A Travellerspoint blog

December 2019

Day 13: The southernmost city in the world

Ushuaia, Patagonia

overcast 54 °F

WARNING: LONG PHOTO-STORY POST WITH AWESOME BIRDS!!!

Today fellow Irish birders Joe, Jim, Daermush, Billy, Tom, Aiden, and I took a birding tour of the Ushuaia, Argentina area with our fantastic guide Esteban! Ushuaia is the southernmost city in the world, and also a great place for birding — we had several target species for the day, foremost of which was the prehistoric Magellanic Woodpecker!

Beautiful Ushuaia and our steadfast ship, the Coral Princess.
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Once within Tierra del Fuego National Park, our first noteworthy sighting was not of a bird, but a Gray Fox — an introduced species to the area!
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Lifer #1: WHITE-THROATED TREERUNNER!
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Lifer #2: AUSTRAL PYGMY-OWL, a complete surprise — this one posed just mere feet away from the group for almost five incredible minutes!
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Why hello there!
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Let’s play “find the owl”
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Lifer #3: THORN-TAILED RAYABITO!
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Magellan Fungus, a common bulbous sight on the smaller trees of the area:
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Lifer #4: ASHY-HEADED GOOSE:
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Lifer #5: FUEGIAN FLIGHTLESS STEAMER DUCK:
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The common RUFOUS-COLLARED SPARROW showed in abundance.
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Including juveniles of the species:
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Lifer #6: AUSTRAL BLACKBIRD:
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Lifer #7: ANDEAN SIERRA FINCH — incredible bird species!
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Lifer #8: BLACK-CHINNED SISKIN
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SOUTHERN LAPWING:
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Lifer #9: AUSTRAL NEGRITO:
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This national park marks the southern end of the recently-completed Pan-American Highway!
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Lifer #10: WHITE-CRESTED ELAENIA:
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MAGELLANIC OYSTERCATCHERS:
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AUSTRAL THRUSH:
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Then, right after Esteban said he thought he heard our target bird, the Magellanic Woodpecker, Billy spotted one in the nearby grove of mixed live/dead trees! W O W! Magellanic Woodpecker — maybe my #1 bird I was hoping to get on this trip, in the bag! These photos showcase two male birds (the females are completely black on the head).
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WOWOWOW INCREDIBLE! Lifer #11 for the day!

  1. 12: CHILEAN SWALLOW
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  1. 13: AUSTRAL PARAKEET
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Tierra del Fuego National Park is absolutely breathtaking.
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Amazingly, Aiden spotted a BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS flying around all the way across the bay:
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CRESTED DUCK:
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CHIMANGO CARACARA
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TUFTED TIT-TYRANT, lifer #14 for the day!
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Lifer #15: FIRE-EYED DIUCON
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Lifer #16: GREAT GREBE
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Lifer #17: ANDEAN CONDOR!!! Super cool sighting since we are, of course, at the far southern tip of this renowned bird’s range — the Andean Condor might be considered by some to be a “flagship” bird species of South America!!!
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Lifer #18: SOUTHERN CRESTED CARACARA:
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SOUTH AMERICAN TERN:
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Lifer #19: PATAGONIAN SNIPE:
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With a SOUTHERN LAPWING in the background:
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Then, a DOLPHIN GULL flew up, providing the perfect opportunity to photograph a bird above Ushuaia and the surrounding mountains:
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Lifer #20: FLYING STEAMER-DUCK, differentiated from the Flightless because the female (right) has a pale bill (not orange).
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RINGED KINGFISHER:
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Lifer #21: a distant BLACK-CHESTED BUZZARD-EAGLE!
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Lifer #22: WHITE-THROATED CARACARA at the most scenic place in Ushuaia: a garbage dump!!!
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KELP GOOSE, male:
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And the much more striking female:
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BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON in his breeding-season garb:
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And if you know me, you know that the birding NEVER STOPS! I kept watch from the ship as we sailed through the amazingly-scenic Beagle Channel in the evening:
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Surprisingly, seabirds abounded along the inland channels (probably due to their saltwater contents). Here is one of many BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS seen this evening:
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SOUTHERN GIANT-PETREL:
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MAGELLANIC PENGUIN, awesome!!
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There were several juveniles around too, proving a successful breeding season here for the penguins — yay!
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And the Beagle Channel, which winds through Patagonia, did NOT disappoint! Hanging glaciers, rugged cliffs, and waterfalls — it’s all here!
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WHAT A DAY! Bird-of-the-day to the Magellanic Woodpecker with runner-up to the Austral Pygmy-Owl! Stay tuned: tomorrow, my family & I get a guided birding tour of Punta Arenas, Chile!

Happy birding!
Henry
World Life List: 1077 Species (22 life birds today)

Posted by skwclar 18:25 Archived in USA Comments (4)

Day 12: High Seas!

