Birdwatching Trip Reports from Chile


Between January 24th and February 14th 1998 I visited Chile together with my girlfriend Marieke Wiringa (irrespectably called a non-Birding Spouse in birders terms). 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 all 10 Chilean endemics plus the most wanted charadrid in South America, the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover. Chile is a very pleasant country (“a well kept secret” somebody told us), although a little bit expensive, but nowhere else we met more pleasant, easy-going and well-behaving people during this three week visit.


24th January We took the KLM flight 791 from Amsterdam to Santiago at 23:30 hours (actually on January 23rd). We made stops at São Paulo, Brazil and Buenos Aires, Argentina. In the plane we celebrated Marieke’s 34th anniversary with champagne, kindly provided by the crew. Flight was pleasant without any problems and just before Santiago we had wonderful views of the High Andes with the highest mountain in the Americas, the Aconcagua (nearly 7000 meters). Arrived at Santiago International Airport at 14:00 hours local time. No problems with the customs, took a taxi ($ 20!) and went straight to the centre to Hotel Riviera ($54 double) near Cerro Santa Lucia. Had dinner in a very nice restaurant where Marieke’s birthday was celebrated again and finally we went to sleep in our very noisy room.
25th January In the morning we phoned some car rental companies and Just-Rent-a-Car proved to be good bargain. For $ 580 (all included) for two weeks we had an excellent Toyota Tercel. All quiet in Santiago. We drove north to Portillo to see the Andes. Traffic nice and quiet, no problems at all. The Andes proved to be very nice, although road works made it impossible to stop along the road. At Portillo I took a short look at the Creamy-rumped Miner-site, but I ‘only’ managed to find two Black-fronted Ground-Tyrants. One Andean Condor sailing overhead and at the Ski hotel White-sided Hillstar, Gray-hooded Sierra-Finch and lots of Rufous-collared Sparrows. In the hair-pins two Greater Yellow-finches plus Band-tailed Sierra-Finches, Dark-bellied Cinclodes and Mourning Sierra-Finch. Next we drove west to the coast. In the evening we arrived at Papudo, where we had planned to go to a trendy hotel there, recommended in a glossy magazine. Crowded village with a circus with crying lions and elephants. No hotel to find. Drove south to Zapallar, hotel there very expensive. Short sea-watch produced Peruvian Pelican, Peruvian Booby and 3 probable Thin-billed Prions. Lot of luxurious houses here. We drove south to look for a hotel. Finally we found one at Quintero (extremely crowed village and - of course - there was a circus!), Hotel Gran MacKenzie, run by a ex-fisherman from Dutch Harbor (Alaska) called Elisio. Extremely good dinner. Room rather expensive (20.000 Ch$), but Elisio was very hospitable.
26th January Good breakfast made by Elisio. After some social talk, we went to Viña del Mar. Another beach resort, but with more ‘grandeur’. Short stop at Valparaiso, because of a large bird flock in the harbour. Next stop was El Tabo, but again this was a crowded beach resort and we began to realise all Chileans were on holiday. Short stop at Laguna El Peral in Las Cruces yielded Black-necked Swan, Lake Duck, Silvery Grebe, Great Grebe, Yellow-winged Blackbird, Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, Red-gartered Coot and Red-fronted Coot. We decided to drive east to Pirque to visit the Concha y Toro Vineyards next day. After some driving in the Cajon del Maipo, we found a nice hotel (El Toucan) in Obre, just south-east of Santiago. Talking Spanish was still a problem, but we managed to order a good meal with excellent wine.
27th January After a good breakfast we visited the Concha y Toro Winery at Pirque, which was very nice. The excursion was led by a student from England and our group was only with three Americans (one was just back from Torres del Paine, where he had seen Magellanic Woodpecker and Rufous-breasted Seed-snipe). We tasted some wine and bought some bottles. In the afternoon we visited Parque Nacional Rio Clarillo (2000 Ch$ per person entrance!). Here we were lucky to find one Chilean Tinamou, which we saw twice in dense scrub between the road and the river, just 1 km from the main entrance. Other birds were Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Picui Ground Dove, Gray-hooded Sierra-Finch, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Southern House Wren, Chilean Flicker and  probable Dusky Tapaculo (singing). Dinner and sleep in Hotel El Toucan in Obre.
28th January After breakfast and checking out of the hotel (for two nights plus dinner and breakfast 70.000 CH$, a full-metal rip-off!) we tried to drive to Embalse de Yeso, but after 4 km we decided to quit. The road was too rough for the rental car, so we decided to do it later with another vehicle, time permitted. I spent an hour birding at the crags as mentioned in Pearman (1995, p 18) for Crag Chilia and I managed to see one shortly. No Moustached Turca, but Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Chilean Mockingbird and a probable out-of-range Golden-spotted Dove. A little bit disappointed we left to go south. After a straight drive south we reached the town of Talca, where we checked-in at Hotel Amalfi (48 $). We did some sight-seeing, had a good dinner and went to sleep in a bed far too small for me.
29th January After the usual rituals in the morning we left Talca to drive south to Lago Villarica. After visiting Pucon at this beautiful lake and volcano, we decided to go back and take Hosteria Rayhuen in Villarica, because Pucon was crowed with youngsters dressed in the heights of Grunge Fashion. It is me who is getting old-fashioned... No special birds, except several Black-faced Ibises and Brown-hooded Gulls. We had dinner in our hotel and went to sleep (14000 Ch$) early.
30th January Today we drove to Termas de Palguin to check the hot baths there, but the Hotel Termas de Palguin was not there anymore, it was burnt to the ground only very recently. Did some walking in the beautiful Nothofagus forest, where I heard the first Chucao Tapaculo (at first I thought it was a calling Magellanic Woodpecker, because at a distance the song is reminiscent of Green Woodpecker in Europe!) plus close observations of White-throated Treerunner and Thorn-tailed Rayaditos. Surroundings very beautiful, especially with the smoking Volcan Villarica. Just before dinner 4 Austral Parakeets flew over in Villarica. Excellent dinner at El Rey del Marisco and after some sight-seeing in the village we went to sleep.
