Photo Blog

6th November 2016

Patagonia at last

Patagonia at last.

 

We have arrived in Patagonia, an area of Argentina that we have been trying to get to for two years.

 

The reason why it has taken us so long, is that the other parts of Argentina have been so good. The people have been wonderfully friendly, the wildlife outstanding and the landscapes have ‘blown us away’ – much as they are doing here in Patagonia.

 

Up until a few months ago we were aiming to travel in Patagonia to birdwatch, to film and photograph the wildlife as before. Specifically to continue with our main project to discover why there are so many bird species in South America.

 

But, just before we left the UK, a request from Aves Argentinas, (the pre-eminent bird conservation NGO in the country) changed our plans. We we asked if we wanted to make to make a film about one of South America’s rarest birds, the Hooded Grebe.

 

We said YES, so here we are in Patagonia.

 

Patagonia at last.

paula-1 Here Paula is hanging on to the car so she isn’t carried away by the ferocious wind.

 

ield-station-1We are staying in a remote biological field station, three hours from the nearest village.

 

plateau-1and are working with some great people who are helping us a lot.

 

hooded-grebes-1

AND we have seen our first Hooded Grebes, a pair. They were displaying to each other on a lake that was quite low down, not on the high plateaux where they breed.

 

We watched the pair of birds all afternoon. They were mixed in with Red Shoveler and Silvery Grebes.

 

The following morning we returned and they were gone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

30th October 2016

Best three prickly places

Hedgehogs are prickly, some people are too.  The best three prickly places we’ve been to are all in the coastal desert of Chile and that is perhaps the best place in the world for cacti.

Copiapoa cinerea, coastal Atacama desert, Chile.

We had never imagined a landscape full of Cacti, but that was before we had set off on the ‘Living Wild in South America’ expeditions. The Americas are the global stronghold for cacti and the map shows the best tree areas to find them.

 

 

 

Atacama coastal desert stretching down to the sea near Paposo, Chile.

One of the most prickly places in South America is the Paposo area.

Paposo is a small village on the north coast of Chile, about 50 km north of Taltal and some 200 km south of Antofagasta. Along this coastal strip the Atacama desert reaches down to the sea. Here the stony ground is brushed by the coastal fogs or ‘camanchaca‘ which generates just enough moisture to sustain a splendid floral landscape of cacti.

 

Coastal desert near paposo, Chile.

Some of the more abundant types of cacti are those belonging to the Copiapoa, as can be seen in this picture.

 

Copiapoa cinerea, coastal Atacama desert, Chile.

This is Copiapoa cinerea, a rare and vulnerable species.

 

camp-1

 

Paula and I  first travelled through this area of Chile in February 2015, shortly afterwards El Nino brought heavy rain and flooding to many places in northern Chile. So we returned in October in the hope of seeing the desert in flower

 

landscape-1

In October the desert was much greener and some plants were even flowering.  It wasn’t the mass of flowers that we expected but it did show us the real effect that rain has on this ‘prickly landscape’.

landscape e-1

 

 

16th October 2016

Screamer of a bird

The Southern Screamer is a real screamer of a bird and found only in South America.

It looks like a goose and its closest living relative is the Australian Magpie goose.  This is not surprising as millions of years ago the continents of Australia and South America were joined.

For the nature and wildlife lover the Ibera Marshes in the Corrientes province of Argentina, is a ‘must go ‘ location. As for birds, there are over 300 species and birdwatchers flock to the area to see them.

 

S Screamer head-1

Southern Screamers have huge feet and can swim well. We found them fairly common in the Ibera Marshes of Argentina.

 

Southern Screamers in territorial dispute.Ibera Marshes, Argentina.

This image shows a territorial display, the birds love having control of a tree, bush or prominent perch from which they can emit their loud and penetrating call, an emblematic and evocative sound of the marsh a true Screamer of a bird. (Click on Screamer to hear it for yourself!)

