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Sector 3 OWE 'Off-Piste' - Ushuaia, Falklands and Montevideo


There were so many cruise ships in port that we ended up using tenders. Right next to the tender dock is a small vessel marina, Costanera de Ushuaia and the Reserva Natural Urbana Bahía Encerrada’ where many of Balmorals passengers took a stroll. The OWE team did the same and it proved to be a very productive location.

It certainly provided us with our most intimate encounters with the Southern Giant Petrels, mostly young birds, as they hung out by a small outflow, clearly anticipating a tasty morsel to be flushed out. They were joined by Brown-hooded Gulls and Dolphin Gulls so something worthwhile was clearly discharging from that pipe. The shoreline here is rocky, covered in seaweed and barnacles and a dark Cinclodes species was flitting among the strandline debris. It turned out to be a Dark-bellied Cinclodes. This species is slightly smaller and paler than the Seaside Cinclodes we had been watching up in Valparaiso and Arica.

Brown-hooded Gull in winter plumage - Ushuaia © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Dolphin Gull in adult summer plumage - Ushuaia © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Southern Giant Petrel immature - Ushuaia © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Dark-bellied Cinclodes - Ushuaia © Russell Neave - OWE

Rocky shores are beloved of Kelp Geese but up to this point we had only seen them from a distance, so it was a delight to have a pair tight in alongside the coastal path. They are rather lovely birds, the ‘Daz’ white male and the chocolate brown female with her white fringed black belly feathers. Unusually for the geese the female is arguably the more attractive of the pair. We did a public vote on board Balmoral and the female won 'hands-down'.

Kelp Goose adult male - Ushuaia © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Kelp Goose adult female - Ushuaia © Jeff Clarke - OWE

The reserve lagoon held a wide selection of wildfowl. The commonest duck by far was the Crested Duck, but there were good numbers of Red Shoveler, with their peculiar pale eyes, Yellow-billed Pintail, Speckled Teal, and also a few Chiloe Wigeon. The grassy areas of the shoreline also held the ubiquitous Upland Goose.

Crested Duck - Ushuaia © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Chiloe Wigeon - Ushuaia © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Red Shoveler pair - Ushuaia © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Red Shoveler male - Ushuaia © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Upland Goose female - Ushuaia © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Upland Goose male - Ushuaia © Jeff Clarke - OWE

A small flock of waders along the shoreline turned out to be White-rumped Sandpipers. Southern Lapwings were also evident, here represented by the separate Patagonian sub-species Vanellus chilensis fretensis. Another bird was wading along the lagoon edge, a rather splendid adult Black crowned Night-Heron, this bird has an incredible world range, but it is divided into some distinctive sub-species, and here in southern South America you find the dusky obscurus. The adult birds of all sub-species are possessed of fearsome looking red eyes. The other bird along the shoreline was a Chimango Cararcara on the lookout for scraps.

Southern Lapwing sub-species fratensis - Ushuaia © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Night Heron subspecies obscurus adult - Ushuaia © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Chimango Caracara - Ushuaia © Jeff Clarke - OWE

There were a few passerines around including Dark-faced Ground Tyrant in the grassy margins and one of the most delightful was the Austral Negrito, a bird that is rather reminiscent of European Stonechat in its behaviour and shape.

Austral Negrito immature - Ushuaia © Jeff Clarke - OWE

As we tarried back towards the ship we came upon a trio of Long-tailed Meadowlarks. Fortunately, the male popped up onto a small Nothofagus growing on the bank, just as the first drops of rain began to fall, thus allowing the opportunity for a few images that showed of his dazzling orange-red breast and belly.

Long-tailed Meadowlark - Ushuaia © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Just before the rain began in earnest, we found another Cinclodes pottering around the rocky shore close to the tender terminal. This one was clearly smaller and paler than the earlier cinclodes in the same area. This one turned out to be Buff-winged Cinclodes. At this point rain stopped play and it was time to go and buy some tourist ‘tat’.

Buff-winged Cinclodes - Ushuaia © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Volunteer Point – East Falkland

If you only have one day in the Falkland Islands where do you focus your efforts? Emma had prior experience and suggested we head for the Penguin colonies at Volunteer Point. Balmoral’s tender operation allowed us to get off in promptly, so we could have ample time to do the tour that Emma had tee’d up for us with through Patrick Watts of Adventure Falkands. Thankfully the weather was benign allowing us to get ashore and climb aboard our 4x4, essential as nearly a third of the journey was across boggy moorland.

We had a brief stop for refreshment and a loo break at Johnson’s Harbour. There were a few birds to be seen including a very large, dark, immature Peregrine Falcon, of the subspecies cassini. Russell managed to grab a few images as it soared around the settlement. The farmsteads also hosted the Falklands race of the Dark-faced Ground Tyrant Muscisaxicola macloviana macloviana.

