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Wild Pumas and the
Wildlife of Chile

This report will augment the brochure for our 2018 Trip
as it provides most of the details, and will give you an
excellent idea on what You Can Expect .
Please contact our office for exact dates and prices
(as of 2-2-2017)

The mother Puma with her cub rolling over her back.

Our last afternoon with the Puma family, and a curious cub.

Date: 2016 If you read my previous trip report, for 2014, you might suspect we could never improve, or even come close, to the luck we had in 2014. That was an incredible trip, and our tour, then, was before the national park imposed some severe restrictions -- namely, no off-trail hiking for Pumas. When this rule was enacted we passed on returning to Chile in 2015, fearful that the good shooting was finished.

As you'll see with this trip report, that certainly is not the case! On all my previous trips two goals eluded me. One, we never had a mother Puma with cubs. And Two, we still had not photographed a kill as it took place. We came close in 2014, for a hunt, and we came even closer this year, seeing three different hunts although none proved successful. This year, however, we truly struck gold with the Pumas, finding a female with three and a half month old cubs.

These photos were made while we were on foot, not from a boat or a vehicle as oen would for shooting jaguars, lions, or tigers. These images are also cropped for impact, although some of my most striking shots were made at 560mm. While we were on foot, we never stressed our subject, as we spent hours simply watching and getting the cats used to us. I'm not sure if every group (and there are several 'tours' here) do this, and pressing closer, and doing so quickly, is a disservice to the Puma, potentially stressing or frightening the animal. We didn't do this, and we don't. Our group this year (as is usual!) were incredibly patient and sensitive, and quite willing to let things play out -- never pushing for a better shot. Consequently, I think we were rewarded -- in spades!

Mary and I will be returning to Chile in two years with another group (or two), and I hope this report and images motivate you to join us. We have an incredible team, my good friend and outfitter started Puma tourism -- that is a undisputed fact -- and knows the park like no other. Read the report, and you'll see what I mean!

gDay 1. Although everyone arrived yesterday, the tour formally began today. We encouraged early arrivals because of the potential of troublesome winter weather, but the skies cooperated and everyone reached Punta Arenas without incident. This evening we had our welcome dinner, which began rather disastrously when the Chinese restaurant where I made reservations we found closed when we arrived. Today was some sort of religious festival … of the virgin, someone guessed … and perhaps business was so slow that they decided to close for the day, despite reservations for seven. I was a bit baffled, and suggested we head to another popular restaurant that had a quiet back room. Yesterday we had lunch here and that room was empty. When we walked there, I found in full --- with no empty tables, and we suspect the holiday crowd had descended upon this restaurant. Even more perplexed, we headed to the main street where Rhett had noticed another Chinese restaurant. This one was open, and a buffet, and relatively sparse with customers. We ate there, and spent a long time chatting about a variety of subjects for what turned out to be a very pleasant first dinner.

tDay 2. To Torres del Paine

We left our hotel in Punta Arenas at 8:30AM for the three hour drive to Puerta Natales where we would meet our guides and transfer luggage from our transit vehicle to the 4X4s we be using. After a good lunch at a local pizza place, we headed out for the 2 hour drive to the park. During this transit we saw virtually all the expected endemics – Lesser Rheas, Chilean Flamingos, Patagonian Gray Fox, Guanacos, one Austral Parakeet, multiple Condors, Southern Caracaras, and several other birds.
After checking in at our lodge we took a short break to allow the light to lower, and headed out at 4:30 for our afternoon drive. Our first serious subjects were the Guanacos, where we spent a great amount of time waiting for some dynamic action. At varying locations we filmed Guanacos leaping over wire fences, and where we worried that their babies, Chalingos, would be separated as none attempted a fence jump. All were eventually united with their mothers.
If you look very, very closely, in the lower left you may see a small white spot, the head of our first Puma. We broke the ice on the first afternoon, a good omen for the trip!