Many travel companies operate tours to Ibera. For the specialist wildlife photographer or birdwatcher these tours can be linked to other notable places to visit. Ibera marshes are in the NE of Argentina and so is the internationally famous Iguacu Falls, which is further NE on the border with Brazil. Between the two lie the Atlantic rain forests, one of the most threatened forest environments in the world and full of endemic wildlife.  You can fly from Buenos Aires to Posadas and hire a car for yourself or use a local tour company.

The Northern access point to Ibera is from Ituzaingo.  This is a delightful town and is the base for Turismo Diversidad , an English speaking tour company which specialises in wildlife and bird tours.

 

 

9th October 2016

Caravans of the Andes

For thousands of years the Andean people relied upon one type of animal as their means of transport. All their goods being transported by this one haughty beast, the Guanaco, which formed the ‘Caravans of the Andes’.

Guanaco-6

This ungainly and spitting beast took the place of the horse as the continent’s beast of burden.

 

Llama

 

Over the thousands of years the indigenous peoples of the Andes domesticated the Guanaco into a slightly more amenable and much more useful animal, the Llama.

Whilst the Llama will not allow itself to be ridden it had the capacity and strength to carry goods and for the people living in the high Andes this made the animal valuable.  The Incas used the droppings from the Llama and Guanaco to fertilise their crops.  ‘Caravans of the Andes’ made up of Llamas would transport potatoes, maize,wool and salt from the Altiplano west to the coast and east to the lower lands, the forests and dry deserts. On their return journeys, the Llamas would carry fish and seafood from the coast or feathers, tobacco,wood and honey from the lowlands in the east.

The entire economy of the Andean peoples relied upon the Llama, whist the milk, meat and wool from the animal directly sustained them in their harsh and mountainous environment.

There is a special place in northern Chile where these ‘caravans’ congregated.  It is thought that hundreds of ‘caravans’ would converge on this place particularly at fiesta times. Not only was this a great market it was also a stock exchange of promises and plans. Families would unite, marriages proposed, debts settled and no doubt revenge sought after.

 

Paula and I were travelling through the Atacama desert.  We were returning from an expedition to Peru, part of a ‘Living Wild in South America’ filming and photographic project.

We saw up on the distant hills, patterns and shapes,  so we investigated. This was the Salar de Pintados near to Iquique.  These patterns could be seen from all directions, signposts in the sky. Thousands of years ago caravans of tradesmen, merchants, families from throughout the Andes may have journeyed here and the animal that would have sustained them would have been their Llamas.

 

29th September 2016

Guinea pigs bigger than dogs

Guinea pigs bigger than dogs ? then welcome to South America where the World’s largest rodent a close relative of the guinea pig is the Capybara.

It is both bigger and, weighing in at 60kg, heavier than most large dogs.  So South America has Guinea pigs bigger than dogs.

The Capybara is a vegetarian and lives most of its life in water, so this ‘guinea pig’ is more like a South American ‘hippo’.

Capybara with Cattle Tyrant.
Capybara with Cattle Tyrant.

The Ibera marshes of NE Argentina are 100 miles long and 60 miles wide.

It is a mosaic of wetlands interspersed with wooded islands and floating plant life.

This is ‘hippo heaven’.  The ‘Living Wild in South America’ expedition entered the area and we wanted to find this ‘guinea pig’ type animal and surprisingly had no trouble doing so.

 

There are few tracks that cross this immense waterscape but even in the remotest parts, Capybara are so numerous they almost become a nuisance.

To pass them, we would have to get out of our truck and herd them to one side.

 

Paula-1

As for filming them, this was no problem!

 

 

 

 

18th September 2016

Amazing South America expedition

It has been over two years since we started our amazing South American expedition.

Check-out this map as it shows where we have been.

Some people can go round the World in two years, we don’t, because we move slowly and because we move slowly, the more we see, the longer we have to talk to people and the easier it is to get good photographs.

 

South America

We will continue to travel, through blizzards, mud, electric storms and floods, but we love every minute.

 

Manu Road

We have traveled through the forested Peruvian mountains.

 

Hooded Mountain Tanager

In the Andes we have found many of its special birds like this Hooded Mountain Tanager.

