Magellanic Plover, Pluvianellus socialis, a shorebird on a class of its own

Magellanic Plover, Pluvianellus socialis is the sole member of family Pluvianellidae, and despite its name it is not really related to true Plovers, Charadriidae, but closer to Chionidae, the Sheathbills. However, it wasn’t until 1975 that it was separated from Plovers and placed into its own monotypic family, Pluvianellidae and genus, Pluvianellus.

Magellanic Plover, Photo © Juan Pablo Rider
Magellanic Plover, Photo © Juan Pablo Rider

Some authors have suggested placing it within the Sheathbill family, but several morphological and behavioural traits separate it from that group, such as the use of a crop to carry food to the chicks, the slight asymmetry of the bill, and the use of the feet to dig in the ground for food.

A medium-sized shorebird, the shape of its body recalls a small dove or seedsnipe more than a plover. Generally found along the shores of shallow saline lakes and lagoons with rocky and muddy shores, very exposed to the wind, with variable water levels. Also on rocky coasts, especially during migration periods.

Magellanic Plover © Sebastián Saiter, Far South Expeditions
Magellanic Plover © Sebastián Saiter, Far South Expeditions

It can be easily overlooked due to its extremely cryptic colouration, especially as it blends with the pebbles that are commonly part of their habitat, and finding it usually involves a fair amount of time and patience, trying to discern its minute shape among vast extensions of pebbles and stones in the shores of Patagonian water bodies.

© Sebastián Saiter, Far South Expeditions
© Sebastián Saiter, Far South Expeditions

Territorial, normally in pairs or family groups. Also associates with other plovers and sandpipers, like Two-banded Plover, Rufous-chested Dotterel and Baird’s and White-rumped Sandpipers. Forms flocks during migration and winter.

Magellanic Plover, Photo © Juan Pablo Rider
Magellanic Plover, Photo © Juan Pablo Rider

Endemic to Patagonia, local and partially resident in the extreme south of Chile and Argentina, in Chile restricted to Magallanes district, and it is classified as Near Threatened (NT) in the IUCN Red List.

Magellanic Plover, Photo © Juan Pablo Rider
Magellanic Plover, Photo © Juan Pablo Rider

Puma, Mountain Lion, Puma concolor, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Crouching among the low bushes near a hilltop, an adult Puma, Puma concolor stares at us in the distance in the cold morning air in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Chile. The largest and top patagonian predator, it is second in size only to the Jaguar among American cats. It ranges from Alaska south to Tierra del Fuego, and its stealth, mostly nocturnal and crepuscular habits make it hard to be spotted in the wild.

Photo taken during one of our current season’s Patagonia Explorer programmes, covering part of Southern Patagonia including Torres del Paine NP and Tierra del Fuego in Chile and Los Glaciares NP in Argentina.

Puma, photo © Rodrigo Tapia, Far South Expeditions
Puma, photo © Rodrigo Tapia, Far South Expeditions

Fire-eyed Diucon, Xolmis pyrope, Magallanes, Patagonia, Chile

Surveying from an advantage perch, a Fire-eyed Diucon Xolmis pyrope waits for any flying insects coming across its field of view, ready to take off and snatch its prey in mid-air before returning to its watching post by the edge of a Nothofagus forest patch in Magallanes, chilean Patagonia. One of the relatively common southern cone Tyrant flycatchers, it excels in sally-gleaning and can be readily identified by its general grey colours and striking bright-red eye.

Fire-eyed Diucon, Photo © Rodrigo Tapia, Far South Expeditions
Fire-eyed Diucon, Photo © Rodrigo Tapia, Far South Expeditions

Guanaco, Lama guanicoe, Torres del Paine NP, Patagonia, Chile

With flattened ears and menacing teeth, two male Guanaco charge against each other while fighting for dominance and mating rights  over the females in the herd. The largest of American camelids, their sole natural predator is the Puma, and Patagonian populations  thrive in areas where livestock is not present, like Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.

