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Day 1 Friday 1st Oct
Everyone met on time at Heathrow airport where we caught our first flight to Madrid. There was only a short wait before we boarded for the next leg, which was a 12 hour flight to Santiago, Chile. After a long but relatively calm overnight flight, we arrived in Chile early morning on day two. A spectacular sunrise which lit up the Andes greeted us as we approached the airport.
Day 2 Saturday 2nd Oct
Once through the formalities of customs and collecting our luggage, we met up with our guide Enrique and set off to find our coach. Travelling towards the coast we soon spotted numerous Chimango Caracaras, while Southern Lapwings were everywhere. A brief stop was then made when a Harris Hawk was seen fighting with a Chimango Caracara. On the telephone wires we saw lots of Long-tailed Meadowlarks before we made a stop to pick up some bottles of water. Behind the café in a small area of garden we saw several very bright Rufous-collared Sparrows, birds which we would encounter throughout the length and breadth of Chile. Also here were Austral Thrushes, House Wren, Shiny Cowbird, a very showy Common Diuca-Finch, White-crested Elaenia, and some distant Chilean Mockingbirds. An Austral Pygmy-Owl started calling and thankfully it was spotted by John sat in a tall eucalyptus tree, where we managed to scope it. Grassland Yellow-Finches then occurred and some Chilean Swallows flew around. No too bad for a water stop! Continuing on we drove close to the coast where several lines of Peruvian Pelicans could be seen flying by. Arriving at a lake we all piled out ready for some action. One of the first birds seen, and never to be forgotten, was the superbly named Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant - simply unbelievable. We then played cat-and-mouse with several Wren-like Rushbirds which eventually gave excellent views to everyone. A Plumbeous Rail walked right out into the open just a few yards away, while out on the lake several Black-necked Swans were spotted. Our first Cinnamon Teal was found by Andy and we saw many White-tufted Grebes and Red-gartered Coots. Next there were Lake Ducks, Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, Rufous-tailed Plantcutter and lots of Chilean Swallows with the odd Blue-and-whiteSwallow in amongst them. Out on the lake we sorted out White-winged and Red-fronted Coots, then saw Chiloe Wigeon, and both Silvery and Great Grebe. From an observation tower we looked through a lot of Cattle Egrets, and found a couple of Snowy Egrets, Black-crowned Night-Herons, Yellow-billed Pintail, Lesser Yellowlegs, and then Spot-flanked Gallinule. A Neotropic Cormorant flew over, and there were Black-chinned Siskin and a brief Tufted Tit-Tyrant. Later we saw the first of many Austral Negritos, and poor views of Bar-winged Cinclodes were soon followed by excellent views as we returned to the coach. At a brief stop beside a beach we saw many Silvery Grebes just off shore. We then took a walk along another beach, where luckily there were more birds and less people. On the water's edge were several very smart looking adult Grey Gulls, as well as browner youngsters and three Baird's Sandpipers. On a rock were two Surfbirds feeding with several Ruddy Turnstones. Whimbrel flew past in small flocks and a few American Oystercatchers were seen, as well as many Kelp Gulls. Lines of Peruvian Pelicans and Peruvian Boobies also flew past. Further along the beach we noticed a smart Snowy-crowned Tern fly over. At a small pool area Black Skimmers rested and we found three Black-crowned Night-Herons, some nice Austral Negritos, and perched on the mud, a South American Tern. It seemed a long way, but eventually the lights of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar were laid out spectacularly before us as we wound our way down to our hotel for the next two nights.
Day 3 Sunday 3rd Oct
This morning we had an early breakfast and then set off to the coastal town of Quintero. When we arrived the weather was a little misty and overcast but there was no sign of rain and the wind was minimal. The conditions looked good for us to experience a Humboldt Current pelagic! From the edge of the pier a couple large Southern Sea Lions wallowed in the water just below us. They kept looking up like puppy dogs awaiting a treat. I'm sure the fishermen must feed them. With our wet weather gear, life jackets and several layers of clothes on, we boarded our boat and set off through the harbour and out to sea. Within twenty minutes we saw our first Peruvian Diving-Petrel take off just in front of us, followed by more both flying and swimming around. Continuing out over some rather heavy waves it was not long before the first Pink-footed Shearwater glided past. Then there were Sooty Shearwaters soon followed by White-chinned Petrels. As we went out further the numbers increased and we added Southern Fulmar and the enormous Southern Giant-Petrel. A small number of Pintado Petrels starting following us, and the occasional Chilean Skua put an appearance as it harried the Kelp Gulls or shearwaters. Bits of mackerel were all pre-chopped and were now being thrown out. It wasn't long before a large shape looming towards us signified the start of the albatrosses. A Black-browed was first, followed by another, and then Salvin's (shy) and our first Westland Petrels. Bird numbers were increasing all the time but the swell had taken its toll on a couple of our group. The shout of "Royal" got everyone excited and cutting low across the surface came a bird the size of a small glider aeroplane. Northern Royal Albatross had joined us - simply fantastic! With more food diligently thrown out from the rear we had a procession of seabirds in our wake. Further out a Juan Fernandez Petrel stayed just outside of good view range but Grey Phalaropes had by now been seen well flying by and settling on the surface. More albatrosses, flocks of Pintado Petrels, White-chinned Petrels - where to look next! A Chatham Island Albatross appeared, much darker grey around the head and not too difficult to pick out once you had your eye in. Up to five different individual Northern Royals put on superb performances each time they cruised past, and then we found the first of three or four Buller's Albatrosses, a very attractive species with its two tone yellow and black beak. With thirty plus albatross's on view at one time and hundreds of petrels and shearwaters we turned around and slowly made our way back - much to the relief of those who