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.

Trip through Northern Argentina and Paraguay

Tomorrow I’ll be starting a blog of a trip I am making through the north-east of Argentina and parts of Paraguay. I’ll be on the road from 18 August to 24 September and hope to blog highlights here. A word of caution, however; much of the area I am visiting will have no electricity, let alone Internet connections, so I’ll post when I can.

The area we shall be covering. The red Xs mark places we shall be visiting.

Much of my focus will be wildlife, both birds and whatever else I have the good luck to see. I have dreams of big cats (in particular the jaguar), but am realistic enough to accept my chances are slim. Still, I should see plenty of other wild life and many, many birds.

One can dream … . Photo from https://www.andbeyond.com/tours/wild-ibera-and-iguazu-falls/

There will of course be other things to interest us, such as the Jesuit ‘Reductions’ (where native inhabitants were forcibly settled into religious communities) and the modern day (fortunately voluntary) Mennonite communities in Paraguay. And all the other tourist stuff.

We shall of course also be visiting the world-famoius Iguazú Falls

For the second half of my trip my sister Caroline will be joining me as we visit Paraguay. For this part of the trip we will use the services of a guide, as the area is simply too remote and potentially dangerous) for us to do it ourselves. Apart from anything else, 4WD is essential here, and to hire a 4WD would cost about as much as the guide – so better for us to be safe (and informed).

Why we need a four wheel drive vehicle …

I’m looking forward to travelling with Caroline again. We did a trip together last year through Welsh Patagonia and got on well together, and although I tend to travel by myself the company will be welcome.

A memory of our trip to Patagonia last year, with my jeep Silver.

More preliminary information about the trip here, and if you want to follow our progress the link here should always take you to our latest blog post. Watch this space.

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.

 

Visit to Anglesey, Mon 3 July 2017

Herring gulls on the battlements of Beaumaris Castle

Finally set off for a birding trip to Anglesey with my friend Mags, after a couple of aborted attempts owing to poor weather. In fact it didn’t look that great as we left, but it turned out fine, and we completed our mission of visiting Puffin Island (by boat) and South Stack, seeing birds, wild [land-based] mammals (a hare and a rabbit) and marine life (seals, porpoises and [bottlenose] dolphins. A great day.

The two points we visited are on opposite sides of Anglesey

Our first point of call was Beaumaris, where Mags sussed out some of the shops while I wandered along the promenade. I expected to see gulls ands oyster catchers, but was surprised to see shelducks (apparently common there) and even a little egret wading in the  sea water.

Oyster catcher on the shore at Beaumaris

Black sheep of the family? Black-backed gull, surrounded by Herring gulls.

Unexpected shelduck, apparently quite common in Beaumaris

Poor picture, but I did see mergansers out to sea

Black-headed gull, starting to shed its summer plumage

And wandering around the waterside were other birds that don’t get their feet wet:

A jackdaw seeing what he can scavenge from the beach

A couple of young starlings enjoying the morning sunshine.

We set sail for Puffin Island and fortunately the sea was reasonably calm, so the Quell I had taken proved to have been unnecessary. I say the sea was calm, but all is relative – it was certainly not what a photographer would wish for as we dropped and rose into the troughs and crests of the sea.

Porpoises, accompanying our catamaran as we left Beaumaris

As we sailed towards Puffin Island we saw both porpoises (near Beaumaris) and bottlenose dolphins (near Puffin Island), in different places as apparently they don’t get on too well together. It’s very hard to take pictures of these marine creatures as they come out of nowhere very suddenly, and you’re lucky if you have your camera even pointing in the right direction, let alone managing to focus it. Above, a couple of porpoises; we saw dolphins aplenty, but never managed to get the camera on them.

Who could fail to be moved by this loveable grey seal?

What we did see was seals, and lots of them, lazing around the rocks of Puffin Island, and keeping company with large numbers of sea birds: guillemots, razorbills, puffins (obviously), shags, cormorants, etc.

Guillemots floating on the sea around Puffin Island

A couple of cormorants sharing the rocks with the seals and other birds

Gulls circled incessantly overhead, this one a lesser black-backed

A short walk back to the car in Beaumaris, and a final encounter with a young mallard:

A pathetically cute mallard chick swimming in the moat of Beaumaris Castle

And so we set off to South Stack, on the other side of Anglesey, on Holy Island. Our aim was to see Choughs (a lifer for me), and it was a repeat journey as the last time I had been there the mist and fog had been so thick I could barely see my own feet.

Choughs on the cliff tops at South Stack

There are not very many places in the UK where you can see choughs, but here on South Stack they are plentiful as the ground is ideal for their foraging style.

Razorbills on the cliffs at South Stack

Close-up of a Herring gull at South Stack

We had come to South Stack with the hopes of seeing certain birds; choughs (of course), ravens, rock pipits, stonechats and linnets were on the top of our list. We saw all of these (except the rock pipit, which we certainly heard) but only managed to photograph a few:

A juvenile raven flew over South Stack

A pipit, but sadly a meadow pipit and not a rock pipit

Poor photo, but just identifiable as a linnet in flight

And a bunny to boot:

Rabbit frozen to the path, in the misguided belief no one can see him as long as he stays still

So, a lovely day, with a curious epitaph. We stopped for a bite to eat in Holyhead on the way home. The light had more or less gone, but as we got out of the car we saw a rook, calmly strutting his stuff around the car park. 

The implication of this is that on one day we had seen all the English corvids: crow, rook, raven, jackdaw and chough. No hooded crows, but for that we’d have to go to northern Scotland or Ireland.

Flamborough Head, 4 June 2017

Two fulmars and a puffin at Flamborough Head

I visited Flamborough Head last Sunday with the Stockport RSPB Club. We visited the headlands near the old lighthouse, and then went up to the North Landing. It was a beautiful day, mostly sunny with a light breeze, and it was nice to get out of the city for the day

There are two lighthouses at Flamborough, the older (below) being the reconstructed chalk tower and the other a more recent construction.

The chalk tower near Flamborough Head. Built in 1669, this is the oldest surviving complete lighthouse in England

The chalk cliffs are home to a number of regular visitors and residents: mostly guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes and puffins. It is also on a main migratory route, so at certain times of the year you may see pretty much anything, especially if mist and fog forces unexpected landings. No little skuas recently, for that you need to go further north.

We saw four or five seals: it’s very hard to tell them apart in the water, so these are either common seals (Phoca vitulina) or grey seals (Halichoerus grypus). I’d plump for the common ones,  but what do I know?

We saw all the expected sea species: a selection below.

Juvenile fulmar flying over the calm water

Kittiwakes nesting on the cliffs at Flamborough

A razorbill, perched rather precariously on the cliff edge

A few more puffins

And we also saw a few land birds around the headland:

A meadow pipit (aka Mipit), in all his splendour …

A male chaffinch surveying all he owns …

And a rather forbidding jackdaw pausing between meals …

All in all, a very pleasant day spent with my new friend Mags and other good people at the Stockport RSPB.

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.