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Chile, December 2005,
This is a report on birding in central Chile (from regions IV to IX) between 15 December 2005 and 3 January 2006. It concentrates on logistical information and updates on established sites and information on sites not covered in Pearman's or Wheatley's guides or trip reports available on the Web (see references below), particularly Conguillío National Park, which was excellent, and Radal-Siete Tazas National Reserve.
I was in central Chile on a family trip so did not have time to go to the desert north or all the way to the southern tip of the country, but went to the Araucanía and lakes district (Region IX) for some different habitat and species.
Chile does not have many species of land birds, but several unusual and wonderful ones, and the country has fabulous scenery and excellent highways and other infrastructure. What struck me most is that it has the biogeography of a remote island: while Hawaii and the Galapagos have their finches, here it is the Furnariidae that have radiated into all kinds of niches. With the continuous high mountains and a very arid desert as barriers, it is an island.
El Yeso. This is the only accessible site for Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, and in general is a low altitude location for high-Andean species. It is covered in both books and most published trip reports. I went there directly from the airport (though getting accustomed to the country first would have been beneficial!), taking the ring highway south and around Santiago to the Avenida Florida exit and the road through San Jose (Cajón) de Maipo. None of the trip reports made it clear that it is a difficult drive, over 30 km on the unpaved road after the turn-off, parts of it rough and with some of it (along the side of the reservoir) narrow with a steep, exposed drop-off. By the time we started our return (after only a couple of hours had passed, with no precipitation), the stream that washes across the road about 7 km past the dam had picked up volume and washed out deep ruts in the stony road! Our sedan car got stuck; the only vehicle that came along was able to pull us out with our rope, but only back on the wrong side of the washout; we had to do some impromptu road construction by hand, and barely got through.
We had driven to a point just after a bridge 10 km past the dam (a new set of distance makings starts at the dam), turning off to the left on a track into the flat boggy area, though the track was blocked after less than 1 km. Given the road condition, unless you have high clearance and 4-wheel drive, I would recommend instead parking at about the 7 km point and walking down to the bog from there (not adding much distance to the walk, which is maybe about 1 km away). Either way, it involves wading through numbingly cold water. I searched all the brightest green vegetation without success, but eventually found a DSP in the flat, grazed area not far from a big pile of quarry stones. It was very tame. Other birds in the area were a flock of Crested Duck and several Gray-breasted Seedsnipe (which were not tame). There was a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle but no condors; I figured out later one probably needs to scan carefully along the peaks for distant condors. In part because of the delay on the road, I did not see as many species of furnarids and ground-tyrants as are present, and the big dip was Crag Chilia: I stopped at many of the reported locations (at the 4km, 6km, 13km etc points on the road to the dam) and did not hear or see it, but I was late and out of time.
Pelagic from Concón. The trip was organized by Rodrigo Tapia of Aconcagua Birding Trips; he chartered a small but fast boat out of a yacht club in Concón. With generous use of chum, we pulled in 4 species of albatross and a Northern Giant-Petrel. There was a pair of fly-by diving petrel but White-chinned was the only larger petrel. (The diversity would be greater during migration.)
PN (Parque National) La Campana. Rodrigo Tapia took me and a British birder to the Ocoa and El Cojon entrances, rather than the main entrance described by Pearman and others. The area is hot and dry, so the challenge is to get there early enough. Moustached Turca is very common and White-throated Tapaculo somewhat so... by voice; both were very secretive. Rodrigo had a staked-out White-throated Treerunner nest. We stayed late to try for a Rufous-legged Owl, which did not appear; Rodrigo's assistant Carlos Vásquez kindly showed us video he had recorded of a calling pair at the same spot previous.
Coastal wetlands. I spent an afternoon at two well-known sites, Laguna El Peral and Lake Penuelas. El Peral is a wonderful little marsh maintained by the forestry service, CONAF, just full of birds. The lake at Peñuelas, on the other hand, was mostly deserted and had few species (Cocoi Heron) not at the other site; Pearman neglects to mention that his lengthy list of waterfowl is primarily of birds that winter there! Tapia took us to another marsh north of Concón (I won't give away his trade secrets) that had a lot of Spectacled Tyrants and also a Stripe-backed Bittern.
