A Daylong Hike: Mentally refreshing, but no so physically

By Jim Danzenbaker and Ann Nightingale
 
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The Thorn-tailed Rayaditos were quite responsive to 'spishing,' reminding us of North American chickadees. (Photo by Ann Nightingale)

Jim's view: It was great to awaken this morning relatively refreshed and ready to visit Tierra del Fuego National Park, a crown jewel in this remote part of the world. After a quick breakfast, Rod and Marlene Plank, Ann and I found a taxi, which took us to the head of an 8-kilometer trail. It was a glorious hike through a southern beech forest, with numerous yellow and dog orchids interspersed among the common indigenous flora.

We started the hike with a single flyover Magellanic Woodpecker, which offered but a fleeting glimpse. The beech forest was filled with family groups of birds. These included, Black-chinned Siskins, Rufous-collared Sparrows, Patagonian Sierra Finches, White-crested Elaenias, Austral Thrushes and, my personal favorite, numerous and noisy Thorn-tailed Rayaditos. The weather was on our side—partly sunny to cloudy to downright gorgeous, layer reducing warmth. Quite often, the trail paralleled beautiful Lapataia Bay with South American Terns and Kelp Gulls overhead and Dark-bellied Cinclodes and our first Flightless Steamer-Ducks on shore. Wow, those steamer-ducks are big!

It didn't take long for me to realize that my daily 5.5 mile training hike on the even terrain around my home in Battle Ground, Washington wasn't enough. My legs tired sooner than expected with all the ups and downs of this uneven landscape. Hopefully, my muscles will get used to a stricter routine before the much more strenuous Falklands and South Georgia hikes. We ended our walk at the National Park visitors' center and restaurant where an empanada de pollo never tasted better. On the nearby Lapataia River, a flock of five stunning Black-necked Swans was a surprise—we usually don't see them on this trip. A lone Southern (Chiloe) Wigeon slept near a pair of Flying Steamer-Ducks and a single Speckled Teal fed nearby. This is a beautiful place, but we had things to do in Ushuaia, so we caught the bus back to town. After a brief shopping excursion and hike around the waterfront lake (where we saw Red Shovelers), we found a pizzeria. We enjoyed a ham, pineapple, and mushroom pizza and I sipped on a bottle of Beagle beer, which is produced in Ushuaia. Of course, ice cream provided the final exclamation point to the day.  

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Timid woodland creatures? NOT! This Southern Caracara was as curious about us and a nearby rabbit as we were about it. (Photo by Ann Nightingale)

Ann's view: One of the best things about the first day in a brand new location is that the number of "life" birds can easily outnumber those seen previously—thirty to four today! That probably won't happen again on the trip. While some species, like the Magellanic Woodpecker, provided only fleeting glimpses, many let me have decent looks and a few were downright sociable. The family groups of Austral Thrush (pretty much a robin) and Thorn-tailed Rayadito were especially fun to watch, particularly when the groups would mob us. My first pair of Upland Geese not only stayed put, they even struck great poses for me. Southern Caracaras acted as if we were just a minor curiosity and allowed us to approach quite closely. I managed to get passable photos of several lifers.

It occurred to me as we hiked the trail that despite my reliance on "by ear" birding at home, I hadn't spent any time learning the calls of the birds of southern Argentina. I'd perused a field guide (Birds of Chile by Alvaro Jamarillo) a few times, but just as at home, knowledge of the songs and call notes gave us a decided advantage in the southern forests. Thank goodness I was the only rookie on this walk! I was surprised to hear House Wrens singing in the park today. Other "home" birds, by the way, were Turkey Vulture and the ubiquitous House Sparrow and Rock Dove. Tomorrow, we head to a sheep ranch, but our attentions will be on more than just the sheep-related events. Andean Condors are high on the wish list!

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Although Upland Geese were common, we were taken by the white plumage of this male, which is quite striking in contrast to the more cryptic brown coloration of the female. (Photo by Jim Danzenbaker)


As for the wild goose, I am the first to admit that I am not a seasoned traveler. One thing that I do very well, though, is procrastinate, so it's no surprise that I was working on a number of projects while flying to Ushuaia. Shortly after my arrival in Dallas, I realized that the USB drive I had been using was not in my bag. It was...OMG! still on the plane, in the seat pocket! In a problem-solving dervish, I found out that the plane that had brought me from Seattle to Dallas was on its way to San Francisco. This could have been terrible news, except that I have a wonderful sister and brother-in-law in San Francisco who were quickly conscripted to meet the plane and plead with American Airlines staff to retrieve my wayward drive. They came to my rescue and the staff were very helpful. Just one small problem. The drive wasn't there. Grateful for everyone's help, but deflated at the loss of several hours of work, I emptied out all of my carry-on luggage, pocket by pocket. As the last pocket emptied, you'll never guess what I found.

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So glad you found your USB drive! So fun to read about your adventures.

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