January 12th - February 5th
Chile is simply a wonderful destination for several reasons with its stunning scenery, fantastic birds and mammals and a welcoming nation of people. Our tour took in the vast majority of the country visiting the far north around Arica and Putre, Atacama Desert, the area of Central Chile centred around Santiago. However the real beauty lies in the extreme south and Magallenes province and the windswept landscapes of Tierra del Fuego. We were unlucky with the weather on this visit with the north encountering an odd mix of heavy rainfalls which led to the road system collapsing under severe pressure - after all it rarely rains in this most arid of regions. In contrast the south and centre of the country had sunny and warm weather a real upside down scenario in Chile. We managed to see most of Chile's birdlife although the far north was restricted due to weather conditions. Several unusual species were seen during the tour which are mentioned in the text below.
My thanks go out to Rodrigo for being an excellent guide with a happy knack of where to find the most difficult of species. The drivers throughout the country looked after us very well being helpful with luggage and other matters.
I am sure the following diary and birdlist will bring back many happy memories of a great tour to one of the world's most amazing countries.
January 12th/13th: London, Santiago, Maipo River, Cartagena
Daily 63 New 63 Running 63
Weather: Sunny with light W winds 23C
After leaving Heathrow airport on the 12th the flight down to Santiago in South America went well and arrived on time. On arrival the airport was heaving with people which made process slow. Met up with Rodrigo our guide and travelled towards the Maipo River estuary. En route the group encountered the commoner birds of Central Chile which included Chimango Caracara, Southern Lapwing and Eared Dove. At the estuary a walk into an area of scrub produced great views of the endemic Dusky Tapaculo, Tufted Tit-tyrant, Rufous-tailed Plantcutter, and close views of Chilean and Blue and White Swallows. A diversion to an area of reeds added the very rare Ticking Doradito. After this a walk down towards the river with its muddy edges and tidal effects. Careful scanning of this extensive area allowed us to locate American Oystercatcher, Lesser Yellowlegs, Grey Plover, Whimbrel, White-backed Stilt, Yellow-billed Pintail, Elegant Tern, Brown-hooded and Franklin's Gulls, Grass and House Wrens and the localised Yellow-winged Blackbird. Back at the car a bonus as two Giant Hummingbirds were feeding near the van. Next stop was the ponds at Cartagena a restored site which was formerly plagued by rubbish and fly-tipping. Today it is an excellent area for birds with pool attracting Black-necked and Coscoroba Swans, Cinnamon and Yellow-billed Teal, Red Shoveler, Chiloe Wigeon, Lake Duck, White-tufted and Silvery Grebes, Spot-flanked Gallinule and Sandwich and Common Terns. The flight and long day was starting to catch up with us as we headed to Vina del Mar our base for two nights.
Mammals: Coypu (2)
January 14th: Vina del Mar, Valparaiso, Pacific Ocean, Montemar, Concon, Cachagua
Daily 58 New 28 Running 91
Weather: Sunny with light W winds 25C
An early start was required for a half-day pelagic trip into the cold waters of the Humboldt current. In the harbour sightings of Neotropical Cormorant, Common and Inca Terns, Kelp and Franklin's Gulls and the first Peruvian Boobies of the tour. It proved to be an eventful pelagic with the inshore waters attracting thousands of Sooty Shearwaters, Red-legged Cormorant and Peruvian Diving Petrels. As the boat entered deeper waters and currents the crew started chumming to attract birds, the most numerous to start with were Kelp Gulls. As time progressed close views of Black-browed, Salvin's, Northern and Southern Royal, and two juvenile Buller's Albatrosses, Pink-footed and Manx Shearwaters (latter is rare this far north in the Pacific Ocean), White-chinned and Westland Petrels, a single Juan Fernandez Petrel, Northern and Southern Giant Petrels, and on the return voyage Red Phalaropes. Once back on the mainland we headed along the coast to Montemar a large offshore rock holding hundreds of Peruvian Pelicans, Peruvian Booby, Neotropical and Red-legged Cormorants, Inca Terns and on the rocky foreshore Surfbird and Ruddy Turnstone plus the endemic Chilean Seaside Cinclodes. Our final stop was the tourist village of Cachagua where the small offshore reserve allowed us to watch the declining Humboldt Penguin, Blackish Oystercatcher and the commoner seabirds of Central Chile. Back to base with rather slow-moving traffic for company. Several birds were encountered by the road including California Quail and Chilean Elaenias.
