The Ultimate In Birding Tours

South America

ULTIMATE CHILE

Endemics, Seabirds & The World's Most Spectacular Scenery

Saturday 12th October – Saturday 26th October 2019

Leader: Dani López-Velasco.

15 Days Group Size Limit 8
Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego Extension

Saturday 26th October – Thursday 31st October 2019

6 Days Group Size Limit 8
Monday 12th October – Monday 26th October 2020

Leader: Dani López-Velasco.

15 Days Group Size Limit 8
Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego Extension

Monday 26th October – Saturday 31st October 2020

6 Days Group Size Limit 8
Sunday 17th October – Sunday 31st October 2021
Leader: Birdquest leader to be announced
15 Days Group Size Limit 8
Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego Extension

Sunday 31st October – Friday 5th November 2021

6 Days Group Size Limit 8

Birdquest’s Ultimate Chile birding tour is a classic among South American birding tours. Our Ultimate Chile birding tour is the most comprehensive available and records more Chilean and other specialities than any other tour. Our itinerary spans the entire length of this scenically spectacular country and features the Atacama Desert, the Altiplano, the High Andes, the temperate forests and the wild subantarctic landscapes of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Unusual features of the Birdquest tour include the little known Chestnut-throated Huet-huet and two very different pelagics, including one off Valparaiso/Quintero and another off Iquique for more northerly specialities. There is even an option to visit the remote Juan Fernandéz islands for some additional specialities.

Chile is surely unique amongst the countries of the world! Some 2700 miles (4300km) long, yet never more than 220 miles (350km) wide, this remarkable land snakes southwards down the spine of South America. Dominated throughout by the mighty Andes, Chile is home to many of the highest mountains in South America: a land of endless icy peaks that stand sentinel over vast glaciers and icefields. Chile is also a land of breathtaking variety, with many other habitats such as the Atacama desert (punctuated by strip-shaped oases along the rivers debouching from the Andes), puna grasslands and Patagonian steppes, primeval Araucaria and Nothofagus beech forests, isolated volcanoes of almost perfect symmetry that send out plumes of white steam into the blue heavens, and, of course, the long, deeply indented coastline with its surf-swept headlands battered by the cold waters of the Humboldt Current.

Chilean scenery is acknowledged to be amongst the finest in the world and indeed, once one has experienced its awesome magnificence, it is hard to imagine that it could be surpassed. Throughout the length of the country are some of South America’s most beautiful and well managed national parks protecting a diversity of habitats and wildlife. We shall visit several of these during the course of our stay as we seek out the many exciting endemics and restricted-range specialities, including numerous birds belonging to monotypic genera, an outstanding selection of seabirds, and puna, desert and Nothofagus forest specialities, in this fascinating part of our world.

Our Ultimate Chile birding tour is the most comprehensive Chile birding tour available, producing more specialities than any other tour to this marvelous country.

Not only is Chile a wonderful place for experiencing nature but also a modern, well developed country which makes exploring a pleasure. From the smallest town to the capital Santiago, everything is clean, safe and attractive, and well connected by good roads and a fine internal airline network, and this is not even to mention the good food and wine! This modernization has not resulted in any loss of character, however, as we shall find out when we encounter Chile’s bustling ports, small fishing villages and atmospheric Andean towns and villages.

Our Ultimate Chile birding tour starts in Santiago with a flight to the northern region of this long sliver of a country. Here we will first visit the port of Iquique, where a pelagic should turn up Buller’s Albatross, Peruvian Diving Petrel and both Elliot’s and Markham’s Storm-Petrels, with a real possibility of rarer species such as Wedge-rumped and Hornby’s Storm-Petrels, Blue-footed Booby or Swallow-tailed Gull. Inland, we should find the restricted-range Tamarugo Conebill.

After travelling still further north, close to the Peruvian border, we will be birding in the Atacama desert near Arica and in the oasis-like valleys of the Lluta and Azapa Rivers. Specialities of the area include Peruvian Thick-knee, Oasis Hummingbird, Peruvian Sheartail, the tiny, endangered endemic Chilean Woodstar, Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant and Slender-billed Finch.

From here we climb into the Andes until we reach the shrubby Putre area and ultimately the bird-rich puna grasslands and lakes of Lauca National Park, where the snow-capped Payachatas volcanoes form an awesome backdrop to our birding. Here we will concentrate on such major specialities as Puna Tinamou, Puna Snipe, Greyish Miner, White-throated Earthcreeper, Dark-winged and Canyon Canasteros, and White-throated Sierra Finch, as well as numerous other High Andean specialities including Ornate Tinamou, ‘Puna’ Rhea, Andean and Puna Flamingoes, Giant Coot, Andean Avocet and Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, to mention but a few of the spectacular birds of this fantastic area.

