Expedition to research owl ecology on the

Cape Horn Archipelago

November 6-17, 2003

 

Los Dientes, Isla Navarino, Chile

In 2003 I joined a group of Earthwatch volunteers on an expedition to Navarino Island, in far southern Chile. I have enjoyed travel and work in Chile over many years, and was looking for something more than a tourist visit.

Our trip began in Punta Arenas, Chile, on the north shore of the Magellan Straits. Another flight south of about 60 minutes over Tierra del Fuego delivered us to Navarino Island, at Port Williams, on the south shore of the Beagle Channel.

Puerto Williams, southernmost city in the world except for settlements in Antartica

Earthwatch supports scientific projects all over the world, by coordinating volunteer teams to assist scientists in their efforts. It was assured that no experience was necessary, just a willingness to work with the team. That was good, as my life as a professional musician has been devoid of scientific learning. This could become the biology class that I never took!

The expedition would help resident specialists in their study of the forest and shore of Navarino Island. Birds need counting and banding, rodents need to be counted and weighed, insects trapped, and vegetation measured. Even after 150 years of European occupation, the island is considered one of 37 most pristine sites in the world. Knowledge of the habitat will give people the information they need to manage it.

Navarino Island is on the Beagle Channel, south of Tierra del Fuego. The Beagle Channel was named for an English ship which explored this remote tip of South America in the 1820s. It returned on another voyage in 1832 with the young naturalist Charles Darwin. The channel runs for about 125 miles east and west along the southern coast of Tierra del Fuego, at about latitude 55 degrees south. With the large island of Tierra del Fuego to the north, the southern coast of the channel runs by several large islands.

The grandeur of the landscape is punctuated by snow and ice covered mountains running the length of the channel. The forest is lush and green, but reaches only a few hundred meters in altitude. With only three species of trees, the forest is home to hundreds of mosses and lichens; birds are numerous; native mammals are limited to mice and the elusive guanaco, a cameloid animal similar to the llama. Introduced mammals are cow, horse, sheep, beaver, muskrat and mink. Great efforts are taken to minimize their impact on the environment.

 

Róbalo Bay, looking northwest across the Beagle Channel toward Tierra del Fuego,
recording shore birds

On this spring day in mid November, I'm strolling along the shore of the Beagle Channel with a group of bird counters. Their job today is to identify and count all the species we see, and my job is to capture the bird calls on tape. We took a short lunch break in an emerald green meadow overlooking the water.

I hope to add to the collection of recorded bird calls, a project of the Omora Ethno-botanical Park on the island. The park is only two years old, and is a focus of scientific study and evaluation of this most southern land environment.

Steven McGehee, resident ornithologist at Omora Park

Róbalo River, cascada
We camped for three nights near this waterfall

The weather worsened as we arrived at the campsite.
By the next day we were negotiating a difficult terrain covered in a few inches of snow

mink tracks are spotted after the storm

Ron demonstrates the technique of walking through beaver forest in better weather

Sylvia and Devin measure vegetation

Laurier leads the way to the final peak on Cerro Bandera
And this is what we do on our day off!!!

 

Atop Cerro Bandera,
looking northeast across the Beagle Channel to Argentine Tierra del Fuego

Interview with Christopher Anderson atop Cerro Bandera

Bahía Mejillones
looking northwest toward the Cordillera Darwin

Chaura berries


Most photos are by Roger Emanuels,
Many thanks to Sylvia, Devin and Chris for sharing theirs

Listen to the radio program about this trip

Return to Roger's home page