November 9th-December 1st
It was a welcome change to revisit Chile again after a gap of four years. Many changes have taken place since my last visit with improvements to roads and other infrastructure in this vast country. The tour was basically three one-week tours combined into one visiting the centre of Chile around Santiago, Puerto Montt and Chiloe Island in the centre-south and the extreme southern region of XII including Tierra del Fuego. The finale was a visit to Lauca National Park and Putre on the border with Bolivia and the beautiful vistas of the Atacama Desert around the old hippy enclave of San Pedro de Atacama.
Severe drought in and around central Chile had made many lakes and lagoons have low water levels which consequently affected several species of birds notably Spot-flanked Gallinule, some ducks and Red-fronted Coots. Despite this the group recorded 292 species which is the second highest total since our initial visit in 1993. We had many highlights on this tour which are well documented in the diary format below and the attached bird list. Mammals were also a highlight and the sight of a female Puma with three well-grown cubs will forever linger in the memory.
My thanks also to Eduardo who helped out in the first week, Chris in the far south and finally Enrique in the north around Arica and the Atacama regions.
November 9th: Santiago-de-Chile, Talagante, San Antonio, Cartagena, El Peral, Vina del Mar. Weather: Overcast and rather cool along the coast 19-24C.
Everybody had a good night’s rest after the journey from Europe. At 0830 hours we met up with Eduardo our guide in the Central Chile region. In the hotel grounds the familiar and common birds were noted notably Rufous-collared Sparrow, Austral Thrush, Long-tailed Meadowlark and Southern Lapwings. Our journey took us through the spreading suburbs of Santiago to the town of Talagante. A stop on a rather busy bridge over the river proved to be a good introduction to many birds of this region of South America. Under the bridge itself plenty of Chilean and Blue and White Swallows whilst the clear waters attracted White-necked Stilt, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Great and Snowy Egrets, Chiloe Wigeon, Yellow-billed Pintail and Cinnamon Teal. On the weedy mounds we watched many Austral Negritos, Yellow-winged and Austral Blackbirds and a first year Kelp Gull, best of all on the stony river edge at least three Collared Plovers. It was time to move on towards the port of San Antonio and its impressive reserve at the mouth of the Maipo River. A walk along the beach produced sightings of Grey, Kelp and Brown-headed Gulls, Hudsonian Whimbrel, American Oystercatcher and offshore a few Neotropical Cormorants. On reaching the river mouth we were greeted by vast numbers of birds including Black Skimmer, South American, Elegant, Arctic and Common Terns and in the open waters Great Grebe. On the muddy edges good numbers of migrant Baird’s Sandpipers. Lunch was taken in the bustling port of San Antonio with Peruvian Pelicans on the metal roofs and begging South American Sea-lions on the beach. A good lunch of fish and chips was consumed. Afterwards we were delighted to watch an adult Inca Tern sitting on a boat and two juveniles sitting under the pier. Our birding route took us towards the lagoon of Cartanega where the cool winds were coming in off the cold Humboldt Current. A short walk produced Southern Silvery and White-tufted Grebes, Red Shoveler, Yellow-billed Pintail, Chiloe Wigeon, Red-gartered, Red-fronted and White-winged Coots, Lake Duck, Coscoroba and Black-necked Swans. The final stop was at El Peral which had low water levels consequently affecting the number of birds. Jean located an Austral Pygmy Owl in the reeds a real bonus for the group. Further on in the reserve we were delighted to locate several Plumbeous Rails, California Quail, Tufted Tit Tyrant and a pair of Slender-billed Canasteros.
November 10th: Vina-del-Mar, Pacific Ocean, Coast road to Concon, Ventanas, La Laguna, Zapaller. Weather: Overcast at sea with sunny spells inland, 19-23C with southwest winds.
