Atlantic coast, Part 1 – Mar del Plata, 18 October, 2015

This was not the trip it was meant to be. I had got myself to Mar del Plata, on the eastern coast of Argentina, with a pocketful of Dramamine and all intent on doing a pelagic trip – 50km into open sea, with dreams of albatrosses and other exotics. But as the day dawned the harbour master decided that the weather was too unreliable, and the trip was cancelled.

So with time to kill, I wandered around the nearby Natural Reserve Mar del Plata Port. It was a couple of kms from the port area and quite hard to find the entrance; it was also in a very isolated area and several of the people I asked for directions cautioned me about entering the Reserve alone for fear of muggings or worse. So I stayed on the edges and peered in, feeling safe but silly.

151018 pico de plata macho reserva del puerto Mardel

A male pico de plata (Spectacled Tyrant), Hymenops perspicillatus

First up, as I entered, I saw this pair of Spectacled Tyrants, male above and female below.

151018 pico de plata hembra reserva del puerto Mardel

And the female pico de plata (Spectacled Tyrant), Hymenops perspicillatus

In fact, I didn’t really see much in the way of birds at this Reserve, but then again I didn’t really penetrate it either. I find from the photos I took I saw mainly common species such as the Chimango Caracara (chimango), Milvago chimango; the Rufous-collared Sparrow (chingolo), Zonotrichia capensis and the House Wren (ratonera común), Troglodytes aedon.

151018 ratona común reserva del puerto Mardel

House Wren (ratonera común), Troglodytes aedon.

151018 chingolo reserva del puerto Mardel

Rufous-collared Sparrow (chingolo), Zonotrichia capensis

151018 chimango laguna los padresl

Chimango Caracara (chimango), Milvago chimango

I returned to the Port area to see what might be on the water front. Here I saw many gulls, including an Olrog’s Gull (gaviota cangrejera) Larus atlanticusSnowy Sheathbill (paloma antartica) Chionis albus; and Southern Giant Petrel (Petrel Gigante Comun) Macronectes giantess.

151018 Olrog's gull 5 puerto Mardel

Olrog’s Gull (gaviota cangrejera) Larus atlanticus

The Olrog’s Gull is known in Spanish as the crab gull, and this is what they eat:

Neohelice granulata, staple for the Olrog's Gull

Neohelice granulata, staple for the Olrog’s Gull

151018 paloma antartico snowy sheathbill puerto Mardel

Snowy Sheathbill (paloma antartica (Chionis albus

151018 southern giant petrel puerto Mardel

Southern Giant Petrel (Petrel Gigante Comun) Macronectes giantess.

Marine mammals were in evidence too; here are a few sea lions.

151018 sea lion puerto Mardel

Male sea lion in Mar del Plata harbour

151018 sea lion 2 puerto Mardel

Part of a small colony of sea lions in Mar del Plata harbour

As I started by saying, this was not the day it was intended to be but it was a pleasant enough day all the same, even if a little light on wildlife sightings.

Around Neuquen airport, 15-16 October 2015

I found myself at Neuquén with a few hours to kill before my flight left, so I rented a car from Hertz and checked what was in the vicinity.

My first stop was a small and rather sad private conservation centre, the Parque Luan, situated within walking distance of the airport, had I known.DSC07220-e1409148241975 This place was started and run with the best of intentions as a rescue centre but over time funding for the basics (maintenance, food, animal care) has been much reduced and the place is a little run down. The people running it were very friendly and obviously caring insofar as resources permitted, but (one feels) way out of their depth in their efforts.

151015 puma Parque Luan Neuquen

Puma (Puma concolor), one of three in Parque Luan, all in excellent condition

So sad to see a majestic animal like the Puma cooped up in a cage (there were three of them), though I should state that the three big cats were all in beautiful condition.

151015 unknown raptor closeup Parque Luan Neuquen

Aguilucho común o variado hembra, Variable or Red-backed Hawk (Geranoaetus polyosoma)

And sad too to see large raptors like the [female here]  Variable or Red-backed Hawk, Aguilucho común o variado (Geranoaetus polyosoma) and (below) the Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Aguila Mora (Geranoaetus melanoleucus) all caged up was just heart breaking …

Aguila Mora

Aguila mora (Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle), Geranoaetus melanoleucus

151015 jote cab col Parque Luan Neuquen

Jote cabeza colorada (Turkey Vulture), Cathartes aura

… as it was to see vultures caged up, in this case [above] the Turkey Vulture or jote cabeza colorada (Catharses aura). You can see the sadness in their faces.

There were many species of birds, mammals and reptiles in Parque Luan, and I as I am not overfond of photos of wildlife in captivity I restrained myself. But I did allow myself a couple of exceptions.

