Expeditions and Travels, Tierra Del Fuego

Expedition to Tierra del Fuego – January 29, 2003


Our 20-hour journey into Punta Arenas drained all of us but went without any major difficulty. Jorge Jordan, Ricardo Matus and Olivia Blank provided us with logistic support that made it much easier to prepare for our field camp along the shores of Bahia Lomas. This was so much more important than any other year because our team has grown to 22 people. The logistical needs of a group this size will strain all resources from food all the way down to latrine management. However, the benefit of a team composed of equal numbers of North and South American biologists (and one Brit) isolated on remote field site, all focused on one conservation problem, outweigh the difficulty.

Our first problem arose quickly. A tense request from Jorge Jordan sent Mark Peck, Humphrey Sitters, Luis Benegas and I on an early morning delivery of aviation fuel to Posesion, the small town located on the north side of the Strait of Magellan opposite Bahia Lomas. Jorge was flying Guy Morrison and Ken Ross to survey knots on the Bahia Lomas and the Strait when they were engulfed in a squall that left them flying blind in a very strong winds. Miraculously, they found a strip and safely landed in a remote area but without the gas they were saving to reach Punta Arenas.

Their preliminary survey was not encouraging. Since 1986 the population of red knots on the bay has declined from 42,762 birds to 22,172 last year. We have determined that this extraordinary decline occurred mostly in the last four years. This population decline has been independently verified by population modeling conducted by a team led by Allan Baker. The initial estimate by Guy and Ken is that the population numbers remain low.

We left Jorge, Guy and Ken for our 10-hour round trip to Rio Grande, Argentina to retrieve Allan Baker’s cannon netting equipment and Luis Benegas. Luis stores the equipment at the Rio Grande Museum, where he is the Director. While we made our way through the golden pampas of Tierra del Fuego, the rest of team labored to make camp, erect sleep tents create a cooking area and build latrines. They even found time to do an early scan for birds!

Unfortunately the knot capture site across the Strait was devoid of birds. They moved to other sites, roosting mostly on an inaccessible island just offshore. The whimbrels were similarly uncooperative, their main roosting location as yet still unknown; although we have found about 50 birds on the north shore. We are in agreement that we need higher tides to make a catch, and the tides will not peak until Saturday. Once again we look forward to the privilege and challenge of working on Bahia Lomas.

Larry Niles 2/29/03