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Bañado La Estrella

In the northwest corner of Formosa Province a huge wetland surrounded by hardwood forest reflects the sky. This is Bañado La Estrella, one of three largest wetlands in southern South America, along with Brazil’s Pantanal and Argentina’s Esteros del Iberá. Born of the Río Pilcomayo, this series of lagoons and estuaries teems with a rich variety of wildlife. Sunsets are especially magical.

Bañado La Estrella formed in the 1960s when the Río Pilcomayo was naturally dammed by debris, causing it to overflow. The dimensions of the Bañado varies with rainfall. It can measure 10-20 kilometers (6-12 mi) wide and 200-300 kilometers (124-186 mi) long, covering up to 400,000 hectares (988,421 ac). With summer’s torrential rains, the Bañado grows, forcing indigenous communities along the northern edge to move to drier grounds. Part of it crosses over the Tropic of Capricorn. The Bañado creates its own microclimate: semi-tropical within the semi-arid Chaco. Here is where the Dry and Wet Chaco ecosystems meet with Paranaense and Yungas Forests. Thus, Bañado La Estrella has an extraordinarily rich biodiversity.

Trees take root on chámpales (islands or sand bars). High forests are characterized by algarroba (Prosopis spp), mistol (Ziziphus mistol), guayacán (Caesalpinia paraguariensis), holy wood (palo santo, Bulnesia sarmientoi) and the quebrachos. Low forest is composed of sacha sandia (Capparis speciosa), Chañar (Geoffroea decorticans), itín, also called palo mataco (Prosopis kuntzei), among other species. Other representative plants are carnauba wax palm (caranday, Copernicia alba), giant bullrush sedge (totora, Schoenoplectus californicus ssp) and water lettuce (repollito de agua, Pistia stratiotes).

The diversity of wildlife is eqully impressive. This is the habitat for giant anteater (oso hormiguero, Myrmecophaga tridáctila), capybara (carpincho, Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris), collared peccari (pecarí de collar, Pecari tajacu), tapir (Tapirus terrestres), jaguar (yaguareté, Panthera onca), crab-eating fox (zorro de monte, Cerdocyon thous), maned wolf (agaurá guazú, Chrysocyon brachyurus), giant armadillo (tatú carreta, Priodontes maximus), southern spectacled caiman (yacaré, Caiman yacare) and dozens of other animals. In this kingdom, snakes also reign, including the yellow anaconda (curiyú, Eunectes notaeus) and the venomous false water cobra (ñacaniná, Hydrodynastes gigas) and yarará (víbora de la cruz, Bothrops jararaca).

In a local indigenous language, Pilcomayo means Río de los Pájaros, or River of Birds. Bañado La Estrella is, indeed, a birdwatcher’s paradise. The over 300 species present include Jabiru (Jabiru mycteria), Crested screamer (Chajá, Chauna torquata), Black-faced Ibis (Bandurria Austral, Theristicus melanopis), Roseate spoonbill (Espatula Rosada, Ajaia ajaja), Glittering-bellied Emerald hummingbird (Picaflor Común, Chlorostilbon lucidus), Black-legged seriema (Chuña Patas Negras, Chunga burmeisteri) and Spot-backed puffbird (Durmilí, Nystalus maculatus), along with varieties of herons, ducks, storks and cormorants.

The best place for observing birds in Bañado La Estrella is El Vertedero, 45 kilometers (28 mi) north of Las Lomitas. This popular tour stop is where the broadened river flows over Ruta Provincial 28. Another way to see the Bañado is to take Ruta Provincial 32 to Fortín Soledad, a hamlet in the heart of the wetlands, located 70 kilometers (43.5 mi) northwest of Las Lomitas. Travelers can explore the estuaries by canoe and visit Pilagá communities. Other access points to Bañado La Estrella are Río Muerto, Media Luna and Guadalcazar.

The best time to come to Bañado La Estrella is April-October, when the weather is drier and cooler. Winter droughts are common. In July, temperatures can dip to 5ºC (41ºF). Summer is oppressively hot. Temperatures over 50ºC / 122ºF are possible. From October to April, 600 millimeters (24 in) of rain falls. Essential gear are hat, sun protection, insect repellent and, of course, a camera with plenty of memory (or film) and back-up batteries.

Tours Operators

Ricardo A Moreno (in Las Lomitas: Tel: 43-2112 / 03717-1537-9463, E-mail: turi_aventura_banado_laestrella@argentian.com)

El Jabirú Avistaje (in Las Lomitas: Tel: 43-2435, E-mail: info@eljabiru.com.ar, URL: www.eljabiru.com.ar)— specializes in birdwatching; bilingual guides

Chilo Ruiz (in Fortin: Tel: 03715-43-2388)—for trips in the Ruta Provincial 32 sector

Hotels

There are no hotels, per se, in the Balñado. The nearest such accommodations are in Las Lomitas. There is a campground, Camping Punta del Agua La Lomitas, which also offers tours. (Km 45, Ruta Provincial 32; Information: Rojas 85, Formosa capital, Tel: 03717-42-5880, E-mail: turi_aventura@hotmail.com).

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Other places nearby Bañado La Estrella: Fuerte Esperanza, Misión Nueva Pompeya, Ingeniero Juárez , Parque Provincial Pampa Del Indio, Reserva Nacional Formosa, El Sauzalito , Roque Sáenz Peña, Parque Nacional Chaco, Parque Nacional Río Pilcomayo and JJ Castelli.







By Lorraine Caputo

Upon re-declaring her independence at age 29, Lorraine Caputo packed her trusty Rocinante (so her knapsack's called) and began...

08 Jun 2010

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