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Antarctica cruise and Argentina Nov-Dec 2021 (1 Viewer)

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
We had originally booked a cruise for 2020, but Corona led to complete cancellations for that period. It was by far not certain that cruises would be possible this time. And it turned out that our company (OCEANWIDE EXPEDITIONS https://www.oceanwide-expeditions.com ) was going to send only two of the four ships they have. There were simply not sufficient bookings in these uncertain times. The ship we were booked on was one of the two that did not go south. So it was by sheer luck (and some insisting) that we were able to get a cabin on one of those that Oceanwide Expeditions did actually send. I had organized and booked all the activities around the 2020 cruise myself, and then had to cancel it all. So this time, with the added uncertainties, I simplified the trip slightly. There was one major advantage coming from the postponement of the planned 2020 trip: by now the long awaited and long overdue Argentina FG had finally come out and I was able to use it for my preparations. J

Our basic itinerary looked like this: Leaving Switzerland on 19 November, arriving in Ushuaia on 21 November, with the ship departing on 26 November. There was a need for some leeway as there were too many uncertainties after Argentina had only reopened its borders again. So we had some days in Ushuaia that we successfully used for birding with a local guide. Esteban Daniels proved to be perfect for us! (Birding Ushuaia). We also benefitted a lot of Esteban’s knowledge of plants and a fine bilingual book he brought along (Flora Patagonia unfortunately out of print). There were two orchids in the NP that only had leaves on our first visit to the Tierra del Fuego NP, but were in almost full bloom on our second visit after the cruise. My personal favorite flower seen on this trip was a Scrophulariacea we encountered in the prairies north of Rio Grande. Its English name of Ladyslipper (Calceolaria uniflora), made me think of an orchid first, but its actual attraction to me was that it reminded me of some comics figures - little men consisting essentially of a wide-open mouth only. All I was missing was that they did not dance. J

The cruise on m/v HONDIUS went counter-clockwise (important, as we later realized) from Ushuaia to the ANTARCTIC PENINSULA, then on to SOUTH GEORGIA with time spent in the zone of totality for the Antarctic Solar Eclipse on the way. Unfortunately, for those who had booked the cruise specifically for that event, there was a thick cloud cover so the only visible event was a short very noticeable darkening. We had about 4 days for South Georgia and then went on to the FALKLAND ISLANDS (Malvinas). Arrival in Ushuaia was on 15 December, where we then had almost two days for birding again. Originally, we would then have made a stop-over in the El Calafate/El Chaltén region. But this time we omitted that part and flew directly to Buenos Aires. From there we made a detour to IGUAZÚ FALLS, then back to Buenos Aires where I was able to squeeze in a full day of birding and a Christmas Day dinner meeting with two of my wife’s cousins before flying back home on 26 December (arriving on the 27th). The only major glitch of the 5½ week trip was a 7 hour delay on the return flight. A multitude of Covid tests had to be passed as well during this tour.

Now for some details:

Ushuaia/Tierra del Fuego:

I had two top priority species for this part, Magellanic Woodpecker and one species of seedsnipe. I did not actually care which one, but I wanted to see at least one member of this intriguing group of shorebirds. In many ways they look like small sandgrouse, and they seem to occupy similar niches in nature. We are approaching the end of our 8th decennium, and I have never been a good uphill walker anyway. So it was great that Esteban proposed going for the Least Seedsnipe instead of the White-bellied Seedsnipe. A fine overnight tour to Rio Grande not only provided great sights of this species. We had not realized that this was going to bring us into fine prairie-type landscapes with quite a few ponds of various sizes. Least Seedsnipes were seen on a few occasions, and unlike the larger White-bellied this smaller species has quite different plumages for males and females. The tour to the Rio Grande area brought some nice mammals as well: Guanacos and South American Grey Fox in particular . And of the bird species among others: Coscoroba Swan, Ashy-headed Goose, Ruddy-headed and Upland Goose, Crested Duck, Yellow-billed Pintail, Speckled Teal, Chiloe Wigeon, Chilean Flamingo, Black-faced Ibis, Andean Condor, Southern Crested Caracara, Magellanic Oystercatcher, Magellanic Plover, Tawny-throated Dotterel, Rufous-chested Dotterel, Two-banded Plover, Hudsonian Godwit, Magellanic Snipe, Short-billed Miner, Common Miner, Buff-winged Cinclodes, Fire-eyed Diucon, Austral Negrito, Correndera Pipit, Patagonian Yellow Finch, Long-tailed Meadowlark.
(part 1 to be continued)
 

