Chile 2009

...with Mark Finn

January 10th - February 3rd

Chile again proved to be an excellent destination with its wonderful scenery and tremendous birds from Aria in the north to Tierra del Fuego in the extreme south. The group observed a high percentage of Chilean birds including several that are scarce or internationally threatened by habitat destruction and other factors. Once again we witnessed two Austral Rails in Magellanes keeping up our success rate of finding this species since 1999. It was also a good tour for Diademed Sandpiper Plovers with sightings of five birds during our stay. Magallenic Woodpeckers appear to be declining in some of their more traditional areas which is a worry for this magnificent woodpecker. On the plus side tapaculos showed well with excellent views of Chacao Tapaculo and Black-throated Huet-Huets in the Chilean lake district. The same area also produced several sightings of the relatively little-known Rufous-tailed Hawk and the range-restricted Kelp Goose. The far south was a great experience with flocks of Tawny-throated Dotterels, Upland Geese and Magallenic Plover the latter again being rather scarce in its usual haunts. Offshore the main pelagic trip offered us several species of albatrosses with Shy Albatross in high numbers this year. In the far north at Putre and Lauca most of the specialities were located including Andean Avocet, Andean Lapwing, Puna Plover, White-throated Sierra Finch and the beautiful Mountain Caracara. Our last stop in the environs of the Atacama Desert produced all three flamingos, Golden-spotted Ground Dove, Red-backed Sierra Finch and parties of Mountain Parakeets.

I am indebted once again to the birding skills of Roberto and his knowledge of Chilean birds although we found him two lifers in Tricoloured Heron and Sandwich Tern (both rare in Chile) at Arica. My thanks also go out to the drivers in various parts of the country on somewhat testing roads and conditions. Of these Patricio on Chiloe Island, Arturo at San Pedro and Hugo at Arica deserve a special mention for their consideration and our sometimes demanding nature.

January 11th: Santiago, Laguna el Peral.

Weather: Overcast and warm 25 C.

Late morning saw the majority of the group arrive at Santiago International Airport on the outskirts of the city. After clearing customs we met up with Roberto, Jock, John and Jenny who had arrived earlier in the week. In no time at all we were heading west towards the Pacific Ocean and the cities of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar. Our main interest was the small protected reserve of Laguna el Peral located to the south of Valparaiso. From an elevated position near the reserve headquarters a scan of this shallow lagoon started. Conspicuous species recorded included Black-necked Swans, White-tufted Grebes, Red-fronted, Red-gartered and White-winged Coots, Brown-hooded, Kelp and summering Kelp Gulls and groups of Lake Ducks. Careful scanning then produced several Black-headed Ducks the only parasitic duck in the world. The shallows attracted Red Shoveler, Cinnamon Teal, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and a family party of Plumbeous Rails. In the reed-beds skulking Many-coloured Rush Tyrants and noisy Yellow-winged Blackbirds. Another section of the lagoon had Yellow-billed Pintails and brief views of a flying Stripe-backed Bittern. At 1730 we headed to Vina del Mar our base for two nights. Traffic was heavy due to the weekend and sunny weather attracting many people to the sandy beaches.

January 12th: Pacific Ocean, Ventanas, Cachagua.

Weather: Cool at sea, warm and sunny on land 15 C/27 C

At 0630 we made the short journey to the main docks at Valparaiso the embarkation point for our six hour pelagic trip in to the cool waters of the Humboldt Current. In the harbour waters Peruvian Pelican and juvenile Humboldt Penguin. Before reaching the ‘current’ several species were observed notably Sooty Shearwater and thousands of Franklin’s Gulls. On entering the Humboldt Current the crew started ‘chumming’ in order to attract seabirds. Over the course of the next three hours we enjoyed close views of Northern Royal, Black-browed and Salvin’s Albatrosses, White-chinned and Westland Petrels, Wilson’s Storm Petrels, Antarctic (Southern) Giant Petrels, Pink-footed Shearwaters and Peruvian Boobies. The most unusual sighting was a juvenile Peregrine Falcon of the race cassini flying above the boat and well out to sea!! On the return leg to harbour we added Buller's Albatross, South American and Inca Terns and at least two Grey Gulls. Back to the hotel for a late lunch and afterwards a drive north along the coast stopping at Ventanas and Cachagua. Ventanas was the first stop a protected lagoon next to a huge chemical processing plant. New species here included Great Egret, Chiloe Wigeon, American Oystercatcher and Hudsonian Whimbrel. Further up the coast is the small coastal village of Cachagua. From the village we walked along the beach to observe an offshore island for nesting Humboldt Penguins. On the rocky foreshore Blackish and American Oystercatchers. On the island itself Turkey and American Black Vultures and a few Eared Doves going into to roost. As we walked back towards the bus we observed Common Duica Finch, White-crested Elaneia and Rufous-tailed Plantcutter. The journey back to Vina del Mar took longer than expected due to heavy traffic.