Guanaco, Photo © Rodrigo Tapia, Far South Expeditions
Guanaco, Photo © Rodrigo Tapia, Far South Expeditions

 

Southern Grey Fox, Pseudalopex griseus, Torres del Paine, Chile

A plump Southern Grey Fox cub, Pseudalopex griseus gives us an inquisitive look as it sits half-hidden by a clump of grass while waiting for its mother to return from hunting nearby. One of the two fox species in the park, it can be seen in most open habitats in Patagonia.

Southern Grey Fox, Photo © Rodrigo Tapia, Far South Expeditions
Southern Grey Fox, Photo © Rodrigo Tapia, Far South Expeditions

The Orchids of Torres del Paine

The Orchids in Torres del Paine are of great interest to research, scientific divulgation and the conservation of Biodiversity. This group, although not so diverse in austral latitudes as it is in the tropics, contains endemic species confined to restricted distributional ranges within Patagonia, with an evident aesthetic and scientific attractive which confers them the charisma to be promoted as an emblem of Torres del Paine and to generate a fascination for the diversity in this area resulting in a local and international interest for their conservation.

Porcelain Orchid, Chloraea magellanica, Photo © Claudio Vidal, Far South Expeditions
Porcelain Orchid, Chloraea magellanica, Photo © Claudio Vidal, Far South Expeditions

 

The project “The Orchids of Torres del Paine: monitoring and eco-tourism for the conservation of Biodiversity”, is led by Dr. Osvaldo J. Vidal and is a research effort conceived by the local NGO, AMA Torres del Paine, and partly financed by Far South Expeditions. This initiative aims to describe the taxonomical and distributional attributes of the species present in the area, identifying potential suitable sites for botanizing and photo tours, and to locally divulge this unexplored diversity and put it under the public spotlight. AMA Torres del Paine volunteers from Germany, Canada, Chile, China, France, USA, UK and Poland, have contributed to the mapping of 3,000 plants of 9 Orchid species in Torres del Paine.

You can review the preliminary paper from ISSUU.

 

Magellanic Tucotuco, Ctenomys magellanicus, Tierra del Fuego, Chile

Sticking out its head through the opening of its den, a Magellanic Tucotuco, Ctenomys magellanicus,  takes a look around before venturing out in the open to look for food.  Its galleries are oriented to minimize the impact of the cold patagonian wind, with openings covered with vegetation.

Magellanic Tucotuco,
Magellanic Tucotuco, Photo © Sebastián Saiter, Far South Expeditions

Dolphin Gull, Leucophaeus scoresbii, Straits of Magellan, Chile

Flying along the shores of the Straits of Magellan, a small flock of Dolphin Gull, Leucophaeus scoresbii passes by the observer.

A Patagonian gull, this bird treats us with its elegant grey plumage spiced up by its coral red bill and legs.

Dolphin Gull, Photo © Rodrigo Tapia, Far South Expeditions
Dolphin Gull, Photo © Rodrigo Tapia, Far South Expeditions

Sedge Wren, Cistothorus platensis, Magallanes, Chile

Perched on a thorny bush, a Sedge Wren, Cistothorus platensis emits its territorial song to attract a mate for the season in Otway Sound, Magallanes, Chile.

Usually quite a discrete bird, its persistent, gurgling song reveals its presence in springtime.

 

Sedge Wren, Photo © Rodrigo Tapia, Far South Expeditions
Sedge Wren, Photo © Rodrigo Tapia, Far South Expeditions

Andean Condor, Vultur gryphus, Magallanes, Chile

Soaring majestically above the Patagonian Steppe, a male Andean Condor, Vultur gryphus surveys the terrain for guanaco carcasses in Torres del Paine National Park, Magallanes, Chile.

With a wingspan over 3m, second only to the great albatrosses, it is the largest terrestrial flying bird.

 

Andean Condor, Photo © Rodrigo Tapia, Far South Expeditions
Andean Condor, Photo © Rodrigo Tapia, Far South Expeditions