NORTHERN ARGENTINA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Part I: NORTHWEST ARGENTINA
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northwest): Day 1 The Northwest section of our Northern Argentina birding tour begins around midday at San Miguel de Tucumán airport, from where we will drive a short distance into the Andes to Tafí del Valle for a two nights stay. As we leave the plains behind we shall climb along the course of the Rio Los Sosa into an area of stunningly beautiful ‘yungas’ forest. We will have time for our first exploration of this area this afternoon.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northwest): Day 2 Above Tafí Del Valle, the sun-bleached tussock grasslands, sandwiched between the impressive peaks of the Aconquija massif, provide inspiring scenery for our morning’s birding. At the Infiernillo pass we may well see several majestic Andean Condors floating across the blue skies, passing between the jagged peaks which surround us. We shall be birding near the road at heights of up to 10,500ft (3200m), enjoying the crisp morning air and the spectacular view of the cloud tops in the valley below while watching a multitude of Andean birds. Foremost amongst these is the rare and extremely localized Tucumán Mountain-Finch, a chunky silvery and metallic chestnut creature known from only a handful of sites. With patience and a little luck we should locate this handsome bird this morning.
Amongst the pre-puna grasslands and rugged hillsides we may also find Ornate and Andean Tinamous, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Variable Hawk, Andean Lapwing, the endemic Moreno’s Ground-Dove, Black-winged Ground-Dove, Andean Swift, Burrowing Owl, Andean Flicker, Slender-billed Miner, the near-endemic Buff-breasted Earthcreeper, Puna (or Cream-winged) and White-winged Cinclodes, Cordilleran and Puna Canasteros, the rare and localized Scribble-tailed Canastero, Streak-fronted Thornbird, the striking endemic White-browed Tapaculo, White-browed Chat-Tyrant, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Spot-billed and Cinereous Ground-Tyrants, Hellmayr’s Pipit, Plumbeous, Ash-breasted and Band-tailed Sierra-Finches, and Plain-coloured Seedeater.
This afternoon we will explore the ‘yungas’ forest below Tafí del Valle. A distinctive type of cloudforest extending in a narrow belt from northern Argentina to southern Bolivia, this habitat holds a number of restricted-range species (the yungas endemics) and possesses the ethereal beauty that is so typical of Andean forests. The tall trees are festooned with orchids, bromeliads, mosses, lichens and other epiphytes through which ever-active mixed-species flocks roam, whilst a dense undergrowth of ferns and bamboo hides more retiring birds. The Rio Los Sosa plunges out of the Andes through this forest and we shall search its length for Rufous-throated Dipper (the rarest and most localized of the five species of dipper) and the spectacular Torrent Duck (likely to be found riding the rapids). These luxuriant forests are home to the striking and very localized endemic Yellow-striped Brush-Finch and we shall make a concerted effort to find this attractive bird. Flowering trees and shrubs attract White-bellied Hummingbird, Sparkling Violetear and the superb Red-tailed Comet.
