Chile was a destination which Sara and I had fancied for many years – the combination of good birding with lots of Chilean and Patagonian endemics, and a modern infrastructure combined with superb scenery added up to a total experience which seemed hard to beat. Our appetites were whetted further by a visit to Ecuador in September 2001, our first South American trip, which included some high altitude Andean birding.
In November 2000, while birding along the roadside in Valle Nacional, Veracruz, Mexico we met Clive & Eleanor Hurley from Scotland, birded together for a couple of days, and stayed in touch thereafter. When I wrote to them to ask if they might be interested in a Chilean trip, they agreed immediately, and so the trip was born.
We decided to cover three distinct areas of Chile – the central part of the country, between Santiago and Concepcion, Chilean Patagonia starting from Punta Arenas, and the extreme north around Arica. The trip was a great success – we recorded nearly 250 species in just 12 days’ birding, an excellent total for this country, and saw the large majority of our target species, thanks largely to the superb local guiding we enjoyed.
Chile was a wonderful destination, and deserves to be high on every birder’s list of planned destinations. Forget any preconceptions you may have of Chile being a third world country - it is extremely safe and modern, with an excellent transport structure, good cheap accommodation and food, a number of high quality local guides and some of the best scenery you will ever see. And of course there are the birds – you won’t rack up a huge list in Chile (our total of 245 species was a wonderful achievement by our guides), but the quality makes up for this. Not only are there a large number of Chilean and Patagonian endemics, but you have the chance to see such magical species as Inca Tern, Magellanic Plover, Diademed Sandpiper-Plover and Torrent Duck.
The biggest problem, especially on a relatively short trip such as ours, is deciding which sites to visit. This certainly caused us some headaches during the planning stages, and in hindsight, we might have been better advised to have tried to cover two areas rather than three (Clive and Eleanor also added a few days around Puerto Montt to the end of their trip) given the limited time we had available. However, this was easier said than done.
We were reasonably satisfied with the amount of time we spent in both the far north and southern Patagonia – 4 days in each was a bit of a rush, but thanks to our guides we managed to see most of the specialities, and we would probably have needed several more days to find the remaining few missing species. We also loved both areas and would certainly not have wanted to leave either area out of our trip.
The area where we struggled most for time was Central Chile, where we missed several of the endemics and near-endemics. In hindsight, it might have been better for us to have omitted our long and time-consuming trip down to the Concepcion area, and spent more time in the Santiago area, which would have increased our chances of finding Crag Chilia, White-throated Tapaculo etc. However, had we done so we would not have seen some of the best birds of the trip such as Des Murs’ Wiretail, Rufous-legged Owl and Chucao Tapaculo!
Many thanks to Peter Lonsdale, who kindly sent me all the way from Canada copies of some older but extremely useful trip reports, annotated with his own sightings. Thanks also to Jon Hornbuckle for sending me a copy of his tape of some of the trickier species, which proved very useful.
We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to our guides in Chile – Ricardo Matus, Gonzalo Gonzaléz, Michel Sallaberry and Christian Gonzaléz who worked so tirelessly to find us wonderful birds throughout our trip.
As usual a lot of people helped with advice and suggestions while planning the trip – many thanks to Allen Chartier, Alvaro Jaramillo, Antonie Meiring, Barry Wright, Bjorn Johansson, Bo Beolens, Clifford Miles, Daan Sandee, David Donsker, Felix Jachmann, Gail Mackiernan, Gunnar Engblom, Ian Lewis, Jim Hully, Jim Yurchenco, John McAllister, John Penhallurick, Joseph Morlan, Murray Lord, Peter Browne, Peter Lonsdale, Raman Athreya, Ray Belding, Ron Johns, Steve Dark, Terry Witt and Volker Dierschke.
Finally, Sara and I would like to thank Clive & Eleanor for being such brilliant company throughout the trip – can’t wait to do another trip with you!
Gruff & Sara flew from London Heathrow (LHR) to Santiago de Chile (SCL) via Madrid (MAD) with Iberia. Clive & Eleanor flew from Edinburgh to SCL via Frankfurt with Lufthansa. All flights were booked on-line through Opodo (http://www.opodo.co.uk/, e-mail mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org, tel 0870 241 7051) and both routings cost UKP 515 each, including taxes – quite a bit more expensive than what I was being quoted when I first looked 12 months previously.
The Iberia flight times were scheduled to be as follows:
|Outwards:||Depart LHR 08.11.02 19:15, arrive MAD 08.11.02
|Return:||Depart SCL 23.11.02 14:15, arrive MAD 24.11.02
However, Iberia managed to make a complete mess of the whole thing, resulting in our leaving LHR 4 hours late, missing our connection in Madrid, and having to spend 24 hours in a hotel waiting for the next flight – extremely frustrating. Iberia behaved pathetically throughout the whole time – throughout the 7 hours we spent at LHR they refused to confirm whether or not we would make our connection, never apologised once during the whole delay period, and we have still not received any official explanation of why the problem arose.
We have heard that they are having serious problems with their computer system, and had been for a couple of months before our trip, and as a result many of their flights were experiencing difficulties – the one before ours to Madrid actually got cancelled. We shared our Madrid hotel with some Johannesburg-bound passengers who to our knowledge had to wait for at least 36 hours for their onward journey.
As a result of this experience, I would be very reluctant to trust Iberia again in the future – I accept that every airline has problems occasionally, but the way it was handled was both amateurish and patronising – all they seemed interested in doing was pointing out to us that they were paying for our stay in Madrid, as if we were supposed to be grateful when what we really wanted to do was complete the trip for which we had paid.
Clive and Eleanor’s flight with Lufthansa also had a few problems but got into SCL at 11:30 on 9.11.02. On 23.11.02 they went on from Santiago to spend a few more days in the Puerto Montt and Chiloé area before returning home.
Try to get a window seat for the flight into Santiago de Chile – some of the best views from a plane that you will ever see!
We travelled between the three main areas visited by taking internal flights with LanChile. All were booked on-line in advance – e-mail - mailto:email@example.com, web site – https://www21.lanchile.com/english/un/planifique/compra/index.htm
Flights taken were as follows:
|Santiago – Punta Arenas – cost CLP 143,668 (UKP 140) each|
|Santiago – Arica – cost CLP 129,118 (UKP 126) each|
In marked contrast to Iberia, LanChile were extremely professional and efficient throughout, and the whole process was very easy and convenient.
We had booked guides in each of the areas we visited, and they also provided transport, so we didn’t have to worry about making our own way around. More details are given in the Bird Guides section.
We’d originally arranged self-drive car hire around Arica, and the best deal I found by far was with a very helpful local company called Lys Car Rental – USD 59 per day for a group B car. Lys also has offices in other major cities in Chile. E-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org, web-site – http://www.lys.cl/
Whether or not you need 4WD really depends on the areas you plane to visit. We didn’t have 4WD in the Punta Arenas area, and had no problems visiting all the areas – some of the roads are untarred but generally driveable in a 2WD without any real difficulty. The same was true of most of the areas in the north, including the drive over to Surire, although some of the tracks around Parinacota and Cotacotani would not have been passable in a saloon car.
The biggest problem areas were in the centre- the coastal areas as well as Farellones were fine by 2WD, but I believe that El Yeso (which we didn’t visit) needs 4WD. Nahuelbuta definitely needed 4WD during our trip – the access road was pretty rough but probably passable, but some of the tracks within the park were very rutted and muddy. The side road we took to the right off the road from Chillán to Termas de Chillán would also have been very difficult without 4WD, and the road into Los Cipreses would also have been no fun in a saloon car.
Petrol was widely available throughout the area we visited, at a cost of c. CLP 440 (UKP 0.40) per litre. There are no petrol stations between Arica and Lauca NP, and a standard tank may not hold enough petrol to get there and back and allow local driving. Car rental agencies in Arica are used to this and will, on request, provide you with a spare fuel tank – ask in advance. In you’re stuck it is possible to obtain petrol in Putre, at a building opposite the grocer’s in the middle of town, but it involves siphoning it from plastic containers into the tank of your car, which is awkward, and I don’t know how reliable is the supply.
We also caught a ferry from Punta Arenas to Porvenir on Tierra del Fuego on one day. These sail just once per day during this summer period – during our visit the sailing from Punta Arenas was at 09:00 (09:30 on Sundays), and returned from Porvenir at 14:00 (13:00 on Saturdays, 17:00 on Sundays). Please note that there are no sailings on Mondays.
The crossing, which takes about 2.5 hours each way, cost CLP 22,300 (UKP 21) per car and CLP 3,700 (UKP 3.40) per passenger each way. Only single tickets are available, and advance reservations are required for vehicles. For vehicle crossings you must also turn up an hour before departure, in each direction. Contact the ferry company – tel +56 (61) 218100, fax +56 (61) 212126, e-mail – email@example.com
There is an alternative, cheaper, more frequent and much shorter ferry service from Primera Angostura (170 km north of Punta Arenas) – cost CLP 10,000 (UKP 9) per car, CLP 1,200 (UKP 1.10) per passenger each way. This is operated by the same company as the Punta Arenas – Porvenir crossing. It is however too short for serious seawatching.
