Darwin Day

In honor of Darwin Day, I was re-reading my battered copy of The Voyagle of the Beagle this morning. Battered because it was actually dropped in the Beagle Channel itsef. An appropriate baptism while I was taking a group of scientists from University of Washington to explore the channel region, retracing some of Darwin's footsteps, and looking at the bryophytes and birdlife of the region.

Comprising some of the most pristine wilderness left on the planet, the southern Andes curve down through Tierra del Fuego until only their peaks are left above water, creating a labyrinthine archipelago. A last redoubt.

And whilst avian diversity is surprisingly low - compared to similar latitudes in the northern hemisphere - it makes up for it in impact.

Here a black-browed albatross cruises down the Channel;

An upland goose surveys its breeding territory on one of the Channel's islets;

And a Chilean skua passes in front of Mount Olivia;

The very same mountain just as it was painted by Conrad Martens, the ship's artist who accompanied Darwin on the Beagle. Only a small amount of poetic licence exercised here!


Brant or Brent?

Coming back from New York City today across the Hudson river, devoid of icebergs despite the ice-storms of the previous few days, I saw my first Brant of the year. Foraging on the broken terminus of an old tea-clipper pier, a small group of 7 birds gathered.

The brent geese are just out of sight at the end of the abandoned pier, which is currently a pretty active roost of ring-bills, herring and great black-backeds. Every once in a while I see a local juvenile peregrine bomb through this roost, and the ring-bills rise like confetti on the wind.

I've never got to the bottom of why this taxon is called Brant in the US and Brent in the UK. Is it just an accent thing? The genus is Branta so you'd favour the Americans in this case, but then again the naming of the oil trading commodity Brent crude derived from the bird too. 
My photo
I work in NYC and own a wildlife and wilderness agency specializing in the southern cone of South America. I still do some guiding down there, especially looking for Fuegian and Patagonian avifauna. I'm particularly interested in the wintering ecology of neotropical migrants, and in avian biogeography in general. You can follow me at - @domhall And find me at - AventuraArgentina.com