My interest in the natural world was likely motivated by my dad at an early age. While in high school I met friends that were attending college and a French peace corps volunteer with whom I enjoyed spending time in the outdoors and learned how to listen and observe nature from within. We constantly visited protected areas and national parks in southern Chile. First, I started collecting insects; then shooting every bird that was at shooting range of my BB gun and my 22 rifle. I made notes on the birds and quickly learned how to prepare the skins and mounted these at a local museum. My sleeping room was a collection of pinned and live insects, including -for more than a year- a live mouse opossum that became active at night and roamed all over the place. This was the subject of my first publication that I wrote during my first year in college. I used a typewriter and carbon paper, and yes, I had to cut sentences with scissors and paste these with scotch tape as retyping was a daunting task. Rather than enjoying summer vacations as my high school classmates did or staying with my family, I enjoyed being in the woods and hiking mountains. At 15, I got my first job with the Forest Service as a naturalist guide, and luckily for me, to guide during the day and give lectures at nigh to visitors in Conguillío National Park. Although the salary was miserable, it was much fun.
Formally, my first research was my undergraduate thesis on the behavioral ecology of diurnal raptors in the mountains near Santiago. As the hawks relies on mice, I became interested in small rodents. This led to my second job, being the responsible scientist on the conservation program of the long-tailed chinchillas in a remote desert locality in north-central Chile. I lived in the mountains with the chinchillas -cacti and kissing bugs- for about 3.5 years, still studying birds of prey, along with rodents. There, I opened my interest to study culpeo and chilla foxes, as chinchilla predators. These were the subject of my masters’ degree. For my doctorate I attempted to study the three largest mammals of the southern forests: the Darwin’s fox, the guiña cat and the pudu deer. After several failed attempts I gave up -the rain, the mud and the dense forest beat me and were the winners- and I chose the easier way of studying the nesting success of puddle ducks in the prairies of North America.
Back in Chile, I insisted on conducting research on Darwin’s foxes on Chiloé Island and on the new population we discovered on the mainland, in Nahuelbuta. My initial research on the mouse opossum continued. The fascinating Slender-billed Parakeets, living around my home drew my attention. Working with poachers and climbing many tall trees to get to their nests was much enjoyment. Then, the opportunity to conduct research in the Cape Horn region on the world’s southernmost forest opened. I studied the amazing Magellanic Woodpecker, along with resident and migratory passerine birds and the exotic American mink.