The local currency is the Chilean Peso (CLP), although many businesses quote in US Dollars (USD). The approximate exchange rates against sterling (UKP) at the time of my visit (which I have used in translating costs throughout this report) were as follows:
The total cost of the trip is estimated at UKP 3,600, for 2 people (UKP 1,800 each), made up as follows:
|11.11.02||Paso Nevado Hotel, Avenida Libertad 219, Chillán.
Tel +56 (42) 221827 / 237788. Total cost for 2 double rooms and one single
room was USD 96 (UKP 62 – UKP 31 per couple) Very nice comfortable rooms,
although only one of the doubles was en suite.
|12.11.02||Hotel Irazu, Noruega 6340, Las Condes, Santiago de Chile. Tel +56 (2) 220 5941. Cost USD 34 (UKP 22) per en suite double room (guide returned home). Excellent value for a comfortable secure hotel in the middle of the city. We had dinner in the restaurant downstairs – cost about CLP 10,000 (UKP 9) per couple.|
|15.11.02||Hostería Mirador del Payne, near Torres
del Paine National Park. Tel +56 (61) 228712 / 226930. E-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org,
Double room CLP 112,000 (UKP 104), single CLP 53,420 (UKP 49) per night.
Total cost for 2 double rooms and one single room – CLP 277,420 (UKP 258
– UKP 129 per couple). We also had an evening meal here at a total cost
of USD 120 (UKP 80).
This was our one big extravagance of the trip, but it was worth the money just for the stunning views across Laguna Verde to the snow-capped Torres in the distance. Furthermore, while expensive, this hostería, which wasn’t actually within the park proper, was a lot cheaper than the hotels inside the park. The rooms were superb as well.
|16.11.02||Hotel Tierra del Fuego, Punta Arenas|
|17.11.02||Hotel Tierra del Fuego, Punta Arenas|
|19.11.02||Hostería Las Vicuñas, Putre|
|20.11.02||Hostería Las Vicuñas, Putre|
|21.11.02||Hotel Panamericana, Avenida Comandante San Martin
599, Arica. Tel +56 (58) 254540, fax +56 (58) 231133, e-mail email@example.com,
USD 59 (UKP 38) per room – total cost USD 177 (UKP 57) per couple. This
was an absolute bargain – a very comfortable sizeable hotel right on the
beach (Grey Gulls etc from your bedroom window!), with lovely rooms. Part
of a chain, with hotels throughout Chile.
We also had a superb meal in the hotel restaurant, again very reasonably priced at USD 90 (UKP 60) for the five of us.
|22.11.02||Hotel Diego de Almagro (Aeropuerto), Avenida
Américo Vespucio Oriente, Santiago de Chile. Tel +56 (2) 230 5600,
fax +56 (2) 230 5700. E-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org
Cost USD 90 (UKP 58) per room per night (guide lived locally). Another
great price for an extremely comfortable brand new 4 star hotel just five
minutes from the airport. Fantastic breakfast included in the price. Highly
recommended. Don’t confuse it with the other Hotel Diego de Almagro in
the city centre.
We didn’t have an evening meal here as we had again eaten well on our LanChile flight from Arica.
The standard of accommodation was generally excellent, even in quite small towns, and exceeded our expectations. Prices were variable, but the hotels in Punta Arenas, Santiago de Chile and Arica were especially good value.
As for the food, we have rarely eaten as well as we did on this trip. Supermarkets were very well stocked, resulting in excellent packed lunches, and food in restaurants was generally very cheap by UK standards, and the portions enormous. Both beer and wine were very good, and we quickly developed a taste for the local speciality, pisco sauro, often served as a welcoming drink on arrival at your hotel.
It was comfortable in the central area, perhaps 20 Celsius during our time there, although by the time we returned to Santiago de Chile for our flight home, the temperature had climbed to 35 Celsius. The north was also dry, with the high altitude making for cold nights and early mornings, but it warmed up very quickly once the sun came up. It was also very pleasant in Arica, dry and not too warm. The light was generally very good, with excellent opportunities for photographs.
It only rained twice during the whole trip – a short spell of drizzle in Torres del Paine on 16.11.02 and a thunderstorm in the Surire area on 21.11.02, although Clive and Eleanor had a little more rain during their extension to the Puerto Montt area. Gonzalo explained to us that while it was spring / early summer in the rest of the country, it was actually the start of winter in the altiplano around Lauca and Surire, and the start of the rainy season, which normally arrived in January / February. This can be a major problem at that time, with rivers overflowing and making passage difficult or impossible.
One last thing to note was that 2002 was an El Niño year, which was causing some odd weather effects – the rain in Surire was earlier than is normal, and spring had been late coming in the south. The central area had also experienced some unseasonal snowfalls in October that had affected the breeding of some birds.
There are no inoculations required for Chile, and no risk of malaria. In fact we didn’t see a single mosquito throughout the trip! No stomach upsets either, despite drinking the tap water in some places, although I’m not sure if it’s really safe to drink. We felt very safe throughout, although I’m sure that Santiago and other cities have their share of petty crime.
The biggest problem we encountered was with altitude sickness in the north, probably caused by the rapid ascent from Arica. Despite staying the recommended 24 hours at Putre before ascending further, Eleanor suffered quite badly from altitude sickness on arrival even at this altitude and spent most of the next day in bed. While she had recovered by the following day a trip up to Chungará caused a recurrence of the problem.
Sara also suffered to a lesser degree, although Clive and I had no problems at all. The symptoms seemed worse at night (in a confined bedroom with closed windows), and while the hotel were able to supply oxygen and coca tea to help alleviate the problem, it wasn’t pleasant.
The other main risk was of sunburn – the high altitude in the north
and ozone layer problems in the south made this a genuine risk, and necessitated
regular applications of a high factor sunblock.
Furthermore, some species found in the north are completely absent – Grey Gull and Canyon Canastero for example - and many recent splits are not covered, even as distinctive sub-species, e.g. the Scytalopus tapaculos, Chilean / Peruvian Elaenia, Dark-winged Canastero etc.
I also obtained a good road atlas while in Chile (a gift from Michel!), published by the Copec petrol company, and saw others used by various people during the trip.
Sites visited were as follows:
|09.11.02||We should have been spending the day birding the Andes around Farellones and El Yeso, but thanks to Iberia’s ineptitude, we spent the day kicking our heels in a Madrid hotel while Clive and Eleanor enjoyed the mountain birding!|
|10.11.02||Finally arrived at Santiago de Chile, met Michel, Clive and Eleanor, and drove south to Angol (580 km - 8 hours). Evening birding on road up to Nahuelbuta NP|
|11.11.02||Most of the day spent birding Nahuelbuta. Evening drive to Chillán (175 km – 2 hours).|
|12.11.02||Morning birding the Chillán Valley, up towards Las Termas de Chillán, drive to Rancagua (325 km – 4 hours), then side-trip to Reserva Nacional Río Los Cipreses (1.5 hrs each way). Drive to Santiago de Chile|
|13.11.02||Coastal loop trip – Santiago de Chile to Leyda, Rocas de Santo Domingo, San Antonio, Laguna El Peral, El Tabo and Algarrobo. Return to Santiago de Chile (1 hour) to catch evening flight to Punta Arenas. Total mileage 270 km|
|14.11.02||Morning birding road south from Punta Arenas towards Fuerte Bulnes and Puerto de Hambre. Afternoon trip to penguin colony at Seno Otway. Drive to area around Primera Angostura area near Punta Delgada, evening birding that area. Total mileage c. 300 km|
|15.11.02||Morning birding road towards Parque Nacional Pali Aike. Drive to Torres del Paine. Late afternoon and birding Los Baguales valley. Return to hotel near Laguna Verde. Total drive c. 500 km|
|16.11.02||Day birding Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. Drive back to Punta Arenas. Total drive 350 – 400 km.|
|17.11.02||Ferry crossing from Punta Arenas to Porvenir. Visit to Laguna de los Cisnes and to a Magellanic Horned Owl stakeout, then return ferry crossing to Punta Arenas.|
|18.11.02||Early morning flight from Punta Arenas to Santiago de Chile, and onwards to Arica. Met by Gonzalo, and travel to Putre, with short birding stops en route in Lluta Valley. Drive 150 km (3+ hours)|
|19.11.02||Morning birding dry and wet gorges at Putre, afternoon trip to Parque Nacional Lauca, visiting Las Cuevas, Chucuyo, Parinacota and Cotacotani areas. Drive 100 km|
|20.11.02||Morning trip again to Parque Nacional Lauca, same areas as yesterday plus Chungará. Late afternoon visit to Putre wet gorge. Drive 100 km|
|21.11.02||Day trip to Monumento Natural Salar de Surire. Drive 300 km, all along very dusty dirt roads – 3-4 hours each way. Drive down to Arica (150 km – 2 hours). Late evening birding on beach.|
|22.11.02||Arica sea front, Playa Corazones, visit to Inca Tern roost in Arica port, San Miguel de Azapa, Lluta River mouth, Lluta valley, return trip to San Miguel de Azapa. Flight from Arica to Santiago|
|23.11.02||Morning trip to Farellones with Christian (100 km return trip – 1.5 hours each way due to twisting nature of road). Flight home for Gruff & Sara, internal flight to Puerto Montt for Clive & Eleanor|
Comfort stops en route added Southern House Wren, Grassland Yellow-Finch and Picui Ground-Doves as well as providing better viewing opportunities of some of the species seen earlier, before we finally arrived at Angol a couple of hours before dusk.