This morning started with a half-day pelagic trip into the Humboldt Current which is situated just a few miles off the Chilean coast. Inshore waters were productive for Red-legged Cormorant, Peruvian Booby and literally thousands of Sooty Shearwaters. The next few hours produced some memorable moments and sightings of: Black-browed, Northern and Southern Royal, Buller’s and Salvin’s Albatrosses, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, White-chinned and Westland Petrels, Pink-footed Shearwaters and flocks of Grey Phalaropes. On the return journey to Valparaiso harbour an immature Sabine’s Gull was located among the hundreds of Kelp and Franklin’s Gulls and straggling flocks of Guanay Cormorants. Lunch was taken followed by a visit to the offshore rocks and beaches along the road to Concon. This was productive for the near endemic Chilean Seaside Cinclodes, Blackish Oystercatchers, Peruvian Boobies and Red-legged Cormorants the last three species being on offshore rock stacks. A short stop at the lagoons near Ventanas produced the familiar wetland birds of Central Chile. La Laguna a little further north had Speckled Teal on a muddy spit. Our final stop at Zapellar gave us good views of Humboldt Penguins on their nesting island. In the gardens we had sightings of Chilean Elaenia, Fire-eyed Duicon, Green-backed Firecrown and overhead Black Vultures.
November 11th: Vina-del-Mar, La Campana, Lampa, Santiago. Weather: Warm and sunny with no wind 31C.
Our day started on the new motorway running eastwards to Mendoza in Argentina. The destination was La Campana an important reserve for Chilean endemic birds. The first birding stop was at a private vineyard (no public access) where we located Austral Pygmy and Burrowing Owls on fence posts and telegraph wires. A bonus came in the form of Chilean Pigeons which are often difficult to see. Further along the track we connected with several California Quails and American Kestrels perched in dead trees. La Campana is nearby with the entrance track being a mix of orchards, palms and areas with large boulders. Luck was with us as a White-throated Tapaculo showed well in a bush. Other species present in this arid habitat included Black-chested Buzzard Eagle, Grey-hooded Sierra Finch and Common Duica Finch. On entering the national park a scan of the dead trees revealed a Chilean Flicker and a circling Harris’s Hawk. A walk up the track towards the campground was productive for Fire-eyed Duicon, Giant Hummingbirds, Striped Woodpecker and the delightful Thorn-tailed Rayadito. Later in the morning we headed back on Route 5 towards Santiago with lunch taken at a petrol station. Our final birding spot was at Lampa although the dry winter meant no water and few birds. A walk into the area added Cinereous Harrier and Correndera Pipit to the bird list.
November 12th: Santiago, San Clemente, Lago Colbun, Vilches Alto. Weather: Sunny and pleasant with light southwest winds 25C.
After breakfast we joined the manic traffic problems of Santiago to join the Pan American Highway heading south to the city of Talsa. The commoner birds were seen along the route and we then turned off to San Clemente for lunch. A visit to flower meadows allowed us to watch Common Duica Finch, Chilean Elaenia, Shiny Cowbird, Chilean Mockingbird, California Quail and a hunting Harris’s Hawk in the distance. Eduardo and I then decided to visit the river and lake area at Lago Colbun. This proved to be very productive for the rare and localised subspecies of Burrowing Parrot which showed well in trees and flights along the river. Near a small store and church prolonged views of this beautiful bird. Also in the area were Black-chinned Siskin, Rufous-tailed Plantcutter and Grassland Yellow Finch. A scan of the river revealed good numbers of ducks including the scarce and localised Spectacled Duck. In the deeper water a Great Grebe was present. By the car park a Sand Martin was noted a scarce species from further north. The day ended with another walk around the flower meadows with a Plain-mantled Tit Spinetail being added to the birdlist. A short drive away was our accommodation at Vilches Alto set in a beautiful setting of forest, meadows and fast-flowing rivers.
November 13th: Vilches Alto, Santiago. Weather: Warm and sunny 27C.
During the night we could hear the distinctive calls of Rufous-legged Owls. At daybreak a walk around the lodge gardens produced the commoner forest birds and a male Rufous-tailed Plantcutter sitting on top of a conifer tree. Our main objective was to find the birds of the southern beech forest at Vilches Alto which was a short drive from base. At the entrance gate the larger beech trees attracted White-throated Treerunners and Thorn-tailed Rayaditos, Chilean Elaenia, Black-chinned Siskin and Tufted Tit Tyrant. A walk up the road was quiet for birds until Suzanne located a female Magellanic Woodpecker feeding on an old beech tree. Luck was with us as the male called and flew over our heads before landing in a large conifer tree – long views obtained of this rare and declining bird of southernmost South America. Other species in the surrounding area included Austral Parakeet and Patagonian Sierra Finch. The next hour or so was spent wandering around the forest at lower elevations by the streams and dwarf bamboo stands. This eventually paid off as Gill located the Chilean endemic – Chestnut-throated Huet-huet in a low bush, we were not sure if it was a territorial dispute or not. At 1300 hours we left the forest for the journey back to Santiago. The journey went well with familiar roadside birds being seen until we entered the city limits.