January 13th: Vina del Mar, Concon, La Campana National Park, La Dormida, Santiago.

Weather: Hot and sunny with light winds 30 C

After checking out at Vina del Mar we headed up the coast towards the rather run-down coastal resort of Concon. Our first stop was at the old Chilean Navy compound overlooking a large rock and adjacent rocky foreshore. In no time at all we were watching the range-restricted Chilean Seaside Cinclodes plus Red-legged Cormorant and Inca Terns resting on the rocky outcrop – great views. Further along the coast American and Blackish Oystercatchers, Ruddy Turnstone, Surfbirds and the commoner coastal species of Central Chile. The last stop at Concon was at the confluence of the river estuary. Few birds present with the exception of Elegant Terns and a single Cocoi Heron. Late morning saw us heading inland towards the old town of Olmue and La Campana National Park. Around the car park area White-crested Elaenias calling and catching insects. A walk into the park and along a track provided us with Giant Hummingbirds, Austral Blackbirds, Dusky-tailed Canastero and calling White-throated Tapaculo (the latter species gave us the run around all day). After lunch we visited the remote area of La Dormida nestling in the Andean foothills. Walking along the old path provided us with close views of Grey-hooded Sierra Finch and after a little searching the endemic Crag Chilia. More time was spent looking for White-throated Tapaculo and noisy Moustached Turcas without too much success. Back to the bus and onto the capital city of Santiago-de-Chile for a nights stay.

January 14th: Santiago, Vilches.

Weather: Sunny 25 C

Around the hotel in Santiago we could hear the distinctive calls of Monk Parakeets. After breakfast we headed south along the Pan American Highway to the town of Talca and onto Vilches National Park nestling the foothills of the mighty Andes. En route a stop was made for the rather localised and declining Chilean Tinamou. This rather shy bird was located by Huw and excellent and prolonged views were obtained. Lunch taken next to the park headquarters. This was followed by a walk through old southern beech forests with sectors of bamboo. The first part of the path produced sightings of Chilean Flicker, Thorn-tailed Rayadito and White-fronted Treerunners. Further on Roberto heard the distinctive sound of a tapping Magellanic Woodpecker. After a short while we found a magnificent female bird searching for food in a rotten tree branch. Continuing on our walk a Scale-throated Earthcreeper was briefly seen and the calls of Chestnut-throated Huet Huet. Mature trees attracted Austral Parakeet and Patagonian Tyrants both at the northernmost limit of their ranges. Checked in for the night at a local hosteria followed by a search for Rufous-legged Owl which proved to be unsuccessful.

January 15th: Vilches, Maule, Maipo Valley.

Weather: Warm and sunny 25 C

In the hosteria gardens Chilean Pigeon, Chilean Flicker, and a calling Dusky Tapaculo, the latter being a very difficult bird to observe. We headed back towards the main reserve with Austral Parakeets taking grit off the road. Walking along the trails added similar birds to yesterday afternoon with the addition of Patagonian Sierra Finch and a calling Fire-eyed Diucon. Several hours were spent searching for the endemic Chestnut-throated Huet Huet in the understory of the forest. This rather elusive species came close to us on several occasions but did not show for the group. Returned to base to gather our bags and headed towards the Rio Maule. We quickly located the Chilean endemic sub-species of Burrowing Parrot perched in roadside trees. Along the river groups of Great and Snowy Egrets and Yellow-billed Pintails. A last attempt was made for Dusky Tapaculo with calling birds from bramble cover. Time was running out as we headed back towards Santiago and the world-famous Maipo Valley our base for the next two nights.

January 16th: Yeso

Weather: Warm and sunny with light winds at Yeso 25 C.

