Today’s post is the first in a planned series highlighting some of the great birds observed and photographed on my Antarctica expedition voyage, which began in Ushuaia, Argentina. I arrived in Ushuaia three days prior to our ship leaving port, which allowed a group of 10 of us to do some birding locally; a sort of warmup for the much anticipated voyage ahead. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Tom Stephenson, who masterfully co-ordinated much of the effort to make this all happen for our group. Our hotel, the Tolkeyen, located on the outskirts of Ushuaia proved a wise choice as there was excellent birding right outside the hotel lobby as well as the surrounding area near the hotel, which sits along the shoreline of the Beagle Channel. We hired a knowledgeable and friendly local bird guide, Gaston Britti, who did an amazing job in helping us to find almost all of our targeted birds. The White-bellied Seedsnipe was one species that eluded us, but it sure wasn’t for lack of trying on our part. In fact, it was here (where I photographed the Andean Condor) where our search for the White-bellied Seedsnipe was focused. Although we were unsuccessful in spotting it, we did see some key target birds in this area, including Dark-faced Ground-tyrant, Grey-flanked Cinclodes, Ochre-naped Ground-tyrant and a stunning Yellow-bridled Finch, but more on that in an upcoming blog post.
I chose to begin with this Andean Condor post for a couple of reasons. First, it was one of the highlights for me in the Ushuaia area and second, it provided me an opportunity to include some of the picturesque background and setting in the images. The weather can change rapidly in Ushuaia and it’s not unusual to experience all four “seasons” in one day, so to speak. I tried to convey this feeling in selecting these images, all of which were made on the morning of the day our expedition ship was to set sail to the Southern Ocean aboard the Akademik Ioffe, a research vessel built in 1989 and with a Russian crew of 43.
Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra del Fuego province in Argentina, is sometimes referred to as “the end of the world” and for good reason as it one of the key departure ports for Antarctica voyages.
I typically like to get close to my subjects, whenever feasible, as I enjoy examining details that I just don’t notice or see at the time of viewing. However, Andean Condors don’t always oblige by landing 20 feet away on a rock, and even the cropped photo above was made almost an hour after I first sighted the condor. Here I managed to capture some blue sky in the background. As you’ll no doubt notice as you go through these photos, the weather changed frequently.
I chose this next photo in large part because of the setting. Beautiful glaciers were nearby above the tree line in Ushuaia, which is a ski resort town. The glacier waters running down the rocky mountain formed running streams, which we dipped our cups in to quench our thirst with clear, pristine, ice cold water. It was both refreshing and delicious.
Although we did experience some gorgeous sunshine for part of the day, the fog and mist was never too far off. In the image below, the mist was fairly thick, which added significantly to the ambiance, in my opinion.
In the image above, the fog lifted partially, impacted mostly the left side of this scene.
This Andean Condor hunted in the area for at least an hour during our time on the mountain trail. At this point, we were above the tree line and the rocky mountains formed a nice backdrop. From my vantage point, I found myself viewing the condor from several angles. At times it flew below my eye level as it circled near the rocky mountain face in search of food.
The Andean Condor is the only American vulture to show sexual dimorphism, with the male, shown above, having a large comb, which increases in size with age, and large neck wattles. It takes approximately eight years to obtain fully adult plumage.
As I edit my photos, in addition to featuring them in my blog posts, I will add several of them to one or more Special Projects galleries, the first of which you can find here or by choosing Special Projects from the Home menu and clicking on the relevant gallery.
New Gallery Photos Added Gallery
Andean Condor New World Vultures
Houston, D., Kirwan, G.M., Christie, D.A. & Sharpe, C.J. (2016). Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from http://www.hbw.com/node/52946 on 18 December 2016)