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November 2011

"In the land of the Puma and Pudu, Parakeets and Penguins"

Chilean countryside with Burrowing Parakeets in the tress 


List of Birds & Other Wildlife during the FONT Chile Tour - November 2011 

A Gallery of Photos from our November 2011 Chile Tour

Some of the Accommodations during our November 2011 Tour

A Feature with Some Poems about Birds by Pablo Neruda (with photos)

A Complete List & Photo Gallery of Chile Birds, in 2 parts

Mammals in Chile  (with some photos)

Upcoming FONT Birding & Nature Tours in Chile


The following narrative of the FONT Nov 2011 Chile Tour was written by Armas Hill, the tour leader:

The Puma, of course, is the widespread American mammal also known as the Cougar or Puma. It is common in parts of Chile, but a hard animal to see. No, we did not see one during our November 2011 birding & nature tour in Chile, except on a couple highway billboards relating to Chilean wildlife. Maybe next time. Hopefully. We'll try.
But one of the 6 species of wild cats in Chile was seen, a Kodkod (kind of like a Bobcat, but with a longer tail).
A Pudu was seen. It is a small deer, actually the world's smallest deer. The shoulder height of an adult is 16 inches off the ground.  


The Pudu

Another mammal seen during the tour was a mostly silver-gray and black mustelid (a weasel-like animal), the Lesser Grison, known locally as the Quique.   
And in the same family, at a rocky seacoast, we saw the Marine Otter (similar to, but smaller than the Sea Otter). It is known locally as the Chungungo.       

During our November 2011 Chile Tour, we did see both parakeets and penguins, among the many birds that we enjoyed.

A rare, endangered, and localized bird in Chile is the Burrowing Parakeet, a large parakeet about the size of smaller macaw. Also called the Patagonian Conure, it has an array of colors. Its upper-parts and long tail are olive-green. Its rump is yellow. Its head is olive-brown. It has a gray forecrown and white around its eyes. It has a white breast band. Its abdomen is yellow, with a streak of red on its belly. Its wing primaries are blue. It has yellow legs and pale red feet. Putting all this together, the bird has, yes, an array of colors. The species also occurs in Argentina, but west of the Andes in Chile, where it is called the Tricahue, it is an isolated, endemic subspecies.   

Not all of their colors can be seen here, but these two Burrowing Parakeets
were feeding in the afternoon sunlight on the ground.

Also notable, and classified as a near-threatened species, is the Slender-billed Parakeet, that's endemic to southern Chile. An interesting and distinctive feature of the bird is its elongated upper bill, much longer and thinner than its lower bill. Noisy as they fly about, these parakeets, especially in the late afternoon, are an obvious part of a southern Chilean scene that includes snow-capped volcanoes, lakes, forests, and pastures with scattered large trees. The long, thin upper beaks are used to crack seeds in the cones of Araucaria trees, or Nothofagus seeds and bulbous roots in the ground.
A third Chilean parakeet, the Austral Parakeet, while not with features as distinctive as those of the Burrowing and Slender-billed Parakeets, is still notable in that it is the southernmost parakeet in the Americas. An alternate name for it is the Emerald Parakeet.

Two species of penguins that we saw on rocky islets, along a picturesque stretch of the Chiloe Island seacoast, were close together, but apparently breeding with their own kind. Superficially similar, they were the Humboldt and the Magellanic Penguins. Basically, the Humboldt breeds along the Pacific Coast of South America from that Chiloe Island site north, while the Magellanic breeds from there south (and also on the Atlantic side of southern South America).  

Magellanic Penguins

With the penguins, that were on the rocks and in the water, we saw Fuegian (or Flightless) Steamer Ducks, Kelp Geese, Kelp Gulls, the attractive Dolphin Gull, South American Terns, and 4 species of cormorants: the Imperial, the Rock, the Neotropic, and what may be said to be the most beautiful of all cormorants, the Red-legged.           