Today was spent exploring the famous Yeso Valley a beautiful area set in a dramatic background of mountain peaks and glaciers. The road to Yeso is rough in places and passes through several small farms and areas used for mining bauxite. In the lower fields coveys of California Quails. Further up the valley excellent views of Moustached Tourcas whilst the Rio Yeso had a pair of Torrent Ducks. Near a farm we stopped again to observe White-sided Hillstars, Black-winged Ground Doves, Mourning Sierra Finch and Rufous-banded Miners. The wetter meadows attracted Bar-winged and Grey-flanked Cinclodes, White-browed Ground Tyrant, Yellow-rumped Siskin and Greater Yellow Finches. We eventually joined the track around Embalse de Yeso and stopped to explore an area of bogs next to the road. In the wetter areas Baird’s Sandpipers, Austral Negrito and Correndera Pipits. The road to the top end was badly flooded in places by snow melt so we parked up for lunch. Afterwards we walked along the old track towards an elevated position above the bog. Scrubby areas had Grey-hooded Sierra Finches and Cordilleran Canasteros. Grassy areas held above average numbers of Grey-bellied Seedsnipe which offered close views. Careful scanning of the marsh eventually produced at least two Diademed Sandpiper Plovers a rare and beautiful wader of the High Andes. Returned to the main track and stopped again at an old army camp. Walking through the boulder fields added Black-billed Shrike Tyrants and Spot-billed Ground Tyrants among the more numerous High Andean birds. Back to base after a wonderful birding day in stunning surroundings.

January 17th: Maipo, Santiago, Puerto Montt, Chucao Channel, Ancud.

Weather: Sunny with light west winds 18 C.

At 0600 we left the Maipo Valley for Santiago airport and the flight down to Puerto Montt in the heart of Chile’s Lake District. Arrived on time and met up with Patricio our driver for the duration on Chiloe Island. Our first stop near Pagua produced American Black and Turkey Vultures, Chimango and Southern Caracaras, Patagonian Sierra Finch and Black-faced Ibis. Lunch in a local restaurant by the ferry terminal and after a walk down to the ferry where we bird-watched along the beach. On the beach, Dark-bellied Cinclodes, Brown-hooded and Kelp Gulls and American Oystercatchers. On the quay an extremely tame Ringed Kingfisher which allowed a close approach. The short ferry crossing over to Chiloe Island was remarkable for birds with thousands of Sooty Shearwaters and South American Terns. The crossing also provided us with Peruvian Brown Pelican, Peruvian Booby, Common Diving Petrel, Imperial and Red-legged Cormorants and Franklin’s Gulls. As we approached the island large numbers of Black-necked Swans and Flightless Steamerducks were recorded. Chiloe Island is an extremely wet place with the western side of the island being dominated by thick forest. Our first stop in the latter allowed us to observe several Chucao Tapaculos at close range plus Rufous-tailed Plantcutters and endemic Slender-billed Parakeets. The last birding stop was at Caulin on a rising tide. Caulin is an exceptional place for waders and ducks. Several stops were made along the coast area where we found Hudsonian Godwit, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Common Knot, Baird’s Sandpiper, Black Skimmer, Speckled Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail and Brown-hooded Gulls. We travelled to Ancud on country roads our base for the next two nights.

January 18th: Ancud, Chepu, Punihuil.

Weather: Overcast with afternoon drizzle 15 C

After breakfast we headed south towards the city of Castro and turned off towards the Pacific Ocean and the small village of Chepu. The main aim this morning was a boat trip along the Rio Chepu which runs into the vast forests of western Chiloe Island. The first section of forest and river attracted Chiloe Wigeon, Snowy-crowned Tern and at least two Rufous-tailed Hawks perched in dead trees. Before the main lagoon Pied-billed Grebes and the beautiful Spectacled Duck were recorded plus a Southern Caracara perched in a dead tree. We entered the main lagoon with its thousands of nesting Brown-hooded Gulls. Other species present included Red Shoveler, Cinnamon Teal, Red-gartered Coot, Yellow-billed Pintail and a surprise find in White-faced Ibis. On exiting the lagoon we entered the extreme northern part of Chiloe National Park a huge and remote area with restricted access. The riverside woodland here held Ringed Kingfishers, Slender-billed and Austral Parakeets and several Green-backed Firecrowns although the latter were difficult to locate. We then returned to our starting point for a picnic lunch. Early afternoon we travelled along dirt roads towards Punihuil an important seabird and penguin colony. En route a stop in a bamboo thicket bordered by lush native vegetation. After a short period Magellanic Tapaculo appeared in a tangle of wood. Nearby we had brief views of Ochre-flanked Tapaculo and the persistent calls of Chucao Tapaculos. I managed to see a Black-throated Huet Huet running across a short gap. Late afternoon saw us board a small boat for a trip to inshore islands at Punihuil. This was an extraordinary experience as we had close views of Humboldt and Magellanic Penguins, Kelp Geese, Red-legged, Olivaceous and Rock Cormorants, Flightless Steamerducks and Blackish Oystercatchers. The weather turned to drizzle as we headed back to Ancud. Stops were made at two marshland sites holding Spectacled Teal, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, a female Spectacled Tyrant, South American Snipe and singing Sedge Wrens. Back to base for our last night stay on Chiloe Island.

January 19th: Ancud, Chucao Channel, Lahuen Nadi, Antillanca.

