Chile and Argentina: Birds and Wine. How could we resist a trip of that nature? We didn’t. On Feb. 28, Flip Harrington and I flew from the Vineyard to Santiago, Chile, arriving, after an overnight flight, at 6:50 a.m. (There are no direct flights from the Vineyard to Chile. We went first to Boston, then Miami and finally Santiago). Luckily, Alvaro Jaramillo, our leader, was on the same flight so we got a ride to our hotel. We arrived a day early so we could relax, get used to the change of environment and explore Santiago. Paul Magid and Anita Botti, other Vineyarders, also came a day early via Panama.
Our first official day of the trip, March 1, found us in a wetland west of Santiago known as Lampa. We had a chance to find many ducks, waders, sandpipers and herons. Unusual birds included a least seedsnipe, which looks like a mix between a fat dove and a lark. The seedsnipes have very sharp wings so they are strong flyers. The star of the afternoon was the many-colored rush tyrant, a tiny bird of many colors known as siete colores (seven colors). This petite flycatcher has a blue face, white chin, yellow breast with a black stripe, gray belly, greenish-brown back and red rump! Quite a looker and hard to see as it flitted in and out of the rushes! An eastward move took us into the Andes the following day. Although our goal was the Yeso Valley high in the Andes, we started birding in the lower Maipo Valley. The first objective was to find Andes specialties such as the crag chilia, torrent duck, Andean geese, crested ducks, a highland hummingbird known as the white-sided hillstar, and of course the Andean condor. The prize of the day however would be to find the rare diademed sandpiper-plover. We did well finding the chilia, hummingbird and Andean condor in the Maipo Valley and then the ducks and geese in the Yeso Valley.
We took a break and our guides prepared a great picnic which included nice chicken salad, asparagus spears, fruit and cheese. We were getting discouraged and heading back to the bus, figuring that we would never see the rare diademed sandpiper-plover. Alvaro, our leader, held back as the group walked toward the bus and the sandpiper-plover flew in right at his feet. Needless to say when alerted we all ran back and had great views of the bird and were able to take photos as well. In the morning after a lovely night at an inn next to the Maipo River, we watched a pair of torrent ducks diving in the rushing waters.
Heading south into a forested area we found Austral Pygmy-owls, a white-throated treerunner, which looks and acts like a white-breasted nuthatch, and thorn-tailed rayaditos, which act like our brown creepers and have a long tail with thorn-like tips at the edges. We stayed at a rustic inn nearby and had an incredible evening meal which ended with chestnut ice cream! Each night Alvaro introduced us to another Chilean wine, usually a carmenere, a merlot, a cabernet savignon or Chilean malbec.
Our first winery visit was to a very large winery called Concha y Toro outside of Santiago. The tasting was excellent as each wine was paired with different cheeses made from sheep, goat or cow’s milk. Our favorite wine there was a cabernet. Flip and I discovered that the wine that was our favorite 17 years ago when we first visited Cocha y Toro was now selling for over $200! Needless to say we passed up purchasing that wine, but we were pleased that we had such fine taste. What a great beginning to a trip.
Just before the blizzard of late March, a snowy owl was reported sitting on State Beach by Rosemary Knowlton Hildreth on March 25. There have been no further reports of live snowy owls since. Unfortunately, Nan Bacon and Sam Low found a dead snowy owl on Harthaven on March 30. They called Lanny McDowell who then called Dick Jennings who went out and discovered the snowy owl was fitted with a transmitter. Dick contacted Gus Ben David who took the snowy owl and had it shipped to Norm Smith, the man who has been banding and fitting transmitters on snowy owls at Logan Airport. Stay tuned as Gus Ben David will report back what he hears from Norm Smith. We should then discover when and where it was banded.
Marilyn and Dexter Nerney at 6:50 p.m. on March 25, reported the return of the Crystal Lake osprey to its pole. Apparently the bird had not seen the weather forecast and the Nerneys hoped the bird would not head back south! At the other end of the Island on Quitsa Pond, Susan Straight watched 11 red-breasted mergansers engaging in courtship displays oblivious to the weather ahead.
Bird activity was mixed during the blizzard on March 26. Matt Pelikan reported seeing turkey vultures blown by wind that they were almost upside down. Cookie Gazaille Perry watched a male harrier along the right fork of the Katama Road, and Michael Ditchfield photographed probably the same male harrier fighting a 50 mph wind at Katama. To make the harrier’s day even more stressful, a merlin gave it chase for a spell. Cookie also spotted horned larks on State Beach the same day. Penny Uhlendorf and Scott Stephens reported that their blizzard birding included “five downy woodpeckers taking shelter on the south side of two oak trees; and the fox sparrow that has visited our feeder regularly during almost every snowstorm since Nov. 23, appeared yet again at first light.”
Jeff Bernier sent a handsome photo of a common loon in breeding plumage that he took in Menemsha Creek on March 27. Jeff also counted three American oystercatchers by West Basin the same day. Kim Leonardo reported sighting two ospreys at Cow Bay on March 27. Lanny McDowell and Pete Gilmore ventured out last weekend and Lanny took a long distance shot of a horned grebe in breeding plumage, not something we often see on the Vineyard. Lanny also took a series of photos of breeding plumage black-crowned night herons at the Oak Bluffs pumping station. Robert Culbert is trying to determine when the double-crested cormorants arrive back on Island. None have arrived at Sarson’s Island and Lanny and Pete found a single double-crested cormorant mixed in with nine great cormorants on a Chilmark Pond sandbar. Selena Roman called to report what she thinks were two immature bald eagles flying over Greene’s field in West Tisbury on March 30. No one else spotted the birds unfortunately.
Lindsay Allison was pleased to announce that both ospreys were back at Snow’s Point on Chappaquiddick as of March 30. The birds are already working on their nest. This pair produced Snowy, one of the birds Dick Jennings and Rob Bierregaard have fitted with a transmitter. The latest report is that Snowy is still hanging out in Cuba and has not headed north. This is not uncommon for first year birds! And while we are on the subject of Vineyard ospreys that have transmitters: DJ has moved from Haiti and is now in Florida, Belle is taking a break in Haiti at Lake Azuei, which she has done for the last two years. There must be mighty fine fishing in that lake. Back on Island, Nat Woodruff reports two ospreys arrived at the Oak Bluff harbor nest on April 1, and the same day Anne Carmichael Lemenager added that the ospreys are back on the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School nest. Ospreys also have been spotted at the Lagoon marker nest and at the Hidden Cove nest. Dick Jennings asks everyone, particularly those who live near Job’s Neck, to be on the lookout for an osprey fitted with a transmitter that was seen several times last summer. It is not one that Rob Bierregaard has received signals from so it may be Homer, Jaws or who knows?
Rebecca Sanders sent an email that she had spotted an American woodcock off Frog Alley in Chilmark on March 20. She spotted the same species and probably the same bird on the other side of Tea Lane on March 24. Richard Toole spotted an American oystercatcher at the Little Bridge on State Beach on March 31 and added that he heard pinkletinks in the marsh between the Oak Bluffs School and Harthaven.
Please report your bird sightings to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Susan B. Whiting is co-author of Vineyard Birds and Vineyard Birds II. Her website is vineyardbirds2.com.