We booked into our hotel for the night, where Sara and Eleanor elected to stay and freshen up while Michel, Clive and I drove a few kilometres up into the hills towards Nahuelbuta to see what we could find before it got dark. Our destination was a left to right hairpin bend maybe 7 km from Angol, where a densely-vegetated stream cut across the road, and this proved a very productive stop.
We had no sooner got our of the car before finding a lovely Thorn-tailed Rayadito in the roadside bushes, the first of many seen in the Nahuelbuta area. A pygmy-owl imitation brought in several more of these birds, as well as Fire-eyed Diucon and Grey-hooded Sierra-Finch. We next switched our attention to the several species of Tapaculo found in this area – tape playback almost immediately produced a superb Chucao Tapaculo, which gave sporadic excellent views – these proved to be very inquisitive birds, reacting not only to tape playback of their own calls but to pretty much any Tapaculo species.
A Dusky Tapaculo was not nearly so obliging, keeping largely to the
middle of the vegetation, but eventually gave brief but good views on the
edge of a bush. A Green-backed Firecrown showed up as were leaving, and
a brief roadside stop on the way back down resulted in the first Common
Duica-Finches of the trip.
Santiago to Angol – American Egret, Snowy Egret, Chimango Caracara, Southern Lapwing, Eared Dove, Picui Ground-Dove, Chilean Swallow, Southern House Wren, Chilean Mockingbird, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Long-tailed Meadowlark
Angol – Green-backed Firecrown, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Chucao
Tapaculo, Dusky Tapaculo, Fire-eyed Diucon, Grey-hooded Sierra-Finch
Approaching Nahuelbuta, a roadside spot produced some nice birds, starting with several Austral Blackbirds, Southern House Wren and many Thorn-tailed Rayadito, followed by another Chucao Tapaculo. We tried to tape a Magellanic Tapaculo into view, eventually getting the poorest of views, but given its relatively uninteresting plumage and the fact that it had called throughout this time, we were pretty satisfied. Next up was a pair of superb White-throated Treerunners, which gave excellent and prolonged views, while a small flock of Austral Parakeets flew over, one bird perching on a low branch allowing scope views.
Driving further towards the park entrance, Michel spotted a Chilean Pigeon perched in a tree to the left of the road, the only one we saw throughout the whole trip, and a Chilean Flicker was also seen, before we made one of many stops on hearing a Striped Woodpecker calling. Unfortunately, as was the case throughout the trip, the bird called just once and wasn’t located. However, this was soon forgotten when Michel found a Des Murs’ Wiretail, and although highly skulking, we eventually got good views of this highly-desired bird.
Commoner species seen en route to the park entrance included Chilean Mockingbird, Chimango Caracara, Eared Dove and Black-chinned Siskin, but the highlight came just as we arrived at the entrance of the park when a rail-like bird ran across the road, and was watched working its way down the slope into the trees – a Black-throated Huet-huet – fantastic!
Driving into the park proper, the birding didn’t seem quite as good as that on the entrance road. The main target here was Magellanic Woodpecker, which Michel had found fairly reliably here in the past, but we had no luck with this bird. A Southern Caracara glided by, and a pair of Tufted Tit-Tyrants gave bad views, while a Patagonian Tyrant was an excellent find, calling high in the trees above our heads. 2 other Striped Woodpeckers called but didn’t show, and a prolonged attempt at taping out an Ochre-flanked Tapaculo eventually produced good but very brief views for Eleanor and very bad views for Clive and myself.
Exiting the park, we wound our way back to Angol, bringing the car to a sharp halt when we heard a Magellanic Woodpecker calling from some trees next to the road – we reckon it was no more than 50 metres back from the road. Sadly, despite waiting here for about half an hour, we never managed to see the bird, and its calling faded further and further into the distance.
A comfort stop at a bridge over a stream produced a perched Red-backed
Hawk, and a Dark-bellied Cinclodes flushed from under the bridge. Back
in the car, it was time to leave Nahuelbuta behind and drive to our overnight
stop at Chillán, at which we arrived shortly before dusk, and booked
into a very nice small hotel for the night.
Angol - Chucao Tapaculo, h Ochre-flanked Tapaculo, Dusky Tapaculo, Chilean Elaenia, Common Diuca-Finch, Black-chinned Siskin
Nahuelbuta – Red-backed Hawk, Southern Caracara, Chimango Caracara,
Southern Lapwing, Chilean Pigeon, Eared Dove, Austral Parakeet, Chilean
Flicker, h Striped Woodpecker, h Magellanic Woodpecker, Dark-bellied Cinclodes,
Des Murs’ Wiretail, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, White-throated Treerunner, Black-throated
Huet-huet, Chucao Tapaculo, Ochre-flanked Tapaculo, Magellanic Tapaculo,
Chilean Elaenia, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Patagonian Tyrant, Fire-eyed Diucon,
Chilean Swallow, Southern House Wren, Chilean Mockingbird, Common Diuca-Finch,
Austral Blackbird, Black-chinned Siskin
Fortunately, we couldn’t see any sign of a corpse when we stopped, although there were several feathers on the road, so we may have clipped it. Needless to say there was no sign of the bird, and no others were seen, so this was one species which got away, however from the rufous and grey colour of the feathers, it is at least possible that this was our bird.
We eventually managed to find out turn-off, but before taking it we stopped to investigate some small bird activity which Michel had noticed in trees opposite the junction. Sure enough, we soon found what Michel had suspected – an Austral Pygmy-Owl getting a terrible time from flocks of passerines.
Satisfied with this sighting, we took the road, a rough dirt track to the right (south), which dropped steeply down to a river bed, and proceeded along for several kilometres towards the valley head. The habitat looked superb all along here, but sadly we just didn’t have time to explore it properly – too much ground to cover in too short a space of time.
Any disappointment was, however, very quickly forgotten when we realised that an odd-looking rock at the side of the road was an owl, and even more so when we realised that it was a Rufous-legged Owl! This is a seriously difficult bird to see – it is only the second that Michel had seen in 17 years’ guiding, and to see one at such close range and in broad daylight is almost unheard of! We slowly got out of the car, cameras clicking, and crept steadily closer and closer to the bird, wondering how close it would let us get before flying off.
The answer became apparent very quickly – as close as we liked!! The bird was incredibly tame, allowing us to crouch right next to it, and only complaining mildly when Michel lifted a wing to check if it was injured. It didn’t seem in any distress, and appeared well fed – Michel told us that while they are very difficult to see they do have a reputation for being tame when found. In any case, it allowed unrivalled photographic opportunities which Clive took to the full, while the rest of us just took in its superb intricate plumage and savoured the experience.
It was time to move on, and we did so in the best of spirits, returning to Chillán to collect Sara from the hotel, before starting on the long drive northwards towards Santiago, Clive and I taking turns with the driving to give Michel a rest. Before arriving back at Santiago, we had one further stop to make, at Reserve Nacional Río Los Cipreses, turning off the main Santiago road at Rancagua. From here we drove eastwards to Coya, and turned off southwards at the entrance to the large mine towards Termas de Cauquenes, then again to the left uphill on a dirt road towards the park.
Our main quarry here was Burrowing Parrot, for which Michel believed he knew a reliable site, but we made a couple of good stops en route adding Band-tailed Sierra-Finch, and flushing a pair of Chilean Tinamou. We arrived at Michel’s spot, and almost immediately found a flock of 8 Burrowing Parrots on an eye-level dead snag – another excellent photo opportunity.
Note that this spot was some way before entering the park itself, where
the slope fell away to your left, and before reaching a large deep valley.
From here it was back to the main road, and on to Santiago where we fought
our way through the early evening traffic to our small but comfortable
Chillán Valley – California Quail, Chimango Caracara, Southern Lapwing, Rufous-legged Owl, Austral Pygmy-Owl, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Austral Thrush, Chilean Mockingbird, Common Diuca-Finch, Austral Blackbird, Long-tailed Meadowlark
Chillán to Rancagua – Cattle Egret, Chimango Caracara, Southern Lapwing, Kelp Gull, Shiny Cowbird
Los Cipreses – Chilean Tinamou, California Quail, Burrowing Parrot,
The first small pond on the left hand side of the road allowed great comparison opportunities of Red-gartered and White-winged Coot. Also present were Spot-flanked Gallinules, several duck species including Red Shoveler, Chiloe Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal and Chilean Pintail, as well as Black-necked Swans and Pied-billed Grebe. A Cocoi Heron flew in and a group of Grassland Yellow-Finches fed along the track.
