Trip Reports

Argentina: The North-East and North-West, April/May 2018
Kayley and Andrew, Australia.
Contact to kayley.usher@uwa.edu.au

Wow, what a trip!! Stunning scenery, diverse habitats and many bird species, as well as plants, animals, culture and even gemstones! Horacio was a very professional guide and made everything easy for us. The first thing he did was find out what we liked and needed to make our holiday special. This was more difficult than usual since I can’t walk very far, but Horacio always found ways to get me out and seeing birds.
The birds, butterflies, animals and plants were all amazing, and the scenery was fantastic too. There were so many different environments, grasslands, wetlands, Atlantic rainforest, cloud forest, cactus forest and Andes plateau, each with its own wildlife.
In case this trip report is longer than you have the time to read, the following names are in bold type so you can easily find the sections that you’re interested in: Ceibas; El Palmar National Park; Concepción; Iberá wetlands; Ituzaingó; gaucho farm; San Ignacio Miní; Misiones; Tucuapi Lodge; amethyst mine; Puerto Iguazu; hummingbird garden; Hito Tres Fronteras; Iguazu Falls; Surucuá Lodge; Calilegua National Park; Humahuaca Ravine; Tilcara; Cerro de los Siete Colores (The Hill of Seven Colors); National Park at Yala; condors; Los Cardones National Park.

The North East
Our first night after leaving Buenos Aires was at an impressive estancia (ranch) called Río de las Aves in Ceibas, newly built and well-appointed with traditional items. The small town nearby was a gaucho town, and we were happy to see gauchos herding cattle on the road in. We had thought that the gaucho culture might have been a thing of the past, but it’s still very much alive and well. Although it was warmer and drier than usual for autumn there were many species of birds, and we were introduced to our first Southern screamers, a spotted tinamou, tyrants, monjitas and cardinals as well as many water birds and seed eaters. Horacio’s eagle eyes constantly spotted birds even while driving or passing around the mate. On one track Coypu dashed for cover, and the day ended with a lovely sunset over the grasslands while cavies nibbled grass and birds called all around. While returning to the lodge we saw scissor-tailed nightjars flying low over the water to catch insects. The day was capped off with an amazing dinner expertly cooked at the lodge by Christina and Manuel.

To our delight the following day brought burrowing owls posing on posts, better views of roseate spoonbills and a beautifully patterned pit viper beating a hasty retreat into long grass. A storm arrived overnight with much sound and fury, but Horacio negotiated the muddy track to the main road in the morning without problem and we were off to the El Palmar National Park, Horacio patiently continuing our lessons in Spanish on the way. At El Palmar we got our first look at capybaras enjoying the roadside puddles, and a red-winged tinamou.

The downpour eased after a while and the sun and the birds came out, with a good array of raptors, pretty Plush Headed jays, a brief glimpse of our first hummingbird, a tropical parula, charismatic guira cuckoos and many others. We enjoyed some lunch and were happy to rate the alfajores, very nice! Turkey vultures lined up in a dead tree to dry their wings, and a flock of monk parakeets settled to eat grass seeds.
In the afternoon we visited a hydroelectric dam and were amazed at the vast expanse of it. A ringed kingfisher waited on a rock on a beach covered in small agates and other rocks and a stand of eucalypts displayed their resident tillandsias. It was very peaceful. Afterwards we dropped our luggage in our room at Concordia, the largest hotel room we have ever seen, and then Horacio took us to look at Maria, the most advertised souvenir shop for Argentinians. Later we drove around the city to find the best ice-creams and an early dinner, something not easily found in Argentina.
During a petrol stop the next morning we were well pleased to buy a genuine gaucho knife from the maker shopping his wares to passers-by. While continuing the drive to Mercedes spotted our first wild rheas. We had a delightful lunch at the truck stop café Chabra parrilla comedore, where were introduced to the very friendly owner Mata and her grandson Noel and ate their generous parrilla complete with sweetmeats. Further down the road we stopped at the amazing and intense Gauchito Gil sanctuary to look at the markets, offerings and wishers. Here we lit candles, purchased a pair of boots and listened to local men playing a guitar and accordion for a spontaneous crowd, an original flash mob.
Then it was onwards to the lovingly restored and decorated antique lodge Posada Nido de los Pajaros in Concepción. We were warmly welcomed by Chela and a spectacular and tasty dinner of many courses. The next morning we picked up local guide Gustavos and set off for a day of boating on the Iberá wetlands. The drive in was on a long dirt track through grasslands and amongst the many attending birds we were lucky to see a strange-tailed tyrant. The day warmed up after we got underway on the boat. Caiman sunned themselves while capybara munched weeds, and a good variety of birds were seen, including scarlet-headed blackbirds and black-capped Donacobius.

We stopped for lunch on a pretty little island well serviced with a table and bench seats shaded by bamboo and trees. While we snacked on delicacies more birds flitted about us. A short walk through the dense growth brought two species of hummingbirds, the lovely little living jewels displaying themselves beautifully.
Back on dry land and underway in the car we stopped for a walk in the forest, and heard howler monkeys off in the distance. Big blue butterflies taunted us to take their photograph, and bromeliads and rhipsalis cactus clung to the trees. The rhipsalis were doing their best to imitate orchids, but Gustavos and Horacio weren’t fooled.
Back at the lovely town of Concepción we stopped by a magnificent pink Ceiba tree in full bloom, and found it buzzing with hummingbirds. The lighting was perfect, and the birds kept our cameras clicking. Further down the road we bird watched around wetland areas while the sun set on another amazing day.

