My first trip to Argentina and Chile (Patagonia)

King Penguins in Chile - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Dec 19

I've always wanted to see Penguins and the amazing birds of Patagonia in Argentina and Chile. Since I lost my dad earlier this year I didn't want to celebrate Christmas. My mom died Christmas Eve too; so I felt this Christmas would be the hardest of my life, so I decided to do a big trip to distract myself with beautiful birds.

I chose to not visit Northern Argentina or Buenos Aires for 3 reasons. 1, I only had 3.5 weeks of holiday, 2, they are having the worst Dengue outbreak that has killed thousands of people and there is no vaccine. Finally, there is a lot of civil unrest there and protests and turmoil as they had just elected a right-wing president who had divided people when the country was in a terrible financial collapse. The protests are still continuing in Buenos Aires with massive strikes to this day.

I flew via Houston on United. The plane was delayed in Vancouver for a whole host of reasons. Causing me to miss my Houston connection. United put me up in a hotel and gave me meal vouchers and I couldn't fly out again until the following evening. They also gave me a 200 USD voucher for future travel which was ridiculous in my opinion it should of been much more. It was a highly frustrating and expensive delay as I lost my non-refundable flight to Trelew and had to rebook a more expensive flight, lost my hotel room and had to rebook a new car rental. Funny enough I had chosen this United flight because it was the shortest flight and travel time at 15 hours and 55 mins. I finally arrived in Trelew on Dec 21st via Buenos Aires exhausted.

Dec 22

After flying into Trelew, we stopped at Lake Chiquichano in Trelew and saw Coscoroba Swans, at least 1000 Wilson's Phalaropes, Yellow-billed Teals, Black-headed Ducks, Lake Ducks, Red Shovelers and White-tufted and Silvery Grebes. We also saw Austral Thrushes, Southern Lapwings, Red-gartered Coots and White-winged Coots. The park was full of birds including Picui Ground-Doves, Rufous Horneros, Great Kiskadees, Neotropic Cormorants, Southern Martins and Brown-chested Martins, Barn Swallows and Chalk-browed Mockingbirds, Shiny Cowbirds, Red-crested Cardinals, Rufous-collared Sparrows and Chimango Caracaras.

Next we drove towards Puerto Pirámides to see the Valdes Peninsula. En route we saw Patagonian Mockingbirds, Burrowing Parakeets, Rusty-backed Monjita, Carbonated Sierra-Finches and Long-tailed Meadowlarks and Lesser Shrike-Tyrants. There were many Rufous-collared Sparrows singing. On the road we saw dozens of Elegant Crested-Tinamous and many Mourning Sierra-Finches. With Elegant Crested-Tinamous it is only the male that incubates the eggs and raises the young.

Elegant Crested-Tinamou on the Valdes Peninsula, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

At Punta Pirámides, we had several Snowy Sheathbills (an odd-looking bird indeed. They were feeding on the feces of the South American Sea Lions. Here, we also had Southern Giant Petrels, Blackish Oystercatchers, Dolphin Gulls, Kelp Gulls, Magellanic Cormorats, Imperial Cormorants, Great Grebes and Sandwich Terns (different subspecies than what I've seen in North America), Royal Terns and South American Terns. 

Snowy Sheathbills with South American and Royal Terns at Punta Pirámides - Photo: Melissa Hafting

In the parking lot, we had Sharp-billed Canastero and Patagonian Canastero and Scale-throated Earthcreepers and Lesser Shrike-Tyrant and Pataganoian Canastero. We had lunch of Empanadas at the little town called Puerto Pirámides, where many tourists go to see the Southern Right-whales.

As we continued on the 4 hour loop around the Valdes Peninsula we saw finches, Eared Doves, Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetails, American Kestrels and the amazing large Lesser Rheas. There were also Patagonian Finch and Common Miners and some Burrowing Owls and weird-looking animals called Patagonian Maras. They look like half deer-half rodent! I was so excited when I arrived at one of the Magellanic Penguin colonies where a barbed wired fence kept one from getting too close to the penguins but I felt I was still super close. I could see their cute faces and pink facial skin and some were lying flat by their burrows. Other mated pairs were canoodling and holding their flippers together.

Magellanic Penguin Colony on the Valdes Peninsula - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Patagonian Mara on the Valdes Peninsula - Photo: Melissa Hafting

As we continued the drive and went to beautiful Punta Norte we saw many Southern Elephant Seals and South American Sea Lions and a couple of Hairy Armadillos. On the beach there were Crested Ducks and a Black-browed Albatross flying over the ocean, Great Grebes, American Oystercatchers, Manx Shearwaters and Southern Giant Petrels and Magellanic Penguins among other goodies. This is a famous spot to come and watch the killer whales eating Southern Fur Seals right off the sandy beach. The whales basically beach themselves to feed on the seals. Sadly, we were not lucky to witness that. On the way out we got to see the stunning Burrowing Parakeets flying and perched right by our vehicle. After this we drove on to Las Grutas.

A sign at Punta Norte on the Valdes Peninsula in Argentina - Photo: Melissa Hafting

South American Sea Lion bull with 2 Elephant Seals at Punta Norte - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Southern Elephant Seals fighting at Punta Norte - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Burrowing Parakeets on the Valdes Peninsula, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Dec 23

We woke up in Las Grutas and were en route to bird the Monte Desert. I saw a few Burrowing Owls, Fork-tailed Flycatchers and White-winged Black-Tyrants, White-throated Cacholotes, Cinnamon Warbling-Finch, Hudson's Black-Tyrant, Wagtail Tyrant, White-banded Mockingbirds, White-tipped Plantcutter, Gray-bellied Shrike-Tyrant, Blue and Yellow Tanager, Blue-and-white Swallow and Brown-hooded Gulls by the beach. We also had a Cinerous Harrier, Sandy Galito, Straneck's Tyrannulet, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Grassland Yellow-finches, Hooded Siskin and more. I got two ticks on me but got them off before they bit me. 

Hudson's Black-Tyrant in Las Grutas, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

White-throated Cacholote in Las Grutas, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Gray-bellied Shrike-Tyrant in Las Grutas, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Burrowing Owls in Las Grutas, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Next we were onwards to Bahia Blanca. On the drive I saw my first Chilean Flamingoes. There were my first wild flamingoes I had ever seen. They were so beautiful and just as I had imagined in my dreams. There were 30 of them and also had a Darwin's Nothura (a type of Tinamou) by the side of the road. 

