Birding Northeast Argentina: Iberá Marshlands and Iguazú National Park
Birding Northeast Argentina: Iberá Marshlands and Iguazú National Park
October 2023/ November 2024
In the Corrientes province in the north-eastern reaches of Argentina there is a vast region locally known as the Iberá Marshlands, which is the largest wetland area in South America after the Pantanal in Brazil. Iberá, or as the Guaraní natives call it “Shining Waters”, is a BirdLife International IBA and Ramsar Site as well as a national preserve. It covers an area nearly three times the size of the American Everglades and protects a multitude of fauna and flora occurring in such diverse habitats as lakes and swamps, palm groves, expansive grasslands, and climax forests. Over 330 bird species, including Jabiru, Snail Kite, Southern Screamer, Greater Rhea, Savanna Hawk, Black-collared Hawk, White Woodpecker, Scarlet-headed Blackbird, and Red-crested Cardinal, as well as other animals such as Capybara, Marsh Deer, Maned Wolf, Black-and-gold Howler Monkey, Big Hairy Armadillo, Yellow Anaconda, and Yacaré Caiman, are all to be found.
Strange-tailed Tyrant will be one of the targets on this north-eastern Argentina tour (photo Horacio Matarosso).
The legendary “Gauchos” (Argentine cowboys) also call Iberá home; these “cowboys” live and work on the vast cattle ranches known as “estancias”, where they still use their traditional equestrian culture in daily life. It’s on some of these “estancias” that we’ll be staying to explore the region, as the hotels are few and far between.
Yellow-fronted Woodpecker is one of a number of spectacular woodpecker species we may see on this tour.
Come and explore this captivating paradise, combined with the fascinating Iguazú Falls, close to the border of Brazil. We’ll be spending three days in the spectacular Iguazú National Park on both the Argentinian and Brazilian sides, where birds include the likes of Black-fronted Piping Guan, Toco Toucan, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Scaly-headed Parrot, Blue-winged Parrotlet, Plumbeous Kite, Tropical Screech Owl, Short-tailed Nighthawk, Great Dusky Swift, Scale-throated Hermit, Black-throated Mango, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Surucua Trogon, Yellow-fronted Woodpecker, and Tufted Antshrike among many more.
This tour can be combined with our preceding Birding Tour Argentina: Northwest from the foothills to puna, and/or our following Birding Tour Argentina: Southern Patagonia – Los Glaciares National Park and Austral Rail.
Itinerary (10 days/9 nights)
Day 1. Buenos Aires
Today the group arrives in Buenos Aires flying into Ministro Pistarini (Ezeiza) International Airport and from there transfer immediately to our hotel for the night. After settling in we’ll do some afternoon birding at the Costanera Sur Ecological Preserve; here we could expect to find species such as Red-crested Cardinal, Coscoroba Swan, Silver Teal, Spot-flanked Gallinule, Nanday and Monk Parakeets, Southern Crested Caracara, Pampa Finch, Spectacled Tyrant, and Black-and-rufous Warbling Finch among many more as we explore the wetlands, grasslands, and woodlands.
The Iberá Marshlands have good numbers of Southern Screamer (photo Alejandro Ronchetti).
Day 2. Buenos Aires to Posadas
We’ll start the day with a transfer flight to Posadas. Our base for the next three nights will be the Estancia San Juan Poriahú. This ranch is found in the northwest corner of the Iberá Marshlands, which is considered the Argentinean Pantanal. A great variety of habitats such as savannas, forests, lakes, and wetlands means a great variety of birds, such as Greater Rhea, Red-winged Tinamou, Savanna Hawk, Burrowing Owl, Southern Screamer, Brazilian Teal, Anhinga, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, White-necked Heron, Maguari Stork, Bare-faced Ibis, and Snowy Egret. Spending time in the grassland habitat we could get lucky with White Monjita, Pampa Finch, Picui Ground Dove, and Black Siskin. Our last excursion for the day will be a nocturnal venture after dinner, when we’ll be looking for Crab-eating Fox, Tropical Screech Owl, and Scissor-tailed Nightjar.
Overnight: Estancia San Juan Poriahú, Ituzaingó
Day 3. Iberá Marshlands
We’ll start the day in search of the largest rodent on the planet, Capybara, as we take a boat ride in the Iberá Marshlands. Birdlife here includes Black-collared Hawk, Long-winged Harrier, Jabiru, Wattled Jacana, Black-capped Donacobius, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, and the recently described endemic Ibera Seedeater, as well as many more. We’ll spend our afternoon exploring the indigenous forests, where we might have an opportunity to photograph groups of Black-and-gold Howler Monkeys as we search for birds such as Dusky-legged Guan, Pale-crested Woodpecker, Blue-crowned Parakeet, White-winged and Green-backed Becards, Yellow-billed Cardinal, Ultramarine Grosbeak, Little Nightjar, and White-throated Hummingbird.
Overnight: Estancia San Juan Poriahú, Ituzaingó
Birding the Iberá Marshlands may produce sightings of the beautiful Scarlet-headed Blackbird (photo Alejandro Ronchetti).
Day 4. Iberá Marshlands
We spend another day in this amazing area as we keep adding more birds to our list, such as Southern Screamer, Ultramarine Grosbeak, Purple and Azure Gallinules, Strange-tailed Tyrant, Double-collared Seedeater, Pearly-bellied Seedeater, Green-winged Saltator, Yellow-rumped Marshbird, Scarlet-headed Blackbird, and the endangered Saffron-cowled Blackbird.
