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Backyard Vacation!

Backyard Vacation!

Finally, baby guanacos in the valley!

Oct. 14, 2012 – Oct. 20, 2012

By Kelly Reilly (UMass Amherst ’14)

Hello once again from sunny Patagonia!  This week we got the real feeling of summer at our “vacation” spot at the confluence of the Baker and Chacabuco Rivers…minus the continued academic schedule of course, but even this was a treat.

Wednesday began with a leisurely morning and late breakfast, which some of us readily took advantage of in preparation for the especially early mornings that were awaiting us for our bird surveys next week (remember, the days are still getting longer here!). Much of the morning free-time was spent reading articles and continuing our Grinnell journals, with the occasional quick-dip in the icy river water or a fly-fishing lesson from Colin.  After lunch we began a lecture with Kari about the compatibility of conservation with economic and social development, and then we discussed two papers relating to the topic. By the time we were finished, it was already time to begin our dinners, after which we spent the remainder of the evening around a cozy, crackling fire sharing ghost stories (from which I personally excused myself). A nightjar - a.k.a. wild bird with crazy whiskers

Thursday was spent in similar fashion: we had a relaxed but productive morning, followed by lunch and a joint lecture and discussion, this time dealing with conflicts between conservation work and the Indigenous people who often inhabit potential protected lands. We also listened to a really neat Natural History talk by Heidi about the geological processes that shaped the region.  To break up the academic work and stretch our legs a bit, we ventured a ways along the northern shore of the Chacabuco River, which quickly became a scramble across crumbly rock but was a fun expedition nonetheless. On the way back, we picked up Colin, who had been determinedly fly-fishing again, and appreciated the variable, funky colors and skip-ability of the river’s stones. Again, we ended the day with a delicious dinner and fire to warm our hands and spirits.

Friday started early and with the promise of more Vizcacha sightings as we headed out for an informal vizcacha survey.  We split up into groups to cover the area at the base of a north-facing rocky cliff, the most likely habitat for these elusive rodent-like hares. Unfortunately, the vizcacha were not as active as the first time we saw them. Although, the expedition was still fruitful: Matt and I scared out a lone vizcacha from its rocky home while scrambling up the cliff, and Kari, Ryan, and Fernando saw a nightjar – perhaps one of the most bizarre looking birds!  (Plus a few of us climbed some neat giant willow trees).  After returning and taking a refreshing, albeit brief, dip in the river, we had lunch and a short discussion about some ratherThe beautiful mountain top lakes that give the trail its name unfortunate Florida panthers, then we had more time for our Grinnell journals, a warm dinner, and our last fire at the beautiful confluence.  When the sun finally set and we could see the first flickerings of stars, Berrett led us through the constellations as part of his Natural History talk.

Saturday morning we had a quick breakfast, packed-up all of our gear, trekked up the hill to get back to the cars, and returned to good old Los West Winds campground.  After time for lunch, laundry, and showers for some, we headed into Cochrane to fulfill our internet and food needs.  While a few of us were waiting in the town plaza, we were interviewed about our experience in Patagonia by a reporter for a local channel. (Hopefully the interview will be aired online sometime in the coming week – we’ll keep you updated!)

Finally, Sunday was the day of our planned hike to the peak of Cerro Tamangito (1500m), which overlooks our campsite.  We headed out early and made great time, hiking a majority of the way along the Lagunas Altas trail – named as such because of the beautiful lakes atop the mountain – then breaking off and heading along guanaco trails and scrambled up the scree to the summit.  Atop the peak, we had lunch, as well as a lecture from Fernando in, by far, the most beautiful classroom!  After descending part of the trail to get out of the cold wind, we had a discussion led by Berrett about the value and use of conservation corridors, then returned to camp. After returning, we celebrated one of the students’ 21st birthday with a delicious camp cake and surprise party, and though turning 21 in Chile doesn’t hold quite the same significance as it does in the States, it was still a wonderfully sweet and awesome birthday.

Monday started early for some, like Sam, Adele, and Fernando, who attended a lecture about armadillos by a PhD student doing his work in the valley.  Following their return, we packed-up once again and headed out to begin our week of bird surveying, despite a weather forecast of rain and snow.  However, the weather here so far remains hot and sunny as ever!

Following guanaco paths to the peak

Photo credit to Colin Cummings, Ingrid Lyons, and Kari Signor

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