were feeling rough! A couple of Brown Skuas were added to our list and some good views of Chilean Skua allowed good comparisons. Several more Juan Fernandez Petrels refused to come close and as we left the birds behind we slowly entered the harbour again. A look around the piers found us a Common Tern, but this was soon overshadowed by the fabulous Inca Terns seen perched on the jetties and then flying around close to us. Guanay and Red-legged Cormorants gave us excellent views, and just before docking we found a couple of Great Grebes and a single Peruvian Diving-Petrel which allowed close approach before - you guessed it, it dived. Once ashore we drove a short distance to lunch at a local yacht club. Afterwards we went to look at some small ponds. Here we got very good views of Chiloe Wigeon, Yellow-billed Pintail, Speckled Duck and several pairs of Lake Duck. John then spotted a Spectacled Tyrant and as we watched this another appeared. Leaving this area we headed towards the coast and took a short walk along a road towards the beach. Rufous-tailed Plantcutters showed well as did Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Austral Blackbird, several Common Diuca-Finches and hoards of Rufous-collared Sparrows. On the beach we admired the huge waves crashing in while walking towards a small island almost connected to the mainland. From a rocky footpath we could easily scope the colony of Humboldt Penguins which were there, and a Blackish Oystercatcher sat on top of a rock. In the sea a Southern Sea Otter was seen well, and just before returning to the coach we spotted a Chilean Seaside Cinclodes which gave great views as it fed on the seaweed-covered rocks. Back in the bus we drove to our last site of the day, a river which ran out to some disused salt pans. A few wading birds were soon found including good comparisons of Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Whimbrel and White-necked Stilts. Lots of Yellow-billed Pintail flew off and Correndera Pipits were giving their song flight display's before landing and eventually giving us good views. Austral Negritos were also found, and a distant scan of the river mouth produced a flock of Black Skimmers, Grey Plovers and much more of the same species already seen. Three Cinereous Harriers were watched flying around before we returned to the coach and headed back to our hotel and the end of a long but very productive day.
Day 4 Monday 4th Oct
After an early breakfast we set off to La Campana National Park. On arrival we found the area shrouded in mist. Several Chilean Pigeons were seen, but the light was poor, although a CaliforniaQuail sat in a tree was closer and easier to see. A short walk failed to produce the skulking White-throated Tapaculo, but we did encounter more pigeons, Common Diuca-Finch, White-crestedElaenias, Austral Blackbirds and Tufted Tit-Tyrants. In another part of the park we set off on a walk, climbing slowly upwards. It was still misty and the visibility not good. It took a while before we actually saw anything, but one of our first birds was the huge Giant Hummingbird, this particular individual showing well as it perched on dead trees. Andy then spotted a Moustached Turca, and after a little frustration most of the group got brief views of this excellent Chilean endemic. Another or the same Giant Hummingbird was seen very well, even on its nest which was on top of a cactus. We also found the nest of a Dusky-tailed Canastero and we got good views of this, another endemic, as it often returned to its elongated tangle of sticks. A Red-backed Hawk circled around and just a few of the group managed to see a White-throated Tapaculo, while the rest had to be content with just hearing it. The mist then cleared and gave way to stunning views of the wooded mountains. A Striped Woodpecker gave us superb views and John spotted another Moustached Turca which was seen well by all. Several brief fly-overs by Green-backedFirecrowns were to never make it onto our checklists, as we slowly returned towards the car park. With the sun now out a few of us got distracted by the butterflies, of which we managed to identify Common White and Common Red, Caper and Black Swallowtail. We then went for lunch in a nearby village where a very old lady hand-made dishes of pasta in her very small and quaint restaurant, Hosteria Scala de Milan. We ate our lunch to the strains of opera, while in the garden we found several very bright lizards lazing around. We then set of towards Santiago, driving to an altitude of around 1,600 metres. The views of the snow-capped Andes in the distance were spectacular. After a short drive along a dusty track we got out for a short walk. One of the first species seen was a male Band-tailed Sierra-Finch sat on a fence post. Moving on we found a Dusky-tailed Canastero on its nest, while distant Grey-hooded Sierra-Finches flew across the hillside. Just a few of us got brief views of a Chilean Tinamou as it ran down a small track, and several others were heard calling, but didn't showed themselves. Grey-hooded Sierra-Finches were then seen well, as were Fire-eyed Diucon and Black-chinned Siskins. Another GiantHummingbird posed on a dead stick, while a few in our group saw a MoustachedTurca run away from its nest hole which was in the bank beside the track we were walking. A Crag Chilia, another Chilean endemic, was then found and although for only a short time, most people saw it well. A pair of Red-backed Hawks on a nest with two eggs was much more obliging. As we made our way back towards the coach much the same species were seen again, but a new bird was a Scale-throated Earthcreeper which showed very well on a distant fence post. Nearby another Band-tailed Sierra-Finch was spotted and a Chilean Tinamou called close from the hillside. Back at the bus we set off towards the busy city of Santiago, our base for the next two nights. Just outside the city we called in on some wetlands where we soon found White-tailed Kite, Cinereous Harrier and the resident Chimango Caracaras. We then walked out into a wet marshy field and spread out a little. A South American Snipe was flushed and later on, a second bird. Bar-winged Cinclodes, Correndera Pipit, Spectacled Tyrant, Chiloe Wigeon and very noisy Southern Lapwings were also seen. As it became darker so Black-crowned Night-Herons flew over and we returned to the coach to continue on our journey. The only thing to mar our good day was the horrendous amount of Santiago traffic we had to fight our way through before eventually arriving at our hotel.
