The prosperity of early 20th century Argentina and the vast distances between its cities led to the creation of Aeroposta Argentina, the airmail. The Patagonian route was opened in 1929, flying mail from Bahía Blanca to Comodoro Rivadavia in single-engine, open-cockpit planes. Among the handful of brave and skilled pilots flying this route was one Antoine de Saint Exupery who later became known and loved worldwide for his story “The Little Prince.”
Less well-known is Saint Exupery’s chilling novel “Night Flight,” the story of the last flight of Fabien, one of the airmail pilots. Heading north to Buenos Aires after taking off from the town of San Antonio Oeste, he encounters a huge storm that covers the entire center of Argentina…
Today, San Antonio Oeste is a popular summer beach resort town and a Site of International Importance in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network. Manomet operates the WHSRN executive office as part of our work to restore and maintain shorebird populations.
San Antonio Oeste is the home of a wonderful nature interpretation center,Vuelo Latitud 40 (Flight Latitude 40). VL40 engages and informs visitors about the shorebirds, especially Red Knots, that stop at San Antonio Bay, seeking a safe place to rest, refuel and do a little feather “maintenance” if needed before continuing on the way north, ultimately to the Canadian Arctic.
The similarities of the birds’ needs to those of the courageous early airmail pilots were striking. Our colleagues at Fundación Inalafquen who developed the nature center were quick to realize the power of connecting Fabien’s story with the Red Knot story.
They reincarnated Fabien as a rather dapper Red Knot — Playero Rojizo in Spanish — complete with flying helmet and aviator’s scarf. They dubbed him “Fabien Rojizo” and made him the symbol of shorebird conservation at San Antonio Bay. As part of a “Pride” campaign co-financed by Rare and Manomet, a human-sized version of Fabien visits schools, dances on the beach, attends meeting with mayors of other cities, and leads the annual shorebird festival at San Antonio Bay.
And Fabien recently got a new plane! Recognizing their common interests in the area’s natural, cultural and literary heritage, a partnership developed between Fundación Inalafquen and the 65-year old Aeroclub San Antonio Oeste. During the upcoming edition of the San Antonio Bay Shorebird Festival, the Aeroclub SAO will offer flights to get a shorebird’s eye view of the Bay.
In honor of the shorebird festival and the new partnership, Aeroclub SAO has named its 4-seat Piper Archer “Fabien Rojizo.” Fabien will continue to fly at San Antonio Bay along with the flocks of Red Knots, telling the story that has joined humans and shorebirds in the same sky for so many years.
We at the Manomet Center applaud the creativity of our friends and colleagues at Fundación Inalfquen and their understanding of how to connect emotionally with the broader community. They exemplify our vision of a hemisphere where shorebirds and human activities benefit from one another, for generations to come.
– Charles Duncan