Sunday, February 02, 2014

Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve

So the start of my trip to Antarctica arrived.


Start with a goal of seeing half of the species of the birds of the world, so 5,000 of the roughly 10,000, with a reasonable number being hard to get without going a long way South.  Add some OCD holiday planning, I have a list of all the places I want to go and in what order, aimed primarily at achieving said goal.  Mix in a break from working (potentially permanent) due to ill health but with the luxury of having been saving together for ages and having earned a decent income for a salaryman and basically it seemed like a good idea at the time.


Given said break in employment and the expectation that Helen would still be working I plumped for January 2014, the next available slot.  January 2015, while another option and potentially a bit cheaper, would mean uprooting from our new home in Cornwall and with Helen definitely not wanting to go on this trip (cold, sea, enclosed spaces), sooner seemed the right choice.


I did some research and there are a number of different options.  I plumped for an Explore! Tailormade trip aboard the M/S Expedition, a refitted ship berthing 132 passengers as this approach covers a wider area… the ship and indeed journey is run by G Adventures it turns out.


Starting and finishing in Ushuaia, Argentina, sailing through the Beagle Channel and on to the Falkland Islands, then on to South Georgia, the South Shetland Islands and finally onto the continent of Antarctica before crossing the Drake Passage on the way back to Ushuaia.


The boat sets sail from Ushuaia, the southern-most town on the planet.  To get there I needed to fly from London to Buenos Aires - via Madrid in my case.  Overnight in Buenos Aires (after a late morning arrival) before an early flight the following day down to Ushuaia, then boarding late afternoon for the 20-day boat trip, before returning to Ushuaia and then retracing my steps home, with another stop-over.

Given the distance traveled and the principal expense of the flights and having done some research on the possibilities, I decided to add a guided half day birding tour ahead of boarding the ship in the hope of seeing some of the limited range species in the area, I also booked that through Explore!

Research also suggested a nature reserve in Buenos Aires, but one significantly damaged by fire in the past 12 months and with wildlife directly correlated with water levels, this also looked worth a trip given the spare time.

Ahead of the trip

You are advised that there is a 15kg luggage limit on internal flights with Aerolinas Argentinas from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, which meant some very detailed planning.  You also need to bring waterproof knee-length boots if you have feet over size 11, two pairs of warm gloves, a warm hat (average temperature zero, average wind chill -10), suitable thermal undies, etc., and normal clothing.  It doesn’t compute, so I set off with a bag weighing roughly 20kg, with many corners cut and my fingers crossed.

Personally, as the trip got closer I started to suffer from some separation anxiety (even though I traveled extensively with my job over the previous six years, this was the longest we’d be apart by more than 2x and given the remoteness it was a given we’d not be able to talk every day, nor indeed even communicate regularly). 

Also being at the other end of the world, there’s a surprising (not!) lack of shopping opportunities and I gather even Amazon doesn’t deliver, so you have to get it right, first time.  I bought additional memory cards for my video and still cameras and the rest of the thermal clothing I’d need as well as a tablet to act in place of a laptop (less luggage/space/weight).  So fingers crossed…

The Trip: 

The first stop on the trip was an overnight in The Art Hotel, Buenos Aires, which I would recommend, a pleasant enough hotel, quiet, clean, though modest.

Buenos Aires itself was culturally distant from me, I couldn’t in particular understand their 8pm earliest dinner time, so ended-up eating pizza in the city centre, having given up trying to find anything better.  I did however enjoy a three-hour walk around the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve, and though I ended up with salt stains on all my clothes I managed to see my first South American bird species.

The wildlife included Baywing:

Yellow-and-Blue Tanager:

A random but pretty butterfly:

Chalk-browed Mockingbird:

Cinerous Mourner (thanks to Facebook ID group for the ID for this one):

Creamy-bellied Thrush:

Double-collared Seedeater:

Fork-tailed Flycatcher:

A young Golden-billed Saltator:

Green-barred Woodpecker, one of a noisy group:

My favourite, this bird joined the flocks of pigeons, parakeets and doves in consuming human food on the walkway alongside the reserve, the very showy Guira Cuckoo - worth clicking for a better look:

Monk Parakeet:

Picazuro Pigeon:

Red-fronted Coot:

Another bird I needed help with turned out to be the National Bird of Argentina (whoopsie!), the Rufous Hornero:

Rufous-bellied Thrush:

Rufous-collared Sparrow:

House Wren:

Spot-flanked Gallinule:

Streaked Flycatcher:

Glittering-bellied Emerald:

Somehow between the three hour afternoon visit (with mostly cloud skies and exceptionally warm and humid) and getting home and processing the pictures, I though I had roughly 60 new species identified.  It was 31.  Hey ho.  Definitely worth a visit, though a morning would be preferable on virtually every count, no doubt including species too!

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Anonymous Jenny said...

The butterfly is Riodina lysippoides (Small Dancer).Common in central Argentina apparently.

1:27 pm  
Anonymous Alan said...

Hi Michael

We had a sunny half day there with good birds last week, followed by more great birding (and shopping) around BA and friendly welcomes from all the argentines that we met. Now back tackling all those photos of Prions, Penguins, etc.

11:15 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm fairly sure the thrush is a Creamy-bellied Thrush (Turdus amaurochalinus)- although it should have yellowish legs. Judith dipped on that one.

11:16 am  
Anonymous Alan said...

Could hummer be Glittering-bellied Emerald? I got no photos but we only managed that and the Gilded Hummingbird. Great photo by the way!

11:38 am  
Blogger Michael said...


Welcome home to you and Judith. I agree with both your species corrections, thank you, and have updated the page accordingly.


11:48 am  
Anonymous Alan said...

Suggestions are largely through the expertise of our excellent guide and all round great fellow - Marcelo. He organised a great 4 days for us (despite some dodgy weather and the odd mosquito).

1:45 pm  

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