Day 5 Tuesday 5th Oct
After breakfast we set off through the streets of Santiago and made our way up the Yeso Valley. It started off misty but this soon cleared and the scenery became spectacular as we headed deeper into snow-covered mountains. Our plan was to try and get to the top as early as possible so we could concentrate on finding several specialities. A couple of Moustached Turcas were noted on our ascent and then beside a small field we saw two Chilean Flickers. Continuing on we had to stop briefly when part of the roof light became loose on the coach. As the driver began to fix it I ran over to look down on the fast flowing river below, and as I had hoped there were a pair of Torrent Ducks sat on a boulder in the middle of the river. Everyone came over and we enjoyed great views these extremely attractive birds. Further up we rounded a corner and were greeted by the most spectacular views of a lake surrounded by snowy mountains. We took the opportunity to take some photos and in so doing managed to find several Grey-hooded Sierra-Finches, Red-backed Hawk, a singing Lesser Canastero and some close Plumbeous Sierra-Finches. Back on the coach we drove to the end of the lake where Crested Ducks numbered around fifty. Shortly after arriving at our first search area we found a pair of Grey-bellied Seedsnipe, before walking down towards a stream. We were prepared for a long and thorough search of the area, but within ten minutes Roger had come up trumps by spotting one of the most sought after species of the tour - the unbelievably gorgeous Diademed Sandpiper-Plover.
We all manoeuvred into position for the best possible views and then in the most superb setting imaginable, spent the next forty-five minutes enjoying stunning views of two male birds. At one point a Bar-winged Cinclodes decided to have a fight with them and they flew off a short distance. Heading back to the coach we relocated them and it was now that a photographer's dream came true as both the birds fed unconcerned just twenty feet
away. At one point one bird started walking towards us - it was a magical moment! Eventually tearing ourselves away from this dream bird we boarded the coach and drove towards the end of the valley. A couple of Creamy-rumped Miners showed very well and more Grey-bellied Seedsnipe were spotted. Having parked we took a short walk, crossing a stream and making our way along the rock strewn valley. We saw several Bar-winged and then a Grey-flanked Cinclodes, before Enrique persuaded a normally skulking Dusky Tapaculo to show itself really well. There were more Grey-hooded Sierra- Finches and some Greater Yellow-Finches, plus White-browed and Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrants as we made our way back to the coach and our picnic lunch. There was just time to see a Dark-bellied Cinclodes before enjoying an excellent meal taken amongst this most breathtaking scenery. It was then time to begin the journey back. There were stops along the way for Black-fronted Ground-Tyrant and more of the species previously seen. Beside an area of old disused buildings we took a short walk, soon locating several very confiding Rufous-bandedMiners and an almost tame Cordilleran Canastero. There were plenty of White-browed and Black-fronted Ground-Tyrants to be seen, as well as Scale-throated Earthcreeper, and both Grey-hooded and Plumbeous Sierra-Finches. A couple of Red-backed Hawks circled the mountain top and they were joined by a juvenile Black-breasted Buzzard-Eagle. Back on board we continued our descent seeing American Kestrels and Long-tailed Meadowlarks. At a small rocky gorge we found a showy Crag Chilia which was much appreciated by Alex, and then further on a couple of Chilean Flickers were seen alongside a group of Californian Quail. As a grand finale to our superb day Brian spotted a raptor from the back of the coach. We all got out and set our scopes on an Andean Condor as it circled around a distant mountain top - excellent! A few more TorrentDuck sightings had brought our total to ten, and with this we made our final journey back to the hotel.
Day 6 Wednesday 6th Oct
After breakfast this morning we loaded our luggage onto the coach and set off through the city and then up towards Farellones ski resort. Our first stop in the foothills was for Chilean Tinamou, but although a Moustached Turca performed wonderfully for us, and several California Quails showed well, as did Common Diuca-Finch, there was no sign of the tinamou. We drove higher and tried again but still no luck. Higher again we parked and walked a few yards onto a viewpoint. This time our luck was in and Enrique called when a Chilean Tinamou walked just 10 feet in front of him. It then showed on and off over the next half hour and everyone got excellent views. A fly over by a White-sided Hillstar was so brief only a few people saw it, and just a couple of the group also saw a Mourning Sierra-Finch. Back aboard the coach we drove past carpets of California Poppies and up into increasingly beautiful scenery, until finally arriving at the ski resort. A few Black-fronted Ground-Tyrants and Greater Yellow-Finches were found and then just as we were about to try another spot, a strikingly handsome Mountain Caracara appeared overhead. It circled a few times and then drifted higher until it was lost from sight. Returning back down the mountain we made a couple of short stops to check out the smaller birds. Plenty of White-browed Ground-Tyrants were seen alongside, Rufous-banded Miners, Bar-winged Cinclodes, and Grey-headedSierra-Finches. Another Mountain Caracara was seen and at one particular stop we saw half a dozen Black-winged Ground-Doves and some very attractive lizards. Lesser Canastero was also spotted and a White-sided Hillstar buzzed and hovered around a bush for a few seconds, and then buzzed off again. Walking down the road a little way we saw much the same species although both Band-tailed and Mourning Sierra-Finch were seen briefly, as was a Scale-throated Earthcreeper and an immature Andean Condor which circled over the hillside. Just as we were about to board the coach another Scale-throated Earthcreeper was noted flapping on the ground. Close inspection by me and Andy found that it had a piece of string knotted onto its leg. We untied it and thankfully it flew away, apparently unharmed. While we were doing this another two condors rose and then disappeared over a hill, and as time was getting on we also needed to disappear and get to Santiago Airport. With no more stops we drove down, out of the mountains and through the city, arriving at the airport in perfect time. Saying goodbye to our driver of the last four days we had a snack and soon boarded our flight, which took us to Puerto Montt, via touchdowns in Concepcion, and Temuco. Having arrived we collected our luggage, boarded our new coach and set off towards our hotel which was situated 200 kilometres away in the heart of the Puyehue National Park. Along the way we saw lots of Chimango Caracaras and countless Black-faced Ibis either flying or feeding in fields. Two Southern Crested Caracaras were also seen being mobbed by their smaller cousins, and we stopped to admire a very smart Short-eared Owl sat on a fence post. By dusk there had been sightings of no less than six Short-eared Owls. We eventually arrived at our hotel in the dark, quickly off-loaded and settled into our rooms before meeting up for dinner, which was taken in front of a blazing log fire. Lovely!