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Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
(part 2)
In the areas closer to Ushuaia, including Tierra del Fuego NP, we observed with Esteban on all the other days, including after the cruise. I had a few smaller birds on my bucket-list as well, in particular Thorn-tailed Rayadito and White-throated Treerunner. The first was no big problem, but the latter took some special effort till we finally found it. Ushuaia has a famous (for some bird species) dump that is often mentioned. However this dump was moved to the other side of town a few years ago. So it is no longer towards the National Park as I had thought. Instead, one needs to look for it where highway #3 leaves Ushuaia on the eastern side, and it can then hardly be overlooked for the masses of gulls and other carrion eaters. For us, it was a great place to see Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle with the astonishingly different adult and immature birds. Not only do they differ in colors but also in shape. The dump was also good for White-throated Caracara. We had to wait for Striated Caracara until the cruise got to the Falklands, however. Further notable birds not mentioned yet: Black-necked Swan, Kelp Goose, Fuegian and Flying Steamer Duck, Red Shoveler, Great Grebe, Chilean Skua, Austral Parakeet, Austral Pygmy Owl (heard only), Buff-winged and Dark-bellied Cinclodes, White-crested Elaenia, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Dark-faced Ground Tyrant, Patagonian Sierra Finch, Black-chinned Siskin, Austral Blackbird.



The cruise:

m/v Hondius has room for around 170 passengers (plus 70+ crew). There must have been about 4 serious birdwatchers on this tour, some crew members were interested in birds as well, fortunately. But it was definitely not a birders’ cruise. Many had booked the trip in hope of seeing the totality of the solar eclipse that was going to happen. Except that clouds spoiled it all. The few activities aimed at birdwatchers usually collided with other activities that one could not skip. I had the feeling of them being offered more as gap fillers. So I was glad I had done some homework at least. To compensate somewhat for my limited experience with seabirds I had bought a Sony RX10 IV that I used extensively for BIF serial pictures. With its great focus speed, and the good resolution, I got a chance to identify many species of seabirds later on. So I was probably the passenger with the most hours spent on deck. For zodiac landings I stuck to my trusted Panasonic FZ200. There was much sea time just because South Georgia is in such a remote place.

The Antarctic Peninsula was not a birding hotspot, but provided the only Adelie and Chinstrap Penguins. Crabeater Seals and a Leopard Seal were the mammal highlights.

South Georgia was the main reason for us to take this expensive cruise, and it lived up nicely to our expectations. We benefitted from the fact that due to the Covid restrictions there were no other ships along the island while we were there. This allowed our staff to react quite flexibly to any sudden weather changes, with the ship moving to best-sheltered areas all along the northern side of the island. So they definitely made the best out of the variable weather conditions.

The masses of King Penguins were truly a sight to behold. Gentoo Penguins had been in the Antarctic Peninsula already. South Georgia had gone through a privately funded rat eradication program for many years and the whole very large island is now considered to be rat free. The reindeer have also been completely eliminated. The effects of these removals are showing nicely already, with the frequent sightings of South Georgia Pipit and South Georgia Pintail being particularly nice for birders. Antarctic Fur Seal and Southern Elephant Seal often dominated the beaches, sometimes to the point that landings were not advised. But there were sufficient occasions to enjoy these impressive mammals as well.

Some breeding areas for albatrosses and others were closed at the time, so one had to make do with observations outside those restricted areas. In other cases, the restrictions only meant staying some 5 to 20 meters from the colonies. At any rate, still plenty close for taking pictures. At times, curious penguins come to within arm’s length anyway. South Georgia was the only place where I saw Snow Petrels (Royal Bay and Right Whale Bay). To me, they are a magic species just like the tropical White Terns. So I was happy that they stayed around quite a while.



