Monday, September 27, 2010

Patagonian Natural History: A Compact Field Guide

It’s so simple - if elegantly so - that it’s surprising nobody has done it before. A pair of Argentines, María Cecilia Costa and Diego Punta Fernández, have assembled a lavishly illustrated, bilingual fold-out pocket guide to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares Flora & Fauna that deserves to be in every hiker’s daypack in southern Argentina - and Chile.

Printed on durable paper, this field guide begins with a brief introduction to the park and its environments, complemented by a schematic map of its glaciers, periglacial mountains, Andean-Patagonian forest, scrublands, steppes and wetlands. The guide proper consists of 134 full-color photographs - only a bit bigger than thumbnail size but suitable for easy identification of 60 bird species, half a dozen mammals, and 64 species of vascular plants. All plants and animals are designated by their common names in Argentine Spanish and in English, plus their formal Linnaean genus and species.

In fact, in my opinion, the guide has only two minor shortcomings. First, in this often inclement climate, it would make sense to laminate the paper, even if that adds to the cost. Second, the text would benefit from adding common names in Chilean Spanish, which differs for some plants and animals, as visitors to Chile’s Torres del Paine will find it almost equally useful.

In an email exchange, Punta Fernández told me that the guide is on sale for 35 pesos (about US$9) in various outlets in and around the park. These include El Calafate’s Boutique del Libro and Atando Cabos Libros, Parador La Leona on the highway to El Chaltén, and El Chaltén’s own Viento Oeste alpine supply store and Librería Marcopolo. It’s also available through many hotels in the area, and has the endorsement of Aves Argentinas, BirdLife International, and the Administración de Parques Nacionales (APN, Argentina’s national park service).

For those whose trip also includes Tierra del Fuego, Costa and Punta Fernández have also published a separate field guide to Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego and the Beagle Channel Flora and Birds. I’ve not yet seen it but, if it even comes close to the standards of Los Glaciares, it’s a worthwhile acquisition.

Another Reminder: Moon Argentina Tours California
After tonight’s digital slide lecture at Distant Lands in Pasadena (7:30 p.m.), I will return to northern California for a Tuesday night talk at REI Fremont (7 p.m.), followed by a Wednesday night event for the World Affairs Council of Northern California, East Bay (at the Lafayette Public Library, 7 p.m.) and a Thursday night lecture (7 p.m.) at REI Mountain View, in the heart of Silicon Valley.

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