Expeditions and Travels, Tierra Del Fuego

Expedition to Tierra del Fuego – January 25-26, 2002

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We arrived in Punta Arenas on 1/26/02. After a gruelling 24-hour journey from Philadelphia, Toronto, and Atlanta, the North American part of the team met with Clive Minton from Melbourne, Australia, Patricia and Gladys from Argentina, Anna Marie Roa and Alexandra Aparisio from Chile. Ricardo Matus and Olivia Blankh, our Chilean hosts had arranged many of the details of our trip such as locating critical equipment and securing the permission of the landowners along Bahia Lomas. Jorge Jordan helped us in many ways including helping us move the three truckloads of equipment to our field site. By early afternoon of Saturday, just over 24 hours after our arrival, we were in the field looking for shorebirds on the ground, and Guy Morrison and Ken Ross surveyed flocks from the air.

But before field work, we had to set up camp. We chose a site along the northwestern shore of Bahia Lomas close to the roost of red knots found by Ricardo and Olivia last February. Last year we found that the Red Knots and Godwits of Bahia Lomas moved all along the bayshore but concentrate in two main areas, along the south east shore, within sight of the mouth of the infamous Straits of Magellan, and near the narrows (or northwest portion of the bay). Birds gradually concentrate into two roosts on each side of the bay, as the high tide levels rise during the full and new moon (spring tides). The change is dramatic. The average tide on the bay is about 8 meters, but builds to over 10 meters during the spring tides (over 30 ft. deep). The increased depth floods many of Bahia Lomas’ marshes forcing the knots into ever smaller areas where we will try to trap them.

Our first job is to establish patterns of movement and the numbers of birds. On our first field survey we found about 10,000 hudsonian godwits, and at least 2,000 red knots. In the distance we sighted several hundred Magellanic oystercatchers. Most importantly, we also stumbled upon about 700 red knots and several hundred white rumped sandpipers and two-banded plovers roosting in a small flat vegetated with small mounds of Salicornia. The birds huddled in the lee of the Salicornia mounds trying to avoid a steady 30-knot wind. Clive felt hopeful that we had found our first catching opportunity, no matter how slim. To make a good day better Mandy, Brad and Patricia also sighted three color-banded red knots from Delaware Bay, New Jersey, and San Antonio Oeste and Rio Grande in Argentina.

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