Through the rushes

For the last three months we have been travelling through the wild, rugged deserts and impenetrable cloud forests of north western Argentina, but now it was time to leave.

 We did so by climbing the circuitous road from Mendoza towards the border with Chile.  As soon as we started to descend the western side of the mighty Andes, it was immediately clear we were entering a completely different floristic region; dry arid lands were replaced by forests and streams. The hot dusty desert air had parched and dried our skin, we longed to be at the ocean.

Heading west as quickly as we could, around the northern suburbs of Santiago and crossing the fertile central valley of this thin country, we encountered the mountains that skirt coastal Chile.  From their summit the deep blue of the Pacific beckoned.

Following the Rapel river valley we approached the sea near to the village of  Navidad  and found a small marsh.

La laguna en Navidad

La laguna en Navidad

 – over which circled a shower of ‘snowflakes’, nesting egrets.


Garzas boyeras, Garcitas bueyeras, Cattle Egrets

Garzas boyeras, Garcitas bueyeras, Cattle Egrets

Better still, this tiny marsh was the home to a flotilla of Black-necked Swans.


Cisnes de cuello negro , Black-necked Swans

Cisnes de cuello negro , Black-necked Swans


We decided to camp here at the marsh, the ocean would have to wait a little longer.


Nuestro camping en Navidad

Nuestro camping en Navidad



The marsh was fringed by a dense margin of rushes but we found one small spot that cattle used to come to drink, here we set up a hide.


Nuestro observatorio para sacar fotos

Nuestro observatorio para sacar fotos


As we slept at night we could hear the distant rollers pounding the cliffs but on this Chilean marsh we found peace and prolific wildlife.

For three days we watched, through the rushes, as the birds left the marsh in the morning to feed on the estuary and then return in the afternoon to feed their young.


Cisnes de cuello negro, Black-necked Swans.

Cisnes de cuello negro, Black-necked Swans.


Sitting silently, unseen in a hide, keeps you in a constant state of expectant suspense. Marsh sounds are weird, there are croaks, groans, high pitched squeals, sploshes and whooshes.  Sometimes there is nothing to watch except the mesmeric reflections in the water.


Los reflejos de los juncos en el agua

Los reflejos de los juncos en el agua

But the life in a marsh is a vibrant one.


Pato real, Pato overo, Chiloe Wigeon.

Pato real, Pato overo, Chiloe Wigeon.



Constantly peering through the vertical lines of the rushes, imagination turns to reality as its inhabitants appear and disappear.




Crias de Cisne de cuello negro, Black-necked Swan cygnets.

Crias de Cisne de cuello negro, Black-necked Swan cygnets.



Swimming –


Coipo crias estan jugando, Coypu youngsters playing.

Coipo crias estan jugando, Coypu youngsters playing.


Creeping –


Tagua de frente roja, Gallareta escudete rojo, Red-fronted Coot

Tagua de frente roja, Gallareta escudete rojo, Red-fronted Coot



Fishing –

Huiravillo, Mirasol comun, Striped-backed Bittern.

Huiravillo, Mirasol comun, Striped-backed Bittern.


Balancing –


Trabajador, Junquero,  Wren-like Rushbird.

Trabajador, Junquero, Wren-like Rushbird.


And cavorting –


 Siete colores , Tachuri siete colores, Many-coloured Rush-tyrant.

Siete colores , Tachuri siete colores, Many-coloured Rush-tyrant.


A few days previously a birdwatcher had said to us that all the birds in Chile were brown and uninteresting. What would he have said had he spent a few hours overlooking this marsh?

What would he have said if he had seen an adult Many-coloured Rush Tyrant ? This tiny reclusive denizen of the rushes would stand up proud in any competition as ‘the most colourful bird in South America’.  In Chile it is called ‘siete colores’, the seven colours!


Siete colores, adulto, Tachuri siete-colores, Adult Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant.

Siete colores, adulto, Tachuri siete-colores,
Adult Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant.

Swifts !

We had  been told about some White-collared Swifts that had been seen in a cave, behind a waterfall, though they had not been seen for three years.

At dawn one morning we climbed up a mountain,  then down into an arid valley and followed a small stream.  Although it was the dry season the presence of the stream indicated that the waterfall would be there and it was.


Birdwatching under Waterfall,_


We spent some hours searching  in vain for the swifts, they may have been present, hiding in the dark recesses of the cave.   We decided to wait and see if any returned to the cave for the night.

White-collared Swifts breed all the way down from Mexico, through the western side of South America as far as Argentina, so we were at the very southern limit of their distribution.  Three years before, there had only been juveniles seen in the cave, no one had recorded adults.  These swifts being mainly tropical breed in March and April so if they were around now it would indicate year round residency – very important to know.

The sun dropped behind the far mountains, then a blur above us and a flurry of  activity inside the cave: swifts!


