Amazing Encounters With Wonderful Birds One Magellanic Woodpecker

Step out of Ushuaia Airport in Southern Argentina and this is the view that greets you!

Many years ago I watched a TV programme about the wildlife of South America, following The Andes mountain chain and highlighting the superb creatures to be seen along the way. Two scenes made a really lasting impression on me, first that of an Andean Condor soaring against snow-capped peaks and the second an encounter between Sir David Attenborough and a huge red-headed woodpecker.

Dolphin Gulls are easily seen around the harbour at Ushuaia and yes they eat chips!

After a very long wait I finally got to The Andes, in Ecuador, and watched Andean Condors flying against snow-capped peaks and it was everything that I had hoped for and more! But that big woodpecker was not found in Ecuador and it would be many year's wait again until I had the chance to look for it.

So finally in late 2019 Ruth persuaded me that spending weeks on a ship, when I am the world’s worst sailor literally getting “seasick” on a river, would be a good idea and we planned to visit Antarctica. I must admit I had grave misgivings about the adventure, sure I had seen the wildlife documentaries about the amazing wildlife in Antarctica but the thought of being trapped on a ship in some of the world’s most notoriously rough seas filled me with dread. A friend, John Gregory, had recounted his trip when the ship didn’t move for three days as it faced into a massive storm with waves crashing over the boat and passengers confined to their bunks! I would die for sure if we encountered those conditions crossing the Drake’s Passage on our sail south. There was a little good news the trip we had booked on would fly back to Argentina so we only had to risk the Drake’s Passage once so I was persuaded to pack my anti-seasick patches, which to be fair had never let me down yet, and we headed south. Little did we know as we flew towards Argentina what a crazy time laid ahead?

Chilean Skuas also showed off in the harbour at Ushuaia in the sunshine.

Got a bit distracted there so back to woodpeckers! We were based in the southern most city in the world – Ushuaia – at the very bottom of Argentina where our Antarctic cruise was due to leave from. But before that we had nearly two weeks to explore this stunningly beautiful part of the world. The Andes meet the sea here and towering snow-capped peaks rise right above the small friendly city. Walking out of the tiny airport we were greeted with breath-taking views of the coast and the mountains and knew we were going to love this place. It was pretty chilly though sunny and of course we had packed for the cold so were well prepared. Our first hotel was pretty much city centre, though Ushuaia is smaller than Llandudno where we live, so no-where is far from anywhere here. Great birds were found in the harbour overlooked by our hotel and we were thrilled to see fantastic Dolphin Gulls behaving just like the Herring Gulls back home! Huge Kelp Gulls here too along with massive Flightless Steamer Ducks and the local race of Rufous-collared Sparrows. We also soon found that the food in Ushuaia was delicious and relatively cheap and the locals were so very friendly, yes, we did love this place.

Black-faced Ibis one of many wonderful birds enjoyed in the National park.

Lovely though Ushuaia was it didn’t look the sort of place we would find a big red-headed woodpecker but just to the west lies the huge Tierra del Fuego National Park that has wonderful forests on the slopes of beautiful snow-capped mountains a truly breath-taking place. We were so lucky with the weather on our first visit cobalt blue skies, sunny and calm, and we just drove around each bend in the road going “wow” it really was one of the most scenic places we have ever been. Not a huge number of birds but what we saw were wonderful and many of them new for us. But no sign of that big woodpecker despite looking at a lot of trees.

Then as we drove slowly through a stand of huge mature trees Ruth shouted “woodpecker!” and there swooping through the trees was a very big woodpecker. We slammed on the brakes and leapt out and hurried into the trees, where did it go? A huge bird can’t just vanish? Well it could. We scanned and listened for the tell-tale “donk-donk” sound of a woodpecker beak hitting wood made so famous in the long ago TV programme with Sir David. Nothing. Not a sound. Then movement on a tree trunk low down it was these – Magellanic Woodpecker at last after so many years of wanting to see this bird! And oh boy it did not disappoint a huge black woody with a massive scarlet head and a huge bill – what more could you ask from a woodpecker? We were totally elated. A bird that I wanted to see for so very long finally encountered and in a stunningly beautiful part of the world, doesn’t get much better.

Well, it kind of did, due to a very long story our Antarctica cruise was cancelled and we luckily managed to rearrange another but we would have to wait awhile before departure so that gave us plenty of time for more birding in Argentina. We spent a few days further north seeing lots of wonderful birds in lovely warm sunshine before returning to Ushuaia with two fellow travellers who had been on our original cruise with us, Brian and Helen also from the UK and old friends.

We returned to the National Park and were birding near a beautiful lake with stunning views of The Andes when a huge woodpecker whooshed past us and appeared to land close by. We slowly made our way into the trees and soon saw the male Magellanic Woodpecker hammering away at a tree trunk, wow! We crept a little closer but there were branches in the way stopping us having a really clear view and getting some photographs. Then to our utter jaw-dropping amazement this huge woody flew straight towards us and landed on a tree below eye-level just a few feet away! This was beyond our wildest hopes to enjoy point blank views like this and the woodpecker just stayed there chipping away at the trunk to find grubs hidden within the wood. It was so close Alan was able to take a hand-held video with his IPhone and of course so many photographs!

An amazing encounter with a long sought after bird that will live long in the memory!

Come and join us for a “Tour for Two” – very small group just two guests with two guides, tailor made itinerary, low risk in these COVID-19 times and of course lots of birds and an excellent chance of enjoying them all. Do drop us a line and we can make all the arrangements be it a day trip, two days, three day or as long a tour as you wish. Our recent Tours for Two have visited the Highlands of Scotland, North Wales, Norfolk and the Yorkshire coast and we are planning many more! Let us know where you would like to go and we can put together a proposal perfect for you.

We are so lucky to have so many species and habitats within easy reach here in North Wales we would love you to join us for one of our Best of North Wales Birdwatching Trips days out. We expect to enjoy a lot of birds during these relaxed pace tours and we can tailor make the day to suit you.

We would love you to join us on our Birdwatching Trips in the future just drop us a line to arrange a custom tour and please see our tours pages for set departure trips. If you have any questions at all please fire away here….

We look forward to enjoying wonderful birds in beautiful places with you soon!

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