November 14th: Santiago, Maipo Valley, Yeso. Weather: Warm and sunny with light southwest winds 25C.
A departure at 0600 hours from the hotel with the first stop at the Maipo Valley. The first stop was by a fast-flowing clear river where we located a party of Torrent Ducks. Also in the area were a Dark-bellied Cinclodes and brief views of a Giant Hummingbird. After a few kilometres we turned into the Yeso Valley an important place for the birds of Chile. The first stop was in an orchard with a dry, dusty understory with abundant grass seeds. The dry grasses attracted good numbers of Black-winged Ground Doves. Further up the valley a large group of immature Andean Condors were patrolling the hillsides. A rocky cliff habitat with bushes was next on the agenda and we quickly located two Chilean endemics – Crag Chilia and Moustached Tourca plus views of Plain-mantled Tit Spinetails and Southern House Wrens. Next was an area of grassland dotted with rocks and pools of water, this was an absolute magnet for birds. On exiting the van we were greeted by Grey-headed Sierra Finches and Buff-winged Cinclodes the latter a recent split from Bar-winged Cinclodes. In the next hour a careful scan of the area produced Yellow-rumped Siskin, Mountain Parakeet, Mourning and Plumbeous Sierra Finches, Ochre-naped, White-browed and Cinereous Ground Tyrants, Scale-throated Earthcreeper and Rufous-banded Miners. On the mountain side we had flight views of Black-breasted Buzzard Eagle and Variable Hawks. A stop at the old military base added Plumbeous Sierra Finches and nesting Blue and White Swallows. Our journey passed through spectacular vistas of lakes, boulder fields, scree and snow-capped mountains on the border with Argentina. Lunch was taken by a raging flood water stream with flower meadows on the opposite side. This had White-sided Hillstars feeding on the yellow flowers. A walk towards the boggy habitat added Grey-breasted Seedsnipes, Grey-flanked Cinclodes and the icing on the cake a pair of the rare and beautiful Diademed Sandpiper Plovers. Close views obtained of this unusual high Andes bird a fitting end to our stay in Central Chile.
November 15th: Santiago, Puerto Montt, Chacao Channel, Caulin, Ancud, Punihuil. Weather: Overcast with sunny spells on a northeast wind 16C.
It was good to leave the hustle and bustle of Santiago as we flew south to Puerto Montt in the heart of the Chilean lakes. On arrival the bags and transport were quick and on our way to the ferry over the Chacao Channel. Black and Turkey Vultures, Chimango Caracara, Black-faced Ibis and Austral Thrush were numerous around farms and fields. At the ferry terminal we were fortunate to catch the first available across to Chiloe Island. The crossing was good for seabirds with sightings of Magellanic Penguin, White-chinned Petrel, Pink-footed and Sooty Shearwaters, Imperial and Red-legged Cormorants, Magellanic Diving Petrels and South American Terns. The shoreline on Chiloe Island held large numbers of Black-necked Swans with cygnets, Hudsonian Whimbrels and the first of many Flightless Steamerducks of the tour. Caulin is just a short distance away and probably the most important area for summering waders in Chile. On the mudflats several thousand Hudsonian Godwits, Baird’s Sandpiper, American Oystercatcher, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Common Knot a scarce visitor to Chile. Other species present included Coscoroba Swan, Yellow-billed Pintail, Speckled Teal, Brown-headed, Franklin’s and Kelp Gulls. An enjoyable lunch was consumed in Ancud followed by a visit to Punihuil a series of rocky islets. Punihuil produced the desired species with up to seven Kelp Geese, Magellanic Cormorant, Blackish Oystercatcher and a wide-range of the common coastal birds. It was time to return to Ancud which was diverted by a Ringed Kingfisher found by Jean. This proved to be a great spot for birds with both yellowlegs present, Plumbeous Rail and the familiar species. Our last stop was a degraded marsh close to Ancud which allowed us to watch a male Cinereous Harrier, Sedge Wrens on territory and displaying Spectacled Tyrants. Brief views of Wren-like Rushbird were made with this species at the southern most point of its range in Chile.
