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Wednesday February 22, 2012. Our Penultimate Argentine Patagonian Day.

February 23, 2012

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Our day began bright and early.  The infamous Patagonian winds had calmed and the volcanic ash was absent from the skies.  The first group took the van past La Confluencia (so-named because it is at the confluence of two rivers, the Limay and the Traful) towards the rock formations and the condor roosts on the other side.  We hiked an hour up the steep and slippery ash-covered slopes in search of condor feathers and a glimpse of the condors themselves.  We reached the base of the rock formations and traversed along, bushwhacking and being “attacked” by various thorny bushes as we went.  We found our way up to a ridge which opened up to a magnificent view of the surrounding area.  Unbeknownst to us, we had traversed into a white-throated hawk (Buteo albigula) family’s territory.  As we climbed up to the ridge, the hawks began dive-bombing us and shriek insults.  We perched on the rocks as  our valiant TA, Chris, sacrificed his well-being for science and walked out onto the exposed ridge, feather sticking out from his hat, to get a closer view.   The feather was supposedly to direct the aggression of the hawks away from his head, but it appeared as though Chris had “gone native” and become a gaucho pategonico.  A juvenile Andean Condor appeared in the sky and came to investigate. The condor and the hawks swooped overhead and the hawks eventually dive-bombed the condor and drove him away.  After coming down from the ridge, we began our decent in earnest.  Unfortunately we got a little sidetracked from our original route and ended up climbing through steep gullies and thorny bushes but eventually found our way safely down.  Meanwhile, the rest of the group spent the morning collecting data for their group projects, hiking up the ridges, or hanging out by the river.

Eventually, everyone met up and headed back to the hosteria to hear a guest lecture from biology professor, Dr. Richard Sage.  He gave a very interesting talk about how the unique life cycle of the bamboo plant of Argentina (Chusquea sp.) influences the ecosystem of the region.  This plant grows vegetatively for about 60-70 years, flowering only once right before its death.  The surfeit of seeds produced after a flowering year results in sudden population explosions of species of seed eaters particularly mice like Oligoryzomys longicaudatus, raton cola larga.  This is relevant to public health issues in Patagonia because one particular species of mouse is a vector for Hantavirus that carries a 50% mortality rate.

After the lecture, some of us went for another swim in the river, while others showered, napped, went bird-watching, or identified plants.  Then, it was time for dinner, dessert, and bed, so that we would have plenty of energy for our upcoming day in Bariloche.

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