The first FONT tour, back in November of 1990, was in Chile. 21 years later, from November 12 to 20, 2011, we were back there again. And our 19th tour in Chile was just a fun and exciting as our first one had been just over 2 decades previously.

And that could be because, for the observation of birds and other nature, Chile is an interesting and fascinating country to visit.

It is long and narrow, rather like a "string bean" of a country. Its length in one-tenth of the Earth's perimeter, extending 38 degrees of latitude. Putting that in distances we can relate to, the length of mainland Chile is 2,700 miles, or 4,345 kilometers. It is the equivalent of going from Ketchikan in Alaska to the southernmost tip of Baja California in Mexico.

And with that length, comes diversity. And that's why Chile is as interesting and fascinating as it is. 
In the far-north, there is a very dry desert, as dry as a desert can be in the World. 
And in the far-south, there is rainforest, about as wet as a forest on this planet can be. 
And another factor adds to the diversity of the nature of Chile. Even though it is narrow, with an average width of 110 miles, the elevation in that width is from sea level to the high mountain peaks of the Andes. Actually, from the offshore submarine trench that parallels the Pacific coast to those Andean peaks, there is a difference of about 40,000 feet.

To give an idea of the natural diversity in Chile, due to the tremendous variety of natural environments and climates, a summary of what has been found naturally in the long "string bean" of a country reads like this
4,600 flowering plants, 1,187 mollusk species, 606 crustacean species, 1,179 species of fish, more than 43 amphibian species (a few have recently been discovered), more than 94 reptile species (again a few recently discovered), 456 bird species, and 148 species of mammals.

During our early Chile tours, when air flights within the country were cheaper, we would travel by air, during one tour, from central Chile to southern Chile, and then continue to far-southern Chile (Puntarenas), followed by an optical extension for which we'd fly all the way north to the Peruvian border, to explore from sea level to up high in the Andes (to about 12,000 feet) by the border with Bolivia.

More recently, during our tours in central and southern Chile, we've stayed on the ground and seen so much at places that we missed when we flew. Again in November 2011, we traveled south, in increments, just over 1,000 kilometers (one-fourth the length of the country), with time to enjoy areas in the mountains with the flocks of Burrowing Parakeets and groves of Araucaria trees, and strikingly beautiful volcanoes, some fine forests and wetlands, and one of the most picturesque places in all of Chile, the island known as Chiloe. These were in addition to high Andean habitats southeast of Santiago.

We traveled south, crossing the Rio Bio Bio. It is at that river that the aspects of the countryside become "Patagonian".   

South of the Bio Bio River, in a region of forests and snow-covered mountains (many volcanic), settled by many German immigrants, after a wonderful dinner of goulash and a desert of pastries, following a very nice day, a step outside the door, in the darkness of night was awe-inspiring as one looked up into the sky.
The clouds of the late-afternoon had blown away. There were no cities for miles (or kilometers) in any direction. So what there was in the clear sky overhead were stars, more stars than imaginable.
There were thousands to the eye, and innumerably more with a scan of one's binoculars. It had not been dark long, so a satellite shone with reflected light as it went across the sky. Later, a falling star, or meteor, blazed its way in an arc. The planet Jupiter was brilliantly bright. In the binoculars, 4 of its moons were there as they should have been.

There was not a single cloud in the sky. Actually, that wasn't true. There were two: the Magellanic Clouds, Nubeculae magellani - the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC), two irregular dwarf galaxies that appear in the sky of the Southern Hemisphere to be rather close to each other (of course, "close" is relative).
Those two "clouds" (looking like fuzzy patches) are members of our Local Galaxy Group, orbiting our Milky Way Galaxy.

