Category Archives: Wildlife

Chloe’s Top 5 Wildlife Experiences

Chloe’s Top 5 Wildlife Experiences

If you’re a wildlife fanatic like me, the variety of magnificent creatures to be found in Patagonia makes it the ideal place for an outdoor adventure. From the apex predator: the Andean puma, to the gargantuan humpback whale, with a whole plethora of weird and wonderful birds and mammals in between. During my trip to Patagonia in April 2016, I was thrilled by sighting five pumas in one day, 34 humpback whales in two days, not to mention scuttling hairy armadillos, snuffly hog nosed skunks, hilariously clumsy penguins, and magnificent birds of prey.

Another bonus is that there is nothing too creepy or dangerous down in Patagonia either – even the pumas regard us humans as rather insignificant: neither a threat nor a meal! There are no dangerous snakes or spiders, and very few mosquitos.

So here’s a quick rundown of my top 5 wildlife experiences in Patagonia. I hope it fuels your love for Patagonia as much as it has mine, and inspires you to go out there and see it for yourself!

1 – The big hairy armadillo (Chaetophractus Villosus)

The hairy armadillo has been a long term obsession of mine – I had never seen any sort of armadillo before, and have been totally fascinated by the hairy Patagonian variety. It was my dream to spot one on this trip, and during my stay at a luxury lodge just outside of El Calafate, it became a reality. Just 10-20 metres stroll from the hotel, amongst the scrub land, a sudden scuttle could be heard on the other side of a bush. I dashed across to see what it was, and just a strange hairy yet armoured tail could be seen disappearing into the bush. I waited it out, and a few minutes later, this little guy appeared to greet me…

With a degree of caution at first, he sidled out of his cosy looking burrow, snuffling around for juicy bugs. Finally, he emerged fully, and walked up to me within about half a metre. They have terrible eyesight and I don’t think he even realised I was there!

2 – The Andean puma (Puma Concolor)

I’ve been a total big cat nut for as long as I can remember, and although I’ve been lucky to spot lions, cheetahs, leopards and caracals in South Africa, spotting pumas in Patagonia is a totally different experience. They are very elusive creatures, that are both solitary and magnificently well camouflaged against the sand coloured rocks and earth of the Patagonian landscape.

I only had two days (which in Puma tracking terms really only meant one evening and one morning) with an expert guide to try and spot one. Knowing how hard it can be to track them down, I didn’t set my expectations too high. The first afternoon/ evening was spent exploring the private land of Estancia Laguna Amarga. It was not until we returned back to the ranch just before dark, that someone came dashing in to say that a female with two cubs had just walked right past the estancia on the other side of the road! Unfortunately they had sloped off into the darkness by the time we had arrived, but it gave us new hope for the next day.

Departing in the pitch black early the next morning, we reached Laguna Amarga in time for sunrise. After exploring for a few hours we had almost given up (the pumas head for their siesta around 10am), when all of a sudden my guide reached for his binoculars; he had spotted a female with two young cubs, making their way up the ridge to our left. Then, just five minutes down the road, another female, this time with one older cub. I could not believe my luck to have seen five pumas in ten minutes! It spoke volumes though about the expertise of our local guides, and the health of the puma population of Torres del Paine. Two females with cubs sharing the same territory is a very encouraging sign. I left feeling extremely fortunate, and full of hope for the future of these pumas.

3 – The humpback whale (Megaptera Novaeangliae)

Whales are a particular favourite marine species of mine, I’m fascinated by their mystery: their sheer size, their intriguing songs and apparent sense of family bonds / community.

After eight hours navigating the choppy waters of the Magellan Strait in a small but fairly comfortable boat, I was pleased to make it to the more sheltered waters of the Barbara Channel. Here, a family of around 10 humpback whales were gathered and could be observed several at a time, blowing clouds of spray into the air, and showing off their dorsal fins and tail flukes.

The following day, in the same channel, we were surrounded almost constantly by the sounds of exhalations of water, tail flukes slapping the water, and occasionally the humongous crash of a full grown humpback leaping elegantly out of the water, and disappearing gracefully (with a huge splash!) beneath the surface again.

Humpback numbers have been increasing in these waters year on year, since whaling was banned. Many of the same individuals return each summer to feed in these calm and fruitful channels – I saw more than 30 individuals across those two days. Read more on Whale Watching in Patagonia.