Other species we will hope to see here include White-collared Swift, White-barred Piculet, Golden-olive and Dot-fronted Woodpeckers, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, Azara’s Spinetail (here of the buff-browed race superciliosa), White-crested and Highland Elaenias, White-throated Tyrannulet, the poorly known Buff-banded Tyrannulet, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, Andean Slaty, Chiguanco and Rufous-bellied Thrushes, House and Mountain Wrens, Blue-and-white Swallow, Brown-capped Whitestart, Rust-and-yellow, Sayaca and Fawn-breasted Tanagers, Common Bush-Tanager and Rusty-browed Warbling-Finch.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northwest): Day 3 After some more birding in the pre-puna tussock grasslands above Tafí del Valle we will descend the west slope of Aconquija, entering dramatic columnar cactus steppe where we will look for birds such as White-sided Hillstar, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, Rufous-banded Miner, D’Orbigny’s Chat-Tyrant, Patagonian Mockingbird, Mourning and Grey-hooded Sierra-Finch, and the endemic Monte Yellow-Finch (split from Greenish). We have now entered a different ecosystem, the ‘monte desert’. This inter-montane strip of desert extends up from the northern limits of Patagonia and comprises a wooded and cactus-clad desert which is not only an ecosystem unique to Argentina but also home to several endemic bird species. One of our first goals will be the large and chunky endemic White-throated Cacholote whose massive nests in the columnar cacti have to be seen to be believed. Here, and as we venture further into the desert, numerous scrub-loving birds provide a sudden contrast to the recent forest and pre-puna birding. The spectacular, macaw-like Burrowing Parrot will become a common sight and we should also encounter Southern Crested-Caracara, Chimango Caracara, American Kestrel, Grey-hooded Parakeet, Picui Ground-Dove, Guira Cuckoo, White-fronted and Checkered Woodpeckers, Chaco Earthcreeper, Brown-capped Tit-Spinetail, Rusty-vented Canastero, Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, White-winged Black-Tyrant, Southern Martin, Golden-billed Saltator, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Chaco and Rufous-sided Warbling-Finches, and Variable Oriole. Our ultimate goal is the elusive and poorly known Sandy Gallito, a large, cryptically-plumaged desert tapaculo which is endemic to Argentina. It behaves like a small roadrunner, dashing from the shade of one bush to another at amazing speed. Eventually we will reach the pleasant colonial town of Cafayate, in the heart of Argentina’s northwestern wine-growing region, where we will overnight.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northwest): Day 4 Leaving the vineyards behind we continue through ever-changing Andean vistas and soon enter an area of humid meadows providing good opportunities for birds such as Spectacled Tyrant, Grass Wren and Long-tailed Meadowlark. Our journey takes us on through moonscape valleys and spectacular sandstone badlands. This seemingly sterile habitat harbours many surprises and, together with several cultivated floodplains, provides us with excellent opportunities to find such birds such as Elegant Crested-Tinamou, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Spot-backed Puffbird, the enigmatic and most peculiar White-tipped Plantcutter, White-bellied Tyrannulet, Southern Scrub-Flycatcher, the showy Cliff Flycatcher, Tropical Kingbird, Masked Gnatcatcher and Bay-winged Cowbird. We will also endeavour to find the least known of Argentina’s endemics, Steinbach’s Canastero. If we have time we will ascend out of the desert strip until we reach an Andean plateau, where we will search for Least Seedsnipe and the spectacular Tawny-throated Dotterel (alternatively, we can visit this area early tomorrow if need be). Eventually we will reach the Andean town of Cachi, where we stay overnight.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northwest): Day 5 After leaving the verdant oasis of Cachi behind we have a relatively short journey to the edge of the east Andean slope. First we will ascend out of the desert strip until we reach an Andean plateau, where we will search for Least Seedsnipe and the spectacular Tawny-throated Dotterel. Beyond here a spectacular winding and descending road, juxtaposed between 2300ft (700m) vertical cliffs and clouds floating in the valley below, provides yet more overwhelming Andean scenery as we explore a labyrinth of vegetated gullies which harbour several rare and exciting birds. The restricted-range Rock Earthcreeper should be one of the first of the Furnariidae encountered today as we make a variety of stops in search of the rare and extremely localized Maquis Canastero and Rufous-bellied Saltator.