Weather: Sunny and warm 18 C.

A later breakfast today before checking out and heading back towards Puerto Montt. Our first stop was at a small marsh near Ancud. Open areas of water attracted White-tufted Grebes, Yellow-billed Pintail, Speckled Teal, Red Shoveler, Chiloe Wigeon, Red-fronted and White-winged Coots and a single Cinnamon Teal. In the grassy areas we located the spectacular Spectacled Tyrant and several Sedge Wrens singing from the tops of rushes. The journey towards the Chucao Channel was fairly quick and we boarded the ferry to the mainland. Crossing the channel produced fewer birds on this occasion with exception of Brown and Pomarine Skuas and higher numbers of Imperial Cormorants. Next stop was the forest reserve of Lahuen Nadi to the north of Puerto Montt. Along the entrance road Fire-eyed Diucon and Austral Blackbirds and singing Grassland Yellowfinches. The next hour or so we spent walking slowly along the circular forest trail. At the forest edge Tufted Tit Tyrants and perhaps best of all two De Murs Wiretails which performed well for us. Once in the forest we were captivated by confiding Chucao Tapaculos, Magellanic Tapaculo singing in the open, Green-backed Firecrowns and extremely close Thorn-tailed Rayaditos. Picnic lunch in the car park where two Slender-billed Parakeets flew overhead. Afterwards we headed north towards Osorno and east to the border with Argentina. We turned off to the ski resort of Antillanca and birded two sections of forest the first being extremely quiet. In the second sector brief views of Ochre-flanked Tapaculo as it walked in the understory of bamboo. Luck was with us a few minutes later, as a Black-throated Huet Huet showed on the main road. Checked into the lodge just below the ski runs for a one night stay. In the evening we celebrated JR’s 61st birthday with a large chocolate cake – his favourite.

January 20th: Antillanca, Puerto Montt, Punta Arenas.

Weather: Sunny in all areas, strong northwest winds in the south 14 C/25 C

A pre-breakfast walk near the hotel was productive for Black-throated Huet Huet, Patagonian Sierra Finch, Austral Parakeet and the commoner forest birds of the region. Afterwards we headed back towards park headquarters stopping for an active pair of Striped Woodpeckers feeding on old beech trees. Further down the road another attempt was made for Ochre-flanked Tapaculo (without success). Several Green-backed Firecrowns were noted along with Chucao Tapaculos. At 1130 a stop at park headquarters followed by the road journey to Puerto Montt airport. Checked in for the flight to Punta Arenas in south Chile. We arrived slightly ahead of schedule and transferred to a hotel located next to the Magellan Straits.

January 21st: Punta Arenas, Ci-ake, Straits of Magellan, Porvenir.

Weather: Sunny with occasional showers 14 C

Checked out and made the short journey to a protected area on the outskirts of Punta Arenas. On arrival we checked both sides of the road (reserve is split in two). The south side attracted Silvery and White-tufted Grebes, Chiloe Wigeon, Crested Ducks, Speckled Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, Flying Steamerduck, White-rumped Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs. On the north side Kelp and Ashy-headed Geese, South American Snipe, South American and Elegant Terns. At 0845 we headed north along the main highway in the direction of Puerto Natales recording Lesser Rhea, Chilean Flamingo and Coscoroba Swans. We turned off onto the Ci-aike road and immediately located a flock of Tawny-throated Dotterels and Least Seedsnipe. On the next lagoon Rufous-chested and Two-banded Plovers, Wilson’s Phalarope and substantial numbers of White-rumped Sandpipers. A few kilometres down the road a small river attracted the rare and localised Silver Teal. Near an old hacienda we stopped again for Common Miner and a Band-tailed Earthcreeper which performed well in the top of a bush. Our journey continued through the vast Patagonian steppe with occasional dwellings and farms. On pasture not grazed by sheep Roberto located a flock of Black-throated Finches a rare and localised species in Chile. After lunch we continued towards the Straits of Magellan. Eventually we located Chocolate-vented Tyrant a beautiful summer visitor of the Patagonian steppes. The ferry across the straits produced Rock Cormorant, South American Tern and Southern Giant Petrels. After a few kilometres we turned south west to Porvenir the largest town in Tierra del Fuego (Chilean sector). The journey held some excellent birds notably two Magallenic Horned Owls, Aplomado Falcons, Magallenic Oystercatcher and the highly migratory Short-billed Miner. Checked in at Porvenir for two nights.

January 22nd: Tierra del Fuego.

