Argentina Trip Report (November 2005)

Tango-less Argentina

A quickly scheduled business trip to Argentina gave a nice opportunity for some birding. With appointments in Puerto Madryn scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, 31-Oct and 1-Nov-2005 and in Buenos Aires for Wednesday, 2-Nov, I scheduled my flights to fly to Argentina on Friday night. This gave the advantage of the airfare pricing of a Saturday night stay and a good night’s sleep prior to the meeting. It also left time for some Sunday birding.

This presented a difficult decision. Puerto Madryn is located about an hour-and-a-half flying time south of Buenos Aires at the northern edge of Patagonia. An hour’s drive north of Puerto Madryn is the Valdes Peninsula, famous for whales and Southern Elephant Seals. It was here that the BBC filmed the Killer Whales skimming on to the beach to attack seals. About an hour’s drive south is Punta Tombo with a breeding colony of about 400,000 pairs of Magellanic Penguins. Which to schedule for Sunday?

Since it was the breeding season for the penguins, they won. There are scheduled tours from Puerto Madryn to both areas. These are regular runs in mini-buses with bi-lingual (Spanish and English) guides. While they are not designed strictly for birders, they get you there and are reasonably priced. I found the guides to be quite helpful and well trained. With time to plan, you could arrange a strictly birding trip for a higher price.

The public area at Punta Tombo has trails wandering through a small part of the breeding colony. The Magellanic Penguins are literally at your feet. None untied my shoelaces; but they could have. Other highlights included a flock of Elegant Crested Tinamou, Chubut Steamer-duck, Dolphin Gull, and Patagonian Mockingbird.

The meetings left time for a trip to the Valdes Peninsula on Tuesday. No need to have done all that agonizing on which direction to go on Sunday after all. The boat ride at Valdes included Southern Right Whales swimming under the boat and bringing their calves right along side. Birds included Snowy Sheathbill, Blackish Oystercatcher, Lesser Rhea, and Mourning Sierra-finch.

On Thursday I had time before my night flight home to visit Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve. It is along the Rio de la Plata at the foot of downtown Buenos Aires. It is within easy walking distance of most of the major hotels and government buildings. It has a bird list of over 200 species and is easily one of the “birdiest” spots I have experienced. The ease of access to a major city downtown and the ease of birding wide-clear trails make it a special place not to be missed on an Argentina trip. The trails circle ponds and stretch along the river and canal banks. Highlights included White-tufted Grebes in breeding plumage, White-faced Whistling-duck, both Coscoroba and Black-necked Swans, both Red-gartered and White-winged Coot, both Red-crested and Yellow-billed Cardinals, both White-banded and Chalk-browed Mockingbirds, and Fork-tailed Flycatcher. A couple of surprises were the quantity of House Wrens and a flock of over a hundred Wilson’s Phalaropes.

Seeing 94 species and adding over 40 life birds make for a nice business trip of less than a week. That didn’t leave time for tango lessons, however. I’ll save that for next time. I got home just in time to do enough laundry for our vacation trip to New Zealand.
— by Bill Parker

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Mission of 3RBC

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Sherron Lynch, Brian Shema, Chuck Tague