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Equator to Antarctica - 'off-piste' adventures Sector 2.

Ocean Wildlife Encounters - Off-piste: The Sea Caves of Arica

In the afternoon of the 1st February 2023 we headed out to the Cuevas de Anzota primarily with the hope of connecting with a rather special marine mammal. It was blazing hot and the surf was very lively as we entered the park area hosting the coastal caves. Once again, Four-banded Pacific Iguanas were prominent among the coastal rocks. It was certainly easier to spot them than the Seaside Cinclodes that seemed determined to give only the briefest of glimpses and stuck to the deepest shade.

A Four-banded Pacific Iguana male basks on a rock at Cuevas de Anzota in Arica, Chile 1st February 2023
Four -banded Pacific Iguana male - Cuevas de Anzota, Arica, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Moments later all thoughts of the Cinclodes were abandoned as an excited yelp from Mikey alerted the team to the presence of our primary target. For a time it was a case of ‘now you see me, now you don’t,’ but eventually the whole team had unbelievably brilliant views of Marine Otter. Not just one, but a family of three: mum and her two well-grown cubs. Their sinuous bodies writhed in the tumultuous surf, appearing to be dashed on the rocks only to reappear totally unperturbed, playfully coiling around one another, or wrapping themselves within the seaweed. Their holt was clearly somewhere close, as they would disappear for several minutes at a time when they passed through a rock arch. It was hard to keep track of their idiosyncratic movements, but we probably spent well over an hour completely mesmerised. This is the smallest marine mammal, it is rare, and is classified as endangered. Some encounters are special, and then there are those ‘next-level’ moments when you run out of superlatives…

Marine Otters, mother & cub, jump into the swell at Cuevas de Anzota, Arica © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters
 A mother and cub Marine otter play in the swell at Cuevas de Anzota, Arica, Chile 1st February 2023
Marine Otters, mother & cub, in the swell at Cuevas de Anzota, Arica © Mike Bailey - Ocean Wildlife Encounters
A mother Marine otter with her cub at Cuevas de Anzota , Arica, Chile 1st February 2023

Marine Otters, mother & cub - Cuevas de Anzota, Arica © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

As it happens, we were not yet finished on the mammal front. Whisper it quietly, but Mikey had ‘intel’ that bats frequent some of these caves. But which one? We figured that the ones most publicly accessible were probably the least likely. Mikey selected a potential candidate and scrambled up to an entrance. He reappeared moments later with a triumphant smile. There, hanging in the interior, was a small cluster of bats. No ordinary bats either; these were Vampires! We were very careful not to disturb them and left them in peace and quickly ‘bum-slid’ back down the guano-encrusted slope.

A cluster of Common Vampire bats  in a cave along the Chilean coast near Arica, 1st February 2023

Common Vampire bats - Cuevas de Anzota, Arica, Chile © Mike Bailey - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

The reason for the guano wasn’t the bats; it was emanating from the very large number of Peruvian Booby nests that decorated the cliffs above our heads. There was a constant procession of birds and the sun reflecting off the cliffs was uplighting them against a blue sky. It did the same with the Turkey Vultures as well, allowing some good images to be captured.

Peruvian Booby - Cuevas de Anzota, Arica, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Turkey Vulture in the updraught - Cuevas de Anzota, Arica, Chile © Mike Bailey - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

We couldn’t leave without another look at the Marine Otters. The perfect end to an exceptional wildlife day.


Our second day in Arica could have been equally rewarding but it was one of those frustrating days when you end up in good habitat at the wrong time of day, and an area that you have previously visited, in this case Humedal del Río Lluta, that previously had open access, has now been zoned off to protect the wildlife, which is actually a very good thing. Whilst there we did see a day-flying Hawkmoth active on land, rather than stuck on the ship. In this case it was a species called Hyles annei.

Hyles annei Hawkmoth - Rio Lluta, Arica, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

We still ended up with a decent list of birds and a few nice photographs of things like Andean Swift, Cinereous Conebill and Slender-billed Finch, but it was a case of after the ‘Lord Mayor’s show’.

