Author: Michael

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.

 

 

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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.

 

Beer

 

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.

Birds are the migrants that need our help.

 

Baird's sandpiper one of the migrants from Canada

 

Birds are the jewels of our global wildlife,they bring colour, sound and movement to our lives and need our protection in a world where we have depleted their environment.

 

Evolution has driven birds to migrate, in this sense they are migrants.

 

Another migrant wader, Black-tailed Godwits

 

Of the many families of birds, shorebirds are perhaps the least known. This is because they generally spend their lives in remote areas, away from people.  Their home, in the summer where they breed and where they spend the winter are usually different. Often thousands of miles apart and their innate need to travel between the two is their migration.

 

Enabling the birds to fly these enormous distances, between the breeding grounds and the wintering grounds are a series of important refueling stops.

 

Migrant birds often follow the coastline

 

These refueling stops are like oasis’s in an otherwise inhospitable desert.  Take away these oasis’s and the birds will die.

 

In South America there are about 12 families of shorebirds. This designation of birds is based on evolutionary and biological criteria and is highly scientific.

 

Another simpler way to group the species of shorebirds would be, as to how they migrate.

 

For instance the Andean Avocet moves very little. From lakes on the higher reaches of the Andes where they breed,  down several thousand feet to the lower and less harsh slopes for the winter.

 

Andean Avocet

 

In this same category would be the Two-banded Plover. Like the Andean Avocet they live only in South America and migrate short distances, more a seasonal movement than a long-distance migration.

 

Two-banded Plover

 

Two-banded Plover map;  breeding in southern Patagonia and wintering some short distance to the north

 

Another category of shorebirds would be those that do not breed in South America.  Instead they breed in North America and fly to South America for the winter. This gives them year round access to food.

 

Wilson's Phalarope

 

Birds in this category would include Sandpipers, the Red Knot and Wilson’s Phalarope and many other species.

 

Wilson's Phalaropes on migration

 

Wilson’s Phalaropes breed in the northwest of North America, on small lakes set in the Great plains amidst the Rocky Mountains.  In late summer they need to leave, as the winters are cold and the lakes freeze over.

They fly south, heading for South America.  En route they stop off at saline lakes.  Lakes such as Great Salt Lake in Utah, Lake Abert in Oregon, Goose Lake on the Oregon-California border, and the Lahontan Valley lakes in Nevada.  At these places they rest and feed for a few days. This enables them to store fat reserves in their muscles, the necessary fuel to continue their journey southwards, to Argentina and Chile for the winter.

 

 

Wintering sites (refueling stops)  such Los Pozuelos, San Antonio Oueste  and Mar Chaquita, all in Argentina, are vital for these species.

 

Birds are the migrants that need our help and everyone can do a little to help.  Helping can be as simple as joining the local or national conservation organisation. If you do not know if your country has one, look at Birdlife International

This is the story as to why we are  returning to Patagonia.

 

The ‘Tehuelches’ were one of the original peoples of Patagonia.

 

Tehuelche family

 

They lived undisturbed for many thousands of years. The ‘tehuelches’ roamed across the landscape of what is now the province of Santa Cruz. The land provided their living and the seasons dictated where and when to travel.

This is one of their stories and the reason why we are returning to Patagonia.

“During one of the many journeys the ‘Tehuelches’ made, in order to leave behind cold hard winters, Koneek, their ancient sorceress of the tribe, felt she could walk no further. They put up a tent for her and gave her what food they could, but not enough to last the winter. Koneek was left their, all be herself, the weather was bitter, the wind harsh, even the birds disappeared and left.

When the spring came, the sorceress accused the birds of leaving her alone and hungry. The birds told her they could not have stayed, as there was no food for them.

Koneek screamed  ‘from now on you may stay, I Koneek will be your food and shelter’ and with a roar she and the tent were blown away. Revealed in place of Koneek was a beautiful, thorny bush with yellow flowers, which mature into violet fruit, known as Calafate.

 

Calafate bush in Patagonia

 

Since then Koneeks spell makes all who eats the Calafate, come back to Patagonia.”

During our wanderings in the wilds of Patagonia we have eaten the fruit of Calafate, straight off the bush and its lovely.

 

Calafate bush in Patagonia

 

Many times we have had the tasty jam for breakfast on warm, home made bread.

 

Calafate jam on a table in Patagonia

 

and that’s why we will are returning to Patagonia!

 

 

 

 

What is the most powerful Owl in the Americas? it is is the Great Horned Owl. There are many reasons for this.

The feet of this owl are the size of a plate and when this silent hunter hits its prey, the extended talons do so with a force of a bone crushing thirty pounds

.

Talons of a Great Horned Owl

  • The Great Horned Owl breeds throughout much of North, Central and South America

The first time Paula and I saw a Great Horned Owl, was on its hunting territory on the Canadian prairies.  A landscape of wide open spaces and rolling hills, ideal for this large predator to hunt.

 

The first Great Horned Owl we saw was in the Canadian praries

  • The bird has been revered as an icon by the original peoples of those lands

    The Apache tribe especially, attributed to the bird mystic powers. Girls dared not venture outside the village at night when one was calling.

    Feathers of the owl inferred wisdom and luck and the birds feathers were prized additions to headdresses.

Original peoples costume

 

This same species breeds through much of the Americas, as far south as Argentina, where we have seen it several times.

Paula spotted this bird hidden away in the top of a tree in the Andean mountains close to Santiago, Chile.

 

Everyone likes Owls. This is one we saw in Chile

 

As soon as our Living Wild expedition moved further south into Patagonia we started to see a closely related bird, almost the same size – the Magellanic Horned Owl.

It was on a cliff, close to Puerto Deseado on the Atlantic coast, no doubt feeding on hares that were plentiful in the area, as well as skunks and snakes.

These Owls are aggressive and powerful hunters (sometimes known by the nickname of “tiger owl”).

The two species, the Great Horned and the Magellanic were once thought to be the same, but now are split into separate ones based on their different voice, size and genetics.

 

Horned Owl