Author: Michael

Perhaps,the Greatest Conservationist that has ever lived is the late Douglas Tompkins, founder of the Tompkins Foundation.

He and his wife Kris have worked for twenty years to purchase land in Chile and Argentina.

Many of Patagonia’s best National parks exist because of their tireless efforts.


Doug and Kris Tompkins


The World is be a much, much better place because of them.

On Monday January 29th 2018 Michelle Bachelet, the President of Chile passed into law the last areas of land from the Tompkins Foundation to be new National Parks in Chile – 1 Million acres.


Patagonia National Park, Chile.
Patagonia National Park, Chile

For it’s part, the Chilean government, at the same time, contributed nearly nine million acres of federally owned land.

In total,  the newly designated National Parks are roughly the size of Switzerland.

Forests, Glaciers and natural grasslands preserved for wildlife and the nation.



So yesterday an area of land the size of Switzerland was given to NATURE, given back to the WILD.


Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile


Chile is not a rich country, it ranks 43 in the world.


 “You can gauge a country’s wealth, it’s real wealth, by its commitment to preserving nature.


Thank you Chile.



A Darwin’s Rhea is not a flier but a flapper. Unable to fly, the birds use their outlandishly gorgeous feathers in a sexy and energetic courtship dance.

No wonder the word ‘flapper’ was coined for young girls of the 1920s, dancing to the new Jazz music.


Wedding - Gatsby Style....


With fine, delicate feathers circling round its head and blowing in the Patagonian wind, the bird is beautiful and sexy.



During the second voyage of HMS Beagle, the young naturalist Charles Darwin made many trips on horseback into Patagonia. He had heard from local gauchos of the existence of a small Rhea-like bird. He continued searching fruitlessly for this bird. He even travelled up the Santa Cruz river and saw several from a distance but they ran away too quickly to be caught.

The Beagle sailed south, putting in at Puerto Deseado in southern Patagonia on 23 December.  On the following day Darwin shot a guanaco which provided them with a Christmas meal, and in the first days of January, the artist Conrad Martens shot a rhea which they enjoyed eating before Darwin realized that this was the elusive smaller rhea rather than a juvenile of the greater Rhea.

A shocked Darwin ran into the ship’s galley to collect the remains of the bird, saving the head, neck, legs, one wing, and some of the larger feathers. These were eventually described by James Gould as a new species – the Darwins (or Lesser) Rhea.

Darwin’s Rhea is a large flightless bird with two distinct populations located in the Altiplano of the central Andes and the Patagonia Steppes.





Paula and I have seen the bird most often in Patagonia, usually running away from us at a fast pace.  On the Valdez peninsula the birds are more used to people and here we have managed some close views.



We love finding their nests, they are fantastic, laden with up to thirty or forty large greenish eggs, which turn yellow as they age.



Males incubate the eggs and look after the chicks. They are strong birds and can defend the chicks against most predators.



Both the eggs and the birds are good to eat, so they have been relentlessly hunted for hundreds of years.


Set deep in the Chacabuco valley in southern Chile, the Conservation Land Trust is undertaking a successful breeding project for the birds run by their head of conservation Cristian Saucedo.



Eventually their birds will be released in the remote and spectacular landscape of the Chilean Patagonian National Park.


Our eyes strain to see the detail, all that’s visible are leathery shadows in the dust.


The dust separates, momentarily, horsemen appear – and cattle.


Ah ….. Gauchos.




Those indomitable hardened spirits of Argentina.


shadows in the dust


A man, a horse and a dog.

The three linked together, a trio of workmanship that has forged a culture across an endless landscape of dry, rolling grass plains.

A mate in one hand reins in the other.

Leathery shadows in the dust


Gauchos on horse


Wherever we travel across the wild lands of Argentina we meet them, the Gauchos.

Often we hear their dogs first, or is it that the dogs hear us first.



gauchos on horse


Out from the most impenetrable bush he came.

On a  leather armored steed, scattering the scimitar like thorns of the Chaco.

Slung over the horse a dead pig, to meet his waiting friend.


Chaco Gaucho


Always with his ‘facon’ tucked behind his back.




This is the ‘Gaucho’ – this is Argentina –

leathery shadows in the dust.




We are surrounded by textures of the natural world.


Our world is so big and so busy, so full of noise and activity.


They represent an aspect of our life we rarely take notice of.


Textures of raindrops


We rarely stop and notice the beauty that surrounds us.


Next to the air we breath, water is our most valuable resource.


water surface


But how often do we just look at it, closely, endearingly, as we should to a lover.


