Patagonia – A Long Wait, But Worth It
(modified from an article in Fly Times, Issue 41, October 2008)
I finally made it! Ever since a graduate student at the University of Alberta (i.e., mid 1980’s), Patagonia had been on my list of “Top 3 destinations for field work”. Although it took more than two decades to get there, I was not disappointed in the least. For some of you this report is “old news”, especially since my trip was a year ago (October 2007). Despite the delay, I felt compelled to regale my fellow dipterists with a brief account of my travels and collecting.
Most of the credit for trip organization goes to Pete Cranston, University of California - Davis (UCD). Pete had mentioned the possibility of an expedition to northern Patagonia (i.e, Lake District of Chile and Argentina) in Spring, 2007, when he said there might be “an extra seat in the van”. However, it wasn't until September... when many of the logistical details were finalized... that my participation was confirmed. Because I’d never been to the area and had wanted to for >20 years, I jumped at the chance. Pete had assembled a team of mostly dipterists, including Andrew Baker and two students from the University of Queensland (all, like Pete, interested in chironomid midges) and a UCD postdoctoral scientist working on scale insects. The latter, Takumasa (“Demien”) Kondo, had a unique background, being a Japanese citizen raised in Colombia, and with most of his academic training in Japan and the USA. Because of his time in Colombia, Demien spoke fluent Spanish, a bonus for all of us. The end result was a truly international team, and one whose common goals and collecting strategies led to a fantastic trip. As such, it's difficult to summarize in just a few paragraphs… but I'll try:
We arrived at the Santiago airport the morning of 1 October, most of us after overnight flights from the US or Australia (although two team members had been in Peru so flew in from Lima). Despite the potential for logistical problems and delays, we all were ready to leave Santiago by early afternoon. After loading our gear in a rental minibus we would soon nickname “Christina” (recall Steven King novel and 1983 movie with similar moniker?), we headed south. Our destination was Pucon, Chile, a popular tourist town approximately 700km south of Santiago. We arrived in Pucon the afternoon of 2 October and checked into a comfortable guesthouse w/ 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, a full kitchen, and all the amenities of home. This would be our base camp for the next 6 days. Pucon sits on the east end of beautiful Lago Villarrica and below a spectacular, active volcano (Volcan Villarrica).
From Pucon we visited numerous streams around the lake and volcano. Among the highlights were the many waterfalls (e.g., Salto el Leon), southern beech (Nothofagus) forests, morning runs along Lago Villarrica, and some outstanding food & wine. And the collecting wasn’t half bad, with many streams containing huge numbers of net-winged midges (Blephariceridae), including several new species and a probable new genus. Given the time of year (i.e., much earlier than known records) and the low reported richness of blepharicerids from all of Patagonia (11 described species), I was surprised to find at least 12 morphospecies in streams around Pucon and many streams with high levels of sympatry (e.g., 4-7 morphospecies). Other collecting highlights were a handful of larval Tanyderidae, larval Thaumaleidae that appeared to belong to the genus Niphta, at least one family of aquatic insects I’d not seen previously (e.g., Plecoptera: Diamphipnoidae), and several “new” (to me) genera of families I’d seen only a few times (e.g., Ephemeroptera: Ameletopsidae: Chiloporter; Plecoptera: Austroperlidae: Klapopteryx, Eustheniidae: Neuroperla).
From Pucon we traveled southeast over Paso Mahuil Malal and into Argentina. The pass was one of the most interesting areas on the trip, partly because of the abrupt vegetational transition from the mesic Chilean side (mostly Nothofagus forests) to the xeric Argentinean side (mostly shrubs and steppe/grasslands). Sandwiched between these was a narrow band of Araucaria (Monkey Puzzle Tree) forests. Araucaria is a bizarre conifer native to the southern Andes, eastern Australia, New Caledonia, and a few other parts of the southern hemisphere (i.e., Gondwanian range). As is apparent from my “Lanin plate” (see link below), Monkey Puzzle Trees were one of my favorite photographic subjects, the other being Volcan Lanin. This spectacular mountain straddles the Chilean and Argentinean border and is the centerpiece of the largest park in the area, Parque Nacional Lanin. As we continued down from the pass and into the plains, we spotted a couple large birds off in the distance. Because we had for several days been on the lookout for Andean Condors, we pulled off the road and pulled out the binoculars. Meanwhile the “couple” birds had multiplied into seven or eight, then eventually nearly 20. And they were indeed condors, having been attracted a couple dead animals (probably cattle) off in the distance. Much to our surprise, a half dozen of these spectacular birds started drifting toward us and soon were directly in front of the van. I regretted not having a telephoto lens but still capture a few images (e.g., see inset of Lanin plate). This sighting was one of the major highlights of the trip.