Day 7 Thursday 7th Oct
Today we woke to the sound of light rain. After breakfast we realised that it was cold and all put on plenty of layers before meeting outside. A couple of male Patagonian Sierra-Finches were soon found and then the first of many attractive Thorn-tailed Rayaditos. Chimango and SouthernCrestedCaracaras were present and around the back of the hotel in the bamboo scrub there were several tricky species calling. The first of these to show was a Magellanic Tapaculo, but try as we may nothing else would come out. Moving to another area we saw a couple of Austral Parakeets in the grey early morning light. While watching these, an Ochre-flanked Tapaculo began to call. We tracked it down and then began the difficult job of actually trying to see this very skulking species. Getting wet and to within just two feet of this bird, we only managed the most fleeting of glimpses. Giving up we decided to try further up and this time a bird was found in more sparse
vegetation, where after a struggle it eventually showed briefly to most of the group in a small clump of bamboo. During our battle with this elusive bird it had started and stopped raining several times and we were quite wet. In another area a Chucao Tapaculo was seen very well by all, which raised the spirits a little before we returned to the log fire and hot tea and coffee. Suitably warmed we went back out and tried a different trail. A Patagonian Sierra-Finch gave us stunning views, more Thorn-tailed Rayaditos were seen and then a pair of White-throated Treerunners put on a superb showing. Searching another area of forest we heard the distant drumming of one of our top target species, the huge Magellanic Woodpecker.
It was a long way away so we tried to approach from a different angle. Over the next couple of hours we got very cold and wet and had neither sight nor sound of the woodpecker. The nearest we got was Enrique thumping trees with a rock! A tiny Des Murs' Wiretail was coaxed into showing itself. Now we were so cold and damp that we returned to the warmth of the log fire in the hotel where we could warm up, dried out and enjoyed hot drinks and a meal of chicken by the fire. As we ate the rain ceased and the mist slowly cleared. We decided to start the afternoon with a search of the wood where we had heard the woodpecker earlier in the day. We followed a winding ski track through the forest with little to encourage us. We were just at the point of conceding defeat when we heard the wonderful sound of hope, a woodpecker banging on a tree nearby. Just a few minutes more and there it was, the giant of all woodpeckers, a male Magellanic Woodpecker, a real adrenalin moment! As we watched in awe another male appeared and then a female. They flew past and landed even closer, at which point they started smashing a tree to pieces totally unconcerned by our close presence. What a thrill, and what a magnificent bird to see! Very happy and all on cloud nine we returned to the coach and set off down the hillside. A stop near the bottom by a river found the temperature much more pleasant and a superb show from a male Green-backed Firecrown was simply fantastic. Nearby we tracked down a Patagonian Tyrant and also saw Red-tailed Plantcutter, and yet another Thorn-tailed Rayadito. We then went in search of our final target species in another area of forest. Plenty of Green-backed Firecrowns flitted noisily through the forest, and many attempts to see Des Murs'Wiretail succeeded in a variety of views, from the briefest of glimpses, to right out in the open just a few feet in front of Enrique. At last there was some response from our target bird, Black-throatedHuet Huet (pronounced wet wet!), a large terrestrial tapaculo. As a calling bird circled us a few brief views were gained but generally this skulker eluded most of the group. We put in many more hours than anticipated and got very close to two birds, but finally we decided that this one had beaten us, as far as good prolonged views were concerned. Walking back to the coach and just near to the road, another one called close by. As we stuck our heads in the bushes some of the group got to see the bird creeping through low branches before once again disappearing from view. Back in the coach we set off on our journey to Puerto Montt, arriving later than planned, but nevertheless having seen some superb and very tricky species.
Day 8 Friday 8th Oct
After breakfast we set off to the ferry-port of Pargua from where we would cross to Chiloe Island. It was raining so birding stops en-route were abandoned and we decided to catch as earlier a ferry as possible. Whilst waiting at the ferry-port groups of Silvery Grebes were seen, as well as Black-necked Swans, American Oystercatchers, some flocks of Imperial and Red-legged Cormorants, plus a few Baird's Sandpipers and some Dark-bellied Cinclodes. An AntarcticGiant-Petrel then flew past giving excellent views. Once on board the ferry we sheltered from the drizzle and scanned the sea for passing birds. Lots of cormorants passed by in formations and we began to see Sooty and the occasional Pink-footed Shearwaters. Several Magellanic Diving-Petrels came close enough that id features could be clearly seen, and a couple of MagellanicPenguins appeared briefly on the surface. A Southern Fulmar put in an appearance, two more Antarctic Giant-Petrels were seen as well as plenty of inquisitive sea lions. After half an hour we landed on Chiloe Island and immediately drove just a few hundreds yards along the road, where we enjoyed the first two of many Flightless Steamer-Ducks. There was also a small group of Hudsonian Godwits feeding along the shoreline. Heading inland it continued to rain as we slowly drove along searching for parakeets. None were seen but at a beach there were more FlightlessSteamer-Ducks, flocks of Hudsonian Godwits,Whimbrel, and Great Grebe. We then drove towards the Punihuil. Along the way Alex spotted some parakeets flying past which on closer inspection proved to be a flock of sixty or more, most of which were Slender-billed Parakeets, with a few Austral amongst them. At Punihuil we parked on the beach and scoped our first male Kelp Goose. There were also a couple of Magellanic Penguins on a small island, a female Kelp Goose and hoards of cormorants that included Imperial, Red-legged, Neotropic and our first Rock Cormorants. Eventually we had to leave but not before getting some excellent views of a pair of Flightless Steamer-Ducks sat on a rock. Leaving the area a Chilean Hawk was seen by a few on the bus as it dashed by. Lunch was taken at a very nice seafood restaurant at which point the rain stopped. Afterwards we checked a marshy area where there were several Sedge Wrens, plus a close immature male Cinereous Harrier. Moving on to Caulin Bay we found many shorebirds. There were Hudsonian Godwits in good numbers as well as Whimbrel, Ruddy Turnstones, Sanderling, and a single American Golden Plover. Further along we found hundreds of Sanderling, flocks of Baird's Sandpipers, a few Red Knot, a single Black Skimmer and lots of Chilean Flamingos, Flightless Steamer-Ducks, Silvery Grebes and Black-necked Swans. A couple of Snowy-crowned Terns also gave us excellent views. On our return ferry crossing we saw close Sooty Shearwaters, a few Pink-footed Shearwaters and some Magellanic Diving-Petrels and Magellanic Penguins. A huge flock of South American Terns were seen and large mixed flocks of cormorants flew past, but the crossing's grand finale was the group of four Black(Chilean)Dolphins. There was no more time for birding as we headed for Puerto Montt airport and our two hour flight to Punta Arenas. We arrived late in the evening with a distinct Patagonian chill in the air.