Peregrine Falcon subspecies cassini - Johnson's Harbour, East Falkland © Russell Neave - OWE

Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant - Johnson's Harbour, East Falkland © Russell Neave - OWE

From here it was all off-road, on a bone-shaking ride across the moorland-like habitat to Volunteer Point. We stopped only momentarily to scan for Rufous-chested Dotterels and a small party of Black-throated Finches.

Black throated Finch - Volunteer Point, East Falkland © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Volunteer Point itself is a triple-whammy of penguins, firstly there are the Magellanic, probably the most ubiquitous penguin of the region. There is also a sizeable colony of Gentoo’s and finally there is a large colony of regal King Penguins, the latter being the big draw here.

After extricating ourselves from the vehicle we made a beeline for the King colony. There was a great diversity of activity from the kazoo trumpeting of display, to incubation, feeding of young chicks and the odd loafing older chick, at the start of moult to their black and white dry-suit.

The King Penguin colony - Volunteer Point, East Falkland © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Kimg Penguin colony - Volunteer Point, East Falkland © Jeff Clarke - OWE

King Penguins and chicks - Volunteer Point, East Falkland © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Moulting King Penguin chick - Volunteer Point, East Falkland © Jeff Clarke - OWE

There was a constant procession of penguins heading down the beach and out to sea and a similar trooping of individuals returning from fishing expeditions. It was great to just sit down and let them pass you by, just going about their business, unperturbed by our proximity. The yellowy-orange colour on the head, upper-breast and bill of a King Penguin creates a stunning aesthetic and we could have spent hours just photographing them to get the perfect shot.

King Penguins parading down to the beach - Volunteer Point, East Falkland © Jeff Clarke - OWE

King Penguin incubating egg - Volunteer Point, East Falkland © Jeff Clarke - OWE

King Penguin headshot - Volunteer Point, East Falkland © Jeff Clarke - OWE

It was time for a close-up with the Gentoo’s. Most of those observed from the ship had been at a fair distance so it was wonderful to get up close and personal to these rather smart birds. Most of those on land were specialising in doing not very much, so we headed back to the beach to watch then entering or emerging from the ocean. It was all rather sedate and relaxing, probably because the weather was so gentle.

Gentoo Penguin heading for the beach - Volunteer Point, East Falkland © Jeff Clarke - OWE

There were small numbers of Magellanic Penguins here and there. Virtually all of the ones we saw appeared to be commencing moult which meant they were largely static.

Magellanic Penguin - Volunteer Point, East Falkland © Jeff Clarke - OWE

The beach was also populated by a number of shorebirds or waders. Two species presented themselves for photographic opportunities. A juvenile Two-banded Plover was in very fresh plumage and was rather a dapper little fellow. Once it reassured itself that we were not a threat it barely registered our presence.

Two-banded Plover juvenile - Volunteer Point, East Falkland © Jeff Clarke - OWE

A White-rumped Sandpiper was equally blithe about the threat that humans may pose. A close examination of the beach showed that most of the clumps of strandline seaweed had their own contingent of these, dainty, long-winged ‘peeps’.

White-rumped Sandpiper - Volunteer Point, East Falkland © Jeff Clarke - OWE

There were a few other bird species in the vicinity including Upland Geese and Falkland Thrush, but there was a distinct lack of Caracaras, for which the Falklands are rightly famous. It appears that the islands farmers have been undertaking something a cull of these integral elements of the Falkland ecosystem. Yet again humans disrupting the natural order of things because they think they know better.

All too soon we had to drag ourselves away, but on the trek back we got the opportunity to get good views of the local birdlife that included Silver Teal, Yellow-billed Teal and another goose species, this time Ruddy-headed Goose, rare and threatened on mainland South America but doing well on the Falkland Islands, where the locals often refer to it as a ‘Brent Goose’. This species is not closely related to the Brent/Brant Geese of the northern hemisphere.

Silver Teal - East Falkland © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Ruddy-headed Geese- East Falkland © Jeff Clarke - OWE

We also got splendid views of the Falkland Steamer Ducks that previously we’d only seen at distance from the decks of Balmoral, which was precisely where we were now headed and our imminent departure from the Falkland Islands. The visit was short and memorable and hopefully a return trip would be in the offing in the not too-distant future.

Falkland Steamer Duck male- East Falkland © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Ocean Wildlife Encounters - Off-piste: Jardin Botanico – Montevideo

The team had enjoyed a memorable six weeks supporting the MS Balmoral’s adventures around South America and Antarctica, Montevideo would be our last shore excursion. It had been a hectic time, so we all fancied a relaxing stroll round the grounds of the botanical garden and we were accompanied by a small cluster of fellow passengers of the birdwatcher persuasion.