Described first in Arabian astronomy back in 964 A.D,, the Magellanic Clouds are only visible at the southernmost point of Arabia. They were also observed during the expedition of Ferdinand Magellan when it circumnavigated the world in the Southern Hemisphere, and later the name "Magellanic" was applied.
Having just said that two Magellanic Clouds appear relatively "close" to each other, they are roughly 21 degrees apart in the night sky, and the true distance between them is about 75,000 light-years (so not so "close"! )   
Until the discovery of the Sagittarius Dwarf Elliptical Galaxy in 1994, the Magellanic Clouds were the closest known galaxies to our own. The LMC is about 160,000 light-years from us, while the SMC is about 200,000.
The LMC is about twice the diameter of the SMC (14,000 light-years and 7,000 light-years respectively). For comparison, the Milky Way (containing us) is about 100,000 light-years across.

A few of the stellar constellations in the sky, toward the north, were familiar. In the path of the Zodiac, there were Pisces, Aquarius. and Capricornus.
But most were exclusively of the southern skies, and not readily discernible to someone who sees stars mostly in the Northern Hemisphere.
The Large Magellanic Cloud lies between the constellations of Dorado (the Swordfish) and Mensa (the Table Mountain). Overhead were Cetus (the Whale) and Eridanus (the River), long as it was with its bright star, Achernar, never seen in North America.  Among other constellations were Reticulum (the Net), Hydrus (the little Water Snake), Tucana (the Toucan), and Octans (the Octant).
The bright stars Alpha and Beta Centauri were visible, and the Southern Cross was where it belonged, to the south. In the east, moving more into view as the night continued, was actually a very recognizable grouping, Orion, although it didn't appear quite right, seeming "upside down".             

Lowering my head from the star-filled sky, to the ground, as I traveled about an hour that night on mostly unpaved backroads, looking for animals. But I must admit that my eyes did turn upward to the stars again and again, and especially as my ears listened for owls. They heard the calls of the Gray Wood Frog. I was hoping for the sound of the rare Darwin's Frog. Among the animals that night, two were "introduced" from Europe, like the Germans and the goulash. They were, kind of like the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds, the smaller European Rabbit and the larger European Hare. 
It was also, during that beautiful night, that the wild cat, the Kodkod, was seen, on the side of the road, not far south of the Rio Bio Bio.   

It got late. Midnight came and went. There would be much to be seen in the morning. And there was as the Black-chinned Siskins were in the trees, the Chilean Swallows were in the sky, and the Austral Parakeets were in the distance. The distinctive, echoing sound of the first Chucao Tapaculo of the tour was heard. The sounds of two others tapaculos, also distinctive, would be heard later, the Black-throated Huet-huet and the Magellanic Tapaculo.

We went to see the Araucaria trees that grow on the higher mountain slopes in the Bio Bio Region. The national tree of Chile, Araucaria araucana is most interesting.

Araucaria Trees

Araucaria trees were among the earliest of seed-bearing plants. Their fossils have been carbon-dated back to the Mesozoic Age. They do have a "prehistoric look" to them. During the Jurassic Period, 180 million years ago, they were food for sauropods.
The trees grow up to 165 feet. They live as long as 1500 years, and some longer. It takes them more than 20 years to bear seeds. When they do, they have male cones in August and female cones, as we saw, in November.

Another tree in Chile lives even longer than the Araucaria. The Alerce, a cypress, is the second oldest living tree species in the world, after the Bristlecone Pine in California, USA. One living Alcerce tree in Chile has been determined to be over 3,600 years old.
There are a few different species of cypress trees in Chile. The name of the place where we saw the Burrowing Parakeets is Reserva Nacional Rio de los Cipreses, the Cypress River National Reserve.


The Rio Bio Bio is just one of the rivers that flow from the Andes to the Pacific in the region of the rivers, Los Rios. It is a newly designated region of Chile, defined as such just a couple years ago. Of course the rivers themselves have been there a long, long time, but formerly the area was part of the next region to the south, that is the region of the lakes, Los Lagos.
In that region, there are about 10 sizable lakes, south to the largest of them, Lago Llanquihue, that actually is the largest lake in Chile, with a depth to 5,000 feet. The name of that big lake is from the language of the Mapuche Indians of the region, and it means "place of peace".  