Weather: Sunny although windy at times 16 C

A later start this morning as we headed towards Porvenir airport and several tracks running adjacent to salt lagoons. A stop at an area covered in low brush attracted a singing Austral Canastero but the bird did not show and kept in cover. Next on the agenda was an area of farmland bordering a seasonal marsh and salt lake. Walking across the fields we encountered large numbers of Upland Geese, Black-faced Ibis, Baird’s and White-rumped Sandpipers. John then located our target bird the globally-threatened Magellanic Plover feeding near a small pool – long and extensive views obtained. Back to the bus and continued on our way towards a remote hacienda. Pools along the way added Ruddy-headed Goose, Wilson’s Phalarope, Hudsonian Godwit, South American Snipe and Two-banded Plovers. A visit to an abandoned house added the localised Patagonian Yellow Finch sitting on eroding cliffs. Back to base for lunch at 1300 hours via the post office for stamps. After lunch we headed to the lighthouse and a rather choppy Magellan Straits. Seawatching was virtually impossible due to strong winds. The sheltered inlet that Porvenir stands by had King Cormorants, Magellanic Oystercatchers, Flying and Flightless Steamerducks, and at the inlet head Dolphin, Brown-hooded and Kelp Gulls. We took the road towards Cameron and made several stops along the way at Santa Maria Laguna and the adjacent straits. The latter held considerable numbers of Black-necked and Coscoroba Swans, Silvery Grebes and Crested Ducks. Offshore we managed to find Black-browed Albatrosses, Southern Giant and White-chinned Petrels, Chilean Skuas and South American Terns. At 1745 we returned to base early, later on we have a special dinner to celebrate Jock’s 69th birthday.

January 23rd: Tierra del Fuego, Straits of Magellan, Reubens, Puerto Natales, Torres del Paine.

Weather: Warm and sunny 20 C

An early start was essential today as the ferry service had been rescheduled due to weather conditions. We retraced our journey of two days ago for the ferry crossing back to the mainland. Just before the terminus a male Cinereous Harrier showed well hunting over the low, bushy landscape. The ferry crossing produced good numbers of Magellanic Penguins, Black-browed Albatrosses, White-chinned Petrels and several pods of the beautiful Commerson’s Dolphin. We returned to Route 9 and travelled north towards Reubens, en route Andean Condors and an immature Black-chested Buzzard Eagle. Roadside pools held Chilean Flamingos and the commoner duck species. Lunch taken at Reubens and then further up the road another stop at a large lagoon. In reed-side vegetation our first Andean Ducks of the tour. Open waters attracted Great and White-tufted Grebes, Flying Steamerducks, Speckled Teal and Red-gartered Coots. Next stop was the water front at Puerto Natales. The old pier here had a colony of Imperial Cormorants, Olivaceous Cormorant, Dolphin Gull and Chilean Skuas. We turned north towards Torres del Paine passing through spectacular and dramatic scenery. Guanaco and Grey Fox were common along the route. On arrival at the park entrance the river was badly swollen from recent snow melt. Alternative transport organised for the last seven kilometres to base. A long and tiring day through Magallenes Province although an interesting one for birds, mammals and scenery.

January 24th: Torres del Paine, Cerro Guidos.

Weather: Sunny with cooler winds at Cerro Guido 21 C

Before breakfast we embarked on a short walk within the hotel grounds. Our main aim was to locate Austral Pygmy Owl, after fifteen minutes it was located calling from a small tree by Hilary. The hosteria had several Bar-winged Cinclodes and a single Dark-bellied Cinclodes. After breakfast we went back towards park headquarters and started a leisurely exploration of the park. On a gentle slope covered in low bushes a pair of Austral Canesteros showed well whilst two Cinnamon-bellied Ground Tyrants flew by. On the next pool a pair of Spectacled Ducks, White-tufted and Silvery Grebes. Roberto then identified a marsh with reeds an ideal habitat for the rare Austral Rail. We were extremely fortunate after twenty minutes or so as a pair of Austral Rails showed in the open along a water channel – great views of this species which was thought to be lost between 1949/1999. Next on the agenda was another pond with singing Wren-like Rushbirds, Cinnamon Teal and Yellow-winged Blackbirds. Late morning and we were on our way to the remote valley and hacienda of Cerro Guidos. An area of bushes on a gentle slope added the localised Lesser Canastero. Further up the valley another stop added Grey-bellied Shrike Tyrant and Patagonian Mockingbirds both rare species in Chile. On nearby cliffs Andean Condors and Black-chested Buzzard Eagles. Luck was again to take a part as an adult White-throated Caracara flew down the valley and over a nearby ridge. Lunch taken in a sheltered spot with Scale-throated Earthcreeper for company. Our journey continued on the rutted track passing a few abandoned houses and farms. On the fast-flowing river we were treated to long and extensive views of Torrent Ducks. In the next village a pair of Black-billed Shrike Tyrants. Beyond the village we started to look for Yellow-bridled Finch another rare species of the High Andes. The first field was not productive apart from four Grey-bellied Seedsnipe. Further up we found three finches feeding on dandelion heads by some large rocks, a fitting finale to the day. Headed back to base for our last night in southern Chile.