November 16th: Ancud, Rio Chepu, Castro. Weather: Sunny and clear 19C.
After breakfast the group headed south and west to the Rio Chepu one of the major rivers running through Chiloe. Along the route familiar birds of Chile were present. On boarding the boat a male Ringed Kingfisher showed well perching on a dead tree stump. Further upriver we encountered Great Grebes, Chiloe Wigeon, Speckled and Cinnamon Teals and a Southern Caracara perched in a dead tree. Eventually we reached a marsh which was dominated by a large colony of Brown-hooded Gulls and a few pairs of the beautiful Snowy-crowned Tern. A diversion into a tributary of the river added calling Chucao and Magellanic Tapaculos, Spectacled Tyrant and Green-backed Firecrowns. Returned to the dock and made our way to the boat owner’s restaurant where an enjoyable meal was consumed. Afterwards we set off towards Castro the main city of the island. At least two Chilean Flickers were seen on telegraph poles or dead trees. On entering Castro the mudflats had hordes of the common waders and significant numbers of Black-necked Swans. I tried a country road leading towards the Pacific Ocean (one of the few on Chiloe) looking for birds. Our only success was flocks of the endemic Slender-billed Parakeet flying over the forest in noisy groups.
November 17th: Ancud, Chacao Channel, Lahuen Nadi, Puerto Montt, Antillanca. Weather: Overcast with some sunny spells 16C.
This morning the group travelled back to the mainland via the ferry crossing the Chacao Channel. The same species were noted on the ferry crossing and in the hotel gardens. Once on the mainland I headed towards the reserve of Lahuen Nadi which is close to Puerto Montt. On the entrance track fields we encountered dairy cattle and feeding Black-faced Ibis. The reserve at Lahuen Nadi is small and comprises an excellent boardwalk which takes you through a habitat of Southern Beech forest and its associated plant life. We spent almost three hours in this wonderful habitat recording Magellanic and Chucao Tapaculos, Black-throated Huet-huet, Green-Backed Firecrown, Chilean Elaenia, Thorn-tailed Rayadito and Slender-billed Parakeet. In the distance we could hear the drumming of a Magellanic Woodpecker. At the end of the trail we went back to Puerto Montt and picked up lunch and from here we headed towards Osorno a town with strong Germanic links and an impressive volcano of the same name. The road up to Antillanca goes through stands of bamboo and we could hear the same species from our morning visit. Near the hotel entrance a flock of Austral Parakeets showed in an old dead tree.
November 18th: Antillanca, Puerto Montt, Punta Arenas. Weather: Frequent rain showers in all areas on a westerly wind 5-11C.
Antillanca had heavy rainfall overnight which continued for the rest of the visit. Around the hotel we could hear Black-throated Huet-huet and Magellanic Tapaculo calling from the dense bamboo thickets. A highlight for all of us was watching a pair of Chucao Tapaculos building a nest in a tree hole right next door to our rooms. We then set off for the journey to Puerto Montt airport with a short stop down the hill in another area of bamboo and trees. Here we had brief views of the skulking and shy Ochre-flanked Tapaculo. At the airport we checked in for the flight south to Punta Arenas a very windy place even in the short summer months. Met up with Chris our local guide and set off towards the town for a short visit to some wetlands. This was productive for White-tufted Grebe, Chilean Flamingo, Crested and Flying Steamerducks, Upland Geese, South American Snipe, Baird’s and White-rumped Sandpipers and a single Magellanic Oystercatcher.
November 19th: Punta Arenas, Straits of Magellan, Porvenir. Weather: Overcast with a cold westerly wind 6-9C.