After returning south to Santiago, we will head first for the nearby Pacific coast where we will see spectacular concentrations of seabirds, including several Humboldt Current endemics. Great birds here include Humboldt Penguin, Peruvian Pelican, Peruvian Booby, Guanay and Red-legged Cormorants, Salvin’s Albatross, Westland and Masatierra (or Defilippe’s) Petrels, and Inca Tern. Coastal wetlands hold Black-necked Swan, Lake Duck, Red Shoveler, Southern Wigeon, Red-gartered and Red-fronted Coots, and with luck the parasitic Black-headed Duck and the restricted-range Ticking Doradito, while the rocky coastline is home to the endemic Chilean Seaside Cinclodes.

Before returning to the Santiago region, we visit the coastal mountain range where we will encounter a series of Chilean landbird specialities, including such marvellously-named endemics as Crag Chilia and Moustached Turca, as well as Dusky-tailed Canastero and Dusky and White-throated Tapaculos. Restricted-range species include Chilean Pigeon, Chilean Flicker, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Fire-eyed Diucon, Austral Thrush, Chilean Mockingbird, Chilean Swallow and Black-chinned Siskin.

Next we shall explore the rugged central Andes of Chile, with special emphasis placed on finding the rare and enigmatic Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, as well as Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, White-sided Hillstar, Rufous-banded Miner, Austral Negrito, White-browed, Ochre-naped and Black-fronted Ground Tyrants, Grey-hooded Sierra-Finch, Greater Yellow-Finch, Yellow-rumped Siskin and, with luck, Great Shrike-Tyrant and Creamy-rumped Miner.

We then head further south to the cool temperate southern beech (Nothofagus) forest region of south-central Chile, home to over 20 species endemic to the Southern Cone of South America (and some restricted purely to Chile). Some of the most sought-after of these include the splendid Magellanic Woodpecker (South America’s largest woodpecker), the endemic Slender-billed Parakeet, the large, skulking Chestnut-throated Huet-huet (Chile’s least known tapaculo), the equally impressive Black-throated Huet-huet and the curious Des Murs’s Wiretail (a tiny and enigmatic bird with just six elongated narrow tail feathers). Others include Chilean Tinamou, Spectacled Duck, Chilean Hawk, the rare Rufous-tailed Hawk, Burrowing Parrot, Austral Parakeet, Rufous-legged Owl, Austral Pygmy-Owl, Striped Woodpecker, Patagonian Forest Earthcreeper, Dark-bellied Cinclodes, White-throated Treerunner, Chucao and Magellanic Tapaculos, and Patagonian Sierra Finch. White-throated Hawk is another good bird here.

Continuing still further south, we come to the northern end of the beautiful Chilean Fjords at Puerto Montt and the wind-swept Isla de Chiloé. The ferry crossing provides an opportunity to see the rare and only recently-described Pincoya Storm-Petrel. During our stay on the island we will visit a mixed colony of Magellanic and Humboldt Penguins, an area where Kelp Goose is usually plentiful along with the as-yet-undescribed ‘Chiloe Steamer Duck’.

During the optional extension we will explore the far south of the country, including the windswept Patagonian steppes around Punta Arenas, spectacular Torres del Paine National Park, the veritable ‘Land of the Condor’ (where superlatives fail to describe the stalagmite-like granite massifs, the thundering waterfalls and huge glaciers), and the remote and dramatic island of Tierra del Fuego.

On the wild island of Tierra del Fuego, we will be seeking out the strange Magellanic Plover (the sole representative of its family), the endangered Ruddy-headed Goose, Flying and Fuegian Steamer-Ducks, Two-banded Plover, Dolphin Gull, Magellanic Horned Owl and, with luck, Snowy Sheathbill. We will also pay a visit to South America’s only King Penguin colony.

Finally, on the Patagonian steppes and coastline, and in extraordinary Torres del Paine, we will be looking for such great birds as Andean Condor (positively common here!), handsome Upland and Ashy-headed Geese, Coscoroba Swan, Tawny-throated and Rufous-chested Dotterels, Least Seedsnipe, Short-billed and Common Miners, Band-tailed Earthcreeper, Austral Canastero, Cinnamon-bellied Ground Tyrant, Chocolate-vented Tyrant, Patagonian Mockingbird, Patagonian Yellow Finch, Yellow-bridled and White-bridled Finches, and even the rare Austral Rail.

Birdquest has operated Chile birding tours since 1990.

