Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bolivia and Argentina 2012 Trip Report

Intro

Last year I owled Peru and had a fantastic trip. I didn't try for one of my most wanted owls; cloud-forest screech-owl because I could not find a good recording prior to my trip. I was beginning to obsess over this gorgeous and rarely seen denizen of the east slope of the Andes. Last year I was able to finally get a good recording of this most wanted species. With the recording in hand I put together a trip to find this bird and as many other new south American owls as possible. This is what happened.....

September 22nd. I said goodbye to Charlie and Tui at the car, then entered the world of airports and planes. Early morning departure on Alaskan Airlines to SFO. SFO was characteristically chaotic. We were delayed an hour for the American flight bound for Dallas. Consequently when I arrived at my gate in Dallas for the Buenos Aires flight, the plane was already boarded. I slept for most of the red-eye to Buenos Aires, despite a dull persistent head ache. As with all the flights I have taken to Latin America, I am one of just a couple of Americans, everyone else is going home.

September 23rd. I arrive Buenos Aires at 8 am. Airport tax is 160 dollars! I take a cab across the city, to Jorge Newberry, the domestic airport. I fly to Salta, on LAN. Which is great. I get to see the huge salt lakes from the sky. Argentina is truly a vast country like Canada or Australia. Once in Salta, I take a cab to a motor cycle rental place (Moto Alquiler Salta). It takes quite a while to complete all the paperwork. My iron pony for the next few days is a Yamaha XTC 250. Getting on the bike, and successfully driving it off into traffic is a bit of a performance, in front of the owners, but goes OK. Once on the road I ride to San Lorenzo, a beautiful little resort community in the foothills to the west of town. It's 80 degrees and sunny, a perfect day to ride.

After checking into Hostal Selva Montana, in San Lorenzo I decide to make the best use of the daylight and look for Tucamen Pygmy-owls.  Having no site, I drive through town, to some hills east of Salta. I bird the scrubby forest for an hour or so, but have no luck. Tamales for diner!  It's a beautiful return ride back to San Lorenzo at sunset. At Huiaco reserve in San Lorenzo, I meet both Mauricio who organized my visit and Ricardo my guide.  Huiaco is a watershed reserve set in Yungas. While Ricardo stables some horses, I hear a Yungas Pymy owl. Ricardo then takes me around the reserve in an old Nissan Patrol. Within minutes we enjoy good views of a singing Hoy's screech-owl. Eventually a second bird arrives! Both call, confirming their ID. They show very small ear tufts. The area under the eyes, and above the bill is dark. The eye-brows are pale, but not white, below the belly is boldly marked with thick, cross hatched vertical stripes, One bird is especially brown on the upper breast, the other less so. Their wings almost reach the end of the tail. The bill is pale and eyes are yellow. lovely! 500 m away we hear another Hoy's and a distant Striped owl. We try for the striped, but have no luck. I also try for tropical screech-owl at the gate, but have no response. We also see a Eurasian hare, possum and scissor-tailed nightjar. Ricardo was an excellent guide and really nice guy.

September 24th After a night of turbulent dreams, I am up at 7 am. There is a good breakfast, but it's hard to gorge, as I am too excited.  The good coffee is a blessing though.  I ride out through Salta, across town and to the Chaco to the south east. The bike is free on the toll roads, which is great. It's also fairly fast, so I ride at 120 kph, but I am sure it would go faster. Once I get to the Chaco the fuel gauge plummets, and I start to worry, but its for naught, as a big gas station appears on the horizon. What a relief! Once in Juaquin V Gonzales, I find a tasty sandwich and water. I then head to Ricardo's site for Tucuman Pygmy-Owl. (I go east trough town to the arch that says "bienvenidos",  turn here to the northeast along a wide dirt road for 8 km. I then take a track to the east that goes past a ranch on your left and through a gate at 200 m. I saw the pygmy-owl 1 km down this track.) The owl was very responsive to taping, calling for at least 5 minutes. It's song corresponded to the recording on the tape. The bird was a red morph, it's upper-parts were unmarked, except for some very fine whitish streaking on the forehead, crown and sides of the face, false eyes, whitish marks on the scapulars and about six reddish-buff tail bands. Eyes and bill were yellow. The breast was conspicuously white, with two upper central dark spots. Otherwise streaked below. Fairly large for a Glaucidium. After exposure to the sun for a couple of minutes the owl started panting and drew its plumage in, appearing long and slender, but big headed, like a falconet.