gOur wonderful scouts, Rod and Christina, radioed that they had a Puma and we raced there, driving a surprisingly short time down the road before finding them. The cat had been spotted by a Guanaco, which stared intently and whinnied several alarm whistles, and we had very distant views of its head poking through the vegetation or, finally, seeing its full body briefly as it turned and walked away.
We were about to head to the lodge for dinner when our guide, Diego, spotted another cat on the same hillside. It disappeared, and we hoped that it was hunting a pair of Guanacos that were moving along the hillside above it, but the Guanacos headed uphill and the Puma never reappeared. A few of us saw it.
We headed home but stopped as a long line of Guanacos ran down a hill and approached the road. As Diego’s car, which was in the lead, stopped, the Guanacos raced across, kicking up dust and looking quite striking backlighted by the late evening sun. Loreli, as their vehicle resumed heading home, glanced out and saw the cause of the stampede – another Puma, that had charged but missed its kill. Everyone imprudently bailed out of their vehicles to look, but the cat disappeared, finally being spotted when it darted from cover and raced downhill along the fenceline. We headed for home, having seen three Pumas, a Hognose Skunk, a Yellow Armadillo, and Condors and Guanacos.
Day 3. We left the lodge at 4:45AM, hoping for a sunrise on the Towers, but it didn’t happen. The rock faces were shrouded in clouds. While we waited for the light to break we had coffee and our breakfasts, before continuing to look for Puma.
Diego took one vantage point and I continued to another, where Steve and Loreli shot European Hares hopping about and  a cooperative Lesser Rhea, before heading back to where Diego and his driver were, having spotted a mother Puma and half-grown cub. They were on a distant ridge line, and after climbing a still further hill settled down in brush. There, the cats made a very serious stalk on two different p
If you look carefully, you may see the tiny head of a second Puma to the right of the adult. This was her half-grown cub, and the cub's inexperience and enthusiasm ruined this hunt as the cub sat up to watch the Guanaco as it neared.

Guanacos, but the cub blew one by sitting upright to watch, and the other failed when the Guanaco moved uphill. Still, it was exciting, and had the guanacos moved slightly differently they’d have been beneath the Pumas, and may have chased their prey downhill, closer and towards us.
bbWhile we were waiting for the various hunts we photographed Cinnamon-bellied Ground Tyrants, Chestnut-collared Sparrows, Andean Condors, the Common Snipe, and Patagonian Finches. A mating pair of Guanacos obliged, with the female rising at one point and the male hanging on, clasping her hips with his forelegs but not even trying to mate. That, they did, in the usual way, with the female sitting down and taking their time about it.
Before we entered the Park where our guides had seen a tame Gray Fox we stopped for one of our own, only about 200 yards from our lodge and in an open meadow close to roadside, and later two Guanacos that waded or ran across the river bordering the road. I was driving, with Steve and Loreli shooting, but it was fun positioning people for good shots. Inside the Park we unsuccessfully searched for the Fox in a landscape that, two years ago, we could wander through without restrictions. Now off-trail and off-road hiking is forbidden, and this unnecessary rule makes the experience inside the park far less pleasurable than all the other, and many, times I’ve been here. At 11:30 we returned to the lodge for a mid-day break, a 12:30 lunch, and an afternoon nap before the evening shoot.
. This afternoon was an incredible Rhea day. We hoped to find one of the several Male Rheas that were shepherding chicks, and ended up photographing at least four different families. Three had tiny chicks, patterned vividly in black and white that were remarkably conspicuous against the scrub and stones. One family had an adoptee, a chick that was at least twice the size of the striped chicks and already showing the shady feathers of an adult.
We headed into the park next, driving to the fence line area where we heard the alarm whinnies of Guanacos, but the calls were generated by fights and not a puma. We walked out a few hundred yards, and were treated to wonderful silhouettes of Guanacos against stormy skies, and panning shots as fighting pairs ran by. At one point, I was set for a slow shutter speed pan when a fighting pair came charging by us, straight on, while Steve had a fast shutter speed and froze a wonderful image. As we headed towards home we spied a pair of Guanacos that were in a very serious fight, with one Guanaco lying downhill, as if dead, while the aggressor grabbed and pulled at the hind leg of his victim. We thought it was dead but we noticed its tail wagged, and eventually the victim got up and ran, with the aggressor charging behind. It caught the Guanaco again, but this time the victim stayed hunkered down, and after a few bites the aggressor finally left it alone.
A slow shutter speed and panning created this blur to convey motion.