A storm arrived overnight, but the car was loaded the next morning and we were off to Ituzaingó. The rain eased off while we drove, and by the time we arrived it was fine. In the afternoon we visited a grassland area and watched a pretty little white-barred piculet hunting grubs in a tree. A Red-winged tinamou appeared at the roads edge, along with a flock of double-collared seedeaters, a red finch and other birds. While searching for seriemas later in the day we disturbed a male howler monkey which ran along the road before climbing a eucalyptus tree and eyeing us with suspicion.
The next morning we were up before first light to eat a quick breakfast and head off to the Iberá wetlands before sunrise, with local guides Cepi and Miriam. Wetlands birds called all around as the first light broke across the sky, and soon the sky was streaked with pink and gold, with black clouds adding drama. We waited silently, but the bitterns had decided to go elsewhere, and it wasn’t until later that day that the elusive striped-backed bittern revealed itself hunting small fish.

As the day unfolded a host of water birds, seedeaters and raptors were seen, and a spotted nothura rushed from the track. Groups of capybara asleep on the raised track were reluctant to move and caiman slipped under the water as we passed. Screamers posed for photos as flocks of white-faced whistling ducks uneasily edged away. We were surprised to see a black skimmer preening on the grass and then later several other tern species. A female long-winged harrier tangled in passing with a female cinereous harrier in a brief burst of excitement before they went their separate ways. A little further down the track marsh deer were seen grazing in the distance.
A visit to the green and red macaw conservation program didn’t yield any released macaws, but it was very encouraging to hear about the program and their success. Late in the day streamer-tailed tyrants displayed and called in the tops of trees. The evening saw us by a lake, and as the sun set flying ants emerged on mass from their mound, providing food on the wing for nighthawks. Fireflies appeared, flew briefly and disappeared, like fairy lights in the darkness. We were given a good look at our first ever tropical screech owl in the spotlight, but the sought potoos found other places to be.
The next morning we were joined by local guide Alejandra to visit a gaucho farm for horse riding and to experience how the people lived. The farm belonged to Sepi’s cousin and it was a very special experience, with the family showing us their traditional gaucho hats and knives. The horses were highly responsive and it was a pleasure to ride a horse that neck reined. It was also interesting to watch a gaucho riding with traditional tack, and ask lots of questions. After the ride tortas fritas were cooked over a fire and were gratefully consumed while our hosts played music and cheerfully demonstrated why they were local champions of traditional dancing.

Then it was back on the road, which was never boring! As we went north through Corrientes to Misiones the countryside changed from grasslands, cattle and plantations to sugar cane, corn, tea and yerba mate crops. We stopped to look at the ruins of an ancient Jesuit mission, San Ignacio Miní built in 1696. We had lunch at the gates where we were entertained by an array of lovely butterfly species in the garden while we munched empanadas and supped coke. Then we wandered about the grounds reading and hearing about the history of the mission on plaques scattered around. The many buildings were made from countless large stone blocks. The enormous central church and square had elaborately carved stone lintels and pillars on either side of huge entrances that dwarfed anyone close by. It must have been magnificent and strangely out of place when it was in operation, with around 3 000 inhabitants!

The people of Misiones were different too, a mix of blonds and darker indigenous people reflecting the odd history of the area. Entire families walking beside the road were a common sight. The road climbed in the mountains, with beautiful views across rainforest valleys. Tucuapi Lodge was a wonderful surprise, several small wooden cabins and a restaurant nestled deep in the mountain rainforest, and furniture made from local wood full of interesting twists and knobs. Several balconies looked over the valley, giving wonderful views of the forest and its inhabitants. Local guide Jose stopped in a clearing only a short distance from the lodge where we saw a family of capuchin monkeys eating palm fruit, while a beautiful Surucua trogon came up behind us. A magpie tanager also came to see what we were doing, watching from the top of a tree. As always, Horacio had the Argentina bird field guide on hand to show us each species as we saw it, which was very helpful.

