Monday 10 April 2017

Journey to the Southern Cone: Part 9 (Patagonia: Punta Arenas to Sierra Baguales)

January 8, 2016 - Santiago area, Chile
January 9 and 10, 2016 - Quintero pelagic, Parque Nacional La Campana, Chile
January 10, 2016 - Farellones, Chile
January 10-11, 2016 - Embalse El Yeso, Chile
January 12-13, 2016 - Nothofagus forests in Talca, Chile
January 14-15, 2016- Chiloé Island, Chile
January 16-17, 2016 - Chiloé Island penguins, Puerto Montt, Chile
January 18, 2016 - Patagonia: Puerto Montt to Sierra Baguales, Chile
January 19, 2016 - Patagonia: Sierra Baguales to Tierra del Fuego, Chile
January 20, 2016 - Patagonia: Tierra del Fuego, Chile
January 20-24, 2016 - Punta Arenas, Chile to Puerto Deseato, Argentina
January 25-26, 2016 - Valdes Peninsula and Las Grutas, Argentina
January 27-28, 2016 - San Antonio Oeste, Punta Tombo, and Bahía Blanca, Argentina
January 29-30, 2016 - Buenos Aires, Argentina

January 18, 2016

Our plane landed during the middle of the night after a largely uneventful flight to Punta Arenas, deep in the heart of Patagonia. Due to the late hour of our arrival, we decided on trying to catch a bit of sleep in the airport before dawn came around. It was one of those situations where i was glad that I had packed my thermorest and lightweight sleeping bag, even though cargo space in my 40L pack was at a premium.

Hotel Aeropuerto

Eventually the horizon began to brighten so after a few hours of fitful sleep, we were on our way by taxi to the city center where we had a rental car booked.

Before long we were on our way in our new Renault Fluence, the cleanest that the car would be for the next three days. Punta Arenas, though the largest city in the region, is a relatively small city of 120,000 inhabitants so traffic was not an issue as we left the town and followed the highway into the interior. Black-browed Albatrosses, Magellanic Cormorants and Dolphin Gulls were easily seen along the waterfront in town, a nice start to this leg of the trip!

As we drove further from the coast and towards Torres del Paine and the Andes, the landscape opened up into vast plains and grasslands, while sheep roamed intermittently. We passed a few wetland areas on the drive, stopping to find Magellanic Oystercatchers, Chilean Flamingos, Coscoroba Swans, and both Upland and Ashy-headed Geese. Occasional Andean Condors were seen overhead as well.

roadside birding north of Punta Arenas

The birding was a little slow in areas, particularly in sections of vast grasslands where not much else broke up the landscape. However Lesser Rheas, our first rheas of the trip, were an exciting lifer, regardless of how common they ended up being. A roadside stop in suitable looking habitat produced a singing Austral Canestero, another target species we were hoping to nail down in this area.

Lesser Rhea - Patagonian steppe near Sierra Baguales, Chile

Lesser Rheas - Patagonian steppe near Sierra Baguales, Chile

Lesser Rhea - Patagonian steppe near Sierra Baguales, Chile

Lesser Rhea - Patagonian steppe near Sierra Baguales, Chile

By late afternoon the distant peaks of Torres del Paine were much closer and we turned on a sideroad to access some nearby mountains, known as the Sierra Baguales. Well known for its mixture of steppe, tall cliffs, and dense scrub with the occasional creek cutting through, the Sierra Baguales provide habitat for a number of localized species. Most of the species found in the extreme southern Andes can be found in these mountains. These specialties of the region included White-throated Caracara, Dark-faced and Cinnamon-bellied Ground-Tyrants, Least Seedsnipe, Band-tailed Earthcreeper and Yellow-bridled Finch.

Sierra Baguales, Chile

The Guanaco is one of two species of camels found in the Southern Andes; the other species being the Vicuña. The domestic llama originated from the Guanaco, while the alpaca is a domesticated form of Vicuña. Guanacos proved to be quite common throughout the steppe of Patagonia, eking out a living in an inhospitable environment. They also were easily seen in the Sierra Baguales, their silhouettes obvious from miles away.

Guanaco - Sierra Baguales, Chile

Lesser Rheas evidently were not restricted to the lower elevations either, as they roamed some of the pastures in the foothills.

Lesser Rhea - Sierra Baguales, Chile

Lesser Rheas - Sierra Baguales, Chile

As we climbed higher in elevation, we passed the occasional roadside wetland, some of which were occupied by Crested Ducks and Silvery Grebes. Several South American Snipe flushed from another wetland, while a good variety of other waterbirds were present.

Silvery Grebe on nest - Sierra Baguales, Chile

Silvery Grebes - Sierra Baguales, Chile

Crested Duck - Sierra Baguales, Chile

Crested Ducks - Sierra Baguales, Chile

Silvery Grebe - Sierra Baguales, Chile

This Southern Lapwing, acting agitated because of our presence, more than likely had a nest nearby.

Southern Lapwing - Sierra Baguales, Chile

It was evening by the time that we were high enough in the foothills to search for some of our main targets. Unfortunately the birding was fairly quiet despite the time of day, and we had no luck with our main targets. Our first Cinnamon-bellied Ground-Tyrant was our only new addition, though we enjoyed hiking through the picturesque landscape and watching the Greater Yellow-Finches and various sierra-finches as the day approached its end.

Sierra Baguales, Chile

Adam in the Sierra Baguales, Chile

self portrait - Sierra Baguales, Chile

Sierra Baguales, Chile

As the sun set behind the Andes we found a good spot to park for the night, and I set up my sleeping mat outside while Dave and Adam planned on sleeping in the car. Due to our latitude it was well after 11 PM when darkness finally descended.

our campsite in the Sierra Baguales, Chile

campsite in the Sierra Baguales, Chile

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