After reaching the attractive provincial capital of Salta, where we stay overnight, we will make an afternoon trip in search of some localized grassland and scrubland species such as Darwin’s Nothura, the poorly known Huayco Tinamou, Black-and-chestnut Warbling-Finch and Stripe-capped Sparrow.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northwest): Day 6 An early departure from Salta will see us heading back to some nearby yungas to resume our cloudforest birding. Among the superb birds on offer here are Barred Forest-Falcon, Scaly-headed Parrot, Green-cheeked Parakeet, Rufous-capped Antshrike, Slaty Elaenia, Sclater’s and Rough-legged Tyrannulets, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Plush-crested Jay, Black-backed Grosbeak, White-browed Brush-Finch and Golden-winged Cacique. When birding activity finally begins to die down we will continue northwards for a time, heading for Argentina’s largest alder forest which reaches an altitude of around 2000m. Here we will endeavour to seek out some more localized species such as Rothschild’s Swift, Spot-breasted Thornbird, Plumbeous Tyrant, Rusty Flowerpiercer and Fulvous-headed Brush-Finch. Our main targets, however, in this secluded forest will be the rare and very poorly-known Red-faced Guan and the spectacular Lyre-tailed Nightjar. Eventually we will reach Lozano where we will spend the night.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northwest): Day 7 Today we will drive up the Humahuaca Valley, a region of thorn and cactus scrub, rocky ravines and terraced cultivation, onto the wide open spaces of the altiplano, a vast dusty plain of sparse grasses and stunted shrubs interrupted here and there by low hills and rocky outcrops, and with a backdrop of Andean peaks. On a sunny day (and it is almost always sunny up here), the deep blue sky contrasts dramatically with the varied colours of the rocks and the vegetation. Birds are often abundant and species we may well encounter today include Aplomado Falcon, Mountain Caracara, Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Mountain Parakeet, the pretty little Golden-spotted Ground-Dove, Andean Hillstar, Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, Plain-breasted and Straight-billed Earthcreepers, Common and Puna Miners, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, Andean Negrito, Black-hooded Sierra-Finch, and Puna and Bright-rumped Yellow-Finches.
The puna region of Argentina is dotted with a variety of lakes, which, depending upon the salinity of the water and abundance of aquatic vegetation, can be teeming with waterfowl, waders and flamingos. If water levels are high enough we will have a good chance of encountering the impressive Giant Coot and with just a bit of luck we will even find the rare Horned Coot, a very large species with a strange appendage of uncertain function drooping along its bill. We will also concentrate on the flamingos which should be numerous if water levels are suitable. All three Andean species occur and, although Chilean is usually the most abundant, both Puna (or James’s) and Andean are often present in good numbers. Many other species of waterbirds occur in large numbers, including not only resident species such as Silvery Grebe, Andean Goose, Crested Duck, Speckled, Cinnamon and Puna Teals, Andean Coot, Andean Avocet, Puna Plover and Andean Gull, but also migrant waders from North America including Lesser Yellowlegs, Baird’s Sandpiper and Wilson’s Phalarope. We will also keep a watchful eye out for Puna Rhea, a rare and local subspecies of the Lesser Rhea. We should spot at least one group of these wary and remarkably well camouflaged birds before they run off over a ridge or into a gully. Eventually we will reach the town of La Quiaca, situated on the Bolivian border, where we will spend three nights.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northwest): Days 8-9 First on the agenda during our first full day in the La Quiaca region will be a search for several specialities in the Yavi area, including Bare-faced Ground-Dove, the superb Wedge-tailed Hillstar (known only from a handful of localities in Bolivia and Argentina), Brown-backed Mockingbird and the localized Citron-headed Yellow-Finch. Afterwards we will continue our exploration of the puna wetlands, as it is unlikely that we will have seen all our targets yesterday.
After a week of acclimatizing, on our second day out of La Quiaca we will make a concerted effort to observe some of the highest altitude species of the Andes. Leaving Yavi and the puna desert behind, the road winds up over a 14,800ft (4500m) pass. Roads at this altitude are few and far between in the Andes and we will be taking full advantage of this rare opportunity to explore some high tussock grasslands and scree slopes. A mega-speciality here is the poorly-known Red-backed Sierra-Finch, which we may find foraging among the cushion-plants, and we also have a good chance of coming across two classic high altitude species, Puna Tinamou and Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe. There is even a chance of finding the lovely Diademed Sandpiper-Plover.
