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|A Report from birdtours.co.uk|
Argentina and Chile (and Brazil) July 2001,
This was my first visit to South America and incorporated some of the best areas for birding in these countries. The only down side was that I was on a school rugby tour with 25 which didn't exactly allow me to do much in the way of birding. However my interest in birds seemed to be excepted which did allow me to see some cracking birds.
The tour started off in Buenos Aires. The journey from the hotel to the airport gave me a good start, letting me get to grips with the more common species like Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Southern Lapwing, Chimango Caracara, American Black Vulture, Picazuro Pigeon, Eared Dove and Tropical Kingbird. After a 14 hour flight and not much sleep I didn't go out much on our first day in South America. However during a team jog through the centre of Buenos Aires I did add further species to my list including Monk Parakeet, Cattle Tyrant, Brown-backed Mockingbird, White-rumped Swallow and Brown- and Grey-hooded Gulls.
Next day was training for our first match. The area around the pitch proved good for birds with many Rufous Horneros (one of their huge 'oven' nests was built on the cross-bar of some old American Football posts), Hooded Siskin, Chimango Caracara, Eared Dove, American Kestrel and a pair of Southern Lapwings. After a long session we went off to meet our hosts at Colegio San Gregorio (St Gregory's School). No more birds were seen that day.
Match Day 1 was greeted by Southern Lapwings and Rufous Horneros on the pitch and a Whistling Heron on the adjacent pitch. I can't remember the score, but we won fairly convincingly. A fairly 'big' evening followed so not much else was seen.
Next day a tour of the city was arranged. We visited some potentially good parks but I could only pick up Rufous-bellied Thrush, Creamy-bellied Thrush, Screaming Cowbird and Rufous-collared Sparrow as well as the more common species. A visit to the Tigre Delta produced Muscovy Duck and Great Egret as well as Rufous-bellied Thrush, Picazuro Pigeon and Brown-backed Mockingbird. In the afternoon we went to train at Balmoral College in south Buenos Aires. The area around the pitch proved quite good with Great Kiskadee, Picui Ground-dove, Chimango Caracara and 3 Campo Flickers feeding on the pitch. Rufous Hornero and Southern Lapwing were present as well.
Match Day 2 provided little excitement bird-wise. 4 Great Kiskadees outside a shopping mall in the morning gave nice views, a Whistling Heron flew over the pitch and more Campo Flickers afterwards were nice. The match was also won by a fairly good margin.
The following day was the last in BA. We visited La Boca district which was nice and gave me a great view of a male Hooded Siskin. We then got a late morning flight to Puerto Iguazu.
Upon arriving at Iguazu we were greeted by Great Egrets and an American Black Vulture as well a large array of butterflies. Butterflies were a great feature of Iguazu with a huge diversity being seen. However we failed to see any of the spectacular Morpho butterflies. Birds around the hotel at Iguazu were few and far between with Great Kiskadee, House Wren, Brown-backed Mockingbird and Rufous-collared Sparrow being the best I could manage.
The following day we went made our way to the Iguazu Falls. We first took a short boat ride to see the Devil's Throat (the most powerful part of the falls). On the way I picked up Olivaceous Cormorant and White-winged Swallow as well as the large numbers of Black Vultures rising on the updrafts created by the falls. From the look-out over the Devil's Throat we could view Great Dusky Swift shooting in and out from behind the falls. This was a highlight for me as the swift is one of the most remarkable birds in the world in my opinion. A huge flock of between 100-200 swifts high over the falls completed the picture.
