Saturday, March 28, 2020

Chilean and Greater Flamingos

One of the birds I was really looking forward to seeing on our COVID-19 shortened trip was the Chilean Flamingo in Argentina. We had booked a hotel in El Calafate that was a ten minute walk from a lagoon that had them. I've seen greater and lesser flamingos in Africa, but all from a very long distance. 

In our visit to the Bird Park in Igauzu Falls, Brazil we saw both Chilean flamingos and greater flamingos. The Chilean flamingo is readily distinguished by its gray legs and pink joints, as well as a bill that is more than half black. 
Chilean flamingo and largely black bill.
Gray legs with pink joints. 
The greater flamingo has legs that are entirely pink and a bill that is pink with a restricted black tip. 
Greater flamingos.

Conditions were not good for photography, so these were the best I got. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Scarlet Ibis

This is another bird we saw at Parque das Aves in Foz do Iguacu (Bird Park in Iguazu Falls), Brazil. The scarlet ibis is an amazingly beautiful bird that I would love to see in the wild. It is virtually the same bird as the American white ibis that I have seen (posts here and here). As Wikipedia notes, it has "exactly the same bones, claws, beaks, feather arrangements and other features - their one marked difference lies in their pigmentation." However, despite the fact they interbreed, the distinctive color types remain. 
They are not found in the portion of Brazil where we were. They are found mostly along the coast of northeastern South America and Caribbean islands just off the coast.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Toco Toucan

Normally when I feature an animal in a post I want it to be something I've seen in the wild. However, in our COVID-19 shortened trip to Brazil and Argentina we missed out on some animals I'd hoped to see because our trail walking at Iguazu Falls was cut short by having to fly home early. So I'm going to feature at least one bird I'd hoped to see in the wild and was unable to.
Before we were dropped off at the airport for our flight home, our taxi dropped us off at the Bird Park (Parque das Aves) in Iguazu Falls (Foz do Iguacu). One of the birds I was really wanting to see in the wild was the toucan. I've only ever seen even a few in zoos. The bird park had only one species of toucan, the toco toucan, but it was spectacular. 
Toco toucan
Its body is mostly black, with a white throat, chest and uppertail-coverts, a red undertail covert and a huge bill (6 to 9 inches long) which is yellow/orange to reddish/orange with a black base and a large spot on the tip. The toco toucan has blue skin around the eye which is then surrounded by a ring of orange skin. 
The only good photo I have that shows the red undertail covert. 
Close-up of the blue and orange skin around the eye and the magnificent bill. 
The bill is 30% to 50% of the body surface area, the most of any bird, which functions as a heat exchange to regulate heat distribution, comparable to the large ears of an elephant. 
Front view gives a very interesting look. It almost looks like a vulture. 
Another interesting angle of the bill. 
It is the largest and best known species of toucan and is found mostly in Brazil, but also portions of Bolivia, Peru, Argentina and Paraguay. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Glaucous-Winged Gull - Oregon

As indicated in my prior post, we drove up the Oregon coast in January 2016. We found numerous glaucous-winged gulls on the beautiful shores of Cannon Beach. 

The glaucous-winged gull has a white head and body with a light gray wings and back. The end of its wings are white-tipped which shows up as a large band of white on folded wings. It has pink legs and a yellow bill with a red spot on the lower mandible. The head of breeding adults is all-white and non-breeding adults have tan smudging on the head and neck. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Western Gull - Oregon

We took a trip to Oregon in January 2016 and drove up the coast from Newport to the Columbia River. We encountered western gulls along the coast. They have a white head and body with a dark gray back and pink legs. Breeding adults have an orange ring around the eye and a red spot on the lower mandible of the otherwise yellow bill. 

Juveniles are a gray brown with a checkered back and wings and pink legs and a black bill. 
The largest populations are near San Francisco and along the Oregon coast. 

Saturday, March 21, 2020

La Nacional - Lima, Peru

Airports are not known for good food. However, two and a half years ago we visited Hung's Delicacies in Hong Kong, designated the "world's best airport restaurant" by CNN for 2013 and 2014. It was pretty good and far superior to most airport restaurants. But we just discovered what has been designated the "best ever so far airport restaurant" by Cannundrums in Lima, Peru's Jorge Chavez International Airport. 
It was a highlight of our COVID-19 shortened trip to South America. We visited Peru about 11 years ago and I fell in love with Peruvian food and now I regularly go to a local Peruvian restaurant for lunch and occasional dinners. But the best causa and on the same level of the best ceviche I've ever eaten was at La Nacional.  