We drove by that lake as we always do, but this time was a little different. Not far away, a volcanic eruption was continuing in the Puyehue-Cordon mountain chain, just across the border, in Argentina. We were there in November, but that eruption had been underway since June, when it began with quite a bang.
So, by Llanquihue, our view of the beautiful volcano, Osorno, with its cone as perfect as any, was not, due to volcanic ash in the air, what it could have been at peaceful place. 
Earlier that day, when we were closer to Puyehue, that volcanic ash was on the ground, in the trees, on buildings, and, even. after just a short stop, on the surface of our vehicle. So, even though we may have forfeited some birds and maybe an animal or two, we left there and went further south.
This was the 3rd FONT tour in 2011 during which volcanic ash was encountered. Also it was in Kyushu, Japan in January and in Iceland in June.

Chiloe Island was the southernmost place during the tour, and what a wonderful part of Chile it is, with so much scenery along with its history, folklore, architecture and more. And the nature there, on Chiloe, is so good, both the fauna and the flora
More than half of the bird species of our tour were seen on Chiloe. It was there where we saw the Pudu, and the two species of penguins and other birds mentioned earlier, including the 4 species of cormorants. Also seen on Chiloe were 3 species of oystercatchers, 2 species of grebes, Short-eared Owl, and much more, including plantcutters, the Green-backed Firecrown (a hummingbird) and the Fire-eyed Diucon (a flycatcher). The Diuca Finches that we saw there were of a subspecies endemic to the island and environs.    
A special feature of Chiloe Island, at the time of year when we were there, are the large flocks of Hudsonian Godwits. About one-quarter of the entire population of the species spends the Austral Summer on that island. They feed in big flocks on mudflats that can be expansive due to a significant difference between high and low tides. Those large flocks are generally composed of just the godwits, and it is not unusual to see hundreds at one place and time.
Scattered about on the flats are also Whimbrels, but never in flocks, and often vocal whereas the godwits are generally quiet. And there are smatherings of peeps, usually Baird's Sandpipers.                         

On Chiloe, we stayed in one of the two larger towns on the island, Ancud, in a small hotel filled with local handicrafts. On one of the walls, there were wooden guitars characteristic of the culture. One evening, in a large meeting room, a man played such a guitar and sang. The roomful of people sang with him. Such is the culture of Chiloe, an island with 150 historic, wooden churches, each similar yet different.

During our previous tours, the ferry crossing to and from Chiloe produced more birds and marine life than it did for us in November 2011, but that was OK as we were happy to see as much as we did during our time in the area.
A few years ago, we saw a storm-petrel from the ferry that has since been said to be a "new" species. Not this time. But in the area, along with penguins, pelicans, cormorants, waterfowl, grebes, gulls, and terns, we saw 2 Black Skimmers, about as far south as that species occurs in Chile.

Later, we were in Valdivia, a city near the coast, and now the capital of the new Los Rios Region. Back in 1552, the city was founded by the Spanish explorer, Pedro de Valdivia, a lieutenant of Francisco Pizarro. To this day, that attractive city bears Valdivia's name. In the city, by the riverfront, we enjoyed a wonderful meal of Chilean seafood for lunch. Yes, generally fish and mariscos are more prevalent in Chile than goulash.
By the riverside fish market in Valdivia, massive Southern Sea Lions in and by river awaited their meals.

We took a boat-ride downriver into a large natural reserve, that was recognized as a UNESCO site in 1981, in wetlands that came about from an earthquake. A peaceful place, now, we saw there many birds including Black-necked Swans, with cygnets on their backs, Brown-hooded Gulls, Snowy-crowned Terns, Great Grebes, and Red-gartered Coots.