Day Four.
Today we hoped to find the relatively habituated Puma with two kittens, and so despite the first clearing morning revealing the Towers of Paine, and a spectacular sunrise sky, with layers of flaming yellow-orange clouds striping the eastern horizon, we headed towards the lake. Our scouters, Rod and Christina, encountered the Pumas while we drove, as the three cats were right beside the road, and crossed it, on the way to the lake. We raced to meet them, parked, and headed over the tundra-like landscape towards the lake.
pChristina was already in position, on a ledge overlooking the rocky lakeshore, while we watched from far above. After getting some insurance shots Rod led us on a horseshoe-shaped route towards Christina. For the last dozen yards or so we stooped or duck-walked in, as we worried that the Puma might spook, dash for cover, and end the shoot right there. She did not, although she flattened somewhat and gave us a stare, but soon relaxed, and for the next four hours we were treated to a wonderful shoot of the Puma mother and cub. Another cub was off to the side and never joined the mother, and occasionally squeaked out a call that his mother ignored. Christina had never seen Pumas nursing, and we had that through much of the morning.
pBy 1PM threatening weather finally hit, and it began to rain. The cub ducked underneath the small cliff behind the mother, but as the rain intensified the mother was bothered and eventually rose, stretched, and stepped out of sight, taking shelter beneath a ledge or a cave. At this point, Dick, Steve, Loreli, and I headed back to the lodge, to download or shower, while Rhett, Greg, and Diego and his girlfriend Anna, stayed behind. About an hour later the cats reappeared and moved down the beach to another cave and ledge, where the mother Puma and both cubs interacted, playing and wrestling.
pMeanwhile, I finally got a hot shower! After downloading and backing up Steve and Loreli and I headed out, around 4:45PM, with the rain still falling. The Chilean Flamingos were close to shore along the lake so we took a diversion and tried the birds, getting closer than I ever had before, but stopping before we spooked the birds into flight. We continued on to join the others.


fDiego, Greg, and Rhett hadn’t seen the Pumas for over an hour and were soaked and cold, and they were ready to head home. We replaced them, with Dick joining us in the second car. A cold, somewhat wet hour followed, as we stared at an empty cave entrance. Rod asked me how long we wanted to stay, and I replied, let’s give it an hour. Thirty minutes later a cub appeared in the cave, and soon his brother, and over the next 1.5 hours or so we had the cubs, and occasionally the mother, wander along the rocks and caves. Towards the very end of the shoot the mother climbed atop the rocks where she was framed by the gray sky, a beautiful final image to conclude a spectacular day with Pumas.

Day 5.
Because we were going to do a full day in the park, we did not get up for sunrise as a group. Several of us did, but the Towers were shrouded and the eastern sky veiled enough that there wasn’t a spectacular shot. Accordingly, folks slept in for a gwelcomed 7AM breakfast. We headed out at 8, stopping for a rainbow, guanaco, and landscape that went very well. We continued on, stopping for some scenic and, for Dick and I, a Patagonian Gray Fox that hunted, approaching us quite closely at one point. Greg surprised us by catching the fox as it dug out a LIZARD. I’ve seen a few lizards here – amazing in this so-often-cold environment, and today it was not a very warm day for reptiles.
gAt the campground area Rod and Christina found an Austral Pigmy Owl. We were quite close but the shooting was difficult, but the bird flew off, mobbed by Austral Blackbirds, and flying on to varying perches before, temporarily, disappearing. I found it next, right above me as I went to duck under a branch, but the bird flew off a short time later. Then it perched, in the open, on a long dead branch, with an immature Owl only a few feet away. The shooting couldn’t have been better, with light that flipped from full sun to overcast, giving us multiple lighting situations. We left the two birds undisturbed, and twenty minutes later I returned, without a camera, to check, but the birds were gone.
fooIf you look carefully, you will see the adult and the immature Austral Pigmy Owl.

