12 Jan 2023

12 Jan 23 - Argentina - Rio Grande

After arriving in Argentina, I enjoyed three days travelling down to the coast to the East of Buenos Aires and back, before flying to Ushuaia. I arrived in Ushuaia two days ahead the date when I was due to board the Plancius for the trip to the Falklands, South Georgia & Argentina. The recommendation is to arrive early, in case there are any problems with flights to Ushuaia or the main luggage fails to arrive. I know one Yorkshire Birder who arrived with spare time, but his luggage was lost in transit. Despite attempts to get the luggage transferred on, he didn't see it again until he arrived back in Yorkshire. The result was a last minute urgent shopping trip around the town for additional clothing etc. Fortunately, my main bag arrived with no problem. I had a hired car & two full days of Birding ahead of me.

As this was my third trip to Ushuaia, there were only four Ticks left in the Tierra del Fuego area: Ruddy-headed Goose, Magellanic Horned Owl, Austral Canestero and Patagonian Tyrant. I was up early as the plan for the first day involved a two hour drive North East to Rio Grande, where there were a number of eBird sites for Austral Canestero. On the previous trips to Ushuaia in Dec 88 with Brian Field & Jem Babbington, we hadn't travelled far enough North to be in range for Austral Canestero & Ruddy-headed Goose. When I visited Ushuaia in Mar 18 before the Atlantic Odyssey expedition, I was focused on looking for White-bellied Seedsnipe at the Garibaldi Pass and Blackish Cinclodes in the Beagle Channel. So, I was looking forward to the opportunity to finally get to the Rio Grande area. The area is a good site for Magellanic Plovers, which are a monotypic family that I have only seen once before. I had a few roadside stops along the way checking each of the Upland Geese flocks for a Ruddy-headed Goose: but I was unsuccessful. But I did see a few other species.
Andean Condor with a Southern Crested Caracara: There must have been the remains of a nearby carcass there, as there were three Andean Condors and two Southern Crested Caracaras
Guanacos: I saw around fifty in the fields
I arrived around mid-morning at Rio Grande. It is a basic-looking industrial city on the North East Tierra del Fuego coast & it supports the local oil, fishing and sheep industries. There have been a number of sightings of Austral Canestero over the years on the Rio Grande reserve. I had a look at the area from some lakes, but the habitat looked scattered and degraded and I decided to try some of the other eBird sites I had outside of Rio Grande. However, it had been useful to give me an idea of the habitat I was looking for. There were a number of wetland species around the lakes.
Chilean Flamingo: This is the widespread Flamingo in South America and the monotypic species occurs from the Andes of the South of South America to South Brazil & South Argentina
Upland Goose: Pair. This is the picta subspecies which occurs in South Chile South Argentina
Upland Goose: Female
Before I left the Rio Grande area, I wanted to have a look for Magellanic Horned Owl. There had only been one recent eBird sighting in the whole of the Tierra del Fuego area and it was on some large sand cliffs to the South of Rio Grande. I drove past a shanty town on the Southern edge of the town, before the road clearly went onto a large estancia. I drove onto the estancia past areas where there were diggers & lorries excavating sand for building material and some intensive Cattle herds. Finally, I could see the large sand cliffs, but there were locked gates on the tracks leading to them. It was still a two mile walk to the sand cliffs and I had no directions where the Magellanic Horned Owls might be once I got there. I decided I didn't have the time for what was probably going to be a two or three hour search and reluctantly had to give up on that plan. The species occurs as far North as Peru & West Bolivia and I have a chance of seeing it elsewhere in its range in the future.
The Magellanic Horned Owl cliffs: They were about 2 miles walk across clearly private land and I would have needed a fair bit of time to search them properly
The destructive result of enclosing too many Cattle in this fragile habitat
There was a large shanty town on the Southern edge of the city
It was time to focus on the Austral Canestero search. I planned to head out on the dirt track road, past Laguna de los Cisnes, and which continues to Estancia Los Flamencos, to the West of Miranda. The first stop was at the nearly dried out lake bed at Laguna de los Cisnes, where I found four Magellanic Plovers with a flock of at fifty-three Baird's Sandpipers.
Magellanic Plover: This monotypic species occurs in lagoons & ponds of extreme South of Argentina & Chile
The dirt track to Estancia Los Flamencos: It's a big landscape
As I carried on along the road, I found several patches of good looking habitat for Austral Canesteros. Virtually, all the habitat was enclosed behind fences, but they were easy to climb over. After about thirty minutes of looking I found an Austral Canestero, which showed well until I lifted the camera, when it disappeared for good. I carried on hoping to have a look at the other big lagoons of Laguna Grande and the lagoon on Estancia Los Flamencos, but both were fenced off with locked gates across the roads. I could see they were both dried up and still miles from the public track. But being dried up, they probably wouldn't have been worth visiting anyway.
A remnant patch of Austral Canestero habitat
A more typical view with no Austral Canestero habitat
Austral Negrito: Female. This monotypic species occurs from central Chile & Argentina to Tierra del Fuego. They winter as far North as South East Brazil
Austral Negrito: Distant male
A historic estancia
The main farm building
A close up of the barn
Another estancia
The nearest I came to seeing an Armadillo on this trip
It was time to turn back and start the long three hour drive back to Ushuaia, via Rio Grande. Still I had seen my main target species. Plus, there were good numbers of other species along the track including Common Miners, Austral Negritos, Mourning Sierra-finches and Long-tailed Meadowlarks. I wasn't too bothered about not finding any Ruddy-headed Geese, as I was expecting to see them in the Falklands.
Rio Grande: Viewed in the late afternoon light as I returned from the Estancia Los Flamencos track
I liked this road sign
Llamas that perhaps had some Guanaco genes in them
The first fifty or sixty miles of the trip back from Rio Grande to Ushuaia passes through arid treeless plains. But finally, the trees started appeared closer to the mountain ridge to the North of Ushuaia.
Finally, I reached the trees
Some of the trees had lots of mosses in them
A close up of the mossy tree
The mountain ridge to the North of Ushuaia
The dusk view from my bedsit accommodation about 23:00