Valdes Peninsula – Puerto Madryn, Argentina
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Valdes Peninsula is about a 1-1/2 hour drive (96km) from the center of Puerto Madryn, Argentina. I booked an all-day tour that included whale and dolphin watching, sea lion and elephant seal colonies, my little penguin friends and other indigenous wildlife including wild guanacos and Patagonian Maras. It was expensive at 2,500 pesos ($165 usd) and not really geared towards the photographer (most tours aren’t) but it was professionally run and got me back out into nature once again. If you ever visit Puerto Madryn I think the whale watching alone would be worth the effort.
Both the Patagonian Mockingbird and Rufous-collared Sparrow (pictured above) are VERY common in these parts but I’m drawn to them nonetheless. I will fess up now and tell you that none of the photos in this post are all that great. For the most part they’re technically competent but not particularly interesting, no really cool animal behaviours captured this time around (unlike photographing the raptors in El Calafate). However, they are illustrative of the types of critters you’re apt to see if travelling to the peninsula.
The first stop on the peninsula was to see the Southern Right Whales and dolphins (plenty of whales but no dolphins). These whales grow to 15 to 16 meters in length (49 to 53 feet) so they’re big but not HUGE like Sperm Whales. Many of the female whales had young calves with them about three months old. The above photos show a whale breaking the surface, another blowing its twin spouts, one flipping its tail (fluke) and a closeup headshot. Seeing whales closeup and personal is exciting and dramatic, viewing photos of whales not so much (sorry).
Our next stop was to the sea lion and Elephant Seal colonies. I’ve photographed sea lions and seals plenty of times but never had the opportunity to photograph the HUGE Elephant Seals. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get very close and I had to shoot from quite a distance with my 400mm lens. Like whales they can be fun, interesting and dramatic to watch in person but looking at photos of them can be pretty boring (again sorry). By way of compensation I will include two better photos from my time in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.
Our last stop was to see the Magellanic Penguins again. I love these little guys—I don’t think they’re as photogenic as the more colorful Gentoo Penguins but they’re damn CUTE. I love the way they waddle around on their flat feet (flippers). I was able to get very close to these guys and actually had to back up a few feet to keep them in focus with my 400mm lens. It’s hard to catch them with their eyes open—it’s like they’re continually dozing. When I’m taking the picture I can’t see that but when I’m processing the images about 90% of them have their eyes closed.
I will end this post with two shots of a Patagonian Mara. They are big-ass rodents and can reach weights of 35 pounds when fully grown. I had to shoot these critters from our vehicle and through a closed window from quite a distance. The image quality isn’t the best but I wanted you to get a glimpse of what they look like. If you’re interested you can Learn more here. As I mentioned earlier the cost of this expedition was pretty high and it wasn’t ideal for photographers but I didn’t want to miss the opportunity.
Photographer’s Field Notes: For the shots of the Southern Right Whales I used my Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM telephoto zoom lens. Sometimes it was not enough lens and at other times it was almost too much lens but my EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Super-telephoto prime lens would definitely have been too much lens in most shooting situations involving the whales. All of my static shots of sea lions, seals, penguins, birds and the Patagonian Mara were shot using the 400mm lens. SFD
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer, Traveller
Puerto Madryn, Argentina