Danzenbaker Tour Journal: Arriving in Argentina

December 27

I was thrilled when I was asked once again to join the Cheesmans' Ecology Safaris staff on another epic Falkland Island--South Georgia--Antarctic expedition and I jumped at the opportunity. The start date came remarkably quickly and today I began a 37-hour travel day from my home in Battle Ground, Washington to Portland International Airport, then to Dallas/Fort Worth where I waited several more hours before a 10-hour flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina.


Ushuaia is billed as the "Southernmost City in the World" and is a clean city catering to thousands of tourists journeying to nearby snow-capped mountains and embarking to Antarctic destinations.

After a somewhat stressful discussion with a ticket counter attendant at Aerolineas Argentinas on why my carry on bag, which held cameras, a spotting scope, binoculars, and other high dollar items, should not be checked in and should stay with me, the battle was finally won and I managed to fight my way  to the gate with some 30 other participants and staff. The expected four-hour flight to Ushuaia turned into a six-plus hour saga with two stops fro gas and an exhcange of crew. The mountains of Ushuaia never looked better and the touchdown was sweet! Dinner with Rod and Marlene Planck ended the day. Sleep should have come easily, but adrenaline was rushing through my body.

December 29

Today started with breakfast in the Hotel Albatros and meeting more of the 95 participants. We soon departed in a small minibus with nine others for a trip into the Beech Forest some 20 miles east of Ushuaia along the Beagle Channel. Intermittent rain and thick clouds prevented views of the glorious snow-capped mountains of the area, but didn't stop us from finding two ANDEAN CONDORS (Flight of the Condor fame) on ledges carved into a sheer cliff face. They were very impressive as they flew lazy circles in front of the cliff and then landed and strolled between vegetation-encrusted rocks. Enjoyable viewing was had through 60X Kowa optics.

Other species we encountered included Black-faced Ibis, very common Chimago and Southern Crested caracaras, and Austral Thrush. The latter's melodius call wafted through the forest as we enjoyed other birds such as Patagonian Sierra-Finch, Thorn-billed Rayaditos, and White-throated Treerunners. Rains sent us further along to the edge of the Beagle Channel where a flock of four Magellanic Oystercatchers grabbed the attention of the photographers in the group.

Our journey ended at a small museum that featured an excellent display of marine mammals. The  exhibit included full skeletons, miscellaneous bones, and a guided tour that brought it all together. It was great to be presented with this information before our time at sea as many of these mammals were species that would later see. Most striking was the visible difference between the skeletal structure of a true seal and that of a sea lion. We learned about the differences in weight of the bones of a beaked whale versus those of a baleen whale and we also saw how whale bones are cleaned. Lastly we got to see a fresh specimen of Commerson's Dolphin that had just been delivered after it stranded itself north of the museum.


The intense red underparts of this Long-tailed Meadowlark gave away its presence.

As we headed back to Ushuaia, gaudy Long-tailed Meadowlarks and Austral Negritos vie for our attention amid thoughts of what the next day might hold and recollections of this day's highlights. After a hearty dinner of lamb, chicken, and mixed rice and vegetables, I took a walk along the Ushuaia waterfront with two of our intrepid group. Compared with opportunities to eat, chances for exercise over the preveious few days had been few and far between. Red Shovelers and a Flighless Steamer-Duck were the most interesting birds around the lake close to the hotel. The reflections of this city of 60,000 upon the waters of the Beagle Channel were memorable and rainbow over one of the mountains was a just conclusion to our first full day.

All photos by Jim Danzenbaker


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