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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Experiences like this are what make Puerto Deseado a great place to go bird watching.
Rockhopper penguin in breeding plumage.
Birds are the migrants that need our help.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Birds in this category would include Sandpipers, the Red Knot and Wilson’s Phalarope and many other species.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Many times we have had the tasty jam for breakfast on warm, home made bread.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
‘Out of this World’ landscapes are to be found in South America..
After the continent broke off from Africa 100 million years ago it floated as an isolated island across the surface of the earth. During this time the continent was subject to gigantic and cataclysmic events effecting the whole planet.
Specific to South America was the creation of the Andes mountains and the spectacular landscapes. No mountain chain on the planet has had such a dramatic effect upon the evolution of wildlife as the Andes has.
As the Andes rose up, the mountains altered the direction and force of both winds and ocean currents and the effect of these on the continent was the creation of both deserts and rainforests.
Before the Andes were formed the amazon basin was an inland sea. With the formation of the Andes the prevailing winds from the Atlantic were stopped from travelling westwards and deposited their rain on the eastern slopes of the mountains. Rivers which up to that time had flowed westwards now were diverted eastwards into the Amazon basin. Eventually the mighty Amazon waters broke through the eastern cordillera on what is now the coast of Brazil, to enter the Atlantic. The volume of water from the Andes was so great that annual flooding inundated huge swathes of land. The formation of the wonderful amazonian forest had begun.
The other rain forest, created by the Andes is called the Yungas rain forest and this occupies the extensive eastern slopes of the Andes from northern Argentina up to Columbia. This is an image of the Calilegua National Park in northern Argentina, an area where the ‘Living Wild in South America’ team has spent some time filming.
A secondary effect of the Andes, was the rain shadow formation on the western slopes of the Andes, in Chile. In rain shadow regions little or no rain falls and so here the Atacama desert developed.
The Andes were formed by the collision of two continental plates. This collision zone lies in the Pacific Ocean and runs parallel to the continent several hundred miles offshore. This created a massive trench miles deep and helped to drag cold water up from the Antarctic, the Humboldt current. Where this cold current meets the warm tropical current the effect is the formation of more rain clouds. These clouds are pushed eastwards by the prevailing winds off the Pacific, but the air currents off the hot dry Atacama forces the clouds up and over the Andes and leads to seasonal rains being deposited for a second time on the eastern slopes.
Much further south, in the temperate areas of Southern Chile, the prevailing winds off the Pacific are much stronger than the ones off the Atlantic. What happens in this area is the opposite to what happens in the semi-tropical north. The rain falls on the western side of the Andes creating the vast Valdivian rainforests, temperate rainforests (similar to those in the NE of the United States).
Whilst the east of the Andes is in the rainshadow, which has led to the vast arid desert lands of Patagonia.
So the great Andean mountains in South America have formed both deserts and rain forests.
We had a lunchtime fright, we heard a muffled scream and out from underneath a bush ran a Screaming Hairy Armadillo.
Its name is derived because it screams when it is threatened and has long flowing hairs along the flanks of the body.
The Screaming Hairy armadillo has 18 bands of which six to eight are movable bands.
The Armadillos are a very ancient group of animals, alive when the dinosaurs roamed the earth and could be called a ‘living fossil’.
Here are a few of my favorite 16 x 9 widescreen images, mostly landscape photographs.
Newer televisions and computer monitors have an aspect ratio of 16:9, which gives a perfect fit for high definition television. Since we owned one, we have been impressed with the 16 x 9 Widescreen images.
Most DSLR cameras shoot in the most common aspect ratio of 4:3. Though a lot of newer consumer cameras shoot in 16:9
The 16:9 aspect ratio is a product of movie producers.They wanted to find a way to make their movies bigger and better in order to attract more customers.
The widescreen format of the 16:9 aspect ratio also allows viewers to see a bigger picture when compared to the old 4:3 aspect ratio. In addition, the 16:9 aspect ratio also enhances the quality of the image by allowing for bolder backdrops and scenery.
