Argentina 2006

...with Mark Finn

October 14th-28th

This was the first Birdwatching Breaks tour to the Patagonian sector of Argentina. We managed to find most of the regions specialties including the rarely seen Sandy Gallito and the localized Pampas Meadowlark. Further south in Tierra del Fuego we encountered the almost mythical Hooded Grebe, Austral Rail, Magellanic Woodpecker, Magellanic Plover, Chubut Steamerduck and the uncommon Lesser Shrike Tyrant. In addition to these wonderful birds sightings of Southern Right Whales and numerous mammals of Patagonia.

I am grateful for the expertise of Patricio as leader and Macelo de Cruz in and around Tierra del Fuego.

October 14th/15th: London - Frankfurt - Buenos Aires - Costanera Sur.

Weather: Sunny and pleasant in Argentina. 20 C.

We met up at Frankfurt from various points around Britain for our flight to Buenos Aires via Sao Paulo in Brazil. After passing through immigration and customs we met up with our guide Patricio, and proceeded to Costanera Sur a protected reserve in central Buenos Aires. On arrival the car park had Black-fronted and Monk Parakeets, Guira Cuckoo, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Rufous Hornero and Rufous-bellied Thrush. After a short distance we observed the first enclosed lagoon holding impressive numbers of Rosy-billed Pochard, Black-tailed Stilt, Great and Snowy Egrets and recently arrived Greater Yellowlegs from further north. On the raised walkway dotted with trees Great Kiskadee, Saffron Finch, Masked Gnatcatcher, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Yellow-browed Tyrant and Creamy-bellied Thrush. Just around the corner another, larger lagoon attracted Brown-hooded Gulls, Snowy-crowned Terns, Silver Teal and migrant Wilson's Phalaropes. In and around the extensive reedbeds Wattled Jacana, Masked Yellowthroat, Spectacled Tyrant, Chicli Spinetail, Hooded Siskin and Field Flicker. Travelled into the city for an enjoyable lunch, followed by a brief tour of the city itself. At 1600 we checked in at the provincial airport for the flight to Bahia Blanca an industrial city located just inland from the Atlantic Ocean. A fairly chaotic check-in was followed by a flight over extensive farming areas. On arrival in Bahia Blanca we located a pair of Long-winged Harriers and ever-present Chimango Caracaras. Checked in at a motel on the outskirts of town followed by dinner. An enjoyable but tiring day had come to an end.

October 16th: Bahia Blanca - Route 35 - Christopher’s Ranch - Las Grutas.

Weather: Sunny with a cool west breeze, 18 C

At breakfast we noted American Kestrels and Chimango Caracaras around the garden complex. Loaded up the van and headed towards Bahia Blanca making a stop on the city limits for a colony of Patagonian Burrowing Parrots. Christopher, our guide took us past the city park where we observed Picui Ground Dove, Spot-winged Pigeon, Austral Thrush and an obliging Burrowing Owl near the army barracks. Joined route 35 stopping at a complex of ponds bordered by grassland. This was very productive for waterbirds including Yellow-billed and White-cheeked Pintails, Red Shoveler, Chiloe Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, Coscoraba Swan and White-winged and Red-gartered Coots. In the reeds Yellow-winged Blackbirds, Wren-like Rushbird, Grass Wren and an approachable Plumbeous Rail. Further along the highway Spotted Nothura, White Monjita, Firewood-Gatherer and Long-tailed Meadowlarks. A bonus came with a group of Greater Rheas close to the road. Another stop added the rare and localised Pampas Meadowlark, Grassland Yellowfinch and calling Red-winged Tinamous. Turned into Christopher’s Ranch with the fence line attracting Vermillion Flycatchers and Tropical Kingbirds and around livestock, Cattle Tyrants. Parked at the small compound of buildings with Golden-breasted Woodpecker, Field Flicker, Bay-winged Cowbird and Aplomado Falcons for company. After a break for drinks we explored another area of low scrub and trees. We heard Elegant Crested Tinamous and added White-tipped Plantcutter and Southern Scrub Flycatcher to the trip list. Returned to Bahia Blanca and onto Las Grutas near the coast. On the way Red-backed Hawks perched on telegraph poles and an assortment of Argentina's commoner birds.