Mammals: Southern Sealion (c)
January 15th: Vina del Mar, La Campana National Park, Batuco, Santiago
Daily 63 New 17 Running 108
Weather: Sunny with no wind of note 23-30C
We left Vina del Mar and its tourists to head towards the national park at La Campana. The usual species were observed along the coast road. On entering the rather rough entrance track at La Campana the group were rewarded with sightings of Harris's Hawk, Common Duica Finch and coveys of California Quail. At the park headquarters I located a Thorn-tailed Rayadito searching for food on a tree trunk. Further up the track another stop was productive for Chilean Flicker and a Striped Woodpecker perched on a dead branch. After this a walk among the boulder strewn slopes, bushes and gullies proved to be a challenging but productive area for birds. The first stop added the uncommon Dusky-tailed Canastero perched in a low bush. In another area we were rewarded with a Moustached Turca perched in a tree before showing itself on a large boulder. A walk back towards the park added a bonus in the form of an immature Chilean Hawk a scarce and miscible bird of Chilean forests. Luck was finally on our side near the main parking area as the endemic White-throated Tapaculo perched on a boulder. On exiting the area stops in an area of fruit production added Chilean Pigeon and a Black-chested Buzzard Eagle hunting over the area. Lunch was taken in a country restaurant and afterwards heading back towards Santiago. The last birding stop was the settling lakes of a local water treatment works at Batuco. This proved to be very productive for the commoner grebes and ducks of Central Chile. Careful scanning of the area revealed the presence of Black-headed Duck the only parasitic duck in the world, White-cheeked Pintail, Red-fronted, Red-gartered and White-winged Coots and a surprise find of a male Ruddy Duck from further north. On our return a stand of reeds allowed us close views of Many-coloured Rush Tyrant and several Wren-like Rushbirds, two species which can be hard to see at times. It was time to join the Pan American Highway (Ruta 5) to Santiago our base for the night.
Mammals: Common Rabbit (1)
January 16th: Santiago, Talca, Colbun, Vilches Alto
Daily 48 New 8 Running 116
Weather: Sunny and warm 25C
Checked out of the hotel in Santiago and joined Route 5 going south towards Talca. The commoner birds of Central Chile were observed along the way. The first birding stop was at Colbun a small settlement of several houses overlooking the river and nearby mountains. It was not long before we connected with the beautiful Burrowing Parrot perched in trees and flying around in family groups. On the river a party of Torrent Ducks were seen perched on large boulders. The next stop was a shallow lagoon dotted with islands where literally hundreds of Red-gartered Coots were present along with the commoner wildfowl. Other species included Pied-billed Grebe, Great Grebe and a few Black-necked Swans. It was time to press ahead to Vilches Alto our base for the night. The hotel here was extremely good for Green-backed Firecrowns on the feeders and Common Duica Finches in the gardens. At 1600 hours we set off for the extensive beech forests with the first area holding Austral Parakeets. Further along the track our first encounters with Thorn-tailed Rayadito plus a group of Tufted Tit Tyrants and a White-throated Treerunner entertaining us as it flew from tree to tree in search of food. The day ended shortly afterwards as the group watched a Chacao Tapaculo calling and showing at close range.
Mammals: Common Rabbit (1)
January 17th: Vilches Alto, Santiago
Daily 31 New 5 Running 122
Weather: Cloudy to start with then sunny and warm 15-25C
This morning was spent in the forest at Vilches Alto with a longer walk through this fantastic forest habitat. Before setting off to the forest Black-chinned Siskins were present in the hotel grounds. On entering the forest a stop was made near the archaeological area for Magellanic Tapaculo which duly showed in the dense cover of bamboo and tangles. Several stops produced several interesting birds which included an adult Chilean Hawk hunting for passerines. The calls and songs of Chacao Tapaculo were everywhere and several Chestnut-throated Huet-huets were singing as well. Despite lots of searching for the latter only Carol managed brief views of this very skulking species. Within the forest Thorn-tailed Rayadito were numerous with lesser numbers of Striped Woodpecker, Fire-eyed Duicon and Patagonian Sierra Finch. Back to the hosteria to pick up bags and onto Santiago for our final two nights in Central Chile.