When we arrived in Bahia Blanca it was one day after a Hurricane so there were many, many downed trees. Many locals were collecting valuable firewood and there were many downed powerlines as well. A few kids were living with their parents in what one would describe as in a tin shack. They were very poor and had no shoes and weren't wearing much clothes, even though it was very hot here. Their skin was burnt from the sun. As I sat by a tree writing in my journal for this report a little boy came up to me talking in Spanish. and gesturing for me to help reach a broken branch. So I broke it off and gave it to him. He and others were collecting firewood. I felt sorry for them and hoped their fortune soon changed. 

Argentina right now is going through a near financial collapse and their dollar (peso) is virtually worthless.

Dec 24

After a restful day, next morning we went to a jetty at the estuary in Bahia Blanca where we saw several rare endemic Olrog's Gulls.  There was also a Hudsonian Godwit and rare Semipalmated Plover and many White-rumped Sandpipers, Tropical Kingbirds and American Oystercatchers and Crowned Slaty Flycatchers and more. I really enjoyed watching the Fork-tailed Flycatchers and the cool-looking Spectacled Tyrants. 

Olrog's Gull in Bahia Blanca, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

It was very hot in Bahia Blanca almost unbearably so. It was difficult to pack for this trip as you needed both Summer and cold Winter weather clothes. I was glad I could drive a manual as all the car rentals are those. They drive very fast here and take much more risks driving than Canadians but outside of busy Buenos Aires the driving was manageable.

At another estuary in Villa del Mar, we saw American Golden-Plovers and distant Chilean Flamingoes. There were many Great Kiskadees, Kelp Gulls and Coscoroba Swans and Cocoi Herons and elegant Snowy-crowned Terns and Snowy Egrets, Black-necked Stilts (a different subspecies from what we see in North America).

Today, Christmas Eve was the day my mom died in 2021. Despite the distraction of new life birds, she never left my thoughts and I cried this day. I relived her dying in my arms and the moment she took her last breath and remembered what a lovely mother she was right until the moment I kissed her goodbye.

I suspected tomorrow, Christmas Day (the first without my dad (would be the hardest of all my Christmases on earth). I really missed being able to call my dad and tell him about my first penguins and flamingoes and all about my trip. We used to watch nature documentaries showcasing these species and told each other how much we wanted to see them one day together. They were my anchors and guides in life that I still needed, even in adulthood. How hard I’ve found it and how can I explain it to someone who has never lost a parent? I can say how do you imagine something that has always been there, suddenly being gone? Can you imagine a world without a sky? Of course not, it has always been there.

Getting back to the trip, at a roadside pond in Bahia Blanca just off the highway we saw many Grey-hooded and Brown-hooded Gulls and an Olrog's Gull mixed in with the many Kelp Gulls. 

Grey-hooded Gulls (in centre) with Brown-hooded and Kelp Gulls - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Next we were driving on to the Pampas region. Here we saw a Pampas Fox and a long-winged Harrier and several Crested Caracaras and Chimango Caracaras (the most common Caracara on the trip). We also saw several impressive Greater Rheas (this is as far south as they come) and great views of a Spotted Nothura and the Great Pampa-Finch, Grassland Sparrow and Short-billed Pipits and endangered Pampas Meadowlarks and many Long-tailed Meadowlarks. The only difference between the Pampas and Long-tailed Meadowlark is the colour of their underwing. The Pampas Meadowlarks have a black underwing while the Long-tailed have a white one. It is not easy to see unless the bird flies.

Great Pampa-Finch in La Pampa, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Pampas Fox in the Pampas region of AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Greater Rheas in the Pampas region of AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Short-billed Pipit in the Pampas region of AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Spotted Nothura in the Pampas region of AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Grassland Sparrow in the Pampas - Photo: Melissa Hafting

An endangered Pampas Meadowlark in the Pampas region of AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Long-tailed Meadowlark in La Pampas - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The Pampas area of Argentina really reminded me of the Canadian Prairies.  It looked like the grasslands of AB and SK. There were lots of introduced European Hares. I was delighted to see the stunning Campo Flicker which has a yellow head and breast. I also saw a Firewood-Gatherer pair building a nest. There was a few Spot-winged Pigeons and Eared Doves around as well as Chilean Swallows and a pretty Cattle Tyrant and a pair of the amazing-looking Guira Cuckoos. There were lots of Fork-tailed Flycatchers too. I also found a Pampas Fox with 3 kits which was so cute! I enjoyed photographing  the beautiful Green-backed and Campo Flickers.

Guira Cuckoo in the Pampas - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Pampas Fox Kits - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Firewood-gatherer building a nest in the Pampas - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Cattle Tyrant in the Pampas - Photo: Melissa Hafting

A female Green-backed Woodpecker in the Pampas - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Female Campo Flickers in the Pampas - Photo: Melissa Hafting

In the evening we stopped at a marsh in Bahia Blanca and saw a Grayish Baywing and White-tailed Kite and a real cool bird called a Crested Galito (a type of Tapaculo), singing in the open. They are usually extremely secretive. Here we also had a Plumbeous Rail and Long-winged Harrier. The road are not maintained well to Canadian standards in Argentina and many are dirt roads even within the city limits. There are many people living in abject poverty here as well. The infrastructure is not like what we have in Canada or Western Europe. However, the people are beautifully kind, generous and welcoming. Almost everyone I encountered could not speak a word of English. They use these very old medieval-like style of keys. They take some getting used to how to figure out how to open the doors. We are definitely spoiled in Canada. I was very tired this night and fell asleep to loud fireworks and festivities in the streets but all I could think about tonight was my parents.

Dec 25 (Christmas Day)

I woke up on Xmas Day and realized just how much I missed my dad and how it was so strange waking up and not hearing his voice tell me that he loves me and "Merry Christmas." It  felt so strange not telling him about my trip and talking about the Christmas Dinner that he had always enjoyed making. It felt so weird not being able to hug and kiss him today. It all showed me that even though I was literally thousands of miles from Vancouver that you can't go far enough way to escape pain or memories or think about those you miss and love. This was the 1st Xmas without my dad and the first with no parents alive and the hardest of my life, despite such beautiful birds to distract me. This is also the first Xmas I didn't celebrate. It used to be such a special day for me and my family, but this year I could not do it, hence the travel.

Well, on this sad morning we got up and went searching for a Yellow Cardinal in espinal woodland habitat. En route we saw a Fork-tailed Flycatcher literally riding on the back of a flying Crested Caracara! I wish I had got a photo! It was an amazing sight! I also saw several Monk Parakeets which I hadn't seen since my first day of transit from Buenos Aires where I also saw White-faced Whistling Ducks and Picazuro Pigeons. As we drove through the Pampas we had several lifer Green-barred Woodpeckers. Here we also saw a few Upland Sandpipers.

