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Birds and Wildlife of Argentine Patagonia - 10 Days

Birds and Wildlife of Argentine Patagonia
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The southernmost tip of the American Continent is a land of vast solitudes and unexplored wilderness. Remote Patagonia is an immense geographical region in the south of Argentina and Chile. Flanked by the Atlantic Ocean on the east, and the Pacific on the west, Patagonia spans north to south from the Colorado River in Argentina and Reloncaví Sound in Chile, to the Beagle Channel and Cape Horn.

To the east of the Andes, Patagonia is mostly a dry bushy steppe, rising westwards in a succession of 13 abrupt terraces, roughly 100 metres at a time, all the way to the Andean Range. Western and Andean Patagonia are very humid. The dominant habitat is the Southern Beech forest, with secondary tree species varying slightly with latitude. There’s even a temperate rainforest called Valdivian Forest, spanning over northwestern Patagonia, mostly within Chile, but with a wedge-shaped section crossing the Andes way into Argentina.

Strong westerly winds sweep the Southern Hemisphere, between the latitudes 40 and 49. These are the famous Roaring Forties. Air displaced from the Equator towards the South Pole, which travels close to the surface between the latitudes of 30 and 60 degrees south, combines with the earth's rotation to cause west-to-east air currents. Because there is little land below the 40th parallel south, greater wind speeds are able to build than at the same latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere. After crossing the Pacific Ocean, the Roaring Forties carry a great amount of humidity, thus turning the western coast of Patagonia into a generally wet and rainy region. These wet winds finally hit the Andean Range, producing heavy downpours on the western slope of the Andes, to drastically dry out before entering eastern Patagonia transformed into very dry, astringent winds running all the way to the Atlantic coast and beyond.

We will explore the steppes and forests of mighty Patagonia, searching for their unique birds. Patagonia hosts 60 bird species almost restricted or endemic to the region. It is also an incredible place for marine mammals, with the Valdes Peninsula standing out as the only breeding colony of Southern Elephant Seal in the entire continent. This is also the main breeding area for Southern Right Whale, and home to the famous sea-lion hunting Orcas that made the substance of innumerable nature films. The Patagonian forests are home to spectacular birds like Magellanic Woodpecker, and Lesser Horned Owl, but Andean Patagonia is also unique for its spectacular scenery, including such spectacular glaciers like the Moreno, which we’ll have the chance to see at Los Glaciares National Park. No trip to Patagonia is complete without paying a visit to Ushuaia, the southernmost city on earth, and ours is no exception, so we will also explore the same forests and islands seen and described by Charles Darwin in the early 19th century.

Day 1
Buenos Aires to Las Grutas

Our tour commences this morning at the airport of Trelew city, where you’ll meet your Trogon Tours’ leader. From Trelew we will drive northwards to Las Grutas, a small city located in the Province of Río Negro, on the shores of San Matías Gulf.

This particular location of northeastern Patagonia is the southernmost limit for several Argentine birds distribution range, including many endemics, so we will spend the balance of the day looking for birds like Carbonated Sierra Finch, Hudson’s Black Tyrant, Rusty-backed Monjita and many others. This area is also the stronghold of a bird that normally turns out being one of people’s tour favorites: Burrowing Parrot; a common resident that we will certainly not miss! We will spend one night at a nice hotel in town.

Day 2
Las Grutas to Puerto Pirámides

We will make an early start this morning to go birding in the surroundings of the hotel before breakfast. Our goal will be to try and find other endemic birds, like Sandy Gallito, Cinnamon Warbling Finch and White-throated Cacholote.

After having breakfast at the hotel, we will spend the balance of the morning birding San Antonio and Las Grutas looking for birds that we might have missed, and finally have lunch here before beginning our way south to Puerto Pirámides, the only existent village inside the Valdés Peninsula, where we will spend the following two nights. On arrival we will check into our hotel and, time permitting, go birding in the surroundings of town.

Day 3
Valdés Peninsula

We will spend the day exploring south and central Valdés Peninsula. This fantastic reserve is home to the largest breeding population of Southern Right Whales on Earth. More than 800 individuals spend up to 9 months a year in the pristine waters of this remote paradise.