Mammals: Common Rabbit (1), Vizcaha (2)
January 18th: Santiago, Yeso Valley
Daily 35 New 17 Running 139
Weather: Warm and sunny 27C
This morning we set off in an easterly direction to visit the Yeso Valley. After missing most of the rush hour traffic we were on country roads leading into Yeso at an altitude of 3000m. Our first stop an open area with cliffs attracted Chilean Mockingbird, Moustached Turca, Common Duica Finch and high along the cliffs our first Andean Condor. The next stop was near the old army camp with the first 'wet' fields holding Rufous-banded Miner, White-browed Ground Tyrant and the attractive Yellow-rumped Siskin. Overhead a pair of Black-chested Buzzard Eagles were cruising the skies looking for prey. At the army camp itself the group quickly located Rufous-naped and Black-faced Ground Tyrants, Buff-winged Cinclodes, Grey-hooded and Plumbeous Sierra Finches and Greater Yellowfinch. Further down the road a rocky area attracted the scarce Mountain Parakeet numbering around twenty five birds in total. The reservoir had a few birds on it but we decided to head towards a habitat of Andean bog. Before reaching this unique habitat I located a Scaly-throated Earthcreeper and the rare Creamy-rumped Miner near its nest hole. Lunch was taken with Andean Condors patrolling the air above us. Out in the bog itself a pair of Grey-breasted Seedsnipe. Our main target was found almost immediately along the track - Diademed Sandpiper Plover. This unique and little studied wader allowed a close approach before dropping into an area of thick sedges. Back to Santiago and a further stop at the rocky area where we caught up with the rock-loving Crag Chilia a fitting end to the day. Back to Santiago and tomorrow fly south to the lake district of Chile.
January 19th: Santiago, Puerto Montt, Lahuen Nadi, Chacao Channel, Caulin, Ancud
Daily 54 New 11 Running 149
Weather: A mixture of cloud and sunny spells with a W wind 15-26C
An early start today for the flight down to Puerto Montt in the heart of Chile's lake district. The flight departed and arrived on time. On arrival we met up with our driver and stopped for a welcome breakfast in a roadside cafe. Afterwards the first birding stop was at Lahuen Nadi a remnant patch of wetland forest with an excellent boardwalk system. In the car park a Fire-eyed Duicon entertained us as it stripped a caterpillar of its nasty bits. The forest is an amazing place for the wet-loving species of Chile and we were treated to excellent views of Chacao Tapaculo. In the distance we heard the distinctive drum of a Magellanic Woodpecker. A walk around the reserve allowed views of Thorn-tailed Rayadito, White-throated Treerunner and Chilean Elaenia. The Black-throated Huet Huet's were giving us the run-around and they remained unseen but heard. A bonus was a pair of Patagonian Tyrants near the entrance a tricky and localised bird to observe at the best of times. It was time to head towards Chiloe Island via the Chacao Channel. En route a stop was made for Black and Turkey Vultures, Brown-hooded Gull, Great and Snowy Egrets and a Pied-billed Grebe. The crossing was good for birds despite the calm conditions with sightings of White-chinned Petrel, Magellanic Penguin, Sooty Shearwater, South American Tern, Peruvian Pelican and Imperial Cormorants. Once on Chiloe Island a stop for lunch at a restaurant on the shore with the added bonus of Fuegian Steamerducks and a group of Dark-bellied Cinclodes feeding on the sandy shore. Next stop was Caulin a large bay with expanses of mudflats. En route a bamboo thicket held at least two De Mur's Wiretails which allowed brief views. Birds using the bay included Silvery Grebe, Yellow-billed Teal, Yellow-billed Duck, Chilean Flamingo, Black-necked and Coscoroba Swans and Chiloe Wigeon. Other species included Whimbrel, American Oystercatcher and Black Skimmer. Ancud was a short drive away our base on the island for two nights.