However many photography clubs still like exhibition prints to be in 5×7 or 8 x10 ratios. If you want to print to this standard you still need to shoot in a 4:3 aspect ratio.
I rarely print photographs now but am looking at my images every day on my widescreen monitor.
Recently I have started to crop my 4:3 images to a 16 x 9 size so that I can better see them on our T.V. and I love it.
I have started to go back through old images and look at them in a 16 x 9 format and wonder why I didn’t do it years ago.
They look so much better, the 16:9 aspect ratio gets rid of ‘ dead space’ in the image.
Raptors are birds of prey.
They are the hunters of the skies. The soaring shapes between the clouds, that suddenly burst out of the heavens and plummet down towards a chosen victim.
They are the secret wraiths of the forest, leaf hidden and watching, waiting for the moment they spy their prey. Swiftly through the branches with the ease of a bullet and gone, they excite the senses, that’s why I love raptors.
There are less predators than prey, a rule of nature. Like kings and queens, presidents and emperors they rule the smaller beings, they rule the skies.
There is no half measures with raptors. I love raptors because like emperors, they are both magnificent and graceful.
They cut a dash.
For the Inca, that dark spot present over the highest peaks, found close to a kill, was a semi-god.
The Condor messenger that took the souls of the dead to heaven.
Kites have been associated with scavengers, but these scavengers are the hyenas of the skies, alert and powerfully strong, waiting their chance.
Harriers hunt with stealth, a low-level attacker, with the agility to drop vertically out of the sky. Buoyant in flight they drift low as if they were a very part of the grass.
Falcons are smart, compact raptors. Swift as darts, that strike as lightening does, sudden and dramatic.
Paula and I were driving slowly through the dry Chaco scrub, in-between Paraguay and Argentina. I spotted a white flash and bird alighted on a distant tree and looking at it through binoculars its dark eye patches were reminiscent of an Owl.
We looked at each other for five minutes. The bird did not move, I did not move.
Our spirits joined for a moment and the bird flicked its tail, lifted off and settled much closer.
Still we stared, locked into an ageless search for understanding.
I knew it was a falcon, blinked, and it was gone, into the forest, laughing as it flew, absorbed into the green cloak of cover.
That’s why, I love raptors.
Perhaps the bird with the biggest bill in South America, for its size, is the Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper.
There are 52 species of Woodcreepers, they live only in South and Central America and are essentially sub-tropical woodland birds.
Paula and I were able to film and photograph this beautiful bird feeding on the ground in the Copo National Park in Argentina. We also watched it as it climbed a tree. Its long toes and stiff tail enabled it to do this with ease. Using its amazingly long de-curved bill it probed into a bromeliad plant and extracted what looked like an insect.
Then one day we found a Red-billed Scythbill and knew that THAT, compared to the size of the birds body, was the bird with the biggest bill in the world.
The long de-curved bill allows the bird to hunt where the other birds with a shorter bill cannot reach for food. Once the prey is caught in the bill tip, it throws back the head and drops the food into its mouth.
Deserts are not barren places, the wildlife is limited, specialised and just as beautiful as anywhere else in the World. This is about the Desert mammals of Argentina and Chile.
Deserts are arid lands that have little or no water.
The location of South America between the two great oceans of the world, the 6000km length of the Andes and the direction of the prevailing winds creates the deserts in both Chile and Argentina.
In Chile the desert is called the Atacama. This is a true desert, 600 miles long where very little, or no water, has fallen for 100 years or more.
In Argentina the desert is very different. In the north of the country and spreading down the middle is an area of arid lands, known as the Monte desert.
Whereas further south are the arid lands of the windswept plains of Patagonia.
The mammals to be found in these deserts are unique to South America, most are rodents, but then half of all the mammal species found in the whole of South America are rodents.
They are very difficult to identify, scientists usually have to catch them in order to do so.
We are wildlife photographers and getting shots like these is a delight.