January 25th: Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales, Punta Arenas, Santiago.

Weather: Sunny with strong north winds

Today was essentially a travel day as we left Torres del Paine in a different direction for Puerto Montt. Several stops made for the spectacular scenery of the park en route. The journey down to Punta Arenas went quickly. Checked in our bags and made a brief visit to the central square of Punta Arenas with a statue of Magellan. The flight north to Santiago stopped at Puerto Montt and arrived slightly behind time. Transferred to an airport hotel for the night.

January 26th: Santiago, Arica, Azapa Valley.

Weather: Warm and sunny 26 C

An early start as we headed to Santiago airport and the journey to Arica via Antofagasta. Arrived in Arica at 1045 and immediately visited the north beach area of the city. The river running into the sea attracted Little Blue Heron, Snowy and Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night Heron and the first Pacific Doves. We walked up the road and onto the beach to view a lagoon. Turkey Vultures were literally everywhere a common species of northern Chile. In the lagoon we watched Band-tailed, Grey and Franklin’s Gulls, Olivaceous Cormorants, American Oystercatcher, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Black Skimmer and Hudsonian Whimbrels. On returning to the bus a Slender-billed Finch was seen dropping into cover. Next stop was Arica harbour which has several trawlers sitting and rusting in the harbour or nearby sea. Grey Gull, Inca Tern and Elegant Terns were present in their thousands along with Peruvian Pelican and Peruvian Boobies. Lunch taken at a harbour-side restaurant and afterwards checking in at the Hotel Arica. The latter had spectacular numbers of waders and terns including Willet, Hudsonian Godwit, Ruddy Turnstone and Surfbirds. Checked in and arranged to meet up at 1515 for a visit into the Azapa Valley. Several sites visited in this rather lush area set among the harsh environment surrounding Arica. Flowering trees and shrubs attracted Oasis Hummingbird, Peruvian Sheartail, Cinereous Conebill and Vermillion Flycatchers. Other species included the Peruvian race of White-crested Elaneia, Blue-black Grassquit, Croaking Ground Dove and Chestnut-throated Seedeaters.

January 27th: Arica, Lluta Valley, Putre.

Weather: Warm and sunny 27 C

After checking out at the Arica Hotel we revisited the beach area. On arrival singing Peruvian Meadowlarks. In and around the lagoon similar birds to yesterdays visit with the addition of Andean Coot, Spotted Sandpipers and a juvenile Semipalmated Plover. Several Slender-billed Finches showed well in the low vegetation near the bridge. In was soon time to visit the extensive Lluta Valley an area used for agriculture and livestock. The first stop produced migrant Barn Swallows, Blue and White Swallows, Vermillion Flycatchers, Croaking Ground Doves and Eared Doves. Further up the road we were treated to close views of Andean Swifts taking insects over a maize field. We turned off again and visited a sheltered valley lined with mature eucalyptus trees. Adjacent maize strands attracted Hooded Siskins, Chestnut-throated Seedeaters and displaying Peruvian Meadowlarks. Overhead brief views of two Peruvian Martins. The road starting to climb slowly in altitude as we turned into Restaurant 38 ½ for an enjoyable and leisurely lunch. Afterwards a walk down towards the paddocks produced the localised Groove-billed Ani. Our journey up to Putre took us through some very arid and barren habitats and eventually into areas with low scrub and cactus. One stop near a gorge had flocks of Bright-rumped Yellowfinches and Ashy-breasted Sierra Finches. Another stop near roadside restaurants added Dark-winged Canastero and Black-hooded and Mourning Sierra Finches. On entering Putre a pair of Puna Hawks was hunting the hillsides. Checked in at our comfortable hotel for a two night stay. Andean Hillstars nesting around the courtyard. Early evening a pair of Bare-faced Ground Doves appeared on the roof.

January 28th: Putre, Socoroma.