In the espinal woodland we found a few beautiful White Monjitas, a Masked Gnatcatcher, Brown-colored Flycatcher, White-crested Tyrannulet, Stripe-crowned Spinetail, Tufted-tit Spinetail, Suiriri Flycatcher, Small-billed Elaenia, Chaco Earthcreeper and a soaring Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle. We saw a couple of neat Brown Cachalotes, Swainson's Flycatchers and a Short-billed Canestero, a tooting Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl and great views of Darwin's Nothura and a calling Brushland Tinamou. It was damn hot here!!! Way too hot to bird for much longer and we had searched for many hours in the heat. On the drive out towards Las Grutas there was a Red-winged Tinamou out in the open and 2 beautiful Aplamado Falcons that I had not seen since Texas.  The roads were muddy and washed out with huge ruts and at a point became impassable even for the best 4WD. Sadly, we did not find a critically endangered Yellow Cardinal that day. They are listed as a sensitive species on eBird as they are highly sought after in the illegal bird trade and sell for as much as 1000$ USD.

Dec 26

I woke up in the Las Grutas and checked the Monte Desert, but it was extremely windy. I did find a Chiguanco Thrush but not the Black-crowned Monjita I'd hoped for. I did see a Cream-bellied Thrush and Rufous-bellied Thrush and a lovely Golden-billed Saltatore in the local campground. I also saw at least a 100 Burrowing Parakeets up close. These parrots are native to Argentina and Chile. They are also called Patagonian Conures. They are sadly in decline due to the wildlife trade and being killed as pests. They are named so because they excavate very elaborate burrows in cliff faces to raise their young.

Burrowing Parakeets in Las Grutas, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

About 30 mins north of the town of Las Grutas we stopped in scrubby espinal-type woodland where we were lucky enough to see the extremely rare Yellow Cardinal. It is one of the most endangered birds in the world and we were lucky enough to see 3! They were so beautiful! You can only see the Yellow Cardinal in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. There are less than 2000 left in the wild. I also got my lifer Checkered Woodpecker. We then drove back to Trelew after fixing a flat tire after driving over glass in the road.

Male Yellow Cardinal north of Las Grutas, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Dec 27

We woke up back in Trelew and drove 2 hours south to the Magellanic Penguin colony at Punta Tombo. Punta Tombo is the largest Magellanic colony in mainland South America with as many as 1 million birds! Fun fact: Magellanic Penguins can live for over 30 years. They were so cute to watch as they made braying sounds like donkeys and sneezed a lot. Some were pretty messy vomiting and defecating on each other and everywhere haha not the cleanest creatures! Some had 2 chicks, others had one. You walk down a couple kilometer board walk and you can get as close as 2 m to to the penguins. Miraculously everyone  was being respectful to the birds. I have included some cell phone videos I took of them.

Adults and chick Magellanics at Punta Tombo colony on the Valdes Peninsula, AR - Photos: Melissa H/

Part of the huge Magellanic Penguin Colony at Punta Tombo. Penguins walk several kms from the sea.

Here we also saw 5 White-headed Steamer-Ducks. It is the only easy place to see them in Argentina. They look a bit similar to our Eiders. There were also Big Hairy Armadillos walking the trail which is so cool to see these mostly nocturnal animals during the day. There were many Guanacos and Lesser Rheas as well. Multiple Rhea females lay eggs in one large nest with up to 40 eggs and one male guards all the eggs and raises the young alone. It is very unique! Lesser Rheas can also run up to 60 km/hr! There was also a Sharp-billed Canastero here and Chimango Caracaras. It was truly a privilege to be in the presence of those penguins and it made me excited for the other species I was hoping to see on my trip: King Penguins and Gentoos.

Female and Male White-headed Steamer-Ducks at Punta Tombo, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Guanaco at Punta Tombo, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Chimango Caracara at Punta Tombo, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

One thing I have to say I didn't like in Argentina was the food. Unless you like big hunks of meat and fries that is usually breaded it is not the height of culinary taste. I would think a vegan would have an impossible time and a vegetarian a very difficult one! On the road out there was another one of those cool looking Patagonian Mara (a large rodent that looks to be half Deer and half Capybara). There was also Cavis (a small rodent that looks similar to a vole) and Hares. 

As I said earlier driving in Argentina is very different than in Canada. They drive super fast think 130 km/hr in 80 km/hr zones and they overtake constantly, even when extremely dangerous but another thing that is different is that there is no stop signs at many 4 way intersections. This can be dangerous and confusing for North American drivers. Also you must never turn left from the left lane on major highways you must pull over to the right and use a lane that brings you over to turn left safely.

After visiting the amazing Penguin colony we went to the Trelew airport and flew to El Calafate. When we arrived the plane was shaking and rolling as if it were a boat in a stormy sea. The fact was the wind was so bad that the pilot would not let us disembark! The wind is notoriously bad and strong in Patagonia. My friends have told me that their rental cars have had their windshields blown out from the high winds. I looked out the window and the few trees present were literally blowing over! Welcome to Patagonia Mel!

After checking into our cute A-frame cabins in this windswept landscape we went to Laguna Nimez where we saw Chilean Swallows, my lifer Black-faced Ibis, Andean Ducks (which I'd seen in Ecuador), Chiloe Wigeons, Crested Ducks, Yellow-billed Teal and Pintail, Black-necked Swans, Chilean Flamingoes, Coscoroba Swans, lifer Upland Geese, Austral Negritos and more. Here the major target is Magellanic Plover, which we would be after tomorrow.

Male Upland Goose (White-breasted subspecies) in El Calafate - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Female Upland Goose in El Calafate, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Coscoroba Swan in El Calafate, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Chiloe Wigeons in El Calafate, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Chilean Flamingos in El Calafate, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Austral Negrito in El Calafate, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Black-necked Swans in El Calafate, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Dec 28

I noticed quickly that El Calafate appeared to be more well off compared to what I saw in Central Argentina. The houses were large, fancy and modern. Most people spoke English in this touristy area and there were many American and British tourists. It felt and looked a bit like Banff, AB without the stunning mountains but with lots of hiking tourists. Many people come here to hike Mount Fitz Roy in El Chaltén.

In El Calafate, since they cater to tourists we got to have an American style Breakfast at Pietro's Cafe, which was very welcome by me! Most breakfasts in Argentina I had were a simple tea/coffee and a small croissant. It was nice to have eggs again. 

