Sunday, 16 April 2017

Chile part two - Punta Arenas and the extreme south

Very difficult to be asked 'where is the favourite place you have ever been to?' However, as soon as I stepped off the plane in the extreme south of Chile at Punta Arenas I kind of knew it'd be right up there. Crisp, fresh air and clear blue skies with a landscape very Shetland/Hebridean-esque. Just with a load of different birds...

First stop was a wetland area to the north of the town where a couple of screens looked over a frozen scrape. It didn't matter as the geese didn't care - Patagonia's not a place for grey geese, and like something out of childhood visits to the WWT, it was a multitude of goose colours with Upland Geese the commonest, several Ashy-headed Geese and four much rare Ruddy-headed Geese (all ringed locally): -
Ruddy-headed Goose Punta Arenas, Chile April 2017
It was hard to stay here long as I had the burning desire to find the local larids. As perhaps the main reason for coming all this way south was to see a species I'd been craving for ages - Dolphin Gull. No sooner had we hit the coast, seen some gulls and hurled a couple of cookies out then they appeared. This was the precursor to a few days with this species under ridiculously good light and super close views. Though nowhere near as common as Kelp Gulls, the Dophin Gulls were relatively regular along the coast and weren't shy either - always being the most inquisitive of the southern South American gulls. I won't bore you now with all the shots, but here are a couple for tasters: -

Dolphin Gulls Punta Arenas, Chile April 2017
Along with a load of Kelp Gulls, easily the commonest gull here in Punta Arenas, there was a neat flock of Brown-hooded Gulls at a nice river outflow by the beach. A new gull for me anyway, so time to soak in a few of them: -

Brown-hooded Gulls Punta Arenas, Chile April 2017
Before scanning through them and having one of those moments where you question your mind and what you're seeing. Given that Punta Arenas and Patagonia are essentially one of the last bits of land before you hit Antarctica, I was more than surprised to stumble upon what must be one of the most lost birds I've seen, a first-winter Sabine's Gull, which will have been bred last summer in the Arctic 10,000 miles away: -

1st-winter Sabine's Gull Punta Arenas, Chile April 2017
There was also a single Franklin's Gull in the flock, which was nice to see too. After having a nice dudey lunch out our hotel, we headed off to the south on the road to Fuerte Bulnes, where the coastal scenery was cracking and the air here even fresher than in Punta Arenas. There was a lot of birdlife along the coast here, with loads of Imperial Shags, Crested Ducks, Chimango Caracaras and Kelp Gulls along with a couple of really smart looking Kelp Geese (sexual dimorphism at its best!), several Rufous-chested Dotterels, Southern Caracaras and Magellanic Oystercatchers: -
Kelp Gull Punta Arenas, Chile April 2017
Crested Duck Punta Arenas, Chile April 2017 
Kelp Goose (male left, female right) Punta Arenas, Chile April 2017
Southern Caracara Punta Arenas, Chile April 2017
Magellanic Oystercatcher Punta Arenas, Chile April 2017
Rufous-chested Dotterel Punta Arenas, Chile April 2017
Passerine wise, it was slim pickings but Austral Blackbirds, Long-tailed Meadowlarks and Thorn-tailed Rayaditos were present.
Austral Blackbird Punta Arenas, Chile April 2017
And then back in town these guys showed up just as the sun was setting: -
Dusky Dolphins Punta Arenas, Chile April 2017
A really great, memorable day that was rounded off by some high quality Patagonian lamb and a good night's sleep. All in preparation for the next day...

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