SOUTHERN & CENTRAL ARGENTINA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Note: in 2019 the Córdoba section of the tour is an optional extension.
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 1 Our tour begins this morning at Córdoba, Argentina’s third largest city. From the airport we will head for the small village of Icho Cruz for an overnight stay. This afternoon we will have a first visit the Pampa de Achala for some very special birds.
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 2 Not far away from Icho Cruz is the Pampa de Achala in the Sierra de los Comechingones, a mountain range which is much older than the Andes. These rugged sierras stretch across the horizon, one rocky ridge after another. Here rushing streams tumble through Polylepis-filled gullies down to the pampa grasslands below. These hills are not only very imposing but offer marvellous views of the vast plains stretching away into the distance. The main attractions here are three ovenbirds with amongst the most restricted distributions of all South American birds, centred on these isolated mountains in central Argentina. We shall make a concerted effort to locate all three. Olrog’s Cinclodes is frequently to be found hugging the banks of the rushing streams in dipper-like fashion, while Córdoba Cinclodes can be found leaping about on the rocky outcrops with fluttering wings. Grassy slopes are the haunt of the Córdoba Canastero (sometimes split from Puna Canastero).
In addition to these exciting endemics we should also see Brushland Tinamou, Black Vulture, Rufous-banded Miner, White-winged Cinclodes, Chaco Earthcreeper, Sooty-fronted and Stripe-crowned Spinetails, Lark-like Brushrunner, the noisy Brown Cacholote (often on its huge stick nest), Chiguanco Thrush, Tawny-headed Swallow, Stripe-capped Sparrow and Plumbeous Sierra Finch
The beautiful Olive-crowned Crescentchest (now placed in its own family rather than with the tapaculos), is not uncommon in these parts and its trilling song should give away its presence. With a bit of luck we should also see one or two of the scarcer denizens of the area, which include White-collared Swift, the eye-catching Red-tailed Comet, Rufous-naped Ground Tyrant, White-bellied Tyrannulet and Ash-breasted Sierra Finch.
After spending much of the day at the Pampa de Achala and in more wooded habitats at lower altitudes in the surrounding region, we will transfer to the mountain village of Capilla del Monte for a two nights stay.
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 3 Today we shall head north to Salinas Grandes, a large area of inland salt marsh. This is the type locality for the comparatively recently-described Salinas Monjita and we have a good chance of finding this rare endemic flycatcher at a site where it is fairly regular.
Other birds we are likely to see today in the dry country north of Córdoba include the rare Spot-winged Falconet, Blue-tufted Starthroat, the very impressive Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Crested Hornero, Crowned Slaty Flycatcher, Red Pileated (or Red-crested) Finch, Many-coloured Chaco Finch, Black-crested Finch and Black-capped Warbling Finch. During the late afternoon we will visit an area of woodland where we have a fair chance of finding the rare Black-bodied Woodpecker.
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 4 After some final birding around Capilla del Monte we will return to Córdoba and take a flight to Buenos Aires for a two nights stay.
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 5 Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina, is a sprawling modern city on the shores of the Rio de La Plata. It lies on the edge of the great Argentine pampas, a rich, fertile region of open grasslands largely devoted to cattle ranching, but with innumerable shallow lakes and marshes teeming with waterbirds.
This morning we will visit an area outside the city which holds a small population of the localized Straight-billed Reedhaunter, as well as the commoner Curve-billed Reedhaunter and many other pampas species that we shall soon get to know well.