I drove back to JVG to look for a phone or the internet, but fining neither, I set of for Quebrachal and Tolloche. I scout for Chaco owl habitat, and am a bit disappointed to find a lot of agriculture, and just remnants of forest, and very little that does not look like second growth. Lacking an exact location I ride around and fret for most of the afternoon. Near Tolloche, I find a place to hide the bike, and wait with the ants and bees. I'd like to nap, but it's too hot, so I wait and think. At dusk, I set out North along a track. I hear Tucamen pygmy owls, and tape another in for a look-also a red morph. Once it's dark I hear many tropical screech-owls, and tape one in for a fly-by view. I also find a good sized tarantula. After 6 kms, I encounter a farm and a barking dog, so retreat. On the way back, I hear a big noise, like a train, or the ocean, and within seconds am engulfed in a sandstorm. The last mile is miserable with blowing sand and dust it's hard to breath, and owling is impossible. Surprisingly the weather doesn't pass, so I am stuck with it. I ride back towards Quebrachal, unable to escape the wind, I find a place to camp, and settle in for a miserable sleep.

September 25th. What a fitful night. I set the alarm for midnight, 2 am and 4 am; hoping for the pampero winds to let up. Each time I awaken it's cold and windy. I reluctantly arise at 8 am, and set off on a cold ride into Quebrachal. There I call Mauricio for advice about the weather and the Chaco owl. Mauricio concedes that he does not know, but he will ask Ricardo, and that I can call back later in the day for follow up. I drink Nescafe and panecito. I decide not to wait it out here, because of the wind, and instead to make the long ride to Tolombon, a second site for Chaco owl, recommended by Diego Monteleone. Tolombon is nestled against the Andes, and is hopefully less windy.

The ride is very cold, windy 422 km. I cut across the mountains south of Salta, through a dramatic gorge. The country here is like Arizona, rugged, dry with spectacular red, green and blue rocks. Fortunately the bike handles well on dirt roads, because the way through he gorge is steep, rough and involves fording some creeks. At La Vina, I stop for an amazing meal of beef stew and polenta, which warms my soul. Just before Cafayate, I pass through a second amazing gorge, carved from red sandstone. At Cafayate I find email, then head south to Tolombon.

I have four hours to scope out the area around Tolombon, so do a thorough reconnaissance walk. This serves me well, as the forest is disturbed, some being burnt, whilst other areas are mostly cleared for cattle and horses, leaving a park-like open woodland. The only store is pretty limited, so dinner is apple drink and candy bars.

As soon as darkness falls, the wind picks up. It seams hopeless at first, as the wind shakes the trees and drowns out my recording. My first site is in a hedge of tall trees, set among farms and vineyards  It does not look promising, and I get no response. I then cross a vineyard and work an area of thicker forest, bisected by a dry stream. This wood was full of horses and cattle, which made for a lot of commotion as I made my way through. It was a lot less windy in this thicker forest. After forty minutes, I got a response. The Chaco owl was very close, and the song much quieter than expected. Seconds later I was watching a beautiful singing Chaco owl. What a magnificent creature. It was smaller than I had expected-perhaps a male? It was also surprisingly similar to a black and white owl, except that it's thighs and the pale spots on the primaries were lightly washed in cinnamon-buff. The wings were noticeably longer than the tail. A marvelous owl. I can hardly believe it. (To reach the site is 1.1 km south of Tolombon's church, here a dry creek crosses the road. Follow the creek down steam to the east for 1 km, into the thick dry woods). It's a long sandy walk back to the bike. I camp in the sand. It's cold out, but I sleep soundly.

