the site owners returned from mass. It’s all a bit informal up here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On account of the weather, no photos today to speak of, and fingers crossed for tomorrow, although as I turn in for the night the weather shown no sign on letting up.

Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay – Day 9

26 August 2017 – Mercedes – Mburucuyá – And the heavens opened …

Woken in the middle of the night by phone call from reception asking me to please register the woman in my room. Explain there is no woman in my room. A couple of minutes later a soft knocking at the door and a slinky, expensively dressed female is there smiling at me. I explain to her as I had to the receptionist that there must be some mistake, and closed the door on her. About ten minutes later the phone rings again, this being reception telling me what I already knew, that there must have been a mistake. Finally, I get to sleep; strange dreams we need not go into here.

Back to the birding.

Well, if this is a cow and the white birds are egrets, my money is on them being cattle egrets

Got up early and loaded the car, which was on the other side of the Plaza. As I walked back a large bird crapped on my head – not too worried, as this is said to bring good luck. We’ll see.  Stomach and then petrol tank filled, I set off for the Mburucuyá National Park, to the west of the Iberá Reserve.

Roadside hawk, unsurprisingly a frequent sight by the roadside

I set off to torrential rain, with lightning crashing frighteningly all around the car, but after an hour or so it began to clear as I made my way around the bottom and then the left of the Iberá wetlands. Another glorious road for birding, with wetlands on either side full of birds, and I did stop for a couple of easy shots, but I wanted to get on to Mburucuyá National Park.

Female snail kite: lots of these flying low across the hedgerows and ditches

Which I did, entering the park on a difficult road, mostly loose sand but heavily rutted where service vehicles had passed in wet weather. It was a tough and very slow 30 km as I was in my rented Chevy Corsa, and as I was arriving at the park it began to rain. I couldn’t turn round as it was too narrow and rutted so I had no choice to go to the end where a ranger told me to get out quick as the granddaddy of storms was about to break.

Crab eating fox, shot through windscreen. Sadly going in the wrong direction

I did see two crab-eating foxes (yes, really) and a female pampas deer in all the rush but didn’t manage to get photos as they all disappeared before I could get a lens on them except this fox trotting away from me which I shot through the windscreen. Another reason for returning.

A yellow-headed caracara (Milvago chimachima) – a lifer for me

Discretion being the better half of valour and all that I turned the car round and started back. Hightailing it was out of the question, and in about ten minutes the storm broke: an electrical storm, even more frightening than earlier in the morning. Same road, except now the loose sand had turned to slippery mud. For once I had a reserve plan as I knew the ranger would be returning in a few hours but using all my skills and savvy (I wish!) I slid and slithered the 30 km or so back to the safety of the gravel road (ripio). Never have I been happier to see gravel road!

At which point, as if to make a point, the rain stopped and the sun came out so I spent a couple of hours driving and walking around the town‘s different entry and exit roads. Plenty to see there birdwise, and the National Park (which looked great, what I saw of it) can wait till a second visit.

Comical looking guaira cuckoos – they seem to be very sociable birds

My accommodation for tonight is a cabaña with room for five so looks like I screwed up on the booking but it’s very comfortable to rattle around in, with some acceptable beer in the fridge. Food can be phoned in, which I did because I was tired and didn’t feel like going out again. Lovely river fish with boiled cassava and potato in a herby sauce – vary tasty, followed by some unidentifiable crystalised tropical fruit.

Tomorrow to Ituzaingó, where I re-enter the Iberá Reserve at Cambyretá. Fingers crossed for better weather.

Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay – Day 8

24 August 2017 – Colonia Carlos Pelligrini to Mercedes – second mission achieved

Always plenty to look at on the roadside

Left C. Pelligrini after breakfast, spending ten minutes snapping some of the birds on the Lodge’s feeders. Typically the less common ones I had seen on previous mornings when they put out crumbs didn’t turn up this morning, but you see what you see.

