Day 1 of the Antarctic Adventure 2014
At long last, after years of salivating over photographs taken and stories told by my uncle, Jim Wilson, I was on my way south of the equator for the first time. I was on my way to sail on the Southern Ocean for 20 days. I was on my way to see my first wild, penguins. I was on my way to South Georgia and Antarctica. This was a trip of a lifetime. What was going to make it even more special? Jim and his son, my cousin, Peter Wilson were going to be working on the ship I was to be on. The ship is called M.V. Sea Spirit and leased to Quark Expeditions, the company that Jim and Peter were working for for the Antarctic season. I could not wait to get going. After leaving Dublin on Friday afternoon in mid-November, hitting three airports, boarding three flights, I landed in Ushuaia on Saturday night. The most southerly city in the world; the end of the world.
I was staying in a B&B called La Maison de Ushuaia, nestled in the hills of Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina and only a 5 minute walk to the main drag. It was cold when I arrived, despite it being the beginnings of summer. I had a chat with Solange in the B&B and made plans for the following day. I headed into town 5 minutes walk away for something to eat and a beer. After an hour, with the Sandman entering the fold, I was back in the B&B and asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. I was shattered from the three back-to-back flights, even though the excitement at the thought of what the following day could bring was palatable.
I woke early, the sound of unfamiliar birdsong unsettling my sleep. The sounds was to become a familiar sound over the few days I spent around Ushauaia - Rufous-collared Sparrows! The view that greeted me having breakfast (above) was stunning. Once I had had my fill, I walked down to the main town front to determine what to do. If it was too windy for the Beagle Channel, I would head to the national park on the outskirts of town. It was too windy for the Beagle Channel. So, it was a day for the Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego; a mere 10km west of Ushuaia. A subantarctic forest and reputedly the most southerly national park in the world. With some time to spare before the taxi bus left, I wandered along the seafront of Ushuaia and was greeted with my fist sightings of Northern Giant Petrel, South American Tern, Dolphin and Kelp Gulls. Steamer Ducks flying along the town-front confirmed they weren't Flightless. A nice one to get in the bag early.
The South American Terns have taken up residence during the breeding season on the wreck of the Saint Christopher (HMS Justice) aground in the harbout (see above). After the war, she was decommissioned from the Royal Navy and sold for salvage operations in the Beagle Channel. After suffering engine problems in 1954, she was beached in 1957 in Ushuaia's harbour where she now serves as a monument to the shipwrecks of the region.
The National Park was stunning. Nestled along the shore of the Beagle Channel towards and beyond the Chilean border. There is Antarctic and Lenga Beech everywhere. It was cold, bright, but very windy. My main targets here were Magellanic Woodpecker, Austral Parrot and Andean Condor. There was plenty of evidence of the Woodpecker but I didn't see any, nor was I to see the Parrot or Condor.
However, as I walked up to 15km along the trails and the forests, I did see some amazing birds. Everything was new. I was like a child in a sweet shop. I lugged about 15kg of camera gear with me so thankfully I was dressed in layers! The weather was getting windier as the day went on but not too cold. The sun was out for the morning and the cloud swept in for the afternoon.
The typical view along the shoreline trail I took through the National Park.
Great Grebe (Podiceps major)
Fuegian (Magellanic) Flightless Steamer Duck (Tachyeres pteneres)
Patagonian Crested Duck (Lophonetta specularioides specularioides)
Ashy-headed Goose (Chloephaga poliocephala) - female
Upland Goose (Chloephaga picta) - male
Chimango Caracara (Milvago chimango)
Southern-crested Caracara (Caracara plancus)
(Patagonian) Tufted Tit-Tyrant (Anairetes parulus patagonicus)
Fire-eyed Diucon (Xolmis pyrope)
Austral Thrush (Austral Thrush (Turdus falcklandii magellanicus)
White-crested Elaenia (Elaenia albiceps)
Dark-bellied Cinclodes (Cinclodes patagonicus)
Southern House Wren (Troglodytes aedon group)
Lake Roca looking towards Chile
Other species of note during the trek through the national park included Black-faced Ibis, Yellow-billed Pintail, Speckled Teal, Chiloe Wigeon, Chilean Skua, Chilean Swallow, Patagonian Sierra Finch, Black-throated Finch, House Sparrow and Black-chinned Siskin. While I had really hoped to see Magellanic Woodpecker and Austral Parrot, it was not to be. There were a lot of people walking the trail, including what appeared to be a trail running race, and with the very high wind blowing through the channel, the birds were hard to find. It was a beautiful setting though, and a day well spent. I had toyed with the idea of hiring a bird guide for the day, but I was really there for the seabirds. The National Park and passerines were a bonus so I just treated it like that; a bonus day to chill, relax and follow my feet.
Upon returning to Ushuaia that evening, the Terms were getting busy on the boat (above) and I was starving. I returned to the B&B, dropped off my gear and headed downtown for some grub and a well-earned beer. Tomorrow looked like it was going to be calmer so the hope was to head out on the Beagle Channel. The targets: seabirds and mammals.
Keywords: America, Antarctica, Canon, Carmody, Frontier, Jim Wilson, Mark Carmody, National Park, Photography, South, South America, Tierra del Fuego, Trek, Ushuaia
Terrific vicarious "birding" by way of reading your website. Thank you and safe travel.
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