151015 cotorras Parque Luan Neuquen

Cotorras (Monk Parakeets), Myiopsitta monachus

These Monk Parakeets or Cotorras (Myiopsitta monachus), abundant in the region,  were not strictly speaking in the collection, so to speak,  but had clearly found it a useful source of food put out for the Cockatiels below, Spanish Cacatúa ninfa, Cocotilla o Carolina, (Nymphicus hollandicus).

151015 cockatiel (Nymphicus hollandicus)l Parque Luan Neuquen

Cockatiel, Sp. cacatúa ninfa, cocotilla o carolina,(Nymphicus hollandicus)

One can only speculate how a large flock of Cockatiels had left their native Australia for Neuquén, but my best guess is escapees from a private collection somewhere. They are beautiful birds; the male of the species is on the left, the female to his right.

Near to the Parque Luan is the river Limay, accessible at La Herradura. I spent some time here birding, but took few photos. One I did take was this brilliant yellow Saffron Finch, jilguero dorado (Scales flaveola).

151016 jilguero dorado macho 2 La Herradura Neuquen

Saffron Finch, jilguero dorado (Scales flaveola)

Down by the riverside there was not a huge amount of activity but I did see a few  Flying steamer-ducks or quetros voladores, (Tachyeres patachonicus) …

151016 poss Tachyeres leucocephalus 6 La Herradura Neuquen

Quetro volador (Flying steamer-duck), Tachyeres patachonicus

.. and the unchallenged ‘bird of the day’, a Collared Plover or chorlito de collar (Charadrius collaris), a new bird for my life list.

151016 collared plover La Herradura Neuquen Arg

Chorlito de collar (Collared Plover), Charadrius collaris

All in all a good if short outing – the whole thing completed in about four hours on a specially arranged half-day car rental (you have to ask!).

Trip to Aluminé, Rucachoroi and Villa Pehuenia – 5-7 October, 2015

On a whim I drove up through Junín de los Andes to Aluminé (passing through Pilolíl) and,  after a side trip over to Lake Rucachoroi drove on to Villa Pehuenia and from there to Zapala, passing through Laguna Blanca on the way home to San Martín de los Andes.

Route of circuit San Martín - Junín - Aluminé - La Pehuenia - Zapala - San Martín

Route of circuit San Martín – Junín – Aluminé – La Pehuenia – Zapala – San Martín

I experienced all kinds of weather, from heavy snow in Villa Pehuenia, heavy rain in Moquehué to scorching sun at Laguna Blanca.I was away three nights and I took my camera, although birding was not my primary aim on this trip.

Leaving home, I saw the usual suspects: bandurrias (Black-faced Ibis), chimangos (Chimango Caracara), jotes (cabeza negra)  (black[headed] vultures), chingolos  (Rufous-collared Sparrow), etc. I didn’t really pay too much attention at this stage but I did snap a couple of chimangos and a zorzal patagónico (Austral Thrush).

151005 chimangos Junin de los Andes

A couple of chimangos in the trees, Junín de los Andes

151005 zorzal patagonico Junin de los Andes

Zorzal Patagónico on a post, Junín de los Andes

A couple of kilometres north of Junín I took the road to Lake Tromen and the Chilean frontier, branching off towards Aluminé as I crossed the Malleo river [thinking how nice a few hours fishing would be, but it was still a few weeks until the season opened]. Half an hour or so along the road, which winds through the Aluminé valley, I took a sharp turn to the left up a steep and twisty track, not for the faint-hearted, up to Pilolíl, a neolithic meeting point with ancient wall paintings.

I had been here before with my friend Scarlet, where we had seen condors at very close quarters, curious about us and our picnic lunch. We had also (briefly) seen a peregrine and made a note of its nest so I went off in search. I never found the nest with certainty; one dark crack in the rock face can look like any other. But I did find the peregrine [or perhaps a relative of his]! Not a great picture, but he was very high!

151005 peregrine falcon tbc Pilolil

Peregrine falcon at Pilolil, with the rocky crag where he was nesting in the background.

151005 peregrine falcon 3 tbc Pilolil

The same peregrine falcon, this time soaring high above Pilolil.

After recovering from the vertigo that the ascent to Pilolíl always gives me I drove on to Aluminé where I had a late lunch at La Posta del Rey. I have been there several times and each time ordered the house speciality: today was no exception. Tasty pasta washed down with an earthy red, a leisurely coffee and I was ready to continue on my way.


Lunch at La Posta del Rey: five kinds of home made pasta with a wild mushroom sauce.