The Costanera Sur reserve in the older part of the city provides an excellent introduction to the diverse birdlife of the region. Fortunately saved just in time from harbour development, a well laid out system of dykes gives us ample opportunities to examine the reed-fringed ponds and shrubby marshes of this fine reserve where we should find White-tufted and Pied-billed Grebes, Neotropic Cormorant, Whistling Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Snowy and Great Egrets, Fulvous and White-faced Whistling Ducks, Coscoroba Swan, Yellow-billed (or Speckled) and Silver Teals, Yellow-billed Pintail, Rosy-billed Pochard, Lake Duck, the strange, parasitic Black-headed Duck (which often lays its eggs in the nests of coots!), Chimango Caracara, Plumbeous Rail, Spot-flanked Gallinule, White-winged, Red-gartered and Red-fronted Coots, Wattled Jacana, Lesser Yellowlegs, Southern Lapwing, Picazuro Pigeon, Eared Dove, Picui Ground-Dove, Monk Parakeet, the incomparable Guira Cuckoo, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Rufous Hornero, Freckle-breasted Thornbird, Wren-like Rushbird, White-crested Tyrannulet, the beautiful and aptly-named Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant, Yellow-browed Tyrant, Tropical Kingbird, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Grey-breasted Martin, White-rumped Swallow, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Rufous-bellied Thrush, House Wren, Masked Gnatcatcher, Shiny Cowbird, Yellow-winged Blackbird, Southern Yellowthroat, Hooded Siskin, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Double-collared Seedeater and Black-and-rufous Warbling-Finch.
With luck we will encounter one of the more secretive denizens of the marsh such as Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Masked Duck or Rufous-sided Crake. Coypus, here in their native habitat for a change, graze peacefully amongst the many wildfowl.
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 6 Early today we will visit a small tract of swampy woodland holds a population of Red-and-white Crakes and with persistence we should get views of this secretive but handsome little critter.
Afterwards we will head off across the pampas towards the small seaside resort of San Clemente del Tuyu for a two nights stay. On the way we will investigate just a few of the myriad of lakes and marshes scattered throughout the grasslands. This is easy and wonderful birding, and the San Clemente region is likely to produce such spectacular birds as Greater Rhea, Maguari Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, Southern Screamer and Black-necked Swan, as well as Spotted Nothura (a small partridge-like tinamou of the grasslands), Cocoi and Striated Herons, Western Cattle Egret, Bare-faced and White-faced Ibises, Chiloe Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, Red Shoveler, Snail Kite, the handsome Long-winged Harrier, Roadside Hawk, Southern Crested-Caracara, American Kestrel, Giant Wood-Rail, Limpkin, White-backed Stilt (split from Black-necked), Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Spot-winged Pigeon, Burrowing Owl, Gilded Sapphire (or Gilded Hummingbird), Ringed Kingfisher, Campo Flicker, Hudson’s Canastero, Sulphur-bearded Spinetail, Small-billed Elaenia, Warbling Doradito, Bran-coloured and Vermilion Flycatchers, Spectacled and Cattle Tyrants, Brown-chested Martin, Baywing (or Bay-winged Cowbird), Brown-and-yellow Marshbird, White-browed and Scarlet-headed Blackbirds, Grassland Yellow-Finch and Great Pampa-Finch.
There is a fairly good chance of seeing the much sought-after South American Painted Snipe in this area and If we are lucky we will find one or two of the more elusive denizens of the area, which include Stripe-backed Bittern and Dot-winged Crake.
Thickets and relict patches of native tala forest hold scrub and woodland species such as Dark-billed Cuckoo, Checkered Woodpecker, Spix’s Spinetail, Creamy-bellied Thrush, Red-crested Cardinal and Variable Oriole (split from Epaulet).
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 7 We will focus much of our attention today on Punta Rasa, a low peninsula stretching north from San Clemente with a wide ocean beach to the east and extensive salt marshes, tidal mudflats and sandy dunes to the west. Situated in the outer reaches of the Rio de la Plata estuary, this is a very important staging and wintering area for a wide variety of ducks, waders, gulls and terns, and also attracts a good number of passerine migrants. Punta Rasa has become a popular birding locality for birdwatchers from Buenos Aires. Here we will be looking in particular for such species as Great Grebe, Chilean Flamingo, American Golden Plover, Hudsonian Godwit, White-rumped, Pectoral and Baird’s Sandpipers, the endangered Olrog’s Gull (split from Band-tailed), Kelp and Brown-hooded Gulls, Royal and Snowy-crowned Terns, Cabot’s Tern (sometimes lumped in Sandwich), Black Skimmer, White-throated Hummingbird, Tufted Tit-Spinetail, Bay-capped Wren-Spinetail, Firewood-gatherer (named after its enormous stick nest), Sedge Wren, Blue-and-white Swallow, Hellmayr’s and Correndera Pipits, Long-tailed Reed-Finch and Saffron Finch.