31st January After breakfast we did a short walk and found out it was possible to use our bank cards here to get money automatically. Two Austral Parakeets flew over again and when leaving Villarica a Night Heron flew over the car. After a moderate drive we arrived at Lago Puyehue. This lake was even more beautiful and the forests were more moist and untouched. We tried to find a sleeping place near Aguas Calientes, but it was full of autobuses and the accommodation proved to be very expensive. Just near the entrance of Parque Nacional Puyehue we discovered two Slender-billed Parakeets close-by and some Rufous-tailed Plantcutters. We drove a little bit west to Nilque, where we hired a cabaña for 12000 Ch$, just at the borders of Lago Puyehue. In the evening we drove east to a weird restaurant, where we were to only guests and the personnel was glazing at us all evening. But there we saw our first true Green-backed Firecrowns and heard a possible Austral Pygmy Owl. During the night a colony of Black-faced Ibises kept us company.
1st February We had a basic breakfast in front of the cabaña and after that we drove to Osorno, a nice, but modern town. Fetched some money automatically, took photographs at Frutillar and went south to head for Puerto Montt and eventually we took the ferry to Chiloe Island. During the crossing we saw Blue-eyed Cormorant, Sooty Shearwater and several Magellanic Penguins, but not the amount of seabirds as was promised in some travel reports and in Pearman. Is El Niño responsible? On Chiloe Island we went to Castro, took Hostel Casa Blanca (18.000 Ch$) and did some walking in the village and harbour, but we found this village not that pleasant as we expected to be (crowded, to much artesania and noisy). Good dinner with some good wine from the Concha y Toro Vineyard.
2nd February After changing traveller checks (money goes faster here than you could imagine), we drove north to Ancud. This is a nice village with a nice harbour. Took the German hotel Drechsler, which was nice for about 14.000 Ch$. We drove west to look for Des Murs’ Wiretail and Ochre-flanked Tapaculo, but could not find any. Best birds seen this day were Ringed Kingfisher, Patagonian Sierra-Finch, Dark-bellied Cinclodes, Rufous-tailed Plantcutter, Chucao Tapaculo, Green-backed Firecrown and Slender-billed Parakeet. No ducks or special shorebirds. Are they gone in the high summer season? In the evening we had an excellent dinner, met three Dutch, who travelled in the Atacama desert. Finally we went to sleep, a little bit overwhelmed by the beer and wine.
3rd February In the morning I did some seawatching at Ancud which produced Rock Cormorant, Red-legged Cormorant, Arctic Skua, Magellanic Penguin, Dark-bellied Cinclodes and some terns too far away to identify. Took several photographs of the Brown-hooded Gull to support Ted Hoogendoorn’s opinion that the Brown-hooded Gull in the southern part of their distribution show less black in the wings. After some walking in Ancud and phoning to the Netherlands we took the ferry to the mainland again. During the crossing we saw some other Magellanic Penguins, several Blue-eyed Cormorants, Rock Cormorant, and Magellanic Oystercatcher. We decided to go to Lago Todos los Santos, which was described as very good in the Lonely Planet. Arrived there in the afternoon, but lots of tourist buses, backpackers and noisy families. Went back to Puerto Varas were we booked a room at Hospedaja Las Rosas (14.000 Ch$) for two nights. Had dinner in a very good, cheap and very friendly Italian Restaurant.
4th February Today we went pack to Lago Todos los Santos to do some walking in the Parque Nacional Vicente Perez Rosales. A park warden told us how to walk and after 15 minutes all families and backpackers were nowhere. Big flies terrorised us all the way. A beautiful place though, with large Nothofagus trees. We walked for three hours and finally reached the lake again. A friendly Mapuche Indian offered a ride in a small rowing boat. This proved to be a good idea, because the lake shore was sometimes too steep and impenetrable and it started to rain. During the walk lots of Chucao Tapaculos were heard and finally we were lucky to see one. Other interesting birds were Peregrine Falcon, Ochre-flanked Tapaculo (several heard), Austral Negrito, Patagonian Sierra-Finch and lots of White-crested Elaenias. When driving back to Puerto Varas we found a pair of Torrent Ducks in the stream near the waterfall. Rest of the day was spent in Puerto Varas, where we had dinner in the same restaurant.
5th February We left Puerto Varas in the morning and drove north. After a long drive, we decided to go to Parque Nacional Laguna de La Laja. At Antuco we had gasoline from a primitive gas-station, where gas was poured into the tank with a hose and a garden waterer. East of Antuco the asphalt road stopped and turned into a bumpy dirt road. We finally reached El Abanico, but the only hotel (Hotel Malalcura) there looked closed. A mini-bus arrived suddenly with the owner. In the end we had a basic dinner and went to sleep in the only twin-bed of the hotel (15.000 Ch$). During the night we were bitten by flees and disturbed by the all-night cooking of the personnel...
6th February The bill was total rip-off, since they charged us voor c 20.000 Ch$ for the extremely basic meal. We started to search along the trail, known as track A in Pearman (1995) for one of the rarest Chilean endemics, the Chestnut-throated Huethuet. The track was half-a-mile short (at the end it starts to go steeply uphill) and after the second attempt (I walked it from beginning to end) I sat on a trunk watching a pair of White-throated Tree-runners. In my eye-corner I saw a large brown bird flying from a branch disappearing behind a tree. I waited patiently and after a long wait (10 seconds…), it appeared again: a Chestnut-throated Huethuet! A big wren-like bird with no clear colours due to the relative darkness of this trail, but the white eye-ring was very conspicuous (see also the front-page of Cotinga of August 1996). Next we went to the Parque Nacional Laguna de La Laja. A nice park, flooded with lava. We drove to the Laguna itself and the best bird was a Great Shrike-Tyrant. After an hour or so we drove back to the reservoir at the main entrance, but no Andean Gull or Spectacled Duck, as promised in several travel reports and in Pearman (1995). Finally we drove to Chillán, where we booked a room in Gran Hotel Isabel Riquilme ($ 83) and later in the evening we had a very good dinner in the Spanish restaurant Centro Español.