In the campground area we had Plantcutters, Sierra Finches, Thrushes, and a Yellow Armadillo – quite cooperative, sometimes scurrying within feet of us. We afinished that shoot at the lake shore, photographing the incredible mountain view.
Driving towards the east we stopped for Yellow Lilies and Porcelain Lilies, and where I had a cell phone signal. I called Mary and informed her of the incredible luck we’d been having.
We had our late picnic lunch at a spot in the park I’d never been to, a beautiful scenic riverine forest of beech trees, many overhanging a crystal clear small river. I was shooting scenic when it occurred to me that Magellanic Woodpeckers should be around, and less than two minutes later I spotted one in the distance, hopping about on a tree. Rod started beating a stick on a tree trunk, which I didn’t think would work since it wasn’t doing the ‘tap-w
tap’ cadence these birds use, but the bird flew straight to us, and stayed, close, on various trees for several minutes. Everyone got great shots.
Diego found an incredibly tolerant Ringed Kingfisher, the largest Kingfisher in the Western Hemisphere, perched on a limb above the river. We shot it from multiple kk
What a difference light makes. With a cloud cover, the image is attractive and muted.
When the sun shone, I went for a high contrast rim light effect.

angles, with Steve, Rod, and Diego wading into the river for the clearest view.
We headed home, stopping for Ashy-headed and Upland Geese, landscapes, scouting for Pumas, and finally reaching the lodge at 8, still in good light but with nothing spotted we decided to make an earlier evening. Marcello, one of our drivers, spotted a Puma on the ridge right behind our lodge – giving us still another Puma sighting for the trip, and capping the day.
Day 6.
We hoped to find the mother Puma and cubs today, and headed directly to the lake area and ignoring any scenics. As luck would have it, the skies were completely clear at dawn, and although no dramatic red skies colored the eastern horizon, the Towers glowed with color, which we glimpsed as we drove along. This is a hard choice – ignoring a nice scenic (albeit one shot a thousand times) to go for the Gold Ring, if we find the Pumas.
pIn contrast to our first day, when Rod and Christina found the Pumas by the road and we needed to race to the Pumas, today there were no sightings, at first, and we drove slowly. Eventually we got radio word, they had found the cubs, and soon after the mother Puma, but they were still in transit, and the two Scouts didn’t want to press in close, hoping that instead they would continue on to the lake.
They did, and soon after we geared up for a rather taxing and steep hike up a hill before descending, and descending, down the opposite slope where we met Rod and Christina staking out the Puma. Rod was high above and greeted us, and pointed out the cats. They were hunkered down and facing away from us, with a limestone/tufa rock formation that resembled a submarine between us. We had a limited shooting session, then moved on to a different position for a better view. We had a lot of down time, so at one point I decided to explore, and discovered innumerable caves and ledges where a Puma could disappear. Diego radioed that we were going to move in closer, which we did, and had a brief session with the Puma, including a great sequence when the Puma went to the lake shore to drink, and there was greeted by the cubs. Oddly, the Puma pooped in the lake twice, and we wondered if she was trying to keep her ‘house’ clearn.
Diego headed back to the vehicle to collect our lunches, but he found that I still had the car keys. He had a long hike to retrieve the keys, being met by Christina in route. Meanwhile, one of the cubs, a bold one, climbed atop a Tufa column and went to sleep. The guides thought this was wonderful, but it was so far away a photo was useless. When Diego returned, we moved closer, stopping at the submarine where the cats had been resting.
pFrom this new vantage we did a lot of shooting of the posing/sleeping cub, but the kitten kept sleeping for hours. Occasionally the other cub would wake up and poke his head out from the rocks, but he was shy. Rarer still, the mother Puma would sit upright, revealing herself. Rod suggested that we move back, away from the lake shore, so that the Puma could pass. I suggested we stay, figuring that the Puma would circle us if she wanted to go that way, and climbed the borderline ridge line to pass. That’s if she wanted to, and I was counting on, instead, that she’d perform on the rocks instead.
Rod was right, the Puma did want to cross along the lakeshore, and she did exactly that, walking straight to and passed us. Prior to this, she played with the cubs, and walked to the water where she again pooped and peed in the lake. When she was finished, instead of walking away, she turned and walked directly at us. It was exciting, but the cubs didn’t follow immediately. Eventually the first cub started to follow, but got shy the closer it was to us. We quickly backed off, giving the kitten room, but the cub wouldn’t budge. Mom Puma hadn’t gone far and in clear view of us, gave her bird-like chirp to beckon them. It didn’t work, and she finally got down from her rock where she was calling, and retrieved the cubs. The three walked along the shoreline, disappearing in the rocks, and we left them to continue on to the guanaco baby that she killed and buried last night.
pThis was our last day with Rod and Christina, and we delivered a nice tip and thanked the two of them for the great job and hard work they’d done. We reached our lodge by 8, and I quickly did a COLD shower. Fortunately the others had warm showers, and all had salmon for dinner, finishing a stellar day.