We only had a few short hours at our disposal just enough time for one loop of the site. Considering it was in the middle part of the day we did pretty well for species and photographic opportunities.

Close to the entrance a handful of Rufous-bellied Thrush were pottering about on the lawns in the dappled shade, they were accompanied by the Rufous Hornero, who’s loud dueted songs were a feature throughout our visit. There was another thrush species in the grounds, Creamy-bellied Thrush, it was far more difficult to get decent views of as it tended to keep to the dimly lit shrubbery.

Rufous-bellied Thrush - Jardin Botanico, Montevideo © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Creamy-bellied Thrush - Jardin Botanico, Montevideo © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Rufous Hornero - Jardin Botanico, Montevideo © Jeff Clarke - OWE

The Botanical Gardens in Montevideo are renowned for being well-endowed with a wide variety of bird species, which included a number of pigeons and doves. Eared Dove was the most obvious along with White-tipped Dove, Picui Ground Dove and Picazzuro Pigeon.

Hummingbirds were plentiful, but as always difficult to see. We managed to find Glittering bellied Emerald, White throated Hummingbird and Gilded Hummingbird and photographed them all from moderately well to moderately badly.

From left: White-tipped Dove; Picazzuro Pigeon; Eared Dove Jardin Botanico, Montevideo © Jeff Clarke - OWE

From left: White throated Hummingbird; Glittering bellied Emerald; Jardin Botanico, Montevideo © Jeff Clarke - OWE

As usual there were a few Flycatcher species to be found, including Swainson’s Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Great Kiskadee and a White-crested/Straneck’s Tyrannulet The latter are only really separable by song and the one we saw wasn’t singing.

Tropical Kingbird - Jardin Botanico, Montevideo © Jeff Clarke - OWE

White-crested/Straneck’s Tyrannulet - Jardin Botanico, Montevideo © Jeff Clarke - OWE

We also chanced upon woodpeckers and woodcreepers. The former was White-spotted Woodpecker, a somewhat mis-named bird as it has lots of spots, most of which are not white. We spent some time enjoying a foraging pair of Narrow-billed Woodcreeper. This bird has an extensive range and has at least eight subspecies, despite an extensive search on the internet we have been unable to get a sub-specific name for the one occurring in Montevideo.

White-spotted Woodpecker - Jardin Botanico, Montevideo © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Narrow-billed Woodcreeper - Jardin Botanico, Montevideo © Jeff Clarke - OWE

One of the highlights was finding Chivi Vireo. Very similar to Red-eyed Vireo from which it was officially split in 2017 following genetic studies that confirmed the specific distinctiveness.

Chivvi Vireo - Jardin Botanico, Montevideo © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Without doubt one of the standout birds from our brief sojourn around the botanical garden was the Dark-billed Cuckoo. It loitered in the trees in typically lethargic fashion, before occasionally pouncing on an unsuspecting caterpillar.

Dark-billed Cuckoo - Jardin Botanico, Montevideo © Jeff Clarke - OWE

Star billing of the day went to a non-passerine. A rather smart member of the Rallidae, called the Grey-cowled Wood-rail. Most members of the family tend to shun the limelight, but this particular species is largely unperturbed by human presence and was happily strolling around in the undergrowth along a creek. Its full splendour wasn’t really obvious until it crossed a patch of sunlit grass, allowing the mustard-yellow bill, rufescent belly and chest and in particular, the fiery red eyes to blaze luminously.

Grey-cowled Wood-Rail - Jardin Botanico, Montevideo © Jeff Clarke - OWE

All too soon it was time to head back to MS Balmoral. If you find yourself in Montevideo, with a few hours to spare, and want to commune with some local birdlife the Botanical Gardens should be on your list of sites to visit. The cost of a taxi, or Uber, to the gardens is minimal and entrance of the gardens is free. On Tripadvisor you see some negative comments about the gardens being a bit unkempt, don’t be put-off by this. The relaxed approach to the grounds maintenance is precisely what enables so many birds to flourish within the site.

215 views4 comments


Thankyou for these blogs and all the amazing Photographs… it really was the trip of a lifetime for me and having all this added information enhances my memories… and l can delete my not such amazing photos 😉

Replying to

You are most welcome Corrina. 😊


Mike Pennington
Mike Pennington
Jun 22, 2023

Woodcreeper should be ssp. praedatus according to IOC List and Straneck's Tyrannulet should on still be its breeding grounds in the eastern Andes in late (austral) summer.

Replying to

Thanks Mike that's most useful.

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