Checked out of the hotel in the city centre and travelled to the dock and departure point to Porvenir in Tierra del Fuego. At the ferry terminus we watched plenty of Kelp Gulls and a few Dolphin Gulls and in the distance a raft of Southern Giant Petrels by a fishing trawler. The crossing of two hours was good for seabird observation. In the first third of the crossing observations of Southern Fulmar, Chilean Skua, South American Tern and at least three White-chinned Petrels. In the colder waters dancing Wilson’s Storm Petrels and many Magellanic Diving Petrels the latter being in loose flocks. As we approached Tierra del Fuego large straggly groups of King, Imperial and Magellanic Cormorants and Black-browed Albatrosses resting on the sea. On entering Porvenir we picked up our packed lunches and started an initial exploration of salt-lakes, grasslands and associated habitats of the island. Our first stop produced Long-tailed Meadowlark, Correndera Pipit, Buff-winged Cinclodes and Patagonian Yellow Finch. In the wetter areas Two-banded Plover, Baird’s and White-rumped Sandpipers, Least Seedsnipe, Coscoroba Swans, Chiloe Wigeon and Crested Ducks. Further along the dirt road a dry, sandy section attracted a flock of waders including a single Magellanic Plover and Magellanic Oystercatcher. A bonus here was the highly migratory Short-billed Miner digging away in a sandy patch of ground. The last birding stop took us towards the local landfill site which was full of gulls and Skuas the latter included at least two Subantarctic Skuas. Further stops on the road added Common Miner, Austral Canastero, Southern Caracara and the attractive Rufous-chested Plover sitting atop mossy mounds. At a river valley we watched displaying South American Snipe, Yellow-billed Pintails and the commoner birds of the island.
November 20th: Porvenir, Straits of Magellan, Buque Quemado, Pal-aike, Puerto Natales. Weather: Sunny with a brisk westerly wind 11C.
We departed from Porvenir at 0745 hours for the long journey north and west to Puerto Natales. The first section of the road is tarmac and then dirt although the latter is steadily being upgraded. Familiar and common bird species were noted along the route until a Ruddy-headed Goose was found on a roadside lagoon. This is the rarest of the geese in Chile today. Also on the pond were nesting Coscoroba Swans and a Flying Steamerduck. Next on the agenda was a section of cliffs where we watched a pair of Magellanic Horned Owls sitting in a recess on the cliff face. The approach to the Straits of Magellan was made where the crossing is the shortest distance. On the cliffs we watched nesting Magellanic Cormorants and in the water and beach good numbers of Magellanic Penguins. A short stop for hot drinks was made in the recently upgraded cafe. Burque Quemado is close by a seasonal wetland which like so many was lacking in water levels. Chilean Flamingos were feeding in the shallow waters whilst the reedy dykes attracted Yellow-billed Pintail, Speckled and Silver Teals, Chiloe Wigeon, Red-gartered and White-winged Coots. Waders included Least Seedsnipe and Two-banded Plover, Hudsonian Godwit and hunting Cinereous Harrier. Our journey took us towards the crater area of Pali-ake where the mossy landscape yielded views of Rufous-chested Plover, Tawny-throated Dotterel and the beautiful Black-throated Finch. A walk around a sector of the volcanic area of Pali-ake was productive for Cordilleran Canastero, Cinnamon-bellied Ground Tyrant and territorial Southern House Wrens all of which are summer breeding visitors. The journey to Puerto Natales went through a varied habitat and included several views of the scarce Chocolate-vented Tyrant.
November 21st: Puerto Natales, Cerro Guido, Torres del Paine. Weather: Clear with some strong winds from the west.
At 0800 hours we were on the road towards the world famous Torres de Paine National Park. The first stop of the day was adjacent to a hillside dotted with trees and grassland. Several guanacos were around and a few had perished due to Puma kills thus leaving food for vultures. Scanning of the area revealed Andean Condor and Southern Caracara feasting on the unfortunate mammal. Further on the route we encountered the first group of Ashy-headed Geese a species which appears to be in sharp decline. For the remainder of the day the group concentrated on the bird-rich valley of Cerro Guido with its towering cliffs, rivers and meadows. The first stop at an area of Patagonian scrub produced Scale-throated Earthcreeper, Cordilleran Canastero and a pair of the rare Patagonian Mockingbirds. Further up the valley around a small house we located several Cinnamon-bellied Ground Tyrants, Grey-flanked Cinclodes and Greater Yellow Finch the last species being a recent colonist to Region XII. A bonus came when a family party of Grey-bellied Shrike Tyrants were found in a bush – another colonist to the region. Lunch was taken by a water meadow with close views of South American Snipe and several Yellow-bridled Finches the latter being restricted to the high meadows of the southern Andean mountain range. Near the end of the road at Los Cambres the pools held Speckled Teal, White-winged and Red-gartered Coots, Barn Swallow and an Ochre-naped Ground Tyrant sitting on a fencepost. On the journey back down the valley a final stop was made for Band-tailed Earthcreeper which duly obliged in an area of scrub. The finale was yet to come as we entered the park as a female Puma was located with three well grown cubs a fitting end to the day.