cDay 7. Our last day in the Park and after an exhausting and extremely rewarding day yesterday we had another 7AM breakfast for a more leisurely morning. I was up early to check on a sunrise shoot, but the mountains were covered in clouds. As we had breakfast Marcello stepped outside and spotted a Puma on the steep hillside that shadows our lodge. He had seen a herd of Guanacos staring uphill and whistling alarms, and followed their gaze. The large male had killed a baby Guanaco, and was carrying it across the hillside. Like a leopard, the Puma straddled the kill as it walked across and then up the hillside, his hind legs spread out a bit awkwardly and his head raised high to carry the carcass. While the Guanaco couldn’t have weighed much, the cat looked like it was struggling – understandable going up that steep ridge. Steve was using a 600mm with a 2X converter, and although he had to zoom in tightly with the LCD for us to see detail in the images, nonetheless he got some neat shots as it carried and, at one point, stopped to chew at the carcass. I was limited to 800mm and decided that it was more productive to just watch the cat with 18X binoculars, or at 8,000mm equivalent with the camera on LiveView and the magnification increased by 10X. Some of the hotel staff shot cell phone pics of my LCD screen for some pretty nice shots. I tried it, too, but couldn’t get the cellphone camera aligned properly. The cat finally dropped the carcass and buried it a bit, but not completely, and then moved up the slope where it cuddled into a rock ledge and spent the day.
gMeanwhile, Guanacos were running around below us, with a male finally catching a female for mating. We had our big lenses out and headed down into the meadow below the lodge where we spent the next hour or so photographing the Guanacos as they mated or ran about. I had luck approaching the herd with a wide-angle for shots with the mountains in the background, but the entire group did much better later.
We headed into the western end of the Park where we started our trip five days ago, stopping at the waterfalls for scenic shots. Diego noticed, as did I, that several different songbirds were hopping about, squeaking alarm calls, above a thicket. We suspected they had located the rare Geofrey’s Cat, and we spent several minutes looking, but if this cat acts like an African Wild Cat, it would stay hunkered down and invisible unless spooked. We didn’t spook it, and it didn’t move, and we eventually gave up our search.
gWe continued on, and had several great sessions with Guanacos, including babies playing and two different adults that posed wonderfully against the mountains. One sequence, where we waited minutes as the Guanaco grazed and gradually moved towards a ridge, was particularly rewarding with the Guanaco climbed up the low rise and posed for minutes, giving everyone a chance for both horizontal and vertical shots of the Guanaco against the towers. With a telephoto, and the resulting compression, the images were great.
gWe searched unsuccessfully for a fox den, had lunch, and a 2 hour break/nap before heading out in the afternoon for a 65 km drive to a remote estancia where Diego had seen Magellanic Horned Owls. Previously this Great Horned Owl look-alike was classified as a subspecies, but it is now listed as a separate species. We hoped to see it.
En route we had a great Yellow Armadillo – I was driving and didn’t shoot, but Steve got wonderful shots that looked eye-level, and passed numerous Rheas. Along a rise we encountered a lone Gaucho with several dogs and a small herd of cattle. Diego went out to ask permission, and I directed the Gaucho to a better position where we framed this cowboy and his horse against the distant mountains. The longer we shot, the more he got into it, kicking his horse into some great animated moves. He said there were 700 cows and we laughed, not realizing that just down the road we’d soon find the rest of the herd, completely blocking our route.