We watched blue daconis and guira tanagers foraging in a tree, and hummingbirds and bright blue butterflies from the restaurant gardens. While we were resting on the balcony a robust woodpecker hunted for grubs in the trees in front of us, our first “pointy headed” woodpecker. That night Hector cooked a delicious meal before we retired to a comfortable bed. The next morning we spent time in another clearing further up the track, which had once been a plantation. Attractive green and gold bamboos edged the clearing. A red-crested finch enjoyed the morning sun and amongst the birds were a sayaca tanager, red-rumped caciques, squirrel cuckoos and parrots in the distance.
Heading north again we stopped at an amethyst mine to look at their shop full of wonders. They were mining amethyst, citrine and agates on the site and had many beautiful things to look at, faceted stones, crystals, crystal caves, carvings and jewellery. We bought two very beautiful faceted amethysts with top quality sparkle, cut and polish and a lovely carving of a sea lion. And as an added bonus, white-throated and glittering-bellied emerald hummingbirds were feeding in the garden. After a buffet lunch in the huge restaurant we were off north again.
We were welcomed by cute blue-winged parrotlets in the garden at Complejo Americano in Puerto Iguazu. After dropping our bags in our room we spent a couple of hours marvelling at the hummingbirds in the hummingbird garden in town, an amazing backyard packed with plants, birds and bird feeders. Nine species of hummingbirds were buzzing around the many feeders but other birds frequented the garden too, even a violaceous euphonia. The garden was well supplied with seating, information and a little shop with excellent books and souvenirs. Out on the street some turquoise bellied parrots hid themselves from the interested onlookers in the top of a tree.
As the sun set we sat at Hito Tres Fronteras (Three Borders) where the Iguazú and Paraná rivers converge and Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil meet. Tourists stood about looking at the scene in wonder, dodged the fountain mists and photos took as the sky slowly turned pink and orange. Horacio bought a selection of tasty local and almost local specialities to eat from the little stalls. Then we wandered around the small souvenirs shops until he found some yerba mate and a beautifully made mate cup for us to take home.
The next morning saw an early start and quick breakfast so we could beat the tourists into Iguazu Falls. Horacio’s plan worked well, and before we even got on the train we saw our first toco toucans. The train trip through the forest was interesting, with bamboo, bromeliads, tillandsias and butterflies everywhere. On arrival at the little station Horacio hired a wheelchair so that I would be able to see all three of the major falls, and then insisted on pushing it. It was very hard work in the heat, uphill and down, but thanks to Horacio’s efforts I had good views of the most incredible system of falls in the world.

Garganta del Diablo was breathtaking in its power and size, and we were delighted to see large flocks of great dusky swifts flying through it on their way to the forest for the day. Each waterfall was beautiful in a different way, some great size and power, others long falls of lacy white curtains over emerald green, surrounded by palms. And there were birds, lizards, capuchins and more butterflies than we have ever seen in one place.
After vigorously persuading of a group of coatis that our lunch belonged to us, we left the disappointed animals climbing over our table and headed off to see more breathtaking sights and vast swathes of waterfalls, Horacio still insisting on pushing the wheelchair. After the train trip and back at the main gates we sampled the finest Havanna brand alfajores, each of us preferring a different variety but all agreeing they were the best yet, 10 out of 10.
The next morning we headed into the Atlantic rainforest on the track to Surucuá Lodge. The drive offered many bird species, and on one of our stops we watched as chestnut eared aracari and spot-billed toucanets became agitated, and then flew away. Shortly afterwards we were really privileged to see a harpy eagle fly over the road, giving a good but brief view of this very rare bird.

The sun dipped turning the sky orange and pink. Laura, Adrian and Lorenzo greeted us warmly at Surucuá Lodge, with lemonade and a cheery “Welcome” plaque on the wall, and afterwards we were treated to a tasty traditional dinner cooked by Eli. The 4 wooden cabins were tucked into the forest, and the trees around the area were festooned in orchids and tillandsias. The next morning Adrian took us on a drive through the forest followed by a boardwalk through some swampy land. There were many bird species, including blue daconis, a spot-backed antshrike and a chestnut bellied euphonia eating berries, and loads of butterflies flashing their beautiful colours. There were ocelot and tapir footprints in the mud. The next day we did the same walk with Lorena and on both days we got a good look at a spectacular little band-tailed manakin that responded to recorded calls. The walk ended at the Iguazu River, an impressive body of water, and the border with Brazil.

Another walk took us to a Guadua bamboo forest alongside streams and swamps, and fresh tapir prints had us hopeful of a sighting. Relaxing around the lodge brought more birds, a Surucuá trogon, tucanets, white-eyed parakeets, a white spotted woodpecker enlarging its nest in a palm, and others. A large clump of Cattleya (ex-Sophronitis) cernua high in a tree had a single flower out, and many spent flowers.
The next day we drove around the tracks in a less forested area and photographed a rare Tityra semifasciata, eared pygmy-tyrants, a pair of yellow-fronted woodpeckers and other birds. Adrian kindly carried a stool for me to sit on when needed, which helped greatly. On our way out of the park later in the day we stopped at the place we saw the harpy eagle. We waited there until the same time of the day that we had seen it before, but our luck wasn’t in this time.
We had an early start from Complejo Americano in Puerto Iguazu the next morning to catch a flight from Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, as the Argentinian airport was closed for maintenance. Horacio negotiated the public holiday queues of cars at the border crossing in good time. After we had been casually waved through the border we had to circle back and park up while Cruz, who had joined us briefly, managed to find and persuade the Brazilian authorities that we really did need to have our passports stamped. Check-in at the Brazilian airport went smoothly.

