Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay – Day 13

30 August 2017 – Ituzaingó –Posadas Back on the move

The plan for today was to drive slowly from Ituzaingó to Posadas, stopping/visiting on the way an area in Ituzaingo known as the Zanjón de Loreto, another place on the road (a sanctuary)  called Bahía de Carayá and to stop off at a Caiman Breeding Station.

Unknown macaw – possibly a jandaya parakeet (Aratinga jandaya) but if so, very far from home as these live in NE Brazil.

Breakfast (the last of Rubén’s attempts to fatten me up), and I was back on the road. I did get to the Zanjón de Loreto, where among other things found a ‘macaw’ or similar that I was quite unable to identify. But it was cold, windy and overcast, and not really a day for photography, although under better circumstances this must be a good place for birds.

The improbable Jabiru on his nest

Natalia had told me yesterday of a place with an accessible (i.e. not viewed with bins from five miles) Jabiru nest so I drove around a bit till I eventually found it, and then said goodbye to Ituzaingó, a great place for wild life.

A monk parakeet – seemingly common in much of Argentina

As the weather was so unpromising for photography, and as I have to give a presentation at a Conference tomorrow I decided to drive straight through to Posadas and do a bit more work on it. I checked into a more upmarket hotel with good wifi and enjoyed being back in civilisation for a while.

So, this blog will now close and reopen when I hit the road again in a couple of days.

Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay – Day 12

29 August 2017 – Ituzaingó –Cambyreta entry to Iberá National Park

Puzzled looking water buffalo with cleaning bird

Early breakfast and at 08.30 my guide for the day Natalia was waiting for me to take me to the Cambyretá entry to the Iberá National Park. Excellent guide, and a great day all round. We took a packed lunch and were a good seven hours on the marshes.

Family gathering of the ‘yacaré negro’

The road down to the Iberá Park was difficult, and I admired Natalia’s driving – she coped far better than I and Silver would have done with a combination of wet grass, rutted mud and some (few) parts vaguely consolidated. However, for wildlife it was excellent and I added four lifers (the enormous Jabiru; the Least Bittern (rarely seen, and even more rarely, as we saw it, flying); the Streamer-tailed tyrant (at some distance) and the recently re-introduced Green-winged Macaw. Sadly I only got photos of the first and last of these.

Green-winged Macaw, being re-introduced into the Iberá National Park at Cambyretá

The last of these, whose Spanish name is the ‘Guacamayo Rojo’, are part of a reintroduction programme and although recorded here 150 years ago have long since become extinct in Argentina. There are seven birds at present, of which several are now in free flying mode although have not yet chosen to leave their ‘home’.

The improbable Jabiru

Jabirus nest on treetops, frequently on palm trees

The Jabiru was a welcome find. Although migrants should be arriving now, some (like the ones I saw) live all year round in northern Argentina and reuse their nests each year, so have become permanent residents. They nest high, and generally away from roads and people, so are not as easy to find as other herons and storks.

Gauchos at work on the grasslands

The weather was good, and the recent rains have been good for wild life and farmers. All in all, a day to cherish.

Whistling heron

And tomorrow, slowly, to Posadas for the FAAPI Conference.

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 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 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.

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.