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Prowling Pumas, Snoring Whales and Penguin Royalty: Chilean Patagonia


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:D Thanks @pault!!  I'm well aware via Whatsapp what you guys are up to---please tell Nam Wan "hi" for me as she keeps me posted on your travels and whereabouts and sends the occasional cat video  :D


Here's one of Blinka's more curious cubs---still with his little spots:


My niece and I after climbing what I'd call a cliff -- the puma made it look much easier:


Our puma guide Jorge --- would scout out ahead and Lord he could scamper up hill and dell!  Often I brought up the rear!


Our driver but a good guide on his own, David---very knowledgeable of birds:


The bush or terrain was subtle at times but reminded me of the sea floor---the cushion bushes sort of like brain corral, other plants like staghorn, and tiny flowers and delicate plants of startling variety when you look closely---flowers of blue, yellow and red----be sure to look down but of course you will because if you're not on a trail, you'll trip :D


The hotel was a winner and so was the bar---cheers!


The Patagonian Steppe with some guanacos thrown in there---they were especially abundant:


(The grainier pics may be from my cell phone -- sorry bout that!)

The beauty of Torres del Paine takes your breath away---or maybe that was the gale force winds---it's exhilerating however you look at it!


Brown bag picnic in a southern beech forest:


At times you would stumble upon the killing fields---guanaco bones scattered all around---some areas seemed especially perilous for these relatives of the camel...


My niece tells me there is a puma head visible in this photo---I can't find it :D


In this photo we were sitting watching Hermalita (Little Sister) as she sat behind a sprig of grass warming in the sun up against some rocks.  We sat perhaps 30 yards away for 45 minutes or more.


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I just returned a couple weeks ago from Chilean Patagonia with my niece and thought I'd share my trip report: I loved it!  Wild, raw, beautiful, uncrowded country with varied wildlife, and although I

Thanks safaritalkers for your encouragement!  So glad to see so many folks doing this journey in the near future---I'll look very much forward to the trip reports and to follow the progress of the pum

Thanks @pault!!  I'm well aware via Whatsapp what you guys are up to---please tell Nam Wan "hi" for me as she keeps me posted on your travels and whereabouts and sends the occasional cat video  

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A word about the traffic in Patagonia :D we were trying to cross that bridge!




Edited by gatoratlarge
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omg never saw so many sheep! Did they have lamb chops at the hotel? :lol::lol:


wonderful scenery. I suppose in October, when we go, we won't get the beautiful colors and wildflowers. On the upside, it is supposed to be a bit less windy earlier in the season :D


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@janzin   They did---and guanaco steaks! :o


I think we did see most of the major mammal species before we headed back to PA -- no good picture of the hairy armadillo, but the skunk, the fox, the guanaco and the puma.  Here is the Andean deer which is not too common:



A smattering of some of the birds we saw along the way to and from Torres del Paine before I take it down to Tierra del Fuego and beyond and wrap this TR up :D

Although I say I'm not a birder, it was hard not to be impressed by the sheer variety of waterfowl, flamingos, Andean condors (more plentiful than I had imagined) which with a wingspan of 11' is one of the largest flying birds,  and the rhea, one of the largest flightless birds...our guides were excellent birders and clearly "into it" so you get swept up in that sort of thing :) :



Swan Lake:




Condors are pure scavengers...


Flamingos were also plentiful and would occupy the far side of many a lagoon:





We meandered our way back to Punta Arenas --- stopping for lunch in Puerto Natales. We ate very well on this trip and any hopes that the hiking would shed some pounds was a pipe dream :D



Alas weight loss was not to be...here are some sights/scenes around Punta Arenas:



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Wow, great report!  You had some fantastic encounters that is for sure.  Looks like Chile might be the next hot spot for SafariTalkers.


It appears the weather was pretty good for you but it sounds like the good old Chile wind blew strong and steady as well.



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Patagonia is way up on my to-do list when I retire and have more time to travel to the other side of the planet. I once saw a documentary i think as part of the wild south america or something like that, and the sceneries were just out of this world. Your videos confirm that - and tracking pumas? wow - icing on a double chocolate cake. 


Love that video of the skunk!


Of all the big cats, I find that pumas/cougar/mountain lions look most like the domestic cats. I'm so jealous of your marvellous sightings! 