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 8 After some final birding in the San Clemente area we will drive southwest to Bahia Blanca for an overnight stay. Along the way we will be on the lookout for such species as Red-winged Tinamou, Turkey Vulture, White-tailed Kite, Grey-hooded (or Grey-headed) Gull and Short-eared Owl. We will make a stop at the town of Mar del Plata where there is a large and impressive rookery of South American Sealions. The seal colony is a favourite scavenging area for Snowy Sheathbills,
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 9 We will devote the first part of the day to looking for one of the rarest and most localized endemic species in Argentina, the Pampas Meadowlark, which is threatened with extinction due to the conversion of natural pampas into pasture. After we have located the meadowlark, and also the restricted-range Pampas Pipit, Grassland Sparrow and Long-tailed Meadowlark (and possibly even the dainty Bearded Tachuri), we will head for San Antonio Oeste for an overnight stay. Along the way we will look for the rare endemic Yellow Cardinal as well as Pale-breasted Spinetail and the showy White Monjita.
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 10 In the morning we will visit an area which is home to three localized and uncommon Argentine breeding endemics, Hudson’s Black-Tyrant, Carbonated Sierra-Finch and Cinnamon Warbling-Finch. Other birds we may well see today include two further endemics, Sandy Gallito and White-throated Cacholote (although both are fairly rare in southern Argentina), as well as Short-billed Canastero, White-tipped Plantcutter, the recently-described Straneck’s (or Monte) Tyrannulet, the delightful Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, the uncommon Black-crowned Monjita, Southern Martin, the recently-split Chaco Warbling-Finch and Golden-billed Saltator.
Later we will head south to Trelew in Chubut province for a two nights stay. As we cross the vast semi-desert plains we will begin to appreciate the immensity of the flat, desolate, treeless, wind-swept ‘wasteland’ that is northern Patagonia (a land named, it seems, from the Spanish word patacones, meaning ‘big feet’, used by the invaders as their name for the local Amerindians). We will stop along the way near Puerto Madryn. The bays in this area, situated at the base of the Valdés Peninsula, are important mating and calving areas for the Southern Right Whale and we may see one or more of these magnificent creatures offshore, although we will be in the area right at the end of the whale season.
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 11 The wild steppe landscape of the Trelew region holds some great birds, including Lesser Rhea, Elegant Crested-Tinamou, Common Miner, the endemic Patagonian Canastero, Lesser (or Least) Shrike-Tyrant, the endemic Rusty-backed Monjita and Short-billed Pipit, as well as a variety of terrestrial mammals such as Guanaco (a smaller cousin of the Llama) and Patagonian Mara (an enormous rodent that sits on its haunches, rather like a kangaroo).
A highlight of our time in Patagonia will be a visit to Punta Tombo – a tiny peninsula compared to the Valdés to the north, but the site of the largest seabird colony on the Patagonian coast. This two miles (three kilometres) long peninsula of red volcanic rock with sand dunes, rocky shores and sandy beaches supports up to a million breeding Magellanic Penguins along with small numbers of Rock and Imperial Shags, Chilean Skuas, Dolphin and Kelp Gulls, and South American Terns. Watching the penguin colony at close range is quite an experience as thousand upon thousand of adults guard their burrow entrances, feed their young chicks, call noisily or march to and from the beach and the adjacent ocean (where thousand upon thousand more are loafing or feeding). Southern Giant-Petrels are also attracted by the prospect of some scrumptious carrion and they are sometimes joined by one or two Northern Giant-Petrels.