Providing time and road conditions permit (this is a high altitude road that is not always in good condition), we will round off the day by visiting a Polylepis-filled gulley to look for Tawny Tit-Spinetail, Zimmer’s Tapaculo, Rufous-webbed Bush-Tyrant, Andean Swallow and the localized Boulder (or Short-tailed) Finch. We may even be able to reach an area where Bolivian Warbling-Finch can sometimes be found.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northwest): Day 10 Heading back down the Humahuaca Valley, recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, we may make a few stops for any outstanding puna or other species en route to Libertador General San Martin where we shall be based for three nights. We should arrive in time for some foothill forest birding in the late afternoon.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northwest): Days 11-12 Calilegua National Park encompasses some 170,000 acres (70,000 hectares) of the highest forested mountain chain in Argentina. The park extends from the plains through subtropical evergreen ‘yungas’ forest to temperate mossy forest with alder and Podocarpus woodland. Some of the special birds of the area which will be high on our list of priorities are Yungas Dove, Tucumán (or Alder) Amazon, White-throated Antpitta and the spectacular Giant Antshrike (the largest of all the antbirds).
Other species we should encounter include American Swallow-tailed and Plumbeous Kites, Dusky-legged Guan, Band-tailed and Pale-vented Pigeons, Golden-collared Macaw, Mitred Parakeet, Squirrel Cuckoo, Planalto Hermit, Speckled Hummingbird, the diminutive Slender-tailed Woodstar (Argentina’s smallest bird), Sick’s Swift, Blue-crowned Trogon, Smoky-brown Woodpecker, Sooty-fronted and Ochre-cheeked Spinetails, the poorly-known Andean form of the Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, Black-banded Woodcreeper, Black-capped Antwren, Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet, Euler’s, Streaked and Piratic Flycatchers, Smoke-coloured Pewee, Green-backed and Crested Becards, Spotted Nightingale-Thrush, Glossy-black Thrush, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Crested Oropendola, Tropical Parula, and Two-banded, Pale-legged and Golden-crowned Warblers.
With a little luck we will see (as well as hear) the elusive White-throated Quail-Dove. There is also a chance of seeing one of the rarer raptors such as Black-and-chestnut Eagle, Solitary Eagle, Ornate Hawk-Eagle or Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle. After dusk we have a good chance of finding the restricted-range Yungas (or Hoy’s) Screech-Owl and the widespread Rufous Nightjar.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northwest): Day 13 Today, as we head towards the dry chaco and gradually leave the mountains behind, we will explore an area of upland xerophytic chaco woodlands which will give us our first taste of chaco birding. Here we will be concentrating on finding Red-legged Seriema and its rarer and shyer cousin, the Black-legged Seriema, but we shall also encounter some of the many other species typical of this new habitat. The enigmatic Black-legged Seriema is not uncommon here, but it is a very secretive bird, foraging through the densest bush. We may well hear its haunting raucous cries, but we will need a bit of good fortune if we are to spot one. We may also encounter Great Black Hawk. Eventually we will pass to the east of Salta and then head towards the town of Las Lajitas for a two nights stay.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northwest): Day 14 Incoming Atlantic rain clouds are convected straight into the Andean yungas forest, leaving the entire northwestern plain of Argentina as one of the driest areas of southern South America. This is the unique ‘dry chaco’, a vast low-lying expanse of dense thorny woodlands with a huge diversity of cacti that extends from southern Bolivia and western Paraguay to central Argentina, and which has a very distinctive avifauna. As the sun rises the bushes become alive with finches and tyrant-flycatchers, whilst the more furtive ovenbirds disclose their presence with staccato trills or ringing whistles. High on our list of priorities will be the poorly known and striking Olive-crowned Crescent-chest (now placed in its own family rather than amongst the tapaculos).