October 17th: Las Grutas.

Weather: Sunny with a rather cool north east wind, 17 C

Outside the hotel before breakfast we recorded Southern Martin, Black-crowned Monjita and on offshore rocks American Oystercatchers. A careful check of Kelp Gulls revealed the scarce Olrog's Gull flying along the seafront. After breakfast we started a general exploration of scrub and small canyons. Chalk-browed, Patagonian and White-banded Mockingbirds were seen close to the town. In addition we added Short-billed Canastero, Mourning Sierra Finch and close views of Elegant Crested Tinamou. Along the track we stopped to take a walk amongst the scrub and along a narrow canyon. Common Duica Finch singing from a bush top. In the canyon itself White-winged Black Tyrant, Cinnamon and Ringed Warbling Finches, White-crested Tyranulet and Tufted and Yellow-billed Tit Tyrants. Walked down to the beach where we located Crested Duck, White-rumped Sandpiper and offshore Great Grebes. Returned to Las Grutas with feeding flocks of South American and Snowy-crowned Terns offshore. Lunch taken at San Antonio a rather pleasant and leisurely experience. Out again at 1600 to visit another section of coast. We visited a protected area towards San Antonio for shorebirds and wildfowl. On the mud groups of White-rumped Sandpipers, American Oystercatchers, four Coscoroba Swans and a single Black-crowned Night Heron. Offshore strong north east winds pushed Black-browed Albatross, Manx Shearwater and Grey Petrels close to shore. In the distance swarms of unidentified shearwaters breaking the surface. Travelled to San Antonio docks in the hope of getting closer views. On arrival access was clearly difficult although large numbers of South American Terns were present with a single unidentified giant petrel. An interesting but rather mixed day for birds in northern Patagonia.

October 18th: Las Grutas - Puerto Madryn.

Weather: Sunny with a cool south wind, 16 C

Today we revisited the scrub and sand area near Las Grutas. After five kilometers we stopped and walked along a narrow canyon which eventually widened out. Luck was with us as a Sandy Gallito sang from an exposed branch (an uncommon and decreasing Argentine endemic). In the same area we found a pair of Plain-mantled Tit Spinetails building a nest and a displaying Chaco Earthcreeper. Returned to Las Grutas and explored an area of beach dotted with caves. On the shore American and Magellanic Oystercatchers, Bar-winged Cinclodes and Rufous Hornero. On the cliff-face Southern Martins building nests and resting in the weak sunshine. From another vantage point we located Great and Manx Shearwaters and Royal Terns offshore. Lunch taken in San Antonio before heading south through the rather flat and featureless landscape of Patagonia. Not many birds along the way apart from Aplomado Falcons and ever-present Turkey Vultures. On arrival at Puerto Madryn, a rather industrial city we headed to the seafront. Checked in at the hotel and then walked out along the pier. Apart from loose groups of Great Grebes we added Southern Giant Petrel and King Cormorants.

October 19th: Puerto Madryn - Valdes Peninsula.

Weather: Sunny with a cool north west wind, 15 C

This morning we headed to the Valdes Peninsula an area the size of Belgium for a whale-watching trip followed by birding in the Patagonian steppe. The whale-watching boats were not the best for viewing. Offshore we soon located several Southern Right Wales of various sizes and ages. Birds were few and far between with sightings of Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, Kelp and Olrog's Gulls. Returned to shore and made a short trip into an area of mixed scrub. After walking around a bit we finally had views of Darwin's Nothura in flight. The next stop was around a dry lagoon where we added Common Miner, Least Shrike Tyrant, Two-banded Plovers and a family of Least Seedsnipes. As we travelled along the dirt road to Puerto Delgada we located Elegant Crested Tinamou's and Patagonian Yellow Finches. Lunch taken opposite a huge salt-lake (no birds on it). After lunch another walk into the dry scrub added Scale-throated Earthcreeper. Victor, one of our guides obtained permission to birdwatch at a remote farm with a marsh. This was extremely productive with sightings of Yellow-billed Pintail, Speckled Teal, Upland Goose and a surprise find in South American Painted Snipe. Returned to the bus and went towards the remote hacienda of Puerto Delgada. Beyond the farm are steep cliffs and beaches the latter attracting Blackish Oystercatcher, Kelp Gull, Neotropical Cormorant and Elephant Seals. On the cliffs Rock and Imperial Cormorants and overhead a pair of hunting Black-chested Buzzard Eagles. Time was pressing as we turned and retraced our steps back to Puerto Madryn. One final stop in an area of bushes and scrub added Short-billed Pipit and a fine breeding plumaged Tawny-throated Dotterel. As we approached the park entrance four Darwin's Rhea feeding by the roadside.