The North West
Before we knew it we were at Jujuy airport, and Diego was packing our luggage into the rather small hire car. Then it was off to the town of Calilegua. At Calilegua we were introduced to local guide Mechi and cloud forests. A pull-over place on the Calilegua National Park road gave lovely views over the river, valley and surrounding mountain ranges. A foot track through the forest led to a variety of orchids, fungi, birds, and after a time, an elevated platform with views over a valley. This provided the perfect place to sit and watch many bird species, including hepatic tanagers and a pair of scaly-headed parrots snuggling in the tree tops. A trio of golden-collared macaws flew through the valley at dusk, giving us only had a brief glimpse.
We returned to Calilegua National Park the next morning and as we drove higher in the mountains the scenery became more and more fantastic. As the track wound around the side of the mountain spectacular trees dripping with moss, ferns, bromeliads, tillandsias and orchids loomed out of the mist, emphasized by the valley depths behind them. Mechi spotted a pair of dusky-legged guans near the road, a good sighting for us. We stopped at the monument at the high point of the pass and walked back down the road, admiring the ancient twisted trees laden with epiphytes and birds hopping around the branches. Native strawberries and fuchsias grew on the slope behind.
Looking for a way into the cloud forest we saw a short loop walk upslope of the road. That led us into more amazing scenery of ancient stunted trees in the mist with long curtains of Spanish moss hanging from their branches, trunks covered in moss and ferns. On the ground amongst the understory of ferns Andrew saw a moth, and picking it up we saw that it had the most incredible blue, gold and red wings and a shimmering gold, blue and green body, a very striking colour cacophony!

Driving back we stopped at several places and saw a number of birds including brown-capped redstarts. Further on a small stream ran across the road, and we made our way up to a pretty little waterfall. Diego put his recordings to good use, and called up a secretive spotted nightingale-thrush, but the low light made photography extremely difficult. We had a picnic lunch adjacent to the Rangers house supplied as it is with a small park and tables. Jacarandas around the park had many healthy tillandsias, some in bud.
Later we returned to the raised platform overlooking the valley, and were very pleased to see the golden-collared macaws flying to and fro through the valley several times, giving us good sightings of these beautiful birds. Green-cheeked parakeets fed in the bushes below us. Going back into town it was time to say goodbye to Mechi, and the next day, to Calilegua.

Then it was onwards and upwards. The landscape dried out as we ascended the Andes through the Humahuaca Ravine, with cacti replacing trees, and bare mountains in green, orange, purple and cream revealing their mineral content. The style of buildings and look of the people changed completely, with a strong Inca influence. Our day came to a close in the charming town of Tilcara. At the equally charming Antigua Tilcara we were welcomed by a second Horacio, and after putting our luggage in our room and a brief rest, we headed to the botanic gardens. The garden had many cacti species, some larger than we had even seen. Here we watched new species of stunningly coloured hummingbirds feeding on mistletoe. Dinner that evening was at a restaurant with a huge cactus out the front, which served delicious meals of llama and chicken.
We watched the sun rise over the Andes the next morning as we ate breakfast in the Antigua Tilcara café, then set out to drive higher onto the plateau. This drive further along the Humahuaca Ravine was even more beautiful and extraordinary. The mountains on either side had patches and bands of fabulous contrasting colours, sometimes in large repeating striped triangles of colour so amazing they looked un-natural. We stopped often for photos.

We passed through several small towns as we ascended, the vegetation became smaller and smaller with shrubs clinging to dry ravines and the occasional stream cutting a path through the mountains. At one stop a cinereous harrier hunted low over the terrain. Llama grazed near the road, and at one place a herd of sheep with a guardian vicuña crossed the road, followed by the shepherd and her dogs. Later we saw 4 graceful vicuñas following a stream, our first look at wild vicuñas, ancestors of alpacas.

A soaring condor prompted another stop, we were very pleased to see this impressive bird. After passing the highest point at around 3 800 m we walked the short distance to some small lakes near to Abra Pampa. We were feeling a little dizzy and short of breath from the altitude, so we were pleased to stop and photograph the dwarfed cacti with many colourful fruits as we walked. Near the lake raised tufts of grass provided seating, but good views of the birds were closer to the water. A large number of water birds were in or around the lakes, including Puna flamingos, Andean avocets, plovers, many ducks and Andean geese showing shiny purple in the black of their wings.
Back in the car we visited several more scenic ponds that were home to a variety of grebes, coots and ducks, plus several llamas. On the drive back to Tilcara we called in on a small town market jostling with colourful people, wares and food. There was a race meet on too, and hopeful boys on horses gathered in an area near the road. The drive back offered different views of the beautiful valley and more photo opportunities.
On the trip back to Jujury we stopped at the beautiful Cerro de los Siete Colores (The Hill of Seven Colors) and had lunch at the pleasant and busy town of Purmamarca at the base. A short drive and walk revealed more amazing colourful hills and an array of equally colourful rocks. The market square reflected the colours, and we happily wandered about and bought gifts for home. Diego found a shop on the corner selling quality clay and wooden wares where we were able to purchase some lovely gifts and souvenirs.
Back on the road, we took a drive into the cloudforest of the National Park at Yala where there were trees covered in the largest and most abundant tillandsias yet. As we climbed the lush green mountains we stopped at a picturesque stream to look for torrent ducks. At a lake higher up the mountains there were many ibis, Andean plovers, avocets and ducks. Leaving the park we got a great view of a flock of mitred parakeets in a tree beside the road.
Passing back through Jujuy and Salta we arrived at the incredible Finca San Antonio, an estancia that has been in its current owner’s family for over 100 years, built in 1750 for the Peruvian viceroyalty. Here we were warmly greeted by Manuel and later by the owners Theodore and Josefina. We felt like royalty in the enormous bedroom with 4 poster bed, lounge room and ensuite, all furnished with genuine antique furniture. The grand dining room showed off chandeliers and carved wooden table and chairs from a bygone era, and the dinner was delicious. A lake in the park grounds was home to a large number of ducks, ibis, swans and other birds including a resident snail kite.