Amongst the multitude of other species we could well encounter in the chaco are Tataupa Tinamou, Brushland Tinamou, White-tailed Kite, Roadside, Savanna and Harris’s Hawks, Aplomado Falcon, the noisy Chaco Chachalaca, Picazuro and Spot-winged Pigeons, White-tipped Dove, Blue-crowned and Monk Parakeets, Turquoise-fronted Amazon, the unobtrusive Ash-coloured Cuckoo, Dark-billed and Striped Cuckoos, Smooth-billed Ani, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Tropical Screech-Owl, Nacunda Nighthawk, the exquisite Blue-tufted Starthroat, Cream-backed Woodpecker, Green-barred Flicker, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Great Rufous and Scimitar-billed Woodcreepers (two of South America’s most impressive woodcreepers), the extraordinary Red-billed Scythebill, Crested Hornero, Pale-breasted and Stripe-crowned Spinetails, Rufous-fronted (or Common) and Little Thornbirds, Lark-like Brushrunner, the raucous Brown Cacholote (often on its huge stick nest), Great and Variable Antshrikes, the localized Stripe-backed Antbird, the remarkable Crested Gallito (a giant tapaculo), Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Suiriri, Bran-coloured, Fork-tailed and Crowned Slaty Flycatchers, Small-billed Elaenia, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant, the showy White Monjita, Cinereous and Cattle Tyrants, Rufous Casiornis, Creamy-bellied Thrush, Brown-chested Martin, Masked Yellowthroat, Red-crested Cardinal, the aptly named Many-coloured Chaco-Finch, Red Pileated (or Red-crested), Black-crested and Saffron Finches, Black-capped Warbling-Finch, Ultramarine Grosbeak, Solitary Cacique, Screaming Cowbird and White-browed Blackbird.
We will also endeavour to seek out the large and rare Quebracho Crested-Tinamou. At dusk another spectacle takes over this thriving bird community as Little Nightjars and spectacular Scissor-tailed Nightjars take to the wing for their first hunting session of the night, while Common (or Grey) Potoos wail from the woodland edge. The poorly-known Chaco Owl will also figure on our list of priorities.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northwest): Day 15 After some final birding in the Chaco we will return to Salta, where the Northwest Argentina section of the tour ends this afternoon. (Those taking the Northeast Argentina extension will take a flight to Buenos Aires.)
Part II: NORTHEAST ARGENTINA
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northeast): Day 1 The tour begins this evening at Buenos Aires, where we will overnight.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northeast): Day 2 A short pre-dawn drive across the uninhabited Paraná Delta over two giant arms of the Paraná River finds us at the northern edge of the delta where it meets the espinal woodland in the province of Entre Rios. This fascinating mix of marsh and parkland woods holds a very high species diversity.
Here we will focus on the reclusive and highly sought-after Straight-billed Reedhaunter. With good luck we will also encounter the awesome Spotted Rail. This is one of the few places in South America where the White-naped Xenopsaris is actually a common species in the southern spring and summer, before it migrates north. Southern Screamers are conspicuous here.
Further on we will enter a labyrinth of internal farm tracks which cross a variety of marshes and grasslands and pay special attention to finding Bearded Tachuri, Marsh, Tawny-bellied and Dark-throated Seedeaters, and our prime target of the day, the declining and endangered Saffron-cowled Blackbird. This stunning icterid is now critically endangered in Argentina due to a number of factors, not least an explosion in the numbers of parasitizing Shiny Cowbirds profiting from a change of cattle farming methods with the use of feed lots. So rare is this colonial breeder these days, that Argentina’s BirdLife partner has taken a last ditch measure of providing in situ human guardians at each colony to control parasitism and other disturbance. We will have a privileged opportunity to visit one of these active colonies this afternoon. Afterwards we continue to Gualeguaychu for an overnight stay.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northeast): Day 3 After leaving the cheerful carnival town of Gualeguaychu (pronounced Why-li-why-chu), we will visit some nearby riverine woodlands in our quest of the diminutive and poorly known Glaucous-blue Grosbeak. Once under the belt, we have a fair drive of up to six hours on decent tarred road to reach the heart of Corrientes province and the gateway to the remarkable Esteros del Iberá, a vast marsh system the size of Wales. We should arrive in the Mercedes area, where we will overnight, with time to seek out South America’s rarest species of Anthus, the poorly known Ochre-breasted Pipit.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northeast): Day 4 This morning we head for Carlos Pellegrini for an overnight stay. As soon as we leave the city of Mercedes we will be travelling through lush, pleasant countryside which becomes progressively wetter as we head northeastwards. Raptors are very much a feature of this open country and amongst those we may well see are Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, and Long-winged and Cinereous Harriers. Roadside pools are lined with herons, ibises and storks (including Striated Heron, Bare-faced and White-faced Ibises, Wood and Maguari Storks, and sometimes the stately Jabiru) as well as the aptly named Southern Screamer. Amongst the many other species we are likely to encounter today are Brazilian Duck, Wattled Jacana, Large-billed Tern, the huge Ringed Kingfisher and Amazon Kingfisher.