No 1 Swift


It happened so quickly.  We had seen nothing in the sky above us; some swifts had flown into the cave almost unseen.


No 4 Swift


We  crept around the waterfall, water was dripping everywhere, including on what was now a very wet swift clinging to the wall.  We could make out its white collar and amazingly long wings, but had to retreat out of the drenching water and maintain our vigil outside.

Another hour went by and the same thing happened. This time we just managed to see the swifts coming.  A small tightly bunched group flew low round the distant curve of the valley.  Like black leather-clad racers, they passed us like a lightening flash straight through the curtain of water and disappeared. I didn’t have time to raise my camera – they were gone into the void.


No 2 Swift

The same thing happened several times.  Small groups appeared as if from nowhere and darted into the cave.  By now we had counted at least 35. As the numbers inside grew so did the noise inside the cave.  Whenever new birds arrived, they were greeted with high pitched screams.  They bunched up together, water pouring over them.


No 3 Swift

It was getting dark and thunder clouds started to roll over the hills.  Afraid of rain making the return treacherous, we headed home.

We had found what we wanted, a resident population of at least 50 White-collared Swifts, rare birds this far south.

Not only swifts but also a stream fed by a graceful waterfall,  a watery haven for a host of animals.

Returning to Argentina

It has been a beautiful English summer, with lots of BBQs and time with friends.

The photographs we brought back from our first trip were great and one of the end products has been what I am calling a bio-montage. This is a compilation of ‘white background’ images as well as a panorama, more about this in another blog.



Southern Yungas biomontage



We are really longing to get back to South America and Argentina in particular, to see friends and continue with our ‘Search for Species’ in the Andes. This expedition will be longer and will stretch through the southern summer into 2015.

We will find some amazing wildlife and meet equally amazing people, so log into our blog periodically and now we have a Facebook group as well –  Proyecto de Animales Andinos


Burrowing parrots 2



Paula and I are off any day now,  winging our way towards Argentina.





Photography in the wild

The purpose of our project is simple, produce inspirational  images of Andean wildlife.

Paula sometimes uses a slider to give movement to an otherwise static video shot.


Paula with slider


Some of the techniques we use are unconventional. Photographing a fish needed to be done quickly so as not to distress the animal, so this meant working till late one the evening.  With one light behind the aquarium and the other to one side and a lot of patience I was successful.



photographing fish


As I worked I wondered if anyone had ever taken a photograph of this species before  ?





Along the way we meet other photographers, this is Valeria Cannata from Tucuman a member of the Concepcion Foto club.



Surprised by snow

We turned off route 40 at Hualfin, we were aiming to reach Laguna Blanca on the high Puna.  The weather had been poor with a fine drizzle and as we filled with fuel at Hualfin we noticed a wisp or two of sleet. At Villa Vil the road surface changed to gravel , a narrow winding road  hugging the hillsides and as we drove higher the sleet turned to light snow.  To begin with everything looked pretty ,the temperature reading in the wagon read zero.  Gravel turned to mud and the passenger side windscreen wiper iced up , the temperature dropped to -4 ! so we decided to turn back.  We returned to route 40 and camped  behind a petrol station, the snow continued to fall. It was a very cold night.


snow 5


 The following morning we cleared 3 inches of snow off the car and set off again, the road was clear and dry and a blue sky set the scene for a winter wonderland.  The distant mountains were white and snow covered the cacti and trees. Back through Villa Vil and onto the gravel road, but the Gendarmeria turned us back, the road was too dangerous but by tomorrow it would be clear, a great opportunity to spend the day taking photographs.


Grey Fox

Grey Fox


 There are two native foxes in Argentina, this is the grey fox an omnivorous fox, beautifully coloured. Normally crepuscular,  we found this one searching for food in the early morning.


Buenos Aires and a great national bird

Buenos Aires and a great national bird.

Arrived in Buenos Aires.  At last The Andean Wildlife Project in underway for real.  We stayed in the district of San Telmo, a rather old fashioned, dusty but chic part of the otherwise ‘striving to be modern’ capital of Argentina. Cobbled streets were lined with buildings dating back to the 1920s,  whose faded beauty lay in their tall wooden doors and shuttered windows faced with ornate wrought iron grills and balconies.  An area with a few pavement cafes, half hidden panaderias selling gorgeous and sumptuous cakes and shoe repair shops.  The latter no doubt because walking the streets was positively dangerous due to the crazy state of the pavements.  At regular intervals slabs had been ripped out leaving great holes, repairs were unguarded and that was compounded by the heaps of dog poo which were scattered at regular intervals along the chequered slabs as if it was some local game of street ‘poo-chess’.

San Telmo was pleasantly quiet, full of families going about their daily chores and the people we met were extremely friendly.  We stayed at the   Mundo Bolivar  apartments and cafe on the corner of Bolivar street, where on Wednesday nights in a deep cellar locals dance the Tango on a wonderful wooden floor worn smooth with the shuffling of feet.




