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A Report from

Trip report Iquique - Chile,

Ignaas Robbe

This trip report is a compilation of 6 visits  to the city of Iquique in Chile between 1997 and 2001.

(29-30 october 1997 /  2-5 may 1998 / 23-26 october 1999 / 13-16 may 2000 / 20-22 october 2000/6-9 April 2001).

Iquique is a pleasant  coastal town in Chile's I-region (Tarapaca, North Chile). Iquique has about 250000 people and the population is growing.. It absolutely never rains here and the Atacama desert surrounding this city is extremely dry and supports no life whatsoever (apart from its typical  breeding Grey Gulls) . The cool seabreeze coming from the Humboldt current compensates for the heat coming from the desert - so, this city has a very dry (but at times humid due to the fog coming from the pacific) but pleasant climate with almost daily sunshine.

Iquique is seldom visited by birders (I haven't found any tripreport so far). I fell in love with the place due to it's mild climate, its great food, its friendly people and the good quality birding I did here during those six visits.  It's that kind of area "where there is always something to see".

If you want to tick a lot of species, Iquique is not the place to be (apart from Cinerous Ground Tyrant, Seaside Cinclodes and some sparrows, I haven't seen a single passerine here for instance), however, if you want first class birding and birdphotography, this place is worth a day visit on your trip to Chile. There are daily flights from Santiago, Arica, Antofagasta and La Paz. Iquique has a modern and exellent airport about 30 km to the south. Chilean airlines (Lan Chile/Ladeco/Avant) are the best and most safe of South-America and are of American or European standards.

When arriving in the airport, do not forget to declare your camera's, binoculars and telescopes with the customs. You will be given a document with the serial numbers. This declaration is free of charge and shall be asked on your trip back.

There is a duty-free zone  (the "ZOFRI") to the north of town which sells a lot of consumer goods  (clothing, camping gear, cameras and films etc.) at prices cheaper than  the highstreet prices. Most restaurants and foodstalls in Iquique serve exellent seafood and prices are very reasonable. Taxis are cheap -  a ride from the port to Cavancha peninsula will cost you about a US Dollar (or 500 Chilean Pesos situation in the spring of 2001).

There are mainly four spots to look for birds in the city of Iquique (link to a map of Iquique on )  ;

The Cavancha peninsula : this part of Iquique has a lot of  hotels, the top of the peninsula however is a flat volcanic rock  of  2 acres or so with tidal pools which supports waders, roosting gulls and terns.. it can be easily explored and is a bird photographer's paradise.  There is a small dock (between Terrado hotel and Yacht club) used by fisherman and canoers. I had splendid observations of roosting Cape Petrel and Humboldt Pinguins  here, there are sometimes 2 or 3 sealions swimming in this dock as well.  In october 1999 I made a spectacular observation of a Sea-Otter on the Cavancha rock.

The port of  Iquique : there is a fishing port, a navy base and a  commercial port/container terminal - gulls can be seen here as well as pelicans. (Take care not to walk around with binoculars / camera's in military sensitive area's like the navy base in the port and the airstrip about 30 km south of Iquique.  There are quite some homeless people staying near the port and Cavancha peninsula. I have never given them any money, but on occasions I have given  food and cigarettes to some of them. I have never had any problems with them, but when walking around with expensive cameras and binoculars, it is advised to be careful, despite the fact that Chile is South-America safest country). There is a small tourist boat company which offers trips in the port. On that trip you can see cormorants, gulls etc. roosting in the docks. Check out the small pier where the fishing boats arrive, Grey gulls, Band-tailed gulls, Inca terns, Peruvian Pelicans and Sea lions can be observed and photographed at very close range.

The pacific ocean : when the wind is good, there are sometimes massive movements of seabirds. I have always done the seawatching from 11th or 12th story of the "Terrado" hotel at Cavancha .Light conditions are best in the mornings. Seawatching from a appartment block gives exellent views . Most movements of seabirds take place from 3 pm on (however, massive migration of Sooty shearwaters can be in the morning too).There are sometimes a lot of shearwaters, Wilsons storm petrels, Guanay cormorants, Peruvian boobies  to be seen as well as migrating Franklins gulls, Sabine's gulls, Grey gulls, Elegant terns,  etc.  I have never seen any albatrosses in Iquique , but I am sure they occur here. There is also a chance to see dolphins (e.g. a pod  +/- 150 on 21 october 2000) and Sealions.

Pelagic trips : go to the port (where the touristboats leave) to hire a boat for a pelagic trip. You are likely to pay around 15 to 20 US$ per hour. On a 5-hour trip you can sail about 15 nautical miles into the ocean.  Ask for fishoffal to lure the birds.  An impressive list of tubenoses occur here as well as other seabirds.

Other sites near Iquique ;

East of Iquique : there are oasis dotted in the Atacama desert. I haven't been able to explore the area thoroughly, but a quick visit to the town of "Pica" in october 2000 produced Golden billed ground dove and several songbirds and hummingbirds.