Weather: Sunny with a cool wind 23 C

This morning we continued our acclimatisation to the high altitude of Putre by walking slowly through abandoned fields adjacent to cliffs. Around the hotel Andean Hillstars, Black-hooded Sierra Finch, Chiguanco Thrush, Bar-winged Cinclodes and Dark-winged Canasteros. The bus took us into the centre of Putre where we started birding in an area of trees and gardens. Eucalyptus attracted Spot-winged Dove a recent colonist to Chile, Hooded Siskins and Blue and Yellow Tanagers. Flowering shrubs acted like a magnet for Sparkling Violet-ear, Black-throated Flowerpiercer and Cinereous Conebills. Giant Hummingbirds were also noted hovering in front of us and chasing insects. An additional bonus was a White-browed Chat Tyrant and parties of Bare-faced Ground Doves. At 1030 we started to walk down into a sheltered canyon with the first bend having White-throated Earthcreepers, Streaked Tit-spinetail and Andean Swallows hawking for insects. Further down the track we found Straight-billed and Plain-breasted Earthcreepers, Yellow-bellied Tit Tyrant and up to three Ornate Tinamous. Fields of alfalfa had Mourning and Ash-breasted Sierra Finches and lots of Rufous-collared Sparrows (very good plumaged birds). Towards the end of the canyon a cliff had a calling Canyon Canastero and flocks of Greenish Yellowfinches. Before the bus came to pick us up a pair of White-tailed Shrike Tyrants were observed trying to mate on top of a telegraph pole. After lunch we birded along the old La Paz road running through steep cliffs and low scrub habitat. White-winged and Bar-winged Cinclodes were noted along the canal. In nearby bushes feeding Hooded and Black Siskins and the two common sierra finches. Turned round and headed back towards Putre when we came across a flock of nomadic Mountain Parakeets a rare species of the High Andes. Roberto decided to visit another village further down the valley – Socoroma. Lush fields attracted Band-tailed Seedeaters, Black-winged Ground Doves and similar birds to Putre. Near the village boundary a pair of Black-faced Buzzard Eagles. Returned to base to prepare for our visit to Lauca National Park.

January 29th: Lauca National Park, Arica.

Weather: Variable from overcast to sunny 15 C/26 C

From Putre we joined the old road again recording the same birds of yesterday afternoon plus an Ornate Tinamou feeding on plants from a rock. Lauca was soon reached one of the most picturesque national parks in South America with habitats of rivers, bogs, boulder fields, glacial lakes, Indian villages and smouldering volcanoes. The first stop was at an area of mossy bogs holding Puna Ground Tyrants and the rather uncommon White-throated Sierra Finch. In the river Speckled Teal and Crested Ducks whilst the upper area of bog had a pair of Grey-breasted Seedsnipe. Another stop up the highway for White-winged and Bar-winged Cinclodes. Jeff located a pair of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe feeding in an open grass area. Near the ranger post we stopped again as I glanced an Andean Lapwing sitting quietly on a mound. Great views obtained of this highly specialised Andean endemic. As luck would have it a Diademed Sandpiper-Plover was located in the same pool!! The habitat changed to one of large open areas of altiplano dotted with low bushes. Chris located a male Puna Rhea with fifteen chicks walking slowly over a ridge and promptly disappeared from sight. More open areas held Puna Miner. On a small river another stop added Giant Coot, Andean Negrito and Baird’s Sandpipers. Beyond the police post the habitat changes to pools, lakes and fields. The latter holding substantial numbers of Andean Geese, Puna Ibis and the commoner ducks. In the pools Chilean and Andean Flamingos, Andean Avocet and Puna Teal, the latter being abundant. On mossy patches White-winged Diuca Finches. Stopped for lunch overlooking a large laguna and snow-capped volcanoes. Around the picnic site Black-hooded and Plumbeous Sierra Finches and Andean Gulls. Stopped at the border with Bolivia and walked to view two pools. Similar birds plus a wintering Wilson’s Phalarope and three Puna Plovers. On our return an adult Mountain Caracara flew over towards Bolivia. We returned to Arica making a couple of stops with two more Diademed Sandpiper Plovers and a juvenile Mountain Caracara. The journey back to Arica was uneventful for birds and a welcome rest-bite from the effects of high altitude.

January 30th: Arica, Chaca Valley, Antofagasta.

Weather: Warm and sunny 26 C

A later start today as we headed south along the Pan American Highway towards the Chaca Valley an area used for vegetable production. On arrival we checked out a dried river bed with adjacent scrub and trees. In no time at all a Tamarugo Conebill a species found as recently as 1974. Other species present included Cinereous Conebill, Slender-billed Finch and Pied Crested Tit-tyrant. We explored other areas of farmland for the highly endangered Chilean Woodstar without success. Headed back to Arica and rechecked the Azapa Valley. One area of flowering shrubs gave us excellent views of Peruvian Sheartails. Stopped at the museum where Roberto located a Burrowing Owl sitting on a fencepost. Back in Arica lunch was taken at the old railway station which closed in 1963. After lunch a visit to a rocky peninsula gave us close views of American and Blackish Oystercatchers, Surfbirds and Hudsonian Whimbrels. Back to Arica harbour and its rusting trawlers. Usual species present with the addition of a winter-plumaged Sandwich Tern resting on the jetty. Our final stop in Region 1 was the bridge across the River Lluta. Luck was with us again as a Tricoloured Heron was located in the stream. Travelled to Arica airport for the flight to Antofagasta and onto the copper mining town of Calama. Plane problems ensued and we had to stay the night in Antofagasta with a coach journey in the morning. An enjoyable day in northern Chile despite the travel problems.

