A Walk around the Lagoon
We made a new friend on our walk around Laguna Nimez just outside of El Calafate, Argentina. She was a pretty black lab with a red collar, and obviously belonged to someone, but she was out for a walk on her own. She accompanied us around the lagoon fetching a stick . . . an unending source of amusement. Suddenly, she ran off in another direction. We figured she got tired. When we reached the far side of the lagoon, where it butts up to Argentina Lake, we heard what sounded like a bird of prey screeching fairly close by. Cool! After so many ducks and geese we got to see a big bird!
Close Encounter with a Bird of Prey
When we spotted it sitting in a low bush just off the path, it was impressive. It looked like a big hawk, but we couldn’t be sure. Then we heard another screech, close as well. Could they just be talking to each other? We kept walking. Apparently not a good idea. Another few steps down the path, the bird flew into the air and came swooping down toward us . . . fast. I ducked, and started to run back, and it pursued until Donny got its attention by waving his hands in the air and yelling. Back to safety behind a bush, out of breath, we laughed. This was silly, wasn’t it, being menaced by a bird? We made a plan. We´d confidently just walk quickly by, giving the bird´s bush a wide berth, so it would know we were just passing through.
Threat Level Elevated!
That plan didn’t work either. This time the bird´s attack was more aggressive. It came within a few feet of our heads, and I had hit the ground, covering my eyes and yelling for help. Donny had a better technique waving his hands above him again (trying to look big works on bears, right?), but we were still forced to retreat. It didn’t help that Donny started contemplating (aloud) how easy it would be for the bird to rip out our guts or pluck out an eye. In the meantime, another couple had caught up to us on the path. The guy had a camera and a big tripod. He´d come to photograph the flamingos. He was local, so we were sure he’d have some insight. We waited to see what would happen when he tried to pass, and felt a little justified when his wife waited behind. The hawk swooped down on him as well, but he waved it away with the tripod before retreating. He told us the worst thing to do was to run, and that the four of us should walk on together waving our arms above us. He also said not to lose sight of the bird, so we would know where it was descending from.
We gathered our courage and walked forward together. Our friend with the tripod held it above his head while we stuck close around him. The two birds of prey swooped around overhead, screeching and threatening. It was terrifying. Hearts racing, we pressed on. At some point, when we had left its territory, or gotten far enough away from where the nest must have been, the hawk stopped the attack. We´d made it out alive! We thanked our new companions, and continued our walk. Though we didn’t have a bird ID book for the reserve, with further research, our best guess is that the bird of prey was a Cinereous Harrier. They are similar to a long-tailed hawk, have a wingspan of 46 cm (18 in) or so, and a very long tail. They make their nests on the ground, which definitely corresponds to what we saw that day. To this day, I have one eye on the sky when hiking anywhere there may be a bird of prey. When we were in Tagong in southwestern China, there was an incident with a Himalayan Griffon that brought on a painful flashback!