An Andean Swift in the Azapa Valley, Arica Chile 2nd February 2023.
Andean Swift - Arica, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Slender-billed Finch (left) & Cinerous Conebill (right) © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Before departing Arica, we dropped in on the local fish market, as had many of Balmoral’s passengers. Apart from the vast array of fish on sale, the local wildlife was very much present, and you could be within arms-length of a Peruvian Pelican or a South American Sea Lion. No need for big expensive lenses and cameras; a smartphone was more than adequate.

South American Sea Lions - Arica, Chile © Mike Bailey- Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Peruvian Pelicans in Arica harbour with the Chilean flag flying the background 2nd February 2023
Peruvian Pelicans - Arica Harbour, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Ocean Wildlife Encounters - Off-piste: Humedal El Culebrón, Coquimbo

We docked in Coquimbo early on the 5th of February. Today we could walk straight off the ship to our chosen destination. We’d keyed a few of the passengers into the potential of the Humedal El Culebrón so it wasn’t a surprise that many of the keen birders aboard Balmoral took advantage of our advice at this bonus port destination (courtesy of the unrest in Peru).

To get there you walk out past the fish market, then along the beach, which is itself full of interest with lots of birds present including South American Terns. Interestingly the adults here were losing their breeding plumage, whilst birds further south would still be in full breeding regalia.

An adult South American Tern transitioning to winter plumage on the beach at Coquimbo, Chile 5th February 2023

South American Tern - Coquimbo, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Pretty soon we reached a series of wetland pools that sit cheek-by-jowl with the main road. The calm sunny conditions presented a lovely opportunity to play with the reflections as Lesser Yellowlegs tiptoed through the water.

Lesser Yellowlegs at Coquimbo, Chile 5th February 2023

Lesser Yellowlegs - Coquimbo, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

One of the curiosities of this site is how unconcerned the birds are by close human presence. This holds true across a range of species, including the likes of White-faced Ibis and Yellow-winged Blackbird.

A White-faced Ibis at the wetlands of Coquimbo, Chile 5th February 2023

White-faced Ibis - Coquimbo, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A male Yellow-winged Blackbird perches in the Cat-tails  in the wetlands of Coquimbo, Chile 5th February 2023

Yellow-winged Blackbird - Coquimbo, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

There is some great marshy habitat so it was no surprise that there were plenty of herons and egrets about. The closest bird was a juvenile Cocoi Heron, but there were also Black-crowned Night Herons, along with Great and Snowy Egrets. One of the Cocoi Herons was indulging in a bout of ‘sunbathing’, an essential part of feather maintenance. It’s thought to improve the distribution of essential oils through the feathers and is also known to be beneficial in helping to dislodge debilitating feather parasites. Further close examination of the rushes and Typha produced a few ‘now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t’ sightings of Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant.

Immature Cocoi Herons - Coquimbo, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

In contrast, the young Plumbeous Rail that emerged from the vegetation positively flaunted itself for several minutes, before departing ‘stage left’.

A juvenile Plumbeous Rail potters around in the wetlands of Coquimbo, Chile 5th January 2023

Plumbeous Rail juvenile - Coquimbo, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

The main body of water, the Estera El Culebrón, was hosting its usual quotient of coots. Three species reside here, namely Red-gartered Coot, White-winged Coot and Red-fronted Coot. The latter looks like a moorhen in coot’s clothing. In many respects Chile is the epicentre of coot diversity, with a staggering six different species contained within its borders.

White-fronted, Red Gartered and Red-fronted Coot - Coquimbo, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

In the same body of water a few Neotropic Cormorants were harvesting their quota of mullet. It is always surprising to see just how large a fish a cormorant can swallow. It’s like swallowing a whole Sunday dinner in one mouthful!

Neotropic Cormorants tackling Mullet and resting - Coquimbo, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

An exploration of the drier areas just beyond the estuary mouth gave us a decent view of a Burrowing Owl, but most of our attention was taken by an abundant and very distinctive moth. Initial searches of the internet and other sources failed to put a name to it but back in the UK Anno got a positive identification. It is commonly referred to as Cattail Moth Ctenucha vittigera a kind of day-flying tiger moth found in Chile and Argentina.

