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Monday, November 12, 2007

Tierra del Fuego

Patagonia Pilgrimage Part One (of three)

On the trail of Darwin

My ambition to follow in the trail of the world's greatest ever biologist became fulfilled with a trip to Patagonia with the Travelling Naturalist Company. After arriving in Buenos Aires we took a flight straight down to Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego, the most southerly town in the world at Latitude 55° South. Almost immediately we found birds like Kelp Goose, Upland Goose, Flightless Steamer Duck, Dolphin Gull and Blackish Oystercatchers foraging on the shores of Beagle Channel just by our lodge. (Picture: Charles Darwin as a young biologist).

The southerly town of Ushuaia on Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego dwarfed by the Andes mountains

A handsome male Upland Goose

The rather dapper Dolphin Gull

The shores of Beagle Channel at dawn after a blizzard during the night

The highlight of the visit to Tierra del Fuego was undoubtedly a day-trip by boat out into and some 40 miles along Beagle Channel where stunning views of the mountainous coastline were to be had. Seabirds like Antarctic Fulmar, Black-browed Albatross, Magellanic Diving Petrel, Giant Petrel, Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins were present in the channel. Rocky skerries were covered with breeding cormorants, Southern Sealions and even a few Snowy Sheathbills.

View of the north shore of Beagle Channel

A skerry with breeding King Shags, Southern Sealions and a Snowy Sheathbill (centre)
It was indeed a memorable day to trace the route of the Beagle in which FitzRoy and Darwin had surveyed this Channel in 1832.

Happiness is.... tracing the route of Darwin and FitzRoy

The following day was spent in the Tierra del Fuego National Park and although the weather had closed in a little the stunning beauty if the area was still very much in evidence. The Notophaga beech forest was brightened by the orange flowers of Darwin's Berberis (Berberis darwinii) and the highlight of the day was finding the largest of the world's woodpeckers, the magnifcent and rare black and red Magellanic Woodpecker.

Forest of the Tierra del Fuego National Park

The colourful flowers of Darwin's Berberis. If the berries of this shrub (known in Patagonia as "Calafate") are eaten, is is claimed that you are sure to return to Patagonia. I enjoyed some ice-cream made with this fruit ("Calafate bombon"), so who knows...

The birding highlight of the forest - the iconic Magellanic Woodpecker

The next phase of the trip was to the Patagonian Andes, a land of glaciers and snow-capped mountains.... to follow...


Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Wonderful, lucky old you. How about the return trip when it was too rough to sail?
We have a berberis Darwinii in the garden. Come and inspect it any time you like. It will save you from having to go to South America.

7:02 pm  
Blogger Merisi said...

Welcome back!
Good to hear that you had a terrific time. I had to google immediately to find out more about that magnificent woodpecker, incredible, almost 40 cm, and such a beauty! I am curious as to why he was given Magellan's name. Has it to do with the Strait of Magellan or were there other reasons?
However, I am looking forward to your next postings!

7:50 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Ferdinand Magellan discovered the Straits of Magellan (somewhat north of Beagle Channel) and was the first European to sail through it into the Pacific Ocean. Besides the woodpeckers, there are several birds named after him (we saw five, the Woodpecker, Oystercatcher, Plover, Penguin and Woodpecker). I suppose he was the first to describe them and claimed their names. At least Darwin got the Rhea!

8:01 pm  
Blogger Magdalene said...

So glad you're back safely and had such a nice time patting those gonias. Hope they didn't bite? That woodpecker looks amazing and reminds me of my favourite bird spotting which was in my back yard in Mssachusetts when I lived there a while back. It was a pileated woodpecker, a huge thing with the red crest or comb? on it's head. I think it's the one that Woody Woodpecker was based on. Good bird sightings are such a buzz.

8:40 pm  
Blogger TCA said...

"Blackish Oystercatchers" well, were they black or not?

Great photos - is the woodpecker yours too?


PS "(we saw five, the Woodpecker, Oystercatcher, Plover, Penguin and Woodpecker)" that's woodpecker twice, what was the fifth species?

9:14 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

TCA: "Blackish" is indeed the name - look here. I suppose it is a sort of dark grey, kinda blackish really.

You are right, of course, the fifth species was Magellanic Diving Petrel.

9:19 pm  
Blogger simon said...

absolutly incredible

10:29 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Thanks everyone :-)

TCA: Yes, all the photos are mine (except the one of Darwin!).

10:33 pm  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

Looking forward to the next two instalments. What a wonderful trip!

4:22 am  
Blogger TCA said...

Wow! The picture of the 'pecker is bird-book good!


7:56 am  
Blogger simon said...

Darwin! What are your thoughts on Sir Joseph Banks......

9:24 am  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Never mind Darwin, how about Pope Benedict?

9:26 am  
Blogger Maalie said...

Sir Joseph Banks was a distinguished naturalist and explorer and a brilliant botanist who justifiably has countless plant species attributed to his name.

Darwin did all this but also had the insight to formulate and explain the process of evolution - a genuine breakthrough in science. Banks was an extremely competent scientist; Darwin was a genius.

9:34 am  
Blogger Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

Whey-hey, he's baaaack!! I missed you, my friend. No, not whilst you were gone.. at the sodding airport - where were you??? I stood around hugging my passport for ages before I was moved on.

Looks like you had a spectacular time, I love the photography.

10:31 am  
Anonymous Ellee said...

How lovely to make your dream come true this way, to follow the steps of your hero. Of course, Darwin was at Cambridge, he is still well regarded here too, maybe your trail will lead you this way one day.

I am just going to respond to your comment about Zac Goldsmith, he was the host of the session, rather than a lead speaker, but I have some serious concerns about food security and I'm going to write about those this afternoon. As well as sex trafficking.

1:50 pm  
Blogger Merisi said...

Thanks, Maalie!
(You realise that I did know about Magellan the explorer? *chuckle*).

4:25 pm  
Anonymous Ellee said...

did you manage to listen to some lovely Latin American music?

5:34 pm  
Blogger TCA said...

I would humbly suggest that Antonie Philips van Leeuwenhoek was a comparably significant biologist.


2:50 pm  

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