Drake Passage, Southern Ocean

all seasons in one day 48 °F

Today was the roughest day of the cruise so far. We endured a “typical” Drake Passage crossing toward South America featuring high winds and hellish 20-foot swells making my mom seasick, and preventing anyone onboard to walk in any sort of a straight line.

Luckily, the birds were there to salvage the day for me, starting with a self-found BROWN SKUA:
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And a BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS:
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Then, Joe motioned for the rest of us to come to the other side of the ship, and there he had a BLUE PETREL! This was a life bird I had yesterday evening after I submitted yesterday’s post, so I was stoked to get even better looks at this bird today! This bird can be discernible from the look-alike Prions by its white outer tail feathers.
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Soon thereafter, we had another very quality species: GRAY-HEADED ALBATROSS!
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At one point, this immature WANDERING ALBATROSS seemed to magically appear right by the deck from which me and the other birders were watching:
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It was absolutely magical. The bird used its jaw-dropping wingspan to hover one foot away from us birders for about a minute, and gave us an opportunity to look right into its eyes. It seemed as if I felt a connection to the spirit of that nomadic albatross as for just a brief moment, I had the honor to observe a snippet of its roving life at sea. I will never forget those incredible 60 seconds!
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This photo can’t even properly illustrate how close we were to the bird.
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Its relative, the BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS, was also exceedingly common today — we probably saw over 500 of these today, including some moments where you could probably see thirty or fourth at once. Incredible!!!
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SOOTY SHEARWATERS, a threatened species, also put on a pretty good showing today:
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Here is their identifying characteristic which can be used to differentiate them from similar White-chinned or Westland Petrels: very pale underwings.
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During the late morning, I spotted a pod of Dusky Dolphins jump by.
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Also seen but unphotographed was a pod of Long-finned Pilot Whales, which essentially look like oversized dolphins when leaping through the water! Super cool-looking animals!

Don’t be fooled by the beautiful seascape: it was so rocky today, it felt as if we were on an amusement park ride at times.
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Then, one of the Irish birders shouted “land ahoy!” and we were afforded our first sight of Cape Horn, Chile — the southernmost tip of South America!
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Suddenly, I shouted “skua!” and we had our first CHILEAN SKUA of the trip, my sole life bird today!
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A KING CORMORANT flew by.
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We soon scoped out an outer island that seemed to be home to a whole rookery of cormorants (the tiny black & white dots).
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And before I sign off for the night, I must include some photos of a LIGHT-MANTLED ALBATROSS I saw yesterday evening after posting yesterday’s report! What an awesome bird!
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Bird-of-the-day to my life bird Chilean Skua, with runner-up to that incredible young Wandering Albatross. STAY TUNED: tomorrow, I will go on a guided birding tour of the Ushuaia, Argentina area — the southernmost city in the world!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1055 Species (1 life bird yesterday, Blue Petrel & 1 life bird today, Chilean Skua)

Posted by skwclar 14:44 Archived in Chile Comments (1)

Day 11: Bye Antarctica!

Deception Island, Antarctica

snow 34 °F

Today, our itinerary took the Coral Princess along Deception Island, which is actually an active volcano along the Shetland Islands just northwest of the Antarctic Peninsula. Following Deception Island, the ship began its track north through the Drake Passage for our next stop in two days: Ushuaia, Argentina — the southernmost city in the world! Before we approached Deception Island though, the Irish birders and I spotted several birds from outside the boat, such as these BROWN SKUAS:
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And a BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS:
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When in Antarctica, expect a freak blizzard!
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We were therefore afforded sub-par views of Deception Island, as well as a total dearth of birdlife due to the the bad weather conditions:
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And as we were pulling away from the island, CHINSTRAP PENGUINS abounded, of which millions reside on Deception Island.
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Bird-of-the-day to the Black-browed Albatross: I count myself lucky any day I see an albatross!

So a slower day today due to rain and fog, but hopefully tomorrow on the open sea will bring some wonderful pelagic birding!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1049 species (no life birds today)

Posted by skwclar 13:20 Archived in Antarctica Comments (0)

Day 10: Gerlache Strait

Antarctica

semi-overcast 37 °F

Alright, let’s try this again! Earlier I accidentally hit to “publish” button for this post.