A day-flying moth Ctenucha vittigera sips nectar from flowers in Coquimbo, Chile 5th February 2023

Cattail Moth Ctenucha vittigera - Coquimbo, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

As we made our return journey we managed to find a few Austral Negritos and a couple of Spectacled Tyrants. One of the latter was in a somewhat indeterminate plumage but appeared to be an immature male transitioning to adult plumage. Birds with complicated plumage sequences can often present a conundrum, especially if the field guides and other resources only have a limited number of plumages illustrated.

A young male Spectacled Tyrant in the wetlands of Coquimbo, Chile 5th February 2023

Spectacled Tyrant male - Coquimbo, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

We had a second chance at the waders in the shallow pools and this time we had close views of Southern Lapwing and Pectoral Sandpiper, the latter being a migrant from North America which spends the winter south of the equator. It’s a species that is particularly prone to getting diverted off-course during its southbound migration and, as a result, is the most frequent Nearctic wading species to turn up as a vagrant in the UK.

A Pectoral Sandpiper in the wetlands of Coquimbo, Chile 5th February 2023

Pectoral Sandpiper - Coquimbo, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

It had been a very relaxed and productive few hours and best of all, it didn’t cost us a penny. But we reboarded Balmoral by lunchtime as we would be setting course for Valparaiso by mid-afternoon.


Ocean Wildlife Encounters - Off-piste: Valparaiso

Valparaiso is a great area for birding, but it’s not that easy to navigate independently, so with a full day available to us, we had hired the services of Rodrigo Reyes of Birdwatching Chile. The ongoing drought had already ruled out one of our key venues so our hopes of spotting some of the Tapaculos had taken a knock but Rodrigo still had an ace or two up his sleeve.


We started with a few drop-in sites along the coast at Viña del Mar, beginning with close encounters of the sublime Inca Tern. We knew this would be our last hurrah with this special bird so we made sure that we took our time to get some final photographs. There were lots of different birds to see here but the other one we spent some extra time with was the Seaside Cinclodes. So far this Chilean endemic had been a reluctant photographic muse. Thankfully a pair of birds here were a little more obliging.

A Seaside Cinclodes along the coast of Viña del Mar, 6thFebruary 2023

Seaside Cinclodes - Viña del Mar, Chile © Mike Bailey - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Inca Tern - Viña del Mar, Chile © Mike Bailey - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

It was soon time to move on and a little further up the coast we crossed the Aconcagua River and entered the Parque Ecologico La Isla. This is a fabulous small nature reserve with great views over the river, estuary marshes and sandbars. The place was full of birds. There were quite a few land birds present on the site and one of the first that posed for a photograph was a splendid Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail. There is still much to be uncovered about this curious little bird, not least the fact that it probably comprises a series of cryptic species.

A few other passerines posed for the camera here. One was the rather drab looking Great Shrike-tyrant; a super-sized flycatcher that is happier chasing down lizards. We also had good views of the curious Rufous-tailed Plantcutter. It does what it says on the tin and both sexes have remarkable red irises.

A Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail photographed at the Parque Ecologico La Isla, Chile 6th February 2023

Plain-mantled Tit-spinetail - Valparaiso, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Great Shrike Tyrant - Valparaiso, Chile © Mike Bailey - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Rufous-tailed Plantcutter - Valparaiso, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

One of the standout features of the waterbodies was the number of grebes that were present: Pied-billed, White-tufted and Great Grebe. There were many pairs of the latter and it was the only one that was readily photographable, due to the position of the sun.

Great Grebe - Valparaiso, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

It was soon time to move on to our next destination, a splendid reserve called Posada del Parque. Only Jeff had previously visited this site and the impact of the drought was obvious compared to his previous trip. Some of the pools that had been a metre deep in water last time were now just a veneer of water and exposed mud. On the upside this mud did present a feeding opportunity for a few Baird’s Sandpipers.

Baird's Sandpipers - Posada del Parque, Valparaiso, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

As always, the Many-coloured Rush Tyrants and the Wren-like Rushbirds were playing hide and seek among the bullrushes and it was impossible to get photographs without intervening stems. Thankfully a Magellanic Snipe was a little more co-operative, but by now the heat of the day was kicking in and making the air wobbly, so pin-sharp images were impossible unless the subject was extremely close.