Day 9 Saturday 9th Oct
We set off early in order to be one of the first in the queue for the two and a half hour ferry journey across the Magellan Straits to Tierra del Fuego. Along the way we passed close by the shore, and sat on the calm water just a few feet from the edge were many Antarctic Giant-Petrels, SootyShearwaters and Southern Fulmars. As we waited on the wharf (pronounced wolf in Chilean!), a couple of very attractive Dolphin Gulls were seen, as well as a distant Black-browed Albatross and some KingCormorants. The weather was a little too calm to produce many seabirds, but we did get to see twenty or more Southern Fulmars, ten Black-browed Albatross, a couple of MagellanicPenguins, Magellanic Diving-Petrel and finally three or four Common Diving-Petrels. As we finally cruised into the harbour at Porvenir we spotted several groups of Upland Geese, more KingCormorants and a couple of Antarctic Giant-Petrels. We then docked in what looked like another world! With clear blue skies and icy clean air, the port with its brightly coloured buildings was a photogenic introduction to this most southerly of destinations. Once the coach was off the ferry we all climbed aboard and set off along the coast towards our hotel. The inevitable roadside stops produced views of Flying Steamer-Ducks, Crested Ducks, Great Grebes and then a group of ten Antarctic Giant-Petrels feeding just a few yards from shore, followed by some beautiful DolphinGulls sat on a jetty. After a hot lunch at our hotel we set off for the afternoon's birding. Driving out into the barren landscape we passed many pairs of attractive Upland Geese before stopping to look around the edge of a huge lake. Several Short-billed Miners and Austral Negritos were seen but there was no sign of our main target species, so it was back on the coach. Roger then spotted a seedsnipe, so we stopped and once out moved closer, and got super views of two Least Seedsnipe. At the next site we walked out towards the edge of a lake and saw more Short-billedMiners before coming across our first very attractive Two-banded Plovers, including one bird with two tiny chicks. Moving on a little further a Least Seedsnipe was seen sat on its nest and then I spotted our target species, the very rare and endangered dove-like Magellanic Plover. We soon found three birds and had excellent views of this unique species. There were also many Baird's and White-rumpedSandpipers which allowed comparisons, but two very distant Coscoroba Swans didn't find their way onto our checklist. Feeling very pleased, we moved on to an area of wet grassland where Kathryn found a couple of surprisingly attractive Magellanic Oystercatchers. Then amongst the many Baird's Sandpipers we enjoyed fantastic views of three Rufous-chested Dotterels. Back in the minibus we stopped to collect some water from a shop before heading out into the hills. On a small pond were two very showy Flying Steamer-Ducks, and then in an area of scrubby bushes we got perfect views of a singing Austral Canastero, certainly the most attractive of the family yet seen. On the hillside we also got to see our first Guanacos, members of the camel family that look similar to Llamas. Further on and with the sun slowly going down, we searched an area of moss covered bog. South American Snipe displayed overhead and as we spread out in our search another Rufous-chested Dotterel was found. Then Enrique called us over to where he had located two gorgeous Canary-winged Finches, a perfect end to another remarkable and very memorable day.
Day 10 Sunday 10th Oct
After breakfast in our wonderful little hotel, we packed our luggage and said goodbye to our most hospitable hosts. This place had real atmosphere and I think we all felt we would have loved to stay longer. However we had seen the species we had hoped for and it was now time to move on. We boarded our minibus and then crossed through barren open grassland with scattered pools and bogs.