American Breakfast at Pietro's Cafe in El Calafate - Photo: Melissa Hafting

It was super cold and windy here. I was so glad to have packed my toque, gloves, long johns, wool socks and sweater and winter jacket. It was a stark contrast from boiling hot Bahia Blanca and Las Grutas!

At Lago Argentino we found Two-banded Plovers and a couple Magellanic Plovers also it was nice to see Red-fronted Coots and Black-faced Ibis on nests. At one point further up the lake we found 5 Magellanic Plovers; 1 adult and 4 juveniles. It was fun to watch them feed. They would dance around in circles shuffling their red feet in the mud as they foraged. Because these strange shorebirds were so active, it was hard to photograph them with their heads up. They are odd birds and there are fewer than 1000 of them in the world. They are only found in Argentina and Chile. They are like doves because they feed their young with milk produced from their crops. They also dunk their heads fully into the water to drink

Two-banded Plover in El Calafate, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Black-faced Ibis on nest at El Calafate, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

A warning sign letting people know Magellanic Plovers nest here in El Calafate

Magellanic Plover in El Calafate, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

After this, we drove 5 hours from El Calafate to Estancia La Angostura (a lodge). On the road that goes past El Chaltén you see beautiful Mt. Fitz Roy in the distance but you also see live Guanacos. However, it is one of the most grim highways I've driven. You see almost a dead Guanaco on the fence every km on both sides of the highway. We counted hundreds on the drive. The animals get a leg stuck on the fence when jumping over and can't get away. They die a very slow and agonizing death. It was frankly horrible to see. The landscape reminded me of barren areas of Nevada and was pretty devoid of bird life but I did see a Least Seedsnipe which was nice and an Aplamado Falcon.

Least Seedsnipe in AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Here is a video of some live Guanacos coming to eat salt on the road that I saw on the drive.

Dec 29

The Estancia La Angostura lodge is known for Austral Rail and Lesser Horned Owl. The staff are so lovely and prepared delicious food for us. Maybe there is good food in Argentina after all?! For Argentina this is the most expensive accommodations we would stay in. Most places were dirt cheap in Argentina due to their low dollar value. It was the perfect time for a tourist to travel to the country for that reason.

The lodge is a working farming ranch and birders stay here and get driven to Estancia Lago Strobel lodge to see Hooded Grebes. It is a 5 hour drive on a very, very, very rough 4 WD Rd. A guide named Patrick took us there. There are only 700 Hooded Grebes left in the world and they are only found in Argentina and are in danger of extinction. 

On the drive in we saw a South American Gray Fox, Least Seedsnipe, Chocolate-vented Tyrants and Cinnamon-bellied Tyrants (which look like our Say's Phoebes). There were many introduced European Hares, we saw several Tawny-throated Dotterels and Common and Short-billed Miners, Chilean Flamingos, Flying Steamer-Ducks, Upland Geese, Black-faced Ibis and Two-banded Plovers and Crested Ducks and Scale Throated Earthcreepers. You drive through volcanic rock and see many Guanacos and Lesser Rheas. 

Tawny-throated Dotterels on the Strobel Plateau in AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Chilean Flamingos and Upland Geese on the Strobel Plateau, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Female Flying Steamer-Duck on the Strobel Plateau in AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Male Lesser Rheas raise the large broods of up to 40 chicks from multiple females 

A baby Lesser Rhea who is learning from his dad. They can run so fast! - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Patrick Buchanan who took us in was lovely. He is a field technician who works with the grebes. Last year the grebes’ entire colony only fledged one chick! It may be a grim future ahead for this species but gratefully people like him are working hard to protect them. The cost to go see these grebes was 300 USD per person but worth every penny as part of the money goes towards Hooded Grebe conservation  and part of the money goes to the landowner who gets incentive to protect the grebes and part of the money goes to Birds International and Birds Argentina. Birds Argentina are actively monitoring and protecting the grebes from predators such as introduced mink and Kelp Gulls and protecting them from competing species like trout and protecting their breeding ground habitat. Sadly many lakes on the plateau had dried up and others didn't produce milfoil, creating less suitable habitat for the grebes to breed and nest on. 

We were extremely lucky because miraculously there was low wind! Even Patrick could not believe it! We were dressed in long john's under our clothes though as it certainly wasn't warm! We met 3 of the Birds Argentina team who were doing the vital work with Patrick. They were so friendly and I'm so grateful for these people: Violetta, Juan and Juan.

You can watch a video below produced by the BBC on these Hooded Grebes and see our guide Patrick Buchanan speaking about these amazing birds.

Violetta in the lake adding nesting platforms with a couple curious Hooded Grebes 

Juan and Violetta Hooded Grebe Field Technicians on the Strobel Plateau, AR

Artificial nesting platforms put in the lakes to encourage and help the Hooded Grebes to nest.

The truck of the Birds Argentina team that were camped at the lake - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Once we entered the Estancia Lago Strobel properly we went to the 1st lake and there were 2 Hooded Grebes with 40 Silvery Grebes swimming on it. The Hooded Grebes were too distant for photos. I saw a beautiful Andean Condor. The road got way worse from here and we crawled so slow. 1 km literally took an hour and our bodies constantly jostled and I hit my head a lot on the vehicle roof. At the second lake there were 7 Hooded Grebes on a much larger lake. We saw a Cordilleran Canastero, which was cool but what was amazing was to watch the courtship of the Hooded Grebes. They would take up some vegetation in their bills and present it to another grebe. 3 of the grebes came fairly close to the shore where I could get some photos. As we watched them as we ate lunch they started to rush and dance it was heavenly. I prayed others would get this chance to watch them as the years rolled on past, when I no longer was alive. They are truly the most beautiful grebe species I have ever seen. If you want to learn more this species and how you can contribute to their protection by donating please click HERE 

Critically endangered Hooded Grebes on the strobel plateau in Argentina - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Variable Hawks flew over and Cinnamon-bellied Ground-Tyrants flashed their red caps near my feet. Also Short-billed Miners and Rufous-collared Sparrows ran around my feet looking for a piece of bread which they were successful in getting. I watched members of the team trying to restore the lake habitat; since the nest vegetation (milfoil) is in decline. They went into the lake in specialized suits and put in artificial nesting platforms for the grebes to nest on. They have successfully nested on them on other lakes they told me. There was a third lake which had 36 Hooded Grebes on it but you had to hike 3 km on uneven terrain to get to them. At the lake we were at we saw a beautiful Rufous-chested Dotterel in full breeding plumage. In Argentina it was their summer and the birds were in their breeding season. It is opposite from Canada. 