Here is a list of the other pelagic bird species as far as I was able to identify so far: Wandering Albatross, Black-browed Albatross, Grey-headed Albatross, Light-mantled Albatross (a favorite of mine as well), Giant Petrels (both Northern and Southern, but for me mostly not possible to differentiate in flight, that bill tip feature just is not really distinctive), Southern Fulmar, Antarctic Petrel, Cape Petrel (another instant favorite), Antarctic Prion, Slender-billed Prion, Blue Petrel (actually a prion in all respects as far as I am concerned), White-chinned Petrel, Soft-plumaged Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Great Shearwater, Black-bellied and Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Snowy Sheathbill, Imperial Shag, South Georgia Cormorant, Brown Skua, Kelp and Dolphin Gull, Antarctic Tern and South American Tern (strictly identified by range).
(to be continued)
 

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Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
(part 3)
Among the mammals, there were many whales that one could only see the blows and at times some of the back. Thus even if I was told which species this was (supposed to be), it was just the fascination but not the species that left its mark. So the definite ones were Humpback Whale, Fin Whale (by sheer size), Killer Whale, Peale’s Dolphin, Commerson’s Dolphin.

Falkland Islands (Malvinas): Here, we definitely gained from our counter-clockwise routing. The sister ship had not been allowed to land on these islands as the quarantine time had not yet been over since Ushuaia. Our tour however landed at Port Stanley, the capital as the first stop. Busses transferred us to a nice sandy and rocky area north of town: Gypsy Cove/York Bay. Magellanic Penguins, Falkland Steamer Duck, Rock Shag, Black-crowned Night Heron, Austral Thrush, Black-throated Finch, Long-tailed Meadowlark were the notable bird species.

Original plans had been to then move west along the north side of the Falklands, with possible landings on Carcass and/or Saunders Islands. Weather forecasts indicated strong northerly winds, however. This would have made landings unlikely. So our fine expedition team looked for an alternative on the south side, and we then visited Bleaker Island instead. And this with an unusual landing site, apparently this one had not been used by cruise ships for the last 14 years! At any rate we had a fine few hours there, walking past the settlement with many Ruddy-headed Goose families, Magellanic Oystercatchers, a large Imperial Cormorant/Shag colony (with their impressive blue and yellow head decorations typical for breeding birds) and quite a few attending Brown Skuas. Then there were several rather tame Tussacbirds. These have become common again thanks to a successful rat-removal program similar to what was done on South Georgia. Here, we finally saw the Striated Caracara that we had missed on the mainland, also quite tame and thus indicating the fine protection they are enjoying. The main target was, however, the colony of Southern Rockhopper Penguins a bit further up on a cliff. And with sheer luck, we saw here a single Macaroni Penguin that was part of a mixed pair within this Rockhopper colony. So we ended up with a total of 7 penguin species on this trip. Finally, we also saw the Falkland subspecies (maclovianus) of the Dark-faced Ground Tyrant. We missed the wrens as time ran out.



Up north Iguazú Falls:

We had two priorities here, the falls and the fine Hummingbird Garden (Jardín de los Picaflores). After all the previous birding activities, a somewhat more relaxed time was planned. And the great summer heat reinforced this intention. So we only went for an “owling” tour one evening. We very much liked the proposal of our guide “Pocho” Fernando Cabral ([email protected] ). So we went out along the borders of the Iguazu NP on what is officially Highway #101 towards a town called Andresito. It’s actually a dirt road with virtually no traffic at night. We did get fine looks at 2 Rusty-Barred Owl and a Black-banded Owl, and there were calls of Mottled Owl and Black-capped Screech Owl. Lots of Pauraques were flushed from the road and we had several Common Potoo individuals, including flying and calling birds. While this was not a new species for me, I nevertheless found it the most intriguing one this night. Definitely one of the favorite bird calls for me. Black-eared Opossum and Brazilian Cottontail were the only mammals we could identify, and a grey-and-white patterned snake that quickly disappeared on the roadside must most likely have been Bothrops moojeni. One problem we had not taken sufficiently serious though, was the fact that we got lots of insect bites that later hurt terribly for way over a week while we did not notice anything when bitten. Some sting marks could still be seen after more than 7 weeks. So some insect repellent would definitely have been advised.

