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A Report from

Report Of A Birding Trip To Northern Argentina,

Jan van der Laan

June 5th  till June 25th  1999

Jan van der Laan
Marieke Wiringa

Burrowing Parakeets at Cachi, Salta Province


Between June 5th and 26th 1999 I visited Argentina together with my girlfriend Marieke Wiringa. The main goal was to have a good and pleasant vacation, with some occasional birding. The itinerary was cunningly planned and while visiting nice places, I made it possible to see as many as possible endemics plus some of the better species shared with neighbouring countries. Like Chile, Argentina is a very pleasant country, and even more expensive, but a perfect country for a vacation.


5th June We took the KLM flight 791 (f 1500) from Amsterdam to Buenos Aires 23:15 hours (actually on June 4th). We made one stops at São Paulo, Brazil but it was dusky and clouded, so we could not see this huge city from above. Without any problems we reached Buenos Aires at 9:55 hours. Without delay we passed the customs and went straight to AVIS desk for the rental car, for the cost of a respectable $ 670 for three weeks. This car, a Ford Ka, proved to be very good and solid. Then we drove to the centre of Buenos Aires. After checking out the outskirts first (very against our will), we arrived at the old run-down hotel Eibar (we booked that in advance and it was one of the conditions of the travel agency to spend a certain amount of money in order to get the cheapest air-fare). We walked around for two hours and went for a afternoon nap back to the hotel, but we woke up only the next morning!
6th June This morning we went to Costanera Sur, a reserve in the centre of Buenos Aires. Interesting birds were Ringed Teal, Green Kingfisher, Yellow-billed Cardinal, Spot-flanked Gallinule, a juvenile Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Scarlet-headed Blackbird and Yellow-winged Blackbird. At noon we drove west in the direction of Cordoba. Night fell early and at 21:00 hours we stopped driving and found a motel in Villa Maria ($35), which proved to be a rendezvous house...
7th June We drove from Villa Maria to Cordoba. From there we drove to Vila Carlos Paz and after a minor lunch there we went straight to El Condor village in the Pampa de Achala, where according to several birding reports no less then three endemic species could be found: Cordoba Cinclodes, Olrog's Cinclodes and Cordoba Canastero. Only the Olrog's Cinclodes was present with White-winged Cinclodes, Black-billed Shrike Tyrant and the both common Chiguanco Thrush and Long-tailed Meadowlark. In the evening we drove back to Villa Carlos Paz, where we found a good hotel ($60!), had dinner and went to sleep.
8th June In the morning we drove from Villa Carlos Paz to El Condor for a second attempt for the Cordoba Canastero and Cordoba Cinclodes. On our way to El Condor, I spotted a Spot-winged Falconet next to the road. At El Condor I had again no luck. The Cordoba Cinclodes is apparently not present in winter and the Canastero too or just silent. Again Olrog's Cinclodes was present, together with Corderillean Canastero, White-winged Cinclodes, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle and Common Miner. On our way back to Villa Carlos Paz, a nice Aplomado Falcon sat next to the road. Next we drove north through Cruz del Eje and finally we found a small hotel in Dean Funes ($35).
9th June After breakfast we drove in the direction of Tucaman. On our way we passed San José de la Salinas, which is according to several sources a reliable spot for the endemic Salinas Monjita. We searched in good habitat for more than two hours in this Camargue-like habitat, but failed to find any. The bird probably disperse north in winter and gather in groups, so it is more difficult to find. 50 km before Tucaman the road became very bad (although good numbers of passerines), without any warning, so we had to make a by-pass and we arrived in Tucaman after sunset. We checked in Hotel Colonial ($50) and before we went to sleep, we had dinner in a local restaurant.
10th June After breakfast with again good Argentinean coffee we went south and then west on Ruta 307 to Tafi del Valle. First we passed the Yunga forest along the Rio los Sosas. Just before the statue of an Indian, we stopped to scan the rocks and boulders in the river. There we saw a pair of Torrent Ducks and suddenly a Rufous-throated Dipper, the Number One speciality of this area. Other birds included Mitred Parakeet, Brown-capped Warbler, Black Phoebe, Mountain Wren, Common Bush-Tanager and White-winged Cinclodes. When driving further on we saw another pair of dippers accidentally at the spot explained on page 54 in Where to Watch Birds in South America by Nigel Wheatley. Finally we arrived in Tafi del Valle, which seemed completely deserted of tourists, but we found a very good hotel still open for $35 per night. In Tafi I did some final birding in a river bed, which produced the only Night Heron, a lot of White-winged Cinclodes, Tropical Parula, Spot-billed Ground-tyrant and Band-tailed Seed-eater. In the evening when the sun disappeared it was suddenly very cold, almost at freezing point!
11th June This morning I checked the ravine at 3000 meters at Kilometre Post 80 north of Tafi del Valle for the localised and endemic Tucaman Mountain-Finch. No luck, but I managed to see Cinereous Harrier, Andean Flicker, the endemic Bar-eyed Ground Dove and Black-billed Shrike-tyrant. Next we drove to Cachi. Just before Abra del Infiernillo a truck could not pass the hairpin bend due to slippery melting ice and water and we had to wait an hour until somebody managed to get the truck out. In the afternoon we finally reached Cafayate, but not before seeing some Burrowing Parrots! In Cafayate we took a room in Hotel Colon for a reasonable $ 25.
12th June After a good night sleep we left Cafayate for Cachi. Outside Cafayate at San Carlos we discovered a large group of Burrowing Parrots, coming from everywhere. Obviously this species is not threatened here. Other interesting birds just outside Cafayate were Andean Swift and Black-capped Monjita. Then the tarmac road stopped and turned into gravel for 70-100 km. However, the landscape was the most beautiful we should see in the whole of Argentina. It reminded me somehow of the Sinai Desert in Egypt or the Arava valley in Israel. A short stop produced Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail and a good and close observation of another Argentine endemic, the Steinbach's or Chestnut Canastero. Our car suffered a punctuated tyre, but this was changed without any problems. Besides, every passing car stopped and offered help! In the evening we reached Cachi and after some searching we found a nice and fully recommended hostel Hosteria Samay Huasi. Night was very cold!
