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.

Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay – Day 1

18 August 2017 – Manchester, UK – Setting off

Up at 06.30 to say goodbye to F. Finished packing, checked lists and spent some quality time with Maga and Mati (and a quick hello to visiting Blackie) before taking a pre-booked taxi to Manchester airport, whence next stop, Buenos Aires.

Bags packed and ready to go

As I have time to kill at the airport, a few words about the planned trip. I’ll spend one night in Buenos Aires, and the following day take an overnight bus to Posadas, Province of Misiones. I pick up a rental car in Posadas and drive straight down to Mercedes, Province of Corrientes, where I spend the night.

Up very early the following morning and drive to Colonia Carlos Pelligrini, on the East  side of the Esteros de iberá, the second largest wetlands (after Brazil’s Pantanal) in South America. I spend a few nights here, and move on to the Mburucuyá  National Park for a couple of nights before returning to the Esteros de Iberá, this time at Cambyretá, close to Ituzaingó on the northern border of the wetlands.

Photo from http://www.tripin.travel/_blog/webfiles/imagenes/proyecto-ibera-2014-proteccion-ecologia-blog3.jpg

A few nights there, and back to Posadas for the Argentine Annual National English Teachers’ Conference (FAAPI), where I’ll be meeting old friends from the many years I lived and worked in Argentina.

Conference over, I rent a car and north-east to San Pedro where I pick up Guy Cox and we spend a week together birding the reserves (Karadya, San Sebastian de la Selva, Urugua-í) between San Pedro and Iguazú, and then and all around the Iguazú area.

Guy Cox, Misiones Bird Guide

My sister Caroline then arrives at Foz do Iguaçu (the Brazilian side of the Iguazu Falls) and we take an overnight bus to Asunción (Paraguay) where we meet our guide Oscar Rodriguez, who will take us north-west, up along the Route 9, to explore the wild life and learn something about the Mennonites who have settled there and the indigenous people who have always (relatively speaking) been there.

Giant Armadillo, endangered species – one of the species we hope to see in Paraguay

After a week of this we come back to Asunción and Caroline and I will spend another few days in a rented car exploring the area south-east of Asunción. Not quite sure what we will find there, but certainly some of the Jesuit Missions set up many years ago.

And then Caroline goes back up to Iguazú for some more conventional tourism while I fly back to Buenos Aires, and thence to San Martín de los Andes to take up residence until January.

So, tomorrow Buenos Aires.

On the road again – to the land of Jesuits, Mennonites and (hopefully) jaguars

The Province of Misiones in north-east Argentina is named for the Jesuit Missions, or ‘Reductions’, a type of settlement for indigenous people in South America created by the Spanish Jesuit Order during the 17th and 18th centuries.

Shortly off on my next trip, and already getting excited about it. The trip consists of three parts (see below) and all things being as planned should take 35 days. Not taking Silver the Jeep this time as I am starting in the north of Argentina but will be using a number of car rentals, some 4WDs, and depending on the services of a number of guides.

Trip 1: mainly around the Iberá Wetlands

Trip One starts in Posadas, northern Argentina (see above), and takes me around three important birding areas. One is the township of Carlos Pelligrini, on the Eastern edge of the Iberá wetlands, decribed by Wikipedia as ‘a mix of swamps, bogs, stagnant lakes, lagoons, natural slough and courses of water in the center and center-north of the province of Corrientes, Argentina’. The wetlands are the second-largest wetlands in the world after the Pantanal in Brazil, and a paradise for lovers of wildlife. Then I spend a couple of days in the Mburucuya National Park, and finally three nights in Cambyreta, a northern gateway to the wetlands from Ituzaingó.

Trip 2 From San Pedro to Iguazú, stopping off a lot on the way

The second trip (see above) will be around the northern half of the Argentine Province of Misiones, starting in San Pedro where I pick up Guy Cox who will accompany me for the week. We shall start at the  Parque Provincial Cruce Caballero, an aracauria forest reserve near San Pedro, and then move north hugging the border with Brazil as far as San Sebastian de la Selva; then on to  the area around Iguazú. There’ll be other trails too along the way: Guy is sorting that out for me.

Forest clearing in the Paraguayan Chaco

The third, and perhaps most exciting trip because of how far off the beaten track it will be, will be in the Paraguayan Chaco, described by Wikipedia (I know) as ‘a sparsely populated, hot and semi-arid lowland natural region of the Río de la Plata basin, divided among eastern Bolivia, western Paraguay, northern Argentina and a portion of the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, where it is connected with the Pantanal region’. I shall be visiting the ‘northern’ Chaco, where Mennonites have settled, and will experience both humid and arid areas.

Mennonites in Paraguay (Photo from https://lanterns.buzz/index.cfm)

We’ll be doing some general tourism (Historical sites, Jesuit Missions, Mennonite communities, etc.) and visiting reserves north-west from Asuncion, along the Route 9, up to and beyond Filadelfia. With 500 birds, 150 mammals and 220 reptiles and amphibians it promises to be interesting, not least because of its inaccessibility and inhospitability. The big hope is jaguars, but our chances are probably not that good – we’ll see.

The huge hope is to see jaguars – fingers crossed, but the odds are probably against it. (Photo from https://www.wcs.org/our-work/species/jaguars)

My sister Caroline is joining me for this part of the trip and we have had to contract the services of a guide (Oscar), driver and cook, the last of which I imagine as going off to pot bushmeat as evening approaches but I may be wrong – he may bring a tin opener instead.