Juan Fernández Option: We can arrange for you to visit this remote archipelago, some 420 miles (670km) off the Chilean coast, in order to see Juan Fernández Firecrown and the jaunty Juan Fernández Tit-Tyrant, species that very few birders have ever seen. Please contact us for further information.

Easter Island Option: There can be few people who are unaware of the extraordinary stone statues of Easter Island, or Rapa Nui as it is known to its Polynesian inhabitants, one of the archaeological wonders of the world. Easter Island is governed by Chile and Santiago is the nearest airport, although the island lies some 2375 miles (3800 km) from the mainland! The endemic avifauna was wiped out centuries ago when the inhabitants cut down all the forest, but a visit is still a fascinating experience. If you would like to visit Easter Island, either before or after the tour, we can easily make the arrangements for you. Please contact us for further information.

What makes the Birdquest Chile birding tour special?: Firstly we have the most comprehensive Chile birding itinerary available. Secondly we have a pelagic off the port of Iquique in northern Chile. Iquique pelagics are usually more productive of special birds than those off Arica. In addition, the Birdquest group size limit is lower than for most tours to Chile, and in most cases significantly lower. Lastly, we include the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park, which some tours omit. It is not just the rare Austral Rail one goes to the park for, but the truly awesome mountain scenery and a real chance of getting a good view of a wild Puma! All in all our tour is a superior experience.

Tour Category: Easy to moderate walking and comfortable accommodations.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are mostly of good standard, occasionally medium standard. The guesthouse at Porvenir, where we spend one night, is a simple, family-run establishment. Road transport is by small coach or minibus and roads are good.

Walking: The walking effort during our Ultimate Chile birding tour is easy to moderate.

Climate: In central and northern Chile, temperatures range from warm or fairly hot at lower altitudes, to cool and fairly cold at night and early in the morning at high altitude. Dry and sunny weather is the rule at this season. In southern Chile, temperatures are typically cool or quite cold, and it is frequently rainy (it can even snow occasionally in the far south).

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Ultimate Chile birding tour are good.


ULTIMATE CHILE BIRDING TOUR: PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees. Our tour prices also include all flight costs and all tipping, including tips for local guides and drivers. Some bird tour operators do not do this, yet for participants these costs are an unavoidable part of the tour. The value of these inclusions on this Birdquest tour amounts to approximately $1250. Flights included in Chile are Santiago-Iquique, Arica-Santiago, Puerto Montt-Santiago (if not taking extension), Puerto Montt-Punta Arenas and Punta Arenas-Santiago.

Deposit: Main Tour: £610, $790, €690. Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego Extension: £240, $310, €270.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates and deposit amount)


2019: £5690, $7210, €6290. Santiago/Santiago.
Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego Extension: £2250, $2850, €2480.
2020: £5680, $7190, €6270. Santiago/Santiago.
Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego Extension: £2200, $2790, €2430.

Single Supplement: 2019: £660, $830, €730.
Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego Extension: £290, $370, €320.

Single Supplement: 2020: £600, $770, €670.
Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego Extension: £230, $300, €260.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

ULTIMATE CHILE BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour: Day 1  Our tour begins this morning at Santiago airport, from where we will catch a flight northwards to Arica and then drive southwards to the coastal city of Iquique for an overnight stay. This afternoon we will have the chance to visit some Tamarugo (Prosopis tamarugo) woodlands inland in search of the poorly-known Tamarugo Conebill, a species found only in northernmost Chile and southernmost Peru. We should also come across Cream-winged (or Puna) Cinclodes, as well as Turkey Vulture and Rufous-collared Sparrow

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour: Day 2  The continental shelf lies not far offshore at Iquique, and today we will take a boat trip offshore in search of pelagic seabirds. As we are around 1150 miles (1850km) north of the Valparaiso area, we can expect a rather different combination of species and numbers. Pelagic birding off Iquique is generally far superior to that off Arica. Star attractions here are Buller’s Albatross and also both Elliot’s and the sought-after Markhams’s Storm Petrels, both of which we have a high chance of seeing. There is also a fair chance of the much-wanted Hornby’s, Wedge-rumped and White-bellied Storm Petrels, as well as a better chance of encountering Juan Fernández Petrel than off the Valparaiso region, as the latter species tends to feed in warmer waters. We could also encounter Blue-footed Booby or Swallow-tailed Gull.

We should also encounter Humboldt Penguin, Black-browed and Buller’s Albatrosses, Southern Giant Petrel, White-chinned Petrel, Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Peruvian Diving Petrel, Peruvian Pelican, Peruvian Booby, Neotropic, Red-legged and Guanay Cormorants, Chilean Skua, Grey, Belcher’s (or Band-tailed) and Franklin’s Gulls, the stunning Inca Tern and Elegant Tern, as well as Ruddy Turnstone, Surfbird and Sanderling at the shoreline. All in all this is going to be a fantastic experience. After our pelagic adventure we will drive northwards along the Pan-American Highway to Arica for an overnight stay.