We will have plenty of time today to look for Iberá specialities before reaching our comfortable lodge.
The province of Corrientes, wedged between the Paraná river, Paraguay and Brazil, is host to the largest wetland in Argentina and third largest in South America. The Iberá marshes (Iberá meaning ‘brilliant waters’ in the indigenous Guarani tongue) are an extensive mosaic of lazy rivers, large but shallow inter-connected lake systems with floating beds of water hyacinth, reed beds, rush beds, palm groves, xerophytic scrub, savanna and gallery woodland. The whole area has limited access, its best protection, but our base lies right in the centre of this complex ecosystem which covers an area the size of Wales. Traditional cattle ranching on higher ground is the mainstay of the gauchos who live here, comparatively undisturbed by modern 21st century life.
Iberá is the last stronghold of the exquisite Strange-tailed Tyrant, a rare flycatcher of humid savanna and one of the relatively few sites for the localized and elegant Black-and-white Monjita. The icterid family is very well represented here and its members are among the most obvious inhabitants of the wetlands. Pride of place must go to the striking Saffron-cowled and Scarlet-headed Blackbirds (the former endangered over much of its range), while Unicoloured, Yellow-winged and Chestnut-capped Blackbirds and Brown-and-yellow and Yellow-rumped Marshbirds complete the cast of new species. Another highly successful group of Iberá’s inhabitants are the Sporophila seedeaters, amongst which we can hope for Rusty-collared, Double-collared, Tawny-bellied, Dark-throated, and the rarer Marsh, Rufous-rumped and Chestnut. Some parts of the marsh are alive with Limpkins and Snail Kites due to the abundance of apple snails, whilst Giant Wood-Rails strut across the roads and often feed in the open, unlike their secretive relatives. Firewood-gatherers, Chotoy Spinetails and Greater Thornbirds construct their unlikely nests in isolated clumps of trees, whilst in grazed areas we will check for Correndera and Yellowish Pipits. We will also make a concerted effort to find the rare and endangered Yellow Cardinal.
Other new birds which we should find here include the stately Greater Rhea, Red-winged Tinamou, Spotted Nothura, Rufescent Tiger Heron, the impressive Plumbeous Ibis, Black-bellied Whistling-Duck, South American Snipe, Ruddy Ground-Dove, Campo Flicker, Little Woodpecker (uncommon), Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Large Elaenia, Warbling and Crested Doraditos, Vermilion Flycatcher, Black-backed Water-Tyrant, White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, Yellow-browed Tyrant, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Grey-breasted Martin, Black-capped Donacobius, White-rimmed Warbler, Greyish and Green-winged Saltators, Yellow-billed Cardinal, Grassland Sparrow, Long-tailed Reed-Finch, Grassland Yellow-Finch, and Wedge-tailed and Lesser Grass-Finches.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northeast): Day 5 After some final birding at Iberá we head north to Ituzaingo for an overnight stay. The southern shores of the Paraná river facing Paraguay will be our final destination. The stunning Sharp-tailed Grass Tyrant is fairly common here and another speciality is Pearly-bellied Seedeater . We will be in pole position at dusk to find the area’s mega-speciality. This area holds one of the highest global densities (around 30 pairs) of the totally bizarre Sickle-winged Nightjar. Depending upon road conditions, we hope to obtain point blank views of this remarkable bird, the male of which lacks secondaries, thus forming an outrageous wing shape in flight.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northeast): Day 6 Today we enter the characteristic rolling ‘campos’ habitat of the Misiones border area. First we visit a swathe of gallery forest along the Uruguay River, bordering Brazil. Here, our number one target is the range-restricted and highly distinctive Mottled Piculet. We will likely bump into a few Atlantic Forest species here, at the southern edge of their range. Nearby campo grasslands comprise rolling hills interspersed with forest islands and marshes. Here we will home in on South America’s largest flycatcher species, the Streamer-tailed Tyrant which frequently performs an astonishing synchronized wing-raising display, and, with some perseverance and a bit of luck, White-tailed Goldenthroat.
