NORTHERN ARGENTINA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Northern Argentina (Northwest): Day 1 The Northwest section of our 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.
(If you would like us to provide a flight ticket from Buenos Aires to San Miguel de Tucumán, we will be pleased to do so on request even if you are arranging your own international flight tickets.)
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 (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 Brushfinch 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 (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 Finches, and the endemic Monte Yellow Finch.
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 (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.
Eventually, we will reach the Andean town of Cachi, where we stay overnight.
Northern Argentina (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 (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 Brushfinch 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 Brushfinch. 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 (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. We should encounter numbers of the impressive Giant Coot and we also have a good chance of finding the rare Horned Coot, another very large species with a strange appendage of uncertain function drooping from the base of 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 two nights.
Northern Argentina (Northwest): Day 8 Today we will make a concerted effort to observe some of the highest altitude species of the Andes. Leaving La Quiaca 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 should 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 fair 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 (Northwest): Day 9 Before we leave the La Quiaca region, we will 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.
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 may arrive in time for some foothill forest birding in the late afternoon.
Northern Argentina (Northwest): Days 10-11 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, Tucuman (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 (Northwest): Day 12 Today, as we head towards the dry Chaco region 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 a Great Black Hawk or two.
Eventually, we will pass to the east of Salta and then head towards the town of Las Lajitas for a three nights stay.
Northern Argentina (Northwest): Days 13-14 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 Crescentchest (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 and Brushland Tinamous, 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 and we will have another opportunity to track down the shy Black-legged Seriema.
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 (Northwest): Day 15 This morning we will drive to Salta airport where our tour ends.
(If you would like us to provide a flight ticket from Salta to Buenos Aires, we will be pleased to do so on request even if you are arranging your own international flight tickets.)
IBERÁ MARSHES EXTENSION
Northern Argentina (Iberá): Day 1 Those taking the extension will fly from Salta to Corrientes via Buenos Aires. We will overnight in Corrientes.
Northern Argentina (Iberá): Day 2 This morning we head for Carlos Pellegrini for a three nights stay at a comfortable lodge.
We will pause in the Mercedes area and hope to seek out South America’s rarest species of Anthus, the poorly known Ochre-breasted Pipit.
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 the species which 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 which we are likely to encounter today are Brazilian Duck, Wattled Jacana, Large-billed Tern, the huge Ringed Kingfisher and Amazon Kingfisher.
We will have our first opportunity to enjoy the Iberá marshes and look for its specialities this afternoon.
Northern Argentina (Iberá): Days 3-4 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 Scarlet-headed Blackbird, 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 (Iberá): Day 5 This morning we return to Corrientes airport (or the airport of adjoining Resistencia depending on the limited flight schedule in these parts) where our tour ends around midday.
(If you would like us to provide a flight ticket from Corrientes or Resistencia to Buenos Aires, we will be pleased to do so on request even if you are arranging your own international flight tickets.)