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour: Day 3  A bustling port and frontier town, Arica stands on the coast only a few miles from the Peruvian border. In what used to be Peruvian territory until the ‘War of the Pacific’, this is land-locked Bolivia’s gateway to the world with just a single train travelling daily to La Paz. Here, in the Atacama desert, one of the driest regions on earth, flow several rivers – the most well known being the Lluta and the Azapa. Although only small rivers carrying melt-water down from the Andes, their well-cultivated flood plains form a rich oasis in this harsh environment.

Our most important target species will be the diminutive endemic Chilean Woodstar (one of Chile’s rarest and most threatened birds, whose world population is now believed to number no more than 200). Remarkably this species is known only from a tiny area in northernmost Chile, apart from a few historical records of vagrants from further north and south.

Other great birds in this interesting area include four restricted-range specialities shared only with coastal Peru: the sturdy Oasis Hummingbird, the entertaining, tail-wagging Peruvian Sheartail and the spectacular little Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant and the handsome Slender-billed Finch (a species not seen on any current Birdquest tour in Peru).

We should also encounter Black Vulture, American Kestrel, the impressive Peruvian Thick-knee, West Peruvian (or Pacific) Dove, Croaking Ground-Dove, Groove-billed Ani, Burrowing Owl, Andean Swift, White-crested Elaenia (the form here is sometimes split as Peruvian Elaenia), Vermilion Flycatcher, Bran-coloured Flycatcher (the local form is a strong candidate for a future split), Barn Swallow, Cinereous Conebill, Chestnut-throated Seedeater, Blue-black Grassquit, Shiny Cowbird and Peruvian Meadowlark.

Later we shall drive out of the Lluta Valley, climbing through the desert foothills into the relatively verdant high Andes. The first vegetation we encounter are striking stands of candelabra cacti which gradually give way to incredibly silent, nitrate-rich deserts and stony, scrub-filled gullies. We will be making a couple of stops en route, primarily for the restricted-range Greyish Miner and also for Straight-billed Earthcreeper, before reaching Putre, our base for the next two nights and gateway to Lauca National Park.

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour: Day 4  Waking up in the sleepy Andean town of Putre at 3500m (11,500ft), where Aymara Indian town folk go about their daily business, we walk the cobbled streets through a maze of white-washed buildings and thatched roofs to a deep shrub-filled gulley. Here we hope to feast our eyes on a good variety of Andean slope birds, including Variable Hawk, Bare-faced and Black-winged Ground Doves, Andean Hillstar, Giant Hummingbird, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, White-winged Cinclodes, Streaked Tit-Spinetail, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, White-browed Chat-Tyrant, Chiguanco Thrush, Black-throated Flowerpiercer, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Golden-billed Saltator, Black-hooded and Ash-breasted Sierra Finches, Greenish Yellow Finch, Band-tailed Seedeater, Hooded Siskin and perhaps Spot-winged Pigeon.

The major restricted-range specialities here are Canyon Canastero and in particular White-throated Earthcreeper, found only in northernmost Chile and southern Peru, and Dark-winged Canastero, restricted to northernmost Chile, southern Peru and western Bolivia. Both of the latter species can only be seen on our Chile tour. We will also search for Peruvian Pygmy Owl, a species which was described as new to science as recently as 1991, although it is generally hard to find.

Because of the high altitudes involved, we will only make our first visit to Lauca National Park this afternoon in order to allow time for acclimatization. This afternoon’s birding will see us reach a maximum altitude of 4300m (14,100ft), while the following day we will be visiting South America’s highest lake, Lago Chungara, situated at 4500m (14,800ft).

Lauca National Park is a place of outstanding natural beauty. The towering snow-capped volcanoes of Pomerape and Parinacota soar to over 6300m (20,700ft) and reflect perfectly in the deep blue waters of Chungara and Cotocotani Lakes. A relatively short drive from Putre sees a rapid change of scenery as we penetrate above 4000m (13,100ft) and we find ourselves in the surreal world, the altiplano, which extends through parts of Chile and Argentina and much of Bolivia and southern and central Peru.

This harsh landscape of puna tussock grasslands, desert and shrubby steppe, dotted with numerous lakes, pools and cushion-plant bogs, is home to a large number of high Andean specialities, the most notable of which are Puna and Ornate Tinamous, Silvery Grebe of the high Andean race juninensis (a potential split), Giant Coot (which can be seen tending their enormous nest mounds), the uncommon Puna Snipe and in particular the restricted-range White-throated Sierra Finch, a species that also occurs in southernmost Peru and western Bolivia but which is only ever seen on our Chile tours.

