Ur­ban bird­ing

A wide va­ri­ety of in­ter­est­ing birds can be seen in the world’s most south­ern­most city

Bird Watching (UK) - - Contents - WORDS: DAVID LINDO

What bird­ing sur­prises to ex­pect with a trip to Ushuaia in Ar­gentina

THE SIGN SAID: “Wel­come to the most southerly city in the world”. How­ever, the word city is a rather lav­ish de­scrip­tion for this ur­ban cen­tre. Lo­cated on the shores of the Bea­gle Chan­nel, in the prov­ince of Tierra del Fuego, Ar­gentina, this strip of coastal hu­man­ity is the gate­way to Antarc­tica, a two-day sail to the south. A range of moun­tains en­cir­cle Ushuaia, the foothills of which are cloaked in for­est that is, un­for­tu­nately, be­ing eroded away by un­reg­u­lated de­vel­op­ment. Ushuaia has the look of a fron­tier town that has rather oddly been twinned with Ei­lat in Israel. Walk through the streets in the cen­tre of town and see peo­ple from all over the world united by their back­packs and their quest to visit the nu­mer­ous out­door and equip­ment shops. There are rel­a­tively few places to go bird­ing within Ushuaia, al­though the neigh­bour­ing forests would yield some in­ter­est­ing species, in­clud­ing Ru­fous-col­lared Spar­row and the Aus­tral Para­keet. This at­trac­tive par­rot can also be seen out and about in the town, travers­ing be­tween patches of trees. The Aus­tral Thrush is an­other for­est dweller that has adapted very well to its al­tered land­scape, like our own Black­bird. And, like our fa­mil­iar thrush, this bird can also be found hop­ping around in the gar­dens and patches of lawn to be found around Ushuaia. Look up and you will no­tice lar­ids, the flow­ing flocks of which con­tain Dol­phin and Kelp Gulls. They are the stan­dard gulls of this town. Aloft with them are the oc­ca­sional Chilean Skua and Chi­mango Caracara, both on the look out for an easy meal found through piracy, killing

some­thing weaker than them­selves, or by hap­pen­ing across car­rion. See­ing as Ushuaia is quite a small place, you can get to the har­bour area very quickly. It is a nice walk along the front, al­though the weather can change at the spin of a coin from be­ing rel­a­tively calm and sunny to squally, icy rain. You will also see more Dol­phin and Kelp Gulls close up, along with Black-crowned Night Heron and the universal House Spar­row along the shore­line or ad­join­ing patches of grass. Fly­ing ma­jes­ti­cally around the bay are more Chilean Skuas and South­ern Gi­ant Pe­trels. If you haven’t seen an al­ba­tross be­fore, you would be for­given for think­ing that th­ese ugly pe­trels were mas­sive. The South­ern Gi­ant Pe­trel is to a Wan­der­ing Al­ba­tross what a Black-headed Gull is to a Great Black-back. There is a big dif­fer­ence. The hand­some and di­a­met­ri­cally di­mor­phic Kelp Goose is also a pos­si­bil­ity along the shore­line, but they tend to be shy. This is un­like the Fly­ing Steamer Duck, that seem quite happy to swim past the shore­line, de­spite the pres­ence of ex­cited Antarc­tic-bound tourists. The Flight­less Steamer Duck, which is also known as the Fue­gian Steamer Duck, is also a pos­si­bil­ity. It can be sur­pris­ingly dif­fi­cult to tell apart from its fly­ing cousin. The few ur­ban bird­ing sites that ex­ist within Ushuaia in­clude the imag­i­na­tively named Ur­ban Re­serve in the west of the town, near the air­port and next to the sea. Here, you will find a cou­ple of small lakes with sur­round­ing marshy grass­land. Waders of any sort are rare here, but you should find Crested Duck, Chiloe Wi­geon and Red Shov­eler on the wa­ter, with Chilean Swal­lows hawk­ing over­head. Up­land Goose and Black-faced Ibis are also reg­u­lar. The grass­land is also good habi­tat for the Cor­ren­dera Pipit, a bird that is ap­par­ently fairly com­mon through­out the area. Rock and Blue-eyed Cor­morants can also be found within the har­bour that butts onto the re­serve. Fi­nally, the town’s land­fill site on the east­ern out­skirts of town is also worth a visit. At this venue, you can ac­tu­ally stay in your ve­hi­cle to watch the ac­tion through the chain-link fences. Thou­sands of gulls for­age here, with the flocks nor­mally con­sist­ing of the usual two Ushuaia sus­pects, but Franklin’s Gulls have also turned up. Three species of caracara can be found, in­clud­ing White-throated, South­ern Crested and Chi­mango rum­mag­ing among the rub­bish along­side the Turkey Vul­tures. On the coast­line nearby, look out for Black­ish Oys­ter­catcher and fur­ther out to sea for South­ern Gi­ant Pe­trel, South­ern Ful­mar and also Black­browed Al­ba­tross.

The land­scape of the Tierra del Fuego Na­tional Park, Ushuaia

Im­ma­ture Dol­phin Gull

Aus­tral Para­keet

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