Pampas

Let's sit here you and me and let the breeze of a summer afternoon wash over us, bringing with it the heady scent of jasmine, the rustling of leaf burdened trees that toss and sway hither and thither, the soporific cooing of pigeons and the droning of winged insects. Billowing puffs of white clouds are pushed across an azure sky and the resident dogs flop resignedly onto the cool tiled terrace waiting for the heat of the afternoon to abate. It's hard to keep your eyes open. This could be England on an idyllic July day, the landscape is familiar enough, but we are instead in the pampas lands of Argentina; the treeless plains, where the song of blackbirds, chaffinches and thrushes gives way to kiskadees, ovenbirds and the piercing screeching of parakeets.

Perhaps we should go for a stroll; shake off the effects of a heavy lunch and too much wine. We can keep cool. We'll walk in the sun-dappled shade of the eucalyptus and sweet scented pine where the rufous horneros, the national bird of this country of gauchos, cattle and tango, wail at one another with maniacal laughter and build their domed nests of mud atop a stout bough. Wherever we go chimango caracaras chase and scold, expertly riding the air currents on dainty wings, twisting and tumbling as they squabble for territory, food or attention. If we look skyward we can see a pair of their larger relatives, the Southern caracara soaring over a belt of trees. The other birds don't like them; it seems wherever they go they attract a mobbing group of martins. 


After a few minutes we come to the wide open fields of the Estancia where cattle graze contentedly on the lush grasses. The fields are big, their size allowing drier grasses space to ripple in the wind as waves on a turbulent sea. It is a flat, open landscape, reminiscent of parts of my beloved Norfolk, yet somehow wilder and untamed. Here the farming is less intense, things have room to live and breathe.
For all that, water is the lifeblood and here on a summer's day water is in short supply. Close by is an oasis, a natural hollow forming a doughnut ring of moisture with a raised dry Island at the centre covered in a jungle of tall thistles. 


Life is attracted to this area which for its size holds far more than it reasonably should. Be still and watch. Birds come to drink; sparrows, finches and flycatchers, a pair of moorhens, more gaudily coloured than ours at home but the same shape and with the same habits, peck their way from one side to the other. Did you see that small ripple? At first nothing, then a small striped head pokes out from the carpet of purple pond weed: a pied billed grebe. It is carefully keeping an eye on us and keeping the rest of itself submerged; hidden from perceived danger. But we're not here to harm, simply to observe. And it works. The moorhens feed their fluffy chicks just in front of us, bright yellow finches come down to sip the thirst quenching fresh water, a gangly limpkin grunts from atop a small bush, brightly coloured ducks drift warily by, past martins collecting mud for their nests. So much in such a small space.




We should move on. Further along the track our attention is taken by the squawking of parakeets. Here in some tall pines they have built their nests, large communal affairs of coarse twigs wedged into the junction of branch with trunk. Noisy birds that somehow seem out of place in such an environment, but a colourful addition to our growing list. Let's scan the fields and see what else we can find. The fence posts are a good place to start. They always seem to hold a good selection of the smaller species and there in front of us is one of the most beautiful of creations you are ever likely to see, a forked tailed flycatcher. Nature has given us many wonders over the past five weeks, but surely this modest little bird ranks up there with the penguins and the condors. With long tail plumes catching the breeze, It is simply exquisite. But there's something more, look over to the left. That's not a caracara, it's a bigger more purposeful hunter. A harrier, a long-winged harrier, quartering the fields with piercing eyes coming closer with every shallow wingbeat. The breeze causes this hunter to tack this way and that and we get stunning views as it battles the air currents. Happy? Good. But we still have another treat to share.



Back at the house there is a sheltered garden where an array of agapanthus is in full bright blue bloom. This in itself is a treat, but there are even brighter jewels to find. Hummingbirds! Shining irredescent emerald green, darting around the flower heads to sup nectar. Sometimes it is hard to keep track of their movements as they whirr on short pointed wings, probing their long beaks into the flower spikes.  It seems the birds make a circuit every few minutes to entertain us as they feed. 



And we, my friends, have ourselves completed the circuit. We have travelled over the past few weeks from tropical Brazil through sub-Antarctic islands, barren wind torn steppe, glacial splendour and the temperate farmlands. We have seen mighty waterfalls, stood gazing at star strewn skies, been caught in torrential downpours, scorched by fierce southern summer sun and blown off our feet by unrelenting winds. Orcas, penguins, toucans, condors and radiant butterflies we have seen. Happy, courteous, charming people we have met. And we have barely scratched the surface of what the continent of South America can offer. I hope you have enjoyed taking my hand as we have experienced these things; I've certainly found writing them down a therapeutic and enlightening experience. Finding the words to capture the moment has allowed me to understand what I have felt as the days unfold. Thanks for staying with me.





Comments

  1. You paint a scene of pure enchantment. Thanks for being our guide through thick and thin.

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  2. Absolutely stunning photos and peerless prose: your accounts read like a book by Gerald Durrell....
    Colour me envious!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you David, much appreciated. The environment was the real inspiration. Wish I was back there.

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  3. Brilliant, I felt warm and relaxed for the first time since before Christmas. !

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Clare, hope you're feeling much better now.

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