Thursday, 18 February 2010

Dirty Old River Must You Keep Rolling, Rolling on Through the Night

I had no idea what to expect at Punta Lara, except the guy at the hotel had put me right for the bus, told me the price and that it was on the river. The buses here, I soon found out, run on a 'fixed rate' coin system where you board, tender the exact fare, which you put in the ticket machine, and the ticket is issued. I was fairly quick to pick that up, but with the coins available I was 10 cents shy of the right amount. With that, no fewer than 3 fellow travelers jumped to my aid, offering to make up the difference. In the end a young fellow not only produced the outstanding, but also enough to get a return ticket. I'm a great believer in this kind of action, as it spreads good will with those you help going on to help others and so on and so forth! The 45 minute journey was uneventful except on the outskirts of La Plata City there were about a dozen horses either being led or rode through the streets. Now, I'm no equestrian but these fine animals looked to be thoroughbreds, each with a numbered saddle, a real treat to see.

Here I can introduce you to el Rio de la Plata or The River Plate, not really a 'dirty old river', old certainly but the dirt is the constant sea washed sand from the shallows of which most of the river consists, and in most respects it is considered clean. Probably most famous for the WWII scuttling of the German Pocket Battleship Admiral Graf Spee, I can reveal another secret this vast seaway holds. There is somewhere out there a huge furrow that make the Marianas Trench look about as deep as a swimming pool. My old ship/rig mate Captain Derek Watson-Palmer MN (fondly known as Del-Boy), aboard his first Charge, was shipping beef from Montevideo to Europe when an unforeseen incident forced the ship to anchor in la Plata. The prospect of some extra shore leave brought joy to the entire crew as they ran a regular liberty boat to the nearest port. Del-Boy recalls, each time the boat returned to the ship it seemed strange that being at a single anchor she was heading in the same direction. No matter, the regular position plotting showed everything was in order, and after a full 14 days of revelry things were put to rights and the sailing order was sent. When main engines were started and Del-Boy tried to put on some headway to take the tension from the anchor cable, nothing happened. It turned out that they had been 'aground' for the full fortnight, and it is said the mark on the seabed still exists??

Here's a REAL Captain for you Del-Boy, not aground but you could say 'on a Plate' - get it?

What I hadn't expected to find out there, was a Nature Reserve, but only a few hundred meters from the bus stop there it was. As I approached the lady in charge was clearing little from the drive, and appeared a little skeptical about my reasons for being there. Showing her the camera and Field Guide she mellowed a little, removing 4 padlocks from the gates and allowed me in. Now without sounding ungrateful, this woman could talk, and despite my "no comprehendo" she kept on and on, but as I said before I was in.

Senora Consuela - In Charge of the Nature Reserve

By South American reserve standards, this was little more than a postage stamp, but observing the vegetation looked to have lots of promise. In the main mature trees with many bushes plus scrub and an understory of aquatic plants, who knows what could turn up. On one of the very few signs there was the image of a Grey-necked Wood-Rail and a Terrapin Sp, neither of which were seen but by the 'calls & song' there were birds here. Consuela directed me to the boardwalk, which continued for the whole walk, and then seeming a little reluctant left me to my own devices. Within minutes 2 old favorites both Rufous & Creamy-bellied Thrushes made an appearance and next I spent ages trying to coax a small passerine from cover. Finally it fell to the camera and although very distinctive with bright yellow breast and prominent eye-ring I have been unable to identify it. The photographs of it and another bird are submitted at the end of this epistle.

White-browed Warbler

Next to show was an extremely shy Red-eyed Vireo, which also fell to the camera but with limited success, to be followed by a showy White-browed Warbler a World Lifer for me. The 2 shots above show just how obliging, with the lower one showing traces of the difficult to see blackish double head stripes.

Part of the boardwalk which, by the looks of the debris, become awash on occasion.

Red-eyed Vireo

Dragonfly Sp

There were also plenty of Butter & Dragonflies, but by and large flighty. While trying to photograph one of the former my attention was drawn to movement in a bush where there were a pair of Masked Gnatcatcher feeding young. Another bird to be expected at the Costanera Sur next week, but while the going was good it was added to the Trip List today! In fact this spot turned out to be a bit of a 'purple patch' as the other unidentified bird arrived in company with what at first was thought to be a Cowbird of sorts. With eyes darting backwards and forwards. I had to concentrate on the other 2 as I had seen the Gnatcatcher before, and it was soon apparent the 'all black' bird was far to small for a Cowbird. It stayed in the area for quite a while, allowing a description, but the photos came to naught. It was in fact a Blue-billed Black Tyrant, another welcome addition to the World List

Masked Gnatcatcher (male)

Masked Gnatcatcher (female, lacking the 'mask')

The female again. I just liked the pose so stuck it in.

The Rope Bridge that swung dangerously no matter how slowly you walked.

The nearest I've come so far with this little fella is Brown-capped Redstart

regardless of the fact it isn't showing a Rufous Cap,

it may be a juvenile??

and this, having all the attributes od a Flycatcher,

I want to call it a White-winged Becard - any ideas Daragh (or others)?

Leaving the Reserve, a walk along the broken road for about 3Km brought nothing new, but both Southern Crested and Chimango Caracara, Kelp Gull, Rufous Hornero, the usual Doves/Pigeons, Great Kiskadee and Guira Cuckoo put in appearances. The anglers on the sea-wall were having little luck, but stopping to watch this group fishing a small inlet, they seemed to be pulling small fish in (which they were keeping) hand over fist. I could see little point in the bamboo canes they were using as rods as the baited hook and small feathery float were dropped almost at their feet. Anyway, it was fantastic standing there in the beautiful sunshine, eating my ham and cheese roll without a care in the world.

As I am about to press the button to publish this post, I note on the laptop clock it is 20-30, leaving me exactly 168 hours (one week) before I should be walking through my own front door. That is if I don't get hijacked by Bowie and Sheila on the way - keep your eye out guys!!

Lists Update


Trip Total - 890
World Lifers - 571
Endemics - 57