Our second base camp was San Martin de los Andes, Argentina, another tourist destination. Like Pucon, San Martin sits on a beautiful lake (Lago Lacar) and is surrounded by mountains. Our accommodations for the brief visit (3 nights) were excellent, comprising adjacent duplexes that resembled a chalet in the Alps (see image on “San Martin area plate”). In fact, much of the town resembled a village in Austria or Switzerland. From San Martin, we made side trips to Paso Hua Hum and Arroyo Partido, the latter a pair of streams that converge, flow together for a short distance (100 meters?), then split into two branches, each entering a different drainage basin. Very odd hydrological phenomenon! We devoted most of the last day to the “Traful loop”, a long drive on mostly gravel roads, through dense Nothofagus forests, across cold torrential streams, and along several spectacular lakes. Despite the scenery, the drive was somewhat stressful because of several steep & slippery roads, the latter caused by the day's frequent rain and snow. And, as in Pucon, the food and wine was outstanding.
The last couple days included the long return trip to Santiago and some “unique” accommodations. [The guesthouse in Los Angeles was actually quite nice, once we found it! I best say nothing about our accommodations in Santiago.] For me the highlight of the return was a brief stop at Rio Quino, a mid-sized river near Victoria, where Bill Shepard had in 2000 collected some very odd blepharicerid larvae. Despite our visit being quite early in the season (i.e., their equivalent to our April), I collected several young larvae of this unusual fly which, based on both morphological and molecular data, appears to be new genus! In addition, the site yielded at least four other species, most/all probably new. Other highlights included a delicious lunch at Bodega Miguel Torres Winery, a spectacular waterfall (Salto del Laja), and a nice visit to Reserva Nacional Rio Clarillo (latter <50K from the outskirts of Santiago). All-n-all, an excellent introduction to Patagonia and myriad incentives to return in the future.
Last but not least, I captured nearly 500 images during the trip. I will refrain from inundating you with too many of these, “limiting” myself to just a few plates (click on plate name for link):
Pucon area plate Top row: Volcan Villarrica, bridge to Huelque, lizard @ Rio Correntoso; 2nd row: Volcan Villarrica & Rio Quilque, Rio Palguin, Salto el Leon, Rio Correntoso; [inset = Lapwing] 3rd row: volcano warning sign in Pucon, “Fuschia Creek”; Llamma (image by Demien); Rio Correntoso; bottom row: Pucon & Volcan Villarrica, Andrew & Pete @ Rio Palguin; Volcan Villarrica (view from guest house).
Lanin plate Top row: Volcan Lanin from Chile side, Lago Quileihue @ Mamuil Malal; 2nd row: “Highway” @ Mamuil Malal, Araucaria, Araucaria looking up, Lanin @ Mamuil Malal; [inset = Andean Condor] 3rd row: Volcan Lanin & Araucaria; Araucaria trunk; Araucaria branches; Arroyo Correntoso; bottom row: Volcan Lanin (3 images, all from Argentina side).
San Martin area plate Top row: Rio Traful near Confluencia, outcrops along Rio Traful, Lanin National Park information center in San Martin; 2nd row: Arroyo Quechuquina, San Martin de los Andes, guest house in San Martin, Arroyo Quilanlahue; 3rd row: Arroyo Partido, Salto Vulignanco, Lago Lacar, Lago Traful; bottom row: “Highway” 63 toward Paso del Cordoba, Lago Traful (2 images).
Miscellaneous images Top row: Miquel Torres Winery Shop, Soil layers on road to PN Huerquehue, weevil (image by Demien); 2nd row: blepharicerid larva (new genus #1), ground beetle (image by Demien), blepharicerid (Edwardsina) pupae, Searching for blepharicerids @ Estero Correntoso (image by Pete), blepharicerid larva (new genus #2); 3rd row: Salto del Laja, Demien looking at scale insects, Rio Quino, Rio Clarillo; bottom row: Miquel Torres Winery, Salto del Laja, lunch @ Miquel Torres.