I was just watching another documentary (name of which I can't recall) of a male puma on a guanaco kill, a female with two juvenile cubs were waiting for him to finish but then a female with 3 young cubs came by. the cubs were clearly hungry and rushed forward to the kill, the male advanced on them but just snarled and growled to show who was boss, and after a while, let them feed on the carcass while he sat close by. The conclusion from that was the pumas are not as unsociable as once thought. in fact, here is a study on it - not conclusive I suppose, but quite interesting



I was curious - when you were tracking the pumas on foot , were the guanacos wary or skittish about the humans walking by, or were you all careful not to be in plain sight? 


Edit to add: I missed page 2!

breathtaking landscapes! make me so want to pack up and live there...in spring/summer


I also wanted to say - very happy to hear that ranchers recognise the tourism value of keeping pumas alive.

Edited by Kitsafari
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I was already excited about my upcoming trip, but your beautiful pictures are sending me over the moon! Can't wait to see it for myself!

I'm very glad to hear guanaco steak is available - I was hoping to try it. All those pumas can't be wrong :D

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@Kitsafari  Hi Kit!!  I'm always jealous that the Europeans and others can fly to Africa and stay on the same Time Zones with just one long flight instead of many so I guess it's only fair we have some places to go that are similar although I think it took eleven hours in the air to get there even from Florida!  It didn't seem like just a hop, skip and a jump! :D


The guanacos were not very skittish at all of our presence although kind of like Africa, when you're in a vehicle they could almost care less...on foot they don't get particularly close but they certainly don't run.  The thing is, when we were on foot there was likely a puma in the vicinity and the guanacos always have a couple of sentinels on lookout for pumas...when they bed down at night, often they were on a crest of a hill so they can see from all sides....that's why there are so many picturesque guanaco opportunities because they like the high ground.  So when we were on foot and a puma was on the move, the maniacal braying or neighing was constant,  I'm not sure guanacos are the smartest animal so I think the pumas just sink down, wait them out and hope they forget or start grazing ...that being said, the BBC special I just watched on South America: Seven Worlds, the tracker was saying he observed pumas for 8 years and never saw a successful guanaco kill...so maybe they're smarter than I give them credit for...


PS you are right---I think it's not completely uncommon for a kill to be shared even when not related to each other...it's an uneasy alliance but maybe for survival they help each other out from time to time...


@jeffb I feel a bit guilty but guanaco is quite good.  There's also a lot of lamb on the menus as well as seafood as you might expect :)



Edited by gatoratlarge
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I found this interesting article on guanaco hunting when looking up guanaco for food. The article is from 2014 so not sure if things have changed. Not sure I'd eat it!




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@janzin Well that's disturbing. Perhaps I'll have to forgo the guanaco steaks and leave more for the pumas.

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A skunk escape and a stampede.  You really got your money's worth!


If we may continue the interrogation that @michael-ibk started in Zakouma.  How did you decide on IE for this trip?


Such beautiful brightly colored flora (and food)!  Great job on the birds.  You had a "Swan Lake" of black-necked swans!  I remember going to great lengths to photograph one in Tierra del Fuego.  The scenery looks like a painting, even through the windshield!


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As soon as I saw your Puma pics I thought about Sir David and his narration on the incredible mama Puma in the Seven Planets series. You are incredibly lucky and to my untrained eyes the pumas seem to be reasonably tolerant.

I'm primarily a landscape lover and photographer and Patagonia would definitely fit that bill with odd pumas thrown in.  One day !!! 

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@Atravelynn my dad has often accompanied me on travels and he suggested us going on another trip---Africa was probably too far---and frankly I think seeing some of the trip reports on SafariTalk convinced me to look into Patagonia.  IE's trip "Pumas, Penguins and Whales" seemed to cover everything I wanted to see or at least the highlights and we had used IE for a trip to Indonesia and the Amazon before so I reckon that's how it came about :D


@Chakra  yes it was the exact surroundings and even pumas from the Seven Worlds series.  Really, really beautiful!

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The next morning we began to meander eastward to a town called Punta Delgado which runs a ferry across the Straight of Magellan to Tierra del Fuego.  We stopped at an old estancia along the way and went to a few spots to check and see if we might spot some special birds.  The area between the continent and TdF narrows at this point so it's only about a 30 minute crossing.  We drove our car onto the ferry and got out for a look.  On the ferry, although I didn't get a photo, we saw a couple of black and white Commerson's dolphins swimming along side of us.  We also started to spot some of the skuas and black browed albatrosses, and water birds that are commonly seen in these parts.