 

Jaguar

 

We will continue to visit and encouraged many conservation projects, such as the Jaguar Re-introduction project in Corrientes.

 

 

Juan, Matias &

We meet many inspiring people such as Juan  working to protect the Yellow Anaconda snake in marshlands of Formosa.

 

track through Ibera marshes-1

 

Soon we depart for our fifth expedition, follow our exploits on our website which always shows you where we are.

The roads we take are small.  We know they will lead us to unknown places, lovely people and wildlife.

 

 

 

 

5th September 2016

Landscape photography

The “Living Wild in South America” expeditions love landscape photography .

We have been working ‘in the field’ for over a year, in Argentina,Chile and Peru.

We have carried our equipment through humid forests, along gale blown cliffs and across hot deserts, but the most inspiring area for landscape photography has been the high Andes.

All these images, except the last, were taken at between 11,000 and 14,000 ft. At such heights where the air is thin, breathing is sometimes difficult.  This means that you have to use a tripod as your breathing is so laboured, it causes camera shake.  The lack of oxygen means that you have to go slowly, there is no hurrying at that altitude.

The air is usually crystal clear, but the weather is fickle and storms are common.

An inspiring place for a photographer but a really tough and challenging environment.

These six images will trace an imaginary journey from the Argentinian Chaco, over the great Andes mountains and down to the Pacific coast of Chile. All were taken with a Canon D6 camera and 18-55mm lens, always on a tripod and sometimes using a polarizing filter . The images have been developed in Lightroom with hardly any alteration except for the use of black and white sliders and cropping.

 

Storm on the Puna, susques, Argentina.

Travelling from Argentina, the foothills rise gradually, winding roads, some only tracks, twist and double back on themselves. Tall cacti are scattered across the thorny scrub and rock, dried up river beds lie sullen, like a serpent waiting to be woken.

The next time you look, the vegetation is much sparser, the cacti have gone and the land is flatter, this is the Puna, the historic and cultural home of the Andean people.

As we set up camp the sky turned ominous, thunderous rumbles echoing through the hills. Storms encircled us and lightning flashed from all directions.  That night we got very wet!

 

 

Desert in the high Andes-1

Higher still and you reach the Altiplano where there is almost no vegetation. This is a dry, arid land, sculptured by the wind. Two days prior it had snowed and small scatterings of snow were still visible.

 

A freezing morning with Andean Flamingoes on the Chilean altiplano.

We cross over a high Andean pass into Chile.  The Andes are one of the most volcanic parts of the planet.  We camped close to this spot and early in the morning found a small group of Chilean Flamingos unable to move, as their feet were frozen into thin ice on the lake.

After several hours in my photographic hide, thawing out my own fingers took some time too!

 

Absolute desert, Atacama, Chile. The phrase "absolute desert" describes the barrenness found once one moves down from the mountains into the Atacama Desert. "Below about 3,000 meters in altitude, plants become so widely spaced that they disappear from the landscape.

Gradually descending downwards from the Chilean Puna we enter the Atacama desert.  At 600 miles long and up to 200 miles wide, the Atacama is the driest place on earth and a dangerous place for the unwary.  It is a strange place, which we found difficult to photograph to our satisfaction.

 

Atacama

See what I mean?  Much of the Atacama is like this, flat, barren, devoid of anything. One afternoon I decided that was exactly what I should photograph, so I walked off and left Paula staring into the distance.  This is now one of our favourite photographs, we call it ‘Lost in a landscape’.

 

coastal desert-1

Finally we reached the Pacific coast of Chile, where the Atacama desert meets the Pacific Ocean. This coastal desert is a narrow strip of land which receives mist off the Pacific. This unique fog is called the Camanchaca and provides just enough moisture to sustain a sparse but cactus rich vegetation.

 

4th September 2016

Three tips to improve Low Light photography

These three tips to improve Low Light photography are going to improve your images, irrespective of the equipment you use.

However if you have a full-frame sensor or you shoot in Raw, not jpeg, your results will be even better.