Wren-like Rushbird - Valparaiso, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Magellanic Snipe - Valparaiso, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A Zapallar Lizard was close enough as it was right at our feet; we’d found it whilst attempting to locate a Striped Woodpecker. Thankfully the woodpecker did finally put in an appearance. It was a strikingly marked bird but our images don’t really do it justice. As we wandered back through the pools and marshes, we had plenty of birds to enjoy, but the heat haze made photography pointless. Even a Plumbeous Rail that showed little regard for our close presence was difficult to get sharp.

Zapallar Lizard - Valparaiso, Chile © Mike Bailey - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Striped Woodpecker - Valparaiso, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Plumbeous Rail adult - Valparaiso, Chile © Mike Bailey - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

We eventually returned to a small area of woodland to look for Dusky Tapaculo. The bird was clearly audible, it was extremely close, the bushes shuddered within touching distance, but it resolutely remained invisible. Some you win, some you lose.


It was our signal to head for Fundo Quirilluca, and here we met up with Nicolas Araya, a colleague of Rodrigo. This was our main site for at least two Tapaculo species. We wandered into the stabilised vegetated dune system consisting of mostly scrubby woodland, and within minutes we had ‘jammed’ in on one of our targets. It took a few minutes before the whole group got the hoped-for views, but eventually the White-throated Tapaculo put on a splendid show. The tapaculos, as a family, are rather like super-sized wrens and most of them are very good at skulking in the dense tangles. White-throated is something of a misnomer as it has a buffish tint to the pale throat. Tapaculos are very good at running quickly and this bird did just that, before just as abruptly stopping and standing alert with a cocked tail.

White-throated Tapaculo - Fundo Quirilluca, Valparaiso, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

It wasn’t long before it was somewhat aggressively displaced by another species of tapaculo. A tapaculo on steroids, or so it seemed. In the same patch of scrub something akin to a Roadrunner fizzed around in indignation. It was a Moustached Turca. It took one look at its smaller cousin and more or less booted it back into the dense scrub. It re-emerged, still in a hyped state, standing rather upright with an acutely cocked tail. Moments later it would sprint across the open terrain like Speedy Gonzales, screech to a halt and again stand bolt upright. Once satisfied that there were no more interlopers to be beaten up, it promptly disappeared back into the tangle. Never to be forgotten.


Moustached Turca - Fundo Quirilluca, Valparaiso, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Moustached Turca - Fundo Quirilluca, Valparaiso, Chile © Mike Bailey - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

There was some wonderful habitat here, and a really good selection of birds to enjoy including Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Green-backed Firecrown hummingbird and Long-tailed Meadowlark, but it was soon time to move on to our final destination of the day.

Thorn-tailed Rayadito (left) Green-backed Firecrown (right) - Valparaiso © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

We arrived at Quintero. On the edge of town was a large stretch of degraded heath-like habitat and beyond the serried ranks of a plantation. The odds didn’t look too favourable for finding avian treasures but looks can be deceiving. We were on Nicholas’ local patch and he knew just where the gems were hidden.


We’d been marching across the dusty heath for ten minutes when Nicholas pointed to a small rise in the ground. Three golden eyes stared at us quizzically. A fourth brown eye did the same. The eyes belonged to a pair of Burrowing Owls but one of the pair had a curiously darkened eye. Was it blind in this eye or was it an anomalous pigmentation? The pupil was undoubtedly more dilated, which suggests the vision was impaired in some way. Our guide informed us that this pair had held this territory for several years and bred successfully so it seems it wasn’t a major issue. It’s always hard to tear yourself away from such delightfully charismatic birds but we were on a mission to rendezvous with a somewhat heftier beast.

Burrowing Owl pair - Quintero, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

We plunged into a Eucalyptus plantation. It’s a real scourge of a tree and it should be banned from anywhere it’s not native as it destroys the soil, is prone to wildfire and eliminates native flora. There were some patches of conifers in the mix and one of these patches were where our guides were zeroing in. Nicholas disappeared briefly behind some trees and moments later re-emerged, beaming. We moved very quietly into position and were soon paying court to the King of the woods. A male Magellanic Horned Owl Bubo megellanicus sat imperiously on one of his favourite roost perches. He barely gave us a second glance. We were an irrelevance in his life, not worthy of his attention. This species is also referred to as Lesser Horned Owl; a thoroughly inappropriate epiphet.

