I have recently returned from an amazing trip to Antarctica onboard MS Midnatsol operated by Hurtigruten (www.hurtigruten.co.uk). However, I began and ended my trip in Chile. Both visits to Chile were very brief, indeed, on the return leg aside from checking the Beagle Channel whilst sailing I only really birded in and around Puerto Williams (that faces the Beagle Channel) for a total of just three hours.
Time-wise, I fared a bit better when I first arrived in Chile. I spent several hours roaming around urban Santiago, Chile’s capital. Some 15 km later I had clocked a dismal 15 species although two were new – namely Austral Blackbird and Chilean Mockingbird. Most of the birds that I saw were mainly Feral Pigeons, Eared Doves and introduced Monk Parakeets. Shiny Cowbirds and Austral Thrushes were also prevalent in the many small city parks that I walked through along with Southern Lapwings. The grounds of the hotel that I stayed in provided me with Chimango Caracara and a sole White-crested Elaenia.
The next stage of my journey before embarking on my Antarctic voyage was the 4.5 hour flight south to Punta Arenas – the main gateway to the White Continent along with Ushuaia in Argentina. I got a cab from the airport on a journey that closely hugged the coastline. When I saw Punta Arenas in sight I jumped out and continued heading to the town by foot. Scanning the rocks produced Two-banded and Rufous-chested Plovers whilst Kelp and Dolphin Gulls abounded. Crested Ducks was also plentiful, looking like large sandy brown Northern Pintails. On the occasional abandoned wooden jetties where stacks of resting Imperial Shags. There were many on the sea too. They reminded me of grebes as they formed in rafts to occasionally dive in unison. They had a few all dark Rock Cormorants in their number too; that were smaller and even slenderer.
The bird of my visit to Punta Arenas had to be the Sabine’s Gull that I discovered amongst some Brown Hooded Gulls. I was first alerted to it when I noticed its distinctive tri-coloured wing pattern as it briefly flew a few metres down the beach. I was overjoyed. Primarily because the Sabine’s Gull was a species that I promised myself never to twitch as I wanted to find one “naturally”. This desire had its roots in October 1987 when southern Britain was hit by a great storm that wrecked havoc in its path but also brought in a lot of ocean-going birds. London had at least 25 Sabine’s Gulls at large plus numbers of Grey Phalaropes. My problem was that I was birding on the Isles of Scilly at the time, away from the storm and crucially, away from the Sabine’s Gulls.
When I eventually arrived back in the London all the Sab’s Gulls had departed. And that was the day that I promised to find one for myself. So naturally, the day that I found one in Punta Arenas was an emotional one. It was made all the more poignant because it was apparently Chile’s most southern record, as they do not usually occur south of Santiago.
The scenery along the Chilean coast as I was sailing on the ship was nothing short of spectacular and scanning the mountainsides resulted in a sighting of Andean Condor, which was a lifer for me. Chilean Skuas patrolled waters and a Striated Caracara briefly followed the ship before drifting off.
I referred to Puerto Williams earlier. I spent a total of three hours there on my return from Antarctica and despite the poor weather I had some fabulous birds. The local dark race of the Black-crowned Night Heron was commonplace on the edges of the watercourses along with Crested Ducks and Flying Steamer Ducks. The small lagoon area that I came across provided me with a Ringed Kingfisher, several South American Snipe, Magellanic and Blackish Oystercatchers, Black-faced Ibis and a Fire-eyed Duicon.
I will definitely have to return to Chile to explore if more fully and to find the one mammal that I would love to see above all the others – the Puma.
Santiago, Punta Arenas & Puerto Williams, Chile
15 – 17 February & 27 February – 2 March 2017
American Kestrel – a couple at Puerto Williams
Andean Condor – Tucker’s Islands
Aplomado Falcon – c3 near Punta Arena airport.
Ashy-headed Goose – around the Beagle Channel
Austral Blackbird – c20 in Santiago
Austral Thrush – common in Santiago
Bar-winged Cinclodes – Punta Arena
Black-browed Albatross – abundant in Beagle Channel
Black-faced Ibis – nr Punta Arenas airport & at Puerto Williams
Blackish Oystercatcher – 3 at Puerto Williams
Blue-and-white Swallow – 1 Santiago
Brown-hooded Gull – common in Punta Arena
Burrowing Owl – 1 at Santiago Airport
Chilean Mockingbird – 1 Santiago
Chilean Skua – common throughout apart from Santiago
Chimango Caracara – common throughout
Coot sp – on lake near Punta Arena airport. Seen from taxi.
Crested Duck – Punta Arenas & Port Williams
Dark-bellied Cinclodes – Punta Arena
Dolphin Gull – common in Punta Arena scarce elsewhere.
Eared Dove – common in Santiago
Feral Pigeon – common in Santiago
Fire-eyed Diucon – 1 adult at Puerto Williams
Flightless Steamer Duck – the Beagle Channel & Puerto Williams
Flying Steamer Duck – Beagle Channel, Punta Arenas & Port Williams
House Sparrow – common in Punta Arenas
Imperial Shag – common throughout
Kelp Goose – around the Beagle Channel
Kelp Gull – common throughout
Magellanic Oystercatcher – 2 at Puerto Williams
Magellanic Penguin – common in the Beagle Channel
Monk Parakeet – introduced & common in Santiago
Neotropic Cormorant – Puerto Williams
Night Heron – Puerto Williams
Plumbeous Rail – 1 photographed on Tucker’s Island.
Ringed Kingfisher – 1 at Puerto Williams
Rock Cormorant – Punta Arenas predominantly
Rufous-chested Plover – Punta Arenas & Puerto Williams
Rufous-collared Sparrow – common in Santiago & Punta Arenas
Sabine’s Gull – 2nd cal yr unexpected find at Punta Arena!
Shiny Cowbird – common in Santiago
Sooty Shearwater – abundant at the mouth of the Beagle Channel
South American Snipe – fairly common at Puerto Williams
South American Tern – common throughout apart from Santiago
Southern Caracara – Port Williams
Southern Giant Petrel – common in the Beagle Channel
Southern House Wren – 1 Santiago
Southern Lapwing – common throughout
Speckled Teal – Punta Arenas & Port Williams
Striated Caracara – imm following the boat briefly Beagle Channel
Thorn-tailed Rayadito – Puerto Williams
Turkey Vulture – near Cape Horn
Two-banded Plover – common on shore at Punta Arenas
Upland Goose – Puerto Williams
White-crested Elaenia – c2 Santiago
South American Fur Seal – in the Beagle Channel
Long-finned Pilot Whale – c4 probables in Punta Arenas harbour