October 20th: Puerto Madryn - Trelew - Punta Tombo.

Weather: Sunny with cool southerly breezes, 15 C

This morning we headed south on Highway 3 to Trelew a city with strong Welsh connections from the nineteenth century. Our first birding stop was Trelew rubbish dump and adjoining lagoons. The lagoons here were full of wildfowl including Black-necked and Coscoroba Swans, Red Shoveler, Lake Duck, Yellow-billed Pintail, Speckled Teal, Chiloe Wigeon, Red-gartered and Red-fronted Coots and our first sightings of White-tufted and Silvery Grebes. In the reedbeds Many-coloured Rush Tyrant, Yellow-winged Blackbird and Spectacled Tyrant. Overhead we noted migrant Lesser Yellowlegs, White-rumped and Baird's Sandpipers. Next stop was beyond Trelew and an area of low Patagonian scrub. Walking around here added Lesser Canastero and the commoner birds. Our travels took us to Isla Escandia a scenic spot next to the South Atlantic Ocean. As we pulled up by the sea, our main target species, White-headed (Chubut) Steamerduck was feeding a few meters offshore. Excellent views of this localised and scarce species. At the end of the track Southern Giant Petrels resting on the sea and a pair of Grey-hooded Sierra Finches collecting nesting materials from a crumbling cliff face. Our final destination at Punta Tombo was a pleasant experience with thousands of nesting Magellanic Penguins, Brown and Chilean Skuas, Austral Negrito and two Lesser Rheas. As usual time was running out when we returned for our last night at Puerto Madryn. Tomorrow we fly south to Ushuaia the most southerly city in the world.

October 21st: Puerto Madryn - Trelew - Ushuaia.

Weather: Sunny and warm in Puerto Madryn cooler further south, 7 C/20 C

Our final morning in Puerto Madryn was a leisurely affair in and around the city perimeter. We visited a monument to Welsh settlers adjacent to a beach with Great Grebe, Brown-hooded Gulls and Crested Ducks. Near the eco museum Lesser and Cordilleran Canesteros. Back to the hotel and check out at 1000am. The drive to Trelew Airport went quickly and we checked in with Austral Airlines without any problems. The flight to Ushuaia arrived on time and we transferred to a hotel overlooking the Beagle Channel and the Chilean section of Tierra del Fuego. The next hour was spent walking around the hotel gardens and watching birds on the sea. Flying and Flightless Steamer Ducks were present in good numbers along with Imperial Cormorant, Crested Duck, Magellan Gull and Magellanic Oystercatchers. Near a stream Dark-faced Ground Tyrants were building a nest. Behind the hotel we located our first Black-chinned Siskins and Patagonian Sierra Finches for the tour. Back to the hotel with Upland Geese for company. We ended the day in awe of beautiful scenery of snow-capped mountains, rushing rivers and the unusual calm of the Beagle Channel.

October 22nd: Ushuaia - Tierra del Fuego National Park.