It started off a little misty and as we drove along numerous Upland Geese were spotted, followed by two rare and localised Ruddy-headed Geese. A couple of Patagonian Yellow-Finches were also seen. There were plenty of Least Seedsnipe, including many performing their display flight, and there was also a very showy SouthAmerican Snipe. Waders included Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and White-rumped and Baird's Sandpipers. Once we had reached Bahia Azul we had a half hour wait for the ferry to arrive. A group of Cinnamon-bellied Ground-Tyrants and some Patagonian Yellow-Finches were found immediately, while Grey-hooded Sierra-Finches,Two-banded Plover,Cinereous Harrier and more Least Seedsnipe were noted. The ferry duly arrived and we boarded. In fact there were only three vehicles making the short crossing back to the mainland at Punta Delgada. Just before setting off, a shout from Andy had us watching a Snowy Sheathbill fly in and land on the ferry parked right beside us. We then crossed the very calm Straits of Magellan. Plenty of Magellanic Diving-Petrels were seen well and several South American Terns were noted, but a real highlight, just before docking, was the sighting of around ten beautifully marked Commerson'sDolphins. A colony of Rock Cormorants was also seen, with some birds flying close by the boat. We left the ferry and drove just a short distance before a Common Miner was spotted and then lost again. Along a small track we passed many small ponds and searched amongst the wildfowl that included most of the ducks already seen, until eventually we saw several Coscoroba Swans and up to five very smart Silver Teal. Picnic lunch was taken overlooking a huge bay, after which we set off in search of more specialities. Our first Darwin's Rheas were seen strolling around the endless grasslands and then there was a panic as two Tawny-throated Dotterels flew over. We were afraid that this might be our only sighting of this very attractive species. Further along Andy (refreshed by an apple) spotted a raptor sat on a post. On closer inspection this turned out to be an Aplomado Falcon. As we watched this he then spotted a close Chocolate-vented Tyrant, and then a few seconds later found a reasonably close Tawny-throatedDotterel. We decided we had better keep feeding him apples! Another three Tawny-throatedDotterels were seen so we walked a little closer and enjoyed superb views of this stunning wader. Moving on Alex spotted some dolphins out at sea so we stopped to take a closer look. In the flat calm sea we got excellent views of a couple of very nice Peale's Dolphins. Continuing, we searched for the very localised Band-tailed Earthcreeper and were eventually successful with four birds being seen well. More Darwin's Rheas were spotted and then it was time to drive through more outstanding scenery and head towards Punta Arenas, some 166 kilometres away. The journey was broken with a stop at a couple of ponds where we searched the ducks and numerous SilveryGrebes and were delighted to locate half a dozen very attractive Rosy-billed Pochards. Nearby a couple of Ashy-headed Geese were seen in perfect light. We then completed the last bit of the journey, arriving at out hotel in Punta Arenas in plenty of time, and in daylight (which seemed very unusual!)
Day 11 Monday 11th Oct
After breakfast we set off on the 400 kilometre journey to Torres del Paine National Park. It wasn't long before we made a short stop for an immature Rufous-tailed Hawk sat on a telegraph pole. We continued, passing several Short-eared Owls and many Upland and Ashy-headed Geese. A small roadside pool held a group of White-rumped Sandpipers, and both Southern Crested and Chimango Caracaras were seen before we reached the pleasant town of Puerto Natales. We were now in spectacular mountain scenery and the views from the shore-front were breathtaking. An old wooden jetty was home to a colony of Imperial Cormorants and a couple of King Cormorants were seen with them. A Chilean Skua sat on the flat water allowing excellent scope views, while a SouthernFulmar was also noted, as was as a couple of Dolphin Gulls. There was then a short break for refuelling the minibus and purchasing lunch. This gave some the chance of souvenir shopping and a quick look around the town before we resumed our journey with 160 kilometres to go. A stop beside a small pond gave us another of our targets with two Andean Ducks, while nearby, Austral Parakeets sat in the dead trees. The scenery continued to be impressive, with the distant snow-capped mountains of Torres del Paine a spectacular backdrop. While we ate our picnic lunch several huge and impressive Andean Condors circled overhead and a couple of Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles were noted, In the open grasslands we got superb views of an adult Aplomado Falcon, we passed many Guanacos and Darwin's Rheas and a Skunk ran across the road in front of us. Just before we reached the Torres de Paine National Park we stopped to try and locate PatagonianMockingbird. There were a number of Mourning Sierra-Finches, and then in a perfect spot for photographing a lake and the mountains, we saw the usually secretive mockingbird sat right out in the open. Arriving at the park headquarters, and while waiting for our entrance passes to be sorted, we found a pair of Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles sat on a cliff-side nest. We then set off to explore some of this spectacular park, making stops along the way to check the many small ponds. Six or seven ponds later we came up trumps as there on the bank were three very attractive Spectacled Ducks. We enjoyed excellent view as they slipped into the water and swam around in perfect light. A male Grey-headed Sierra-Finch then posed for us on a dead tree. As the road wound past more ponds and beside lakes there were more Spectacled Ducks, Andean Condors and a variety of other duck species. Beside a small jetty we watched a pair of Flying Steamer Ducks and then at another short stop a pair of Black-chested Buzzard-Eagles were spotted sat together in the top of a dead tree. The road ended and we walked along a track and across a river bridge to a beach, and a lake full of icebergs with a glacier beyond. A pair of Dark-faced Ground-Tyrants was seen briefly, and as we returned Austral Parakeets and Thorn-tailed Rayadito were spotted. We then made our way back through the park to arrive at our lodge at dusk. After dinner and the checklist we were returning to our rooms when a Magellanic Horned Owl was spotted on the ground right in front of us. It then flew to the roof of a building where we slowly approached and shone a small torch which gave us excellent views.
Day 12 Tuesday 12th Oct
This morning we had for us what was a late and rather relaxed breakfast. Brian had been out since dawn and in the tiny wood nearby he had found the Magellanic Horned Owl sat in a tree, so we all went and had a look at this superb bird. After breakfast we set off for the Bagules Valley, a remote and uninhabited area. As we crossed the narrow bridge a male Torrent Duck was seen swimming fast down stream. Two Red Foxes showed well and then we made a stop to photograph the mountains which were reflected perfectly in a still lake. An old skunk was spotted but was so camera shy we had to leave him looking like a fur ball in a pile of branches. In the barren grassy hills a couple of birds flew past so we decided to check them out. They proved to be GreaterYellow-Finches, but then our target bird was found, the beautiful Yellow-bridled Finch.