We then switched our attention to the much larger lake on the right hand side of the road, which held large numbers of birds. Several White-backed Stilts fed along the lake shore, a small group of Yellow-winged Blackbirds flew over and a pair of Correndera Pipits were watched foraging in some dried grass next to the lake. On the water were several Great Grebes, and Michel soon found for us a Lake Duck and a small group of the enigmatic Black-headed Ducks. Other common birds included Brown-hooded Gull and Neotropic Cormorant.
From Leyda we continued westwards reaching the coast at Rocas de Santo Domingo. We took a good sandy track down towards the sea, making an impromptu stop for Plumbeous Rail in roadside wet long grass and a planned stop for a cracking Spectacled Tyrant, for which this is a regular haunt.
On reaching the beach, we took advantage of Michel’s truck’s 4WD, and drove northwards along the shore towards the estuary of the Río Maipo, watching the roosting Band-tailed and Kelp Gulls, American Oystercatchers and Whimbrels along the way. We got to the estuary mouth, where we found a large flock of Black Skimmers and Elegant Terns roosting on the spit, while a number of Peruvian Pelicans and Franklin’s Gulls floated in the river mouth, and an unexpected Trudeau’s Tern drifted over.
We drove back into the town to get some lunch, and then drove around an area of beautifully maintained suburban gardens, stopping briefly for a White-tailed Kite, before finding our target - a pair of Rufous-tailed Plantcutters.
Time was starting to get on and we still had a number of target birds to try for, most notably 2 endemics in the form of White-throated Tapaculo and Chilean Seaside Cinclodes, so we pressed on, driving northwards along the coast to San Antonio. A brief stop opposite the pier here was productive, with a few distant Inca Terns around the pier, Peruvian Pelican and Great Grebes on the sea and Arctic Tern, Guanay and Red-legged Cormorants flying past, as well as groups of Southern Sea Lions sunning themselves on buoys in the harbour.
We next stopped at Laguna El Peral, just south of the village of Las Cruces, between San Antonio and El Tabo. The main aim of this stop was to see the fantastic Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, and this bird performed perfectly, with up to three or four birds showing and giving great close views – it’s difficult to describe just how attractive this bird is. A little further along we found our third coot of the day, a single Red-fronted Coot close to the shore.
From here we drove to Cordova, near El Tabo, and took a short road away from the coast to a scrubby ravine, which Michel has found good in the past for the highly elusive White-throated Tapaculo. Tape playback eventually produced a response, but the bird was quite distant, and we just didn’t have the time to wait for it to perhaps come into view – very frustrating to dip this bird through sheer lack of time. It is apparently most likely to be seen here in the early morning, and so in hindsight a very brief late afternoon visit didn’t appear likely to produce the bird.
A few other birds were seen here, most notably a Striped Woodpecker which Clive and Eleanor saw briefly, but which flew off before I managed to get onto it, as well as a Grey-hooded Sierra-Finch, but it was generally a very disappointing stop.
It was time to move on to our last stop of the day, at nearby Algarrobo, with time rapidly running out and 2 highly desired species, Humboldt’s Penguin and Chilean Seaside Cinclodes still to look for. At Algarrobo, we drove westwards along the coast to the end of the road at the yacht club (ask permission to walk around), an area which Michel has always found very reliable for the cinclodes, and where there is a breeding colony of penguins.
Unfortunately, we dipped completely on the cinclodes, and also looked like doing so with the penguin, until we eventually found one sunning itself on a rock near the sea. There were plenty of Peruvian Pelicans and Guanay Cormorants breeding on the rocks beyond the marina (restricted access during the breeding season), but the penguins didn’t yet appear to be in residence – an El Niño effect, perhaps?
Our time had run, out, and it was in a slightly disappointed frame of
mind from our two big dips that we headed back to the airport to catch
our evening flight to Punta Arenas and the next stage of our trip. With
the benefit of hindsight, it would probably have made much more sense to
have done today’s loop in reverse, i.e. start off at Algarrobo and El Tabo
for the difficult White-throated Tapaculo and endemic Seaside Cinclodes,
and then finished off the day at Leyda, where there were relatively few
critical species, and where the time of day was not so important. In fact,
if I repeated the trip, I would probably stay the previous night in San
Antonio, so as to be on site at El Tabo first thing the next morning.
Leyda – Pied-billed Grebe, Great Grebe, Neotropic Cormorant, American Egret, Snowy Egret, Cocoi Heron, Black-necked Swan, Chiloe Wigeon, Chilean Pintail, Cinnamon Teal, Red Shoveler, Lake Duck, Black-headed Duck, Spot-flanked Gallinule, Red-gartered Coot, White-winged Coot, Southern Lapwing, White-backed Stilt, Brown-hooded Gull, Correndera Pipit, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Yellow-winged Blackbird, Long-tailed Meadowlark
Santo Domingo – Peruvian Pelican, White-tailed Kite, Plumbeous Rail, American Oystercatcher, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Black Skimmer, Band-tailed Gull, Franklin’s Gull, Kelp Gull, Trudeau’s Tern, Elegant Tern, Spectacled Tyrant, Rufous-tailed Plantcutter
San Antonio – Great Grebe, Peruvian Pelican, Guanay Cormorant, Red-legged Cormorant, Brown-hooded Gull, Arctic Tern, Inca Tern, Southern House Wren
Laguna El Peral – Black-necked Swan, Red-fronted Coot, Brown-hooded Gull, Many-colored Rush-Tyrant
El Tabo – h Striped Woodpecker, h White-throated Tapaculo, Fire-eyed Diucon, Grey-hooded Sierra-Finch, Austral Blackbird
Algarrobo – Humboldt Penguin, Peruvian Pelican, Guanay Cormorant,
Having kindly picked us up at the airport late last night, Ricardo Matus collected us at our hotel early in the morning and took us down to the front for our first views of the famous Magellan Straits (Estrecho de Magallanes). A sewage outfall emptying into the water there might not have added to the scene for most tourists, but we far too enthralled by the flock of Southern Giant Petrels and Southern Fulmars swarming around and feeding. Gulls were also much in evidence, with a lovely Dolphin Gull flying over as well as the commoner Kelp and Brown-hooded Gulls.
From Punta Arenas we drove slowly southwards towards Fuerte Bulnes, stopping en route for good birds. The first stop produced Magellanic Oystercatchers, Bar-winged Cinclodes and the first of many Austral Negritos, while a little further along we found a small group of Kelp Geese and a pair of Flying Steamer Ducks on the sea, and Crested Duck on the shore.
Turning our eyes inland we soon found some Upland Geese and Coscoroba Swans on a small lagoon, before finding one of our main targets, Ruddy-headed Goose with a flock of Ashy-headed Geese along the shore of the lagoon. Ricardo has carried out a lot of research into the endangered Ruddy-headed Goose, and knows the birds well, so that we found several more flocks during the course of the morning. Other birds present here included Chiloe Wigeons, Southern Caracara and Black-chinned Siskins.
A little further along we stopped to enjoy the wonderful experience of watching Black-browed Albatrosses flying not far offshore – magnificent! South American Terns were also common here, as well as Magellan, King and Blue-eyed Cormorants, and several Peale’s Dolphins were watched porpoising among the kelp beds. A little further along more albatrosses and terns were seen, as well as Magellanic Diving-Petrels offshore and a group of Dolphin Gulls on some nearby rocks.
Near Fuerte Bulnes, the most southerly permanent settlement on mainland South America, we stopped at a place where Ricardo had recently seen some Rufous-chested Plovers. These birds breed on the pampas to the north, and then move southwards to the shore to spend the winter – it was getting late in the season for them here, but some had been present the previous week.
A small group of Chilean Teal were seen on a small pool by the roadside, a Black-faced Ibis flew in and landed nearby and a Patagonian Sierra-Finch perched obligingly on a nearby bush, but there was no sign of any plovers. A flock of Baird’s Sandpipers raised our hopes briefly, before a single Rufous-chested Plover flushed and flew away high, giving untickable views – never mind – we’d have to look for this bird on the pampas instead.
From here we drove to Puerto del Hambre, site of the first European settlement in this part of the world. The name translates as Port Famine, grim testimony to the fate of the first settlers who starved to death when the supply ship which had dropped them off didn’t return. This is as far south as the road goes, and produced a group of Blackish Oystercatchers and some fly over Chilean Skuas, before it was time to return to Punta Arenas (an hour late!) to collect Sara from the hotel and proceed northwards.
Our next destination, having called in at a superb supermarket to buy lunch, was the famous Magellanic Penguin colony at Seno Otway (Otway Sound), about 50 km from Punta Arenas. Having turned off the main road westwards at the sign for the colony and the mine at Mina Pecket, we stopped periodically to watch things of interest, which included several Patagonian Gray Foxes, Lesser Rheas, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Patagonian Yellow-Finch, Common Miner and, finally, a pair of Two-banded Plovers just as we reached the car park for the colony.
It was a fantastic experience being here – the sun was shining but the wind was blowing a gale – just as we’d imagined this part of the world to be! We walked out to the colony along the new boardwalk, seeing Austral Negrito and Short-billed Miner en route, and on arriving at the hide at the end of the boardwalk soon found a group of half a dozen Magellanic Penguin making their way through the sand dunes – Sara’s and my world penguin list had now grown to 4 species!