Weather: Sunny with sleet showers late afternoon, 5 C/14 C

At 0830 we met up with our local guide to visit Tierra del Fuego National Park which was established in 1960. The park is made up of extensive Southern Beech Forests, cliffs, lagoons and an area bordering the sea. Outside the hotel Chilean Skua, Magellan Gull and a flock of Black-faced Ibis. After entering the park we made two stops to find the rare and declining Magellanic Woodpecker which finds one of its last strongholds here. We were soon watching a female hammering away on a rotting beech tree. Further along the track we encountered Thorn-tailed Rayadito, White-crested Elaenia, Tufted Tit Tyrant, Austral Negrito and Patagonian Sierra Finches. Returned to the bus and travelled a few kilometers before exploring another area of forest adjacent to a peat bog. Austral Pygmy Owl was lured into view which in turn attracted Fire-eyed Duicon, Black-chinned Siskin and House Wren. In the background singing Magellan Snipe and brief views of Austral Parakeets. Nearby a lagoon held Crested Duck, Yellow-billed Pintail, Speckled Teal and Chiloe Wigeon. On the path a pair of Bar-winged Cinclodes and across the road Dark-bellied Cinclodes on a fence post. Overhead Southern Carcara and two Black-chested Buzzard Eagles. The park was starting to fill up with tourists as we embarked on a walk alongside a huge lake. Highlights here included nesting White-throated Treerunners and the commoner woodland birds. Lunch was taken at the 'green lagoon' with a fly-by White-throated Caracara and the unusual sight of a Southern Fulmar resting on a pool. The next stop was the end of route three with a sign informing us that Alaska was over 17000 kilometers further north. Birding from the boardwalk produced Upland, Ashy-headed and Kelp Geese, Southern Lapwing, Flightless and Flying Steamerducks, Magellanic and Blackish Oystercatchers and Rock and Neotropical Cormorants. Retraced our journey and watched Great Grebes along the river. We then walked into another sector of forest to watch Magellanic Horned Owls in broken beech trees. Our last stop involved a walk up a slight incline to an area dominated by dead trees and beaver dams. We eventually located Magellanic Tapaculo a skulking inhabitant of the southern forests. Another excellent day in southern most South America had come to an end.

October 23rd: Ushuaia - Beagle Channel - Estancia Harberton.

Weather: Cloudy with a cool westerly breeze, 7 C/12 C

Before breakfast we checked the coastal area and grassland for birdlife. Close views of Kelp Geese and Magellan Gulls. At 0845 we were picked up and taken to the docks for a day trip down the Beagle Channel. Boarded the catamaran and sailed on time at 0930. Outside the harbour we encountered Black-browed Albatrosses, Southern Giant Petrels and the first of many Chilean Skuas. On the first island we stopped at we watched Imperial, King and Rock Cormorants, Snowy Sheathbills and several South American Sealions. Nearby another island attracted Flightless and Flying Steamerducks, Brown Skua and a Blackish Cinclodes coming to land onboard and taking pieces of bread from people. Our journey took us down the Beagle Channel with fantastic views of wooded slopes and snow-capped mountains of Argentina and Chile (the latter to the south). We passed the Chilean outpost of Puerto Williams and into an intricate mix of bays and islands. Magellanic and Gentoo Penguins present on a small island with Andean Condors overhead an interesting mix of birds. Estancia Harberton was reached at 1315 where we enjoyed our packed lunch outside the main house. The estancia is a reminder of days gone past when this part of Patagonia was colonised by settlers from Britain. In the gardens Bar-winged and Dark-bellied Cinclodes, Fire-eyed Duicon, Austral Blackbird, Austral Thrush and a few Turkey Vultures the latter being scarce this far south. A short walk towards the museum added White-throated and Southern Caracaras and Crested Ducks with ducklings a wonderful sight in a truly beautiful location. Returned to Ushuaia in mid-afternoon recording little of note except good numbers of Southern Fulmars, Chilean Skuas and up to ten Black-browed Albatrosses. Tomorrow we head north to El Calafate on the border with Chile.

October 24th: Ushuaia - Le Martial Glacier - Rio Grande - El Calafate – Chatien.

Weather: Rather mixed with sleet showers and sunshine, 3 C/11 C

Checked out of the hotel and made the short drive up to the Martial Glacier high above Ushuaia. Sleet was falling as we walked up the ski slope towards the boulder fields and alpine grassland. En route we located Patagonian Sierra Finch and Black-chinned Siskins. Finally located Yellow-bridled Finch singing from a rock pile. A phone call informed us that no flights were operating again out of Ushuaia airport due to industrial action. This meant a coach trip over the mountains to Rio Grande a rather drab town and provincial capital of Tierra del Fuego. Here we boarded the flight to El Calafate and onto the remote town of Chatien. The only things of interest were Short-eared Owl and a Patagonian Skunk scuttling across the road.