We then went on to another area of the falls. However to get there we had to visit the parents' tour hotel (some of the parents joined us on part of the tour). This was no chore as it allowed me to get very close views of Black Vultures (no Lesser-yellow heads unfortunately) as well as a pair of Ruddy Quail-doves and best of all a fine Toco Toucan which posed in the open for ages, impressing the whole of the (non-birding) group, which was a bit of a coup for me. We then headed down for a very wet boat ride practically underneath the falls. The only birds seen were Great Kiskadee and Great and Snowy Egrets. A long walk back the top of the falls followed. At the top, our guides showed us the nests of Red-rumped Caciques. A loud noise behind us gave me hope we might see one of these gorgeous icterids. However the noise came from an even better bird, Plush-capped Jay, which was raiding one of the bins. After another wander at the top of the falls it was time to go. Then the birding just started to get good, with a flock of 7 Chestnut-eared Araçaris in a small tree just above our heads which again got the group excited, especially as they stayed for a while allowing everyone to get great views of these cracking little toucans. The car-park then produced Chopi Blackbird, Dark-billed Cuckoo and, best of all, Saffron Toucanet. We then stopped at a pool to see Black Caiman. At the distance it was at the Caiman was quite unimpressive but a Grey-bellied Hawk nearby made up for it. The day had ended nicely but a Pauraque flying in front of a group of us as we walked into Puerto Iguazu for pizza, rounded off a great day.
The following morning was early as we wanted to visit Brazil before we caught our flight to take us to Mendoza via BA. The bus ride to Brazil provided no new birds, but on the bus to the falls I saw another Toco Toucan and a Roadside Hawk. Great Kiskadees were particularly common this stretch of road. Once at the falls, the birding began to heat up. Around the car-park I had Green-headed, Black-goggled and Swallow Tanager all together which was a fantastic sight. White-eyed Conures seemed to be quite common on this side of the falls, with several flocks going over. However just when it seemed to be getting good, the birding became quite poor. I did catch up with Red-rumped Cacique at another car-park and came across a large flock of both Greater and Smooth-billed Anis which became more common as the day went on. After a typically big South American lunch we caught our flight to BA followed by another to Mendoza. It was dark by the time we got to Mendoza so no more birds were seen today.
Match Day 3 was a long one. We arrived early at the ground for a long training session, which was made more difficult by the thin mountain air and the Andes towering in the distance taking our breath away. Birds around the pitch were good with Aplomado Falcon, White-tailed Kite and Correndera Pipit being added to the list. The match didn't go so well with the mighty Teque Rugby Club destroying us 49-3. In our defence, they were mostly 19 (several internationals) and we had one 18 yr old, the rest were 17 and 16.
The following day we took a trip into the mountains. Everyone else in the squad went horse-riding but due to my allergy to horse-hair, I remained to spend some time birding. The birds in the area were good, with Mountain Parakeet, Glossy-black Thrush and Spot-winged Pigeon being the best birds. However one bird was potentially a very exciting find. A small bird, resembling a European Robin in boldness and call but with a more horizontal stance, with a bold moustachal stripe, black throat and breast, pale belly and chestnut back. In the Collins Birds of Southern South America and Antarctica, only one bird matches that description - Stripe-backed Antbird. However this is a chaco speciality which occurs over 500 miles away from Mendoza province. However in defence of the antbird, Mendoza is quite an underwatched birding area, no other bird (including any of the cincloides, which I intially identified this bird as) resemble what I saw so closely as the Stripe-backed Antbird and finally Spot-winged Pigeon (another chaco specialty) was quite happy in the streets of Mendoza. Perhaps someone could help me out on this. The bird was seen in the Andean foothills, west of the Potretillos area, and seemed to be quite at home feeding under pines in a small village with a small stream about 100 yds away. No other birds were seen apart from more White-tailed Kites, American Kestrels and Aplomado Falcons.
Next day, the weather was too bad to drive across the Andes so we flew from Mendoza to Santiago De Chile, which was turbulent to say the least. Once we had arrived in Santiago the weather had not improved although this didn't seem to bother the Chimango Caracaras and Austral Thrushes which were present in good numbers. Shining Cowbirds and Austral Blackbirds were also seen. We just relaxed around the city for the rest of the day.