November 22nd: Torres del Paine including Pehoe, Lago Grey, Rio Serrano and eastern lagoons. Weather: Sunny spells with an increasing westerly wind 12C.
A leisurely day was spent visiting several sites around the national park. In the hotel grounds at Pehoe summer visitors were present including Chilean Elaenia, Fire-eyed Duicon, Chilean Swallow and Dark-bellied Cinclodes. On the lake we watched a pair of Flying Steamerducks. A stop at a small lagoon allowed the group close views of White-tufted Grebe, Red-gartered Coot and the beautiful Spectacled Duck. In nearby grassland we watched a hunting Short-eared Owl which eventually perched up in a tree. In the southern beech forest a short walk was made by walking over the bridge into the old forest. The group had fantastic views of male and female Magellanic Woodpeckers, Austral Parakeet, Austral Pygmy Owl, Thorn-tailed Rayadito and Black-chinned Siskins. Chris decided to visit an area of short grass near the Rio Serrano. This proved to be a good move as Ashy-headed Geese, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, Buff-winged Cinclodes, Dark-faced and White-browed Ground Tyrants were all seen well. On the return a party of Andean Condors literally flew over our heads and up into the mountains – great stuff. The wind was starting to increase after lunch as we visited the lagoons at the eastern end of the park. This made birding tricky although we did manage to find the localised Andean Ruddy Duck, Chilean Flamingos, Two-banded Plover, Black-necked and Coscoroba Swans, Chiloe Wigeon and Crested Ducks. Near the entrance the marshes had Yellow-winged Blackbirds and calling Wren-like Rushbirds although the latter kept well down due to the winds. Last bird of the day was an Austral Canastero which showed well down to a few feet. Back to base earlier today after an enjoyable days birding in this world-famous park.
November 23rd: Torres del Paine, Puerto Natales, Punta Arenas, Santiago. Weather: Overcast with stiff westerly winds 11C.
Today was mainly spent getting back to Santiago. Before leaving the park we heard the distinctive calls of two Austral Rails (these were originally relocated in the 1990’s by Birdwatching Breaks and Enrique Couve). On the journey back to Punta Arenas familiar species were seen on various lagoons and grasslands.
November 24th: Santiago, Arica, Chaca and Azapa Valleys, Arica (south beach). Weather: Sunny in Arica with light winds from the west 25C.
The flight north to Arica went smoothly and arrived slightly ahead of schedule. We met up with my old friend and guide Enrique and travelled south to the Chaca Valley. This is literally an oasis in and otherwise inhospitable and hostile environment. Birding was quiet to start with until two Tamarugo Conebills were seen feeding on seed heads. Nearby an environmentally managed farm producing mainly olives was visited (please note this is a private site and not open to the public). On arrival we located the ever-present Pacific Dove and Blue and White Swallows hawking for insects. Feeders and water baths were a major attraction to the birdlife in this arid landscape. In the trees we had sightings of Peruvian Elaenia, Cinereous Conebill, Vermillion Flycatcher and Rufous-collared Sparrows. On the feeders and flowers we watched the critically endangered Chilean Woodstar, Oasis Hummingbird and the localised Slender-billed Finch. Back towards Arica and a diversion to the Azapa Valley where we found up to twelve Peruvian Sheartails, Peruvian Meadowlark, Croaking Ground Dove and a hunting Peregrine Falcon. We ended the day by visiting the south beach of Arica. Birds roosting on the rocks included Snowy Egret, Little Blue Heron, Band-tailed, Grey and Franklin’s Gulls, Ruddy Turnstone, Surfbird, Willet and Elegant Terns.
November 25th: Arica (north beach), Lluta Valley, Putre. Weather: Overcast on the coast, sunny inland 17-24C.