Cobbled streets close to the Mundo Bolivar were lined with jacaranda trees and the leaves and seeds from these were starting to fill the gutters and tiny cracks between the smooth cobbles, havens for insects and so a sought after food supply by a small brown bird that we saw commonly only in the San Telmo district.  So ordinary is this dun coloured bird scurrying amid the detritus of the old and tired city streets, that it must go completely unnoticed by most passers by, however this gentle animal is the Rufous Hornero, an important bird and our first in South America.


Rufous Hornero


The great South American continent has within it a third of all the birds of the world, the biggest, the brightest and most prolific, so for the first bird on our great journey into this continent to be the Rufous Hornero, would be to some a disappointment, not to us, for like so many things in life, its ordinary and insignificant appearance belies its fascinating behaviour and cultural importance and bestowed upon it the title, not only of  National and revered bird of Argentina, but Paraguay and Uruguay as well !


Honero among leaves


Close up, the Rufous Hornero has the appearance of any city gent, smart, upright and proudly moving about with delicate and purposeful movements.  There were a pair of Honereos in Bolivar street, working together, like Dickensian pick-pockets, to flush out insects and locate seeds in the cracks and crevices of the cobbles and the autumnal leaves the gutter.  They seemed efficient, not surprisingly as these birds are strictly monogamous and mate for life, one of the enduring features that lend themselves to people.  Another feature is their amazing ability to construct a home, a little like the mud huts of Inca antiquity.  Their nest will be within the winding and secure interior of the mud walls which the birds will jointly defend with vigour and  along Bolivar street we found the home of ‘our pair’ beautifully positioned high up on the stucco façade of a building.


Honero nest on facade

Much more about the birds of Argentina can be found by contacting Aves Argentinas.




British Wildlife Photography Awards 2013

This is a Wildlife Photographic Competition exclusive to the British Isles & GREAT, this year – I’ve managed to get two Highly Commended awards.


So a trip down to London yesterday to the Mall galleries .

BWPC Mall Galleries

Lots of photographers, judges, sponsors and organisers.

BWPA peeting in the Mall galleries

Me inside the Mall Gallery

BWPC Me in the Mall Galleries

and an amazing evening chatting to other photographers & seeing the ‘Winning’ Images – WONDERFUL. Introduced and compered by Chris Packham

BWPC Chris Pack 1

& finally my two images –

HIDDEN BRITAIN - Lackey Moth caterpillars


Comma butterfly

Canadian Ski Marathon

The long awaited moment has arrived. After several screenings in Ottawa and Leicestershire Websters Wildshots new documentary is ready for its official web launch. Not just this, but in the last few days this video was awarded best documentary at the MMM (Midlands Movie Maker) annual meeting. Well done Paula!

This latest documentary follows the skiing adventures of Richard Webster and Geoff White as they battle to ski 180 km over two days, as part of the Canadian Ski Marathon (CSM).

This epic xc ski event sees skiers -of all abilities- pit themselves against the elements of winter.   The two days of skiing is split into 10 stages. A stage can vary in its distance and terrain. Skiers new to the CMS might choose to ski just a few stages a day, whilst the seasoned skier might attempt the entire route. Whatever distance a skier might aim for, there is a common bond between all: I love the outdoors during winter and buckets of camaraderie!


Here’s a selection of photos from Canadian Ski Marathon.

You might even be in one of the photos! If you see one you like, you can buy a print online !!!

Remote camera trapping

I have recently started to use camera traps in a local wood.

The point is not necessarily to get great photographs but to understand what animals are present and to understand their movements.

I have had one remote camera stolen so am now being very careful where I place my new ones. I do have permission to be in this otherwise private wood and to undertake photography and this is important if you are thinking of doing this sort of work. I have been reasonable happy with the results so far, here are a few of them.

I only position my remote camera close to the set entrance once a week, to avoid disturbance.

The vast majority of my successful pictures have been of a fox and they take the majority of the peanuts I put out.


This fox has stood still for a moment, usually they are on the move and the image quality is very poor.

Winterlude in Ottawa

Winterlude is one the winter highlights for Ottawa’s locals and tourists. This two week festival celebrates all things cold. It is famous for both the largest skateway in the world and an exciting ice carving competition.

This winter Webster’s Wildshots enjoyed a reunion in Ottawa, as Paul and Michael visited their son, Richard. This was a great opportunity to do some photography and filming of a Canadian winter… a scary thing for us mere Brits.

Camera in hand the reunited trio set out to capture some photos of Winterlude.

The ice carving competition opened with the one block challenge. Here the grandmasters of ice carving gathered to transform one block of ice in one hour!

As Winterlude continued more ice sculptures were added. The NCC has some great photos on Flickr too And more and more people started to visit, lots travelling by the Rideau canal Skatway.