Magellanic Horned Owl adult male - Quintero, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Nicholas quietly gestured for us to follow him. Not much further on he introduced us to the Prince and Princess, the two fully grown young of the territorial pair. The female was noticeably larger than the male, so it probably made sense for him to keep a respectful distance. The young male sat barely moving, but the female chose a fresh perch every few minutes. Both birds still carried just a trace of their chick down, but it wouldn’t be long before their parents would exile them from the realm and they would have to find their own territories to rule.

Magellanic Horned Owl juvenile female - Quintero, Chile © Mike Bailey - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Time was ticking away so we headed back across the heath with just time to photograph a Common Miner before it was time to say goodbye to Nicolas and head back to the ship where in turn we said goodbye to Rodrigo and our driver. It had been a fantastic day with an impressive 82 species of birds recorded. Our guides had been excellent and we’d thoroughly recommend them if you are passing this way.

Common Miner - Quintero, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

But now it was time to head out once more into the magical Humboldt Current on our next pelagic adventure…


Ocean Wildlife Encounters - Off-piste: Chiloé Island

The whole team had waited for this day with keen anticipation. The heavy rain clouds didn’t dampen our hopes. We managed to get off on one of the first tenders to join our guide for the day, Raffaele (Rafa) Di Biase from Birds Chile. The last tender back was at 3pm so there was no time to lose. We had a couple of special forest birds on our minds.


Our first stop was the beautiful Bosque Piedra reserve: a privately-owned little forest reserve, protected with dedication and joy by Elena Bochetti. Her love of the forest, the trees, plants and wildlife shone through the gloom. Immediately on our arrival we could hear parrots screeching. Rafa quickly found the culprits. It was tippling down but somehow the soggy atmosphere worked in our favour as we photographed our first Slender-billed Parakeets.

Slender-billed Parakeet - Chiloé Island © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Chilean rainforest is a very dense thicket and light is at a premium. Before long we were watching one of Chile’s most charismatic birds, and one of our primary targets, the curious Chucao Tapaculo. This little bird seems to want to check out every visitor to its domain but getting a photograph in the forest gloom wasn’t an option. Even deeper in the undergrowth a Black-throated Huet-Huet gave tantalising glimpses. As we quietly walked through the woods, we could hear tiny piping calls. These were the seriously threatened Darwin’s Frogs, something Elena is fiercely protecting.


It would have been wonderful to stay longer but time was already pressing. We moved on to Parque Tepuhueico. Thankfully the rain had stopped, and the light had improved just enough to make photography a possibility.

Chucao Tapaculo - Chiloé Island © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Once again, the Chucao Tapaculos came out to play. One stood right next to Laura’s toes, before Brian had probably his favourite moment of his trip. He was sat on a step as this exceptionally confiding bird jumped on to his booted foot, then hopped across the divide to perch on his other foot. Brian had a smile a mile wide!

Laura's foot and a Chucao Tapaculo - Chiloé Island © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A little while later we stopped at a tangle of bamboo. Rafa could hear the calls of DeMur’s Wiretail. Every now and again we’d get a glimpse of something, or a bamboo stalk would shudder, and we were there many minutes before we eventually saw all of the bird, albeit briefly.


Next we went off in pursuit of a bigger prize… an iconic species of bird that we all really wanted to see. We picked up Patagonian Sierra-finch, Magellanic Tapaculo and Chilean Flicker along the way. We even had a Pudu, a tiny deer, cross our path. But as we headed for the reserve exit, it seemed our quest for our top target, was going to end in failure…

Patagonian Sierra Finch - Chiloé Island © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

As we rounded a bend on one of the final stretches of forest road, we passed a young lady filming something with her phone. We stopped to enquire, and she responded that she was filming a woodpecker. We turned just in time to see a Magellanic Woodpecker take flight and land ahead of us in some tree-tops. We piled out of the vehicle in such a hurry that Laura and Jeff got their binoculars tangled!