4 – The Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus)

At Tucker Islets during my cruise from Punta Arenas to Ushuaia, I got to experience the sheer comedy value of Patagonia’s Magellanic penguins. Waddling around seemingly aimlessly, going for a quick dip in the icy water, sunbathing to warm up afterwards and clearly bickering with one another, these penguins quickly had me hooked!

We were able to sail around a network of small islands in the Chilean Fjords, in small zodiac boats, and although we were not able to disembark and walk among the penguins (the islands are protected), you get within feet of them as they waddle along the shore line.

5 – Birds

There were so many unusual shapes, sizes, breeds, colours, and behaviours of bird to discover in Patagonia.

I was particularly keen to see was the Magellanic woodpecker, and whilst casually hiking through the Nothofagus forests in the Los Glaciares National Park, I was stopped in my tracks by the sound of tapping. I looked up and just a metre from my head, there was the gorgeous red and black woodpecker, busily tapping away at the tree trunk!

Not far from here, I also saw a gorgeous pair of vibrantly colourful Austral parakeets, all loved up and chirping away in the treetops above me.

I also spotted this majestic chimango caracara perched in a dead tree scouting for a dinner of mice.

Other wonderful creatures I met along the way included skunks, flamingos, guanacos, condors, sea lions, sea birds such as cormorants, albatross and geese, red and grey foxes and rheas. All in all, an incredible wildlife lover’s adventure that I will cherish forever, and would recommend to anyone who appreciates nature at its wildest.

In three weeks, I visited some of Patagonia’s most iconic sights including a visit to Perito Moreno glacier (where I did an ice-hike) and horse-riding on the Patagonian steppe. I kayaked and cruised my way along some beautiful stretches of water and of course I visited the iconic towers of Torres del Paine, witnessing the most amazing sunrises and sunsets. Read more about my incredible Patagonian adventure.

Get in touch with Swoop who can help you make your wildlife adventure dreams a reality and browse the wealth of wildlife information we have on our website.

Eddie’s El Chalten experience

Eddie’s El Chalten experience

Eddie returned in March 2016 from a trip to Patagonia where he visited Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine national parks, cruised through the Chilean fjords and glaciers, and was fortunate enough to spot 40 whales on a Whale Watching trip! Here he talks about his experiences on the trip and in booking with Swoop.

Eddie’s Feedback:

I cannot really fault anything- the way that Swoop and their partners organised the experience, the people I met, and the places I went to were just amazing. I would visit again in a heartbeat.
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Eddies Itinerary

Eddie started his journey in El Calafate where he stayed in the Hotel Kosten Aike. His first day was spent on an excursion to the impressive Perito Moreno glacier. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESNext was some group treks to Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Torre, where he took in some incredible views of Fitz Roy.
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Then he spent a couple of days based from an Eco Yurt Camp in Torres del Paine, choosing  from their various excursions and activities.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEddie then spent four days whale watching, travelling through the Magellan Strait to Carlos III Island – a great trip where you can see penguins, birdlife, whales and sea lions a plenty.

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Finally, he took an Adventure Cruise cruise to Ainsworth Bay & Tucker Islets, Pia Glacier & Glacier Alley  ending with a trip to Cape Horn and Wulaia Bay.

How was your trip overall and how did you find your itinerary?

What can I say but well organised and what a treat! The whole experience was more than I could have anticipated, people who I will always remember, Zoe, Pablo, Nicholas In El Chalten where I fell and cut my hand on the second day of walking great people. THANKS TO ALL OF THEM.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow was your adventure cruise?

The cruise was as I expected, very well organised perfect staff and food, the outings were brilliant, walks and activities for all levels of fitness.

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I sat on table 6 & met two lovely people and a French family. Everybody were great, with like minds, nice company.

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On the final night there was an auction for the navigation map, signed by the Captain, I was determined to have it and outbid all others, the chart is now being framed and will be in a point of prominence in my lounge.

How was your whale watching trip

The Whale Watching was incredible, be saw over 40 whales in just 3 days!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The campsite was rather tired, and the platform on the entrance to my ‘yurt’ had some rotten wood, but this was quickly forgotten when out amongst the whales!

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESInterested in doing a similar trip? Get in touch with us today to find out more.

 

Things to do in Ushuaia

Things to do in Ushuaia

Often people find themselves with just a day or half day to spare in Ushuaia between treks, cruises or other activities, so Swoop has compiled this list of suggestions for things to do whilst you’re there.

If you’re planning to spend longer than a day or two in the region the region (perhaps on an Antarctic or Tierra del Fuego Cruise, a Multi day Trek, or a trip to Cape Horn) then do get in touch – we would love to help you!