Another great sighting here was a pair of Flightless Steamer Ducks swimming just offshore, before we headed back to the entrance for our excellent packed lunch. From here we drove back out towards the main road, stopping along the way for my first Andean Condor, (another ambition fulfilled!), and Southern Caracara.
On reaching the main road, we turned again northwards, driving to Gobernador Phillipi, where we turned east towards Punta Delgada and the frontier with Argentina. Just before Punta Delgada we arrived at a turning to the right (Cinereous Harrier flying past the car) towards the ferry crossing across Primera Angostura (First Narrows) to Tierra del Fuego – just on this junction was our hotel for tonight. We drove down to the narrows, where we spent a while looking across the straits, and watching a flock of feeding Magellanic Penguins with attendant South American Terns and Chilean Skuas offshore, and King and Magellanic Cormorants flying past.
From here we returned to the main road, but before getting there took a track down to an area of wetlands, which was full of birds. Upland Geese, Chiloe Wigeons and Crested Ducks were common, and also present were Coscoroba Swans, Chilean Pintails and Red-gartered and White-winged Coots. A very obliging Least Seedsnipe was watched alongside the car, while Two-banded Plover and Bar-winged Cinclodes were also seen here.
Two new ducks for the trip were soon added – Silver Teal and a Rosy-billed Pochard, as well as some distant Silver Grebes, while I was delighted to see a large flock of Hudsonian Godwits, a wader that has eluded me on several previous trips to North America. Red Shoveler was also found here, while a Cliff Swallow perched on the ground within a flock of Barn Swallows got Ricardo quite excited – they are not common this far south.
Having seen everything we’d hoped for here, and with nightfall approaching, we left the wetland behind us, and headed into some drier areas in search of some localised species. Patagonian Mockingbird is one such bird, found in Chile only in this small area near Punta Delgada, but Ricardo knew of a reliable site, and sure enough there it was when we arrived – almost on the specific bush where Ricardo said it would be! Black-faced Ibis was also seen here.
A little further along, we brought the car to a quick halt when Clive found a fabulous Tawny-throated Dotterel on a dried-up pool along the road, with Grey-hooded Sierra-Finch also seen nearby. Our last stop was for the elusive Band-tailed Earthcreeper – this bird was previously considered an Argentinean endemic, but has recently been found breeding in this area of Chile, where it frequents small bushes along the roadside. It didn’t take long for us to find one, and although it didn’t stay in view for long, we got great views.
We got a little confused when it apparently reappeared, not looking
quite right, until we realised that this was a different bird, this time
a Scale-throated Earthcreeper. Time to finish for the night, and we headed
back to the hotel extremely satisfied at a superb day’s birding.
Punta Arenas – Southern Giant Petrel, Southern Fulmar, Brown-hooded Gull, Kelp Gull, Dolphin Gull
Road towards Fuerte Bulnes – Black-browed Albatross, Magellanic Diving Petrel, Magellan Cormorant, Blue-eyed Cormorant, King Cormorant, Black-faced Ibis, Coscoroba Swan, Ashy-headed Goose, Ruddy-headed Goose, Magellan Goose, Kelp Goose, Crested Duck, Flying Steamer Duck, Chilean Teal, Chiloe Wigeon, Southern Caracara, Southern Lapwing, Rufous-chested Plover, Magellanic Oystercatcher, Blackish Oystercatcher, Baird’s Sandpiper, Chilean Skua, Dolphin Gull, South American Tern, Band-winged Cinclodes, Austral Negrito, Chilean Swallow, Barn Swallow, Bank Swallow, Patagonian Sierra-Finch, Long-tailed Meadowlark, Black-chinned Siskin
Seno Otway – Lesser Rhea, Magellanic Penguin, Flightless Steamer Duck, Andean Condor, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Southern Caracara, Two-banded Plover, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Common Miner, Short-billed Miner, Austral Negrito, Correndera Pipit, Patagonian Yellow-Finch
Primera Angostura area – Silvery Grebe, Magellanic Penguin, Magellan Cormorant, King Cormorant, Black-faced Ibis, Coscoroba Swan, Magellan Goose, Crested Duck, Chiloe Wigeon, Chilean Pintail, Silver Teal, Red Shoveler, Rosy-billed Pochard, Cinereous Harrier, Red-gartered Coot, White-winged Coot, Two-banded Plover, Tawny-throated Dotterel, Hudsonian Godwit, Least Seedsnipe, Chilean Skua, South American Tern, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, Band-tailed Earthcreeper, Barn Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Patagonian Mockingbird, Grey-hooded Sierra-Finch
Pali Aike Road – Lesser Rhea, Two-banded Plover, Rufous-chested Plover, Least Seedsnipe, Common Miner, Chocolate-vented Tyrant, Austral Negrito, Correndera Pipit, Canary-winged Finch, Grey-hooded Sierra-Finch
Route 9, km 80 stop – Chilean Flamingo, Coscoroba Swan
Río Rubens – White-tufted Grebe, Black-faced Ibis, Chilean Teal, Chiloe Wigeon, Black-chinned Siskin
Puerto Natales – Black-faced Ibis, Black-necked Swan, Crested Duck, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle
Los Baguales – Black-faced Ibis, Magellan Goose, Crested Duck, Chilean Teal, Andean Condor, White-winged Coot, Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Dark-bellied Cinclodes, Chocolate-vented Tyrant, Grey-bellied Shrike-Tyrant, Cinnamon-bellied Ground-Tyrant, Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrant, Blue-and-white Swallow, Greater Yellow-Finch, Patagonian Yellow-Finch, Grey-hooded Sierra-Finch, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, Black-chinned Siskin
Laguna Verde – Chilean Flicker
Waterbirds were abundant throughout the park – we had soon recorded White-tufted Grebe, Black-necked Swan, Flying Steamer Duck, Chiloe Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, Chilean Pintail and Great Grebe, and male Lake and Andean Ducks side by side were very convenient! The wind had by now picked up considerably, and another try for Austral Rail failed to get a reply, nor could a singing Grass Wren be located.
A little further along, we stopped alongside a small lake to watch a pair of Rufous-tailed Plantcutters, as well as a group of Patagonian and Grey-hooded Sierra-Finches. A further stop at a swampy pond before reaching Salto Grande and Lago Pehoe failed to produce the hoped-for Spectacled Duck, but a small bird on the hillside to the right was pinned down and identified as a Lesser Canastero. While we were watching this, another bird popped up alongside it – an Austral Canastero! We had been trying for this bird sporadically over the last couple of days without any luck, so it was very satisfying to finally see one.
We made a stop at Camping Pehoe, on the right hand side of the road, in the hope of seeing a Striped Woodpecker at its nest – sadly, the nest proved to be unoccupied at present, but Chilean Flicker and Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail were seen here. We therefore continued along the road, turning right up the valley towards Lago de Grey, where we stopped and took the path to the right crossing the river on a rope bridge.
From here we scanned for Torrent Duck, but there was no sign at this often-productive site, before continuing across to the other side, where we tried to attract the attention of the Magellanic Woodpecker which are sometimes seen here. These were also unco-operative, as was a Striped Woodpecker which called briefly but didn’t appear. The weather had become cold and drizzly by this time – the only rain we had throughout the trip, so having enjoyed the view of icebergs floating down the Río Grey, we beat a retreat to the car.
By now we had seen most of our target birds, but there were still 2 ducks high on our want list – Spectacled and Torrent Ducks. We turned our attention firmly onto finding Spectacled Duck, and shortly afterwards found one of these striking ducks at the back of a reedy pool. From here we returned back out of the park the way we had come, ironically seeing a further 2 Spectacled Ducks en route, and then turned northwards off the Sarmiento road towards Laguna Amarga.
Here we turned northwards following and scanning the narrow swiftly-flowing river in the bottom of the gorge on our left, and eventually found our quarry – a stunning family group of Torrent Ducks – male, female and 4 ducklings, resting on a riverside rock. This was definitely one of the experiences of the trip, watching all 6 birds including the recently-fledged ducklings dealing with ease with the swift currents and white water.
Totally satisfied, we slowly drove out of the park, seeing a Patagonian
Skunk, some breeding Magellanic Oystercatchers and Blue-and-white Swallows.
From here we started the long drive back to the south-east stopping only
for a fly-by Cinereous Harrier, a Southern Caracara and some souvenir shopping,
as well as a rest break at Rio Rubens which gave us great close-up views
of a perched Austral Parakeets, before arriving back at our Punta Arenas
hotel after dark.
Torres del Paine to Puerto Natales – Cinereous Harrier, Southern Caracara
Río Rubens – Austral Parakeet
On arrival at Porvenir, we headed north to a lagoon in the Monumento Natural Laguna de los Cisnes, the most reliable place that Ricardo knew for Magellanic Plover. The water level in these lagoons has fallen alarmingly in recent years, covering just a fraction of its previous extent, and the glare of the salt-encrusted rock and extremely windy conditions made the birding quite difficult. A Cinereous Harrier greeted us on arrival, and on arriving at the lake shore we soon found a flock of Baird’s Sandpipers and a few Two-banded Plovers.