Textures of golden water


As a photographer of nature, water often gives me the greatest inspiration


waterside textures


Sometimes that inspiration enables me to see beauty that I would otherwise just walk on by.


textures of a refraction
Light refraction in a waterfall, Mendoza, Argentina.

Whats it like living in South America?  That is the question we are often asked.


This is a strange question, it might make more sense to ask, whats it like living on the moon.

The reason being that Living in South America is much like living any where on planet earth.

The real answer depends upon ones own personal expectations.

For example we never expected it to snow so much. The very first time we were in South America we were caught out in the snow twice.


Living in South America 1


We never expected to eat so much meat.

We do not eat much meat at home in England, so to be faced with so much meat in cafes, restaurants and at peoples house, surprised us.

We like vegetables and salads, often, they are difficult to find.


Living in South America 2


As for the people.

We were surprised how warm and friendly the people that we meet in Argentina are.

We have had so many experiences of unsolicited kindness.

We once asked a man the way to the nearest bakery, instead he gave us four loaves of bread.

Another time we camped close to where the warden of a National Park lived and he asked if he could do our washing for us and then asked us to stay for a meal.



living in South America 3


We are conservationists and wildlife photographers and we like to share our enthusiasm for wildlife.

In a world, where wilderness and nature is disappearing so quickly, it is important to teach younger generations about the importance of nature and the many good reasons to protect it.

In South America we have easy access into schools and colleges to talk to the kids about nature.

They love it, we love it and the teachers love it, we give out free nature information, such as posters.

You cannot do that in the UK.


Living in South America 4


Of course the wildlife is different.

Every day is exciting for us.

We see new birds, new flowers, new insects.

Every day is an adventure, we feel like kids again ourselves.

Whats it like living in South America?  That’s what its like, for us.


Living in South America 5

Parrots of Patagonia sounds like a misnomer. Most peoples think of  Patagonia as a endless windy plain. A landscape scoured by ferocious storms and devoid of trees. Why, they imagine, would parrots live in such a place.  Parrots require trees more than anything, lush greenery and warmth from the sun.

This imaginary view of Patagonia is far from reality. Patagonia has forests, dense and luxuriant. It has hot dry summers, it is not always windy.


Sub-polar Forests a home for Parrots


South America is the land of birds and has nearly two hundred species of parrots.

In a continent where there are so many parrots, a landscape without trees, is a landscape for an enterprising bird to exploit.

Trees are not needed anyway, they perch on telegraph wires.



One such parrot has done just that, this bird has learnt that trees are not necessary to nest in, when you can dig a hole in the ground instead.


One of the Parrots of Patagonia


This parrot is the Burrowing Parrot and is a large species with powerful claws, with which it excavates a holes in the sides of river banks and cliffs.

The best place to view these birds are the cliffs at El Condor on the Atlantic coast of Argentina in northern Patagonia. Here they gather at dusk on the telegraph wires before going to roost on the sea cliffs.


Burrowing Parrots going to roost


If watching parrots flying around sea cliffs was not strange enough, imagine seeing parrots happily feeding in the snow.

By travelling down to the far south of Patagonia, to the sub-polar woodlands there is such a parrot.


A parrot of Patagonia the Austral Parakeet


This parrot is very happy to feed in the snow, it is the Austral Parakeet.



As the most southerly inhabiting parrot in the world, this parrot is a truly amazing bird. There are four varieties of the Burrowing Parrot. The Chilean sub-species is highly threatened by extinction, as only 5,000 – 6,000 of these animals remain.  Thankfully the southern Argentinian population is 40,000 and that in the north of Argentina is around 2,000 pairs. How a bird like this has distinct populations either side of one of the mightiest mountain ranges, the Andes, is fascinating.



People love penguins for all sorts of reasons. I love penguins because as a birdwatcher, photographer and conservationist penguins allow me to get close to them, without them being scared.





That People love penguins is even more true when children come into contact with wild penguins.


Most are mesmerized by the birds, the way they walk upright, the way the penguins socially interact with each other and their comical plumage of black and white, like smart little people rushing about.


kids love penguins


In fact penguins are inquisitive birds and are usually just as interested in us as we are of them.

If you are interested to find out more about Penguins read what Birdlife International has to say about them.


Rockhopper penguins

The headlines of a local paper  ‘ Beer helps forest ravaged by fire’, immediately caught my attention and left me somewhat puzzled.

Being an Englishman in South America there have been many times that I have longed for a good English beer at the end of a day’s bird watching. A frothy white top spilling over the top of a glass, followed by the smooth taste of hops, not too cold.


We like our beer and in my local pub a farmer even brings his horse in for a drink!


horse in pub


The joys of being in South America, particularly Argentina and Chile, are many, but I do miss good English beer!