It is also worth remembering that our eyes are far better than our cameras. Our eyes see a much broader range of light, called ‘dynamic range‘.

The term ‘Low Light’ covers a huge range of different situations.  My definition here is to say that it means undertaking photography before the sun has risen or after it has set.  At these times there is no direct sunlight at all and this is when photography is fun and challenging and can provide you with your VERY BEST shots of the day.

The two problems that confound photographers achieving a good result in conditions of low light are, (a) blurry out of focus images and (b) lots of ‘noise‘ spoiling the overall look of the picture.

Out of focus images are generally not what people want and there is little you can do to correct it. Noisy images are a fact of life in digital photography but there is a lot software available to help you minimize it, in post-production.

Three tips to improve Low Light photography – Tip no 1

Use a tripod. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this.  Using a tripod is a fundamental ‘building block’ of good photography and specially low light work. You don’t have to have a big heavy tripod, any tripod is better than no tripod.

 

Three tips to improve low light photography – Tip no 2

Set your camera to a high shutter speed and this depends on the lens that is fitted. For instance for a 24mm lens, a shutter speed of at least 1/50th is necessary.  For a 300mm lens, a minimum of 1/200th is required.  To achieve a higher speed you will have to decrease the aperture, this will allow more light into the camera. So taking the aperture from f 16 to f 5.6 will be a positive improvement.

 

Three tips to improve low light photography – Tip No 3

Increase your ISO

This is where having a full-frame camera is a big advantage as it has a larger sensor. On a full frame camera you will get good results with an ISO of 2000, whereas on an equivalent crop frame camera at the same speed, the ISO will be no higher than ISO 800.  The lower your ISO the lower your speed. A rule of thumb is ‘ doubling the ISO, doubles your speed, but doubles the noise’ a tricky conundrum. The skill comes from knowing what you want to achieve from a photograph and making the appropriate decisions in setting your camera

 

low light 1-1

ISO 2000,  f3.2, 1/800th sec

In this pre-dawn shot I wasn’t bothered about the out of focus background, inevitable with an f3.2 aperture. I wanted a sharp flying bird, but not too much noise so an ISO of 2000 was not ridiculously high and it gave me a speed that just made it possible to get a good photograph. This combination of settings would not have been successful without a tripod.

 

 

 

 

 

 

21st August 2016

Smartphones and Butterflies!

Butterflies and smartphones have a lot in common.

We explored a trail, winding through the dark, dense and damp forest. Moss hung from the trees, bromeliads and orchids festooning their trunks and branches.  Then we stopped and looked in awe, before us the evergreen leaves were covered with what seemed like a mist, making it difficult for us to focus on what was there.  This was no ethereal mist, we were seeing butterflies, millions of butterflies, suspended on every leaf and twig from knee height to tree-top level and the slightest touch on a branch or leaf would send a storm of wings fluttering upwards as they moved position.

On close inspection we found that we could look through their wings.  These were the amazing Glasswing butterflies!  We didn’t know when they had arrived, we didn’t know why there were so many or what they were doing!  These questions we were unable to answer, but often with wildlife, just seeing them was enough.  It was a special moment and by the next day not one was to seen, they had vanished as quickly as they had appeared, a rain forest secret.

Paula and I were ‘Living Wild’ in Calilegua National Park in the NW of Argentina. We were there to find birds in the Southern Yungas rainforest, a habitat for which this National Park is famous but instead had found these amazing butterflies.

 

Glasswing butterflies (Greta sp.) NW Argentina, October

In a dark temperate rain forest, bright shiny objects are noticed easily. The sunlight that does penetrate the canopy pierces the foliage with spear-like brilliance, reflecting again and again off the waxy green leaves. Butterflies are abundant, black ones with red spots, white ones with blue streaks, every colour combination imaginable.

Evolution pushes experimentation as the genes mutate to trial new ways to survive. Instead of being one of many multi-coloured butterflies, a strategy to experiment with invisibility was worthwhile, for over the millenia this family of butterflies has achieved a cloak of virtual invisibility.