7th February The whole morning we were playing the occasional tourist in the market of Chillán, bought some things and had lunch. In the afternoon we drove north as far as possible. South of Santiago we tried to stay in La Lionera, but this looked very weird and was fortunately too expensive for us so we declined politely. Further north we found a good motel for the price of 10.000 Ch$ at Paine.
8th February At Paine we made a phone-call to the Netherlands and after breakfast we decided to visit the Undurraga Winery near Talagante, but since it was Sunday, it was closed. What to do? We decided to drive to the sea, because we hadn’t seen a lot of it. So we drove to Viña del Mar and spent some time at the Lago Peñuales where I had finally some fresh-water birds like Chilean Wigeon, Speckled Duck, White-winged Coot and Correndera Pipit. At Viña del Mar we visited the rocky coast just north of Viña. Between a group of Ruddy Turnstones I found a Surfbird and three Chilean Seaside-Cinclodes, another endemic. Just near that side was a luxurious hotel, so we thought what-the-heck…, so in half-an-hour we had a beautiful room in Hotel Oceanic ($140) with a view on the Humboldt Current, with cold beer within easy reach. Excellent dinner plus a nice conversation with a British business man (in onions!) ended a nice day
9th February In the morning I did some seawatching which produced the usual seabirds plus 5 Humboldt Penguins. Reluctantly we left this place and after a short stop at Concon we drove via Olmué to the Parque Nacional La Campana. This was rather hot with a few holiday-makers. I tried one slope and there the Moustached Turca called me. I found him very quickly and he led me to a party of about 4 Dusky-tailed Canasteros. A group of Californian Quails took over and a minute later I was watching what I at first thought to be a Dusky-tailed Canastero. But why did it had a rufous tail? And why were its undertail-coverts barred? Because it was a White-throated Tapaculo! I felt stupid, but very happy afterwards. I did a final attempt for Dusky Tapaculo, but no luck. Then I joined Marieke, who felt asleep on a huge rock in the middle of a stream. We tried to find a hotel in Granizo but no vacancy. We looked further south but between La Calera and Santiago, but there was no accommodation (only a huge area of Matorral land!), so finally we drove to Santiago, where we took Hotel Monte Carlo for $ 54.
10th February We phoned Just-Rent-a-Car to change our car for a pick-up truck, a Chevrolet Luv ($ 66 a day). A big car, but a good choice for dirt roads. We left Santiago and went straight to San Alfonso, where we took hotel Dos Cierves (18.000 Ch$), but with a swimming pool and a nice view and close to the Embalse de Yeso. In the evening we tested the car by driving to the Crag Chilia-site, 3.5 from the start of the road the Embalse de Yeso. Two Crag Chilias were singing and they were so nervously feeding along the crags that I could not put them in the telescope. Other birds were two Great Shrike-Tyrants at the crags and an Aplomado Falcon hunting behind the hotel. In the evening we had a good meal with excellent wine, but then we witnessed the killing of a dog in front of the hotel. A little bit shocked we went to sleep. The bed was extremely squeaky, so we had a bad night.
11th February At 10:30 we left our hotel to drive to Embalse de Yeso. The road was very dusty and full of traffic of lorries going up and back with carloads of stones. After a one-hour drive we reached the Embalse de Yeso. The bog area as mentioned in Pearman (1995) is clearly visible, but a little bit tricky to reach. When crossing a stream to get there the warning lights on the dashboard blinked ‘check the engine’. Fortunately nothing was wrong with the engine. The bog area itself is also cut by a deep running stream and it took me half-an-hour to find a place to cross, but at that crossing I discovered the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover. Quickly I called Marieke to show her the bird and the next half hour I was photographing this very beautiful bird. The bird was not shy at all, so I could take very good pictures with my 200 mm zoom. I could approach the bird as closely as 7 feet! When the bird was probing into the mud it closed its eyes, showing white eye-lids. I did not see the bird flying, because it was so confiding and quiet. Other interesting birds in this breath-taking area were Magellanic Snipe (discovered by Marieke), Dusky (or Magellanic?) Tapaculo, Cinereous and White-browed Ground-Tyrant, Bar-winged Cinclodes, Greater Yellow-Finch, Yellow-rumped Siskin, but no seed-snipes. Very satisfied we left and when leaving we took a hitch-hiker in the car, but unfortunately we could not have a conversation with him, because we did not speak Spanish and he did not speak English. Back in San Alfonso we had a good dinner in our hotel and went to sleep just before midnight.
12th February We left our hotel just before noon and drove back to Santiago. In San Jose de Maipo we took three hitch-hikers in the back of our pick-up. In Santiago we took Hotel Monte Carlo again, phoned Just-Rent-a-Car to return the car, although we had to pay 5000 Ch$ for a missing light. The rest of the day we spent in the centre of Santiago, having a good lunch at Don Vitorino and later in the evening an excellent dinner at Caprich Español, both in the Santa Lucia area.
13th February Today we spent to whole day sight-seeing in Santiago. In the evening we had dinner in the same restaurant as the first evening in Chile.
14th February At noon we left Santiago with a taxi for the International Airport. The plane left at 16.00 hours. In the plane we met an Irish guy called David who gave us pills to doze off and sleeping pills to sleep and earplugs to keep the noise away. So after taking them, I woke up above northern France the next day! We arrived at Amsterdam at 11:50 hours, where my father took us from the airport.