Rufous-chested Dotterel in the Strobel Plateau in AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

On the way back to the lodge we saw 2 White-throated Caracaras with a juvenile! I was excited to spot a male Gray-breasted Seedsnipe and his female too.

*Note to readers if you ever come to Patagonia bring lip chap! The wind and sunburn on the lips is brutal!*

At dinner, back at the lodge, an Italian couple came in who had basically ran out of gas and we clicked immediately. I spent the night talking with the couple and the woman was a fashion photographer. She was fascinated that I came to this part of the world for birds and I was equally fascinated about her 3 month trip and her fashion photography and stories. The woman could have been a model herself and her partner as well. They talked of their truly opulent lives, which I knew nothing of. She talked as true Italians do with her hands and with so much emotion. She was a real life of the party type and invited me to a NYE party in El Calafate but I had to decline as drinking and partying until the wee hours doesn't work too well when you are birding. I have to admit it was really nice to talk so in depth in my native tongue after not talking too much with the locals because I can't speak Spanish. We still talk to this day.

At dusk the couple joined us and we had 4 Austral Rails in the pond with Spectacled Tyrants, near the entrance and 2 Lesser Horned Owls right near our rooms. The Lesser Horned Owls look like Great Horned Owls but with shorter ear tufts. It was a brilliant way to end our amazing but tiring day.

Male Spectacled Tyrant at Estancia La Angostura, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Dec 30

After a nice breakfast with scrambled eggs, which was included at the lodge we drove to El Chaltén. I was struck by the mountainous beauty of the place and all the green Beech trees. Here we saw a beautiful glacier and the famous Mt. Fitz Roy. There were many tourists in this quaint town. Driving through Glacier National Park we saw a stunning male Magellanic Woodpecker. Also White-crested Elaenias, Magellanic Tapaculos, Black-chinned Siskins, Patagonian Sierra-Finches, Fire-eyed Diucons and Thorn-tailed Rayaditos! On the way out we had a flock of Austral Parakeets! We were hoping for White-throated Treerunners but no luck.

Glacier National Park in beautiful  El Chaltén, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Male Magellanic Woodpecker in El Chaltén, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

We had a delicious dinner of Guanaco Stew at Feugia Restaurant in town and waited till it got dark at 11pm (yes takes a long time to get dark this far south!) and we went back into the National Park and found 2 Rufous-legged Owls. I got a recording of them. They look like Spotted Owls a bit but sound like monkeys!

Rufous-legged Owl in El Chaltén, AR - Photo:  Melissa Hafting

Listen to them below:

Dec 31

After a delicious breakfast at the Fitz Roy Hotel we went back to Glacier National Park and found a Black-throated Huet-huet coming to the road with food in its bill. It had a nest nearby where it was feeding young. It is rare to see these large Tapaculos in the open. They have huge feet and run like a chicken but with a cocked tail. I was lucky to get a photo of it! These unusual birds nest in burrows and were one of my main targets in El Chaltén as they would not be possible further south on my trip.

Black-throated Huet-huet in El Chaltén, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The mountain forest road is stunning with blue glacial rivers and mountains with snow. Sometimes you can see Torrent and Spectacled Ducks in the raging rivers but we only saw Yellow-billed Teals and Pintails. I was happy to find a Chilean Flicker female as they are so uniquely patterned! They also have pale eyes! At the end of the long road you come to Lago del Desierto and here we saw 8 beautiful Ashy-headed Geese and Andean Condors flying over.

Female Chilean Flicker near Lago del Desierto, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Andean Condor over El Chaltén, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Ashy-headed Geese on  Lago del Desierto, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

On the drive out, we saw Rufous-tailed Plantcutters and we saw a male and female. They have such unique rusty-hinged door-like sounding voices! They are very beautiful cotingas too with orange breasts.

Male Rufous-tailed Plantcutter in El Chaltén, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

We next drove past El Calafate to see the Perito Moreno Glacier. En route we found Grey-hooded Finches and a Culpeo!. Culpeos are not true foxes and are more closely related to wolves and jackals. The glacier was truly stunning and huge!!! 

Culpeo near Perito Moreno Glacier, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate, Argentina - Photo: Melissa Hafting

There are many government signs across Argentina claiming the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas) rightfully belongs to Argentina. I saw these signs from Central Argentina down to Tierra del Fuego. I also saw non-governmental signs condemning Margaret Thatcher (who was Prime Minister of Britain when the UK went to war and defeated Argentina in 1982).

Sign declaring the Falkland Islands belong to Argentina at the Perito Moreno Glacier 

Another Gov't sign stating the same thing at Tierra del Fuego National Park, AR

At the picnic area, on the way out, was a flock of Austral Parakeets (The austral parakeet is the southernmost of all parrots in the world), Fire-eyed Diucons and Austral Blackbirds. On the river there were 2 Magellanic Oystercatchers! There were also several dozen Ashy-headed and Upland Geese and Neotropic Cormorants.

Austral Parakeet near Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Spent New Year's Eve at a restaurant in a crowded restaurant in El Calafate. I was reminiscing over how just a few months earlier at midnight on Jan 1, 2023 I had toasted in the New Year with my beloved father. We were at home watching the ball dropping in NYC and toasting my mom wishing the best for the new year. If only I had known in less than 2 months from that day I would never see his kind face again. I went to bed with sadness in my heart but with hope 2024 would have some brightness in my future.

Jan 1

When we drove from El Calafate and crossed the border into Chile it was like a whole new world. It was a 3 hour drive. The roads went from dirt gravel with pot holes to beautifully paved and freshly painted roads. Crossing the border was very quick and much more relaxed compared to crossing from Canada into the USA. Personally I think the security was far too lax myself. 

We went to Torres del Paine and hoped to see Cougars! Chile was truly beautiful. Chile is much more expensive than Argentina as they are doing much better financially and their dollar is worth more. The prices are very similar to what one would pay in the state of California.

At Torres del Paine we saw many Guanacos (Puma food) and Flamingos on Lago Amarga in the stunning landscape. We also saw Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles. There was also Dark-faced Ground-Tyrants and a close male Magellanic Woodpecker near the hotel at Lago Grey.

Male Magellanic Woodpecker in Torres del Paine, CH - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Laguna Amarga at Torres del Paine National Park in Chile - Photos: Melissa Hafting

A video of some resting Guanacos at Laguna Amarga, clearly no cougars around...

We spent the night at Puerto Natales. Here we saw Magellanic Oystercatchers and I heard them sing. They don't sound like any other Oystercatcher. They are so musical and sound like flutes.