Black-necked Swans

In another area near Valdivia, of extensive reedbeds we saw again many birds, including various ducks, 2 species of ibises, White-tufted Grebes, Yellow-winged Blackbirds, Spectacled Tyrants, and the largest Heron of the Americas, the Cocoi.
But the best was a very small bird in the reeds. The writing of its name is not different in size than the bird itself, the Many-colored Rush Tyrant. Its Spanish name is "Siete Colores de la Laguna", with, let's see, yellow (that's the most obvious), black, white, blue, red, green, and there must be one more.
The famed Nobel Prize laureate, Pablo Neruda, wrote this poem about the Many-colored Rush Tyrant (translated here into English):

In the lagoon the cattail,
the wet reedbed,
some drops alive and aflame:

suddenly a movement,
a minuscule banner,
a scale of the rainbow:
the sun swiftly set it afire.
How were its seven colors combined?
How did it assume all the light?

There it was but was not:
the gust of wind is gone,
perhaps does not exist,
but the cattail is still quivering.

That's how we saw the bird. It was there. Then it wasn't, in the vast expanse of reeds. But somehow we stopped the vehicle at just the right place.

As a gift after the tour, I was given a book filled with art and the poems of Pablo Neruda, relating to many of the birds that we saw in Chile. Called the "Arte de Pajaros", or the "Art of Birds", a very nice book, and a very nice gift indeed.

About to conclude, I must refer to another book that I've had for years, relating to something else during the tour the must be included in this narrative: "The Flight of the Condor".
Yes, that's the title of the book and what I must refer to. To see the Andean Condor fly as did in the High Andes, during this tour and during all of our Chile tours in the past, is truly wonderful. Watching the big bird glide against the backdrop of the mountains is something special.
In those mountains we also saw the Black-chested Buzzard Eagle fly, and we enjoyed our encounters with the Gray-breasted Seedsnipes (somewhat like ptarmigans), and the Crag Chilia (somewhat like the Canyon Wren, but without its beautiful song).

Those just mentioned were some of the special birds of the tour. Also worth noting are some of the birds that we saw often that reminded us of some at home.
The Austral Thrush is similar in its behavior to the American Robin, in the same Turdus genus.
The Chilean Mockingbird is endemic to Chile. It doesn't seem to mimic as much as the Northern Mockingbird, but a mockingbird one knows it is.
The Meadowlark in Chile is with a red, rather than yellow, breast.
And the House Wren sings and sings.

In addition to the birds, some notable among their ancestral relatives, the reptiles, were seen during the tour. Among them, the Chilean Iguana, a threatened species smaller than most iguanas and unique in Callopistes genus, and a truly beautiful lizard, the Lagartija esbelta, the Thin Tree Lizard. Both are endemic to Chile. About half of all the reptile species in Chile are endemic to that country.

 Thin Tree Lizard

Another lizard we came across in the south was the Southern Grumbler - the only grumbler during the tour.

Of course! As a good tour it was. And something else, being in Chile in November, it was spring, with the lengthening days, the singing birds, and the blooming flowers of so many kinds. November isn't much better anywhere on Earth.
But having said that, really, a tour in Chile during any month would be a great time to be there!



Some Accommodations during the FONT November 2011 Chile Tour


At this almost-new hostel where we stayed in the Los Rios Region,
we enjoyed a wonderful German dinner.  


Inside the hotel where we stayed in Ancud, on Chiloe Island,
there was some character with local art and trinkets.
It was in this hotel that a grouping of local wooden guitars
was on the wall, and in which, one evening,
such a guitar was being played as people sang.

In this hotel, on Chiloe Island, we had a fine brunch.
It started out as "a coffee", but became a brunch. 

Our last night in Chile was not in the big city of Santiago,
but in a much smaller place, described in even a new guidebook,
as an "easy-going small town, pleasant enough".
It was, for us, very pleasant as our wonderful accommodation,
was a Four Points Sheraton Hotel,
with a casino, that we did not visit,
and an excellent restaurant that we did.
The easy-going, small town is Los Angeles,
"the other Los Angeles" we called it.  


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