13th June After a cold night, but a good breakfast, we left Cachi and decided to drive to Salta. The first 30 kilometres were tarmac, but it changed again into dirt, but this road was overall better then the Cafayate - Cachi Road. We saw some Llamas and one Rock Earthcreeper. I hope to find the Tucaman Mountain-Finch/Rufous-bellied Saltator spot, supposed to be at San Carlos, according to Juan Mazar Barnett. We could not find the place and at a village called San Martin, the habitat suited both species best, but at that moment I thought driving on to San Carlos was better. At the end of the road the tarmac reappeared and the outskirts of Salta too. At home I checked Cotinga and the place to be was San Martin! At that time I was unaware (and of the fact at that moment the first Heuglin´s Gull for the Netherlands was seen that day!). We took a rather expensive hotel in Salta, because we thought we earned it. Good dinner in some family restaurant with the unavoidable good wines!
14th June Today we drove south from Salta to Cafayate. South of Salta we the only Andean Lapwings. The route to Cafayate was again very scenic, but no special birds were seen. In Cafayate we checked in the ACA-motel for a reasonable $ 30. Behind the hotel I discovered a beautiful male Red-tailed Comet, but I did not succeed in photographing it.
15th June In Cafayate we took an excursion in the Etchard Vineyard and after that I did some walking in the heat at milepost 1030 of Ruta 40, just to tell my fellow birders I have been looking for the White-throated Cachalote and Sandy Gallito. Behind our hotel I found the third Black-crowned Monjita of the holiday and a Lesser Shrike-Tyrant.
16th June From Cafayate we drove to Tafi del Valle. There I did a final attempt to find Tucaman Mountain- Finch, first at KM 80, later at the Tafi water works (OST: Obra Sanitario de Tafi or something) at KM 67. The water works were very good for birding. Ask permission at the gate and explain you are a birdwatcher and want to see the Monterita Garganta Castaña. I had no luck, but I find a Puno Canastero and pished-out two beautiful Yellow-striped Brush-finches. Suddenly clouds came out of the valley and quickly it became cold and foggy. We decided to leave the area and headed east to Iguazu. We made it to Santiago del Estero, a very busy town and after a long search we found a good hotel, where we had dinner too.
17th June This day we drove from Santiago del Estero to Resistencia. The road went first through a huge area (700 km only) of Chaco woodland, which produced at least 7 Spot-winged Falconets and a probable dozen more. Other interesting birds along this road were Great Black-Hawk, Grey-necked Wood-Rail and my only Blue-crowned Parakeet. Then we came into vast wetland areas and the first Maguari Storks appeared and large numbers of Bare-faced Ibis. Just before dark we reach Resistencia were we had to take a rather expensive hotel ($ 80).
18th June We drove a whole day from Resistencia to Iguazu. The landscape changed from enormous wetlands (with Grey Monjita, Long-winged Harrier, Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, Black-collared Hawk, Yellow-headed Caracara, Greater Rhea, Maguari Stork, Brazilian Duck, Yellow-rumped Marshbirds, Large-billed Terns, White-browed, Unicolored and Chestnut-capped Blackbirds, and good numbers of Wattled Jacanas) into the hilly landscape of Misiones. The main industry in Misiones is logging: everywhere we saw paper factories and big lorries carrying large logs. Not a single patch of primary forest seemed left. The soil is very sticky and cars coming from Misiones were all dark brown-red. At the gate of Iguazu National Park a leaflet was given to us for a nice hotel (named Orguidas Palace Hotel) for only $ 33 plus breakfast. We took three nights there, just outside Puerto Iguazu.
19th June This day we spent the whole day walking around the Iguazu Falls and later the whole afternoon was spent walking along the Sendero Macuco trail, which produced good numbers of birds, although the birds were not vocal and the lack of any flowering tree produced not a single hummingbird and the absence of the famous numbers of the Great Dusky Swift was also noteworthy.
20th June In the morning we visited the beautiful Garganta del Diabolo, and enormous waterfall in a beautiful primary forest. In the afternoon I walked the Sendero Macuco trail (the only trail open to public, since a Puma had killed a three-year old child) again, which produced some new species plus an Axara's Agouti and a noisy flock of Brown Capuchin Monkeys.
21st June In the morning it was very foggy, so any birding was not possible. We drove south to the Corrientes Province to see some of the famous Ibera Wetlands. We drove on some 20 kilometres on the non-paved road to Colonia Carlos Pellegrini. Good wetland with lots of passerines. Eventually I found a pair of Strange-tailed Tyrants and a pair of Black-and-White Monjitas. Next I looked for Saffron-cowled Blackbirds at the junction of roads 40 and 14, but no luck, although good numbers of Brown-and-yellow Marshbirds and Spectacled Tyrants were seen there plus Greater Thornbird, Savanna Hawk, Long-winged Harrier, and a Ringed and an Amazon Kingfisher together on a bridge. At nightfall we drove south in this poor area and no hotel could be find. In the end, we found the very run-down Hotel Ibera in Paso de Los Libros ($ 35), but the alternative was a prostitute motel along the road!
22nd June We continued to drive south from Paso de Los Libros in the direction of Buenos Aires. A pair of Plumbeous Ibis was seen and at the end of the morning we reached El Palmar NP, but although very beautiful, no special birds were seen. Spotted Nothura is common along the roads here. Finally we decided to stay at Colon, a little town at the Rio Parana, obviously very crowded in the summer, but nice and quiet when we were there.
23rd June We drove south to Buenos Aires. On our way to Buenos Aires, we visit the Puerto Boca area to look for Saffron-cowled Blackbird, but no luck. I managed to find a Paraguayan Snipe, the fourth Black-crowned Monjita of the holiday, Ringed Teal, Yellow-billed Cardinal, Long-tailed Reed-Finch, Black-capped Warbling-Finch, Grayish Saltator and good numbers of Brow-and-yellow Marshbirds, but no Saffron-cowled Blackbirds. Next, we continued south and reached Buenos Aires after dark. We went looking for an hotel and found one in the Ricoletta area for a terrible $ 80,- a night.
24th June The whole day was spent in Buenos Aires. No special birds were seen. We took hotel Eibar again in Florida street, only because it was included in the flight ticket. Excellent dinner in one of the restaurants in the docks.
25th June Buenos Aires. Playing the occasional tourist. Beautiful city. Full metal rip-off in a restaurant (another bottle of water?, yes please. $ 8 each when the bill came.).
26th June In the morning we looked in the docks and finally saw on definite Olrog's Gull in dock 1 flying by. In the afternoon we took a taxi to the Airport. Our flight departed in time and next day we arrived in Schiphol, Amsterdam.