Take a listen here:

Magellanic Oystercatchers in Puerto Natales, CH - Photos: Melissa Hafting

There were also Imperial Comorants, White-rumped Sandpipers and South American Terns, Flying Steamer-Ducks and Crested Ducks and gorgeous Black-necked Swans, Black-crowned Night-Herons and Brown-hooded and Dophin Gulls. I had a delicious seafood dinner at the Black Swan restaurant in Puerto Natales. The food is not cheap but the cuisine was much tastier than in Argentina. The flavours really reminded me of Westcoast Californian seafood.

Black-necked Swans in Puerto Natales, CH - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Crested Duck in Puerto Natales, CH - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Immature Dolphin Gull in Puerto Natales, CH - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Brown-hooded Gull in Puerto Natales, Chile - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Jan 2

We went back to Torres del Paine in search of Pumas and birds. We started off at the gorgeous Lago Amarga and then we drove towards Lago Azul and en route we stopped at a waterfall (Cascada Del Rio) and found a Spectacled Duck drake! This would be the only one of the trip! We then drove down to the gorgeous Lago Azul which had truly azure blue water. Here we saw a Great Grebe, ducks, geese, coots and swallows and had great views of an adult Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle. There were also Andean Condors flying overhead.

Spectacled Duck at Torres del Paine, CH - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Cascada Del Rio, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Laguna Azul in Torres del Paine, Chile - Photos: Melissa Hafting

At Laguna Los Juncos, Laguna de los Cisnes and Laguno Espejo, there were Gray-bellied Shrike-Tyrants, Silvery and White-tufted Grebes and Andean Ducks and a couple Flying Steamer-Ducks and a few Scale-throated Earthcreepers. Unfortunately, Flying Steamer-Ducks have been known to kill the critically endangered Hooded Grebe. At Laguna Los Juncos I got my lifer Yellow-winged Blackbirds. I had thought I would not get another chance at Rufous-tailed Plantcutters while seeing them near Mt. Fitz Roy but saw a whole family group here! In Chile they call them "RaRa." In the marsh I saw an Austral Rail, which was nice to get the species for both countries. Cinerous Harriers and a Variable Hawk and American Kestrels flew overhead. There were also Sharp-billed Canasteros. Sadly, we did not see a Puma that day despite many hours until dark of searching and this was my main objective in coming here. It is supposed to be the Puma capital of the world but you win some and lose some I guess but it was still disappointing.

Andean Duck drake in Torres del Paine, Chile - Photo: Melissa Hafting

White-tufted Grebes in Torres del Paine, CH - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Male Flying Steamer-Duck at Torres del Paine National Park in Chile - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Male Rufous-tailed Plantcutters or Raras in Chile - Photo: Melissa Hafing

Sharp-billed Canestero at Laguna los juncos at Torres del Paine, CH - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Jan 3

We drove from Puerto Natales in Chile back to El Calafate (this time the border crossing was a little longer due to a long line up) and spent the night.

A rainbow over the river at dusk in Puerto Natales, Chile - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Jan 4

The next morning we flew on the earliest flight from El Calafate into Ushuaia. After arriving from the airport we had a nice American breakfast at a restaurant called Tante Sara. 

American Breakfast at Tanta Sara in Ushuaia - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Ushuaia is  the capital of Tierra del Fuego and is the southernmost tip of South America. People call it "the end of the world." This town is the gateway to Antarctica and you see many cruise ships taking lucky people to see the wonders of that continent including penguins of course. I hope one day to be lucky enough to go.

After the breakfast we went straight to the dump where we hoped we would win the lottery and see a Striated Caracara. Instead we saw Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles and Crested, White-throated and Chimango Caracaras. Next we went to a lake called Bahia Encerrada and here there were many Dolphin Gulls and South American Terns and my lifer Magellanic Snipes.

Juv Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle at the dump in Ushuaia, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Chimango Caracara at the dump in Ushuaia, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Juv Crested Caracara at the dump in Ushuaia, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

White-throated Caracara at the dump in Ushuaia, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Magellanic Snipe in Ushuaia, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Southern Lapwing in Ushuaia, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Adult Dolphin Gull bathing in Ushuaia, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Then we went to Rio Pipo and saw my first ever Kelp Geese (males are snow white and the females dark brown). There were also Ashy-headed and Upland Geese present. Here I saw the Bar-breasted subspecies of Upland Goose which is different than the White-breasted subspecies I saw in El Calafate. Here I also got my lifer Flightless Steamer-Ducks. These ducks nest in abandoned penguin nest burrows and cannot fly. Since they can't fly, they are only found on the ocean. The males are very aggressive and can kill other birds with their strong spurred wings.  There was also a Giant Petrel and uncommon for there Franklin's Gulls (3 of them). There were many Dolphin, Kelp and Brown-hooded Gulls and Blackish and Magellanic Oystercatchers and Imperial Cormorants. There were both Baird's and White-rumped Sandpipers here too.

Upland Goose (Bar-breasted subspecies) in Ushuaia, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Female Kelp Goose in Ushuaia, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Male Kelp Goose in Ushuaia, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Ashy-headed Geese in Ushuaia, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Flightless Steamer-Ducks in Ushuaia, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Adult Dolphin Gull in Ushuaia, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Jan 5

On the large catamaran boat ride out to Martillo Island we saw 90 Gentoo Penguins and 1 King and hundreds of Magellanic Pengins. In the channel on the ride out we saw several Chilean Skuas, Southern Giant Petrels, Wilson's Strom-Petrels and South American Terns. Seeing the cute Gentoos and the lone King Penguin for the first time was very special. On the ride out you go in and out of Chile frequently.

Magellanic Penguin Colony on Martillo Island, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

I saw hundreds of the stunning Black-browed Albatrosses in the Beagle Channel on both the Chilean and Argentinian sides of the channel. Black-browed Albatrosses are endangered and impacted by climate change and longline fisheries. This Mollymawk is the Albatross that is killed the most in the world by longlines. There has been a 67% decline in the population over 64 years. They breed in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, Chile and in the Indian Ocean and on islands off of NZ.

Black-browed Albatrosses in the Beagle Channel in Argentina and Chile - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Chilean Skua in the Beagle Channel, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

A video I took on my cell of a Black-browed Albatross flying behind the boat in the Beagle Channel.

At Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse in the Beagle Channel we had 3 Blackish Cincloides. They even flew to the boat and landed on it! At the lighthouse there were Kelp Geese (swimming amongst kelp!), Magellanic Cormorants (Rock Shags) were also present. Imperial Cormorants (Imperial Shags) that were nesting there had many large chicks. 