January 31st: Antofagasta, Calama, San Pedro de Atacama, Chaxha.

Weather: Warm and sunny with strong breezes at Chaxha 28 C

At 0830 we left Antofagasta and travelled inland to the mining town of Calama and onto San Pedro de Atacama. Checked in at the hotel and arranged to meet again at 1500 hours. Our main birding stop was the extensive salt flats at Chaxha in the middle of the Atacama Desert. On arrival the main walkway provides excellent views into the salty lagoons. Birds are few here but included Chilean, Andean and Puna Flamingos, Wilson’s Phalaropes, Baird’s and Puna Plovers and a large gathering of Andean Avocets. Returned to base stopping in another village where we located Plain-mantled Tit Spinetail, Black Siskin, White-winged Cinclodes and Greenish Yellowfinches. Tomorrow we head towards two lagoons for the rare Horned Coot.

February 1st: San Pedro de Atacama, Miscanti and Minque, Camar

Weather: Warm and sunny although rather hot at lower levels 24 C/30 C

After breakfast we boarded the bus and headed in an easterly direction towards Argentina. Our first stop was just outside San Pedro de Atacama where we encountered two Burrowing Owls by the road. Before the last village a stop was made in a small area used for growing corn and broad beans. A group of Mountain Parakeets were observed feeding young in a bare tree. A slow walk around the vegetable plot produced Mourning and Black-hooded Sierra Finches, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, Black-winged Ground Dove and Black Siskin. In the village we stopped to admire the old church, in nearby fields Spot-billed Ground Tyrant, Black-billed Shrike Tyrant and wintering Barn Swallows. The road to Miscanti and Minque passes through some dramatic scenery of high volcanoes, fields scattered with boulders, dried river gorges and hillsides of puna grass. Birds were few apart from an adult Mountain Caracara, Bright-rumped Yellowfinch and a Puna Hawk. On reaching the lagoons we started to search for the rare Horned Coot. The second lagoon was the best with c130 birds being present and close enough to see the ‘horn’. Other species present included Silvery Grebe, Andean and Chilean Flamingos, Crested Duck, Andean Goose and Andean Gulls. After a pleasant picnic we headed back to base stopping at the village of Camar. The weather was extremely hot but we managed close views of Rufous-naped Ground Tyrant, Black-billed Shrike Tyrant and flocks of Greenish Yellowfinches. Back at base for 1700 hours after another great birding day in Chile.

February 2nd: San Pedro de Atacama, Putana, Calama, Santiago

Weather: Warm and sunny 24 C

Checked out at San Pedro and took the rural road towards El Tatio on the border with Bolivia. This is dramatic area scenery wise with several active and dormant volcano chains. Our first birding stop produced pre-autumn flocks of Bright-rumped and Greenish Yellowfinches, Mourning and Plumbeous Sierra Finches. In an area of lush vegetation we found Puna Rhea, Tawny-throated Dotterel, Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Andean Negrito, Ochre-naped Ground Tyrant and the elusive and local Golden-spotted Ground Dove. Putana was the next stop an oasis in the middle of an extremely dry and arid region. The pools here are always good for birds with the first one attracting Chilean and Andean Flamingos, Crested Duck, Puna Teal, Wilson’s Phalaropes, Baird’s and Pectoral Sandpipers and Greater Yellowlegs. In grassy areas feeding Andean Geese, Andean Gull, and the local subspecies of Correndera Pipit. Time was running out when we found Cinereous and Dark-fronted Ground Tyrants both being rather scarce in Chile. Picnic by the bridge, when a group of four Red-backed Sierra Finches flew overhead and perched obligingly on top of a boulder. Andean Conder passed by giving us a lasting memory of Chile and its birdlife. In the afternoon we headed back to Calama and the onward flight to Santiago. The journey was incredible for scenery and the feat of engineering that allowed the road to exist in such trying conditions. Checked in at the airport hotel in Santiago for our last night of a thoroughly enjoyable tour of Chile.

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

<<<Trip Reports

<<<Return to main site
____________________Birdwatching Breaks 2010____________________
Optimised for IE8