Suggested Reading

In Argentina several identification guides are available and several good bird reports. I used the following:

·           De la Peña, M. R. and Rumboll, M. (1998). Birds of Southern South America and Antarctica

·           Fjeldså, J and Krabbe, N. (1990). Birds of the High Andes.

·           Gardner, N. and Gardner, D. (1990). A Birder´s Guide to Travel in Argentina. Private report.

·           Mc Carthy, B. (1989). Birding Trip To Northern Argentina.

·           Monroe, B. L. and Sibley, C. G. (1993). A World Checklist of Birds.

·           Ridgley, R.S. and Tudor, G. (1989). The Birds of South America Vol 1: The Oscine Passerines

·           Ridgley, R.S. and Tudor, G. (1994). The Birds of South America Vol 2: The Suboscine Passerines

·           Wheatley, N. (1996). Where to Watch Birds in South America


The following persons were very helpful in providing information and useful material like tapes and I like to thank them for that: Juan Mazar Barnett, Marc Pearman, Jelle Scharringa, Eric Bos, Ruud Schenk, George Sangster, Roy de Haas (especially him for kindly lending me his telelens, recording microphone and the Birds of the High Andes), Lee Sterrenburg and German Pugnali. Finally we like to thank my father, Jur van der Laan and Greetje Brink for respectively bringing us to and picking us up from the Airport.

The Species Accounts

The order en nomenclature of 'A World Checklist of Birds' by Sibley and Monroe (1993) is followed. Endemic species are in capitals.

If you have any remarks, questions or suggestions, please contact me:

Jan van der Laan
Brouwerstraat 19
1814 HX Alkmaar
The Netherlands

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