Next day we headed up to Craighouse School, to the east of the city, in the foothills. The drive provided more Chimangos and Austral Thrushes and a Kelp Gull. At the ground there were a couple of Chimangos and the now ubiquitous Southern Lapwings on the pitch. Chilean Swallows were common in the area as well. The rest of the day was spent playing rugby and relaxing with our hosts. We beat the best school team in Chile 17-7.
The following day was our trip to Viña Del Mar on the Pacific coast. The trip out was long, slow and for the most part pretty boring. However there were plenty of highlights for me. Long-tailed Meadowlarks were common in some areas, and Chilean Mockingbirds were pretty regular. A Red-backed Hawk was nice and a pair of Chilean Flickers was a real surprise. However the real star was an Andean Condor, possibly a juvenile, soaring over an area of farmland mobbed by a Chimango. So far from the mountains and so easy to see and quite close range, it was completely unexpected on this part of our trip. At Viña, the good birding continued. On rocks to the north of Viña, there were lots of Peruvian Pelicans and Boobies, Guanay Cormorants with several very large Sea-lions. Closer searching produced a few Inca Terns amongst the larger birds. On the rocks next the Pacifico Restaurant there were 3 Seaside Cincloides with some Ruddy Turnstones. However the best birds were 2 Grey Gulls, one that fed on the beach beneath the Pacifico restaurant while we had lunch and a second bird was on the beach to the south of the restaurant, while some of the less sane members of the tour decided to show the Chileans what Brits are made of by swimming in the freezing cold waters of the eastern Pacific. The locals weren't impressed, especially the bus drivers. The way home was fairly uneventful with several Long-tailed Meadowlarks and a Chilean Mockingbird.
The following day we went to train at the Prince of Wales Country Club, which must have been a fair way out in the countryside, as there were lots of Austral Parakeets around the club house and car park. Austral Thrushes were everywhere as were, yes you've guessed it, Southern Lapwings, one of which had decided to nest in the middle of the training ground which made training a lot more difficult than usual. We were then taken to our new hosts. Mine happened to be quite close to the club so he had at least some birds in his garden, even if they were just Rufous-collared Sparrow and House Wren.
Next day we walked over to the club through the golf course. Here we had the sparrows and wrens again, as well as plenty of Austral Thrushes, plus a White-crested Elaenia giving it's distinctive call and, a real shock, a female Green-backed Firecrown perched on a garden fence. I had no idea that this species occurred so close to Santiago and in a habitat I wouldn't really call suitable, but again if Austral Parakeets like it, which shouldn't Green-backed Firecrowns. Anyway we won the match convincingly. On the walk back we had few birds just the usual. However next to my hosts house we found a pair of Upland Geese next to a dried up pond in the middle of the golf course. I can't think what they would be doing on habitat like that, but surely Upland Geese aren't feral on the edge of Santiago. And as with the parakeets and firecrown, there's no accounting for taste. If anyone knows of the likely status of these birds, can you let me know.
Next day we travelled up to Valle Nevado, a ski-resort in the Andes. While we were waiting for the bus I found a Plain-mantled Tit-spinetail. Unfortunately there were few birds on the way up although a pair of very distant specks could well have been condors. However the undoubted highlight for me was a Crag Chilia about halfway up perched in a dead twig of tree next to a cliff. At the resort Greater Yellowfinch and Band-tailed Sierra-finch were common around the car-park. After an enjoyable day skiing (or in my case snowboarding, or trying to!) the day was rounded off by a flock of 5-6 cracking Mountain Caracaras. We then headed back to meet our last hosts.
The next day was our final match day. On the pitch we had Southern Lapwings as usual and also Austral Blackbirds. We saw off St Gabriel's School easily. We then went back to Santiago to go through the compulsory(!) last night celebrations.
So the tour was successful on both fronts for me, with 5 out of 6 matches won (incidentally the match we lost was the only one where there were Southern Lapwings on the pitch beforehand, so a clear candidate for team mascot.) and nealy 80 species seen, most of them new.
If you can help me with my queries or want some information contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saul Cowen 2001