At home in Cerro Sambrerro Tierra Del Fuego 2011
It took us several days to reach Bahia Lomas. Our expedition to Tierra del Fuego is a relatively complex scientific endeavor requiring careful planning, equipment preparation and shipping. Once on the ground, after a 24 hour flight, we must quickly gather our stored equipment and purchase supplies before we can move out to our field station. We mostly get it right, some years we don’t and have to improvise. Last year we couldn’t. The Chilean government tightly restricts the use of black powder that we use for firing the cannon net. We had too little and had to resort to much faster burning shotgun gunpowder which is not controlled for some reason. After a week of bad weather and huge spring tides we finally got one chance to catch birds. When we fired the powder blew apart our cannon.
Still our work has gotten easier. When we started our work in Bahia Lomas 11 years ago, we camped along the shore of Bahia Lomas. We were productive but the conditions were harsh, and we put as much time into the rigors of camping as we did to our scientific pursuits. But now, thanks to our friend Claudio Moraga at WCS we stay at a house, owned by the Universidad de Magallanes, in Cerro Sombrero — a small town perched among the low hills that give Bahia Lomas its name (“bay of low hills” in Spanish).
Commanding a lovely view of the golden pampas and the extensive intertidal flats of the bay, Cerro is nonetheless a sad town. Once prosperous because it served as the base for the national oil company in this region, it now suffers because of the gradual decline of oil and gas production. Making matters worse the region was in turmoil this year because the national government increased the price of natural gas by nearly 20% and layed off hundreds of workers in preparation for privatizing the industry. This downsizing has hit Cerro hard and the town, despite its picturesque location and quaint and civil atmosphere, has become a somber place.
The start of our field work is always the same, we must find the birds. This year we have the benefit of an experienced crew from north, Mark Peck from Royal Ontario Museum, Kevin Kalasz from Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife, Mandy Dey of NJ fish and Wildlife and three Chilean students: Gabriela Gonzalez and Sergio Urrejola of Universidad de Santo Thomas in Santiago and Jessica Paredes from Universidad de Magallanes in Punta Arenas. A small crew compared to past years but smart energetic and passionate about birds and, thankfully, younger. We start trapping tomorrow.