A young howler monkey. The black fur is the adult male, whi was too concealed for me to get a shot.

Stopped off on the way out of C. Pelligrini at the trail where I had seen Mummy howler monkey yesterday, hoping I might see the (black) Daddy monkey today. In fact I did – he was with two younger monkeys – but almost impossible to photograph as he was so deeply embedded in the treetops. I did manage however to pick out a partial shot of one of the young ones with directed flash – not ideal, but recognisably a monkey.

The crazy tail of the very appropriately named strange-tailed tyrant

I drove very slowly for the first thirty km or so, as I was looking for a bird called the strange-tailed tyrant. I had a photo from a couple of days ago, but I wanted one that showed the tail a little better. Anyway, I was lucky enough to find another – or who knows, the same one (?) – and got a better shot. This is a rather special bird and people come here just to see it, also quite hard to see so I was doubly lucky. Very odd flight pattern – I first saw it flying really low across the road with its long, flapping tail making it look more like a weasel or mink than a bird, and then flitting around at ground level until finally settling for a while on a fence post where I was able to take a few shots.

Unusual shot of a chimango …

Further along the road saw lots of caranchos (which I’m not very fond of) and another couple of larger  birds that looked like raptors, and turned out to be.

… and what turned out to be a Savannah Hawk

Drove on to Mercedes, taking a few more shots along the way and arrived back at the same hotel about 15.30 where I managed to get F on Skype (I had been without any phone or internet for four days). Today – or what’s left of it – is a rest day, and hopefully a chance to post a few days’ worth of blog; tomorrow an early start for the Mburucuyá National Park.

Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay – Day 7

24 August 2017 – at Colonia Carlos Pelligrini – all quiet on the wetlands

Peace of the wetlands – marsh deer and young black eagle on a floating island

Slept well, the rooster apparently having decided to wake up others today. Good breakfast and off for a personal birding tour arranged by my hosts. These tours are part of the deal and are very good value as is my whole stay at the Ñande Retá lodge.

Yellow Cardinal, much sought but little seen

The first part of the tour was in search of a particular bird that has long eluded me (and others): the Yellow Cardinal. I’m not exactly a lister, but I do get a satisfaction out of seeing and photographing these ‘difficult’ species. My guide, Darío, knew where one ought to be – on the smallholding of a farmer he knew – and got me permission to enter this private land where not only did we see male and female of the species, but a few other birds to boot. The visit was enhanced by a pair of turkeys that followed us like dogs, copulating every time we stopped to take photos. Strange world the turkeys seem to live in.

Must be a turkey thing

Mission Yellow Cardinal completed, we headed to the other end of the settlement to walk a couple of trails, one through forest and another through reed beds. Not many birds here at all, but we were rewarded by the acrobatics of a [female] howler monkey, the largest monkey species in the Americas. I was told there is a small group of five here in C. Pelligrini – an adult pair and three juveniles –  but we only saw the one.

Female adult howler monkey, in pensive mood

The reed bed was more productive for birds but no new species here this morning, and I stopped in at the Information Centre to watch a short video on the history of the Iberá Reserve – started in the 1980s, with tourism starting only a few years ago.

The smallest of the three kingfishers in the area …

… and the medium size one

Back to the lodge at dusk for another shower and what has become my daily schedule of reviewing the day’s photos and making these short notes as a memory of what I do and see each day. Hopefully it will be acknowledged and appreciated in later years when I look back.

A couple more memories of the day:

Juvenile black eagle

Female Marsh deer

Tomorrow back to Mercedes along Paradise road, where I saw so much wild life on the way in to Iberá, and to some shops (C. Pelligrini is somewhat limited in that respect). And, importantly, to get back online for a while, load up these last three days to the blog and attend to some accumulated correspondence.