Afterwards we head for Aristobulo del Valle, situated in the southwest of Misiones province, where we will overnight. Here we enter the verdant evergreen Paraná forest and begin to enjoy its outstanding avifauna.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northeast): Day 7 While scanning an impressive waterfall at dawn, we may find roosting Great Dusky and White-collared Swifts, and perhaps the localized and poorly known Sooty Swift. The dense bamboo understorey is host to a multitude of antbirds and tyrant-flycatchers, although many of these shy denizens take a little patience to observe well. This morning we will concentrate on some of the more skulking species such as Spot-backed Antshrike, Bertoni’s Antbird, White-shouldered Fire-eye, Rufous Gnateater, Drab-breasted Bamboo-Tyrant, Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher and, with luck, the highly prized Variegated Antpitta. We will undoubtedly find more showy species such as Surucua Trogon, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Black-tailed and Black-crowned Tityras, and Reddish-bellied Parakeet, but we will also focus on seeking out the poorly known Green-throated (or Green-chinned) Euphonia and a regular lek of the stunning Plovercrest.
When the activity dies down, and the din of countless cicadas takes over, we shall move on and drive to the town of San Vicente for an overnight stay.
This afternoon we can explore the surroundings of San Vicente, hoping to find such species as Green-billed Toucan, the spectacular Large-tailed Antshrike, Dusky-tailed Antbird, Long-tailed Tyrant and Sibilant Sirystes. With luck we will hear the enigmatic Spotted Bamboowren or the elusive Speckle-breasted Antpitta, two of the toughest bamboo specialists, but seeing either of these mega-skulkers must be considered seriously fortunate.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northeast): Day 8 This morning we will visit the picturesque Araucaria forest belt in the Sierra de Misiones, a chain of mountains (reaching up to 3300ft or 1000m altitude) running through eastern Misiones. As we enter the impressive stands of monkey puzzle (Araucaria angustifolia) which completely dominate the skyline, we will endeavour to seek out several specialities. The threatened Vinaceous-breasted Amazon still survives here in some numbers, Araucaria Tit-Spinetails occupy the highest Araucaria ‘pom-poms’ (we will hope to lure them down for close-up views), the dense Merostachys bamboo understorey is home to one of the least known of all furnariids, the wonderfully named Canebrake Groundcreeper (we will be making a special effort to secure this chunky skulker) and the stunning Chestnut-backed Tanager may put in an appearance.