Along with the whales, 32,000 Southern Elephant Seals, 8,000 Southern Sea Lions and huge numbers of different dolphins and porpoises share this environment as well. Diverse land mammals inhabit this unique Peninsula as well. Herds of Guanaco roam freely, and being protected, they are really abundant here.

The Mara, or Patagonian Cavy, is by far the largest rodent in Patagonia. They live and reproduce inside the Valdes Peninsula and we expect to find them especially on the way to Punta Delgada, the south-eastern most point of the peninsula. We will enjoy lunch at Punta Delgada, and then go visiting the Elephant Seal Colony in their private beach.

From Punta Delgada we will return to Puerto Pirámides, where we hope to take an early evening boat tour to go watching Southern Right Whale.

Day 4
Valdés Peninsula to Trelew

We will leave Puerto Pirámides early this morning and drive north to go visiting Punta Norte, the north-easternmost point of the Valdés Paninsula. Besides going to the general visitor area, we will also visit a private property to see a Magellanic Penguin nesting colony.

Around 50,000 penguins nest inside the Valdés, and this colony is one of the biggest in the area. Magellanic Penguins dig their own nesting burrows under bushes or in open areas not far from the shore. They get easily accustomed to the presence of humans in their breeding grounds and do not run away from the visitors, thus providing fantastic photo opportunities, with penguins standing right next to our feet!

A smaller cousin of the Mara, the Patagonian Lesser Cavy, is frequently found taking the sun just outside Magellanic Penguin burrows, where they find shelter. Two species of armadillos live here as well. They are normally very tame and do not hesitate to get close to humans and try for an easy snack; yet more easy photo ops for avid nature photographers!

After visiting Punta Norte, we’ll return to Puerto Pirámides for lunch and then drive all the way back to Trelew, where we’ll spend the balance of the afternoon birding in the surroundings of town. We’ll spend the night in Trelew.

Day 5
Trelew to El Calafate

A short drive this morning will take us from the hotel to Trelew city airport. We will take our morning flight to El Calafate, where we hope to arrive around noon, in time for checking into our hotel in town and have lunch. This afternoon we will go birding Laguna Nímez, a small lagoon not far from Calafate city center, on the shores of Lake Argentino.

This lagoon is surrounded by reed beds and gives shelter to such wonderful birds like Black-necked Swan, Chilean Flamingo, Andean Ruddy Duck, South American Snipe, Upland Goose and the rare and scarce Magellanic Plover. We will spend the following two nights in El Calafate.

Day 6
Los Glaciares National Park

El Calafate is the main gateway to one of the most spectacular landscapes of Argentine Patagonia: the Austral Andean Glaciers. Los Glaciares National Park was created in 1937 to preserve this unique wilderness, its pristine Southern Beech forests, Andean lakes and 13 spectacular glaciers. Glaciar Perito Moreno is, by far, the best known and most visited of them all.

It easily accessible by land, and a series of trails and lookouts in front of it provide breathtaking close-up views and superb photo opportunities. A boat tour allows visitors to get a different perspective of this magnificent glacier, so we will certainly seize the opportunity and go for it! The Moreno is one of the few glaciers in our continent that advances and recedes constantly. One of its huge vertical ice walls, a five-kilometer long one, sinks into the Canal de los Témpanos (Channel of the Icebergs). This channel connects one of the arms of Lake Argentino -called Rico- with its main body, and Moreno Glacier does fully cross it, usually once every 4 to 10 years, becoming an actual impounding dam that prevents water passage and causes an unusual rise in the waters of Rico Arm. The water pressure finally digs a tunnel through the ice dam, forcing it to collapse and fall, producing a phenomenon known as the “rupture” of the glacier.

This spectacular show congregates hundreds of glacier enthusiasts the world over, who eagerly wait for the ice bridge to break down. But there is no need to wait for so long to be astounded by the glacier. Huge masses of ice constantly collapse from the front wall; their thundering fall being welcomed by people’s spontaneous applause at all times. The glacier was named after Francisco P. Moreno, a famous Argentine explorer, well known in this country as the father of the National Parks. One of his greatest achievements was the discovery of Lake Argentino.