For this invisibility to succeed they needed the membrane of scales that makes a butterfly wing to be non-reflective and accordingly scientists have found that the Glasswing butterfly wing does just that.  The wing surface is not only much less reflective than a sheet of clear glass but also has the capability to suppress infrared and ultraviolet light, the two wavelengths most used by birds and amphibians in detecting prey species.  Transparent wings are really all about the play of light and shadow, this makes sense as Clearwings usually inhabit the lower parts of tropical forests characterized by alternating shadows and shafts of bright light.

To us the surface of the wing of a Glasswing butterfly is flat and smooth but seen using an electron microscope the surface is a chaos of peaks and troughs.  This means light is not reflected back but passes through the surface and refracted. Birds and other predators are confused, they cannot see the insect as it darts and manoeuvres through the forest.

Nano technologists have taken this marvel of nature and incorporated the same technology into the screen of smartphones.  So when you are walking down the high street on a sunny day and you can see the messages on your screen so well – thank the Glasswing butterflies for that.

 

 

 

18th August 2016

A Tiger like Heron

Names of animals are fascinating, especially those of birds. There is a heron that lives in Argentina. It has a beautiful plumage, tan and black with orange and white patterning, the colours of dried grasses waving in the wind.  A Tiger like Heron, called the  Rufescent Tiger-heron.

Rufescent Tiger heron stalking through long grass, Argentina.

As the heron stalks through its marshland home it is easy to spot in the open but when the bird is amongst the reeds and sedges, it is camouflaged perfectly.

 

Heron flight-1

When it flies it shows its chequered markings superbly.  It is no wonder that so many birdwatchers visit South America to see birds as magnificent as the Rufescent Tiger Heron.

These photographs are of Juveniles.  Often in nature it is the juveniles or females that are better camouflaged. The reasons being that juveniles of most species are less equipped to look after and defend themselves, they need to hide more often. It is usual for females to incubate eggs and remain hidden whilst on the nest.

One can also understand why it has ‘Tiger‘ in its name.

 

Tiger-1

 

Adults will sometimes adopt other strategies.

 

Rufescent Tiger-Heron looking like a piece of fallen tree in an endeavour to catch frogs. Ibera Marshes, Argentina.

This adult Rufescent Tiger-heron is quite differently plumaged, with rich chestnut and white stripes down its throat.  For adults and especially males, plumage and colouration is  more connected with the need to display to females or threaten other males.

Many herons and egrets also stand motionless in reeds to mimic the vertical lines and shapes of the marsh vegetation. Camouflage also helps an animal catch prey, much like the Tiger.

It’s a born hunter, a tiger like heron.

11th August 2016

Is the Toyota Hilux the best 4×4

What vehicle would you choose, we choose the Toyota Hilux.

 

Paula and the Toyota

The Living Wild in South America overland expedition is currently operating in Argentina and Chile. The vehicle we use is the Toyota Hilux, one of the most durable and rugged 4×4 trucks in the world. We  are wildlife photographers and film makers, every day is an adventure.  The car needs to be up to the challenge!

 

hg-1

We have a lot of equipment for overland travel such as generators, tow ropes and car spares. For our  wildlife photography and filming we have cameras, tripods, sound recording equipment and hides.  Then there is our personal clothes and sleeping bags, rucksacks and even lightweight tents for trekking, a lot of stuff – so we have removed the rear seat and this is where our gear is stored.

 

Toyota Hilux

On the Toyota Hilux truck we have fitted a 4-wheel pop-up camper.  This was imported from California and this is where we sleep, eat and work.

Travelling overland in the wilderness of South America, across the Andes, means that we go off-road.  Rivers, sand dunes and rocks need negotiating so we need 4×4 capability.  Sometimes this is a daunting task but one that is made easier knowing that we are driving a reliable vehicle.  The Hilux model is even made in Argentina so that’s to our advantage too.

Everywhere we travel in South America the Hilux is the most wanted, most driven, most seen off-road car.

Is the Toyota Hilux the best 4×4, we think so.