The next morning began with rain, but we left the flat fields and the rain behind as we ascended the mountains. We watched as once more the lush green forest gave way to cactus in the Cuesta del Obispo in Los Cardones National Park, and even found one hopeful cactus in flower. During a stop to look at a valley view we felt privileged to see a pair of cute little grey-hooded parakeets snuggling together, and a grey-flanked cinclodes. The road had been cut out of the rock face, providing an ideal habitat for small cacti that clung to cracks, surrounded by many different tillandsias and tiny ferns in a pretty rock setting.
Continuing upwards the landscape became dryer and colder, and patches of colour emerged from broken mountainsides. Large cacti dotted the mountains, and another condor was seen high overhead. A pair of chiguanco thrush posed on sparse bush covered in small tillandsias. We stopped at a little roadside café for a drink and watched a newly born llama and foal cavorting. A craftsman worked at the front making jewellery, and we bought two semi-precious stone pendants and a slab of the sweetly scented Palo Santo wood, and some alpaca scarves.
At the next stop, a monument to the 1974 bus tragedy, we saw a group of Andean flickers foraging on the slope above the road, together with a scale-throated earthcreeper, a bare-eyed ground dove and a small flock of black siskins. At 3,350 m we passed a tiny church at a roadside stop but with the wind and cloud it was too cold for a planned picnic lunch, so we kept moving beyond the pass at 3,460 m and onto the Tin Tin plain. Here colourful mountains in the distance provided a lovely backdrop to grazing guanacos and the cacti plains began. We ate our lunch at Tin Tin in bright sunshine while reading signs about the cacti and idly watching canasteros moving around their nests nestled in cacti.

At a stop on the way back we saw a grey-hooded sierra finch foraging on the ground as a herd of guanacos with young crossed the road. Only a little further on a condor was seen flying low over the misty mountains, and we stopped to take photos. It was soon joined by several other condors. One flew lower and lower overhead, then landed just out of sight over a grassy hill. We walked as fast as we could while trying not to frighten the condor, and as we topped the hill saw that there was a large group of condors. Some seemed disturbed by us and ponderously took flight but as they left more arrived from closer by, and walking higher up we saw a dead cow had been the centre of attention. A great many condors had gathered to feed on it, giving us an amazing experience and opportunity to take photos. However, they were not comfortable with us being in view and more and more left, so we headed back to the car.

As we drove back down the mountains the clouds parted for a moment and surprised us with views of towering mountains and deep ravines behind the valley. The following morning we watched birds around the grounds of Finca San Antonio. There were two species of hummingbirds in the garden and as we approached the lake we spotted several spectacular cream-backed woodpeckers. We enjoyed watching the diverse birdlife on the lake and the snail kite plucking snails from the surface of the water as the day and our tour drew to a close.
The next day an un-eventful flight took us back to Buenos Aires with a spectacular late night landing at the Jorge Newbery Aeroparque skimming close alongside the high-rises of the city. A taxi ride took us to Tigre to spend the final couple of days.
Thank you for reading our trip report!

ARGENTINA AND CHILE BIRDING TRIP 2012
Buenos Aires, Iguazu and Patagonia, Agentina

In October, 2012, my husband and I spent three weeks doing a grand birding tour of Argentina with Horacio Matarasso of Aves Patagonia that covered some of the best birding areas of the country. We started out in Buenos Aires’ Costanera Sur Park where we had a good number of species despite it being Saturday and well populated with city dwellers enjoying a lovely spring day. Speckled Teal, Nanday Parakeet, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Black-and-rufous Warbling-Finch and Gilded Emerald were some of the highlights. We were also treated to a Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl that brought all the expected interest from other birds. From Buenos Aries we head north through the state of Entre Rios which as one might expect had some special birding habitats in the delta which are populated with good numbers of species and individuals. Ceibas was exceptional with striking birds such as Roseate Spoonbill and Maguari Stork but also a good selection of ducks: Speckled Teal, Ringed Teal and Rosy-billed Pochard in particular. Special treats were White Woodpecker, Curve-billed Reed-haunter, four species of Spinetail, two species of Thornbird and Lark-like Brushrunner. Flycatchers were also well represented. We spent a day visiting the unique palm-tree expanse called Palmar National Park where we were delighted by the Plush-crested Jay, White-barred Piculet, Green-winged Saltator, Spotted and Red-winged Tinamous and Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant. An evening excursion (before a rain deluge!) served up Scissor-tailed Nightjar and the strange but appealing Vizcacha, a nocturnal burrowing mammal. Our base of operations was in the old town of Liebig (Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper on the way in), where we stayed in a beautifully restored house and were visited by a Nacunda nightjar in the evening as we did our daily list. It was our first exposure to the Argentinean national obsession with the herbal drink, Mate, which we found not to our liking but we were the definite minority. Thermoses of hot water and hot water dispensers just about everywhere proved that! Next day we were off to Mercedes where we picked up a Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher, Ultramarine Grosbeak, Golden-winged Cacique, Stripe-crowned Spinetail and Greater Thornbird which we celebrated finding with alfajores, another national obsession. This dulce de leche confection was an obsession we could appreciate and adopt!