Female (L) and Male (R) Kelp Geese foraging in the Beagle Channel, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Female Kelp Goose at Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse in the Beagle Channel in AR - Photo: Melissa H. 

Blackish Cincloides in the Beagle Channel in AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Magellanic Cormorants in the Beagle Channel, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Imperial Cormorants with a Dolphin Gull in the Beagle Channel, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Imperial Shags with chicks at the nesting colony in the Beagle Channel  - Photo: Melissa H.

Next we drove to Tierra del Fuego National Park and went to the end of the road past the most southernly Post Office. We drove to the figurative "end of the world." The most southerly tip accessible by car/road.

"The End of the World" and the literal end of the road of Route 3 in Argentina.

Jan 6

We got up early and went to the harbour where Dark-bellied Cincloides had been reported and quickly found it by the famous sunken ship called the St. Christopher. It is a British Royal Navy tug ship that was originally built in the US and was grounded in 1957 in Ushuaia and has stayed there ever since. There was also a male and female Kelp Goose there resting on the rocks. It was the closest I got to that species during the trip.

Dark-bellied Cincloides in Ushuaia, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Male Kelp Goose at Ushuaia, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Female Kelp Goose in Ushuaia, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Next we drove just under 3 hours to Rio Grande and at the Interpretation Centre of the Atlantic Coast Reserve we saw thousands of Hudsonian Godwits and Red Knots. We also saw Two-banded Plovers and over 120 Southern Giant-Petrels bathing and feeding so close to shore, which was so cool to see. These imposing birds look quite sinister close up. They aren't beautiful and remind me of ugly albatrosses in flight. They will kill penguin chicks and sick adults. They also kill adult Black-browed Albatrosses by drowning them.

Southern Giant-Petrels in Rio Grande, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

After lunch we drove down Route C and the wind was howling but we had great views of a couple Austral Canasteros. This was a bird I dipped on in Chile so was relieved to see it here in Argentina. There was also a Buff-winged Cincloides with a White-rumped Sandpiper and a Baird's Sandpiper in a small roadside pond. Further up the road we saw a beautiful male Patagonian Yellow-Finch, a bird I had been on the lookout for the whole trip! He was very difficult to photograph.

Buff-winged Cincloides in Rio Grande, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Male Patagonian Yellow-Finch in flight at the grasslands in Rio Grande, AR - Photo: Melissa H.

At Estancia Los Flamencos (a farm) further up the road we had one endangered Ruddy-headed Goose with a few Ashy-headed Geese and several Upland Geese. Ruddy-headed Geese do fairly well on the Falkland Islands but are severely endangered in mainland South America.

Ruddy-headed Goose in Rio Grande, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Jan 7

We drove from Rio Grande through the San Sebastian border into Chile. Again, it was a very quick crossing but at this one they brought out search dogs to search every car. We went straight to Parque Pingüino Rey to see the King Penguin Colony; where over 100 Kings nest. There were so elegant and tall and there were adults and immatures. A few were swimming in brackish water and it was funny to watch them walk so tall and human-like, waddling with their flippers held out! Penguins were truly as amazing as they are depicted on nature documentary TV shows! They would tuck their heads in to sleep and their bills would disappear. They were so affectionate with each other canoodling and caressing with their bills and whole bodies and made awesome sounds. Some appeared to be holding eggs in their feet. They were truly fascinating to watch. I just wished with all my heart my father had been there with me in person to view them which he would of just loved.

Seeing King Penguins near Porvenir, Chile was a dream come true! - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Parque Pingüino Rey (King Penguin colony) near Porvenir, Chile.

You must watch them from a blind but do get about 50 m away from the birds. This is because before this barrier was put in place and this place was protected people were trapping the penguins and taking them home to their bathtubs where the penguins would eventually die. They were also molesting them by putting tshirts on them for photos. Many Andean Condors flew above and there were Dolphin and Kelp Gulls.  There were also cute Austral Negritos (a type of small flycatcher) and many singing Correndera Pipits.

Here is a shaky movie I made of them (note how bloody windy it was!):

After a nice visit there (you are guided in and out) we drove towards Porvenir in Chile and on the route had 51 endangered Ruddy-headed Geese with Upland Geese. Here we got way better and closer views of the Ruddy-headed Geese compared to the lone distant bird I saw the day before in Argentina. There was also Chilean Flamingos and Short-billed Miners on the drive.

Endangered Ruddy-headed Geese in Porvenir, Chile - Photos: Melissa Hafting

At the border crossing as we left Chile we unfortunately had a flat tire, so quickly changed the tire and were on our way. On the way home we stopped at the beach at the same interpretive centre in Rio Grande and it was amazing to sit and watch over 2000 Hudsonian Godwits and several dozen Red Knots and 30 Two-banded Plovers, 500 Baird's Sandpipers and 300 White-rumped Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones and Sanderlings, a Whimbrel and Magellanic Oystercatchers all running on the beach. Again there were over 100 Southern Giant Petrels feeding almost on shore. Thousands of Manx Shearwaters flew by and many South American Terns and Brown-hooded and a few Dolphin Gulls and one rare Franklin's Gull was also present. It was very windy and cold but excellent shorebirding and sea-watching. 

Jan 8

The next morning we drove from Rio Grande to Garibaldi Pass. It is here that we hiked up the mountain in the pass we did this in order to try and find the White-bellied Seedsnipe. There is no trail up the mountain and you must walk through a bog and then have to bushwhack up a 900m elevation gain. It got more difficult as you approached treeline because the trees become more dense and small but once on top  of the plateau there was a bit of snow and absolutely stunning views. 

The beautiful views on the plateau above treeline at Garibaldi Pass where we searched for Seedsnipe.

The ground was covered in soft spongy moss to walk on. It was so soft to sit on and pleasant. You look for the seedsnipe much as we do for Ptarmigan here in Canada and the USA. They are cryptic and elusive and blend into their environment. They look and behave like grouse but are actually in the shorebird family.

We searched for several hours walking several kilometres over the undulating and uneven terrain. We never did find a seedsnipe but saw beautiful Yellow-bridled Finches and Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrants and Dark-faced Ground-Tyrants. We also saw a White-throated Caracara, Andean Condors, Buff-winged Cincloides and Thorn-tailed Rayaditos.

Female Yellow-bridled Finch at Garibaldi Pass in AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Male Yellow-bridled Finch at Garibaldi Pass, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrant carrying food at Garibaldi Pass, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant carrying food at Garibaldi Pass, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

In the evening back in Ushuaia we drove to Tierra del Fuego National Park and searched for Austral Pygmy-Owl and White-throated Treerunner since we dipped on them on our last visit. We found a whole group of birds and thrushes kicking up a fuss and mobbing what we suspect to be an Austral Pygmy-Owl but try as we might we could not visualize the bird or get the bird to answer back. We never did see the owl or treerunner sadly.

