Expedition to Tierra del Fuego – February 8, 2001
We began our search for the high tide roost by positioning all our team along the full length of eastern portion of Bahia Lomas, called Banco Bahia Lomas. This beach stretches for 10 km and gaining access was our most difficult job. Bruce and Bruno took the portion in front of our tent site on the western-most portion of the beach. Ricardo and Olivia drove the truck down along the beach to the east and watched the second section. We took the truck to the next access near the east end of the beach, where Mandy and Brad stood watch. Sherry and I took the middle between Brad and Ricardo. We covered the entire beach, except for the gravel bank that leads to Punta Catalina, or the south Cape of the Straits of Magellan.
As darkness fell, the wind died to near stillness. You could almost hear the tide moving closer to the beach. The tide would be higher than the day before, but still two days from the moon peak tide. Already, the tide flooded most of the inter-tidal areas of normal tide range and flooded the beaches that, until now, were as dry as the dunes. The knots and Godwits massed in large flocks of 1,000 to 4,000 birds, flashing in the fading light. Then, they started to move towards the east. Bruce and Bruno lost all birds by about 8:30 pm. Ricardo and Olivia saw their last flock at about 9:00 pm. We joined Brad and Mandy and saw all the birds on this portion of the beach gathered into flocks ranging in size from 1,000 to 6,000 birds. They flew past us and appeared to linger over the area between us and the stoney beach of Punta Catalina. Then they started to go down. We were certain we found the roost. We gazed in awe as the largest flocks of shorebirds we have ever seen fell to the ground. Of course, they were out of reach from our vantage point, but with some judicious field work we would find the site. We couldn’t know then that our certainty and optimism would ebb as low as the moon tide before we actually found the roost.
Lawrence J. Niles, PhD
Chief, NJ Endangered Species Program