22 March 2009

Uruguay 2009, part 9: Bird watching in La Paloma

Available in Spanish: Avistamiento de aves en La Paloma

Our second day in La Paloma began early. Having gone to bed so tired the night before, sleep came so fast and overwhelming that despite the crowded room and the thin mattress, when I woke up I found out I hadn't moved from my original position, nor had I dreamed (that I could remember), and I hadn't even woken up once and taken a look in the darkness as I often do.

Carpintero nuca roja
Green-barred Woodpecker

Carpintero de campo
Campo Flicker

Garcita (by pablodf)
White heron

Ostrero común (by pablodf)
American Oystercatcher
The morning air felt fresh and stimulating, and there was quite a lot of light. I took a peek and found out Marisa wasn't there. It was no more than 7:30, and though I tend to wake up early because of my work, she most definitely doesn't; maybe she'd gone to the bathroom? I got out, trying not to step on anything or anybody. Marisa was on the hammock, reading under the vine, in the almost completely silent patio (the water of the fountain in the other patio could be heard).

The hostel was evidently not a place for early risers, and breakfast was served at nine o'clock, so we decided to kill time walking around. It felt like an autumn morning, but it was green and bright and without a trace of the mist and the grayness we associate with that season. We came back to the hostel in time to sit down by an outside table, with white coffee and a pile of toast and biscuits with jam.

After this copious feeding, with our faithful map in hand, we headed for the port zone and its breakwater, so we could be surrounded by sea. On our way there we passed by a naval base, around which lots of birds were doing their things: our familiar teros (Southern Lapwings), and others I didn't recognize. I chased them, zoom maxed out, while Marisa waited patiently. In the end I managed to take one acceptable picture of (what I later found out to be) a Green-barred Woodpecker and a Campo Flicker. I honestly thought that woodpeckers were all little birds with a red crest that lived all the time clutching a tree trunk and drilling holes in it, but as it turned out, these ones prefer the grass.

The breakwater was narrow and long. On the side of the port (a haven, actually) a large group of sea birds took to the air as we got 200 meters from them. On the calm water there were some birds with a little crest and a long reddish neck. Unknown to me at the time, they turned out to be Great Grebes with breeding plumage. On the side of the sea, right on a group of nearby rocks, there were the ever-present biguás (Neotropic Cormorants) by the dozens, as usual happily taking in the sun, along with a few little white herons, a couple of oystercatchers (small, with long, flaming red-orange beaks), and Kelp Gulls (white, with yellow bill and legs, and black wings with a white border).

This ornithological feast didn't keep the sun from going up and up. We left the coast and went to see the old train station on our way back. There we noticed there's a tremendous difference between a sunny midday in the cool breeze from the sea and the same time of day with no wind or shade even among the trees. I don't remember what we had for lunch, but I know after the long walk in the sun I wanted to take a nap. Marisa declared she had no intention to sleep, and went away with her book to read in the hammock; as expected, when I went to the patio to fetch her, one and a half hour later, she was sound asleep.

The afternoon sky was starting to get cloudy. We'd planned to go to the other beach, the one we hadn't visited before, called La Aguada, crossing a little woods (there's a camping site inside), and then have some mate beside the sea, as the weather it was noticeably getting cooler. After just a moment there we realized we wouldn't be able to pour even one mate, since the wind was blowing so strong that sand was flying, prickling our faces, and we were barely able to keep our eyes open. We retreated into the woods. Even among the tall trees it took us a while to find a calm spot for our picnic.

I'd been concerned about getting lodging in La Pedrera (especially after I saw the conditions of our accommodation in La Paloma), and I'd located a place that seemed OK. So when we got back, we went to a public phone and I called. The owner of this place, the only one we could conceivably get a room at, would not settle the deal: yes, he had room, a double room, and he would have room for us two days from now, but as for assuring us of it, he'd rather not, he couldn't, but if I insisted, well, I should go and see and he would see if he had that room... and so on. This indecission was all the more worrying because La Pedrera isn't exactly full of cheap lodgings, least of all available on high tourist season. I promised the man I'd call him back the next day to assure him (once again) that we'd be there.

We grabbed some warm clothes (it was a bit cold already), and we went (for the second time) to the artisans' fair in front of the hostel. If in Argentina good crafts tend to be a little expensive for the casual passer-by, they were very expensive here, so we only got ourselves a couple of carved mate gourds.

The next day we had already planned a tour outside La Paloma, to the famous (but only vaguely portrayed in the brochures) Fortress of Santa Teresa.

To be continued...

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