Jan 9

On my final day in Patagonia I took a dedicated small boat trip back to the Gentoo and Magellanic Penguin colony as I wanted better photos of the penguins. On the first trip we took a large catamaran that goes up Beagle Channel. It is necessary to do that catamaran trip if you want things like Blackish Cincloides, Black-browed Albatross and other seabirds. With the small boat of only 10 people we pulled right up in front of a lone King Penguin and thousands of Magellanic Penguins. 2 Kings were apparently attempting to nest but the egg will likely fail. The female was off in the water and we only saw the male. 

King Penguin at Martillo Island, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

5000 Magellanic Penguins nest here in burrows but we saw about 2000 of them. Many were loafing on the beach or swimming. They were quite curious of the boat and of us inside. The guide told us that sometimes people hit and punch the penguins and she needs to stop them. I thought how disgusting and how vulnerable these poor birds are, as they really come up close to the people.

Magellanic Penguins at Martillo Island, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

We also saw just under 100 of the cute Gentoo Penguins. I love their orange feet, bills and white eyebrows! They nest up on the sandy area above on a hill. They had many chicks at the colony. If you pay extra and go with Pira Tours you can walk with the penguins. We got lucky and a cute Gentoo Penguin walked right down the beach in front of our boat. He was so close only meters away. I loved watching them waddle and walk with their flippers held out. He then jumped in the water and swam away. That was the magic moment and photo I had wanted and achieved! Gentoos are the fastest underwater swimmers of all Penguins in the world and they are the third largest behind the Emperor and King. This species has been hit by the bird flu sadly this year in the Falklands and South Georgia. In Spanish they call Gentoos "Papuas." It was nice to see this colony had several large and healthy looking chicks. These penguins just like the King and Magellanic and their prey are being dramatically affected by climate change. 

A Gentoo Penguin only metres from me on Martillo Island (a magic moment) - Photos: Melissa H.

I have added a photo showing one of the trees almost blown over by the wind you can see how bad the wind gets at this place! These birds build pebble nests and some of the nests can be 8 inches high.

Gentoo Penguin adults with young chicks on Martillo Island, AR - Photos: Melissa Hafting

Trees completely bent over to the left from intense wind at the Gentoo colony - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The moment this Gentoo Penguin walked down towards me my heart stopped - Photo: Melissa Hafting

It was brutally cold and Chilean Skuas and Southern Giant Petrels flew around and landed on the island hoping to get a weak or dead penguin.  There was also a few South American Terns. I sure was glad to be wearing my long johns and my winter jacket, gloves and toque! 

Chilean Skua hoping to get some food at the penguin colony - Photo: Melissa Hafting

South American Tern at Martillo Island, AR - Photo: Melissa Hafting

I met a solo traveler from France here. She looked very sad on the boat, all alone so I introduced myself. She spoke French and English so we could converse well in both languages. Her face lit up when I began to talk to her and she really adored the penguins but was shy. I am so glad I spoke to her as she said it made her feel happy someone had talked to her. We got to chatting and exchanged contact info and ate a croissant and hot chocolate after the boat ride. She had been all over South America by bus and she was next going to El Chaltén and Torres del Paine in Chile and wanted some of my tips. She had just finished university in Paris and had 6 months to travel the world. Such an adventurous young woman, hope she remains safe and has fun. She told me her fave country so far had been Columbia and she hated Belize. It was really nice to meet her. I even felt comfortable telling her how hard this year was for me and the year ahead as at the end of Jan would be my dad’s bday and at the end of Feb was when he died on my mother’s bday which will make one year since he left my sister and I. Can’t believe it’s almost a year. I told her that I felt I was getting pounded emotionally from Christmas Eve with no break until almost March. I told her how much he wanted to see Penguins like this and how happy he would have been for me. I sure hope my Mom and him were looking down on me that day. It’s been a lot of pain to go through and at times I felt I would break but as Elton John famously sang “I’m still standing.”

I have included many movies of the cute Magellanic Penguins and one of a Gentoo Penguin frolicking in the water and on the beach. You can see how curious the Magellanics were, in particular, as the boat approached.

It was a perfect end to a fabulous trip. Even though the species diversity is low compared to other parts of South America such as Ecuador or Columbia, the quality of the birds such as these Penguins more than make up for it!

I want to take the time to thank my friends who helped me with invaluable tips in planning the trip: Daniel, Ken, Maxime, Steve, Mike, Ian, Rosemary, Paul, Graham and Keith.


  1. Hey Mel it's Ben! Sounds like an absolutely amazing trip, the pamas meadowlark is beautiful and the king, magellanic and gentoo penguins are incredible especially the kings! Glad you got away to take your mind off sadness and distract yourself with incredible wildlife!

  2. Amazing epic adventure! Beautiful photos and sounds like a once in a lifetime experience.

  3. WOW WOW WOW Mel thanks for taking the time to share this with us all. I sat down with a cup of coffee and devoured it. I really would love to see any penguin and will have to get together with you to figure out how I can do this trip. The trip planning must have been immense. It is so wonderful you got to see such endangered birds like the horned grebe and yellow cardinal! They are both stunning! The gentoo photo up close is spectacular and the magellanics and kings just wow thanks for brightening up my weekend!

  4. Your impeccable wording and magnificent photographs illustrate perfectly just how phenomenal Patagonia truly is. As you have stated, the number of species may be considered to be low but the quality is at its highest level and you have proven this on every page of your report. Your birding skills are exemplary as demonstrated by the number of species observed during your three-week adventure. Your report paints a picture of an unimaginable land of mesmerizing geographical features that includes spectacular serrated mountains, gigantic glaciers, and very wind-swept plains that I urge everyone to visit having followed in your footsteps. Your consideration to those you met along the way was heartwarming.

    1. Thank you for your kind words Keith, means a lot. I am so glad you got to see the wonderful Hooded Grebe and Magellanic Plover on your trip to Argentina.

    2. Mel, thank you very much for sharing your amazing and beautiful adventure! It was an inspired way to spend what was undoubtedly a hard time of year for you. I greatly appreciated your informative descriptions of the many special birds of Southern Argentina, the amazing landscapes, the great photos and your heartfelt observations of the people you met along the way. And I’m happy to see that you found lots of penguins!

    3. Thank you Peter for your very kind words it means a lot to me. So glad you enjoyed it!


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