We started with a couple of juice drinks. Huambrilla, the yellow drink on the left, has pineapple, orange, carambola syrup and jasmine tea in it. Nice and sweet and my favorite at first. D'Lima, the greenish juice on the right, has lime juice macerated in rosemary and soda. It was a little tart, but became much sweeter and my favorite following a taste of the heavily limed ceviche - a wonderful combination. 
The Ceviche Mixto included the fish catch of the day, calamari, octopus (one big piece which I got) and shrimp. It came very heavily limed with choclo (large corn pieces), sweet potato, Bermuda onion slices and dried and salted choclo. It also had one piece of sliced Peruvian red (aji?) chile that lit my mouth up with heat. It was a perfect airport meal - eat a piece, take a swig of D'Lima, sit for awhile, - eat another piece, take a swig of D'Lima, sit for a while, etc. It packed way too much vinegary limeness to eat too quickly. And by waiting between bites, it assaulted the taste buds all over again. 
The Causa Limena was mashed yellow potato, marinated with lime and chili, stuffed with chicken, avocado and homemade mayonnaise. After visiting Peru, we learned to make our own causa: see octopus and smoked pheasant causa. But this causa was better than any causa we've made or had in the U.S. or Peru. The potato was not overwhelmed with lime, there was lots of chicken in the center, lots of fun condiments and the mayonnaise was fantastic with it. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

South American Coati

We saw several South American coati, also called ring-tailed coati, in Iguazu Falls, Brazil, during our recent COVID-19 aborted trip to South America. I only have a few photos, and they're not very good, because I thought we were going to be hiking in areas where we would see lots of them later - this was before the "world turned upside down" for us. My hands were full of wet gear after our water-logging trip by boat up the Iguazu River and I didn't get the angles I should have tried for. It was near a food court near the falls. 

The coati climbed this pole and was greeted by another coati already in the rafters of the food court. 
The South American coati is found only in South America in large parts of Brazil, Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam and slivers of Argentina. The color varies greatly, from an orange/red to almost black, and rings on the tail may only be partially visible. It lacks the largely white snout of the white-nosed coati found further north. There are 13 subspecies, but I have not tried to differentiate between them. 

Monday, March 16, 2020

La Rueda - Iguazu Falls, Argentina

On Thursday, March 12, 2020, we had what turned out to be a very momentous dinner in many ways. 

We arrived in Iguazu Falls, Brazil on Wednesday evening, traveling with some trepidation because of the COVID-19 virus that was emerging as a threat. Our lodging that evening was in Brazil. We were shocked to learn that the NBA had suspended their season because a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the coronavirus and other dominoes began to fall as well. We did a moon-light visit to the Devil's Throat that evening, on the Argentina side. Thursday we spent time at and near Iguazu Falls, taking a flyover in a helicopter, taking a boat ride up-river near to it, and walking on the walkways on the Brazilian side. That afternoon we shifted our lodging to Argentina. Friday morning we were going to do some hiking on the Argentina side of the falls, then take an early flight to Buenos Aires where we would spend the next 3 1/2 days. 

Thursday evening we had an early dinner at Restaurant La Rueda, recommended to my brother-in-law, Dave, by the staff at the Merit Iguazu where we were staying. We got there around 6:30 p.m. or so, very early by Argentine standards. 

We got some appetizers. We ordered enough empanadas for each of us to have a half empanada of fish and of beef. Judy also ordered some sort of salmon (lox) on bread. They were okay. The beef was much better than the fish. 
I've heard about Argentine beef for years and opted for a 600 gram (21+ ounce) t-bone, cooked medium rare, with hot three peppers style sauce and cream potatoes. What I got was two t-bones, layered upon each other, smothered in an absolutely amazing sauce. I believe the little red dots are peppercorns, although they were not real crunchy, and it was a little spicy, but not overly so. The meat was fatty, cooked perfectly, and as I shared pieces with Judy she kept asking for more. 

As I look on-line for what the sauce might have been, I believe it may have been a red chimichurri (I had not realized that chimichurri came in both green and red). In one particular recipe I find, a red chimichurri sauce includes garlic cloves, shallots, olive oil, red wine vinegar, parsley or cilantro, sweet smoked paprika, sweet ground red chile, salt, ground cumin and crushed red pepper flakes (this would be three peppers). It is added to the steak after it is cooked. 
The layering of the steaks is noticeable as I was eating more from the top layer than the bottom layer (because that is where the sauce was). 
However, before cooking, the steak is also marinated for about 30 minutes at room temperature in a marinade that includes olive oil, red wine vinegar, crushed garlic cloves, cracked black pepper, ground cumin and salt and ground red chile. 