Our next destination was the still remote area of Ibera and it’s extensive wetlands. A Strange-tailed Tyrant and many marsh-birds greeted us on the road to the small town and an afternoon boat ride provided great drama as we watched a very large caiman wrestle with an equally large anaconda. As usual in this type of habitat Snail Kites and two species of Harrier did their flybys while a juvenile Great Black-Hawk remained undisturbed by our approach. Later we had Blue-crowned Parakeets and the star of the Hummingbird Tree on the lodge grounds: the Blue-tufted Starthroat. Our second afternoon was a special treat as we had lunch with a Guarani family on their estancia, everything having come from their own fields and gardens. We were greeted on our arrival at the ranch road by a pair of Yellow Cardinals who seemed to take umbrage at the intrusion of our vehicle and so “attacked” it. For about twenty minutes we stood watching with delight at the improbable contest.

Leaving Ibera and after a long day in the car we arrived at Iguazu National Park. Everything you’ve heard about this spectacular place is true. It’s an experience not to be missed, and includes the bonus of watching the Great Dusky Swifts dart in and out of the falling water. There are several trails nearby (some in the park) that provide productive birding as well. As so often happens we heard a Spotted Rail calling but didn’t see it at first even though it was very close. Then all of sudden it appeared and we got very good looks at it. Not so difficult to spot was the Toco Toucan raiding the nests of Red-rumped Caciques. Being a rain forest there were the usual suspects including lots of flycatchers, a few tanagers, swallows, antbirds (including Spot-backed Antshrike), Surcurua Trogan, and Rufous Motmot. Even the hotel provided a three interesting species: Pauraque, Tropical Screech-Owl and Thrush-like Wren.

An accident on the only road between our hotel and the airport caused us a few jitters but we finally made it to Buenos Aires and on to our next and totally different area, Patagonia. Patagonia covers a large area in Southern Argentina and Chile although the eastern (Argentinean side) is much drier and the steppes there provide habitat for a completely different set of birds than we’d been seeing. Our base for several days was the warm and welcoming town of San Martin de los Andes (with its iconic Black-faced Ibis), a vacation spot for people from all over South America and beyond, offering skiing in the winter and relief from the heat in the summer. Our bed-and-breakfast, Casona Delalto was wonderfully situated with fantastic views and real luxury. The mix of mountains and steppes made it a perfect birding location. The highlight has to have been the bird everyone asks about: the Magellanic Woodpecker. He certainly didn’t disappoint! Responding to Horacio’s imitation drumming he swooped in to look for his intruder. Magnificent bird. Other exciting finds included Des Mur’s Wiretail and Thorn-tailed Rayadito. On our way to the steppes in a transition area we found Coroscoba, Black-necked Swan, and Austral Canastero. In the steppes we found Patagonian Mockingbird, Sharp-billed, Short-billed and Cordilleran Canasteros. Add to that Common Miner, Patagonian and Straight-billed Earthcreepers, and Bar-winged Cinlcodes, as well as Dark-faced and White-browed Ground-Tyrants and Hellmyr’s and Correndera Pipits and a Lesser Seed-Snipe foraging next to our car. A special treat was a group of surprisingly wary guanacos grazing in the sparse vegetation. Waiting for us back in town were Burrowing Parrots which we saw again the following day at their burrows. This area was the only place on the trip where we saw Lesser Rheas, a bird definitely on my wish list. One of my favorites though was the petit Austral Negrito a common sight all the days we were in Argentinean Patagonia.

Now it was time to see the “other” Patagonia and so we headed across the Andes, (catching sight of Austral Parakeets and Chilean Pigeons at our stop for Mapuche fry bread) to the Chilean coast at Maicolpue, a small and appealing town on a bay surrounded by hills. Our first sightings right in town were the Green-backed Firecrown and busily feeding on the hotel’s grass, Patagonian Sierra-finches and Black-chinned Siskins with the noisy Dark-bellied Cinclodes always nearby. We headed out to look for other coastal birds and found a grand slam of cormorants which included Neotropic, Magellanic, Imperial and Red-legged. And who wouldn’t be excited to see Humboldt and Magellanic Penguins? As matter of fact we were able to approach the latter on foot after a short boat ride to a nearby nesting island where we watched them watching us! After only two nights we were headed back east (stopping to see Slender-billed Parakeets on the way) with two nights in Puyehue National Park on the side of a volcano. In 2011 one of the volcanoes in the area erupted spewing ash over hundreds of kilometers but here in the mountains the amount of ash was most amazing. At the time of the eruption it had to be plowed like snow and remains in large mounds beside the roads. One of the benefits of all this volcanic activity in the abundance of thermal hot springs one of which we enjoyed at our lodging. Driving part way and climbing part way we reached the top of Casa Blanca Volcano, seeing the beautiful Bridled Finch along the way. The view of the chain of volcanoes was stunning to say the least. On the hotel grounds and nearby woods we could see Chuchao Tapaculo and the tiny Magellanic Tapaculo and listen to the noisy and varied calls of the Austral Blackbird. Also of note were Ochre-flanked Tapaculo, Huet-Huet and White-throated Treerunner.