Wildlife is also very special in this part of the world, and birds are no exception. The road between El Calafate and Los Glaciares is flanked by rocky cliffs, with the snow-covered peaks of the majestic Andes in the background. This is home to the Andean Condor, master of the Andean skies, who will surely escort us all the way to the park, where we’ll look for other spectacular birds like Magellanic Woodpecker, Spectacled Duck, Magellanic Tapaculo and Rufous-tailed Plantcutter to name but a few.

Day 7
El Calafate to Ushuaia

We will bid farewell to El Calafate this morning and drive to the local airport for taking our flight to Ushuaia. After landing at the southernmost city on earth, we will transfer to our hotel on the shores of the Beagle Channel, check in for the following three nights and have lunch.

This afternoon we will make a short tour to Le Martial Glacier, where we hope to take a chair lift and get above the timberline an look for some very localized bird species, like Yellow-bridled Finch, Ochre-naped Ground Tyrant and Grey-flanked Cinclodes. The view from this place is really spectacular, and we will have the chance to get wonderful pictures of Ushuaia, the Beagle Channel and the Chilean island of Navarino.

Day 8
Tierra del Fuego National Park

Today we will set off after breakfast for a full day tour to Tierra del Fuego National Park. Located 8 kilometers west of Ushuaia, this park was created in 1960 to protect a vast relict of coastal Southern Beech forest, and its particular wildlife. Several native mammal species make their home within the boundaries of the park, with Fuegian or Culpeo Fox, Southern Sea-Otter, and Southern River Otter standing out of the rest because of their highly restricted distribution range in Argentina.

Unfortunately foreign mammals like Canadian Beaver, European Rabbit and Muskarat were introduced here in the early 20th century, causing serious damage to this fragile sub-Antarctic ecosystem. The park authorities have been working hard to keep their populations low and under control, but thus far they failed to eradicate these undesired invaders. This national park it reputedly the best place in Argentina for Magellanic Woodpecker, but it’s also great for birds like Flying Steamer Duck, Fuegian Steamer Duck, Kelp Goose, Ashy-headed Goose, White-throated Treerunner, Black-faced Ibis, Thorn-tailed Rayadito and at three owl species: Lesser Horned, Rufous-legged and Austral Pygmy.

Day 9
Beagle Channel and Estancia Harberton

Today is special for those who enjoy seabird watching. We will leave our hotel after breakfast and drive to Ushuaia City port, where we will board a motor catamaran for a tour along the Beagle Channel that will take us east of Ushuaia, all the way to Estancia Harberton.

There are several Southern Sea Lion and Southern Fur Seal colonies on the seashores and small islets of the Beagle Channel. Seabirds are abundant here as well. Imperial and Rock Shags, Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins, South American Tern, Dolphin Gull, Southern Giant Petrel, Magellanic and Common Diving Petrels, Black-browed Albatross, Southern Fulmar and many others turn this place into a birders paradise.

After having lunch on board the catamaran we will disembark in Estancia Harberton, the first farm of Tierra del Fuego, established by Rev. Thomas Bridges in 1886. A local guide will show us around, and we will also have time to do some birding and visit the local marine mammal museum. We will return to Ushuaia by bus in the late afternoon.

Day 10
Ushuaia – Tour conclusion

We will spend our last morning in Patagonia birding in the surroundings of our hotel, and then drive to the city center for having lunch at a local restaurant and to enjoy some free time for walking around Ushuaia. We will drive to Ushuaia International Airport in the afternoon, where the tour ends.

Carbonated Sierra Finch, Hudson’s Black Tyrant, Rusty-backed Monjita, Sandy Gallito, Cinnamon Warbling Finch,White-throated Cacholote, Yellow-bridled Finch, Ochre-naped Ground Tyrant, Grey-flanked Cinclode, Flying Steamer Duck, Fuegian Steamer Duck, Kelp Goose, Ashy-headed Goose, White-throated Treerunner, Black-faced Ibis, Thorn-tailed Rayadito

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10 Days

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USD2,855/person
This tour is operated by: Trogon Tours

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