Expeditions and Travels, Tierra Del Fuego

Expedition to Tierra del Fuego – February 5, 2001

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We decided to split into two groups today, one focusing on trying to gain vehicular access to the bay, the other trying to scout out the birds. The latter was to help us understand more about the movements of the birds in relation to the changing tides. More specifically, we needed to know where they will be at or near the high tides, the time when we will concentrate our trapping.

Our first need, however, was to get onto the bayshore of Bahia Lomas. With Ricardo as our lead, Ken, Rick and I sought out the owner of the access road. We quickly lost our way, but with the help of an ENAP employee, we found the gated drive of the Estancia. ENAP is the national oil company, with pumps and facilities scattered throughout the landscape. The ENAP employee explained to us that the new landowner has gated many of the roads of his growing estancia, presumably in reaction to ENAP employees. With some trepidation, Ricardo explained our circumstance to the farm manager and to our surprise we received permission. We needed a key however, and for that would have to wait. In the mean time, we learned of a way around the ditch.

Two ditches later, we maneuvered the van to a low tide beach. The hard sandy beach was over 3 miles wide and with a falling tide it grew larger. The raging wind (about 40 mph) scoured everything with fine brown sand. After a few mile hike towards the low tide line, we soon discovered the reason for the unusual tides in Bahia Lomas. Just off shore several lumps of sand rise from the water, paralleling the beach and restricting water flow off the flats. This was the reason why we saw water on the flats never deeper than 6 inches or so for three or four hours after high tide, while outside in the strait the tide fell over 30 feet.

The search for birds went badly. A group led by Guy got to the beach well after high tide and the water line was far out of sight. Sherry, Mandy, Brad, Bruno Bruce and Guy did their best to keep up, but the few red knots present scattered along several miles of beachfront. They sighted many white-rumped sandpipers, hudsonian godwits and sanderlings. On top of this, the wind howled at 40 miles/hour making spotting scopes shake and spotting tiny color bands almost impossible. In addition, the ATV broke down, down for the count. The crew had to push it back to the access road. It was unfortunate, as the ATV was a crucial element of our program.

On the plus side, they saw our first bird banded on the Delaware Bay. We also spotted aplomado falcons, patagonian gray foxes and many different shorebirds, colonial birds and passerines during our travels.

Lawrence J. Niles, PhD
Chief, NJ Endangered Species Program