Male Torrent Duck - Merganetta armata armata - Pato cortacorrientes - Rio Pingo, Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile
Our trip through Chile with the tour company BirdsChile was drawing to a close, and we still hadn't seen the Torrent Duck - a bird that is emblematic of wild and free Andean rivers - and the actual emblem of BirdsChile. We had diligently searched earlier and farther to the north around Puerto Varas, but with no success. Raffaele Di Biase, the founder of BirdsChile, indicated we had another chance at the end of our trip in Torres del Paine National Park. And he was right!
November 15, 2016 show-cased the howling wind and sideways rain that occasionally occurs in Patagonia. Undaunted, we set out with our guide Julio Llanos along the upper bank of Rio Pingo in Torres del Paine National Park. After a relatively short but soggy trudge through the challenging weather, there it was - a Torrent Duck, bobbing and weaving in the flood-swollen river. Through our rain splattered optics we were able to achieve good looks at the charismatic duck, but photos were out of the question.
We returned to the site in the early evening of the 16th. The weather was fine, with the sun just breaking through the clouds. The river had dropped substantially, revealing a smooth path of gravel and flat rocks along the bank. From the suspension bridge that crosses the Rio Pingo just by the visitors centre, we spotted the bird downstream.
I moved quickly along the water's edge, careful to check my footing and to not disturb the bird. From a safe distance I began taking photographs of the scene, including the habitat rich, heavily-cropped, record shot above.