Chile, Expeditions and Travels, Red Knot, Shorebird, Tierra Del Fuego 2003

Expedition to Tierra del Fuego – February 3, 2003


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On January 31, Lisa returned with good news on our efforts to promote the desigation of Bahia Lomas as RAMSAR site. She met with Marcos Cordero, Regional Director of CONAF (Corporacion Nacional Forestal) and with Maria Christina Lagos, Ingeniero Agrónomo of CONAMA, (Commision Nacional del Medio Ambiente) in Punta Arenas to discuss the government’s position. Lisa learned that Elier Tabilo, who works with the Neotropical Center for Wetlands Training in Chile, has been in touch with a number of government officials to express strong support for RAMSAR designation of Bahia Lomas. Yerko Vilino of the Universidad Santo Tomas, who prepared the initial documents for protecting Bahia Lomas will continue to move the process forward.

Sra. Lagos at CONAMA indicated that both local community interest and strong political support exist to protect the site. Nelly Catalina Nuñez Martinez, staff biologist at CONAMA (Comision Nacional del Medio Ambiente) in the division that includes Tierra del Fuego, will focus on developing the case for RAMSAR protection of the Bahia Lomas site. Chile currently has ten RAMSAR protected wetland sites. The process will ultimately engage ranchers, oil industry representatives and local political leaders in Cerro Sombrero as well as regional and national decision makers. The final government authority for RAMSAR designation will rest with the Ministry of External Relations in Santiago. Lisa will continue meeting with officials over the next week.

The rest of the team focused on trapping knots. Without high spring tides we stuck to our mist nets which were set on two peninsulas of salicornia jutting into mudflat that was flooded only on the spring tide. Fortunately the tides were reaching their new moon high (9.45 m), flooding all the flats and pushing the roosting birds from the flats onto the salicornia. Even at night, birds will roost for only a short period in the higher vegetated marsh because of the increased danger of predation. The introduced gray fox has adapted well to the shores of Bahia Lomas combing the shoreline nightly for any weaken prey.

We began our first mist net session on Saturday, although the high tide flooded early and we only had one hour of suitable tide. We made a modest catch of 27 birds (17 knots, 1 godwit, 1 white-rumped sandpiper, 5 two-banded plover, 2 South American terns, 1 kelp gull, 1 Magellanic oyster catchers). We were done by 1:00 a.m. with a chilly wind from the west and a sky so clear you could see dense stars down to the horizon.

By 10:00 the next morning, the full team left camp for a fresh reconnaissance of bird distribution along the bay. Each day we could see smokes of birds from our camp, but to our chagrin they were gone. Eventually we located a large flock of godwits about 5 km south of camp roosting on islands of salicornia isolated by the flooding tide. The knots seemed to have disappeared from the western bayshore.

That evening, under a virtually windless steel-gray sky Ricardo prepared a Cordero assado or lamb barbecue. While we ate a feast of lamb, potatoes, torta frita (fried bread), vegetables and rice, flocks of shorebirds darkened the sky along the bayshore behind camp. We were heartened by the thousands of red knots settling into the area of our nets. We were discouraged by the peregrine falcon and the several foxes also in the area. High tide on the bayshore has brought all of us to prey on the birds.

The tide flowed into our trap site with the sound of an approaching storm at sea. The seawater that slowly engulfed the trapping site very quickly deepened to 3 to 4 feet. Small waves broke under our nets. But above that sound we could hear the call of thousand of shorebirds that roosted in the area around the nets and were now flying to find new unflooded roost. At first, we have groups of 5, then ten, and within an hour we had captured 168 red knots, our biggest mist net catch to date.

We caught all the birds by 1:00 am. It took us until 4:00 a.m. to finish the processing and the team didn’t get the bed until 5:30am. We caught 158 red knots, 8 white-rumped sandpiper, 2 two-banded plovers. Now with nearly 200 captured knots we had gone most of the way to achieving another objective of the trip.

Larry Niles

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