This steak was incredible. I took what I couldn't eat back to the hotel and had it for breakfast. It was almost as good the next morning as it was that night. 

Anyway, part of what made this meal incredible, aside from the steak, was that we were sitting with three siblings, my wife Judy, her brother David and their sister, Chris and each of their spouses. We discussed the incredible events of the past day and a half and the rapidly momentous changes taking place with COVID-19. David and his wife are serving as senior missionaries for the LDS Church in Buenos Aires. Chris and her husband are from Billings, Montana. He is an investment advisor and the stock market had been taking 1,000 point drops daily. While we sat at dinner, we noted that the LDS Church came out with a direction that all meetings for the near future were cancelled, including regular sacrament meetings. Senior missionaries in Europe were being sent home. Dave wondered whether they, too, might be sent home in the near future as the virus made its way into Argentina. Dave got an email from LDS legal counsel in Buenos Aires that Argentina was considering implementation of a 14 day quarantine on visitors to Argentina from infected countries, that included the U.S. It was a beautiful evening filled with family discussion, concerns for the near future and how our adventure might turn out and gratitude for the time spent together. I expressed my feeling that we should take our scheduled flight to Buenos Aires the next day and that we would be better situated for an international flight home, or if it came to that, a quarantine. 

We finished off our long dinner with dessert. Judy and I shared a desert of crepes with dulce de leche. It came out flaming and with the scorched taste that accompanies it, I think the best dulce de leche I've ever head. 
That next morning, Judy woke up about 5:30 a.m. to a text from David saying that legal counsel in Buenos Aires had recommended to him that the quarantine was going to be implemented at any time and that flights to the U.S. might be suspended shortly thereafter. He suggested to Dave that his siblings should get back over the border to Brazil as soon as possible and fly back home. We met in the lobby of the hotel about 6:30 a.m. and started researching flights. We found one out of Iguazu Falls, Brazil at 8:05 p.m. that night. We decided that that was what we needed to do and coughed up $1,200 a piece for one way flights back to Los Angeles. 

We spent most of the day sitting in the tiny Iguazu Falls airport, made longer by a 90 minute delay in our flight to Lima, Peru, where we would than catch a flight to LAX. In Lima, we spent two hours on the tarmace while the pilots awaited authorization to enter U.S. airspace (fortunately I slept through that drama). We arrived at LAX Saturday morning about 9:00 a.m. to an eerily empty airport (unlike other airports, like Chicago and Dallas/Fort Worth, that were getting the crunch of flights back from Europe and had waits of 6 hours for virus testing). No questions about our health, or even really where we'd come from. Only one carousel in the baggage area was running and we walked through customs virtually alone. 

Lots of feelings arise at a time like this. Concern about the huge financial loss of a mostly lost trip and the opportunities squandered. The feeling of comfort of being with family and the support it provides, particularly in a time of great uncertainty. There was something special about that meal, relatives in a foreign country, facing an uncertain near-future as events spiraled out of control. That meal was almost worth the flight down. Almost. 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Iguazu Falls - By Foot, Boat and Helicopter

We just got back from a COVID-19 shortened trip to Iguazu Falls, Buenos Aires, Colonia del Sacramento, El Calafate, Torres del Paine NP and Punta Arenas. We were scheduled for 12 days and got just a little over a day of actual sight-seeing in Iguazu Falls, Brazil and Argentina, before having to return home. 

We flew into Iguazu Falls, Brazil on Wednesday evening about 6:35 p.m. We checked into the San Martin Cataratas Resort & Spa, had their buffet for dinner, then went with two of Judy's siblings and their spouses, with a taxi driver, across the border into Argentina for a special full moon night-time visit to the Devil's Throat, something that only happens a few times a month when the moon is full.

After entering Iguazu Falls National Park we took the Ecological Jungle Train, a natural gas powered train that covers 14 km in 25 minutes to reach the Devil's Throat Trail (Garganta del Diablo).  It left about 10:00 p.m. When we reached Devil's Throat Station we then walked a moonlight-lit 1,200 yard long (.7 mile) footbridge leading to the Devil's Throat, which channels about 50% of the Iguazu River flow and has the highest falls (269 feet), in addition to the most volume. The Brazil/Argentina border runs through the center of the Devil's Throat. 

