Nomads in No-Man's Land: Hoping for the Right Bird Call

  • Mike Nolan

The opportunity to observe a number of marine mammals and aid in their study and conservation is a daily occurrence during a Nomads of the Seas journey. Humpback whales, Chilean dolphins, and colonies of sea lions are daily sights. It did not take long before the ecotourists aboard Atmosphere could distinguish Magellanic penguins from the Humboldt variety. (The Humboldt bird has a pink patch at the base of its bill.) The identification of sea birds was more problematic, given their great numbers.

On land, during hikes to waterfalls and, in Pumalín Park, during treks to groves of giant alerce trees, possibly the world’s oldest living plants, the call of the chucao (pictured), a robin-sized, red-breasted bird much easier to hear than see, would predict the day’s events. Darwin reported that the natives “held [the chucao] in superstitious fear.” We birders did as well. It is believed that if the chucao’s call is heard from your right, the future will be full of wealth and wonders. But when heard from your left, the birds’ song is followed by nothing but bad news. To alter a dire prediction, the hearer must take his clothes off and curse the bird. Darwin’s fellow travelers aboard the Beagle may have been willing to observe this ritual, but the Atmosphere’s passengers were not.

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