Ibera, north of Buenos Aries near Mercedes, to put it simply, gave Peninsula Valdes a run for its money as the best wildlife spot we'd been to in Argentina. In the local Guarani language, the name translates simply as "Bright Water" and upon arrival we could understand why. This roughly 20,000 km2 wetland is the second largest in the world, and an untouched, undeveloped paradise for wildlife lovers. Lana and I spent 4 nights at Aguape lodge (which I can't recommend enough) and we comprised one third of all the tourists we encountered during our stay.....
Unfortunately we lost a day to some torrential rain which made going out for dinner good fun; a job for wellies and wading through the sandy streets with lightning striking slightly too close for comfort. Even when the evenings were warm and sunny we were still the only people enjoying good food as Nacunda Nighthawks hunted around the street lamps outside the restaurant. The Giant Wood Rail below took full advantage of having the pool to itself during the storm.
|A typical scene in this wetland paradise|
|Giant Wood Rail relaxing by the pool|
During our stay we took a couple of boat trips out onto the lagoon and got up close to some incredible wildlife. Capybara (in Latin, Water Pig), Marsh Deer and Black Caiman were commonplace. All three of these species were once heavily poached for their various lovely characteristics, but now luckily there is a team of dedicated rangers that in Ibera at least are working on stamping out the vile practice all together. Habitat destruction is also a major threat, especially to the Marsh Deer. Again Ibera provides some vital protection for this stunning species. Capybara are considered less vulnerable as they have the ability to reproduce fairly rapidly (being rodents and all) and a much larger range. Interestingly, they also only ever mate in water.
|Capybara family huddling during the storm|
|Prehistoric and intricately beautiful, Black Caiman|
|Marsh Deer being marshy|
Alongside the aquatic wildlife was a cast of truly stunning birds. Out on the wetland Striated, White-necked and Rufescent Tiger Heron, Snowy and Great Egret, Wattled Jacana, Brazilian and White-faced Whistling Duck and Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture were common. We were also lucky to see Large-billed and Yellow-billed Tern, Ringed, Amazon and Green Kingfisher, Scarlet-headed Blackbird, White-headed Marsh Tyrant, and Black-capped Donacobious, with the later still proving a bit of a headache for ornithologists as to where it belongs taxonomically.
|Beautiful female Green Kingfisher|
|Just as Redshanks in the UK are "sentinels of the marsh," Southern Screamers keep watch over the marshes of South America|
|Our excellent guide Horatio spotted this hiding in the floating vegetation....|
|A Wattled Jacana chick|
On land the selection of bird life was also unbelievable. We had come very much hoping to be able to see Yellow Cardinal, and ended up seeing two, which I rather tragically worked out constitutes of roughly 0.1% of the entire world population of this endangered and simply stunning bird. This bird has suffered for its beauty, and its chronic exploitation for the caged bird trade has lead to a catastrophic decline, and habitat loss and fragmentation is ensuring this species faces an even more challenging recovery. We experienced first hand the vulnerability of this species while in Ibera. As it is highly territorial, it is easily lured to investigate the calls of other individuals, While we didn't use a tape at all, it was clear that someone had been, as this bird came and sat on the wing mirror of our truck.
|One of those special birding moments. Yellow Cardinal|
|And still present when the truck was empty.|
Common species around our lodge and the surrounding dirt roads included Red-crested and Yellow-billed Cardinal, Masked Gnatcatcher, Black-capped Warbling finch, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, White Monjita, Field Flicker, Great Kiskadee and Guira Cuckoo. There are far too many pictures to upload, so I thought I'd stick with my favourites. Firstly, a couple of spectacular Vermilion Flycatchers were present around the village and were always very showy.
|Outrageously red (or vermilion) Vermilion Flycatcher|
Another species which is classified as vulnerable and still declining is the Black and White Monjita, and it is an uncommon bird to see in Ibera, so to find this pair by the road was a real treat.
|Black and White Monjita|
Also around were the much more common but equally as beautiful White Monjita. It was very strange seeing virtually all-white passerines which do occur but are rare in Britain (breeding plumage male Snow Bunting is the only one I could think of that comes close).
As I said above, Masked Gnatcatcher were common, however they were lovely little birds. We thought they were the like the South American equivalent of Long-tailed Tit.
|Roseate Spoonbill enjoying all the rain|