In August 2002 Bernard and Oonagh Segrave-Daly were the first guests to Estancia la Esperanza (Ranch of Hopes Wildlife Refuge). Formerly a farm on the coastal steppe of Patagonia, in 2000 the property was purchased for conservation with funds from World Land Trust. In early 2013, the couple made their seventh visit to Esperanza. The following excerpts from Bernard’s account of their latest trip illustrate just why this corner of Argentina is so very special.
In the early morning sun, the scent of resinous pine from the scrubby plants is refreshing and stimulates memories of the same smell over our nine years of visiting this remote outpost.
Immediately outside our guest house, a number of small, tailless, furry rodents scuttle to the safety of a prickly mound of undergrowth. On our walk to the beach, we encounter a small tribe of Elegant Crested Tinamou (Eudromia elegans) and we are greeted by one of the four dogs of the Estancia and one of the tame Guanacos (Lama guanicoe).
By the shore we sit on the stone bank some 30 or more feet above the receding tide. Through our binoculars we watch several terns diving for their morning breakfast and every strike seems successful. The ever present grebes drift along the coast with the tides and a couple of passing cormorants add to the aquatic variety of seabirds that fly up and down the coast.
The heads of South American Sea Lions (Otaria flavescens) bob up and down, curiously watching you watching them. Just one baby sea lion has been born this spring, but the colony has grown to just in excess of 300. Two years ago we counted twice and reached only 125 maximum.
By early afternoon, while the sun blazes down, the wind direction has changed again. The very deep blue colour of the sea has disappeared and there are now white caps to the waves. As we look back over six previous visits we sense that we are seeing fewer birds and animals. We learn later that with the drought and lack of water on the Estancia there are perhaps only 4,000 Guanacos. So it is not our imagination playing tricks.
Today, we went by vehicle to the very farthest end of the 7,000 hectare estate with José María Musmeci, the Director of Fundación Patagonia Natural, and another volunteer.
Once out of the car, we began our trek crawling on our bellies across the huge stone bank to get a reasonably close view of the colony of sea lions. They were quite undisturbed by our presence.
We then had a several minute close encounter with a one-and-a-half metre snake that was excavating a burrow for herself on an earth mound. We passed a prehistoric oyster bed with many thousands of shells of several inches in circumference.
José María was leisurely telling us the story of rescuing a Black Vulture (Coragyps atratus) with a broken wing which was resident at the Estancia on our last visit. He thought the bird had nested near the southernmost border of the Estate, and as if on cue two vultures flew over and there was clearly recognition on both sides. After circling a couple of times they moved on. Clearly their lunch was more important than their old rescuer.
The Estancia has invested in a camera which is triggered by any movement in front of it. So the joy of staff and volunteers was unbounded when at 6.15 pm some weeks ago a puma strolled into the frame and was pictured several times. For several nights there were further shots of both the male and the female puma out hunting, their eyes sparkling in the infra-red camera.
Perfection of the sky
There seems a special perfection of the sky last thing at night and first thing in the morning. The lack of pollution and dust in the stillness of the early morning air gives extra clarity to the herds of Guanacos and the first bird song. One morning the cleanness and coolness of the sea water, contrasting with the warm breeze of the very fresh clear air, made an early morning swim irresistible and wonderfully refreshing.
Having one young male sea lion as a companion made the experience memorable. A southern lapwing screamed overhead to put the final touches to another stunning experience of the Estancia Esperanza.
We were always taught ‘never say never’. After our 2011 visit we said it would be our final trip to Patagonia. But then we found ourselves yearning to return, and we couldn’t resist. Estancia la Esperanza really is a heavenly place and who knows? Perhaps we shall return again one day.
More about WLT's Coastal Steppe Project, Patagonia »
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