First stop today was the north beach of Arica a large area stretching over several kilometres with a few seasonal lagoons and water outlets. Along the beach Grey and Band-tailed Gulls, Elegant and Common Terns, Black Skimmer and American Oystercatchers were numerous. Offshore we caught up with Peruvian Diving Petrel and an Arctic Skua chasing Inca Terns. The first lagoon produced Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Hudsonian Godwit and a single White-faced Ibis. A bonus came when an American Golden Plover appeared from nowhere onto the beach. In the main water outflow a party of White-cheeked Pintail and a male Cinnamon Teal. On the last lagoon we were amazed to find a Buff-breasted Sandpiper which is a first record for Chile. Also present were Least, Western and Semipalmated Sandpipers. It was time to visit the Lluta Valley where mature trees and agricultural fields attract many birds. Luck was with us as a Peruvian Thick-knee showed on the field edge. In the larger trees we watched Vermillion and Bran-coloured Flycatchers and Chestnut-throated Seedeaters. Our journey continued to Putre a sleepy village in the Andes and a good base to adjust to altitude for a couple of days. At the overlook to Putre the car park held the attractive Black-hooded Sierra Finch, Greenish Yellow Finches and best of all three Andean Swifts. The old back road was taken with the first stop adding Hooded and Black Siskins, Dark-winged Canastero and Ash-breasted Sierra Finch. Further down the road a group of Bare-faced Ground Doves and a pair of D’Orbigny Chat Tyrants the latter a scarce bird of the High Andes. We finished the day with brief views of Ornate Tinamou, Creamy-winged and White-winged Cinclodes and Streaked Tit Spinetail.
November 26th: Putre. Weather: Sunny although rather cool in the wind 22C.
Around the hotel gardens Andean Hillstar and Chiguanco Thrushes were in evidence along with the commoner Andean species. Our first stop was in the centre of town by a gorge dotted with bushes and eucalyptus trees. Firstly we observed Spot-winged Pigeons a recent colonist to Putre. In the canyon we located; Dusky-winged Canastero, a wintering American Redstart, Bare-faced Ground Dove and Giant Hummingbirds. A look down into the canyon added Blue and Yellow Tanager, Black-throated Flowerpiercer, Yellow-billed Tit Tyrant and Canyon Canastero. After a short duration a Sparkling Violetear was located singing high up in a dead eucalyptus tree. Buoyed by our success we visited another area of the canyon where a walk along an old path produced sightings of White-throated Earthcreeper, Band-tailed Seedeater and flocks of Bright-rumped Yellowfinches. Further stops around Putre added Puna Hawk, Golden-billed Saltator and a White-browed Chat Tyrant. In the afternoon we went east towards Lauca National Park via the Putre back road. We were fortunate that a pair of Ornate Tinamou crossed the road in front of us. A general exploration of another rural road produced nothing of note. In the evening after dinner we quickly located and had good views of Band-tailed Nightjars.
November 27th: Putre, Lauca National Park including Los Cuevas, Paranacota and High Lakes, Arica. Weather: Bright and sunny with light winds 26C.
From Putre which is at 3400m we headed steadily upwards in altitude to Lauca National Park at 4600m. The air is thin here and the group walked in areas at a slow pace. Our first stop was at area of bogs with either running streams or iced over. This brought our first Andean Geese of the tour, Andean Gulls and best of all a party of fifteen Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe. Also on the bog were the impressive White-fronted Ground Tyrants the largest of the family. Further up we walked the trail at Los Cuevas which had Crested Duck, Speckled Teal (sometimes split as Andean Teal), White-winged Cinclodes and White-winged Duica Finch. Across the bridge we had very close views of Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Diademed Sandpiper Plover, Puna Ground Tyrant and Andean Negrito. Along the hillside a Mountain Caracara flew past with a Puna Hawk. At the next stop by a police post the first Giant Coots, Puna Ibis and Puna Miner. A short diversion was made for the localised White-throated Sierra Finch, Black Siskin and Ochre-naped Ground Tyrant. Lunch was taken in the old town of Paranacota which is suffering from severe depopulation. The bogs and lagoons around the town provided us with views of Andean Lapwing, Silvery Grebe (sometimes split to Northern Silvery Grebe), Andean Flicker and Black-hooded Sierra Finches. Further up a few of the group started to suffer from the affects of altitude. On the lake we added Andean Coot, Chilean Flamingo, Andean Duck and an adult Black-crowned Night Heron. We decided to go back down to Arica when Jean located three Puna Rhea by the roadside.