Afterwards we will drive the relatively short distance to Iguazú for a two nights stay. Upon arrival we will visit some hummingbird feeders which often feature such gems as Scale-throated and Planalto Hermits, the stunning Black Jacobin, Black-throated Mango, Violet-capped Woodnymph, Gilded Sapphire (or Gilded Hummingbird), and Glittering-bellied and Versicoloured Emeralds. We will also have time for a first visit to the amazing falls.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northeast): Day 9 Iguazú Falls are one of the wonders of the natural world and, in the eyes of many, surpass in grandeur both the Niagara Falls (which are tiny in comparison) and the Victoria Falls. This spectacular place is surrounded by luxuriant humid subtropical rainforest. An extensive network of boardwalks allows stunning views of the falls themselves, and several trails and dirt tracks in the wider area permit easy access to the forest. Iguazú National Park (250 square miles or 660 square kilometres) was created in 1909 and contains one of the most significant tracts of unspoiled subtropical forest in the northeast of Argentina. These forests were formerly connected to the Atlantic forests of southeastern Brazil, a tract of humid tropical and subtropical forests long isolated from the forests of the Amazon basin and possessing an exceptionally high degree of endemism. Indeed, about 130 species of birds are confined to this narrow strip of forest, but extensive deforestation throughout the coastal lowlands and hill ranges of southeastern Brazil has brought many of them close to extinction.
During our stay in this superb area we will observe a great variety of new species, for the park’s impressive bird list includes numerous species which, in Argentina, occur only in the northern sector of Misiones province. Several local specialities are much easier to find here than further north. This is particularly the case with the rare Black-fronted Piping-Guan, a Red Data Book species which has now been almost exterminated in Brazil. Another prime target is Red-ruffed Fruitcrow, but we will need some luck to see this one. Enormous gatherings of Great Dusky Swifts sweep by in the spray-filled gorge while others can be seen clinging onto the cliffs next to, or even behind, the curtains of falling water. In contrast, when water levels permit, Black-collared Swallows rest on protruding rocks amidst the quieter reaches of the river above the falls.
Other birds we could well encounter include Green Ibis, Slaty-breasted Wood-Rail, Blackish Rail, Purple Gallinule, Pileated Parrot, White-eyed Parakeet, Blue-winged Parrotlet, Greater Ani, Black-throated Trogon, Green Kingfisher, Rufous-capped Motmot, Green-billed Toucan, Toco Toucan (the largest of all the toucans), Ochre-collared Piculet, Yellow-fronted, Blond-crested, Lineated and Robust Woodpeckers, Olivaceous, Plain-winged, Planalto, Lesser and White-throated Woodcreepers, Ochre-breasted, Buff-fronted and White-eyed Foliage-gleaners, the impressive Tufted Antshrike, Rufous-winged Antwren, Plain Antvireo, Short-tailed Antthrush, Sepia-capped, Grey-hooded, Boat-billed, Social and Three-striped Flycatchers, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Grey and Greenish Elaenias, Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, White-throated Spadebill, Tropical Pewee, Southern Antpipit, White-winged Swallow, Pale-breasted and White-necked Thrushes, Rufous-crowned Greenlet, Riverbank (or Riverside) Warbler, Bananaquit, Chestnut-vented Conebill, Swallow-Tanager, Magpie, Chestnut-headed, Ruby-crowned, White-lined, Chestnut-headed, Guira and Green-headed Tanagers, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Purple-throated, Violaceous and Chestnut-bellied Euphonias, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Blue Dacnis, Red-rumped Cacique, Chopi Blackbird, Giant Cowbird and Lesser Seed-Finch.
In the evening we will go out and look for two special nightbirds, Silky-tailed Nightjar and Long-tailed Potoo.
We should also see one or more of the less common or at least more elusive birds of the area, which include the restricted-range Southern Bristle-Tyrant, Planalto Tapaculo and Creamy-bellied Gnatcatcher, as well as Solitary and Brown Tinamous, Rusty-breasted Nunlet, Spot-billed Toucanet, Black-billed Scythebill, Streak-capped Antwren and Bay-ringed Tyrannulet.
Mammals are, in general, inconspicuous but we should see Azara’s Agouti and perhaps Tufted Capuchin, while marauding bands of South American Coatis wander along the trails near the falls.
Northern Argentina Birding Tour (Northeast): Day 10 After some final birding at Iguazú the Northeast Argentina section of the tour will end this afternoon at Iguazú airport.