High Andean specialities of wider distribution are ‘Puna’ Rhea (which is sometimes split from Lesser), Puna Ibis, Andean Goose, Puna Teal, Andean Duck, Mountain Caracara, Andean Coot, Andean Lapwing, Puna Plover, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, Andean Avocet, Andean Gull, Andean Flicker, Puna Miner, Cordilleran Canastero, Puna, White-fronted and Rufous-naped Ground Tyrants, Andean Negrito and the impressive White-winged Diuca-Finch. If we are very fortunate we will come across a White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant. Diademed Sandpiper-Plover also occurs here, so we will have a first chance to observe this beautiful and extraordinary ‘shorebird’ during our explorations at Lauca.

When water levels are right, three flamingo species (Chilean, Andean and the rare Puna or James’s) can often be found at Lauca in good numbers, although in some years their numbers diminish when changing feeding conditions force many of them to move elsewhere.

Amongst the many more widespread birds we may well see here are Crested and Torrent Ducks, Speckled Teal, Aplomado Falcon, Greater Yellowlegs, Baird’s Sandpiper, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Andean Swallow, Plumbeous Sierra Finch, Black and Yellow-rumped Siskins, and perhaps Bright-rumped Yellow Finch.

Southern (or Mountain) Viscachas (giant chinchillas) and large numbers of grazing Vicuña are a common sight and we should also encounter Guanacos at lower altitudes. There is even the possibility of seeing the threatened Peruvian Huemul (or Taruca), a rare deer of the pre-puna slopes.

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour: Day 5  Our second day’s birding in Lauca National Park will be followed by a return to Arica for an overnight stay.

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour: Day 6  An early morning flight from Arica will take us back to Santiago airport, from where we shall drive to Quintero on the Pacific coast near Valparaiso for an overnight stay, stopping en route at a large, sedge-lined lake in the quiet El Peral reserve. Here we shall find a good selection of waterbirds, likely including Great, Pied-billed and White-tufted Grebes, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great and Snowy Egrets, Black-necked Swan, Lake Duck, Yellow-billed Pintail, Red Shoveler, Chiloé (or Southern) Wigeon, Plumbeous Rail, Red-gartered, Red-fronted and White-winged Coots, and quite possibly Cinnamon Teal and Spot-flanked Gallinule. We will also be looking for the localized and uncommon Black-headed Duck, the worlds only exclusively parasitic duck species. The extensive sedge beds hold Wren-like Rushbird and the smart Many-coloured Rush Tyrant, and with luck we will see Stripe-backed Bittern. Either here or at another location we have a fair chance of finding the uncommon but recently-split Ticking Doradito (restricted to central Chile and west-central Argentina).

Later, we will explore estuaries, bays and rocky stretches of coastline where we should encounter the endemic Chilean Seaside Cinclodes and some South American Sealions, along with shorebirds such as American and Blackish Oystercatchers, White-backed Stilt, South American Snipe, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Brown-hooded Gull and Black Skimmer. Other species that are likely today include Western Cattle Egret, Chimango Caracara, Southern Lapwing, Picui Ground Dove, Eared Dove, Spectacled Tyrant, House Wren, Grassland Yellow Finch, Yellow-winged Blackbird and Long-tailed Meadowlark.

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour: Day 7  Today we shall take a boat trip out of Quintero into the bird-rich waters of the Humboldt Current. This cold water Antarctic current, which surfaces off the Chilean coast, is rich in nutrients and supports large fish and squid populations. Attracted to these are great numbers of seabirds, some endemic to these waters, some wanderers from further afield.

We will see many of the species we first encountered off Iquique, but there will be some major differences. As we leave the harbour we should encounter Kelp Gull and South American Tern for the first time. With growing excitement we shall scan amongst the hordes of Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters for some of the more regular pelagic visitors, which include Salvin’s and Northern Royal Albatrosses, Masatierra (or Defilippe’s) and Westland Petrel.

With a bit of luck we will come across several of the scarcer pelagic species, which include Southern Royal, Chatham and Grey-headed Albatrosses, Northern Giant Petrel, Juan Fernández Petrel, Buller’s Shearwater, Red-necked and Red (or Grey) Phalaropes, and Sabine’s Gull. If we are fortunate, we will also encounter one or more species of cetacean, with possibilities including Great Sperm Whale and Dusky Dolphin.

In the late afternoon we will drive a short distance into the coastal cordillera and stay overnight at the pleasant colonial town of Olmue, near the entrance to La Campana National Park.