Species list

Cook's petrel (Pterodoma cooki) : one bird during pelagic trip on 7 april 2001. On the same day an observation of a possible Stejneger's petrel (too far to be sure).

White chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis) : a minimum of 4 birds at very close range during the pelagic trip of 7 april 2001.

Giant petrel   (Macronectus giganteus) :  2 juveniles flying south on 30 october 1997, 3 juveniles south on 20 october 2000 and 2 on the sea near Cavancha feeding on a dead bird. 1 juvenile past Cavancha on 22 october 2000.

Cape (pintado) petrel  (Daption capense) :  1 bird sitting in the dock at Cavancha in the morning of 30 october 1997. It stayed there until  noon and fed on fishoffal. 5 flying south on 21 october 2000.

Sooty shearwater  (Puffinus griseus) : strong winds may bring along  spectacular southward migration of Sooty shearwaters in the Austral spring (e.g. in the morning of 21 october 2000 about 1800 per hour flying south and this with almost windstill weather). Sometimes birds fly very close to Cavancha and can easily be observed and identified. When thousands of shearwaters fly through, determination of the species can be hard, but I assume that most are Sooty shearwaters.

Pink footed shearwater (Puffinus creatopus) : 4 on 21 october 2000 and 3 the day after. 4 birds at very close range during pelagic of 7 april 2001.

Wilson's storm-petrel  (Oceanites oceanicus) :  I had stunning views of this species on  2-5 may 1998. About 50- 60 birds were flying in  the shallow waters of the fishing port and could be watched and photographed at a distance of 2-3 meters as they were very tame.They could be observed from the small pier in the fishing port. All the birds were moulting and  I was able to make great pictures.  On 23-26 october 1999 some 3000 Wilson's petrels could be seen off Iquique, they fed in large flocks and could easily be observed from the shore, there was some soutward migration too. Not a single bird came into the port. On 22 october 2000, a flock of about 350 birds just outside the port (during the touristboat-trip).

Peruvian diving-petrel (Pelecanoites garnoti) : when seawatching, diving-petrels are regulary seen, though it is impossible to identify them (they look like alcids in flight and fly too fast and too far to see all the features).All the diving petrels seen here should be Peruvian diving petrels. In the evening of 25 october 1999 an individual sat just behind the surfline at Cavancha and I was very very pleased to see all the field characters of the Peruvian diving petrel. Can be seen at close range during a pelagic trip.

Peruvian pinguin (Sphenicus humboldti) :  3 on 2 may 1998, 1 on 23 october 1999 and 1 on 20 october 2000 all at sea in front of Cavancha Peninsula. 2 on Cavancha on 6 april 2001.

Peruvian pelican (Pelecanus thagus) : common throughout. Very tame birds can be seen in the fishing port.

Peruvian booby (Sula variegata) : common

Olivaceous (Neotropic) cormorant (Phalacrocorax olivaceus)  : common. Nesting in the city of Iquique itself (on antennas and palmtrees - so watch out when walking, as you might be "chalked", as I have experienced myself.the smell of it is .well.unbearable) and in the port (on abandoned ships and shipwrecks).  Feeding and roosting birds can be observed at close range on the Cavancha rocks, especially in the morning. 

Guanay cormorant (Phalacrocorax bougainvilii) : large groups can be seen off Iquique, especially in the evening . Sometimes seen in the port as well.

Red legged cormorant (Phalacrocorax gaimardi) : the least common of the 3 cormorants, but regulary seen. Roosting birds can be encountered in the port. I haven't seen any bird of this species in october 2000. Is this another sign that this species is in the decline ??

Black crowned night heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) : seen at dawn and dusk around Cavancha. Roosting birds under the pier in the port where the touristboat leaves.  Birds are fishing in the tidal pools on Cavancha in the early morning and are quite tame an can easily be photographed.

Little blue heron (Egretta caerulea) : sometimes 1 or 2 on Cavancha (only in the morning).

Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) : 3 at the soccer field on 3 may 1998 and 7 roosting on Cavancha rock on 21 october 2000. Obviously migrants here.

Turkey vulture (Cathartartes aura) : very common. I have observed Turkey vultures feeding on cadavers of Sealions, seabirds and dogs. Go to Cavancha to take pictures of roosting birds.

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) : one flying south over the sea in the morning of 24 october 1999.

Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) : a bird sitting on the balcony of a building on  in the morning of 24 october 1999, the bird flew south later. A hunting bird on Cavancha on 6 and 8 april 2001.

Semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) : sometimes some individuals on Cavancha in the Austral spring.

Blackish oystercatcher (Haemantopus ater) : fairly common. There are most of the time between 5 and 10 birds on Cavancha, can be seen in the northern part of the port as well (near the monument of the Mariners).

Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus) : winters on Cavancha (together with Whimbrels). Sometimes more than 25 together. Still present on 16 may 2000 for instant (a bird in winter plumage).