Today was our final major southward movement of our journey: last night we traveled to Admiralty Bay in order to make our morning destination: Gerlache Strait and Paradise Harbor, located on the northwestern (Pacific) side of the Antarctic Peninsula. (wifi in Antarctica is very spotty and that’s why I tried to simply include the bare minimum of photos in this post. Trust me, I took SO many)

Boy is it spectacular!
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I raced to the front of the ship when the captain announced that he had Orcas in front of the ship, and sure enough, I was afforded a few brief glimpses:
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BROWN SKUAS were numerous this morning:
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There were a few WILSON’S STORM-PETRELS along, too.
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And Paradise Harbor was breathtaking.
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Antarctica is essentially covered by one large glacier, and every single bit of ice & rock forming the continent is stunning. One of my favorite things is spotting the vivid blue colors that can be seen in many ice patches, partially due to minerals and partially to reflection, I believe.
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One of the more common penguin species, GENTOO was around in numbers.
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Then, a BLUE-EYED CORMORANT flew by!!! Awesome — life bird!!!
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I spotted a few very distant ADELIE PENGUINS at one point:
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And at one point, I had the three common penguin species in one view: GENTOO, CHINSTRAP, & ADELIE.
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This part of Antarctica is home to both BROWN & SOUTH POLAR SKUAS, both of which were seen today, and differentiation between them can be very tricky given varying light conditions. This skua appears to be almost sand-tan which means that it is 100% SOUTH POLAR SKUA (Brown Skuas are a deep chocolate brown), so this was a great bird to see down here! The two species have even been known to hybridize in the area, too.
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Oh, and did I mention that it is beautiful here?!
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At least 200 Humpback Whales put on an amazing show for us mid-afternoon! It was BREATHTAKING, like nothing we’d ever seen before!
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Bird-of-the-day goes to my one life bird seen today, Blue-eyed Cormorant!

Stay tuned — tomorrow the cruise heads north for a morning arrival at Deception Island, Antarctica, where I am hoping to find some Snow Petrels and other nesting birds!

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1049 Species (1 life bird today: Blue-eyed Cormorant)

Posted by skwclar 14:00 Archived in Antarctica Comments (1)

Day 9: Penguin Trifecta!

St. John’s Island, Antarctica

all seasons in one day 34 °F

Antarctica. The land of icebergs. The land of whales. And the land of penguins.

Immediately, icebergs proved themselves to be absurdly common along our circuitous route which weaved around the Antarctica Peninsula.
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My first life bird of the day was from my stateroom window: SNOW PETREL! One of the birders confirmed that he had seen one exactly how I described it at the same exact time of my observation, so it was gratifying to nail down this ghostly-white bird! Unfortunately, it was too quick for photos.

CAPE PETRELS were still around in small numbers, trailing the ship and occasionally disappearing behind a rogue iceberg.
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They were greatly outnumbered, though, by the most common petrel of Antarctica: SOUTHERN FULMAR.
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Then, I spotted my life-bird ADELE PENGUIN (the one with a black face) along with three CHIN-STRAPPED PENGUINS resting on an iceberg, which can be great places for spotting penguins...
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...as well as, SNOWY SHEATHBILL!!!!! I was out of my mind to find this white, pigeon-like bird because although I had seen one yesterday, it was from a great distance and went unphotographed. This was probably my #1 target for Antarctica because ever since I saw this bird in my Antarctica/S America bird guide, I was mesmerized.
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And we had a FANTASTIC look at a SOUTH POLAR SKUA, a bird I have seen only a handful of times before.
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At one point, our cruise ship circled around an iceberg that seemed to be so gigantic it could have very well landed a Boeing 747 on top! It was incredible and everyone was out on their balcony snapping photos.
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Third penguin species for the day: GENTOO! Thus, a penguin “trifecta” (three species in one day)!
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A nice BLACK-BROWED ALBATROSS wandered by at one point.
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And then, one of the other birders named Tom spotted its much more uncommon cousin which was just a lifer for me yesterday: LIGHT-MANTLED ALBATROSS! So, so awesome!
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Humpback Whale, one of a number seen today:
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ANTARCTIC TERN, another life bird just yesterday:
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Some CHIN-STRAP PENGUINS as we approached St. Paul’s Island.
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As well as an adult and juvenile BROWN SKUA:
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The views of the Island were simply mesmerizing.
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And best of all, it was home to so many ADELE PENGUINS:
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And “so many” is an understatement: there were thousands, clustering up and down the hillsides:
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I even spotted someone surveying the massive distant nesting colony:
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Some GENTOOS were also in the area, foraging and bathing in the bay water:
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Bird-of-the-day to the many Adele Penguins, with runner-up to the Snowy Sheathbill. Some AWESOME Antarctic birding and nature-viewing, and it’s just going to improve from here!

Stay tuned — tomorrow we will voyage even further south along the Antarctic Peninsula to the Gerlache Strait. Some target birds will be Blue & Antarctic Petrels, as well as some of the more uncommon penguin species (Emperor, Macaroni, etc) if we get lucky.

Good birding,
Henry
World Life List: 1048 Species (2 life birds today: Snow Petrel & Adele Penguin)

Posted by skwclar 17:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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