We had been to the Jardín de los Picaflores/ Hummingbird Garden on our previous visit 16 years ago, so we wanted to spend more time there now. As this is privately owned (Fray Luis Beltrán 150, N3370 Puerto Iguazú) one needs to check opening hours. They can vary, and the best way to find out seems to be to go to the gate. Often, one finds helpful people in such a case. So we soon learned that by clapping loudly with the hands through the gate, one might get the owner to show up. He often works in the garden and it is thus sometimes possible to then arrange for some unofficial opening. There is a fine illustrated species list that one finds spread out, so the identification is greatly facilitated. The species assemblage varies over the year and it includes some tanagers as well. Swallow-tailed and White-throated Hummingbird were new for me this time. Other species there included Planalto Hermit, Black-throated Mango, Black Jacobin, Glittering and Versicolored Emerald, Bananaquit and Sayaca Tanager, Purple-throated and Violaceous Euphonia, Variable Oriole. And a very nice large Argentine black and white Tegu (Salvator merianae) came to drink from a plant.

The Falls were considerably less impressive than on our previous visit. Just the upper-most corner of the Devil’s Throat had enough water to provide a nice “show”. Due to the heat, we refrained from much activity. With the very active help of our taxi driver, we managed to visit the Brazil side as well. The country had only about a week earlier opened its borders again and buses were not running yet. Some notable species: Limpkin, 2 Osprey, Snail Kite, Greater Ani. Great Dusky Swift in the Falls area, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Plush-crested Jay, Saffron Finch. A Tufted Capuchin on the Brazil side was the only notable mammal. Not even a coati!
(to be continued)
 

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Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
(part 4)
Buenos Aires area:

I had read about security issues so we did not dare to include Costanera Sur to our itinerary, though the area should be safe again since it is now gated. So the “grand finale” came with a guided tour to Entre Rios Sur, and it lasted about 14 hours! We knew it was going to be long, the only major problem was the fact that the car’s air conditioning quit working about half way through the tour! It was particularly problematic for my wife, so I have to specifically mention my gratitude here to her that she did not insist to turn around! I had looked for a tour guide by entering "Buenos Aires Birding" to the search engine, and it turned out to be the right decision. So Marcelo Gavensky (Birding Buenos Aires - Home and www.birdsargentina.com) contacted me after I had looked through the tours offered on the website. We then decided on an extended version of the basic Entre Rios Sur tour as this allowed including an area that presently had breeding Saffron-cowled Blackbirds that I was particularly eager to see. (I had done my PhD work on the Brewer’s Blackbird in Eastern Washington 50 years ago and those Icterids still strike a special chord in me.) Marcelo picked us up at the hotel on Christmas Eve (24 December) at 6 AM, we had breakfast on the way. Our bird list had over 80 species at the end of the tour. I will not provide a long list here. Just a few personal highlights, not necessarily lifers: Greater Rhea, Spotted Nothura, Southern Screamer, Ringed Teal, Savanna Hawk, South American Snipe (they all look pretty much alike to me though), Spot-winged Pigeon, Monk Parakeet, Guira Cuckoo, Nacunda Nighthawk, Burrowing Owl, White-fronted Woodpecker, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Tufted Tit-Spinetail, Lark-like Brushrunner, Firewood-gatherer, Brown Cacholote, Short-billed Canastero, Chotoy Spinetail, Spectacled Tyrant, White Monjita, Crowned Slaty Flycatcher, White-naped Xenopsaris, Yellowish Pipit, Marsh Seedeater, Unicolored Blackbird, Scarlet-headed Blackbird, Screaming Cowbird, White-browed Blackbird (pretty much a meadowlark, also shares same genus).

Two final remarks: all our guides spoke excellent English, so communication was never a problem, and we had many good discussions on the side as well. They all asked for cash payment in US Dollars. No wonder in a country that presently has an annual inflation rate of around 50 percent!
 

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lgonz1008

Well-known member
United States
Great trip report, sounds like you were able to do the highlights of Argentina and the best of the Antarctic region all in one package!
 

Mad4Birds

Well-known member
Wales
Hi,
I was one of the Oceanwide expedition guides on your trip. You were obviously one of the 'true' birders on board - there weren't that many of us! 😂. Glad you got a great list and experience - it was a fantastic trip. I was on the next two cruises to the Antarctic peninsular - great to spend more time down there but the seabirds through the Drake on all four crossings were not as numerous as you had. I didn't get anytime to explore ashore before or after my cruises so I'm really jealous of your other sightings!
 

MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
What a wonderful trip - a great write-up and terrific photos - that Magellanic Woodpecker shot is fantastic! Tussacbird looks eerily like a female blackbird, and I'm amazed that the same Black-crowned Night heron in my urban Hong Kong park is also on the Falklands!

Great stuff!
 