Mammals: Southern Sealion (c), Dusky Dolphin (6)
January 20th: Ancud, Chepu River, Punihuil
Daily 64 New 10 Running 159
Weather: Rather cloudy with rain showers. W wind 14C
The weather on Chiloe was to play a major part in the days birding. On the beach in front of the hotel a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron was observed along with groups of noisy Kelp Gulls, Chimango Caracara and Turkey Vulture. Our main interest was a boat trip along the Chepu River which meanders through a range of habitats including wet lowland forest, marshes and exposed patches of mud. By the quay we added Shiny Cowbird, Rufous-tailed Plantcutter, Austral Blackbird and Dark-bellied Cinclodes. Once on the boat we quickly located a female Ringed Kingfisher perched high in a tree with her mate a few metres upstream. Birds came thick and fast with close views of Great Grebe, American Kestrel, Southern Caracara, both vultures and Neotropical Cormorants. An open area of marsh provided us with White-winged and Red-gartered Coots, Red Shoveler, Yellow-billed Pintail and Black-necked Swans. In the reeds at least two Many-coloured Rush Tyrants, Spectacled Tyrant, Chilean and Blue and White Swallows. Further upstream a group of four Bronze-winged Ducks showed well before flying into cover. A major bonus here was watching two Southern River Otters a highly endangered mammal found only in Southern Chile and Southern Argentina. Back towards the quay and then to the captains home for lunch. On arrival several flocks of Slender-billed Parakeets were present feeding on buds and seeds, exceptional views of this endangered Chilean endemic. Also in and around the gardens were Green-backed Firecrown, Fire-eyed Duicon, Plain-mantled Tit Spinetail and Tufted Tit Tyrant. After lunch we headed towards Punihuil an important breeding area for seabirds. Before arriving a short diversion to a stand of bamboo with good views of Des Mur's Wiretail and the skulking and secretive Ochre-flanked Tapaculo. The weather was starting to close in as Lorna located a male Kelp Goose on a distant rock cliff. Our boat trip was abandoned and rescheduled for tomorrow morning. A final stop at a bridge added Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, American Oystercatcher, Whimbrel and the internationally rare Hudsonian Godwit. The commoner ducks were also present as we went back to Ancud for the final night on Chiloe Island.
Mammals: Southern River Otter (2)
January 21st: Ancud, Penihuil, Chacao Channel, Puerto Montt, Antillanca
Daily 47 New 1 Running 160
Weather: Cloudy to start with then sunny and warm 15-21C
After leaving Ancud we set off towards Penihuil for the boat trip which we had to abandon yesterday afternoon. On arrival the beach area held Blackish and American Oystercatchers and a pair of Kelp Geese with a well grown gosling. In a patch of bamboo we enticed a juvenile Magellanic Tapaculo into view. At 1030 we set off on a short boat trip offshore visiting several islands which allowed close views of Magellanic and Humboldt Penguins, Red-legged, Neotropical, Imperial and Rock Cormorants, Kelp and Brown-hooded Gulls and hundreds of passing Sooty Shearwaters with the odd Pink-footed Shearwater mixed in. Back on the mainland and onto the ferry across the straights. Similar birds to a few days ago which was probably down to calm weather conditions. The afternoon was spent travelling towards the ski resort of Antillanca passing through the dramatic scenery of Chile's lake district of lakes, forests and snow-capped volcanoes. The road up towards Antillanca was good for the commoner forest birds which included Black-throated Huet Huet, Magellanic and Chacao Tapaculos, Green-backed Firecrowns and Chilean Elaenias. In the old wooded trees at least three Striped Woodpeckers showed well but no sign of their larger cousin. Checked in at the hotel, a large rambling wooden construction set among the beautiful beech forests.
Mammals: Southern Sealion (c)
January 22nd: Antillanca, Puerto Montt, Punta Arenas
Daily 25 New 1 Running 161
Weather: Early showers giving way to sunny spells, cooler in the south 10-16C
Today was basically a travelling one but none the less it produced some exceptional bird sightings. From the hotel we drove towards the crater although this was covered by low cloud and mist. The only birds of note were a flock of Black-chinned Siskins. Back at the hotel the group eventually caught up with the shy but vocal Black-throated Huet Huet as it perched in a tree and walked through dead bamboo strands. A slow journey back down towards the main road with a sector being walked through this delightful old southern beech forest. The usual birds were present in good numbers until we entered an area of younger trees. Careful scanning and hearing produced a male Magellanic Woodpecker looking for food on the tree trunks - long and extended views. The journey towards Puerto Montt was interrupted by sightings of a White-tailed Kite a bird which appears to be in serious decline within Chile. Checked in for the flight down to Punta Arenas to find the wind blowing and a low temperature - welcome to Patagonia our base for the next five days.