Punta Tombo is also the best locality for observing the endemic Chubut Steamer-Duck, first described in 1974 and only known from coastal Chubut province.
Other birds which we may well find in the Trelew region, or further to the south in Patagonia, include Silvery Grebe, Crested Duck, Cinereous Harrier, Variable Hawk, American and Blackish Oystercatchers, the amazing Burrowing Parrot, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, the near-endemic Band-tailed Earthcreeper, Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, Sharp-billed Canastero, Grey-bellied Shrike-Tyrant, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, Austral Negrito, Patagonian Mockingbird, Mourning Sierra-Finch, Common Diuca-Finch and Patagonian Yellow-Finch. With just a bit of luck, we will also encounter Darwin’s Nothura.
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 12 After spending much of the day in the Trelew region we will take a flight to El Calafate in southwestern Argentina for an overnight stay.
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 13 Today we will travel to a typical old Patagonian estancia at La Angostura where the Austral Rail was rediscovered (it was a species lost to science and considered extinct for 50 years until it was rediscovered here in the late 1990s). With patience and a little luck (this is a species much more easily heard than seen), we will observe this mega-rarity for ourselves.
Staying at La Angostura is a delightful experience, with hospitable hosts, good food and the opportunity to see a working estancia in action. The marsh and nearby lake here are full of waterbirds, making for a most enjoyable experience. New birds here may well include Black-faced Ibis and Andean Duck. This is also a very good area for Patagonian Tinamou.
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 14 Today we will visit some remote upland lakes where we will be searching for the striking Hooded Grebe. One of those ‘near-mythical’ species, the Hooded Grebe was first described as recently as 1974! These enigmatic birds have a tendency to change their breeding sites whenever conditions become unfavourable, making them hard to predict and locate, and the population is now showing signs of collapse, so the species is critically endangered. Even so, we should be rewarded with views of some of these lovely birds swimming on the blue waters, a truly memorable experience!
Other species that we will be wanting to find in this remote region are the handsome Tawny-throated Dotterel and the smart Chocolate-vented Tyrant. We will also encounter the handsome Upland Goose, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Buff-winged Cinclodes, Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant and Grey-hooded Sierra-Finch.
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 15 After some early morning birding at La Angostura we will head southwestwards to El Chaltén for an overnight stay. El Chaltén is spectacularly positioned close to one of the highest peaks in the Patagonian Andes, Mount Fitzroy (3405m or 11,171ft) and lies not far from the border between Argentina and Chile. Assuming the weather is good or at least reasonable during our stay, we will enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery in the whole of Patagonia, including the awesome snowfields and glaciers that cover much of Mount Fitzroy. (The mountain is named in honour of Robert Fitzroy, captain of the famous Beagle, who charted large parts of the Patagonian coast.)
During our time around El Chaltén we will be concentrating our attention on finding species such as the smart Bronze-winged (or Spectacled) Duck, Austral Parakeet, Chilean Flicker, the strange Rufous-tailed Plantcutter, the unusual Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Chilean Elaenia, Fire-eyed Diucon, Chilean Swallow, Austral Thrush and Austral Blackbird. This is a good area for seeing both the large Rufous-legged Owl and the diminutive Austral Pygmy Owl. We will also have our first chances for the impressive Magellanic Woodpecker (the largest of the South American woodpeckers) and White-throated Treerunner. There is even a chance of finding the noisy Black-throated Huet-Huet, a large tapaculo restricted to southern Chile and adjacent Argentina. Andean Condors are still common in this superb area and we should see them frequently as they soar over the wild landscape.
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 16 After spending the morning around El Chaltén we will head further south to El Calafate, a small town situated on the shores of Lago Argentino, where we will spend two nights.
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 17 Our principal target at El Calafate itself is the enigmatic Magellanic Plover (which is now placed in its own monotypic family), but the wetlands here also hold a superb concentration of other waterbirds, including large numbers of Chilean Flamingoes.