It was so dark that I had a hard time getting my auto-focus camera to focus and the few photos I did get were way too blurry because I didn't have a tripod. 
Moonlight is the only light available to us. This is the top of the falls where the water begins its cascade downward. 
This is a dark, blurry photo of the water rushing into the Devil's Throat. 
We didn't get back to our hotel until after 1:00 a.m. the next morning. This was all a little too much because we'd spent the night before flying from Los Angeles to Lima and that morning needed to be up to leave by 9:00 a.m. However, I'm glad we did it because it was a big part of what little we were able to do before having to shorten our trip. 

The next morning we met our taxi about 9:00 a.m., after a buffet breakfast at the hotel, for a short drive to take a helicopter flight over the falls. The 14 minute flight was a very reasonably priced $100 per person (compared to other helicopter rides we've been exposed to, including the one we took at Victoria Falls). Unfortunately, only three of the six of us took the helicopter. It provided a great perspective of the falls that is difficult to get otherwise. 
This is the helicopter that flew us over the falls. 
We circled the falls several times, giving those on each side of the helicopter good views before returning to the helicopter pad. 
Flying above the Iguazu River. The waterfalls extend over quite a length. 
Some of the falls lower on the Iguazu River. Note a couple of motorboats in the river, like the one we took later in the day. 
A view of the falls from high above the Brazilian side. The Devil's Throat is to the left. The walkway we took to the viewpoint over the Devil's Throat is visible on the Argentine side. 
The Devil's Throat and a portion of the Igauzu River below. 
A view into the Devil's Throat. 
Afterwards, our taxi driver dropped us off at Iguacu National Park in Brazil where we got on a double decker bus. We later transferred to a tram with seating and drove through the jungle to a spot on the Iguazu River below the falls. We put on our rain ponchos and life preserver and hopped on a powerful open boat to drive up-river to see the falls. It was a stifling 99 degrees with humidity that must have been in the 90s. Sitting on the boat before we started, sweltering in the plastic poncho, sweat was pouring off my face. As we started up-river, I was on the front seat of the boat and the wind immediately cooled me down. It was incredible to think that this very narrow river was draining all the water flow from the huge waterfall up-river. 
The boat in the photo is the kind we were on. 
We stopped several places to look at smaller waterfalls on the Argentine side. We hit some tremendously large rapids which the large power boat had no problem maneuvering through. However, our boat driver decided to drench us in a waterfall much sooner than I expected and I was not able to get my camera in a dry bag, or get my dry bag, which contained my extended lens, closed. We got absolutely drenched, about four times. My camera with small lens was okay, but my extended lens is full of moisture and probably ruined. On the way back our boat intentionally hit waves in a way that drenched us some more. It felt good, but my lens has not forgiven me. There were two options on boats available: a wet boat and a dry boat. The other five in my boat went on the wet boat and, although I preferred the dry boat, I went with my group. I should have taken the dry boat. 
The waterfalls extend quite a ways down the canyon.
The upper most section of the canyon becomes visible. 
Devil's Throat, the end of the canyon, is straight ahead. 
After we docked, we made our way by tram back to the main road and caught another double decker bus to the end of the road in the national park. We took an elevator down and walked some footpaths into the canyon that provided views of the waterfalls. The paths were very crowded and getting spots for photos was very difficult in prime locations. 
This is a photo of the Iguazu River from space, borrowed from Wikipedia. The Iguazu River has a "J" shape and the falls begin at the curve in the inner "J". 
Top of the falls on the Brazilian side. 
The bottom of some falls.
Looking into the Devil's Throat from the innermost walkway.
A closer view of the Devil's Throat.
Looking down-river. A boat approaches the same waterfall that our boat went under to soak us. That boat did the same thing to its human cargo a minute later. I would have appreciated some warning before the dunking. 
When we finished our taxi took us over the border to Argentina where we checked into an Argentine hotel for the night. Unfortunately, we learned that Argentina was imposing a mandatory 14 day quarantine on visitors from the U.S. and it was recommended to us by legal counsel in Buenos Aires that we get back into Brazil before the quarantine was implemented and fly back home. We had planned to go on hikes along the Argentine side the next morning and to visit the Devil's Throat lookout again in the daylight, then fly on to Buenos Aires. Instead, we made our way back to Brazil and made our way back home, which in hindsight, looks like the right decision.