 

 

7th August 2016

Biggest cactus in the World

Travelling through NW Argentina and up towards the magical Puna, the foothills of the Andes where the air is thin, we encounter an incredible landscape.

Cardon landscape -1

This is  the Los Cardones National Park, 600 sq miles of high altitude semi-desert, taking its name from the wonderful Cardon Cactus, the biggest cactus in the world.

Cardon cactus

Although this is a desert, night time temperatures frequently drop below freezing and on rare occasions it even snows. For a week, our ‘Living Wild in South America’ expedition stayed in the area studying the high desert wildlife.

The natural history is specialized, the plants extraordinary and  the landscape stark and beautiful.  Dominating the scene is the majestic Cardon, standing proudly above the low vegetation.

The Cardon Cactus is slow growing and long lived, the one pictured above is probably 250 years old.

The Cactus has deep fleshy lobes separated by grooves running its length. This way it greatly enlarges its surface area and so enables it to catch more sunlight and therefore produce more Chlorophyll., the energy creator of all plants.

 

Young Cardon cactus growing in the protection of a Larrea bush, Los Cardones National Park, Argentina.

The first 10 years is most critical for the young cactus. Its skin is thin and tender and requires shelter from both the intense cold and the strong midday sun.

A young cactus will only grow and develop in the shelter of a Larrea, otherwise called the creosote bush.

This low spiky plant is a vital part of Cactus eco-system, without which the Cardon could not grow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

31st July 2016

Snails are yummy!

Why is there a hole in one of these shells?

Snail shells to show how the snail kite ahas punctured the shell to extract the snail

We found them alongside a small lake while we were bird watching in the Ibera marshes, Argentina. The area was teaming with wildlife, herons, egrets and a great freshwater reptile, called a Caiman.

 

Snail Kite, Ibera Marshes.

But this is the bird that was responsible.  The Snail Kite finds freshwater snails are yummy and so they comprise a large proportion of its diet.

The bird is highly specialized. It sees the snail under the water, hovers and dives down, grips it with its very long talons and flies to a perch. Then using its sharp and scimitar like bill, it punctures a hole in the thin shell and by dexterous twists and turns pulls out the snail and eats it.

The Snail Kite feeds exclusively on snails and being a freshwater specialist is always likely to find itself prone to habitat loss, but currently the Snail Kite has a large range and is not threatened.

… and I thought only the French eat snails.

28th July 2016

What is Americas most successful predator ?

Apart from man, the American Kestrel could be considered as the most successful vertebrate predator in the Americas. Its breeding range extends from Arctic Canada down almost to Tierra del Fuego, an amazing 13,000 miles.

American Kestrel and moon-1

Every birdwatcher in America will have seen this bird and even those who do not consider themselves birdwatchers, but are generally interested in wildlife, will also have seen a Kestrel.  This diminutive predator loves to perch in prominent places and has the habit of ‘hovering‘ in flight.

These habits make the bird easy to spot.  If you want to encourage a child to be interested in nature and wildlife, this is a good bird to start with. On long road journeys as a kid, my dad used to get us all to count them as we drove along.

 

Female American Kestrel
Female American Kestrel

Throughout their enormous range the kestrel has developed into seventeen sub-species, each one geographically separated from the other. To be successful an animal needs to be flexible in where it lives and what it feeds on and the American Kestrel has been great at doing that. They feed on small rodents and insects and so in those areas where intensive agriculture predominates, particularly where chemicals are used, kestrels do not do well.

They breed mostly in trees but are equally at home on the ledges of high rise urban blocks or old buildings in the countryside.  The American Kestrel is even expanding its range and taking advantage of deforestation in various parts of its range such as Amazon. This is one animal that is a 21st century winner.

24th July 2016

Children amazed by wildlife

Yavi Chico, the northernmost school in Argentina.

Paula at Yavi Chico primary school-1

We parked close to the village school and stayed a few days. During that time we were invited into the school several times and joined them at mealtimes.  For Argentina this was a poor area, so the school supplied the children with three meals a day.