January 23rd: Punta Arenas, Los Palos, San Gregorio, Magellan Straits, Porvenir (Tierra del Fuego)
Daily 52 New 14 Running 175
Weather: Mainly sunny with high clouds on a SW wind 7-17C
After breakfast our first birding stop was a wetland on the outskirts of the city. This proved to be an excellent spot for the commoner waterbirds of Chile plus our first sightings of Crested Duck and Upland Goose. Large areas of mud attracted Baird's and White-rumped Sandpipers both of which breed in the Canadian high Arctic. The road towards Puerto Natales was joined which passes vast areas of Patagonian steppe habitats of low tussock grassland and seasonal lakes. Lesser Rhea were particularly common in the area along with Southern Caracara, Variable Hawk and Long-tailed Meadowlarks. Los Palos was reached a large lake which was bordered by grassland and muddy edges. The regular species were present with the first Flying Steamerducks of the tour. A walk along the lake edge was rewarded with a pair of Magellanic Plovers one of the world's rarest waders with a restricted range to southern Chile and Argentina. In addition to this Two-banded Plovers were feeding in the muddy edges. Next stop was off a side road and a habitat of slopes dotted with low bushes an important component for passerines of the steppes. Flocks of Rufous-collared Sparrows were starting to form after the breeding season. Our main target was Band-tailed Earthcreeper which duly obliged giving their trilling song from bush tops. Back on the gravel roads again with Least Seedsnipe for company. The final stop was the deserted hacienda of San Gregorio which is a sad site of its former glory of the 1950's and before. On the beach Magellanic Oystercatcher, Buff-winged and Dark-bellied Cinclodes showed well. Back to Punta Arenas for the ferry crossing over to Porvenir at 1600 hours. In the dock area many Dolphin Gulls, Imperial Cormorants and juvenile Southern Giant Petrels. The ferry left on time and the group were soon finding Black-browed Albatross, Wilson's Storm Petrel, Chilean Skua, Magellanic Penguin and several Magellanic Diving Petrels. Arrived at Porvenir in under two hours which is a considerable improvement on the old ferry times. The road towards the town overlooks a sheltered bay where Great Grebe, both steamerducks, Crested Duck, Dolphin, Kelp and Brown-hooded Gulls were all abundant. Another great day in Region XII of extreme southern Chile.
Mammals: Southern Sealion (2), Guanaco (6), Southern Grey Fox (3), Peale's Dolphin (5), Sei Whale (3), European Hare (2)
January 24th: Porvenir, Laguna de Santa Maria, King Penguin Colony, Porvenir
Daily New 3 Running 178
Weather: Mainly bright and sunny with gale force SW winds 16C
Little did we know that today was to be one of disruption and a change of the itinerary due to weather elements on Tierra del Fuego. After checking out at Porvenir we headed towards the isolated township of Cameron via Laguna de Santa Maria. A stop here produced large numbers of Silvery Grebes, Bronze-winged Duck and the more common wetland species. In the low scrub a pair of Grey-hooded Sierra Finches. I seemed to take a while to reach the penguin colony with a stop along the way revealing cliff-nesting Black-faced Ibis and a Dark-bellied Cinclodes in the river area. Arrived at the penguin colony where the wind was strengthening to gale force making observations extremely difficult. In total there were around 90 King Penguins present which have slowly colonised since 2007. Good views obtained and then on towards San Sebastian and the ferry crossing back into mainland Chile. On arrival huge queues of traffic meant a cancellation of all services until the weather improved. The decision was made to return to Porvenir which proved to be the correct one as at 2100 hours the ferry had still not operated. On the way back to Porvenir a crumbling cliff added the localised Patagonian Yellowfinch a welcome bonus to a rather frustrating day.