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour: Day 8  The morning will be spent birding La Campana National Park, so named because of the bell-shaped mountain which dominates the park. This impressive park contains some of the northernmost Nothofagus (Southern Beech) forest and also thorny scrub and cacti, resembling the ‘chaparral’ country of California. We will take advantage of the considerable bird activity at first light to search for two secretive endemic tapaculos. With some judicial use of playback we should lure into view the large White-throated Tapaculo, whose loud, whooping song often reveals its presence, and the diminutive Dusky Tapaculo.

Other major target species include the impressive Moustached Turca (a large tapaculo endemic to central Chile) and Crag Chilia (a sleek, rock-loving, endemic furnariid of outcrops and escarpments), although there will be further opportunities to see both of these. The endemic Dusky-tailed Canastero gives itself away by its trilling song, while other specialities we should encounter today include Chilean Pigeon, Chilean Flicker, the inquisitive Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Chilean Elaenia, Fire-eyed Diucon, Austral Thrush, Chilean Mockingbird (a fairly widespread near-endemic), Chilean Swallow, Common Diuca-Finch, Austral Blackbird and Black-chinned Siskin.

More widespread birds in this area include Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, Tufted Tit-Tyrant and Blue-and-white Swallow, while the California Quails here are introduced.

When we finally tear ourselves away from the forest, we will drive back to the Santiago region for a two nights stay, stopping en-route at some sedge-lined pools to search for the impressive South American Painted-snipe and have a second chance for Stripe-backed Bittern. We are also likely to see Harris’s Hawk, Chimango Caracara, Sedge (or Grass) Wren and Correndera Pipit.

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour: Day 9  The Santiago region is dominated by the magnificent Andes and on clear days there are inspiring views from every part of the region. Rising from the vineyards and farms of the central valley and soaring to 22,834ft (6960m) at the summit of Aconcagua (the highest mountain in the Americas), they are as accessible here as anywhere on the continent. Winding mountain roads with hairpin bends lead from one breathtaking view to another.

Today’s birding is strictly Andean, although there will be no need to ascend higher than about 8200ft (2500m). We will be covering a variety of montane habitats including bushy valleys, jagged rocky outcrops, scree slopes and boggy grasslands where we should encounter the remarkable Diademed Sandpiper-Plover (one of the world’s most attractive, yet least known, ‘shorebirds’), Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, White-sided Hillstar (often tricky to identify, but not known to be sympatric with Andean, which occurs at higher altitudes), Rufous-banded Miner (the local form is a candidate for a split), Grey-flanked Cinclodes, Sharp-billed Canastero, Austral Negrito, good numbers of ground tyrants, including White-browed, Ochre-naped and Cinereous and the localized Black-fronted, Grey-hooded, Mourning and Band-tailed Sierra Finches, the localized Greater Yellow Finch and Yellow-rumped Siskin. With luck we will also find Mountain Parakeet, Creamy-rumped Miner and Great Shrike-Tyrant. Andean Condors often soar overhead and we will keep a close eye on sections of rushing meltwater rivers for Torrent Duck.

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour: Day 10  This morning we will drive southwards to Vilches, in the Talca region, for an overnight stay, stopping en route to look for the secretive and endemic Chilean Tinamou. In the afternoon we will explore the extensive Nothofagus forest in the Andean foothills, which here reaches its northern limits. In particular we will be listening for the nasal scolding and squeaky toy voice of Chile’s least known endemic tapaculo, the Chestnut-throated Huet-huet. Until recently this species was sometimes lumped with its close relative the Black-throated Huet-Huet, but DNA and vocalization studies have now shown that these are indeed separate species. This large skulker favours bamboo undergrowth in shady forest where it scrapes the forest floor with its outsized tarsus. With patience and some careful manoeuvring we should have a good chance of seeing it.

We will also be looking for Rufous-tailed Plantcutter (the only cotingid found this far south) and more Nothofagus forest endemics such as Austral Parakeet (the worlds most southerly parrot species), the plump, near-endemic Chucao Tapaculo with its explosive voice, Magellanic Tapaculo, Striped Woodpecker, Dark-bellied Cinclodes, the tree hugging, chisel-billed White-throated Treerunner and Patagonian Sierra Finch. After dusk we will look for the striking Rufous-legged Owl (now a Patagonian endemic following the splitting off of Chaco Owl).