We got out again and shot images, as the Gauchos and their dogs worked the herd. The noise of bellowing cows was almost deafening, and with dust kicked up by thousands of hooves, the scene was primal. It was a highlight.
oWe continued, and after fording a small stream and driving along a little used track we reached the site of the owl. Diego and I went looking, and Diego inadvertently flushed it from a bush but the bird flew only a short distance and resettled. Everyone got great shots in the two subsequent locations where the bird landed, and after the second, we left the bird still sitting, undisturbed, by the session. We were looking for some songbirds and as we did so multiple Andean Condors started streaming passed, giving us the best opportunity we’ve had for this giant bird. With that we headed home, hoping to find another Puma.
Our male Puma was still lying by his rock, although he rose a few times to stretch, and we had no other reports of any others. We let it be, but at dinner Marcello suddenly pointed out the window again, telling us that the Puma was now visible to the naked eye silhouetted against the horizon. We left our chairs to look, just enjoying this final iconic view until the cat sauntered over the ridge and out of sight – a spectacular visual to finish the trip. At dinner, we reviewed favorite shots and favorite spots and shots, with the favorite location including Diego’s secret picnic area where we had the Woodpecker and Kingfisher, and, of course, the lake region where we had the incredible luck with the Pumas.

lfmHighlights varied, for Diego and I it was the group, and the wonderful dynamics we had with everyone being patient, cooperative, and ethical and sensitive – not pushing wildlife or birds, and for several others it was either one of the two Puma encounters, and the Woodpecker. Favorite shots were wonderfully varied, from Puma mother and cub, to Woodpecker, to Gaucho … the entire array was extremely diverse. With that, now past 10PM, we headed to bed for packing and our departure tomorrow.

cDay 8. We had a 6:30 breakfast and left soon afterwards, with the group arriving at the airport at 11:20. Again, I awoke early to check for sunrise, and although the eastern horizon was clear and bright, the mountains were invisible, veiled in fog and rain. The rain, just a light shower, reached us as we departed, and as we drove towards Natales it rained heavily. We had to believe we were extremely lucky with the weather! Two days earlier, with the Pumas, we had on every bit of warming clothing we had, as the day started at 32F. Yesterday, when we finished the first Guanaco session, we were wearing T-Shirts, and today, it was once again chill and damp and raw. For our six days of shooting, we could hardly ask for better weather – considering what T del P can offer!
The airport scene was chaotic. Our driver, pulling a luggage wagon, was in the bus lane so our goodbyes had to be brief, as he had to move the vehicle for the waiting buses. I gave hugs and handshakes – too brief but necessary – and continued on to Punta Arenas where I’d spend an overnight. My time would be spent finally culling, as I had no time to do so during the shoot. The trip went extremely well, and I’m anxious to return – two years from now!


For lenses, I used the Canon 200-400mm with 1.4X conveter and the new Canon 100-400 for most of my shooting. I kept a 1.4X III tele-converter on the 200-400, so my working range was 280-560, or up to 784 or so when I flipped the built-in converter as well.

For this trip I used an F-Stop camera backpack. The bag has the most comfortable frame and straps of any camera bag, an important point since we were walking with our gear to get to the Pumas. I used 64 and 32gb Hoodman Cards, which are incredibly fast, somewhat essential when shooting fast action -- and we had plenty.

Refer to our BROCHURE to get an idea of next trip! The brochure (as seen as of 12-17-2016)may not be completely updated for 2018, but the itinerary will be similar.