September 26th. I steal away at first light like a thief. It's beautiful the sky is palest blue, tinged gold; between leaden clouds. To the east a heavy fog pours over the mountain and descends down barren slopes towards the valley, before ending abruptly among cacti and red rocks. Cafayate is quiet, so I abandon hopes of finding breakfast, and ride North. The bike's saddle is cheap and unyielding  and I am cold and sore for the whole ride. At La Vina I stop for coffee and panecito. 20 km south of Salta I see a burrowing owl by the roadside. Once in Salta I track down the bike rental shop. No one's home, so I find a 'phone, call and meet the owner back at the shop. Again it takes ages to get the paperwork resolved.

I taxi to Salta's bus terminal, eat a delicious hot sandwich and fries. I catch a mid afternoon bus for La Quiaca on the Bolivian border. Somewhat surprisingly they play "the Descendants" and " Extremely loud and incredibly close" on the buses TV. I arrive in La Quiaca at 1030 pm, and find a cheep but crappy hospedaje. At 3500 m, I sleep badly.

September 27th. I awaken at 6 am and go find coffee, then taxi a couple of kilometers to the frontier. Everyone here looks indigenous. The crossing is confusing, but eventually with he help of the guards I figure it out. I pay $135 for a Bolivian visa. Surprisingly I am allowed to wander into Bolivia without the visa, in order to pick up a photocopy of my passport, which is a prerequisite to getting the visa. The border guard who sells me the visa refuses almost all of my US currency because of wear and tear to the notes, as does the currency exchange place. It's alarming to think that most of my currency is useless in Bolivia.

I find some great street food, then a crappy looking bus to Potosi. The road to Potosi, is surprisingly good, and the bus makes decent progress across the altiplano.

My arrival in Potosi is ominous. It's cold, high and windy. There is a blockade by truckers, so all the passengers walk the last 4 km into town. Once in town, people are setting up road blocks with truck tires and large rocks. I find internet in town, and enjoy hearing from Tui. When I get to the terminal, it's closed, but there are buses everywhere. There are no La Paz buses, but I do find one bound for Oruro. It's a long apprehensive wait for the bus to depart. Strangely the blockade only affects the south side of town, and we leave on time, our departure uninterrupted. I awaken a little after midnight in Oruro.

September 28th. In Oruro, I find another bus for La Paz, and continue my North-bound journey through the night. I arrive in La Paz in the early hours of the morning. The driver is kind and lets us sleep on the bus until day break. I grab coffee at the terminal, and take a cab to the street corner where the Chulumani-bound buses depart. While waiting for the bus to leave, I find sopapillas and drink delicious api morado.

The ride to Chulumani is long, slow and dramatic. We cross a snowy pass above the city, before descending along a spectacular gorge through the Yungas. At times the drop off to the side of the bus is intense, and it's a struggle to not be overcome with vertigo. Far below in the riverbed are carcasses of unlucky buses and trucks. Chulumani is a subtropical dusty market town surrounded by coca-growing farms. I buy some cheese empenadas and then take a cab to the Apa Apa hotel. Once at the hotel, an employee points out the Cumbre de Apa Apa, which is 1000 m above the hotel. Frustratingly he recommends that I return to Chulumani. It's long hot walk uphill, back into town. Here I ask around for half an hour, until I find a cab driver who is willing to take me to the Cumbre to Apa Apa.

The Cumbre itself is a nice patch of Yungas forest around 2500 m elevation. The exact site that Frank Rheindt had the Cloud-forest screech owl is 100 m down the trail that leads to the right (when coming from town), at the top of the pass. As I arrive at 4 pm, I explore the trail that Frank recommends, and another that starts on the opposite side of the road and follows the ridge to the left. I never find Lago Negro that the local people speak of. It must be further down one of these trails. I await the night, very aware that this is the most wanted bird of my trip, and seeing it is key to a successful trip.