We headed for the shore and scanned for the plovers – no luck, although we did find a pair of Flying Steamer Ducks. We were obviously going to have to do this the hard way, so we started to walk along the rocky shore searching as we went. Just then, two birds flew in and landed right in front of us – a fantastic pair of Magellanic Plovers! We enjoyed great views of these magical birds for as long as we could stand the wind, before beating a hasty retreat to the car.
Short-billed Miners are apparently easier to see on Tierra del Fuego than on the mainland, and we soon found a couple of these birds while sitting in the comfort of the car. Having got the first of our targets we drove back to Porvenir, then took the road southwards towards Onaisin. A stop at a lagoon along the road produced more Flying Steamer Ducks, Coscoroba Swans and Chilean Flamingos, before we moved on to a site where Ricardo had found Magellanic Horned Owl roosting previously.
He’d located the bird before we’d even got out of the car, and we enjoyed
superb views of the bird while getting stuck into our packed lunch. Dark-bellied
Cinclodes and Southern House Wren were also seen here. Having completely
succeeded with our target birds, we had some time to kill before catching
the return ferry so we did some souvenir shopping and enjoyed a cold beer,
before getting back on the boat. Seawatching on the return trip produced
much the same birds as the outward sailing, although Pintado Petrel was
a very welcome lifer for me.
Ferry from Punta Arenas to Porvenir – Black-browed Albatross, Southern Giant Petrel, Southern Fulmar, White-chinned Petrel, Pintado Petrel, Magellanic Diving Petrel, Magellanic Penguin, Blue-eyed Cormorant, King Cormorant, Chilean Skua, Kelp Gull, South American Tern
Laguna de Los Cisnes – Flying Steamer Duck, Cinereous Harrier, Two-banded Plover, Magellanic Plover, Baird’s Sandpiper, Short-billed Miner
Road south from Porvenir – Chilean Flamingo, Coscoroba Swan, Crested Duck, Flying Steamer Duck
15 km south of Porvenir – Magellanic Horned Owl, Dark-bellied Cinclodes, Southern House Wren
Today was mostly a travelling day, with an eight hour flight from Punta Arenas in Chile’s extreme south to Arica in the extreme north, We arrived late afternoon, where we were met by Gonzalo Gonzaléz, and we drove north then east up the Lluta Valley towards Putre. A couple of brief stops along the lower Lluta Valley gave us some new birds for the trip – Peruvian Thickknee, Pacific Dove and Peruvian Elaenia at the first stop, and a flock of Andean Swifts at the second, with a pair of Peregrines in between.
The road climbed out of the bottom of the Lluta Valley, entering a real
desert environment, with no vegetation at all other than a few large cacti
(Cactus candelabro), and where the only birds of interest seen were
a few Greyish Miners which flitted across the road, one of which gave reasonable
views. By the time we got to Putre it was dark and we were all tired, so
after dinner we turned in early.
Lluta Valley – Peregrine Falcon, Peruvian Thick-knee, Pacific
Dove, Andean Swift, Greyish Miner, Peruvian Elaenia
Tuesday 19 November 2002
We had a pretty poor night’s sleep, with Sara suffering from bad headaches all night, presumably as a result of the altitude - Putre is some 3,500 metres above sea level. However, when I went to meet Clive and Eleanor, it transpired that Eleanor had been much worse, and the staff at the hotel had needed to bring her oxygen and coca tea during the night to alleviate the symptoms.
New birds were added around the hotel while we sorted ourselves out – Mourning Sierra-Finches were common, while Andean Hillstar and Chiguanco Thrush were also seen. The highlight, however, was the resident pair of Blue-and-yellow Tanagers, the male of which spends the first hour or so every day attacking the reflection of itself in the mirrors of parked cars – a slow learner, obviously!
Clive, Gonzalo and myself then left Eleanor recuperating in bed, and Sara eating breakfast and set off for the dry gorge area of Putre – found by proceeding into the centre of the town, and turning right down a side street, before clambering down the side of the ravine into the valley bottom. This was an excellent spot, which produced a number of very good birds. First birds seen were some Blue-and-white Swallows, followed by a Plain-breasted Earthcreeper and the first of many Cordilleran Canasteros.
A dark phase Puna Hawk soared overhead, while several Giant Hummingbirds were seen feeding around flowering bushes. Another Canastero was found, this time a Dark-winged Canastero, recently split from Creamy-breasted Canastero, as it is shown in the Rumboll and de la Peña book. Some Band-tailed Seedeaters were found feeding on the ground, followed by a Streaked Tit-Spinetail and then a Canyon Canastero – this latter bird is not even shown in the Rumboll and de la Peña book, as it has only recently been found to breed in Chile in the Putre area, but it seems quite easy to find in the dry gorge – easily identified by its very rufous plumage.
Blue-and-yellow Tanagers were seen before the best bird of the morning, a White-throated Earthcreeper was found, and gave superb views. Forget the white throat; this species is easy to identify from Plain-breasted by the extensively rufous wing and tail feathers in flight, and was watched for quite some time at close range. A White-browed Chat-Tyrant gave much briefer but satisfactory views, followed by a pair of Black-winged Ground-Doves.
Several Bare-faced Ground-Doves were also seen, mostly around the top of the canyon, and while looking at these birds we found a Sparkling Violet-ear around the tall eucalypts at the top of the slope. A Black-throated Flower-piercer also put in an appearance, but Clive was unfortunately unable to see it before it disappeared around the far side of a bush, never to reappear. We climbed (very slowly!) back up the side of the canyon, and spent some time looking unsuccessfully for the flower-piercer, while at the same time enjoying good numbers of Greenish Yellow-Finches and Bare-faced Ground-Doves feeding on the ground under some trees.
It was now time to try the wet gorge, to see what we could find – this is the area on your left as you enter Putre, and is accessed by driving into the village from the Hostería Las Vicuñas, immediately turning left and skirting the left hand edge of the village, until you see a set of steps descending down into the valley. Chiguanco Thrushes and Mourning Sierra-Finches were everywhere here, and wandering along the streamside path soon produced a cracking Golden-billed Saltator.
Black-hooded Sierra-Finch was also new for the trip, as was a small flock of Hooded Siskins, which were elusive at first but eventually gave good views – these birds turned out to be common in the area, and were even seen from our hotel window feeding on the ground. A Plain-breasted Earthcreeper gave better views than the individual at the dry gorge, and we also got further views of Streaked Tit-Spinetail, Cordilleran and Dark-winged Canastero.
By now it was lunchtime, and we felt that we had spent enough time acclimatising, so having checked up on Sara and Eleanor, Clive, Gonzalo and myself drove up towards Lauca for a superb afternoon’s birding. Our first stop was at a small semi-circular bog on the right hand side of the road near a sign for Lass Cuevas, where there was a breeding pair of the fantastic Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, probably the one bird above all others that we had wanted to see on the trip.
We got out of the car with some trepidation, quickly finding Andean Gull and Giant Ground-Tyrant, before Gonzalo called out that he’d found our bird. We ran over and enjoyed scope-filling views of a magnificent pair of Diademed Sandpiper-Plovers – pure magic! We called in at this site on two other occasions during our visit, each time quickly finding the birds in the same general area – there appeared to be 2 adults and 2 immatures present, with the adults showing signs of intolerance towards their offspring, often driving them away.
Having gorged ourselves on these birds, we scanned the rest of the bog, finding White-winged Diuca-Finches and Puna Ground-Tyrants as well as Bar-winged Cinclodes. A little further along we watched a small group of Vizcachas in roadside rocks, before continuing towards the Parque Nacional Lauca.
Several Puna Miners were seen along the roadside before we reached the village of Chucuyo and turned left towards Parinacota, getting our first glimpse of the wetland birds that are so abundant throughout this area. First seen were Giant Coot, Crested Ducks and Sharp-winged Teals, followed by a flock of Puna Ibis. We stopped at the famous roadside colony of nesting Andean Flickers, getting great views of several birds, and a little further along found our first flock of the stunning Black Siskins – definitely one of our favourite birds of the trip. A pair of Grey-breasted Seedsnipe crouched right at the roadside, trusting totally in their camouflage, and more Giant Ground-Tyrants were seen in the area.
From here we skirted Parinacota lake – this produced no new birds for the trip, but allowed excellent views of Silvery Grebe, previously seen only distantly, our second Andean Duck of the trip as well as more Puna Ibis, Giant Coots, Bar-winged Cinclodes, Cordilleran Canasteros, Andean Gulls, Black-hooded Sierra-Finches and another Grey-breasted Seedsnipe. We arrived at Parinacota village, finding another Andean Flicker on the roof of the church in the middle of the village, then took the rough track off to the right towards Cotacotani lake.
This route was fantastically scenic, winding through rocky countryside, with wetlands everywhere, and Parinacota and Pomerape volcanoes towering in the background throughout. New species added included White-throated Sierra-Finch and Black-crowned Night-Heron, as well as more White-winged Diuca-Finches and a fly-past Mountain Caracara.
