Saturday, March 22:
I woke early’ish and went for a short walk along the Rio Serrano to see if there were any morning birds a’wing. It was clear and mild, with fantastic views of Torre Grande.
View from outside our hotel
A Chilean Flicker, which I saw several days earlier at Glaciar Perito Moreno, was in a nearby tree, and I walked over to see if I could get a decent shot of it. It didn’t cooperate in the tree, but landed on an adjacent fence.
Chilean Flicker / Pitío Común
Not quite the natural perch I prefer, but it was pretty close anyways! They’ve somewhat different plumage than the Northern Flickers we have commonly at home, but they’re clearly a flicker!
Austral Blackbird / Tordo Común
A nearby Austral Blackbird (LIFER!) harassed the flicker, chasing it from fence to tree and back again. Typical blackbird behavior indeed.
After a buffet breakfast, which featured, naturally, a plate of ham and cheese cold cuts (and ultra-sweet pastries, dulce de leche to spread on them just in case they weren’t sweet enough, over-sweetened yogurt and Nescafe), we all hopped in the car and drove to the park’s headquarters.
White-tufted Grebe and chick / Pimpollo Común
The interpretive center wasn’t much to write home about, with a couple of small room with some dusty exhibits, however it did have a little covered walkway out onto a lake, and there we saw a baby White-tufted Grebe (LIFER!) and a parent.
The legendary Patagonian winds were blowing quite well, but fortunately it wasn’t particularly cold at all. A good thing when the air is moving at a near-constant 30 miles an hour!
Southern Caracara and Austral Blackbird
We drove along Lago Pehoe to the parking area for the water ferry to our trailhead for the day’s short hike along the base of Paine Grande. We were 40 minutes early, so we walked around to see if there were any birds to be seen.
Fire-eyed Diucon / Diucón
Patagonian Tyrant / Viudita
The area right by the boat launch proved very productive, with a Southern Caracara posing wonderfully before being harassed by an Austral Blackbird, and we got great looks at an aptly-named Fire-eyed Diucon (LIFER!) and a cute Patagonian Tyrant (LIFER!).
Austral Pygmy-Owl / Chuncho
As Diane & I were admiring the Tyrant, Sarah, a few dozen yards away said in a loud whisper “Um, guys…. GUYS!” We turned to see her staring intently at a bush. We carefully approached and were treated to close up and personal views of an adorable Austral Pygmy-Owl (LIFER!). This tiny owl, barely larger than a blackbird, is diurnal, so our seeing it in broad daylight isn’t too surprising. Owls being our favorite birds, we were totally stoked to see this one, by far the tiniest of the few species of owl we’ve seen thus far.
An Austral Blackbird showed up and chased our owl-friend off to a farther tree, where it remained visible for some time. We pointed it out to a passing hiker who said, “I am a Frenchman, so I am curious – is it good to eat?” When I said that it is much too small, he rejoined “ahh, so you must eat many of them, then!” After this amusing cultural exchange, we dallied back at the car, then queued up by the launch as several large buses pulled up.
Shortly before the boat was scheduled to depart (noon), we were allowed to board. Amusingly, everyone with a backpack (and there were a great many, this being one of just a few entry points for the backcountry backpacking loops that are justifiably famous here) had to stack it in the front of the catamaran, and a large pile-o-packs soon resulted.
Once underway we purchased our tickets, which were a rather steep CHP$17,000 round trip. The trip along Lago Pehoe was scenic and pretty comfortable. We stayed below deck, as the winds were kicking up moderately high waves, which splashed high over the boat. Jim unfortunately was not feeling well, so when we arrived at the other end of the lake, he got back on and returned to the hotel while Sarah, Diane & I hiked.
After checking out the Hosteria Pehoe, a nice backcountry hostel complete with restaurant and bar, we headed out towards the Cuernos del Paine. We didn’t really have any agenda for this hike other than to hike until we felt like turning back, and that is what we did.
Fall color and the Cuernos del Paine
Fall was evident, and the low-lying (Lenga?) trees had started to turn orange. Winds continued to howl, an thus no birds were to be seen, while threatening-looking clouds were building up at the summits.
The hiking was beautiful and the trails well-maintained. The French glacier towered high above us on the slopes of Paine Grande, sending many small cascades down its side.
Cuernos del Paine
A couple-few miles in we perched on a rock above a glacial lake and declared this our turnaround point. We drank in the splendid vistas of the multicolored Cuernos del Paine. Lunch done, we turned around and headed back to the Hosteria Pehoe.
Part of the French Glacier
A fine place to hike!
The threatening weather began to make good on its promise, but gently, as a few sprinkles came our way. Temperatures were strangely warm, and I had to stop to remove the liner from my jacket – unexpected indeed.
Nice on the left, scary on the right.
Campground at Hosteria Pehoe
We arrived at Hosteria Pehoe 2.5 hours before the water taxi left, so we walked around and waited for the bar to open. Once it opened we enjoyed a couple of beers, then queued up for the boat ride back, where Jim was waiting for us.
Back at our hotel we enjoyed a much more satisfying dinner than the previous night and retired early’ish to the sounds of the wind howling outside. A fine first full day in this wonderful place!
Part 1: Getting to Patagonia
Part 2: El Calafate & Laguna Nimez
Part 3: Glaciar Perito Moreno
Part 4: El Calafate backcountry excursion
Part 5: Goodbye Argentina, hello Chile
Part 6: To Torres del Paine!
Part 7: Lago Pehoe and Paine Grande <– You are here!
Part 8: Mirador los Cuernos
Part 9: To Rio Verde and Punta Arenas
Part 10: Pelagic, Penguins, and farewell to Patagonia
Part 11: To Buenos Aires!
Part 12: BsAs’ Sunday markets and other diversions
Part 13: Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay
Part 14: Buenos Aires’ Jardin Botanico and Costanera Sur
Part 15: There’s no place like home