I’ve seen African, Indian and Black Skimmers, the American version, previously; but never managed to get a photo of one skimming.

To explain. A skimmer is a species of bird. In fact there are just three different types in the world occupying areas around water in India, America and Africa. They are somewhat tern like in their appearance but much larger and their lower mandible is extended beyond the upper, to give them a very odd appearance. This adaptation enables the bird to fly along with it’s lower mandible ‘trailing’ in water and when it touches a fish it snaps it up and swallows the meal. Cool.

We were watching out over the estuary of the Maipo in Chile. There was a distant flock of several hundred skimmers mixed with gulls towards the other side of the river some one kilometre distant . However a  small flock of eight individuals were much closer and they were mobile. Eventually they started to skim right in front of us. A superb bit of evolution.




Ground Tyrants are not the most illuminating bird family on the plant. They are a bit like washed out Wheatears. We were chasing a few in the Yeso Valley in Chile last month. Kneeling down  to take a photograph with a better perspective something crawling amid the rocks and vegetation to my right caught my eye.

It was a glimpse of something jewel like; bright and full of colour. The same flash as a good cut diamond in full sun; but more vibrant. I ignored the bird and watched the rocks. There it was again. I shuffled over for a better look… woo! A turquoise and brown insect about two inches long scuttled towards me. ****. I quickly stood up.

It looked wasp like. It had an obvious stinger on it so I decided to keep clear but it was truly beautiful and iridescent with colour as well as quite daunting. Between it’s quick runs between boulders  I ran off a few frames. I returned my attention to the Ground Tyrants.

It was only this week after a little research I found out what it was. A Pepsis Wasp. The insect with the second most painful sting in the world; second only to the Bullet Ant. Now, if that wasn’t a good enough reason to not be sharing crawling space on the valley floor you need to hear its alternative name. Tarantula Hawks are a vicious predator of … yes, you guessed it … Tarantulas. So that’s what it was looking for under those rocks and boulders. Gulp.




Sailing off the coast of Punta del Este in Chile we were scanning the sea to see if we could pull out another new bird for the trip. The wind was up and so was the swell. However, the little transporter ferry we were on was coping well.

We’ve all watched the U boat movies on telly. The German commander folds up the periscope and gives the order to ‘Fire Torpedos’. The scene cuts to the surface where a trail of white tracks towards the British battleship. Well imagine us on that ferry seeing those torpedos coming straight at us… then another … and another. The missiles broke the surface to reveal their true form. Commerson’s Dolphins are instantly recognisable; piebald streamlined animals moving at warp-neck speed. I so wanted to see this species … and see it well. As they shot under our hull the views were just amazing.





Port bow

We weren’t far off entering the South Pacific. Sailing north west in the Chilean Fjords offering fantastic midday views of the Isla Campana. We would pop out into the open ocean quite soon. An ideal place to see Orca. As if by magic a few splashes distantly off the port bow morphed into a matriarch led pod of around 12 animals as we caught up with them. Always good to see this was our second encounter in as many days with this enigmatic cetacean.



We three …

Amid a moor of dark peat and rocky outcrops was an island of colour. A small King Penguin Colony on the Falklands just a spitting distance from Port Stanley gave us an opportunity to capture some of the activity.



A chance in a million

Puerto Madryn is a city and port on the coast of Argentina. It’s not a particularly big city nor is it a particularly big port. However, it lies in a massive natural harbour…and I mean massive. Take a look on google earth. To the north is an isthmus of land that has another large harbour to the north of that.

These inlets are renowned as breeding sites for Southern Right Whales. The whales leave the bays in early December but as we sailed into port during an early morning of this month I was scanning hard to see the distinctive V shaped blow of this species. After all there may have been a late animal; a stray that had delayed its journey south to the antarctic-circle. As we travelled the area of land between the bays throughout the day I kept a close eye on the sea … nada … nothing.

Even as we sailed out of the bay that evening heading south despite keeping an eye open for that distinctive V shaped blow I was disappointed.

The whole of the next day was spent at sea. I was up early. The very first thing I saw as I stumbled out onto the lower deck was a blow. But what was it? It was travelling with the ship so I got several bites of the cherry as the blow was repeated. A good V shape. Excellent. I went to the upper open restaurant for breakfast already satisfied I’d seen Southern Right Whale. As I tucked into my melon slices another blow, then another well off the stern. Another tail slapping in the distance. In all I reckon there were 25 to 30 Southern Right Whales in the area. What we needed was one to slip close by the ship. No sooner had the thought entered my mind a blow struck up under the starboard side. The whale’s finless back was visible and as it rose to breathe the strongly arched mouth came into view as did the head covered in callosities. Wonderful.

We had stumbled upon a pod of Southern Rights making their way south to the Antarctic Circle. What are the chances of that?



What a moment


As I get older I’m constantly surprised how my life is influenced by what I read as a child. I remember forever thumbing through a book on the birds of South America and it obviously had a great impact on me. A trip to Argentina, Uruguay, The Falklands and Chile to see albatrosses and penguins this month was a real opportunity to see one bird of the high Andes that has stirred my imagination since I was knee high to a Rhea reading that book.

Our very last day of 23 days away was taken up with a 5:30am start from Santiago in Chile. We drove south east to the Andes range and started our climb. First on tarmac roads which changed to dirt roads then stone tracks as we started to climb. We did the last few kilometres on what can only be described as scree tracks into the Yeso Valley National Park.

The Valley was surrounded by a snow capped amphitheatre of peaks. A chill wind was a relief from the oppressive heat of the lowlands … but the sun was still strong and face searing. We had already seen some good birds. Andean Condor, Torrent Duck, Crested Duck, Giant Hummingbird as well as Siskins, Ground Creepers and Ground Tyrants a plenty. As we arrived at 7000 feet plus it was now time to search the flat boggy areas for the most elusive bird of all, an endangered species and one I had been waiting to see for many years; The Diademed Sandpiper Plover. An unusual rare bird not least for its colourful delicately marked plumage as its location.

The first site drew a blank. We climbed higher.

I’d hoped we would find this bird but it wasn’t a given by any means and I knew if we did find it we couldn’t approach it closely. Such a rare breeding bird must be given total respect.

We stood again and scanned across the water sodden ground. It was Fernando our guide who collared it. Not at the far end of the marsh as I imagined but just a few metres away feeding in a small stream. I positioned myself slowly on a comfortable rock and drank it all in. As we watched a silence crept over us. We didn’t talk … the reverence of the moment demanded it… and bugger me if it didn’t get closer. And it got closer and closer still. I dare not breathe let alone move. Even a couple of nearby Seedsnipe wouldn’t detract me. This was my time with the most enigmatic of waders and nothing was going to tear me away. What a moment.

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