Mad4Birds

Well-known member
Wales
What a wonderful trip - a great write-up and terrific photos - that Magellanic Woodpecker shot is fantastic! Tussacbird looks eerily like a female blackbird, and I'm amazed that the same Black-crowned Night heron in my urban Hong Kong park is also on the Falklands!

Great stuff!
And you may be even more surprised to know that they are coastal, cliff nesting on the islands!
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
Cyprus
A bit puzzled as to why the trip we were supposed to have been on out of Uruguay (not that I could have gone anyway!), was cancelled before Christmas? Perhaps, as I suggested at the time, it was due to the announcement by the US government, that they were advising their citizens not to go on cruises?
 

MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
I am indeed! That's utterly bizarre!

With apologies for derailing Robert's excellent thread - a quick google search revealed this article, which includes some pix from the Falkland colony: ePostcard #85: Life in the Rookery (Falkland Black-crowned Night Herons) | Cloud Ridge Naturalists & Cloud Ridge Publishing

Cheers
Mike
Thanks for the link to the picture. Most likely it was taken at the same place (Gypsy Cove) as the ones we saw. The crop focuses on the nest sites on the top of the outer parts, but there were nests on the side closer to me as well (not well visible on the full view picture though).

I should add that rock-nesting in this species must not be that rare. I recall Black-crowned Night Herons in the basalt walls along the Potholes canal south of Moses Lake in eastern Washington when I worked on Brewer's Blackbirds there about 50+ years ago.
 

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Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
What a wonderful trip - a great write-up and terrific photos - .....................................! Tussacbird looks eerily like a female blackbird, ....................

Great stuff!
I had the same impression, not only the looks (though a bit smaller in size, but also the behaviour.
 

Swissboy

Sempach, Switzerland
Supporter
Switzerland
Hi,
I was one of the Oceanwide expedition guides on your trip. You were obviously one of the 'true' birders on board - there weren't that many of us! 😂. Glad you got a great list and experience - it was a fantastic trip. I was on the next two cruises to the Antarctic peninsular - great to spend more time down there but the seabirds through the Drake on all four crossings were not as numerous as you had. I didn't get anytime to explore ashore before or after my cruises so I'm really jealous of your other sightings!
Yes, there were disappointingly few of us birders on the ship. I'm still working through the over 20'000 pictures from that trip, mostly BIF serials with lots of unusable stuff. I'm at times trying to compare with the "official" list from the ship, so I get at least some ideas what and where in my pictures there is some more potential.
 
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Mysticete

Well-known member
United States
A bit puzzled as to why the trip we were supposed to have been on out of Uruguay (not that I could have gone anyway!), was cancelled before Christmas? Perhaps, as I suggested at the time, it was due to the announcement by the US government, that they were advising their citizens not to go on cruises?
I would almost certainly have to imagine that it's down to differences in COVID regulations between Uruguay and Argentina? Or differences in company policy and already registered customers, if you had a different tour company.
 

MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
I should add that rock-nesting in this species must not be that rare. I recall Black-crowned Night Herons in the basalt walls along the Potholes canal south of Moses Lake in eastern Washington when I worked on Brewer's Blackbirds there about 50+ years ago.
It seems that I should get out more - but maybe not at the expense of a two week quarantine ... to prevent the arrival of a disease that'a already here. Sigh!
 

Andy Adcock

Well-known member
Cyprus
I would almost certainly have to imagine that it's down to differences in COVID regulations between Uruguay and Argentina? Or differences in company policy and already registered customers, if you had a different tour company.
Actually, I was wrong, we were out of Argentina with Montevideo being the last stop and the itinerary was very similar to what Robert did.

At that point, the Falklands were also closed and we were losing one, shore destination after another making it less and less attractive, numericaly at least, from a birding perspective. It became even less attractive when the company announced the additional prospect of being confined to a cabin, aboard if you tested positive during the cruise.
 

pbjosh

missing the neotropics
Switzerland
Glad you had such a lovely trip!!

For what it is worth, Costanera Sur is quite safe. I have been well over 100 times and never had a problem. Standard precautions apply; the same as you might do in Spain or anywhere outside of Switzerland really, but there is no concern in birding there. Just put your bins / cameras in your bags before heading out of the reserve.

Saludos und freundliche Grüsse :) I’m just returning to Zürich tonight from a quick escape to Ecuador.
 

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