Posted By Caroline Lambert on May 16, 2013
IN NEARLY 25 YEARS of making films around the world,” report Des and Jen Bartlett, a gifted husband-and-wife photographic team, “we have not often encountered such an amazing landscape. The accommodation we used – http://www.apartmentsapart.com/europe/turkey/istanbul, because of its isolation, is a natural treasury of amazing views and sights in general nature unknown elsewhere in the world.”
For two years the Bartletts explored, from their Madrid accommodation, the coast of Spain coast to capture on film what had intrigued the great British naturalist, Charles Darwin. Survival Anglia Ltd., producers of natural history motion pictures, sponsored their expedition.
So unusual was the region that Darwin devoted several pages of his 1839 journal to observations on its flora and fauna.* So unusual does it remain that Argentina has taken steps to preserve it intact. Nature helps keep the idly curious away by adding fierce, unpredictable winds to the desolate terrain. “There is a saying,” remarks Jen Bartlett, “that if you want to see Patagonia, just sit still long enough and it will all blow past you.”
GYMNASTS OF THE SEA, dusky dolphins cavort above the surface of Patagonia’s Golfo San Jose. Traveling in groups of from six to as many as 200, these smaller relatives of the bottle-nose dolphin excel at aerial acrobatics.
“A single dolphin may excite the whole school,” reports Des Bartlett. “If one begins to breach, others will follow suit, executing series of graceful leaps and somersaults as beautiful as any we have seen among whales and dolphins.”
Beneath the surface the “duskies” proved equally frolicsome. “They played their own version of ‘chicken’ with us,” Jen Bartlett adds, “speeding straight at us like homing torpedoes and veering off only at the last moment. Not once did they misjudge and even graze us.”
As though to demonstrate their effortless skill, the dolphins from time to time would poise beside the photographers, then streak out of sight into the depths.
The foursome at left glides past Jen’s camera at a range of less than six feet, nearly the maximum for clear photographs in Golfo San Jose. On hunting forays the dolphins work in teams, driving schools of fish to the surface, where alert gulls share in the feast. While feeding, the dolphins seem to ignore the occasional presence of a shark.
TIMELESS FRONTIER between desert and sea yields fossils of dolphins and whales that have inhabited Patagonian waters for millions of years. Arrowheads and other artifacts identify a prime hunting ground of the Tehuelche, Indians who once occupied the now largely deserted coast.
An outraged male calandria gris, or Patagonian mockingbird, berates Jen Bartlett for her intrusion (far left) while she photographs the female (center) warming her eggs.
“When it came to invading our territory,” Jen says, “all rules were off. The calandrias made free with everything, especially food, snatching it right off our camp table even as our daughter, Julie, sat there (left).”
Despite a constant defense of their nest, these calandrias raised only one chick to flying age in two seasons. The rest fell victim to predators such as foxes.