Part way through the cruise to South Georgia Island, Karl Smith from the UK and I determined that we were both going to stay in Ushuaia for an extra day or two. He had already reserved a B&B and I a car, so we decided to team up. He was one of the first people I met on the ship too!
After all the goodbyes, Karl and I headed up the pier out towards the street. I was amused to read a sign declaring that Argentina claimed South Gerogia Island and the “Malvinas” Islands. A big sign that they wanted every tourist to read! The Falklands may be one of those political issues that is not solved during our lifetimes.
Through the gate and out on the street there were many of our colleagues awaiting cabs. Finally our turn came up and we went to the rental car office. This turned out to be little more than a desk and two chairs in a tiny otherwise empty office. Two of my Dutch Caucus friends were just completing their rental contract and I saw that they had a cheaper rate than I had arranged a long ahead of time on the internet. Seems that the cheaper rate was with a kilometer limit of 250. Since we did not expect to go anywhere near that far, we opted for the lower rate. The agent then drove us to the airport to pick up our car!
Off we went to the B&B where we dumped out suitcases and then over to another hotel to pick up one of our cruise mates: Anja. She had told Karl that she wanted to go into the Tierra del Fuego National Park as we did. Foolishly, I did not check on her interests there, assuming that she wanted to look for wildlife and/or attractive scenary, which was our objective.
The TDF National Park was only about 22 miles from town and easy to find. Ushuaia supposedly has a population of 58,000, but appears much smaller. It also appears prosperous, with well-maintained housing. Before we reached the park we spotted some big birds adjacent to the road. They were Black-faced Ibis, a bird I have seen on the Antisana plateau in Ecuador. We stopped for a few moments for photographs and then proceded to the gate.
There we learned that the entrance fee was $18, with no discount for elders and this fee was a daily admission. There was no discount for succeeding days. The roads in the park were gravel and it was dry, so there was a lot of dust. Since it was a Saturday, there were many visitors, including lots in tourist buses.
Almost as soon as we got inside, I learned that Anja wanted to hike and Karl decided to go with her. They found a suitable trail on the brochure we had obtained at the entrance and I let them off at the start of the trail. We agreed to meet at a T junction at 2:30, well within the time the literature said would be required for the hike.
The target birds for the park were the Kelp Goose, the male of which is pure white and the huge Megeleanic Woodpecker, a bird in the same genus at our own Pileated Woodpeacker. I was to find neither that day. What I did find were multiple pairs of Upland Geese, just standing near the road. It was clearly the start of breeding season and these pairs were, well, paired off.
I also found some Ashy-headed Geese that were similar to the Uplands, although a bit smaller. At one location there was a small flock (perhaps 25 birds) that included both species. I made mulitple photos. The scenery was very attractive with nearby mountains, saltwater estuaries and fresh water lakes. There were several fishermen observed, fishing for trout which had been stocked at some point in the fresh water.
On my way back to the T junction, I noticed a pair of ducks in a shallow pond by the road. They were mostly sleeping. This was an opportunity, so I slipped out of the car with my Nikon, 400mm lens and monopod. I followed my usual stalk method, never approaching the birds directly, but rather zigzagging in the general direction. They paid little heed to me, so Ii was able to get quite close and make some very nice photos. I later discovered that these were the famous Flightless Steamer Ducks, another target bird in Tierra del Fuego. I was amused to watch another photographer get out of his car as I was approaching mine, and walk rapidly right towards the ducks. They immediately went on alert and swam away to the middle before he made a single image!
I was rather hungry, so went to the cafeteria that was adjacent to the unattended Vistiors Center, but in the same building. I initially thought that it must be a holiday since there were so few people around, but the building was open and I satisfied my longings with some tasty victuals.
About that time is was time for the meeting with Karl and Anja, so I drove the short distance to the T and looked around. No one there I knew. Drove up and down the road in all directions, but did not find my friends. At some point I returned to the Visitors Center thinking that they might be catching lunch, but no luck. I did encounter Fred and Martin. The latter was experienincing medical problems, so Fred was going to take him to the hospital.
I never did find my friends in the park, so departed at about 4 and drove back to the B&B. There I used the computer to connect with the internet while awaiting Karl. We were supposed to have dinner in a waterfront seafood restaurant with Fred and Martin. Soon Karl returned and reported that he and Anja had gotten lost and did not get out of the forest until nearly 4. They had hitchhiked back into Ushuaia. They, of course, had terrific looks at a close triad of Megeleanic WP’s!
Karl and I had a very nice dinner at the posh restaurant, but our friends never showed up. The hospital did not want to release Martin for some time, so they missed dinner.
Sunday morning we were up early, with a nice breakfast at the B&B. We drove down to the waterfront where we picked up two new species of ducks and got great looks at the Dolphin Gulls that were hanging around the waterfront parking lot. We went looking for the new dump, but by the time we thought we had found it, it was getting past the time when LAN airline was supposed to be open.
We returned to the airport and found…no one at the counter! I wanted to check in, but apparently this is not something that is either required nor desired at this tiny airport. I asked three different employees for a boarding pass and finally, after waiting probably 40 minutes, one of them brought out the pass. We departed for the park.
It was Sunday, so there were very few people present. And the birds were far more in evidence, including lots of Austral Thrushes. We drove to the end of the road and made the short hike to an overlook. Kelp Geese were supposed to be seen here and indeed we finally did locate a pair…a long way away. But the male was unmistakeable.
We searched for the woodpeckers, but could not find them. Karl thought he knew exactly where he and Anja had exited the forest into a small parking lot and the birds were there. But we could not find this parking lot, so the woodpeckers were safe for another time!
We ate at the Visitors Center again and went into the exhibits part. It was really well done and presented in both Spanish and English. This is a place where one could easily spend a few hours, but my plane was supposed to leave at 3:30, so our time was limited. Karl had seen Oystercatchers along his hike, close enough for good photos, so we decided to spend our last twenty minutes in the park along that trail.
We did not find a single Oystercatcher, but a Rock Cormorant climbed right out of the saltwater in front of me and posed nicely for a number of images. this was a life bird, so appreciated!
We almost ran down the path back to the car to ensure I got to the airport on time. We picked up my gear at the B&B and drove back to the airport. On the entrance road was a new duck, what turned out to be a Chiloe Widgeon. I stopped for a brief moment while we glassed the bird, but my photo gear was all packed. I mentioned to Karl that I would have photographed that bird had we had time. Little did we know.
Arriving at the airport, we hauled the luggage into the terminal only to find that the flight to Buenos Aires was delayed by an hour. It took a few moments, but then I realized that i could photograph that duck afterall.
We returned to the car, drove down the entrance road, made a U turn and stopped by the two ducks. I made a half dozen images and we retraced out steps to the terminal building. I checked my bags, Karl and I said our goodbyes and I made my way to the waiting area. It was an unusual and amusing way to end my short stay in Ushuaia and Tierra del Fuego. This is an area that demands more time!