 

 

Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay – Day 6

23 August 2017 – at Colonia Carlos Pelligrini – away from it all

Image of the day – capybara rolled over to let this bird (one of several ‘cleaners’) do a bit of debugging. Symbiosis, anyone?

Slept very well, until woken by a particularly noisy rooster outside my chalet window, which was a change at least and a different kind of bird. Good breakfast accompanied by a bit of a drama as a neighbor back in the UK Whatsapped me that there had been nocturnal disturbances back home in Manchester and as I couldn’t get hold of F I was a bit worried throughout the day but it was eventually resolved and everything seems ok now.

The Chajá is known as the Southern Screamer in English – here’s why, perhaps

Took a morning launch out on the esteros again this morning – less dramatic than last night’s but fun all the same. Same lots of wildlife again, and got very close to some toothy yacaré (caiman) and lots of ridiculous looking capybara. Saw Marsh Deer too, and many birds (several lifers).

How do you photograph a coiled Yellow Anaconda concealed by reeds and grass? This one may well sleep for the next few weeks, as he seems to have his belly full.

Hot and sunny on the water, and ready for a long lunch – excellent food again – and then out with a reserve guide to see birds along the trails. Very hot, and a bad time of day for birding anyway, but it was good walking and talking and I learned quite a lot about the local wild life. Also saw a smaller deer, the Gray Brocket deer, both male and female – fairly close up as they didn’t seem that bothered.

Male Brocket Deer – with token horns that don’t look up to much

Female Brocket Deer

Back to the hotel for tea, siesta and dinner, more or less in that order, and to catch up with the blog, not to mention processing a large number of photos taken today. I had planned an early night, but there were so many photos to review that it didn’t quite work out that way.

 

Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay – Day 5

22  August 2017 –  Mercedes, Corrientes to Colonia Carlos Pelligrini – an embarrassment of riches

Bird of the day was the strange-tailed tyrant, photograph snatched through the window of a decelerating car.

Got away early from Mercedes, filling the tank as there is nothing at all down at C. Pelligrini. The first third of the journey was tarmac surfaced and then the rest was a pretty good (except in parts) consolidated road.  I say ‘except in parts’, because I hit a particularly rock strewn stretch and was unable to avoid a huge rock which burst the nearside tyre and buckled the front wheel. The jack and wheel brace supplied by Hertz were next to useless, but a guy in a passing F100 helped with a proper brace (why do they put the wheel nuts on so tightly?) and I drove very slowly for the remaining 30 km to Colonia Carlos Pelligrini.

Ñandu (Greater Rhea) – one of many, this one at the entrance to a homestead

Which was no hardship. The road between Mercedes and C. Pelligrini is a birder’s paradise, with wildlife everywhere you look. Some pictures below, but I was in heaven. Got to the place I was staying, Ñande Retá, one of several safari lodge type places around– very comfortable and highly recommended.

The first Capybara I saw, by the side of the road.

The gomeria was closed for siesta, so I went into my home for the next three nights, unpacked and planned my time here. I had a quick look at todays photos – most shot from a car with the engine running so a bit of movement – but some publishable. My favourite of the day I think was the marsh deer (or whatever it’s called – I haven’t done any checking yet as I have no Internet connection here).

Marsh deer (male) looking majestic by the side of the road

I went out on an evening launch over the lake and wetlands near the town, which was a wonderful experience. With judicious use of a powerful flashlight we were able to locate various wildlife: including an enormous heronry that took flight en masse while the flash light silhouetted the whirling birds against the evening sky.

Yacaré (Yacare Caiman), the first I saw and also the biggest of the day.

Lots of caiman of all sizes (but only the black ones – the greener species are apparently harder to find, having been almost exterminated in the past for their skins). We heard a mother caiman calling to its improbably tiny, pencil and cigar size babies who swam towards her at her command. And a couple of chajá nests, each with mother sitting and father guarding a short distance away. All to the spectacular background of the Milky Way, whose clouds and filaments acted as a little seen reminder that we inhabit a galaxy. You have to be really away from civilisation for that, and it more than compensated for the current lack of wifi.