With the night comes a beautiful full moon. How perfect. I can travel the forested trails without a flashlight-this type of owling always feels more stealthy and enjoyable, than having to rely on a flashlight to find my way. Almost immediately at Frank's site, I hear a quite A song.(I also hear a louder chatter, which may have just been from a disturbed roosting songbird, or an owl). The owls does not approach me, so I carefully follow it down a steep bamboo filled ravine. It's a shit place to try and stalk an owl, very steep, and it's impossible to crawl silently through the mess of vegetation  After half an hour, it's evident that the bird is maintaining a distance from me, the noisy intruder. I give up, and decide to try the trail that runs to the left of the road.

This trail runs through more open stunted forest. 4-500 m down the trail I get a response from a near-by owl. Very soon, I get a silhouette view of a flying bird against the bight moonlit sky. This bird is different from the other, much more aggressive. It's song is slightly different to Franks recording, lacking it's wavering slightly ethereal quality. Instead the notes are flatter, more even and hollow sounding. I soon get a great view of a perched cloud-forest screech owl! It has a spotted, black and white appearance. Eyes are brown, ear tufts short. Much of the facial disc is brown, conspicuously rimmed with black. Below the bird has dark center-shaft streaks, separated by white glob-like spots, giving a very unique spotted appearance. The bird was medium sized for a Megascops. Once it uttered a B song, which is listed as unknown in Konig. This began with three loud well separated notes, followed by a long series of notes, similar to the A song. Wow, what a prize! It's 8 pm, and time for a beautiful 15 km walk under the moon back to the hotel.

Several cars pass me, and some stop, but those that do explain that they don't have room for me. That's OK though, because I see a pair of Rufous-banded owls. I also hear two owls calling a pair of deep-noted calls. I am sure that these are Magellan horned-owl, even though the song structure is not the same as the recording I have, because the quality of the notes is the same. Lower down I hear several Tropical screech owls while walking through fields of coca.

It's almost midnight when I arrive at the hotel. They explain "el jefe estaba preocupado". They cook me hamburger and fries-which I demolish with gusto.

September 29th. I wake early despite the long hike yesterday. I wash, eat and pack, then start the long hike back into town. Luckily I catch a ride for most of the way. In town I find a La Paz bound bus, and am soon on my way. An English speaking flight engineer sits next to me, so I get to speak English for a few hours.

In La Paz, I catch a Coroico-bound share taxi. It's snowing as we cross the pass above town. In Coroico I am lucky enough to connect with a Yucumo bound bus. I am really surprised that it takes 12 hours to get to Yucumo, a small town on the edge of the Amazon, which according to the map is about 200 km from Coroico. I spend much of the night looking for clues in the landscape that we have reached Yucumo. Early in the journey we follow a gorge for several hours. All vehicles travel on the left (wrong side), giving the driver on the exposed side, the best chance of controlling their vehicles next to the precipitous cliff below. A couple of times I felt waves of nausea and panic as we backed up, around a corner, causing the back of the bus, behind the axle, to hang over the abyss. At one point we enter a tunnel that curves so sharply, that two guys with flashlights guide our bus through. It seemed impossible that we would squeeze through without scraping the walls and the ceiling, but thanks to our pilots, we do.

September 30th. I arrive in Yucomo at first light. Obviously it's too late to owl the Serrania Pilon, above town. I find a cheep hotel and crash for a few hours. I awaken mid morning and make my plans. After washing, finding internet and feeding, I return to the Serrania Pilon, an isolated group of hills, 20 km east of town. In the struggle to leave leave the bus, heaving my bag over sleeping passengers  I lose my water bottle.  There are no stores or clean looking springs on the mountain, so I am going to be thirsty.