Further on we got to see many Andean Condors flying overhead very low, while Peregrine Falcon also appeared and promptly disappeared. Following the valley as far as we could we noted
Grey-headed and Mourning Sierra-Finches, Rufous-tailed Plantcutter, Eared Doves, Austral Thrushes,Austral Negritos and Cinnamon-bellied Ground-Tyrants. Then our next target species was found as a couple of very smart looking White-throated Caracaras were observed raking over some dried dung with their feet, looking for dung beetles. This was as far as we could go so retracing our steps a short distance we found a sheltered spot to have lunch, after which we made our way sleepily back towards our lodge at Torres del Paine. In the afternoon we entered the park via a different gate where we then spent the rest of the afternoon trying to see the rare and secretive Austral Rail. A bird called very close to the reed edge and eventually Roger and Alex got brief views as it showed for just a second or two. We tried several other areas and despite hearing birds very close nothing was seen. Some noisy Black-faced Ibis flew around and a couple of Sedge Wrens were seen, but after a long search we had to concede defeat. While returning to the minibus I discussed with Enrique the possibility of trying again early next morning, which would not have been ideal, but it was an important species to try and see. On the last section of reeds, and with most people back by the minibus, another rail called close to the reed edge. We got everyone back and after some thorough scanning with scopes and binoculars Neil managed to spot it half hidden inside the reeds. With scopes set the bird was then seen by everyone, although prolonged views were needed so as features other than just its beak and eye could be seen. After ten minutes it moved deeper into the reeds so we left and set off back to the lodge, happy, and relieved that we didn't need to be up so early next day.
Day 13 Wednesday 13th Oct
After breakfast this morning we loaded the minibus and set off back to Punta Arenas. All of today was to be devoted to travelling, although we did make a couple of brief stops, the first of which was to watch a Grey Fox walking through the grasslands. A second, longer stop saw us all walk a short distance up a hill where we had spectacular views of up to twenty-five Andean Condors. They had probably found a carcass. Many were sat around on the rocks and grassy hillside, while others floated low over our heads. At one point they were all in the air above us, a spectacular finish to the mountainous area of Torres del Paine. At Puerto Natales we made a lakeside stop where there were several Dolphin Gulls sat amongst the more numerous Kelp and Brown-hooded Gulls. We then continued our journey along the deserted roads to Punta Arenas, arriving mid-afternoon in time for our flight to Santiago via a stop in Puerto Montt. Once in Santiago we were met by our coach and taken to our city centre hotel for an overnight stay.
Day 14 Thursday 14th Oct
We headed to the airport where we caught out flight to Arica, in northern Chile, arriving at midday. As we flew north the scenery gradually changed from mountains to the vast open Atacama Desert.
Once in Arica, while waiting at the hotel for our rooms to get sorted, we took a short walk around the lush grounds. Cinereous Conebills were found, as well as Pacific Doves and a couple of Croaking Ground-Doves. An Oasis Hummingbird sat in a tree as did a Peruvian Sheartail, and there was also a couple of very bright Vermilion Flycatchers. After lunch, and a few too many choruses of the "Arica song", we set off in the coach and drove inland, along a plateau and then descended into the Chaco Valley. Here we took a look around a small local farm and despite the strong wind that was blowing, eventually got brief views of a Chilean Woodstar, more Cinereous Conebills, quite a few Slender-billed Finches and a Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail. Walking along the valley floor with its scattered bushes we eventually found and had fantastic views of a couple of Tamarugo Conebills. Leaving here we drove to another area within the same valley and after a little searching we eventually saw a couple of Chilean Woodstars. Alex later found the female on her little basket of a nest. Blue-and-White Swallows were scrutinised for Andeans, and several Chestnut-throated Seedeaters were seen, as well as a small group of Hooded Siskin. Leaving here we returned to the coast in Arica, and here amongst the rocky pools we found groups of Ruddy Turnstones and Surfbirds, plus hundreds of NeotropicCormorants, Grey Gulls and Peruvian Pelicans. As the sun set on a gull roost we found, among the many Grey Gulls, a small flock of Willet, a single Little Blue Heron and Snowy Egret,Blackish and American Oystercatchers,Whimbrel and finally a group of mixed age Band-tailedGulls.
Day 15 Friday 15th Oct
Driving slowly along the coast road in the morning our first target species was located when a group of ten Peruvian Thick-knees were found very close to the road. After excellent views of these we stopped and took a short walk onto the beach. A Snowy Plover and several Baird's Sandpipers were found, while out at sea we spotted Peruvian Pelicans,Peruvian Boobies, numerous Grey and Kelp Gulls, the odd Sooty Shearwater, Elegant Terns and a small group of Peruvian Terns. We then moved on to another area where there were Peruvian Meadowlarks, Slender-billed Finches and a Yellowish Pipit, all of which showed well. Out at sea a group of Black (Chilean) Dolphins were seen playing in the surf just offshore and some storm petrels were just out of range to identify. There were up to thirty Black-crowned Night- Herons beside a lagoon where we also located two Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper,Black Skimmers and many gulls. At sea we had both Arctic and Chilean Skuas,Peruvian Diving-Petrels and several Humboldt Penguins. At the mouth of a small river we found a few wading birds including Greater Yellowlegs, Semi-palmated Plovers, a few Wilson's Phalaropes, a single Least Sandpiper, and amongst a small group of Semi-palmated and Baird's Sandpipers, a lone Western Sandpiper. Walking out onto the beach a group of eight Wilson's Phalaropes flew off, and a Hudsonian Godwit and Dark-fronted Ground-Tyrant were seen. Looking out to sea we added two Wilson's Petrels to our list. The coach then took us to some reedy fields which produced Blue-and-White and Barn Swallows, plus three Sand Martins, before it was time for a fish and chip lunch at a nearby restaurant. Setting off inland we climbed away from the coast, through spectacular desert gorges on our journey to Putre. At a roadside stop we saw a flock of GreenishYellow-Finches and a Straight-billed Earthcreeper gave superb views. After passing through a valley with scattered Candelabra Cacti we stopped at a restaurant to get some drinks. Around the building and in the surrounding hills we found another Straight-billed Earthcreeper a couple of Black-hooded Sierra-Finches, some very attractive Dark-winged Canasteros, White-throatedSierra-Finch and some Ash-breasted Sierra-Finches. Continuing our journey ever upward we eventually arrived at Putre which is at an altitude of 3,600metres. With the air now thin we needed to take things slowly so we settled into out rooms, and although a little cold, looked forward to tomorrow's birding.