Maguari Stork in full flight overhead

Back to the hotel, for a wonderful supper and a comfy chair in front of a roaring fire – it was quite cold outside by now. News was brought that my tyre and wheel were fixed (perhaps a new wheel?) and would be delivered in the morning, and that I had a daytime lake excursion planned for tomorrow morning. I went to bed happy.

 

Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay – Day 4

21  August 2017 – Posadas, Misiones to Mercedes, Corrientes – foot to floor, and no photos

Argentina long distance coaches are extremely comfortable, though the catering can be a bit unpredictable

I slept well on the overnight bus from Buenos Aires to Posadas, helped by a surprisingly good evening meal (quite unexpected) and some not bad wine. Arrived in Posadas about 08.00 am to a crisp, sunny morning and took a taxi to the airport, some fifteen minutes from the bus terminal, where I picked up my rental car – the lowest of the Chevy range but good enough for my purposes.

Chevrolet Corsa, my wheels for the next ten days

The distance to Mercedes, in the Province of Corrientes, at least the way I drove it, was about 500 kms so I made a promise to myself not to stop and take photos along the way. And that was really hard, with so much wetland, so much avian activity. But it was the only day of my trip with heavy mileage (kilometrage?) and inevitably something of a grin and bear it journey. So, no bird photos for today’s blog.

The red earth of Misiones

The journey started with the deep red earth so characteristic of Misiones, which was gradually replaced by greener vegetation and more and more wetlands. Trees more or less disappeared along the highway, making the ones that were there stand out like planted specimens on a country estate.

“Santo Tomé was founded in 1632 by the Jesuit missionaries Luis Ernot and Manuel Bertot, with help from two native Guaraní chiefs that converted to Christianity. Its name is variedly found as Santo Tomás, Santo Tomás Apóstol, Santo Thomé and Santo Tomé” .. hoc dixit wikipedia..

A spot of lunch in Santo Tomé (a very filling milanesa sandwich), and back in the saddle. Missing Silver the Jeep, but the hire car was fine and I got to Mercedes at about 16.30. Quite a classy hotel for what I paid, and doubles as the local casino so pretty busy as the evening wore on. I managed to repack my luggage rather more intelligently on arrival, so I don’t have to get everything out when I come to an evening stop –  but obviously nothing is ever in the right place.

Tomorrow’s much shorter journey to C. Pelligrini

Tomorrow an early start for the 130 kilometres to Colonia Carlos Pelligrini, where I shall stay three days. Mercedes is known as the gateway to Iberá, so many birders will have been this way before. I have been told by several people that the last 40 kms of the Approach road to C. Pelligrini are good for birding so shall have a leisurely drive, stopping often. It’s taken long enough to get here, but tomorrow it all starts.

 

 

Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay – Day 3

20 August 2017 – Buenos Aires – a hot, sunny winter’s day as the journey proper starts

I have been staying at the Castelar Hotel in Buenos Aires several times a year since 1998 and have always felt really comfortable here. But perhaps it’s time for me to evaluate my options.

 Castelar  Hotel, Buenos Aires, my transit hotel in BA for nearly 20 years

First of all, I couldn’t get to the front door of the hotel this weekend because of a huge open air ‘event’ (an asasdo (barbecue) contest in which grillmen from across the nation cook their stuff in the main drag – go figure). This is fine, enjoyable even and maybe a cheap munch that could turn into lunch?) but not when you are baggage laden and have to struggle a block and a half after a long and exhausting journey.

I mean, how clear can you get?