Back across the border we ended the birding part of our trip in attractive and vibrant Bariloche, the largest town in Patagonia, before flying to Buenos Aires and home. While there, after a concerted effort, we finally found the Flying Steamer Duck and Wren-like Rushbird. Better looks at the Tufted Tit-Tyrant and Slender-billed Parakeets were unexpected bonuses. We ended up with over 350 species for the trip.

Many thanks to our excellent guide in the North, Diego, who found many birds hidden in the forest and drove like a madman to get us to the Iguazu airport; to Augusto who made our outings in San Martin so much fun; and to Eugenia whose driving and companionship on the trip to Chile were especially appreciated. The biggest thanks go to Horacio Matarasso whose knowledge, expertise, organizational skills, and calmness during unexpected bumps made the trip one of the best birding excursions we’ve ever had.

Carole Jones
Altadena, California, USA

FROM THE PAMPAS TO PATAGONIA
From Mahara Sinclair and Ken Grist, Nov. 2012.
Contact to mahara.sinclaire@gmail.com

We`ve just completed a six-day birding tour organized by Aves Patagonia, as a pre-conference trip to the South American Bird Fair. The journey was close to 2,000 kilometres from Buenos Aires to San Martin de los Andes. What a time we had. There were five birders on the tour, our birding guide, Federico, and two different drivers in a 14-seater van. We enjoyed time with a couple from France and an Argentine woman. Federico is a wonderful guide, very knowledgeable and eager to please. The group dynamics were excellent and we had a lot of fun. All of us are avid birders. We had some difficulty because of our less-than-perfect Spanish language skills, but I now know a lot of Argentine birds by their Spanish names. Our conversations were a combination of Spanish, English and French, although mostly in Spanish, or Spangish. It worked, although next time we would like to learn the names in English. We missed a great deal of the small talk.

The first day we covered almost 600 kilometres, but after that most other days we traveled an easy 200 kilometres or so. On a typical day we were up early, and after a quick breakfast of medialunas (tiny croissants) and coffee, were on to our first birding site, generally close to where we arrived the previous night. Sometimes we saw birds in the hotel parking lot. For example, from the town of Carhue we went to Lago Epequen where we saw dozens of flamingos and Wilson’s phalaropes. After we’d seen all we could in an area, we would pile into the van and drive for a few more hours to the next location, stopping along the road by little ponds or marshes if we saw unusual-to-us birds or animals. We stayed at Carhue, Santa Rosa, Puelches, La Roca and Piedra del Aguila.

As we drove along, from his thermos of agua caliente Fedi would prepare some mate and would pass it around with everyone drinking from the same straw-like spoon. Mate is the local drink Argentines consume like coffee; it wasn`t our favourite because to us it tastes like medicinal herbs. We birded all day, stopping only for lunch and coffee and would arrive into the new town pretty late, around 8:30 or so. Dinner would be around 9:30 or 10 or later, very late for us. Then we would drop into bed at 12 or 1 to be up and ready to go by 7 am.

Birds

We saw parrots and hawks, tinamous, flycatchers, owls, tyrants, cowbirds, thrush, ibis, ducks, phalaropes, flamingos and roseate spoonbills, swallows and dozens more- about 150 species in all, with about 40 to 50 bird groups a day and usually around eight new birds every day. On the lakes and marshlands it’s easier to spot birds. Typically upon arrival at a cliff or desert site we saw very little. However, after a few minutes of being there and merging in, we would get a sense of the place and where the birds might be. We traveled across five of the ornithogeographical zones of Argentina. These include the Pampas, the Chaco and Espinal, the Monte, the Patagonian Steppe and the Araucano Forest.

Geography

We drove through apple, pear and wine regions, by dry salt lakes, and in another region saw buttes or montes and high cliffs in the distance. We went through lots of desert and scrubland, and in the high desert areas the 360 degree vistas were amazing. We experienced a brilliant red sunset one evening, and silhouetted in the distance was a red-backed hawk on a pole. Patagonian swallows dove in and out of the dry volcanic cliffs and we learned that rock doves live in, well, rocks, or cliffs. We spent time high in the mountains, by lakes and rivers, in provincial park, for example, Parque Luro and national parks such as Lihue Calel, and explored a town abandoned after the nearby panoramic mirador dam site was built. We visited a Museo Paleontologica in Neuquen province and learned of the history of the area. On display was an Argentinosauros, part of the Titanosaurs, as well as Gigantosauras. Argentina also has dormant volcanoes, with the glistening snow covered peak of Mount Lanin rising near San Martin. The geographical changes were reflected by the various birds in each region, Austral birds, and desert birds for example. The dry flat pampas is similar to the southern Okanagan.