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour: Day 11  After some final birding in the Vilches/Talca area, during which we will concentrate on seeking out the rare Spectacled Duck and the local race of the impressive Burrowing Parrot, we will head southwards to Termas de Chillán for an overnight stay. Termas de Chillán is a small ski resort town in the Andes and our main target here is the restricted-range Patagonian Forest Earthcreeper, which has been split from Scale-throated and is restricted to part of the Chilean and Argentine Andes, although it is decidedly uncommon and not at all easy to find. We will also have a first opportunity to look for the much sought-after Magellanic Woodpecker (South America’s largest woodpecker) and many of the birds listed for the Puyehue. We also have another opportunity to find Great Shrike-Tyrant in this area.

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour: Day 12  We will spend some time around Termas de Chillán this morning and then continue southwards to Puyehue National Park for a two nights stay.

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour: Day 13  The spectacular Puyehue National Park is dominated by the maximum diversity of Nothofagus species, under which a dense undergrowth of Chusquea bamboo conceals a multitude of exciting but secretive tapaculos. One of the most spectacular is the huge, near-endemic Black-throated Huet-huet, 10 inches (26 centimetres) of black and chestnut plumes, which has a scolding, onomatopoeic call and a bird which positively vibrates as it broadcasts its deeply resonant song. We will also be searching for the bamboo-dwelling Ochre-flanked Tapaculo, yet another monotypic genus and endemic to the Nothofagus forest. Having played hide-and-seek with these enigmatic birds we will spend the rest of our time exploring this atmospheric reserve. Here we aim to find some outstanding species including such near-endemic specialities as Chilean Hawk, Austral Pygmy Owl, Green-backed Firecrown, the much sought-after Magellanic Woodpecker (South America’s largest woodpecker), the tiny restless Des Murs’s Wiretail and the poorly-known Patagonian Tyrant. White-throated Hawk is also possible. Higher up, at the crater of the Volcan Raihuen, we will search for Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant and the striking Yellow-bridled Finch, providing weather conditions permit.

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour: Day 14  Today we will head further southwards to Puerto Montt. As we travel through the beautiful Chilean lake district we will enjoy (providing it is a clear day) the spectacular views of Volcan Osorno, one of the most perfect cones and most photographed volcanoes in the Southern Cone of South America. Flocks of Black-faced Ibises, with their far-carrying trumpeting calls, are still a familiar sight amidst the pleasant countryside, where the pace of life is refreshingly slow. This is a good area for the endemic Slender-billed Parakeet. This localized species has a specially adapted long maxilla for extracting Araucaria (monkey puzzle) seeds when in season, but it spends the rest of the year amongst crops and orchards.

Puerto Montt is a thriving port with Chile’s largest salmon farms forming the mainstay of the local economy. The picturesque Isla de Chiloé, where we will stay overnight, lies just a short distance away and the ferry crossing should provides good opportunities to observe Magellanic Diving Petrel, Imperial and Rock Cormorants, and probably some pelagic visitors, perhaps including one or two species we have missed previously. There is even a slim chance of encountering the recently-described Pincoya Storm Petrel, which is a cryptic species that was previously overlooked as Wilson’s Storm Petrel. It is still very poorly known, and its breeding grounds have not yet been discovered, but it is likely to be an endemic species that breeds in the Chilean Fjords rather than on oceanic islands.

During our visit to beautiful Chiloé Island we will encounter ‘Chiloe Steamer-Duck’, an as-yet-undescribed endemic species, Kelp Goose and Magellanic Oystercatcher, a Patagonian endemic. This is probably the best place in Chile for the rare Rufous-tailed Hawk and we will also have another chance for the handsome Slender-billed Parakeet. We will also visit a mixed colony of Magellanic and Humboldt Penguins.

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour: Day 15  After some final birding on Isla de Chiloé we will take the ferry back to Puerto Montt and continue to the Puerto Montt airport where the main tour ends. Your flight from Puerto Montt to Santiago is included in the tour price.

PATAGONIA & TIERRA DEL FUEGO EXTENSION

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour (Far South): Day 1  We will take a late afternoon flight from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas in southernmost Chile for an overnight stay. This spectacular flight follows the Andes southwards over uninhabited terrain marked by volcanoes, hundreds of ice-encrusted peaks, glaciers and inaccessible lakes before the mountains give way to the flat steppes of Patagonia.

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour (Far South): Day 2  This morning we will take the direct, roughly two-hours, ferry from Punta Arenas to Porvenir on the island of Tierra del Fuego, where we will stay overnight. This is a place that Charles Darwin described in The Voyage of the Beagle as a ‘scene of savage magnificence’. It was named by Magellan after the fires the local Amerindians lit to warn others of his arrival. Once again the number of tubenoses will testify to the richness of Chilean waters. Black-browed Albatrosses and Southern (or Common) Giant-Petrels are common, and we will have another chance for good looks at Magellanic Diving Petrels and Chilean Skuas. Sometimes Cape Petrels and Southern Fulmars can be seen, or even Peale’s Dolphins.

