I’m not sure what the second most visited spot is in El Calafate, Argentina, after the UNESCO world heritage-listed Los Glaciares National Park, home to the Perito Moreno Glacier. If it’s not, it should be the Laguna Nimez Municipal Reserve, or Reserva Municipal, a richly diverse sanctuary that provides remarkably easy access to a phenomenally wide array of Andean and Patagonian birdlife.
Framed by the southern shores of Lago Argentino, the country’s largest freshwater lake to the west and snow-capped distant Andean mountains peaks to the north and east, the panoramic landscapes are dreamy, incorporating marshland, beaches and dunes into its 35-hectare expanse.
All that just a kilometer or so from El Calafate’s busy town center, making this one of the finest easily-accessible birding areas you’re likely to come across anywhere.
More than 80 birds call the reserve home; I saw at least a couple dozen that I could distinguish during a casual 90-minute stroll including the Chimango Caracara (Milvago chimango) and Cinereous Harrier (Circus cinereus), pictured below, butting heads. The screeching was brief but loud.
That was just part of the sweet symphony.
Pairs of Southern lapwings danced through the sky. Chilean Flamingos, balancing on impossible skinny legs, picked deliberately at the mud. A variety of ducks and coots swam lengths of the lagoon behind them. A pair of Black-faced Ibises let me observe them from just a few meters away. Acting as Kings of the realm, Caracaras flew, swooped, landed and observed. a harrier had no problem engaging in a stare off.
In birding, even relative newcomers like myself know that timing is of course everything. The time to visit is either just after dawn when nature awakes or a few hours before sunset when activity is at its greatest. I went in late afternoon when the light was also most cooperative.
A self-guided interpretative trail begins at the small visitors center –English and Spanish maps and brochures are available– that allows enough distance between you, the birds and their habitat to get sensational views, oftentimes up close. Please stay on it; the dunes, impacted by low temperatures, little rainfall and fierce winds, are especially fragile.
About 3km in length, the hike through the varied landscape is easy and flat; as elsewhere in this part of the planet, the most threatening aspect is that notorious Patagonian wind.
Open daily 9am to 7pm. Allow yourself at least a couple hours. Three is even better. Four is best. Binocular rental available.
Sixteen more images below.
Southern Lapwings. (A previously-published mini gallery shot elsewhere in Patagonia is here.)
Chimango Caracara (Milvago chimango).
And a few more panoramas.
Laguna Nimez Municipal Natural Reserve / Laguna Nimez Reserva Natural Municipal
Av. Kirchner y N. L. Alem, El Calafate, Argentina
Phone Number: +54 2902 495-536
Images from February 2013.