I stash my bag along a track that leads up to some radio towers. I then walk 5 km back towards La Paz. Twice I get a response from probably Subtropical pygmy-owl. Both times the birds are very distant, and don't come in, so it's hard to be certain. As night falls, I switch to trying for Mottled owl. Traffic picks up at this time, which really disturbs the owling. About 1.5 km from the radio tower track, I get a good response from a Rufescent screech-owl. I eventually get prolonged views of a brown morph bird. This is great, as my only other experience with this bird, was very brief views in Northern Peru. I got to see its whitish hind-crown, brown tones, brown eyes, green-gray bill, fine cross hatched streaks on the breast and typical song. In all I heard five unsolicited Rufescent screech-owls along the next 1.5 km of road. I also heard a pair of Band-bellied owls along the transmission tower road. As has been my past experience with Band-bellieds, they did not come into a tape. I camped along the radio tower road. It was a beautiful breezy night, with a bright moon.

October 1st. Having had no water since yesterday at noon, I awaken with a raging thirst. Retracing my steps, I try the two sites, where I thought I heard Subtropical pygmy yesterday. No luck. Confusingly a trogon is attracted to my taping. Now really thirsty, I start to try and flag down a ride. I end up walking several kilometers more, as traffic is very light. I get another possible distant Subtropical, but again, it does not come close enough to be certain. Eventually a yellow Volvo truck picks me up. I am pretty exhausted from dehydration  The driver was exceptionally talkative, which makes it challenging for me to hold a conversation in my state, and with my weak Spanish.

Back in Yucumo, I catch a share taxi, which speeds along the flat Amazonian road, reaching Rurre in just 3 hours. At Rurre, I call Ruth, and she picks me up just minutes later. I meet Ricardo, the guide, and a local guide who used to work as a hunter. Bennett (from Birds Bolivia), had sent Ricardo my target list, and Ricardo has a definite plan. Which is good, because our task won't be easy. We drive for over two hours in a flash Landcruiser to Sadiri Lodge.

After an excellent meal, we leave in the late afternoon, and continue west on foot towards San Jose. In the open clearing, about 2 km down the road we get a response from a Subtropical pygmy-owl! Unfortunately it calls only sporadically, and from afar. Soon it's totally dark and the owl has`fallen silent. We make a plan to return to this site before dawn to try again.

Continuing down the hill we find a Band-bellied owl, which we flush from a perch above a small steam-perhaps it was fishing, or hunting frogs? We get great views. I am surprised that the bird appears quite small, perhaps it's a male bird? At the same time we hear a Rio Napo Screech-owl, but are unable to lure it out of the dense gully that it is singing from.

A little lower down, about 5 km from the lodge we hear a Southern tawny-bellied screech-owl. Frustratingly this bird, and another we hear near by don't respond to taping. However a third bird, is very aggressive, and we enjoy amazing views of this strange little owl. The song was a very prolonged series of slow notes. It had a dusty white circle describing the upper back of the head, brown eyes, the bill was dark gray and ear-tufts small. The breast was brown-gray with fine dark streaks. The belly lacked tawny hues, but the thighs were tawny. The back was similar to the breast, but darker and grayer. It was quite a large screech owl, whose overall effect was of a dark, plain gray-brown owl.

On the long hike back up to the lodge, we hear one or two Black-banded owls (around km 4), and another Band-bellied owl by the cabin.We arrive at the cabins at 130 am, and make plans for a predawn departure for the Subtropical.

October 2nd. Though I set my alarm for 450 am, Ricardo arrives at my door at 430 am. I am asleep on my feet as we trundle back to the Subtropical site. Despite our efforts all we find are a pair of blackish nightjars. Ricardo had the forethought to have the Landcruiser pick us up, saving us the walk back up to the lodge. The drive was quite wild, over small land slides and a couple of home-made plank bridges.

