Tomorrow We Sail, Today We Visit a Sheep Ranch

By Jim Danzenbaker and Ann Nightingale

Ann’s view:  "And now for something completely different."

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Black-faced Ibis were impressive and noisy as they fed in a field on the Estancia. (Photo by Ann Nightingale).

They say, “When in Rome, do as the Roman’s do” so when in Tierra del Fuego, that means that a visit to a sheep ranch is essential. Today was a bus tour to "Estancia Las Hijas," the family ranch of our guide, Esteban Daniels. If we’d driven directly, it might have taken about 90 minutes, but you can’t keep a busload of tourists, especially if there are birders aboard, to that kind of schedule.

Stops were made en route to look at wildlife, the incredible scenery, and of course, a few birds. The Andean Condor mentioned as a wish bird yesterday has apparently been following the blog and showed up on cue.

Black-faced Ibis in flight and on the ground were spectacular, RED meadowlarks (Long-tailed Meadowlarks) put on a good show, and we picked up a few more elusive species as well. I must admit that I have a bit of a crush on the Austral Thrush. Could it be a tinge of homesickness for the American Robins back home?

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The Austral Thrush (Turdus falcklandii) is in the same genus and very similar in appearance to the American Robin. (Photo by Ann Nightingale).

Caterpiller

Several species of caterpillars can sting or otherwise inflict pain on unsuspecting Samaritans. We opted not to test the power of this one. (Photo by Jim Danzenbaker)

At the Estancia, we were treated to a real-life demonstration of sheep shearing, a job that I don’t care to have in my next life. It certainly gives a whole new perspective on wool! Several of us have an interest in butterflies and couldn't help but notice an interesting caterpillar on the ground and in the bushes. When one of the group was about to pick one up and move it to safety, she was warned that these caterpillars can actually sting like a wasp!  Who knew?? Apparently the region is having an infestation of them this year. The owners of the Estancia put on a delicious luncheon in a quaint farmstead home, then it was back on the bus for what was promised to be a quick trip back to Ushuaia. 

Blowout

Even the application of guide acrobatics were not enough to break the lug nuts loose so that the tire could be repaired. (Photo by Ann Nightingale)

Note to tour leaders: Never promise a quick trip anywhere! About a third of the way back, there was an oh too familiar sound coming from under the bus. Yes, we had blown a tire! I’m something of a tire-changing expert as I have quite bad luck in that regard, so I was amused to see the driver and guide jumping on the wrench to attempt to loosen the lugnuts. I thought I was the only one who did that! While the tire was being repaired, a group of passengers made their way to a nearby pond for some impromptu birding. An Ashy-headed Goose was just one highlight of the unscheduled stop. Unfortunately, the lugnut removal did not go well, and we were forced to limp back to Ushuaia with the punctured tire still in place. All’s well that ends well, though, and it was another great day. Tomorrow, the sea adventure begins.

Jim’s view: “Of Guanacos and sheep"

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Herds of guanaco, which resemble llamas, generally ran off as soon as we arrived, but this one came a little closer to check us out. (Photo by Ann Nightingale)

After a more relaxed continental breakfast, we left a bit earlier today to meet the other twenty-six passenger on our all-day trip to "Estancia Las Hijas." Esteban, local guide and birder extraordinaire met us in the hotel and we were soon loading onto our bus for our two-hour plus trip to his family ranch. Our route took us up and over the southernmost Andes, which were partially shrouded in low clouds. However, the grandeur of the area did not elude us. A stop on the coastal savannah gave us our first view of guanacos, a cousin to the llama. While we watched, a distant Andean Condor flew circles revealing its distinct white wing patches and just enough color on the head to yearn for more. A group of Black-faced Ibis was a beautiful sight as they banked and landed in a roadside field. A Correndera Pipit skylarked for all, but a detailed view would have to wait for another day.

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A spectacular garden of flowers surrounded the ranch house. (Photo by Jim Danzenbaker)

On the grounds of the Estancia, we were greeted by Estaban’s mother, who showed us her beautiful rustic house with a stunning collection of colorful lupines, delphiniums and poppies in the front with rackfuls of meat barbecuing in the back. What a photogenic location with rusted farm implements and aged structures throughout. Austral Blackbirds, Patagonian Sierra-finches, and a Fire-eyed Duicon formed the backdrop.

What followed was something I didn’t think I’d enjoy, but ended up glad for having seen it. The three sheepdogs ran down their target ten sheep and herded them back to the pens where they were funneled through ever-narrowing slots until they were selected for shearing. A skilled ranch hand sheared away and a once fully wool laden sheep became a bare animal none the worse for the experience. Lunch of fresh lamb and salad and a to-die-for dessert followed with pleasant conversations of the day’s activities, previous trips to the great white south, and anticipation of the upcoming tour.As Ann mentioned, a thump, thump, thump on the highway usually is not a good sign. This one was a blown tire, but it broke up the trip home and gave us our only view of an Ashy-headed Goose. We were meant to have that flat tire. With schedules in hand for tomorrow’s adventure, it looks like the next in a long line of short nights.

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Thanks so much for doing this project. This is truly my dream trip. Some people look at me blankly when I say my dream trip is the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica. Anyway, I’ve taken my seasick pills for your next post. Fair winds and following seas!
Vern

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