It was in view, backlit, for just a few seconds, but it was long enough to confirm this talismanic bird of the Patagonian rainforest. This truly was drinks all-round at the last chance saloon. Mikey fired off some shots with his camera, a lasting record of a huge piece of good fortune. Our dream bird was in the bag, which was already stuffed full of Tapaculo delights.

Magellanic Woodpecker male - Chiloé Island © Mike Bailey - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Magellanic Woodpecker male - Chiloé Island © Mike Bailey - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

It was time to head back to the ship. We figured we’d have a few minutes to drop in to a coastal spot to look for waders, with a particular hope of finding Hudsonian Godwit. Sure enough, the Godwits were exactly where Rafa had anticipated they would be. What’s more we had a good 20 minutes just to enjoy their close presence and get some lovely pictures of them. They were in a range of plumages from full winter plumage to almost full summer plumage. They would occasionally take flight and reveal their diagnostic black underwing coverts in the process.

Hudsonian Godwit - Chiloé Island © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Hudsonian Godwit in breeding plumage - Chiloé Island © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

We also had the bonus of Black-necked Swans almost too close to photograph and a Yellow-billed Teal (sometimes known as Speckled Teal) also put in an appearance and came just about close enough to photograph.

Black-necked Swan - Chiloé Island © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Yellow-billed Teal (Speckled Teal) - Chiloé Island © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

We were back at the jetty with a good 15 minutes to spare. It had been a whirlwind tour. It would have been great to have had a full day on Chiloé Island, it’s a fantastic place. We thanked Rafa for a brilliant few hours, and as a parting gift he gave us a top-tip for our next destination which was to pay off handsomely.


Ocean Wildlife Encounters - Off-piste: Laguna Los Palos, Punta Arenas

Our guide in Chiloé Island had given us the heads-up about a site a taxi-ride away from Punta Arenas where it was possible to see Magellanic Plover. Brian opted for a relaxed stroll along the coast getting fabulous photos of Imperial Cormorants, Magellanic Oystercatcher and Brown-hooded Gull. The rest of the team, Laura, Jeff and Mikey, plus a couple of passengers, piled into two taxis as soon as the ship had clearance from customs. There would just be enough daylight to make the trip worthwhile.


Brown-hooded Gull - Punta Arenas, Chile © Brian Tollitt - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

There was a brief stop en route to admire a few Darwin’s Rheas but soon the team were scanning a large, shallow, slightly saline lake. There were clearly good numbers of waders dotted around the shoreline, but the sun was directly in our faces. We didn’t want to disturb the birds, so we worked our way, with great care, into a better position for scanning. Most of the waders on the shore were White-rumped and Baird’s Sandpipers.


White-rumped Sandpiper - Laguna Los Palos, Punta Arenas, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

A lone Chilean Flamingo calmly strode along the shore and further in the distance could be seen multitudes of Upland Geese, a group of Coscoroba Swans, Yellow-billed Teal and Southern Lapwings.


Chilean Flamingo - Laguna Los Palos, Punta Arenas, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

It took a good deal of scanning before some dumpy waders with the right profile for Magellanic Plover were picked out. Thankfully, they took off and flew closer, leaving everyone in no doubt as to their identity. The light was still difficult, but great views of these threatened birds were obtained as they fed along the shoreline. Jeff slowly worked his way out onto the mud to try and get some photographs, taking great care not to disturb the birds. He eventually managed some record shots, but it was always going to be a compromise due to the very low, face-on sun.

Magellanic Plovers backlit - Laguna Los Palos, Punta Arenas, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

As we prepared to leave, two passerines allowed us to have a close view. The first was Buff-winged Cinclodes and the other was a juvenile Common Minor of the ‘cunicularia’ race, considered to be a species in its own right by some authorities.

Buff-winged Cinclodes - Laguna Los Palos, Punta Arenas, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

Patagonian Common Miner - Laguna Los Palos, Punta Arenas, Chile © Jeff Clarke - Ocean Wildlife Encounters

The sun was now setting, as it was on Mikey’s time aboard Balmoral but he’d finished on a high, with a new, much sought-after ‘lifer’. A fitting finale.

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Reading this account of some of the South American trip fills me with anticipation and enthusiasm for the 2026 circumnavigation on which I am now booked. Hope to see you all again on board! Thanks OWE for the inspiration.

Mi piace
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