Then my reservation didn’t seem to have reached the hotel, which was full like Bethlehem on the birth of JC only without a manger option, and I was being politely turned out into the street on a long holiday weekend at about 21.30; it wasn’t until I produced a dated, letter-headed  email of confirmation from the hotel that they managed to find a room. Just like that. There were no rooms, remember, I was being turned away, and suddenly there’s a  room. I mean, if they had a room all the time you’d think they’d want to keep a customer of 20 years’ standing reasonably happy. Then in the morning no hot water in the shower, and the weather was not conducive to a cold one. Down to breakfast and that was delayed for whatever reason. Etc.,etc.,  and end of rant.

Silver, my expedition companion, too far away for this trip but will be sadly missed.

But hey, I’m starting another trip and these are minor issues. Met Marya today to pick up the gear I’d brought up from Patagonia – it’s very different doing these trips in hired cars, but the cost in time and money of getting Silver the Jeep up from Patagonia just wasn’t viable so I’d brought up essential camping gear, etc. when I left last year. Good to see Marya again – seems a long time since we first met in Barcelona in 1976, lots of water under that bridge.

The Immigrant Communities section of a huge gastronomic event in central Buenos Aires. Not for vegans and vegetarians.

There was a big ‘event’ in Avda. 9 de julio today, stretching from the Obelisk to Avda. de mayo, with countless stands – this was the ‘event’ that made me walk with all my bags – lots of food, lots of people, above all, lots of meat, but all a bit commercial for my tastes. I ended up eating pizza in one of my favourite places in the area – the famous, traditional  33 Billares.

All you need to know about the 33 Billares

Pizza and cold draught beer of the pilsner kind, but good.

I opted for pizza and draught beer – a glass this size is charmingly called a tanque (Eng. tank), presumably in some strange etymological way related to the word ‘tankard’. Anyway, both beer and pizza were good and welcome – it has been a hot day, surprisingly hot for the middle of winter.

Part of the lower billiards hall at 33 Billares

After lunch I watched the old men play billiards for a while – and noted there was one really old snooker table, covered up today but the wooden frame gave away its age.

The depressions at front left and half way along the right hand frame reveal that this is a [full-size] snooker table, something of a rarity in Buenos Aires

After lunch back to my hotel to pick up my bags, and a taxi to the Retiro coach  station where I boarded a bus for Posadas, in the Province of Misiones. I arrive there tomorrow morning, at sparrow fart, but I doubt I’ll blog from there as I am picking up a rental car and driving down to Mercedes, in the Province of Corrientes. But let’s see – life would be boring if everything always went to plan.

I’ll drive from Posadas to Mercedes, and the following day drive on to Colonia Carlos Pelligrini, on the west of the Parque Iberá.

Note: All photos today from the iPhone – I am a little scared to expose expensive glass in the streets of Buenos Aires – but hopefully I’ll soon be blogging some interesting wildlife in higher resolution.

Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay – Day 2

19 August 2017 – Frankfurt to Buenos Aires – A day that started badly but ended well

Due to delays leaving Manchester I arrived in Frankfurt yesterday an hour late for my Buenos Aires connection. I managed to find a flight the following morning, but had to spend the night at an airport hotel (fairly ghastly) with a free supper (definitely very ghastly), and got an early flight to Madrid where I just made the connection to an Iberia flight to Buenos Aires.

 Long wait to see if I can get a seat on an alternative Iberia flight 

I’d forgotten just how much walking you have to do at these big airports – 30 mins to get from Iberia Terminal 1 to Terminal 2, and don’t get me started on Frankfurt Airport. As the years go by it all gets a little more wearisome.

Finally arriving in Buenos Aires

Anyways, I got into BA on time and only 12 hours after my original ETA. Miraculously my baggage followed me on my peregrinations, and we are all reunited in my favourite Buenos Aires hotel. Tomorrow a bit of shopping and an afternoon bus ride to Posadas, Province of Misiones, await.

A light supper before crashing into bed …

Out for a quick bite to eat, and an early night (at least in Argentine time – my clock is all over the place) as I am well and truly pooped after all my exertions. Tomorrow, the real journey begins.