Plumbeous Sierra-Finches were also seen before we had what was one of the sightings of the trip – a pair of Red-backed Sierra-Finches which flushed from right alongside the car, flew across a narrow stretch of water, before landing on some rocks on the other side – very nice views of a very difficult bird, and Gonzalo’s first sighting from this area, which excited him greatly! Scanning the various bodies of water eventually produced Puna Teal and a few Andean Avocets as well as Neotropic Cormorant, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper and more Puna Ibis, before adding Andean Negrito and Andean Lapwing to our list.
By now we had reached the main road south of Parinacota, and headed back towards Putre. Please note that much of this track around Cotacotani was pretty rough, and a 4WD was probably necessary to complete the circuit, at least during our visit. There is also a police checkpoint near Chucuyo, at which you are required to stop and explain your intentions – this area is very near the border with Bolivia and drug-running can be a problem.
On our way back towards Putre we took a minor detour to the left to
a small abandoned building, near which Gonzalo had found a breeding pair
of the berlepschi race of Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail – one was
soon found, and an Andean Swallow also flew over, before we finally headed
back to Putre. By the time we had arrived back both Eleanor and Sara were
up and about and feeling much better, so we decided on a return visit to
Lauca the next day.
Putre – Puna Hawk, Bare-faced Ground-Dove, Black-winged Ground-Dove, Sparkling Violet-ear, Andean Hillstar, Giant Hummingbird, White-throated Earthcreeper, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, Band-winged Cinclodes, Streaked Tit-Spinetail, Dark-winged Canastero, Cordilleran Canastero, Canyon Canastero, White-browed Chat-Tyrant, Blue-and-white Swallow, Chiguanco Thrush, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Golden-billed Saltator, Band-tailed Seedeater, Greenish Yellow-Finch, Black-throated Flower-piercer, Black-hooded Sierra-Finch, Mourning Sierra-Finch, Hooded Siskin
Las Cuevas – Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, Puna Ground-Tyrant, Giant Ground-Tyrant, White-winged Diuca-Finch
Lauca – Silvery Grebe, Neotropic Cormorant, Black-crowned Night-Heron,
Puna Ibis, Andean Goose, Crested Duck, Andean Teal, Puna Teal, Andean Duck,
Mountain Caracara, Giant Coot, Andean Lapwing, Andean Avocet, Grey-breasted
Seedsnipe, Andean Gull, Andean Flicker, Puna Miner, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper,
Band-winged Cinclodes, Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, Cordilleran Canastero,
Rufous-naped Ground-Tyrant, Giant Ground-Tyrant, Andean Negrito, Andean
Swallow, White-winged Diuca-Finch, Black-hooded Sierra-Finch, Plumbeous
Sierra-Finch, Red-backed Sierra-Finch, White-throated Sierra-Finch, Black
Wednesday 20 November 2002
Having stocked up on food, water and petrol in Putre, seeing Band-tailed Seedeater and Greenish Yellow-Finch in the process, we drove out of Putre towards Lauca at about 08:00, stopping very quickly just outside town when we saw an endangered North Andean Deer on a bluff right alongside the road – fantastic views! Unfortunately, it didn’t stay around to be photographed, casually fading from sight over the next bluff and into the valley beyond.
Gonzalo had instructed us all to keep an eye open for Ornate Tinamou on the way up, and sure enough we found a pair of these attractive birds along the roadside before reaching Las Cuevas. A second visit to Las Cuevas produced the hoped-for Diademed Sandpiper-Plover for Eleanor, as well as Giant and Puna Ground-Tyrants, Bar-winged Cinclodes, Andean Goose, Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, White-winged Diuca-Finch and Sharp-winged Teals. The circuit around Parinacota and Cotacotani produced much the same birds as yesterday, unfortunately minus Red-backed Sierra-Finch, but finally succeeding in finding White-winged Cinclodes, which had eluded us up to now.
From Cotacotani we drove next to Chungará, reputedly the world’s highest lake, at an elevation of over 4,500 metres. This area produced much the same birds as the other areas visited, including some very confiding Black-hooded and Plumbeous Sierra-Finches at the excellent craft stalls near the lake. We had intended looking for Andean Coot on Chungará, but the insects were pretty bad here, so we beat a retreat, having to satisfy ourselves with good views of a Black-crowned Night-Heron of the very distinctive dusky obscurus race.
Unfortunately, both Sara and Eleanor were by now starting to suffer from bad headaches, so we retreated to the lower altitude of Putre, taking the old road into the town and making just one brief roadside stop for a mixed group of passerines which included our first Ashy-breasted Sierra-Finches, as well as Mourning and Black-hooded Sierra-Finches, Greenish Yellow-Finches and Cordilleran Canasteros.
Leaving Eleanor and Sara to recuperate at the hotel, we stopped briefly
to enjoy a Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant on a pole outside the hotel, before
paying our second visit to the wet gorge area, in the hope of finding a
Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant. Chiguanco Thrushes were again all over the place
and the Golden-billed Saltator was again located, while a Puna Hawk flew
overhead, this time a light phase bird, and an Andean Hillstar gave us
best views to date. Eventually, Gonzalo heard a Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant
calling, and succeeded in taping in the bird, which showed very well. Also
here were Streaked Tit-Spinetail, Blue-and-yellow Tanager and Blue-and-white-Swallow.
We made an unsuccessful attempt at Magellanic Horned Owl, an individual
sometimes roosting in eucalyptus trees in the middle of town, before deciding
on an early finish.
Putre – Puna Hawk, Andean Hillstar, Streaked Tit-Spinetail, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Blue-and-white Swallow, Chiguanco Thrush, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Golden-billed Saltator, Band-tailed Seedeater, Greenish Yellow-Finch, Black-hooded Sierra-Finch, Mourning Sierra-Finch, Hooded Siskin
Putre to Lauca – Ornate Tinamou, Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Puna Ground-Tyrant, Giant Ground-Tyrant, White-winged Diuca-Finch, Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch
Lauca – Silvery Grebe, Puna Ibis, Andean Goose, Crested Duck, Andean Teal, Puna Hawk, Giant Coot, Andean Lapwing, Andean Avocet, Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Andean Gull, Andean Flicker, Puna Miner, Band-winged Cinclodes, White-winged Cinclodes, Cordilleran Canastero, Giant Ground-Tyrant, Andean Swallow, White-throated Sierra-Finch, Black Siskin
Chungará – Neotropic Cormorant, Black-crowned Night-Heron,
Puna Teal, Puna Ground-Tyrant, Andean Negrito, Black-hooded Sierra-Finch,
Thursday 21 November 2002
Unfortunately, Eleanor had had another bad night and while she felt better by the morning, she rightly decided that today’s proposed long high-altitude trip to Monumento Natural Salar de Surire was a bad idea. In any case she had seen Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, her main "want" bird and was happy with that. Sara had also had a poor night, and was equally happy to rest around the hotel.
So, at around 08:00, Clive, Gonzalo and I set out again on the road towards Lauca. We couldn’t resist another stop at Las Cuevas to once again enjoy the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, and again saw Ornate Tinamou on the drive up. After Las Cuevas, but before Chucuyo, we turned right on a dirt road towards Surire, a drive which would take us some 3 hours.
Our second Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant was seen along here, a little before Ancuta village, and a little after the village we stopped for great views of a perched Aplomado Falcon. We continued through the villages of Guallatiri and Vislubio, stopping at police checkpoints as we came across them, before finally reaching the Surire salt lake at the village of Chilcaya.
There was another police checkpoint here where we were required to report, and having taken care of the formalities, we turned eastwards along the left hand edge of the lake. The main reason for coming all this way was to look for a few localised puna species, namely Andean and Puna Flamingos and Puna Plover. The left hand side of the lake is the favoured area of Puna Flamingo, but we had barely left the Chilcaya police post before Gonzalo found a Puna Tinamou below us on the lakeshore – great views of a solitary bird out in the open.
There were many flamingos along this shore, and stopping at various viewpoints produced good views of both Chilean and Puna Flamingos, as well as flocks of Black Siskins and several Puna Miners, Puna Ground-Tyrants and Andean Negritos. Having satisfied ourselves with the Puna Flamingos, we returned to Chilcaya, and took the other road southwards along the right hand side of the lake, passing the extensive area of commercial salt extraction, before finding a flock of Andean Flamingos along this shore – for some reason they prefer this area of the salina, whereas the Punas prefer the other side.
While we were enjoying the flamingos, Gonzalo found us a very smart Puna Plover nearby – mission accomplished! We didn’t want to stay too long in this area, as we were anxious to return to Putre, collect Sara and Eleanor, and descend to sea level at Arica, so after grabbing a quick lunch and seeing Grey-breasted Seedsnipe and some Black-hooded Sierra-Finch we made our way back towards Putre.
However, this was not before finding, amazingly, our second Grey-bellied Shrike-Tyrant of the trip – not bad for a bird that is not supposed to occur in Chile! As with Ricardo’s bird at Los Baguales, this was an individual which Gonzalo had seen in the area previously, and the site is only a few kilometres from Bolivia, so there may be more of these birds around than was previously thought.