Breakfast, then bed, where I sleep 'till noon. I talk with Ricardo about his life as a hunter. He has seen many jaguar, and was stalked by one, once while plucking a currasow. He recommends the best defense against a jaguar, is to keep a tree, between you and the big cat, and to remain on the opposite side of the trunk to the jaguar! We also talk about the bushmaster, and he described a guy from his village who was bittern by one of these snakes. He survived, but only after hiking home for three days, while bleeding from the eyes, nose and nail beds.

We make a plan to descend to the lowlands mid afternoon to look for Amazonian pygmy-owl. The work the same area in the night for Mottled owl. On the drive to the lowlands, Ricardo spots a roosting long-tailed potoo. The drive is rough, and we get stuck between some deep ruts. The guys jack up the Landcruiser to get us going again. Once we reach the lowlands, we walk the trail. At our first attempt, we get a clear response, and soon I find it perched on a leafless tree. Soon it's joined by a mate. Only one bird sings-probably the smaller looking male. For a while they engage in mutual preening. What amazing dumpy little owls! They have gray crowns, spotted white, brown backs, the front is streaked on both the flanks and center, creating two parallel mostly whitish areas on the breast. The tails are very short, as are the pointy wings. Three white tail bands are visible. Eyes and feet are yellow. Eventually the female regurgitates a blackish pellet, then leaves.

We leave and continue walking towards San Jose. Ricardo flushes a spectacled owl. Eventually we locate the owl, and even tape it, spurring it to sing. As it sings, it holds it's wings low and loose. What a marvelous denizen of the rainforest. It's plumage recalls tropical raptors such as collared forest falcon or laughing falcon. Perhaps a shared adaption?  I am surprised to see that its primaries are barred.  We eventually come out at a large river crossing, 12 km from the lodge. We eat dinner, while being attacked by ants and mosquitoes.

A couple of downtrodden local guys show up. They explain that they lost there cattle in the forest. Ricardo and I then back track along the dark road, to a bridge 10 km from the lodge. Here he recently saw a Mottled owl. We pass some large jaguar tracks over the recently made Landcruiser tracks! At the bridge we find the jaguar's tracks going in the other direction, up ahead of us. I soon forget the cat, when we get a response to our Mottle owl taping. However after a couple of minutes it stops responding and twenty minutes later we give up and continue towards the lodge.

Ricardo takes off for a bathroom break. I await him, trying not to think of cats. The he yells "jaguar", I look back in his direction, and see he's spotlighted a pair of eyes, travelling down the road towards us. I run back to Ricardo, then spotlight the eyes, which continue to come towards us. Soon it's apparent it's not a big cat, the animal turns, and reveals itself to be a (rare) short-eared dog.

Back at the river, we make plans with he driver, then cross the river and try the forest towards San Jose. The forest is different here, with lots of standing water, palms, and a more open feel. we hear a couple of Crested owls, and two crested potoos, one of which, Ricardo spot lights, then hear an occelated poorwill, followed by many Southern tawny-bellied screech-owls! We reach another river crossing, where we meet another guy looking for the lost cattle. Ricardo is wary of the lost cattle, explaining that they are semi-wild and somewhat dangerous. About a half way between the two river crossings, and 13 km from  the lodge Ricardo hears a spontaneously calling Mottled owl. (The call is a series of up to five soft hoots, lacking the growling quality of some recordings). In response to playback, the owl retreats deeper into the forest, but continues calling. I turn the volume way down, and then the owl returns closer, but stays doggedly out of sight. We decide to enter the forest, and creep desperately, and nosily through the under-story. Soon Ricardo finds a beautiful Mottled owl, perched low. It continues to sing, and we enjoy prolonged views. It's a medium sized, dark slender owl, with brown eyes, and a dark face, rimmed with white. The breast is very dark, with black streaks and bars. The belly is lighter with dark streaks. The back is blackish brown. Wow! Eventually we reluctantly return to the Landcruiser, where we hear a paraque.