Fortunately the landscapes of Patagonia have made up for this minor inconvenience.

A beer refreshes the spirit but Patagonia stirs and refreshes the soul.


Sub-polar Forests


It was the forests of the deep south, the sub-polar forests that I fell in love with. Trees bedecked in moss, thick lichen draping every branch and twig. Southern Beech and Pine, some as tall as five storey buildings, nature’s green cathedrals.

Wherever there are forests there are forest fires.  Sometimes fire is natural and beneficial but often not.

Fire caused by man, deliberately or accidental, wreaks havoc.


silver skeletons


In 2011 the superb Torres Del Paine National Park suffered a catastrophic accidental fire, millions of hectares destroyed, whole mountainsides razed to the ground. Their ‘green cathedrals’ turned to silver skeletons.


Silvery forests


Paths now wind through hoary palisades of bleakness, bright metallic echoing tangles of sterility.

However this resilient park is starting to recover and remains a wondrous place to visit.


Toress del paine


And some of this is thanks to Beer!

Not any old beer but Austral Beer made in Punta Arenas, Chile,  by an old established Craft brewery who brew English style ales.




After the fire this amazing company started a campaign to raise money for replanting the National Park and have done a wonderful job.

What a generous and thoughtful enterprise. And they have another new customer as well, ME.

‘Beer helps forest ravaged by fire’, now I understand the headlines.



This is a rare photograph of the Hooded Grebe courtship, one of the Worlds rarest birds.

Watch the hooded grebe documentary and follow LivingWIldPics on facebook

Hooded Grebe courtship


The Living Wild photography team of Paula and Michael Webster spent some months last year in the wilds of Patagonia.

Their mission was to track down a breeding colony of the critically rare Hooded Grebe and to film its courtship behavior, never previously filmed.



The Hooded Grebe is one of the worlds rarest birds. It is seldom seen as it spends the winter on the cold and wild sea Atlantic coast of Argentina. Its summer breeding grounds are the inaccessible windswept plateaus close to the Andean mountains.


With great help from the Hooded Grebe research team, under the auspices of Aves Argentinas, the Birdlife partner in Argentina.The first complete photographic and film record of the courtship display was obtained.


To see the complete courtship display please watch the film TANGO IN THE WIND




A great place to go birdwatching in Argentina is Puerto Deseado on the Atlantic coast.


Puerto Deseado is positioned about 1500km south of Buenos Aires, or 500 km south of Puerto Madryn. A  long drive from almost anywhere, but the roads are quite good.

If you have limited time you can fly and that’s the best way to reach the area.

Unfortunately we cannot recommend the hotels, they are expensive and the service awful.  Instead hire a cottage or apartment, there are many to choose from. The town has a number of excellent shops, where fresh bread and tasty cakes can easily be purchased, there is a supermarket as well as a few restaurants.


Map of Puerto Deseado estuary


The delightful town has a rich maritime history and a good museum.  A place where stevedores and fishermen rub shoulders with wildlife tourists.

Puerto Deseado lies at the mouth of the river that carries its name.The  river starts life beneath the towering peaks of the Andes and then meanders its way hundreds of kilometers across the Patagonian plains. The nutrient filled waters of the river discharge into a beautiful wide estuary, characterized by flooded valleys and small offshore islands, typical of a landscape where the sea level rose eons ago.



Deseado estuary


Most visitors come for the birdlife and this really is spectacular.  There are several companies that operate boats that visit the estuary and the offshore Islands.


Rock Cormorant


We would recommend Darwin Expeditions.  We have visited the town twice and used them on many occasions and every time their service, politeness and expertise has been exemplary.


Darwin Expeditions


One important word of caution. If its just the birds you want to see, check the weather conditions ahead of time or give Darwin Expeditions a ring. This is Patagonia and Patagonia has fickle weather.

If you are a photographer, choose a time when the tides are high and of course the breeding season from November to March is the best.

For families this is an idea destination. No one can fail to enjoy seeing the Magellanic Penguins.


Children and Magellanic Penguin


The boats are rigid inflatables which are comfortable, secure and safe for photographic equipment. There are two cruises to choose from, both very different.  Firstly into the estuary, around some small islands and alongside cliffs.

Darwin expeditions boat


The second cruise is out to Isla Pinguino.  This is a full day outing, but worth it, a bird paradise and one of the few places in South America where you can see the Rockhopper Penguin.


Pinguino island

Experiences like this are what make Puerto Deseado a great place to go bird watching.


Rockhopper Penguin


Rockhopper penguin in breeding plumage.