Mammals: Guanaco (c), Southern Grey Fox (5),
January 25th: Porvenir, Magellan Straits, Buquequemo, Pali-ake, Puerto Natales, Rio Serrano
Daily 55 New 10 Running 188
Weather: Mainly sunny with a SW wind 16C
An early departure was essential from Porvenir to try and catch up on lost time due to the ferry cancellations. The journey towards the Magellan Straits went smoothly with a short stop for Patagonian Yellowfinches on the cliffs we visited yesterday afternoon. We had to wait for the ferry as only one boat was operating. Few birds on the crossing itself apart from Imperial and Rock Cormorants and several Magellanic Penguins. Buquequemo is a flooded grassland which attracts many waterfowl. On this occasion we found the scarce Silver Teal among the commoner wildfowl. An additional bonus was a Peregrine Falcon and several Cinereous Harriers hunting across the flooded fields. Several ponds along the route towards Pali-ake held the declining Chilean Flamingo. The habitat along the Pali-ake road is mixed with rough grassland, grazing areas by sheep, seasonal pools and lagoons and a mix of bare slopes and bushes. Luck was with us as groups of Tawny-throated Dotterel, Rufous-chested Plover and Two-banded Plovers were observed with summering Baird's and White-rumped Sandpipers. The drier areas attracted Common Miner and Austral Negrito whilst the bushes revealed a pair of Austral Canastero a localised summer visitor. Our best stop was a lagoon where Coscoroba and Black-necked Swans, Upland and Ashy-headed Geese and summering Wilson's Phalaropes were noted. The road to Puerto Natales was reached and from there to our hotel on the Rio Serranto.
Mammals: Guanaco (c), Southern Grey Fox (6), European Hare (c), Commerson's Dolphin (1)
January 26th: Torres del Paine National Park, Los Cumbres Valley
Daily 49 New 10 Running 198
Weather: Sunny with light winds 16C
Today we started by driving through the park towards the western entrance. A few birds were seen along the way but nothing of note. Our main interest was the valley running towards the remote hacienda of Los Cumbres nestling high in the Andes mountain chain. Our first stop was beyond the police post in an area of scrub where the group located Sharp-billed Canastero and Mourning Sierra Finch. The road opens up into a valley dominated by high cliffs, running streams and summer meadows. The latter habitat held Buff-winged and Grey-flanked Cinclodes, beyond an old tin house we were lucky to locate the localised Cinnamon-breasted Ground Tyrant feeding among grass tussocks, and further up the road a pair of Patagonian Mockingbirds a scarce bird of Patagonia. Beyond the last farm a walk down towards the river was productive for South American Snipe, Dark-faced and Ochre-naped Ground Tyrants and overhead a Black-chested Buzzard Eagle. On reaching the locked gates we turned around to retrace our journey recording Cordilleran Canastero and Plumbeous Sierra Finch. We ended the day back in the park watching an Austral Pygmy Owl a great way to finish our stay in Magallenes Province.
Mammals: Guanaco (c), Southern Grey Fox (4), European Hare (1), Huemul Deer (1)
January 27th: Torres del Paine National Park, Punta Arenas, Santiago
Daily 35 New 3 Running 201
Weather: Sunny spells in the south with warm weather in Santiago 14-28C
Today was basically a travelling one back to Central Chile a stepping stone for the journey north to Arica on the border with Peru. The journey through the park produced the normal species with our journey stopping near the entrance. A short walk towards a marsh proved to be very productive for the rarely seen Austral Rail which came out into the open for us and stood still for a few minutes allowing excellent views. It was time to continue our travels back down to Punta Arenas and the flight north to Santiago where we spent the night.
Mammals: Guanaco (c), Southern Grey Fox (1), European Hare (c)
January 28th: Santiago, Arica, Azapa Valley
Daily 22 New 10 Running 211
Weather: Warm and sunny 27C
A later start today as our flight north to Arica was not until midday. Left on time and arrived at the desert like Arica airport close to the border with Peru. Picked up by our local driver and then checked into the hotel where we arranged to meet up at 1615 hours to visit the Azapa Valley. The area around Arica is important for vegetable production and olives with our first stop at a private farm. The feeders here attracted Oasis Hummingbird and Peruvian Sheartail which can be hard to locate at times. The gardens also attracted West Pacific Doves, Slender-billed Finch and stunning Vermillion Flycatchers. The older trees were attractive to White-crested Elaenias. A stop at the museum added the locally uncommon race of Burrowing Owl and Cinereous Conebills feeding in flowering bushes. The day ended with a visit to a dry riverbed where several Peruvian Thick-knees were located despite their excellent camouflage. Returned to base for the night.