The drive back is typically dramatic, taking over an hour. We get stuck once in a deep muddy rut. The driver's assistant is very energetic, despite the late hour, getting out and guiding the driver over the difficult terrain  In bed by 130 am.

October 3rd. Having planned to look for the Subtropical pygmy in the late afternoon, I spend the morning trying to sleep in, then loafing around. We begin our search by heading down to the same open area where we heard one call two days ago. After 45 minutes we give up and try a ridge trail that starts at the pass, but goes away from the lodge.

Again Ricardo took off for a bathroom break at a key moment. A distant Subtropical answers my taping. (I am at a clearing overlooking a small landslide about 500 m along the ridge trail). Soon the bird has moved in much closer. Ricardo returns, and we follow the bird into the forest. I glimpse a small stocky bird fly into a tree above us, and soon we hear the pygmy owl calling from the same area. Darkness is fast approaching, so we change tactics and go back to the clearing and tape from there. We get repeated brief views of the Subtropical pygmy-owl as it moves between exposed perches in the clearing. Apart from the obvious three note song, I observe its very small size (similar to Amazonian Pygmy-owl), very clearly spotted crown (more boldly marked than Amazonian) and a very short tail. Wow we can hardly believe our luck. This was always going to be a tough bird to find. Triumphant, we head back to the lodge and enjoy a great meal.

That night I can't sleep, due to diarrhea and a fever. Outside the cabin I hear Band-bellied  and Crested owls, plus Southern tawny-bellied and Rio Napo screech-owls. I get a view of one of the Band-bellied's as it calls from the sub-canopy.

October 4th. After a long mostly sleepless night I try coca tea for my stomach. We take the Landcruiser back to Rurre, where I find an ATM that works and an internet cafe.

I catch a share taxi to San Borja, and arrive at dusk. It's too late to proceed to Trinidad, so I find a room for 15 Bolivianos. After paying I discover that the room is an airless shit hole, with no means to lock the door. I end up walking away and finding a normal priced room, with a lock and other amenities.

October 5th. Miner birds awaken me before dawn. I catch an 8 am ride to Trinidad. The road is quite muddy, and progress fairly slow. We reach the Rio Mamore' which we cross in a wooded raft. Its am amazing scene, with vultures, rotting riverboats moored to the muddy banks, cocoa-colored water, all baking under a relentless sun. Trinidad is just a few kilometers down the road.

It's a six hour wait for the Santa Cruz bound bus. I use the internet, eat and wait. The bus to Santa Cruz is pretty nice, and soon I fall asleep.

October 6th. I arrive in Santa Cruz at 430 am. I find a hotel next to the terminal and sleep for a few hours. I while away the day by getting a haircut, eating and watching TV. By mid afternoon I am ready to explore Lomas de Arena. This site has Barn owl and Ferruginous pygmy-owl-both of which would be new for the trip. I take a taxi to the entrance. I have barely entered the gate, when a guy kindly picks me up in a pickup truck and runs me to the far side of the reserve, where the famous sand dunes are. Unfortunately when I arrive a strong wind picks up. I try for the Ferruginous pygmy owl, but to no avail. I do see an adult, and then juvenile Burrowing owl. Such a charismatic owl.

Upon leaving the reserve and entering the outer barrios of Santa Cruz, I am a little nervous. It's night, and not a great neighborhood. I look for a cab, but all the cabbies are drinking. Eventually I do find a bus. A few kilometers up the road, we get caught up in some congestion  Eventually the source is clear, there is a dead man at the road side. We gawk. He looks shot, rather than hit by a car. This is something my cabbie confirms tomorrow.

I eat a good greasy dinner and wash it down with a beer.

October 7th. I awaken at 4 am. The Aerolineas Argentina flight to Buenos Aires is uneventful. I make my American flight from Buenos Aires.

October 8th. I have to run across Dalles Fort Worth to make my San Francisco bound flight. (It left two minutes after I board . SFO is a zoo, and the Alaska connection from SFO is delayed, but I make it home.