There is plenty to see and do in Ushuaia itself by simply sightseeing on foot, but if you are feeling a little more adventurous there are number of fantastic day trips you could consider as well…

History

The Maritime museum of Ushuaia is housed in the former prison of Ushuaia, which was closed down in 1947, and declared a National Historic Monument in 1997. There are some intriguing halls depicting penal life, and an exhibit of incredibly detailed scale models of famous ships spanning 500 years. It provides a really unique insight into the region’s history.

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The oldest estancia in the Argentine region of Tierra del Fuego, this picturesque ranch provides a fascinating insight into the history of the region, as well as being an ideal base from which to explore.

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Wildlife

Spend a morning walking amongst cute Gentoo penguins on Isla Martillo in the Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego. On the way you’ll stop at Ushuaia’s most important historical site, Estancia Harberton.

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A great opportunity to discover the amazing colour of the Emerald Lagoon and the habitats and behaviours of these intriguing rodents!

Nautical

nautical boat trips

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From the Sky!

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from sky helicopter

Active & Adventurous

Exciting day trips including trekking, canoeing, kayaking, horse riding and wildlife spotting for those who want to try something a little more adventurous.

  • Martial Glacier Hike

Take a taxi to the Cerro Martial ski centre and take the easy hike to the martial glacier for fantastic panoramas of Ushuaia and the Beagle Channel.

A lovely horse back ride between the Beagle channel and Monte Susana, up to panoramic views of Ushuaia’s city and peninsula.

Eating & Drinking

Check out our blog post on top places to eat and drink in Patagonia. A top suggestion for Ushuaia is Ramos Generales, where you can  sample the locally brewed Cape Horn Beer, and one of their speciality Merengue Penguins!eat ramos generalescape horn beer

Accommodation

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Ushuaia then look no further, Swoop has compiled a list of their most recommended Places to Stay in Ushuaia for a variety of budgets.

The King Penguins of Tierra del Fuego

The King Penguins of Tierra del Fuego

King Penguins are the second largest of all penguin species after the Emperor Penguin, growing up to 100cm in height, and weighing up to 38lbs. They are very similar in appearance to the Emperor Penguin, although their breeding grounds rarely overlap, and are certainly among the most beautiful of the breeds.

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They have beautifully coloured dark orange cheeks, a white belly, and grey/black backs that are lighter than most other penguins. Youngsters look very similar, but with lighter plumage and colouring (see photo below). Adults can rear a maximum of 2 chicks every 3 years, and no other bird has a longer breeding cycle! They take 14-16 months to fledge a single chick, which may be left to fast for up to 5 months during winter (May- September).

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Few places in the world offer the opportunity to see these magnificent creatures in the wild, and the colony near to Porvenir in Tierra del Fuego is particularly special in that it is the only breeding colony outside of the Sub-Antarctic Islands of South Georgia and the Falklands.

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The Porvenir colony has a very interesting history: there are archaeological sites in the area containing remains of human settlements dating back 6,000 years, amongst which the bones of King Penguins have been found as both prey and tools, showing that they were present here as far back as prehistoric times! The colony is thought to have left the region not long after the arrival of humans who were hunting and sheep farming in the area, and only returned some ten years ago. They are now increasing in number year on year, and have now begun courting and breeding here. They now reach over 100 in number (Feb 2015), and the colony is expected to continue growing.

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There are a few options for visiting this colony, the simplest and cheapest being a full 15 hour day trip (07:00 – 22:00).  On this trip, as well as spending some quality time with the Penguins, and learning about the history and culture of the area,  you’ll get to visit one of the most mystical islands of Patagonia, the ancestral land of the Selk-Nam, where you will experience the vastness of the southern skies, the wind of the pampas, and the history and culture of the region. You also go in search of a range of other species including the White Rumped Sandpiper, the endangered Ruddy-headed Goose, and a variety of pelagic species crossing the historical Strait of Magellan, such as the Black-browed Albatros, and visit the towns of Porvenir and Cerro Sombrero, ending with the ultimate reward of some quality time quietly observing the stunning King Penguins as they go about their business! 

Find out more about visiting the King Penguins in Tierra del Fuego.

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Other options are available, for example a 2 day trip specially designed for serious photographers and those looking for more field time with the penguins, and longer trips that incorporate penguin spotting into longer wildlife itineraries for example, Whale Watching and Puma Tracking!

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Read more about other ways to see Penguins in Patagonia.

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Photos Courtesy of Big Sur.