January 29th: Arica, Molinas, Putre
Daily 55 New 24 Running 235
Weather: Overcast with drizzle in Arica, cold and rainy in Putre 4-15C
This morning our first birding stop was the river estuary at the northern end of Arica beach. On arrival I was surprised to find a Roseate Spoonbill a rare visitor from North America. The river was in full flow which is unusual in the summer months. This meant the wading birds were concentrated with sightings of Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpiper, Killdeer, Blackish and American Oystercatchers and Whimbrel along the river bank. Also present were Great and Snowy Egrets and several Black-crowned Night Herons. A walk towards the beach gave us views of Belcher's, Grey, Kelp and Franklin's Gulls, Elegant, Sandwich and Common Terns and several Sanderling running along the shoreline. Careful scanning also revealed the presence of Semipalmated Plover, Ruddy Turnstone and two American Golden Plovers. A walk along the beach added an Andean Avocet on a small pool when it should be high up in the Andean lakes and Common Gallinule on the reed edge. We decided to visit the southern end of Arica which has a rocky foreshore. This proved to be good for summering Willets (Western race), Guanay and Neotropical Cormorants, Inca and Peruvian Terns the latter being a rare species in Chile. Our travels too us inland and the road towards La Paz in Bolivia. A short diversion into an agricultural section provided us with Peruvian Meadowlark, Barn and Blue and White Swallows, Shining Cowbird, Chestnut-throated Seedeater and American Kestrels. Back on the main road a Peregrine Falcon was watched at close range on a telegraph pole with a recently caught West Pacific Dove. It was time to head towards Molinos an area for cattle and corn production. This proved to be a good area for Spot-winged Pigeon, Eared Dove, Blue-black Grassquit, Vermillion Flycatcher, Oasis Hummingbird and Groove-billed Ani. Luck was with us when Carol located a Lesser Horned Owl perched in a large tree. The road to Putre climbs sharply to over 3200m and you could notice the altitude. A late lunch was followed by excellent views of a Straight-billed Earthcreeper which showed well on rocks with its cocked tail posture. The weather then turned bad with heavy rain showers. On reaching Putre the roads were literally streams although we managed sightings of Black-hooded and Mourning Sierra Finches in the rain.
January 30th: Putre, Lauca National Park, Socoromo
Daily 40 New 24 Running 259
Weather: Cloudy with afternoon drizzle 7-12C
The overnight rain had gone away to be replaced by largely cloudy conditions. In and around the hotel gardens birds included Creamy-winged Cinclodes, Mourning Sierra Finch, Chiguanco Thrush and ever-present Rufous-collared Sparrows. At breakfast an added bonus was an Aplomado Falcon perched in the top of a small tree - excellent views. The first birding stop was along the old Putre road which winds its way through fields and Andean scrub. Bare-faced and Black-winged Ground Doves were present in small flocks whilst Ashy-breasted Sierra Finch, Greenish Yellowfinch fed on the ground. On a hillside with little cover a Rufous-naped Ground Tyrant showed well but it appeared very pale in the light. On top of a telegraph pole an immature Puna Hawk, best of all was an Ornate Tinamou which flew past us and into the next gully. A decision was made to visit the bog habitats along the main road in Lauca National Park. The first part held Crested Duck, Yellow-billed Teal, White-winged Cinclodes, White-winged Duica Finch and a fly-by immature Mountain Caracara. Next stop was near the rangers hut with a short boardwalk into the boggy habitats which proved to be good for several species of the High Andes. A thorough search produced sightings of Andean Goose, Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Andean Negrito, Puna, White-fronted and Cinereous Ground Tyrants and Cordilleran Canastero. A return towards the old Putre road and down into Putre itself. An area bordered by stony cliffs and trees plus dormant agricultural land led to us watching Andean Hillstar, Black-throated Flowerpecker, Blue and Yellow Tanager, Canyon and Dark-winged Canasteros and an entertaining Plain-breasted Earthcreeper perched on a wood pile. Back to the hotel for lunch with Hooded Siskins in the garden. The weather had started to close in as we went down the road towards the village of Socoromo. Despite the poor viewing conditions a large eucalyptus tree attracted Giant Hummingbird and Sparkling Violetear. A nearby gully held a pair of White-throated Earthcreepers which displayed on a large rock and a White-browed Chat-Tyrant flitting among low vegetation. Another Ornate Tinamou was seen as we walked back to the van and fittingly and Aplomado Falcon had crept into the trees no doubt looking for prey.