October 25th: Chatien -Tres Lagos - Estancia la Angostura - Road 29.

Weather: Sunny and clear with light winds, 10 C/18 C

We left Chatien and joined Road 40 where we went north to Tres Lagos. Filled up with fuel as petrol stations are very scarce in this part of Santa Cruz. Our journey took us through the endless Patagonian landscape of low stunted bushes, salt lagoons and crumbling cliffs. The first sector of road produced many raptors including Andean Condor, Black-chested Buzzard Eagle, Cinereous Harrier and Southern and Chimango Caracaras. Along the road edge dozens of Least Seedsnipe and the first Chocolate-vented Tyrants of the tour. After what seemed an age we arrived at the birding area of Angostura. By chance we came across a freshwater lagoon which literally attracted hundreds of birds. Luck was with us as I located two Hooded Grebes diving for food with Silvery Grebes. The latter species being identified as recently as 1974. Another remarkable sight of 27 Black-headed Ducks mixing with other wildfowl (well out of range here in Santa Cruz). Other birds of note included Black-headed and Coscoroba Swans, Lake Duck, Rosy-billed Pochard, Chiloe Wigeon and Red-gartered Coot. Late lunch taken at the estancia. On the entrance road Cocoi Heron, Speckled Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail and Spectacled Tyrants. After lunch a short walk produced Silver Teal, Cinereous Harriers (food passing), Marsh Wren and best of all an Austral Rail. Returned to Tres Lagos along Road 40 making a diversion onto Road 29. Tawny-throated Dotterels and Chilean Flamingos added to the day list. On Road 29 we encountered good numbers of Grey-breasted Seedsnipe and Lesser Rheas and a pair of Aplomado Falcons.

October 26th: Chatien - El Calafate - El Galpon.

Weather: Sunny with cool winds, 17 C

It was good to leave Chatien although we added White-browed Ground Tyrant in the hosteria car park. Near the information centre a low-level Andean Condor and a party of Austral Parakeets perched in a dead tree. Usual roadside birds as we travelled to El Calafate the largest town. Lunch taken at a Chinese self-service restaurant. Afterwards birding along the shores of Lago Argentino which produced close views of Magellanic Plovers, White-rumped and Baird's Sandpipers, Flying Steamerduck and Chilean Flamingos. Our final destination was Estancia El Galpon a truly wonderful place to end the Argentinian leg of the trip. From an elevated position overlooking an enclosed marsh we observed Silvery Grebe, Black-necked Swan, Cinnamon Teal, Black-headed Duck, Red Shoveler, Andean Ruddy Duck and Black-crowned Night Herons. A walk around the pool edge allowed close views of Upland Geese, Black-faced Ibis, Spectacled Tyrant, Patagonian Sierra Finch and Fire-eyed Duicon. On the lake shore Ashy-headed Geese, Coscoroba Swans and the ever-present Chimango and Southern Caracaras. Tomorrow morning we visit the glacier and continue our journey to Puerto Natales in the Magellens Province of Chile.

October 27th: El Galpon - Moreno Glacier - Rio Turbo - Puerto Natales.

Weather: Sunny with strong west winds, 14 C/17 C

Usual species around the grounds of El Galpon. After breakfast we headed to Glaciares National Park making a stop in an area of farmland with fragmented forest. Luck was with us as a Bicoloured Hawk (juvenile) sat motionless in a dead tree. On entering the park another stop was made for a pair of Magellanic Woodpeckers climbing up dead southern beech trees. Further along the road an adult Black-chested Buzzard Eagle posed in a tree for us with Austral Parakeets. Next was an elevated parking spot with views towards the impressive Moreno Glacier. Below us feeding Spectacled Ducks and Chiloe Wigeon. At the end of the road we joined a boardwalk for close-up views of the glacier. Birds were few here but included White-crested Elaenia, Grey-hooded and Patagonian Sierra Finches. Returned to El Galpon for lunch. On the road at 1400 for the journey to Puerto Natales via the small town of Esparenza. Interesting species en route included close views of Andean Condors and Southern Crested Caracaras. Crossed the border into Chile without any problems. Puerto Natales, our base the night was soon reached.

For details of the full species list or to request further information about the next time we will be offering this trip. Contact us at

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