Thursday, 27 April 2017

Chile part four - Torres del Paine and the Pampa Larga

Our final day in Patagonia. Far too short. But one of the places that Karen really wanted to visit while we were down here was the famous Torres del Paine National Park. Being about four hours from Punta Arenas, it was going to be a long day and a flying visit. But worth it - spectacular scenery, glaciers and hopefully a bit of birdlife thrown in too. So long as the gloomy conditions cheered up!

First stop was Laguna los Palos, a pretty desolate lagoon about 45 minutes north of Punta Arenas. It was stacked with a couple of hundred Red Shovelers and Silver Teals, along with large numbers of Yellow-billed Teal; the odd burst of colour was provided by a small group of Chilean Flamingos and a flock of Patagonian Yellow-finches in the grassland. However, in the rather dismal conditions, a quick look for Magellanic Plovers was fruitless and so we moved on north where the first of these boys - Darwin's Rhea - were by the roadside...

Heading off the main road an hour or so short of Puerto Natales, we headed east along a gravel track towards Punta Delgada which traversed steppe habitat (pampalarga) which was home to two pretty decent species - Tawny-throated Dotterel and White-bellied Seedsnipe. I'd seen the dotterel in Argentina back in 2003, but the views of a flock of 27 birds here were much better: -

While it took a bit of time and scanning, a group of three White-bellied Seedsnipe were eventually found. These high altitude breeders were probably recently in on their wintering ground here: -
And so with a couple of skunk sightings and endless Guanacos, as well as a load of Black-chested Buzzard Eagles, the other quality species I located here were a couple of Yellow Bridled Finch which were slightly reticent to come close...

After that, it was time to keep Karen happy and spend the afternoon in Torres del Paine. But that was after a quick stop in the picturesque Puerto Natales where Grey-flanked (photo below) and Dark-bellied Cinclodes showed on the seashore along with Black-necked and Coscoroba Swans.
A single Great Grebe and several Red-gartered Coots showed at range on a lake, while Andean Condors soared. In Torres del Paine itself, a pair of Spectacled Teal on a braided river channel were quality but a bit distant for photos, while an Aplomado Falcon zipped past. Infinite Guanacos (photo below) and Darwin's Rheas were an everlasting memory set to the backdrop of high peaks and glaciers... all rounded off in the evening by perhaps the best steak I've ever had (or at least the best steak I've had since Argentina!).
So that was that. A quick whistle stop tour of southernmost Chile, heading north and wanting more. The fresh air, spectacular landscapes (especially if you're a geographer like me!) and real quality birds genuinely make this one of the best and nicest places I have been fortunate to visit. Off to sweat it up north in Arica next with some different larids...

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