Chile, Tierra del Fuego 2011

a real heartbreaker . Tierra del Fuego 2011

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We tried to catch red knots for four days.

On the first, day we tried for a small group on the shingle beach at Twin Hills.  For reasons only apparent to them, the birds left before the tide moved them up into the catch area.  Over the next few hours, before the tide flooded the catch area, two other flocks of red knots came into the area but left without landing. Finally, the tide crested and fell, our net was no longer useful on the falling tide, so we had to give up for the day.

A Flock of godwit and knots along the horizon on a Bahia Lomas intertidal flat.  

The following day we decided to move to another location and set the net near a group of red knots roosting out on an open expanse of sand flat.   At this point in our trip the spring tides were receding, which means each day the high tide was getting lower.  On Bahia Lomas this leaves vast areas of the tidal sand flat un-flooded and the wind and sun dry it as hard as concrete.  The knots roosted far from the tide line near scattered clumps of Salicornia, finding refuge from the wind by roosting on the lee side of the vegetation.  We set our net and the birds left.

We moved back to Twin Hills and the shingle beach where we started.  The previous day Sergio found a flock of over 2,000 red knots and a similar number of Hudsonian godwits, roosting close to our previous net set.  While we patiently waited for the tide to bring the birds into the catch area, a peregrine falcon repeatedly harassed the flock.  At first birds flew up then settled down again only to be strafed again, then again.  Eventually, they climbed high into the sky trying to get above the peregrine – they left and didn’t return.A low flying peregrine falcon

The next day we decided to come back to Twin Hills, hoping the peregrine had his fill of fun or food.  We set the net on a peninsula of rock, because the high tide, still receding, no longer reached the shingle beach.  Out at the distant tide line 500 knots and 2,000 godwits roosted, periodically walking slowly up-beach as the tide rose.  Eventually, they reached the net.  We set it perfectly and estimated nearly 200 birds in the catch area including 100 knots.  Over a 20-minute period we gradually moved all the birds that were in danger from being too close to the net by pulling the “jiggler”,   a thin string that runs parallel to the net and extends back to the person at the firing box, nearly 300 feet away.   With the birds clear of the net, we fired.  But instead of the usual explosion of cannon firing and projectiles and net sailing out over the birds, we heard a “pop” and the net didn’t move.  The black powder was no good.  We missed our catch and we had no chance for another because our black powder was not explosive.

Gabriela, Jessica and Mandy camoflage the cannon net at Twin Hills

 

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