The southern Andes are renowned for their exceptional scenic grandeur, for this is a land of jagged peaks and permanent snows, mighty glaciers and great lakes, and extensive southern beech forests. Some of the region’s finest scenery lies in Glacier National Park, only a short distance to the west of El Calafate. We will spend some highly rewarding time in this wonderful park, gazing in awe at the magnificent scenery, watching in amazement as huge chunks of ice break off from a glacier and crash into the lake, and birding the humid forests and lake shores.
The park is a very good spot for both Magellanic Woodpecker and Magellanic Tapaculo, as well as a number of other birds restricted to southernmost South America.
Southern & Central Argentina: Day 18 After some early morning birding around El Calafate, the main part of our tour ends at El Calafate airport later this morning.
TIERRA DEL FUEGO EXTENSION
Southern & Central Argentina (Tierra del Fuego): Day 1 Those continuing on the Tierra del Fuego extension will take a flight across to Ushuaia on the island of Tierra del Fuego and then drive to the town of Rio Grande, where we will stay overnight.
Southern & Central Argentina (Tierra del Fuego): Day 2 Tierra del Fuego, named by Magellan after the warning fires that the now-extinct Ona Amerindians lit when they saw his ships, lies at the extreme southern tip of South America and is a wild land of grassland, windswept moors, Nothofagus beech forests, snow-capped peaks and glaciers. Today we will search the wide open grasslands of northern Tierra del Fuego for the rare Ruddy-headed Goose, whose ‘mainland’ population (as opposed to the still-thriving Falkland Islands population) has become rare through hunting and through the overgrazing of its habitat by the hundreds of thousands of sheep. We will also be looking out for Rufous-chested Dotterel, Two-banded Plover, the Magellanic form of the South American Snipe (which may represent a distinct species), Least Seedsnipe, Short-billed Miner, Austral Canastero and Cinnamon-bellied Ground-Tyrant. Late in the day we will return to Ushuaia for a three nights stay.
Southern & Central Argentina (Tierra del Fuego): Days 3-4 Ushuaia is situated at 55 degrees south and is the most southerly large city in both Argentina and the world. Spring should have reached even this remote extremity of South America and we will have the benefit of long daylight hours, but the weather will still be rather cool at sea level and snow is by no means impossible when we are up in the mountains. Although the bird diversity at this latitude is very low, the quality is outstanding.
During our stay at the veritable ‘ends of the earth’ we will visit Tierra del Fuego National Park, a spectacular region of seacoasts, forests, lakes and snow-capped mountains on the Chilean border. Species we should encounter amidst the wonderful scenery of the Ushuaia area include the attractive Kelp and Ashy-headed Geese, Fuegian (or Flightless) and Flying Steamer-Ducks, White-throated Caracara, Magellanic Oystercatcher, the huge Magellanic Woodpecker (usually positively easy to find and get close to in this area!), Dark-bellied Cinclodes, White-throated Treerunner, Black-chinned Siskin and Patagonian Sierra-Finch. We will also visit a spectacular high mountain area to search for the uncommon and sometimes rather elusive White-bellied Seedsnipe, and also Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrant and the restricted-range Yellow-bridled Finch.
One afternoon we will take a boat trip out into the Beagle Channel in search of seabirds. We should enjoy great views of large numbers of Black-browed Albatrosses, Magellanic Diving-Petrels and Chilean Skuas, while a small colony of Gentoo Penguins have established themselves in the area (and in recent years there have often been one or two impressive King Penguins hanging around as well). There is always the chance of seeing one or two of the uncommon visitors, such as Southern Fulmar or Wilson’s Storm-Petrel.
Southern & Central Argentina (Tierra del Fuego): Day 5 After some early morning birding, the Tierra del Fuego extension to our Southern & Central Argentina birding tour will end later this morning at Ushuaia airport.