November 28th: Arica, Santiago, Calama, San Pedro de Atacama.
A day of travel to Calama.
November 29th: San Pedro de Atacama, Incahuasi, Chaxas, Camar. Weather: Sunny and clear with a cool westerly wind at high altitudes 10-25C.
Today we travelled east to the border with Bolivia and Argentina. Around twenty kilometres from San Pedro a stop was made by an alpaca farm where a pair of Aplomado Falcons was perched on fence poles – great views. The road rises steadily in altitude and another stop was good for Puna Miner, White-throated, Ashy-breasted and Plumbeous Sierra Finches plus a Cordilleran Canastero. The habitat and scenery was fantastic including active and dormant volcanoes, desert, salty lagoons and occasional bushes and shrubs. At Incahuasi the altitude is 17600 feet above sea level and the air thin to say the least. Despite this the lagoons held Chilean, Andean and Puna Flamingos, Crested and Speckled Ducks, Andean Geese, Baird’s Sandpipers and Puna Plover. By the car park we were delighted to watch the scarce Red-backed Sierra Finch and Bright-rumped Yellowfinches. On the next lagoon we located the rare and declining Horned Coot building a nest and collecting nesting material. Delighted with this sighting we headed back down the road to San Pedro. In the afternoon a visit to Chaxas with the entrance road having four Golden-spotted Ground Doves a rare species of arid areas. At Chaxas the birds were similar to the morning with the addition of Andean Avocets in good numbers. We ended the day at Camar a village with a population of five!! Birds here included Spot-billed Ground Tyrant, Black-billed Shrike Tyrant and White-winged Cinclodes.
Red-backed Sierra Finch
November 30th: San Pedro de Atacama, Rio Purifico, Laguna Machuca, Patana. Weather: Sunny and warm although cooler at higher altitudes on a westerly wind 26C.
After leaving San Pedro we went on dirt roads until reaching the Rio Purifico which is a small stream running through an arid habitat. In the bushes we located the first Black-hooded Sierra Finches of the day with Streaked Tit Spinetails and Cordilleran Canasteros. The best area appeared to be where the river dissected the road with birds coming down to drink; Mourning, Ashy-breasted, Plumbeous and White-throated Sierra Finches. Further upstream we studied the uncommon Golden-spotted Ground Dove on a rock. A Plain-breasted Earthcreeper gave us the run-around in the bushy habitat. On the way back to the van a pair of Spot-billed Ground Tyrants was seen feeding around the base of bushes. The road starts to climb up through increasingly rocky habitats when a White-tailed Shrike Tyrant was located on top of a large rock, good views obtained of this rare and retiring species of the High Andes. Laguna Machuca was next on the agenda against a backdrop of smoking volcanoes, grasses and salt flats. We quickly located Andean Flamingo, Andean Goose, Andean Gull, Andean Avocet, Puna Plover and Grey-breasted Seedsnipe. In areas with more water Speckled Teal, Crested Duck, Andean Coot and on grassy mounds Puna, Ochre-naped and Rufous-naped Ground Tyrants. Lunch was taken by the bridge at Machuca village. In a building opposite the lunch stop we observed nesting Black-hooded Sierra Finches and Streaked Tit Spinetails. After lunch the road climbed higher into a rocky, arid grassland habitat. Luck was with us as Jean located a party of five Puna Tinamou walking along a ridge. The last stop of the day was at the abandoned village of Patana with its bogs and wetlands. Similar birds to earlier stops with the addition of Giant Coots with young, Puna Teal and on the rocks flocks of Bright-rumped Yellowfinches and a family party of White-tailed Shrike Tyrants.
December 1st: Sand Pedro de Atacama, Calamar, Santiago
Final species total: 292
Weather: Warm and sunny 26C.
Our final day in Chile was a visit to a canyon near San Pedro de Atacama. The middle of the valley has a fast-flowing river in places attracting many birds. By the archaeological site we located several Chiguanco Thrushes, Rufous-naped Ground Tyrant, Black-billed Shrike Tyrant and a pair of Black Siskins. In the more open water areas we located single Speckled Teal and Crested Duck. A walk up a narrow canyon was interesting in the way it had been formed and how rainfall has a diverse effect on this incredible landscape. The remainder of the day was spent travelling to Calama and onto Santiago where the tour concluded.