The ‘Living Wild in South America’ expeditions have camped in all of these deserts and seen many different looking ‘guinea-pig like’ mammals.
The most common is the Tuco-tuco, which is a type of gopher. Like gophers in North America they burrow underground and their tell-tale mounds of earth are to be seen commonly.
Another is the Mountain Viscacha, as big as a medium sized dog. They are difficult to find as they remain motionless, hidden among boulders and rocks, at the last moment they will emit a sharp whistle and bound over the rocks as effortlessly as a gymnast. They seem to almost fly through the air using their long tails to keep balance. They look like big rabbits but they are really rodents.
The large mammals are dominated by two Camelids, the Guanaco and the Vicuna.
The Guanaco was domesticated by a number of indigenous peoples over thousands of years, the domesticated animal is called the Llama and was used as the beast of burden, transporting goods back and forth over the Andes.
To cope with the harsh and variable climates they encounter throughout their broad distribution, guanacos have developed physiological adaptations that allow them to respond quickly to changes in environmental conditions. By adjusting their body position, for example, individuals can “open” or “close” thermal windows—areas of very thin wool located in their front and rear flanks—in order to vary the amount of exposed skin available for heat exchange with the environment.
On the other hand the Vicuna is a small, slender, elegant animal of little use to carry goods. However the wool of the Vicuna is so fine, light and waterproof that it is highly valued by local people and goes to make woollens sought after by the world’s rich and famous.
Wildlife lovers and wildlife photographers should visit these amazing deserts, and if you want a good read on deserts, the best book I’ve read is ‘A Desert Calling’ by Michael Mares.
Our journey into Argentina’s flooded forest came about by accident. We intended to go to Paraguay but recent heavy rains had caused serious flooding of rivers and roads and we could not get access into the country.
Instead we headed west and explored the Formosa province in the north of Argentina.
We followed the river Pilcomayo, the boundary between Paraguay and Argentina. The Pilcomayo drains the vast and luxuriant eastern slopes of the Andes in Bolivia. It then flows thousands of miles south east before joining an even greater river, the Paraguay. In the 1920s, the Pilcomayo broke its banks and inundated hundreds of square miles, including a great forest. This is now Argentina’s flooded forest, called the Banado La Estrella.
The new wetland gradually killed most of the Quebracho and other native trees. To-day all that remains of this leafy kingdom are skeletons of bleached timbers thrusting into the sky, an eerie, but hauntingly beautiful forest.
The dead and dying trees have become festooned with climbing water plants making them the ideal hiding places for Yellow Anaconda snakes. The only trees still living are the Palms and even those are now starting to die.
We were able to drive along tortuous muddy tracks to one of the isolated indigenous villages that skirt the wetland and camp close to the village where the following morning a local man took us out in his canoe.
The shallow depth of the water and the profusion of aquatic plant life meant that the man used a long pole to punt us through the myriad of narrow channels.
All around, hungry looking eyes were upon us, long snouts occasionally piercing the surface, Caiman heaven.
Argentina’s flooded forest surrounded us. As the man pushed hard on the pole, the canoe moved through the open channels, the slow pulsing of the boat making it easier for Paula to film the wildlife that we saw.
Newly-weds Pamela and Paul visited the mighty Iguazu waterfalls for their honeymoon, but they didn’t expect honeymoon butterflies.
Neither did they expect to meet Paula and I.
Pamela and Paul were both keen photographers, so we had plenty to talk about.
The Iguazu waterfalls are magnificent, the landscape and the thunderous noise of the water assails every sense.
In such a place it’s not easy to be alert to nature’s smaller creatures, but butterflies are special.
These airborne jewels bedazzle and beguile and Pamela was captivated, these were good ‘Honeymoon Butterflies’.
Butterfles are delicate, fragile and a kaleidoscope of colour, but in nature all things are connected.
Butterflies help pollinate the flowers and trees close to the river. The trees will flourish , protect and cleanse the flowing river and the water is necessary for everyone.
These are the best honeymoon butterflies.