The journey back was fairly uneventful, with just flight views of a Tawny-throated Dotterel, and our main concern was the heavy thunderstorms raking the mountains –some of those lightning strikes were a bit too close to be comfortable for three guys sitting in a metal vehicle! We collected Eleanor and Sara safely, both of whom were glad to say goodbye to high altitude for the trip, and we made our way down the Lluta Valley to Arica. A few Peruvian Meadowlarks were seen poorly near the end of the drive, as well as 2 Peregrines.
At Arica we checked into our excellent seaside hotel, and spent the
last hour of daylight birding the shore right outside the hotel – great
birding from the terrace! Grey Gulls and Elegant Terns were numerous, as
were several species of shorebirds – Ruddy Turnstones, Surfbirds, Whimbrel,
Willets, and Blackish Oystercatchers. Band-tailed and Franklin’s Gulls
flew around, a single South American Tern flew by, and a Little Blue Heron
and a couple of Black-crowned Night Herons (race obscurus) poked
around in the rock pools.
Putre – Andean Hillstar, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, Cordilleran Canastero, Chiguanco Thrush, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Mourning Sierra-Finch, Hooded Siskin
Putre to Lauca – Ornate Tinamou, Diademed Sandpiper-Plover
Ancuta – Aplomado Falcon, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant
Guallatiri – Andean Goose
Surire – Puna Tinamou, Chilean Flamingo, Andean Flamingo, Puna Flamingo, Andean Goose, Puna Plover, Tawny-throated Dotterel, Andean Avocet, Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Puna Miner, Grey-bellied Shrike-Tyrant, Puna Ground-Tyrant, Black-hooded Sierra-Finch, Black Siskin
Friday 22 November 2002
Sara and my last full day in Chile started at dawn along the shore outside the hotel, where we recorded the same species as last night. Excitement levels were raised when Eleanor glimpsed a small dark passerine among the rocks – could it have been a Chilean Seaside Cinclodes? It never reappeared, so we will never know. Leaving Sara relaxing around the pool, we drove south along the coast heading past the fishmeal factory to the end of the road at Playa Corazones, where we hoped to find some nesting Peruvian Boobies. These birds are normally easy here, but El Niño was again having an effect and so far this year they were very scarce.
We left the car walking the path along the shore, and almost immediately Gonzalo found a Chilean Seaside Cinclodes on a large rock above us – what a relief! We really thought we had dipped this bird, as it is much harder to find this far north than around Santiago, but later browsing through various trip reports confirmed that Chris Goodie also saw one at the same site in 2001, so this may be a reliable spot for this much-desired bird.
Red-legged Cormorants and Band-tailed Gulls were seen further along the path before we arrived at the booby colony where, to our delight, Gonzalo found a single nesting Peruvian Booby on the cliff above us. We returned to the car, getting even better, almost point blank views of the Chilean Seaside Cinclodes on the way back.
We next drove into Arica town and to the port area, where Gonzalo talked our way into a restricted area where we had absolutely staggering views of a group of Inca Terns, at a range down to about 3 metres – fantastic! Peruvian Pelicans were also seen here.
Our list of target species was dwindling rapidly, so we headed next to the Museo Arqueologico de San Miguel de Azapa, in the famous Azapa Valley, in the hope of seeing some localised birds. On arrival we found the first of several Slender-billed Finches in some trees opposite the museum entrance, and then a roosting Burrowing Owl on a telegraph pole a little further along the road.
At the end of the road there was a sharp turn to the right, and an Oasis Hummingbird holds territory here, so we waited for it to put in an appearance. Unfortunately, there was no sign of it, although we added Croaking Ground-Dove and Chestnut-throated Seedeater while we were waiting. Having dipped on the male hummer, we went into the museum grounds, heading straight ahead past the entrance to the museum itself, then staking out the row of flowering bushes off to the left towards the offices. It wasn’t long before a female Oasis Hummingbird showed up, and later on one of the museum staff showed us the nest – the bill of a young bird could just be seen poking out of the top.
We still needed Peruvian Sheartail, so we drove back to the main road, turned right, then left along a side road to a patch of flowering bushes where Gonzalo had seen one previously. Incidentally the area of bushes shown in Pearman’s guide was uprooted and destroyed earlier in 2002, so the hummers will have to be looked for elsewhere. With it went the only apparently reasonably reliable spot for Chilean Woodstar, always a difficult bird, and this bird is now rarely seen – Gonzalo had only seen one all year. This bird now seems to be in real trouble – it is restricted to a small geographical area between Arica and the Peruvian town of Tacna, and has apparently declined badly throughout this range, partly through competition from the range-expanding Peruvian Sheartails and from the use of pesticides.
Peruvian Elaenia and Vermilion Flycatcher were seen here, before a Peruvian Sheartail eventually put in appearance, perching on a small twig and just visible through a hole in the vegetation. By now the only bird we still needed was Peruvian Meadowlark, so after collecting Sara from the hotel, we drove north along the coast to the mouth of the Lluta Valley. A walk out to the beach produced some new trip birds – Least Sandpiper, Semipalmated Plover, Killdeer and a probable Pacific Golden Plover, as well as a one-footed wader which prompted much debate and disagreement, but which was eventually identified as a Stilt Sandpiper. Also here were American Oystercatcher and Little Blue Heron.
Back at the road, we found the first of several Peruvian Meadowlarks, as well as our second Burrowing Owl of the day. From here we drove some way back up the Lluta Valley, hoping for better views of some birds seen previously, and found several Vermilion Flycatchers and more Peruvian Meadowlarks. A Southern House Wren of the very distinctive grey race tecellatus was seen – totally different to the birds seen previously on the trip.
Driving down a couple of side tracks failed to produce Peruvian Thickknees, but we weren't too concerned, having already had good views of a pair on the 17th, although we added Blue-black Grassquit to our trip list. By now we had seen all our target species, and still had a few hours to kill before needing to be at Arica airport for our flight to Santiago, so we decided to make another attempt at the male Oasis Hummingbird at the San Miguel de Azapa museum. This time the bird was sitting on the fence waiting for us when we arrived – a cracking bird and well worth the effort of seeing a male.
We killed some time by looking around the museum itself, which was pretty
interesting, before eventually making our way back to the airport, where
we bid Gonzalo a fond farewell and got on our flight to Santiago, comparing
notes en route with an English and a Belgian birder who we had first met
yesterday at Putre
Arica – Neotropic Cormorant, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Blackish Oystercatcher, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Willet, Ruddy Turnstone, Surfbird, Band-tailed Gull, Franklin’s Gull, Grey Gull, Elegant Tern, Pacific Dove
Playa Corazones – Peruvian Booby, Peruvian Pelican, Neotropic Cormorant, Red-legged Cormorant, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Blackish Oystercatcher, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Band-tailed Gull, Chilean Seaside Cinclodes
Sara and I were due to fly home at lunchtime today, while Clive and Eleanor were flying south to Puerto Montt at the same time, so we had a few hours to spend around Santiago this morning. Clive and I decided to spend the morning around the resort of Farellones in the hope of seeing Moustached Turca (which Clive and Eleanor had already seen while we were stranded in Madrid) and Crag Chilia.
We were collected by local guide Christian Gonzaléz and drove into the mountains. It didn’t take long to find our first Moustached Turca, a bird disturbed on the road that climbed right up the vertical hillside alongside the car. A Chilean Mockingbird was similarly disturbed on the road, but Crag Chilias remained depressingly elusive all morning. They had apparently been quite easy to find around the resort Farellones itself as recently as September, before the arrival of a very heavy snowfall, after which they disappeared, presumably further down the mountain. However, despite several attempts at a range of altitudes, we had no luck.
Some nice birding was had at an overlook just down a rough track to the left from the middle of Farellones village, including White-browed Ground-Tyrant, Rufous-banded Miner, Mountain Caracara (Clive only), Grey-hooded and Mourning Sierra-Finches, Blue-and-white Swallows and Hooded Siskins.
A Red-backed Hawk flew by, and three more Moustached Turcas were seen at various stops on the way back down, before it was finally time to call it a day and return to Santiago to meet our flights. Sara and I bid a very fond farewell to Clive and Eleanor, who had been perfect trip companions throughout, and started our journey back home with a huge number of very happy memories of our time in Chile.
I have absolutely no hesitation in recommending Chile very highly as a birding destination. It is an extremely easy country to travel around with excellent infrastructure, good hotels, wonderful food, world-beating scenery, great birds, superb local guides, and a whole selection of unforgettable "experiences" for you to enjoy.
Farellones – California Quail, Red-backed Hawk, Eared Dove, Rufous-banded Miner, Band-winged Cinclodes, Moustached Turca, White-browed Ground-Tyrant, Blue-and-white Swallow, Chilean Mockingbird, Grey-hooded Sierra-Finch, Mourning Sierra-Finch, Hooded Siskin
The main target species that we missed are detailed below, with suggestions for where they might be seen.