The journeyfrom El Calafate to Torres del Paine was an overland one. We were amongst the first to be picked up by a shared bus at 5.30am, and by the time we had reached the outskirts of town, all the seats were taken. The total time taken for the whole journey was well over 6 hours, and this mainly through what is on the face of it monotonous Steppe, which in Argentina is dry and low scrub. Watching out for wildlife of any kind makes the journey seem a lot more agreeable. Even then, up until we stopped for a break after 3 hours, the main entertainment was from regular groups of Guanacos, which were to be a staple sight for the day, a Southern Crested Caracara, and an introduced European Brown Hare skipping across the main road. Just before said rest stop, a slightly lower flatter area was perceptibly greener, and the good numbers of Upland Geese also heralded the first Lesser Rheas of the trip. These were to become more common in small groups as the journey progressed, although none were seen within Torres del Paine. A single Grey Fox spiced up the sightings.
The slow and cumbersome border crossings in Argentina and then Chile were made somewhat easier by a single Magellanic Oystercatcher, with a group of 4 Andean Condors swooping in low looking for a meal. Once into the park proper, the routine was to stop off for regular photo breaks, which unearthed Black-necked Swan and small groups of Chiloe Wigeon. On the approach to the treat of a one hour actual walk in the park, we passed a small lake which contained a pair of White-tufted Grebes. The circular walk we did to the Salto Grande waterfall, which runs into Pehoe Lake, was a real treat. The group from the bus snaked its way along, cameras snapping constantly. Rufous-collared Sparrows were commonly seen and heard, with a rewarding Andean Condor overhead. The sound of rushing water heralded the presence of the waterfall with fast flowing water above. The optimistic query to the guide as to the potential of Torrent Duck was met with the disappointing “only seen 3-4 times a season here”. Yet only a minute later, I picked up a female feeding just above the falls. Result! And after only 2-3 dives, off she flew. An American Kestrel then circled overhead, and a very obliging male Austral Negreto fed next to the path.
It was now 2.45pm and finally time for lunch, which was to be at the Explora Hotel on Pehoe Lake. As soon as we reached the lake, a Great Grebe was seen fishing next to the shore. Then a lunchtime treat – a Flying Steamer Duck (and male Upland Goose) was feeding just outside of the restaurant windows, with the peaks of Torres del Paine as a backdrop.
Then it was finally time to retrace steps to our accommodation at the Los Torres Hotel, close to our original entry gate (Laguna Amarga). While waiting for the courtesy bus, a Black-chested Buzzard Eagle flew by. The grounds and surrounds of the hotel looked to have plenty of potential. Apart from the common Rufous-collared Sparrows and Chilean Swallows early hits were Chimango Caracara, Black-faced Ibis and Southern Lapwing. A short walk before a welcome beer found a couple of Patagonian Sierra Finches, with curtain closing Andean Condor overhead and Buff-winged Cinclodes in front of our room.