Day 2 - The Beagle Channel and Ushuaia Town
After another solid night's sleep, the hungry cries of the Rufous-collared Sparrow fledglings outside my window was better than any alarm clock. There was plenty of snow on the ground shortly after dawn, which confused my northern latitude senses as I watched the fledglings being fed by a weary-looking adult Rufous-collared Sparrow. Where I come from, there should not be any snow when adult sparrows are feeding their young. A non-native Eurasian House Sparrow flew past my sleepy gaze and confused me further. I roused my sleepy self and got ready to eat and head down to the town front to book a place on a trip out to the Beagle Channel. The targets were South American Fur Seal, South American Sea Lion and Magellanic Diving Petrel, and any seabird that decided to present itself!
Ushuaia from the sea.
I booked a place on the Navegando el Fin de Mundo's charter called Tango; a small boat which would allow us to get a closer to some of the smaller islands. While waiting to board the boat, I paid the customs tax in the harbour master's office and had a cup of coffee while watching Dolphin Gulls, Kelp Gulls, Southern Giant Petrels, Rock Shags and Imperial Shags in the harbour. A small group of 4 Black-faced Ibis flew along the Ushuaian skyline, quickly followed by what was probably a Peregrine Falcon. While watching a Turkey Vulture quarter over the town dump in the distance, I also spotted a single Andean Condor over the mountains in the distance. Incredible sight and not something I had expected. Tick and run!
The view across the channel to Ushuaia from one of the outer Bridge Islands.
The weather conditions were still a bit breezy, cold and overcast, but we headed off out after a brief safety talk, with only 7 passengers on board. A nice small crew. We cruised around the channel for about 4-5 hours in choppy conditions. With the boat being small, we were thrown around a bit in the deceptive swell. Although the conditions were comfortable in general, it was not easy for photography. There were plenty of Imperial Shags, Southern Giant Petrels and Chilean Skuas flying around the area. We also stumbled upon a King Crab fishing boat, which handed over two crabs to the skipper of our boat. The boat was also surrounded by a cloud of Southern Giant Petrels and a single Black-browed Albatross. The first one of the trip and a lifer for me.
South American Fur Seals
King Crab Boat surrounded by Southern Giant Petrels, Kelp Gulls and Chilean Skuas. A single Black-browed Albatross also joined the melee.
Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse and breeding Imperial Shags
South American Sea Lions, Kelp Gulls and Dolphin Gulls
South American Sea Lion surveying all his surrounds
South American Fur Seal
South American Sea Lion, Dolphin Gulls and Snowy Sheathbill (one of only two species native to Antarctica).
Chilean Skua (very warm, cinnamon tones)
Southern Giant Petrel (pale tip to the bill)
Imperial Shag with nest material
We then motored over to a series of small islands which separately held colonies of South American Sea Lions and South American Fur Seals. These were massive beasts and quite intimidating. The colonies were interspersed with Dolphin and Kelp Gulls, as well as Snowy Sheathbills. I was quite surprised to see the Sheathbills in amongst the seals, but it was great to see and really brought home the fact that we weren't in Kansas anymore. A French couple on the trip were thrilled to see the Sheathbill as they were not venturing south than Ushuaia. The sight of the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse was something.
We also stopped off on one of the islands, so as to walk up to the top to get a view across the islands and Tierra del Fuego. The island was covered in low-lying shrubs, bushes, and grass. There were Austral Thrush, Austral Negrito, Southern Caracara, Patagonian Sierra Finch, Dark-sided Cinclodes, and Rufous-collared Sparrows there. Along the edges were Kelp Goose and more Chilean Skuas. A brief view of a single Southern Fulmar set the hearts racing but I didn't manage to take any photographs of that bird. More of those were seen and many photographs taken later on in the trip. Stay tuned for those! Unfortunately, we never connected with Magellanic Diving Petrels so my only chance of seeing that species was now dashed.
On the left is Argentina. On the right is Chile.
Southern Giant Petrel
Patagonian Sierra Finch
Once we got back to shore, I walked along the shorefront towards the airport to check for waders. The only birds of note were Crested Duck, Chiloe Wigeon, fly-over Black-faced Ibis, Chimango Caracara, Kelp Goose, Dolphin and Kelp Gulls and Southern Lapwing. There were very few waders about; the only species I saw on the trip being the Lapwing. Stunning birds nevertheless. There were South American Terns in display flights and a Yellow-billed Pintail in a small pond which was very skittish. Another Austral Negrito was also about the long grasses but I could never get close enough for a decent image. A pair of Kelp Geese flew across the bay and landed right in front of where I was, spooking the Dolphin Gulls feeding on a sewage outflow. These are a very striking species, closely related to the Shelduck. There are only about 30,000 birds in existence, so feel very privileged to have seen them.
Kelp Goose (male and female)
South American Tern
The Southern Lapwing are striking birds and I stumbled upon a pair during my walk along the shore edge. A pair of Chiloe Wigeon in amongst the Crested Ducks were a pleasant and welcome surprise. The walk back along town produced a fly-over Turkey Vulture and Rock Shag close to the shoreline.
The evening involved getting some grub and a couple of beers in the Dublin pub. Cliched Irish Pub, I know, but the beer choice there was excellent. The local beer called Beagle (particularly their ale) is well worth sampling. I retired early as the following day was the day I was to join the Sea Spirit and the Quark Expedition. I couldn't wait. After two incredible days in and around Ushuaia, I could only begin to imagine what the trip ahead would bring...
Keywords: Argentina, Canon, Canon, Carmody, Duck, Giant, Jim Wilson, Lapwing, Mark Carmody, Petrel, Photography, Rock, Rock Shag, Shag, Skua, Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia, Vulture, Wigeon
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