We continued birding when we got to Tierra del Fuego driving onto a private estancia with cliffs overlooking the ocean.  Thousands of sea birds occupied the beach below us.  Then we drove the windswept plains to Porvenir past herds of guanaco (a blacker face than their mainland cousins).  Porvenir was a port town on the edge of a bay.  We stayed in a charming small hotel there called the Yendegaia House.  We walked to dinner.



Rheas on a ridge:


Leaving the continent:


Not a great pic but a skua keeping up with the ferry or southern giant petrel? Mixed up already! IMG_3130.jpg.357b2c2665838330f46f963d3aed75fd.jpg



Great horned owl on the way to Porvenir with chicks...


The Hotel:


The next morning we headed to Useless Bay to see the King Penguin Colony.  They could not have chosen a more uninhabitable location! :D The wind was constant and very strong, yet the penguins seemed happy :D 


Edited by gatoratlarge
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A visit to the King Penguin colony at Useless Bay:
















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Also from Tierra del Fuego:

South American Terns:


Lunch atop an ancient site --- scattered with bones.  Human activity has been traced back 11,000 years on this site.


Cows of Tierra del Fuego: :D


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As i was looking at your photos of the king penguins, I could hear their calls. absolutely awesome images. 


Curious about why the ranchers and loggers and hunters target the guanacos and not the llamas? Do the llamas not have the same diet as the guanacos, I wonder?

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@Kitsafari  Hi Kit!  My understanding is that the llama is human bred over thousands/hundreds of years?  It is a descendant or relation of the guanaco---the alpaca is bred as well and is a descendant of vicunas.  So the wild version of each are guanacos and vicunas...the others are domesticated and were bred....that's how my guide explained it to me...but I could be wrong about that.  Guanacos are certainly puma food on the continent, on Tierra del Fuego, guanacos have no natural enemies other than man.  I think some farmers think they are competing for food with their sheep...


You could definitely hear the penguins familiar (from TV) calls...such a cool bird!


Although I am a far cry from a good birder, they are so varied and beautiful that it's hard not to take some interest---here is the bird list from the trip:


lesser rhea

Andean condor

turkey vulture

Cinerous harrier

black chested buzzard eagle

Chimango caracara

Southern crested caracara

American kestrel

Aplamado falcon

least seedsnipe

eared dove

Austral parakeet

Magellanic horned owl

short eared owl

scale throated earthcreeper

band tailed earthcreeper

dark bellied cinclodes

bar winged cinclodes

thorn tailed rayadito

sharp billed canastero

white crested elaenia

Patagonian tyrant

cinnamon bellied ground tyrant

Austral negrito

ruffous tailed plantcutter

Chilean swallow

blue and white swallow

house wren

sedge wren

Austral thrush

Correndera pippit

grey hooded sierra finch

mourning sierra finch

plumbeous sierra finch

ruffous collared sparrow

long tailed meadow lark

Austral blackbird

house sparrow

king penguin

Magellanic penguin

great grebe

silvery grebe

black browed albatross

southern giant petrel

Wilson's storm petrel

Magellanic diving petrel

neotropic cormorant

rock shag

imperial shag

king shag

black faced ibis

Chilean flamingo

black necked swan

Coscoroba swan

upland goose

kelp goose

torrent duck

crested duck

Chiloe wigeon

speckled teal

yellow billed pintail

spectacled duck

silver teal

red shoveler

Andean ruddy duck

Austral rail -- heard not seen

red gartered coot

Magellanic oystercatcher

soutehrn lapwing

two banded plover

Magellanic plover'

South American snipe

white rumped sandpiper

Baird's sandpiper

Chilean skua

dolphin gull

kelp gull

brown hooded gull

South American tern


Our guide Jorge from Santiago with Far South was most excellent in helping me keep up with what we saw.

Edited by gatoratlarge
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wow - That's an excellent haul Joel! you can do a BY on that!



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Even though it might seem protected to a certain extent, the Straight of Magellan is at the end of the South American continent with only Antarctica beyond---a windswept area in tumultuous waters.  After crossing the Straight from Porvenir to Punta Arenas (one lady seemingly praying the rosary) we had an overnight then headed out for Carlos III Island with an outfit called Whalesound.  It is a cooperative eco-tourism, research effort with an eco-camp on the island.  There are some faster boats that run out each day for whale watching but the distance is significant.  It took our boat eight and a half hours to reach the island in the western Straight.  I was happy to have a couple of nights here -- can't really imagine it being worthwhile to run out for only the day and then traveling back.