Paula at Yavi Chico school-1

We entertained the teachers and children by showing them presentations about our work, where we come from and about the culture of Great Britain. Finally we shared with them our images of the amazing nature and wildlife of Argentina.

 

Maize in basket-1

The staple crop grown in the area is maize and so the school was famous for developing its entire curriculum around the important maize plant. Maths, geography, art and craft lessons all focused on maize.

 

Children pond dipping-1

We took the children and their teachers out for a nature walk.  The kids played in a pond, the concept of pond dipping to see wildlife was entirely new to them.

 

Aegla crayfish-1

They were amazed when they caught a freshwater crayfish.

Argentina has a wonderful and valuable wildlife, generally under valued by its people, but this is no different from most places in the world.

What we aim to show children, is the wonder of nature and the valuable role wildlife plays in protecting their surroundings.  Hopefully then, the children will grow up to appreciate the importance of the wildlife where they live.

 

 

21st July 2016

El Niño bird

The livelihoods of many birds change with the wind and sea currents, especially in an El Niño year.

The 1998 El Niño was the strongest recorded in the 20th Century.  Consequently the marine life of the Humboldt Current plummetted and so did the fortunes of many birds and marine mammals, particularly the numerous Guanay Cormorant, a threatened bird of Chile and Peru.

 

Guanay Cormorant populations are declining. In the 1970s the anchovy stocks crashed, this has improved a little. Consumption of birds perhaps represents the biggest current threat with around 20,000 birds taken each year in Northern Peru, Band-tailed Gulls are an incresing predator of eggs.

This bird was once dubbed ‘the most valuable bird in the world’ on account of the millions of tonnes of nitrogen rich guano exported from its breeding grounds, during the 19th century.

The El-Niño PhenomenonThe Guanay Cormorant feeds almost exclusively on anchovy, which require the cold water seas of the Humboldt. In El Niño years, the sea temperature increases and this severely diminishes all marine life.

 

Guanay C 3-1

Last year the Living Wild in South America expedition arrived at the Chilean coast and we were pleased to see that populations of the Guanay Cormorant appeared to be doing well.

2015 was another El Niño year, not as strong as in 1998 but the Guanay Cormorant, the El Niño bird, still suffered breeding losses and only a proper census can ascertain the true population.

 

Guanay Cormorant is a decreasing species due to intensive fishing of achovy, their chief food.

Peru and Chile have limits to their anchovy fishing catch, but they are not sufficiently controlled and long term sustainability remains in the balance. In addition up to 20,000 birds are trapped annually for food in Peru.

 

Los pinguinos islands-1

90% of the breeding Guanay Cormorants are confined to a narrow part of the Chilean and Peruvian coast and one of the best places to see the birds are at the Reserva Nacional Pingüino de Humboldt in Chile.  This is about 500km north of Santiago. There are a number of good camp sites at Punta Choros as well as many small guesthouses.

Boats are available most of the year, but the best time to visit is September and October. This is the time when most seabirds are breeding and also the best time to see Humpback, Fin and possibly Blue Whales which appear off the coast.

 

17th July 2016

Threatened Palms

Palm Savannah is a threatened habitat.  Today, only isolated fragments remain.

Around 80 per cent of land in Uruguay is used for agriculture, most of it for cattle ranching. Intensive grazing and deforestation has destroyed much of the palm savanna that once covered the south of Brazil, Uruguay and north-east Argentina.

 

Yatay Palm trees

Conserving native tree species in South America is important. For the Yatay Palm it’s vital as there are so few left.  Conservation of the Palm savannah is crucial in maintaining biological diversity and ecological integrity as the trees produce edible fruits, food for many birds and mammals.

 

Yatay Palms

The best place to see the Yatay Palm is the El Palmar National Park, located in the province of Entre Rios, Argentina.  El Palmar is also a great place for wildlife photography, it is situated on the banks of the great river Uruguay and sometimes the mist rises off the river at dawn and drifts between the Palm forests, creating a sublime atmospheric setting for the magnificent trees.

El Palmar is also an ideal place for bird watching and has a good camp site in the park where food, showers and washing facilities are available.