Roads in Paraguay are not the world’s best, and when it rains are frequently impassable for a few days. (Photo from http://aufpad.com/2016/06/28/paraguay/)

We’ll be with Oscar for a week or so, and then Caroline and I will spend a further week exploring the area to the south-east of Asunción. No plans for that part yet, but we’ll be blogging the whole trip although not in real time since wifi and electricity are going to be in short supply.

Watch this space.

 

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.

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.

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.

Zoo, Buenos Aires – 13 January 2016

With time to kill in Buenos Aires I took myself to the zoo in Palermo, which I had not visited for at least twelve years. Although not a great fan of zoos I found the one in a much better state than I remember it being, with development plans still underway.

This is confusing as it has also been recently announced that the zoo is closing down. If this is the case, I hope they find some way of keeping up the conservation work – in several areas, for me in particular the Condor Rehabilitation unit, where my condor friend Painamal was cared for before her release.

I limited the photos I took to Argentine mammals, some (like the llama and vicuña) in compounds and some (like the mara and coypu) watering freely throughout the zoo.

160113 coipu BA

Coipo (Myocastor coypus) Coypu

160113 mara 2 zoo BA

Mara (Dolichotis patagonum) Mara or Patagonian Hare

160113 carpincho 2 zoo BA

Carpincho (Hydrochaeris hydrochaeris) Capybara

On to the Camelidae family. Those not familiar with South American Animals tend to confuse llamas, vicuñas and guanacos, although these tend to be geographical separated. The llama is basically a domesticated form go the [still] wild guanaco. Vicuñas can be wild or domesticated. There is also of course the Alpaca (the photo is not mine), a domesticated vicuña found in northern Chile, Bolivia and Peru..

160113 vicuña zoo BA

Vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) Vicuña

160113 llama 3 zoo BA

Llama (Lama llama) Llama

The llama and vicuña are really quite different. Also easily differentiated is the guanaco (see below), which I did not see in the zoo but saw everywhere in southern Patagonia last year.

guanaco

Guanaco (Lama guanaco) Guanaco

Finally, the alpaca, photo courtesy of as I do not yet have one of my own. Domesticated a long time ago, there are no known wild alpacas today.

alpaca from wikipedia

One of two kinds of alpaca, photo courtesy of wikipedia.

I wasn’t really looking for birds, but among the zoo’s exhibits I did see a pen with Greater Rhea, a bird which I had only ever seen before as spots in the distance. I’m not really sure that I can claim this as a lifer though!

160113 ñandu 2 Zoo BA

Ñandú (Rhea americana) Greater Rhea

And the Southern (Crested) Screamer roamed freely throughout the zoo – again this was a bird i had previously only seen in the distance in Entre Ríos and Buenos Aires provinces.

160113 chaja Zoo BA

chaja (Crested aka Southern Screamer) Chauna torquata

Muscovy ducks were also everywhere – the zoo has plenty of lakes, and it was full breeding season

160113 pato real chicks 3 Zoo BA

pato real (Muscovy Duck) Cairina moschata

I found two other bird photos in my camera roll: a striated heron (there were many in the zoo) and a bay-winged cowbird; not quite sure why I took them but perhaps to identify later.

160113 tordo musico zoo BA

tordo musico (Bay-winged Cowbird) Agelaioides badius

160113 striated heron Zoo BA

garcita azulada (Striated Heron) Butorides striata

Funny to think that I was so thrilled to see my first striated heron in a visit to the Pantanos de Villa in Lima only five months earlier, considering it a real ‘find’, and that they were common as muck here in the Buenos Aires city zoo. But that’s birding for you.

RECS, Buenos Aires – 13 January 2016

I spent a day in Buenos Aires on my way back to Manchester and, as has now become my custom, I stuck my head into the Reserva Ecologica Costanera Sur (aka RECS). I was there for a very short time as I also had shopping to do, but I did have time to take a few photos.

First up, this rather splendid photo of downtown Buenos Aires, taken from within the reserve. This shows how close the reserve is to the city centre, but is an angle I had never seen a photo taken from – really quite unusual.

160113 ba from RECS

First up, I was witness to a battle (presumably territorial) between a couple of coots and a couple of moorhens. I guess these conflicts go on all over the world; this one at least seemed quite intense.

160113 coots and moorhen 2 RECS 160113 coots and moorhen 3 RECS 160113 coots and moorhen RECS

I only seem to have taken photos of three other birds. I remember I was very low on battery and was intending to go to the zoo in the afternoon, so was preserving power. I am also quite familiar with the birds I tend to see here (it must have been my tenth visit) and didn’t register any lifers on this visit.

The ones I did take are below:

160113 pepitero de collar RECS

pepitero de collar (Golden-billed Saltator) Saltator aurantiirostris

160113 pepitero gris RECS

pepitero gris (Grayish Saltator) Saltator coerulescens

160113 striated heron RECS

garcita azulada (Striated Heron) Butorides striata

The Striated Heron was displaying most splendidly – and they are lovely birds to see.

I also saw quite a few lizards enjoying the morning sun; here is one example, what the locals often refer to as an iguana but not really an iguana at all.

160113 lizard RECS

Lagarto Overo (known locally by many as “Iguana”) Tupinambis merianae. Eng. the White-and-black Tegu Lizard.