Day 16 Saturday 16th Oct
With breakfast over and the sun just starting to appear over the hills we drove the short distance to the other side of town. We spent an hour or so near a stand of eucalyptus trees, overlooking a valley. Andean Hillstars were seen well and we also got superb views of Bare-faced Ground-Doves, Chiguanco Thrush,Straight and Plain-breasted Earthcreepers,Band-tailed Seedeaters, and Canyon and Dark-winged Canasteros. The morning was warming up nicely as we moved on and walked down into and through the sparsely vegetated valley. Greenish and Bright-rumped Yellow-Finches were seen, as were White-browed Chat-Tyrant, and GiantHummingbird of the northern race with more orange underparts. Several very smart Black-throated Flowerpiercers and a few butterflies were seen, and on the edges of a river bed we found White-winged Cinclodes, Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant and countless Mourning and Ash-breasted Sierra-Finches. After lunch back at the hotel we set off in the coach to cover some slightly higher ground. Not far from town we had Yellow-rumped Siskins, two Aplomado Falcons and many species already seen this morning. Moving further on Brian spotted a tinamou from the coach and after a little wait an Ornate Tinamou was seen flying off down the valley. Searching a higher area we saw Andean Swallow, more Hooded and Yellow-rumped Siskins, and on our last section another Ornate Tinamou and a Puna Ground-Tyrant. Back at the lodge and its surroundings for the last hour of daylight, we saw more Black-winged Ground-Doves and Dark-winged Canasteros.
Day 17 Sunday 17th Oct
We were up for breakfast at dawn and it was a little chilly, as was to be expected at this altitude. We drove slowly higher and higher towards Lauca National Park at around 4,500 metres. Along the way we made a quick stop for a group of Guemal (Deer). A look across a boggy area produced Grey-breasted Seedsnipe,White-winged Diuca-Finches, Puna Miner, Andean Geese, and White-fronted Ground-Tyrant, while a Mountain Caracara flew over and three Puna Tinamous were seen well. There were several Viscasha seen and in the course of the day many Vicunas. Our next stop produced the first of many Giant Coots plus our only Andean Flicker, and a superb White-throated Earthcreeper put on a fabulous performance. More Andean Geese appeared and there were lots of Speckled Duck on a small lake. Further searching of the nearby bogs found us Andean Flamingos amongst the Chilean, Andean Lapwing,Puna Ibis and distant Andean Avocet. There were also Silvery Grebes, a single Puna Teal, and some flighty BlackSiskins. We then drove to Chungara Lake, a superbly picturesque spot. Here we enjoyed our picnic, accompanied by Black-hooded Sierra-Finches and Andean Gulls. Out on the lake hundreds of Giants Coots outnumbered the smaller Andean Coots. After we had moved on Alex found a White-cheeked Pintail for us, and some more Black Siskins and Puna Teal were seen. On a muddy inlet two Puna Plovers flew off with a flock of Baird's Sandpipers. We couldn't relocate them, but having negotiated a customs post near the Bolivian border we visited another smaller lake, and this held two more Puna Plovers, closer Andean Avocets, lots of Andean Gulls, and a close Wilson's Phalarope. Retracing our steps along the dusty puna road we found Golden-spottedGround-Doves, a Puna Tinamou sat right out in the open, and further along the return route, a Rufous-naped Ground-Tyrant. After a day which gave us many new species we arrived in Arica about 8.30pm.
Day 18 Monday 18th Oct
The last morning saw us visit an area on the outskirts of Arica in the Azapa Valley. We walked a small road seeing several Oasis Hummingbirds and Peruvian Sheartails. There were also Chestnut-throated Seedeater, a couple of Blue-black Grassquits,White-crested Elaenia, a pair of Vermilion Flycatchers,Croaking Ground-Doves and a Peruvian Thick-knee. Leaving the area we saw an active hole where a Burrowing Owl lived and then on our way towards the beach Enrique spotted a Groove-billed Ani. We got out and found three of these not so attractive birds.
Down by the shore we looked at Peruvian Meadowlarks, Slender-billed Finches and a bunch of Turkey Vultures, while a muddy estuary held much the same waders as seen a few days previous, with Least, Semi-palmated,Western and Spotted Sandpipers, Wilson's Phalaropes, Whimbrel, Semi-palmated Plovers, Killdeer, and an American Golden Plover. Out at sea we saw AntarcticGiant- Petrel, two Wilson's Petrels,Humboldt Penguins, Sooty Shearwater and a mass of GreyGulls, as well as Kelp and Band-tailed. Eventually we had to leave and head for the airport for our lunch-time flight to Santiago. Once here we had a little wait before catching our final flights to Madrid and then on to London Heathrow, where we arrived back early evening the following day.
Day 19 Tuesday 19th Oct
Arrival at Heathrow saw an end to a superb tour with a great group of people. We had some long tiring days, saw some amazing scenery, stayed in great accommodation with excellent food, and above all saw an amazing amount of wonderful wildlife. I would like to thank Enrique, a superb organiser, guide and friend, and everyone else on the tour for making it great fun and for contributing to the finding of many good birds, mammals, butterflies etc.