From Aluminé I made a second  side trip, this time to Rucachoroi. There are lagoons along this road and you never quite know just what might be around. Not much this time, as it happened: plenty of geese (mainly ashy-headed geese), Andean Flamingo and Coots of various kinds but no exotics. Here are a couple of photos taken along the road to Rucachoroi.

151005 Gallareta Ligas Rojas camino a Rucachoroi

The gallareta ligas rojas (Red-gartered Coot), Fulica armillata.

151005 cauquen real camino a Rucachoroi

A pair of cauquen real (Ashy-headed Goose), Chloephaga poliocephala, one performing a delicate balancing act.

And of course, where there is water, you expect to find the the remolinera común (Bar-winged or Buff-winged Cinclodes). Here’s one I saw at the lake in Rucachoroi.

151006 Remolinera Chica Villa Pehuenia

Remolinera comun (Bar-winged or Buff-winged Cinclodes), Cinclodes fuscus.

Villa Pehuenia and the surrounding area were lovely; tourist country and it’s not hard to see why. It snowed hard most of the time I was there, but there was a large bird table which was well attended by comesebos (Sierra Finches), chimangos (Chimango Caracara), tordos renegridos (Shiny Cowbirds), tordos patagónicos (Austral Blackbirds), and many others, including the odd gull.

151006 tordo renegrido Villa Pehuenia

Tordo renegrido (Shiny Cowbird), Molothrus bonariensis.

151006 tordo patagonico 2 Villa Pehuenia

Tordo patagonico (Austral Blackbird), Curaeus curaeus.

Whilst at Villa Pehuenia I took a side trip to Moquehue, a small lakeside town with an airstrip in the middle of the town (go figure). Here I was entertained by the antics of three llamas who grazed in the main street and by a pretty diucón (Fire-eyed Diucon) who seemed to follow me around, perhaps hoping for scraps. It’s easy to see how the diucón got its English name.

151006 diucon Villa Pehuenia 2

Diucón (Fire-eyed Diucon), Xolmis pyrope.

151006 llama Villa Pehuenia

One of three llamas I saw grazing on the roadside at Moquehué.

In Moquehué I also saw a few patos de anteojos aka patos alas bronceadas (Spectacled or Bronze-winged Duck). These are more usually seen on fast-running currents, but apparently can also be seen on quieter water

151006 pato de anteojos o pato alas bronceadas 2 Moquehue

Pato de anteojos (Spectacled aka Bronze-winged Duck,) Specuzanas specularis.

I had an early breakfast on the third day and was bemused as a large gull took over the bird table, scattering all other occupants, including the chimangos. Probably a gaviota cocinera (Kelp Gull) – but I didn’t have a guide handy at the time and the photo doesn’t really help me to see if the underbill has a red spot or not. But I’m not sure what else he could be in this part of the world!

151007 gull at breakfast

My breakfast companion

And then I got into my car and drove to Zapala, with the aim of visiting nearby Laguna Blanca. But that’s another post.


Visit to La Vega, San Martín de los Andes – 15 November, 2015

A quick stroll around the La Vega suburb of San Martín today revealed a few old favourites and no real surprises except perhaps a dormilona cara negra (aka Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant) Muscisaxicola maclovianus) – see further below – which I don’t see here regularly.

First off the Zorzal Patagónico (Austral Thrush), a common sight here. Here’s one perching on a post.

151003 zorzal patagonico 3 Sepulveda SMA

Zorzal patagonico, (Austral Thrush) Turdus falcklandii

The tero (Southern Lapwing) is always here, and screeches at and dive-bombs anything and everything. They are ground nesters, and this one seems to be sitting on eggs)

151003 tero on nest La Vega SMA

Tero sitting on nest (Southern Lapwing), Vanillas chilensis.

Where there’s water you’re likely to find the Remolinera común (Bar-winged Cinclodes) and today was no exception.

151003 Remolinera Araucana 3 La Vega SMA

Remolinera común (Bar-winged Cinclodes) Cinclodes patagonicus

And here’s the Dormilona I mentioned, the Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant, one of three dormilonas I’m familiar with although there are six or seven in Argentina.

151003 Dormilona Cara Negra La Vega SMA

Dormilona cara negra (aka Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant) Muscisaxicola maclovianus

The Cachaña (Austral Parakeet) is very common around San Martin – here’s a close up.

151003 cachaña La Vega SMA

Cachaña (Austral Parakeet) Enicognathus ferrugineus

And finally, no bird trip around San Martín fails to see the Bandurria austral (Black-faced Ibis), recently voted as the bird emblem of the area.

151003 bandurrias La Vega SMA

Bandurria austral (Black-faced Ibis) Theristicus melanopis

All in all a nice short stroll; nothing special but good to be out again with the camera.