Porvenir is a small town where Croatian settlers were attracted by a gold rush in 1883. At the top of the agenda in Tierra del Fuego will be the strange and highly sought-after Magellanic Plover, such an oddball that it has been placed in its own family and indeed may not even be a shorebird at all. Although inconspicuous, it can be remarkably tame. Additional target birds will include Fuegian (or Flightless) and Flying Steamer Ducks, Two-banded Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper and the handsome Dolphin Gull. We will also dedicate some time to tracking down the threatened Ruddy-headed Goose, now down to just 300 pairs in South America proper (and almost extinct on the mainland), although still thriving in the Falklands. Snowy (or Pale-faced) Sheathbill is also possible. This evening we will search for Magellanic Horned Owl.

We will also visit Bahía Inútil (Useless Bay) in order to enjoy the recently-established colony of King Penguins that now makes this area their home. Of all the penguins, Kings are probably the most impressive and there are generally between 50 and 150 present.

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour (Far South): Day 3  We will head off early for the northern coast of Tierra del Fuego this morning and make the short ferry crossing to the mainland. The ferry is often accompanied by Commerson’s Dolphins, a stunning black-and-white species endemic to Patagonia and the Falklands. Once ashore, we shall make for the viucinity of Torres del Paine National Park for a two nights stay.

We will explore some wild Patagonian back roads today. High on our list of targets will be such glorious specialities as Tawny-throated and Rufous-chested Dotterels, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, Chocolate-vented Tyrant and the uncommon White-bridled (or Black-throated) Finch. In addition, both Common and Short-billed Miners should be encountered.

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour (Far South): Day 4  Exploring the world-famous Torres del Paine National Park is a wonderful experience. Thrusting abruptly over 6600ft (2000m) out of the Patagonian Plain, the Torres del Paine are perhaps South America’s most dramatic mountain landscape. Surrounded by glaciers and stunted forests, these granite towers (torres being Spanish for towers, though the origin of Paine is still debated) dominate the majestic scenery of the region. Meltwater from the glaciers plunges over vertical cliffs, forming rushing rivers which feed a multitude of azure lakes surrounded by meadows full of foxgloves and daisies. From every angle the awesome spires offer a different yet equally dramatic aspect and we shall surely have difficulty deciding when to call a halt to the scenic photography!

Guanacos, a wild relative of the Llama, are a common sight and Argentine Grey Foxes are regularly seen. We even have quite a good chance of encountering a Puma (or Mountain Lion). Not just because their habits in the area are starting to become better known, but also because they have become less fearful of humans.

This is Andean Condor country par excellence and one of the few places where these spectacular birds remain truly common. Often to be found on the ground in the early morning, when the up-draughts start we shall likely see them in all their splendour as they unfurl their mighty wings, take to the air and rapidly gain height above our heads.

The major avian attreaction here is thevery  rare and poorly-known Austral Rail. A Birdquest tour group discovered it in the park in 2010, and we shall certainly make an effort to see this fairly elusive speciality which was feared extinct for almost 50 years. Hearing one is the easy part, but wioth persistence we have a good chance of seeing one.

Other interesting birds we shall look for both inside and outside the park include Lesser Rhea (here of the form known as ‘Darwin’s Rhea’), Silvery Grebe, Coscoroba Swan, elegant Upland and Ashy-headed Geese, Bronze-winged (or Spectacled) Duck, Cinereous Harrier, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Southern Crested Caracara, White-throated Caracara (scarce), Peregrine, Wilson’s Phalarope, Least Seedsnipe, Austral Canastero, Cinnamon-bellied Ground Tyrant, Patagonian Mockingbird, Patagonian Yellow Finch and the scarce Yellow-bridled Finch. We have another good opportunity here to locate the impressive Magellanic Woodpecker, which occurs at a low density in these southern forests.

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour (Far South): Day 5  After a final day enjoying the magnificent Patagonian wilderness we will return to Punta Arenas for an overnight stay.

Ultimate Chile Birding Tour (Far South): Day 6  The tour ends this morning at Punta Arenas airport. Your flight from Puntarenas to Santiago is included in the tour price.

ULTIMATE CHILE TOUR REPORT 2018

by Dani López-Velasco

View Report

ULTIMATE CHILE TOUR REPORT 2017

by Mark Pearman

View Report

ULTIMATE CHILE TOUR REPORT 2015

by Mark Pearman

View Report

Other 'Southern Cone' of South America birding tours by Birdquest include:

Horned

South America

NORTHERN ARGENTINA

White-winged

South America

PARAGUAY