Suggested Reading

In Chile only a few identification guides where are available and one very good finding guide. I used the following:

·       Araya, B and Chester, S. (1993). The Birds of Chile.

·       Chester, S (1995). Birds of Chile, Illustrated in Colour.

·       Harrison, P (1987). Seabirds of the World: A Photographic Aid to identification.

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

·       Pearman, M. (1995). The essential Guide to Birding in Chile.

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

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

·       Howell, S.N.G. and Webb, S (1992). Birds seen in Chile, 8 November-11 December 1992. (private report). In the Netherlands available from the Dutch Birding Travel Report Service, DBTRS under number CIL8.


I would like to thank the following persons: Roy de Haas, Ruud Schenk, Yb Huisman (DBTRS), Jelle Scharringa, Montserrat from the Travel Agency ANWB, The Irish guy called David, Maryan Bakker and Jur van der Laan

                                                                      The Species Accounts

The order and nomenclature of ‘A World Checklist of Birds’ by Sibley and Munroe (1993) is followed, but when the names were too different from the commonly used names, I preferred to use the names in the Birds of South America.

Alkmaar, February - March 1998

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

Jan van der Laan
Brouwerstraat 19
1814 HX Alkmaar
The Netherlands
Telephone: ++31-72-52023091


Chestnut-throated and Black-throated Huet-huet © Sophie Webb


Map 1: Embalse de Yeso (partly copied from Howell 1993)

Map 2: Viña del Mar & Reñaca

Full Birdlist - Chile Index