14th July 2016

Forest fire

There is a rainforest tree which seems to set the forest on fire.

This is the Ceibo, the national tree and flower of Argentina.  It has inspired tangos, poetry and folk music as a symbol of courage and strength in the face of adversity.

 

Ciebo in the Yungas-1

This tree is at its best when seen amid a great rainforest.  This is how Paula and I first saw it in springtime in Calilegua National Park, draped with moss and bursting from the forest canopy like an exploding volcano.

 

Mitred Parakeet

Our ‘Living Wild in South America’ expedition visited Calilegua in 2014, the Ceibo trees seemed as if they were on fire and masses of raucous Red-Mitred Parrots were feeding on the scarlet flowers

The Ceibo tree is revered in Argentina and plays a major role in folklore.

According to legend, there was once an indigenous woman named Anahí who lived on the shores of the Paraná River. She was small and unsightly, however her looks were forgotten on summer nights when she came to sing with her beautiful voice to her tribe about their gods and the love of their land.

When the conquistadors came to conquer the land, they took Anahí and others from her tribe as prisoners. One night, the guard of her cell fell asleep and Anahí saw a chance to escape. The guard, however, woke up just as she was getting away and so she stabbed him. His dying shout startled the rest of the soldiers and Anahí was unable to escape. Her punishment for killing the man was to be burnt at the stake.

On the night of her sentence, she was tied to a tree and a fire was lit. The flames quickly caught and Anahí  began to sing to her land.

The following morning, the soldiers stood astounded at the spot of her death.

In place of the ashes they had expected to find, there was a blooming Ceibo tree showing off its splendid red flowers.

7th July 2016

Related to the giants

Millions of years ago there was a family of truly ‘giant’, but flightless, birds, the Moas of New Zealand, the Elephant birds of Madagascar and the Terror birds of South America. Some of these birds stood 10 feet high and laid eggs the size of dustbins.

To-day, our biggest birds, the Ostriches of Africa, the Cassowaries of Australia and the Emus and the Rheas of South America are related directly to these ancient giants and along with them are a few other smaller birds such as the Kiwis of New Zealand and the Tinamous of South America.

 

Emu feather

One aspect of their biology that links all these birds is the structure of their feathers. When you see a bird preening, it is ‘zipping’ its feathers together, this ensures that each feather is tightly connected, enabling smooth and effective flight. Like their ancient ancestors, the Tinamous and Rheas of South America have split feather shafts that cannot be ‘zipped’ together and is the main reason why Rheas are not capable to fly and Tinamous, only poorly and then for very short distances.

Elegant Crested Tinamou in Larrea scrub, Los Cardones, Argentina.

The Tinamous rely on their cryptic camouflage to avoid detection by predators.

E C Tinamou-1

Paula and I have seen a few species, but they are notoriously difficult to photograph.

Above is pair of Elegant-Crested Tinamous, a common and widespread species of the Monte desert.

The image below is of the Ornate Tinamou a species of the Pre-puna and High Andean Steppes.

 

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Quebracho Crested-Tinamou, Copo National Park, Santiago del Estero, Argentina.

A Quebracho Crested-Tinamou which we saw in the Copo National Park, in the province of Santiago del Estero, Argentina. The Copo National Park is difficult to access, the last 25 km being along a rough dirt track, in dry weather any vehicle can get through but if it is wet, the road is treacherous and only possible with 4×4 capabilty.

There are no facilities at all in the Copo National Park, but its a great location for birdwatching and for wildlife photography.

 

Spotted Nothura

Nothuras are very closely related to Tinamous.  This Spotted Nothura was photographed in the Ibera Marshes, Corrientes, Argentina.

3rd July 2016

Farming and wildlife

Farming and wildlife is a hot contentious issue around the world.

I’m not going to enter the debate here, but just show a photography taken in Argentina, that illustrates the subject. The bird is a Brown & Yellow Marshbird and whilst this grassland bird is still fairly common in Southern South America, many other species are becoming quite rare.

Brown and Yellow Marshbird