ARAUCANÍA, LAKES DISTRICT
PN Conguillío. (Pronounced "congheeZHEEyo" with a hard "g" and a slight "zh" sound.) This park is not mentioned in either bird-finding book or any of the trip reports on the Internet, though it is included on a trip itinerary from Hualamo Nature Tours. Alvaro Jaramillo graciously passed along information on this site, and when he mentioned Flying Steamer-Duck and Ashy-headed Goose, I knew this was the place for me to get a taste of the south. As Jaramillo suggested, the area around Laguna Captren was most productive, with a pair of the ducks in the morning (along with Black-faced Ibis, Chiloe Widgeon, etc., though no geese) and lots of Black-throated Huet-huet and Chucao Tapaculo (but the latter especially are impressively elusive, able to call loudly from arm's length and still keep hidden). Also Magellanic Woodpecker, Des Murs Wiretail, many flocks of parakeets, presumably all Slender-billed, I was fortunate to see both Rufous-tailed White-throated Hawks the first afternoon.
I took the night train to Temuco and rented a car from Verschae to drive into the Andes. I stayed in the friendly and cheap Hospedaje Icalma in Melipeuco, mentioned in the guidebooks, which was farther from the good sites than I expected (an hour and a half). There are several cabanas within the park, but they are quite expensive unless there are several people to share them.
PN Laguna del Laja. In contrast to Conguillío, this park east of Los Angeles was a disappointment. Though from trip reports I had dropped any expectation of finding a Chestnut-throated Huet-Huet (the park is just north of the dividing line between the two species at the Rio Bío Bío), Pearman's checklist made it seem like another chance to see a few high-altitude species. (I had done well enough at Conguillío that there were few new species possible at PN Nahuelbuta, my other option .) But the lake and lava slopes were barren, and it is hard to imagine Spectacled Duck behind the dam as he reports. His information on the huet-huet and other forest birds was indecipherable, and I got in considerable danger trying to find the "way up scree slope to reach forested valley." He must have drawn the map from memory. This time I did scan thoroughly for condors (there were few other birds to distract me), but without success. An itinerary from the company Fantasticosur also includes this park and mentions the same species, so maybe it was just my bad luck. I stayed just outside the park in Albanico at the Hotel Malalcura , which has seen better times but was fine and convenient.
Cerro Ñielol. This small park is right in Temuco and has heavy bamboo undergrowth. There were a lot of Chilean Pigeons, several Slender-billed Parakeets, and I found a wiretail and two Black-throated Huet-huet without having to call them in. (You will appreciate the significance of that after trying for these species.) In contrast, I did not see or hear Ochre-flanked Tapaculo until I played its call, presumably because it was late in the breeding season?; even then it was mostly silent and very secretive. There were many Magellanic Tapaculo calling.
RN (Reserva Nacional) Radal-Siete Tazas. We went to this park in the mountains east of Curicó on a family camping trip, but I was very eager to see if there were any Chestnut-throated Huet-Huet, an elusive endemic that is reported as common at Vilches, near RN Altos de Lircay, a reserve not far south by air. I did not see or hear any, despite spending some time in bamboo groves across the river from Radal. Austral Parakeet were very common, with small flocks present much of the time. The species I saw were mostly common and widespread, but included good birds like Chilean Pigeon and White-throated Treerunner. The reserve pamphlet mentions Magellanic Woodpecker, Torrent Duck, Condor, and Burrowing Parrot, but I didn't see any of those species.
Other. At La Serena (Region IV), I saw a West Peruvian Dove, not shown as that far south in the field guide, but Jaramillo notes that it is expanding rapidly.
Alvaro Jaramillo, Birds of Chile
Mark Pearman, The Essential Guide to Birding in Chile
Nigel Wheatley, Where to Find Birds in South America
Guillermo Egli, Voces de Aves Chilenas
Lonely Planet, Chile & Easter Island
The field guide, Birds of Chile by Alvaro Jaramillo is just terrific. I am skeptical about collaborations by multiple artists (witness the Peru guide), but Peter Burke and David Beadle are perfectly coordinated and often hard to tell apart. The CD recording Voces de Aves Chilenas by Guillermo Egli is high-quality and invaluable (though it omits many important species and instead includes things like Great Egret and House Sparrow). Pearman's book may be as indispensable as it is titled, for lack of an alternative, though it is basically an expanded trip report, and most sites are covered almost as well (maybe copied - without credit?) in Wheatley's book on South America. It does have some useful additional information, such as distinguishing not only what's strictly endemic (why are the Brits so obsessed about that?) but also those that are endemic to the regions that only just cross the political borders to Argentina or Bolivia. Both guidebook and CD were available from LA Audubon but not from ABA Sales.
Useful Web sites for general information include the following.
http://www.turistel.cl/ (includes good road maps)
Trip reports to Chile can be found at the following Web sites.
Barry Wright et. al., http://www.worldtwitch.com/chile_1998.htm
Verschae car rental. http://www.verschae.com/
EFE train system http://www.efe.cl/ (in Spanish). The train system has been rebuilt; starting on 6 January 2006, it continues as far as Puerto Montt.
Feel free to write if you have questions.