Spotted sandpiper (Actitis macularia) : 2  on 29 and 30 october 1997, 1 on 20-23 october 2000. 1 on 6-9 april 2001 (all on Cavancha rocks).

Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus) : a winterer and migrant in Iquique. Up to 40-50 can be found on Cavancha in the Austral spring. Also seen on other beaches in Iquique. Is usually very tame.

Ruddy turnstone (Arenaria interpres) : up to 50 winterers at Cavancha, mostly mixed flocks with Surfbirds and Sanderling.

Surfbird (Aphriza virgata) : up to 60 at Cavancha. A passage migrant and winterer.  This species is usually very tame and can easily be photographed.

Sanderling (Calidris Alba) : up to 200 at Cavancha. On 30 October 1997 I photographed a color-banded bird, but I have not  been able to find out where that bird came from.

Western sandpiper (Calidris mauri) : I photographed a bird  on 29-30 october 1997 on Cavancha. This is, to my knowledge, the 2nd or 3rd observation for Chile.

Semipalmated sandpiper (Caldidris pusilla) : small flocks can sometimes be observed on the tidal pools at the Cavancha.

Pectoral sandpiper (Calidris melanotos) : one on Cavancha on 13 May 2000.

Red phalarope (Phalaropus fulicarius) : large flocks (in total at least 1800 birds) roosted off Iquique on 23-26 October 1999, a few hundred on 20-22 october 2000.

Red necked phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus) : at least 25 birds on 23-26 october 1999

Wilson's phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) : 2 on Cavancha on 29 october 1997

"Great skua" species (Catharacta skua ssp) : regulary seen on migration, up to know I have not been able to identify with 100% certainty the subspecies (Great -, Brown -, Chilean -or even South Polar-).

Parasitic jaeger (Stercoraria parasiticus) : 5 migrating south on 25 october 1999 and about 10 flying south during the seawatch on 20-22 october 2000

Black skimmer (Rynchops niger) : regulary seen. Up to 20 birds roosting sometimes on the beach north of the city (Playa Brava)

Grey gull (Larus modestus) : common throughout, sometimes up to 1500 at he "Playa Brava" (remark ; this species has been "forgotten" in the Collins illustrated checklist of the Birds of Southern South-America and Antarctica).

Band tailed gull (Larus belcheri) : common - a typical species of the coasts of Northern Chile and Peru. A very nice species both in summer and winter-plumage. Go to the pier (fishmarket) in the port to make pictures Band tailed gulls.

Kelp gull (Larus dominicanus) : common

Franklin's gull (Larus pipixcan) : common as a migrant in the Austral spring, individuals sometimes seen roosting on Cavancha. Migrates in groups of up to 60 birds and flies past Cavancha in impressive V-formations. In the morning of 25 october 1999 I counted about 700 birds flying south in 5 hours .

Sabine's gull (Xema Sabini) : 1 juvenile flying south on 24 october 1999. About 40 on the sea near Cavancha on 20 october 2000 and about 50 flying south on that same day. All juveniles.

Swallow tailed gull (Creagrus furcatus) ; a stunning observation a bird in winter plumage on the pelagic trip of 7 april 2001. The bird  came very close to the boat. A very strange big gull and a thrill of a lifetime to see one in Iquique !

South American tern (Sterna hirundinacea) : about 6 roosting on Cavancha on 20 october 2000.

Sandwich tern (Sterna sandvicensis) : 2 roosting on Cavancha on 20 october 2000.

Elegant tern (Sterna elegans) : regular as a migrant (up to 70 birds roost on Cavancha in late October) , a couple displayed on 14 May 2000. A fascinating observation ! On 22 october 2000, about 200  roosting on the Cavancha rock and 350 in the fishing port.

Inca tern (Larosterna inca) : common. Roosting birds can be seen at close range in the fishing port.

Eared dove (Zenaida auriculata) : common

White winged dove (Zanaida asiatica) : common

Golden billed ground dove (Colombina cruziata) : about 10 in the town of Pica (70 km east of Iquique) on 21 october 2000. According to the distribution maps in Collins "Birds of Southern South America and Antarctica" (1998) by Martin R. de la Peņa and Maurice Rumboll this species does not occur in Chile.

Seaside cinclodes (Cinclodes nigrofumosus) : 1 feeding on the rocks in the fishing port on 22 october 2000. One feeding on Cavancha on 8 april 2001. This bird is here surely not as common as in the Valparaiso / Vina del Mar area.

Cinerous ground tyrant (Muscisaxicola cinerea) : regular in the Austral winter. Feeds on the lawns of Iquique or on the rocks.

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) : one past Cavancha on 9 april 2001.

Rufous collared sparrow (Zonotrichia Capensis) : one near Cavancha rock on  8 april 2001. This bird is very common in the rest of South-America, but here apparently a rare species !

Ignaas Robbe - Harelbeke - Belgium


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