The Gaucho is to be found in Argentina. The Cowboy is to be found in the North American West. Both these characters have permeated the social history of the regions and both are surrounded in mythology which perpetuates their existence.
As we drive the tracks and trails through Argentina, we meet up with Gauchos in the most remote areas. Often driving cattle or horses, the Gaucho is rarely alone, travelling together is safer in the wide open parries and they are usually accompanied by dogs.
The Gaucho arose to hunt and capture the huge herds of horses and cattle that roamed the plains of the pampas.
The Gauchos of the Chaco region have to contend with dense thorny scrub so they and their horses are heavily protected with thick leathery hides.
Originally of mixed European and Indian ancestry the Gauchos were know as mestizos.
Tools of their trade always included a knife and a steel sharpener tucked into their wide leather belt.
In the 21st century modern industrialized cattle rearing means the once extensive estancias now require people who understand computers, DNA blood-lines and genetics, not the bolas and lasso.
The Gauchos life on the windswept plains, rounding-up and driving cattle, of night-time fires and drinking mate is coming to a close. The Gaucho will soon be a shadow.
The thieves of Iguazu lie in wait for people who visit the wonderful waterfalls that straddle the border of Argentina and Brazil.
The thieves of Iguazu are furry and cute looking, they are Coatis and they are thieves.
Their ploy is wait, concealed in the undergrowth around the visitor trails, until they see a group of people. When the people are close, a couple of animals will appear and often the visitors are delighted to see them, children ‘coo‘ and adults ‘ahh‘.
Close to restaurants, cafes and sitting areas, the visitors may get from their bags some food or buy a drink and a snack at the cafe and that’s what the thieves of Iguazu have been waiting for, they pounce.
With the sounds from the rustling of paper or the opening of a bag, the Coatis rush from their concealment. Ten or more of the animals will surround the people, inspecting bags, jumping onto the backs of chairs or the tops of tables, even climbing onto prams. The Coatis are after food and they are crafty thieves.
So, if you visit the Iguazu waterfalls, which are absolutely, stunningly beautiful, please no not feed and animals.
If you have children do not allow them to walk around with Ice creams or a bag of sweets as the Coatis will try to steal it.
That way you will enjoy your visit to one of the great natural wonders of the World.
Large soft eyes make a female blush.
But for frogs they are not intended to.
They need them as they don’t have flexible necks and as their eyes protrude, giving them almost 360 degree vision, so the eyes seem huge compared to the size of the animal.
Don’t underestimate frogs, they can see in colour and can see the smallest of movements.
This frog is called Alsodes montanus and lives in the fresh unpolluted streams flowing down the western slopes of the Andes, where the surrounding vegetation is Mediterranean scrub.
The ‘Living Wild in South America’ expedition into Chile found the frog, an example of the rare wildlife to be found in the central part of the country.
Unfortunately the species is threatened. Central Chile is where the majority of the population live and many streams are polluted.
South Americas second biggest bird in is the Jabiru, a huge stork like bird.
They are a common wetland bird in the Pantanal, which is where most birdwatchers see them in South America.
Paula and I have seen them in a number of locations in Northern Argentina but nowhere more numerous than in the Banado La Estrella in Northern Formosa province.
Banado La Estrella is a vast marshland which has seasonal inundations when the river Pilcomajo bursts its banks. During the very hot summer the water dries out and its at those times that many fish lie stranded and die.
That’s the time when the Jabiru clean up the thousands of rotting fish, doing a great job of ridding the environment of harmful bacteria and the potential for disease.
We really do have the World in our hands.
Mankind can do almost anything.
and an individual can do almost everything he or she puts their mind to.
We have the World in our hands, so in this New Year of 2017 let’s all try to be a little kinder to the planet, both the people who live on it and the wildlife that we unfairly share our space with.
We have the World in our hands so this New Year lets care for the well being of our children and teach them to love and understand.
“In the end we will conserve only what we will love,
we will only love what we understand,
and we will understand only what we are taught”
A Very Happy and Peaceful Year Ahead