Mammals: Vizcaha (c), Andean Deer (8), Vicuna (c)
January 31st: Putre, Lauca National Park, Parinacota
Daily 45 New 13 Running 272
Weather: Cloudy with heavy showers pm 15C
An eventful day was to be ahead of us in many different ways. Outside the hotel a pair of Aplomado Falcons perched in a tree. The journey up towards Lauca National Park was taken slowly due to the rise in altitude from 3200m to 4500m at Parinacota. On the way up an adult Mountain Caracara was noted sitting on a cliff face and then taking nesting material to another spot. Luck was with us as the rare White-throated Sierra Finch perched near the road on a rock. The first major wetland added new birds in the form of Puna Rhea, Giant Coot, all three flamingo species, Andean Gull and the attractive Puna Teal. The road towards the old village of Parinacota passes by several wetlands and bogs where we located the attractive Andean Lapwing. On the sandy cliffs we were entertained by a group of Andean Flickers a rare and localised species of the High Andes. Once in the village centre a few of the group visited the church which dates back to the 15th century. The village square had a pair of Black-throated Shrike Tyrants taking food to young somewhere in village buildings. At the CONAF centre a pair of Andean Hillstars were feeding recently fledged young on a rock. At the last lake we consumed lunch and watched over the lake dominated by large volcanoes. This added the northern race of Silvery Grebe, Andean Duck and Andean Coot. It was time to travel to Arica on the coast but little did we know that the weather conditions changed to make it impossible to continue our journey. A return was necessary to Putre for another night.
Mammals: Vizcaha (c), Andean Deer (20) Vicuna (c)
February 1st: Putre, Arica, Santiago, Calama
Daily n/r New 1 Running 273
Weather: Clear and sunny 20C
Today was to be a major challenge for all of us as we travelled down to Arica. Parts of the road had suffered from rock falls and sections of road being totally impassable due to flash floods. Eventually we were met by another van after walking through a badly affected area with our luggage. Lunch at Arica and then down to Santiago and onwards to Calama the centre of Chile's copper mines. Basically a travel day within Chile.
February 2nd: Calama, Inca Caya, Old San Pedro Road, Chiu Chiu
Daily 21 New 2 Running 275
Weather: Cloudy with rain showers 15C
The weather was to play its part again today as roads to and from San Pedro remained closed to traffic. This resulted in us exploring a different area for birds including the seasonal wetland at Inca Caya. On arrival a careful scan revealed Andean Flamingo, Yellow-billed Pintail, Yellow-billed Teal, Red Shoveler and Puna Teal. Good numbers of Andean Coot were also present with many territorial fights taking place. The road passed through a rocky area when I picked up a White-tailed Ground Tyrant perched on a cliff top, a very scarce bird within Chile. At the next junction a flock of birds included Ash-breasted Sierra Finch, Straight-billed Earthcreeper, Black-winged Ground Dove and a party of Bright-rumped Yellowfinches. An attempt was made to reach San Pedro on the old road but we had to retreat due to rock falls. Back to Chiu Chiu for a late snack and then to another area where the group had close encounters with Puna Hawk and Aplomado Falcon. Late news with the road open to San Pedro for the next two nights.
Mammals: Vizcaha (1), Guanaco (c)
February 3rd: San Pedro de Atacama, Toconao, Rio Grande road
Daily 24 New 4 Final 279
Weather: Rather mixed with sunny spells 22C
The roads in and around San Pedro remained closed to traffic with washouts and boulder falls which meant our day was rather restricted again. Our first stop was near Toconao and a well established forest a rare habitat in the Atacama Desert. On arrival an Aplomado Falcon showed well on a fallen tree. Our main target was the rare Tamarugo Conebill which eventually turned up in two flocks which allowed us close views. Attempts to reach Andean villages and saltpans were again thwarted by road closures. Back to San Pedro for lunch and onto the Rio Grande road which runs through some spectacular scenery. The best stop was the archaeological site with stands of cliffs and paddocks. Birds using the cliffs included Variable Hawk, Mountain Caracara, Black-billed and White-tailed Shrike Tyrants, Spot-billed Ground Tyrant and Golden-spotted Ground Dove. Next was a bridge across the river which had Rufous-naped Ground Tyrant, Cream-winged Cinclodes, Andean Swallow and Black Siskin. The decision was made to turn back as the weather threatened again.
Mammals: Vizcaha (1) Guanaco (c)
February 4th/5th: San Pedro de Atacama, Calama, Santiago, flights back to UK
Basically these turned out to be travel days with good reason. With the unpredictable and very unseasonal weather patterns we had to allow time to get to Santiago. Thankfully this went smoothly and the tour ended in Santiago where we said goodbye to Rodrigo our great local guide.