We had a few strange experiences. We wandered through a crumbling and decrepit graveyard, its tombstones leaning and damaged. It had emerged from Lake Epequen three years ago, after being submerged for 25 years. Lining a path to the graveyard were tall white barren dead trees, standing stark against the sky. A women living in a nearby trailer nearby asked us to sign a petition about saving the area.

Animals

We saw calm guanacos silhouetted on the mountain tops, standing as sentries for their herds. We stopped to take pictures of tortugas or turtles and tarantula on the roadway. There were red deer with huge antlers and wild pigs in the fields, along with plenty of gauchos on horse-back, tending their cattle or traveling. After being bitten by red ants while standing on their ant hill, I learned to look before we moved forward. Seeing tarantulas on the road a few times convinced us not to go into the desert with open-toed sandals.

At first we couldn’t figure out what our guide Fedi was doing when he leapt suddenly from the van and ran like crazy into the dry bushes. We didn’t recognize the Spanish word for armadillo which someone called out as we drove along. They are hard to spot and harder to catch. After a couple of misses, he got one before it had a chance to dig itself into the sand so we were able to look and photograph it. The little critter must have run away at 50k per hour. The sun was often fierce and the van`s air conditioning spotty; once it was 40 degrees inside the van at mid-day.

I took dozens of flower pictures, from cacti to alpine beauties, and I hope to have a web-album of the birds, animals and flowers soon.

Our final destination was San Martin de los Andes, a gorgeous small town located in a valley. Talk about broom or forsythia - complete hillsides were a brilliant golden yellow and the roadsides were lined for miles. The snow covered dormant volcano Lanin shone in the light above the clouds. San Martin felt and looked much like Whistler, with huge evergreen pine and cedar trees and snow-capped Andean peaks. Similar to Ecuador, the altitude and temperature create ideal rose growing conditions and dozens of varieties lined the streets and houses. The alpine houses were built in the classic “snow-resort” style: lots of cedar, wooden windows, huge stone facades, steeply sloped snow roofs and curved doorways. As we sat and gazed at beautiful Lake Lacar we commented that we could have been in Horseshoe Bay, except that it’s sunnier.

San Martin has a completely different atmosphere to Buenos Aires – cool alpine air, clean and very middle class. The city has a small village feel although the streets were lined with high-end adventure clothing stores, restaurants and coffee shops and there are plenty of adventure tours available: rafting, wind surfing, snowboarding, canopy towers, skiing, hiking, and horseback riding, and of course, skiing. Both San Martin and nearby Bariloche were settled by Europeans. In the general area there is a Swiss colony, called Colonia Suiza, and the words Edelweiss, Tirol, Alpine were amply used. Fondues and chocolate are regional specialties.

Feria de Aves de Sudamerica

The South American Bird Fair or Feria de Aves was exciting. There are about 30,000 birdwatchers in Argentina, and it is quite an organized activity, with training and accreditation involved. There were also many people from the tourism industry as the organizers plan to make this an annual event.

The bird fair participants had a great respect and understanding of nature and are involved with protecting and nurturing the environment. For example, one couple, an engineer and his wife, are running an NGO, involved in land and seed conservancy and in clean energy. Our poor Spanish language skills precluded talking to many involved people in great depth. Argentina has a ten year environmental plan to preserve Argentina`s natural resources and they are creating new natural reserves and parklands. We found the countryside of Argentina to be in good shape.

Travel makes you more aware of whom you are. We didn`t realize we were such passionate environmentalists because we took things such as a clean environment for granted. Involvement with birding takes us to natural places as well as the big world cities. Unfortunately, respect for the environment is not uniform, with much of the third world awash in garbage. Plastic bags and tin cans litter the countryside. The Argentines have a better handle on it than many countries.

The conference had about 25 sessions on all aspects of birding; anatomy, evolution, photography, conservation, and birding information about Columbia, Brazil, Peru, and Chile. There were photography and painting exhibits and four early morning birding trips to the surrounding area. We met producer of The Path of the Condor, filmed in the Andes and saw this amazing piece of work.

The author Tito Narosky spoke and autographed his new edition of the Field Guide of the Birds of Argentina and Chile. Written in both Spanish and English, with both photos and drawing and a CD of bird songs included, it’s a major accomplishment. The fair organizer, Horacio Matarasso, did a wonderful job and his two teenage sons participated.

We are developing a more in-depth feeling and knowledge of the Argentine people after spending more than a year here. Many Argentines have a rich intellectual life. They read a lot, are involved with their interests and are happy with their lives. In my opinion Argentina is the most cultured place in South America, with a large, but shrinking middle class.

We enjoyed a lovely final evening at the home of an American couple who are building a home in the hills of San Martin on a bluff overlooking a mauve and purple lupine meadow and the alpine mountains. It’s always interesting to share stories with other couples and see how we have all arrived at where we are in life.

And so our birding trip and the bird fair ended and off we went to Bariloche. It was our first extended birding trip and we are hooked.

Mahara Sinclaire
mahara.sinclaire@gmail.com