Boarding the boat---I found a fellow Gator on board! :D 


Kitchen on the boat---we had a good lunch:IMG_3179.jpg.fde77b340c2f04c5c1d00e0b24d1266b.jpg


Landing on Carlos III or Carlos Tercero:


Kelp forest in the small bay -- a whale(s) would rest here at night---one of the camp staff recorded its snoring! :D The wood furnace had heated my tent so well I cracked the door and could hear the exhale and spouting of whales during the night...a very cool sound indeed!IMG_3290.jpg.76aa0e18319d73a7a5b4d77185288c47.jpgIMG_3300.jpg.66fd1af0a437495af8b43eb717804990.jpgIMG_3719.jpg.381def98808843cec466535558b8ea2f.jpg

We picked up other passengers along the way to the boat.  I believe there were six of us in all plus researchers, guides, a chef, etc...The weather was misty, a bit rough, water often splashing up to the top deck.  I decided to nap down in the hull which was the roughest part of the boat but I had taken a sea sick pill (glad I did) and so I was fine.  The further west we went, the more mountainous (I think the farthest extent of the Andes chain) and the slopes were lush with forests.  There are more than 100 whales that migrate here during the summer to feed from warmer waters up near Columbia.  


Room with a view:



They don't migrate much farther east than the whalesound and the waters that surround Carlos III.  We no sooner had the island in sight than we saw a couple whales' blow holes misting into the sky.  We dropped the chef off on the island and set right back out to follow the whales.  We got back to the island about 9P and the accommodations were these cool dome tents with an octagonal window in the side, a small deck with an amazing view and each tent had a wood burning furnace (it can get down into the 30's at night (near freezing).  We had a great dinner in the dining hall and fell out for the night.


The next day was spent watching whales---sometimes as many as three hanging together, a conga line of spouting...I didn't see any jumps although some saw some a bit far off.  One whale in particular surfaced next to the boat.  Its eye and mouth, those lines under it's mouth, those giant white pectoral fins---it then took a lazy dive showing its tail.  Often a gathering of birds indicate fish below---that's a good place to watch the feeding behavior of whales though we did not see them coming up, mouth open, water gushing like I've seen on TV...apparently the Magellanic penguins herd the fish and the whales take advantage of that.  One of the researchers spotted a sei whale but I did not catch it, we were headed in the other direction.


My guide took these shots:




We did see a couple dozen whales overall and the surrounding sounds and fiords were spectacular.  One of the highlights had to be approaching the glaciers near Santa Ines Island --- just absolutely stunning.  The wind coming off the glacier was gale force churning the blue green waters, multiple waterfalls cut through the forested granite mountains on all sides....just spectacular!


We stayed two nights at the Eco Camp and on the final day did a bit more whale watching, found a couple colonies of sea lions, fur seals were more solo and cavorted in the waters.  We sought out a Magellanic penguin colony before the long ride back to Punta Arenas...


The Beachmaster!


Kelp Goose...IMG_3565.jpg.7dbaba5f80e53601edd733a69468db4f.jpg

Magellanic penguin colony --- their nests undermine the root systems of the trees so there are a bunch of toppled trees around:



The Straight of Magellan:



Edited by gatoratlarge
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Can we hear some whale snoring please ? I'd like to compare that to noise coming out of my airways, which is sometimes recorded by significant other and played back to me after a particularly loud night.


Cool hat by the way.  Skeleton Coast  !!  Brings back fond memories of vast nothingness.  

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@Chakra I could pick up the snoring sound on the recording but there was a lot of white noise too---it was not exactly a stellar recording... they said the whales sort of rested on the kelp which buoyed them from getting pushed around while they napped...:D



Some last videos from Carlos III Island and Whalesound:




Edited by gatoratlarge
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  • gatoratlarge changed the title to Prowling Pumas, Snoring Whales and Penguin Royalty: Chilean Patagonia

Hi Joel,

wow, what a great trip and fantastic sightings of pumas!

Also the landscape of the Andean mountains is amazing!

Thank you for sharing




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Thanks @AndMic Andreas!  You have a lot to look forward to---is it November you will be there?

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