Overnight: Estancia San Juan Poriahú, Ituzaingó
Day 5. Iberá Marshlands to Iguazú National Park
With a long drive north to Iguazú we’ll leave immediately after breakfast. En route we will be visiting the ruins of the 17th–century Jesuit Mission at San Ignacio. While admiring the ruins we’ll be scanning the surrounding area for Bat Falcon, Red-capped Parrot, Blue-winged Parrotlet, Striped Cuckoo, Scale-throated Hermit, Black Jacobin, Surucua Trogon, Campo Flicker, Swallow Tanager, Brown-chested Martin, White-rumped Swallow, and Saffron Finch. From here we have a six-hour drive to our hotel in Iguazú.
Overnight: Yvy Hotel de Selva, Iguazú
The large and impressive Blond-crested Woodpecker (photo Alejandro Ronchetti)
Day 6. Iguazú National Park
We’ll spend a full day walking and birding the forest trails of the Iguazú National Park, admiring the spectacular Iguazú Falls and the park’s Atlantic Forest. Here we have good chances of Plumbeous Kite, Bat Falcon, Toco Toucan, Surucua Trogon, Rufous-capped Motmot, White-eared Puffbird, Yellow-fronted Woodpecker, Blond-crested Woodpecker, Large-tailed Antshrike, and Swallow Tanager. We’ll also search for big flocks of Dusky Swifts before sunset as we visit the main falls of the Iguazú system, known as Devil’s Gorge.
Overnight: Yvy Hotel de Selva, Iguazú
Day 7. Iguazú National Park
With another full day of birding in the Iguazú National Park we’ll focus on finding new additions to our list. We’ll be cleaning up on species such as Black-fronted Piping Guan, Green-billed Toucan, Squirrel Cuckoo, Speckle-breasted Antpitta, Rufous Gnateater, and Blackish-blue Seedeater. Our afternoon birding session will be spent on a private property in Puerto Iguazú, known as Hummingbird Garden, where we can find over 12 species of hummingbirds coming to the feeders as well as various tanagers and finches. Birds to expect here include Blue-tufted Starthroat, Black-throated Mango, Green-crowned Plovercrest, Violet-capped Woodnymph, Rufous-throated Sapphire, Festive Coquette, Chestnut-bellied Euphonia, Golden-rumped Euphonia, and Chestnut-backed Tanager, to name just a few.
Overnight: Yvy Hotel de Selva, Iguazú
Black-throated Piping Guan can be seen in Iguazú National Park.
Day 8. Iguazú to Surucua Reserva & Ecolodge
Today we make our way east through the Atlantic Forest of Iguazú National Park in search of Solitary Tinamou, Green Ibis, Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, Violaceous Quail-Dove, and Saffron Toucanet. We end our drive at the Surucua Reserva & Ecolodge on the Iguazú River, a luxurious private property. Habitats here include palmito, bamboo-cane groves, and rainforest. We’ll spend the rest of the day birding the surrounding area in search of species such as Turkey Vulture, Orange-breasted Falcon, Black-fronted Piping Guan, Rusty-margined Guan, Spot-billed Toucanet, Rufous-capped Motmot, White-necked Puffbird, Blond-crested Woodpecker, Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper, and Chestnut-crowned Becard. We’ll spend some time looking for owls and nightjars after dinner.
Overnight: Surucua Reserva & Ecolodge or Yacutinga Lodge, Andresito
Day 9. Urugua-í Provincial Park
A full day birding around our lodge and at Urugua-í Provincial Park will provide us with birds such as Grey-bellied and Zone-tailed Hawks, Black Hawk-Eagle, Grey-fronted Dove, Scaly-headed Parrot, Pavonine Cuckoo, Surucua and Black-throated Trogons, Robust and Helmeted Woodpeckers, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Black-billed Scythebill, Giant Antshrike, Bertoni’s Antbird, and Red-ruffed Fruitcrow. We’ll spend another owling session after dinner in search of Mottled, Black-banded, Buff-fronted, and Spectacled Owls among other nocturnal species.
Overnight: Surucua Reserva & Ecolodge or Yacutinga Lodge, Andresito
Day 10. Transfer to Buenos Aires, departure
Today is mostly a travel day as we’ll be driving to Puerto Iguazú to catch our flight to Buenos Aires, where everyone will connect with their international flights or continue onto their next birding trip in Argentina.
Please note that the itinerary cannot be guaranteed as it is only a rough guide and can be changed (usually slightly) due to factors such as availability of accommodation, updated information on the state of accommodation, roads, or birding sites, the discretion of the guides and other factors. In addition, we sometimes have to use a different international guide from the one advertised due to tour scheduling.Download Itinerary
Argentina, the Northwest Trip Report
11 – 23 SEPTEMBER 2017
By Chris Lotz
DOWNLOAD TRIP REPORT
My friend Bill Heck and I liked the idea of heading to Argentina for some birding, so why not? It really was that easy: we booked our flights, and the next thing we were there in Argentina, birding (it’s as simple as that). Our schedule did have some constraints, though – we only had about two weeks available, so we chose a manageable part of this large country, the northwest. And we were only able to do this in September due to other commitments later in the year; while this meant missing some of the more widespread migrants (too early), and thus a shorter overall bird list, we nevertheless managed to see the large majority of the “real” targets, i.e. the localized birds tough to find outside of northwest Argentina and southern Bolivia. We started the trip in Tucuman and finished it in San Salvador de Jujuy. We traversed the famous wine-growing region of Argentina, with its amazingly diverse and spectacular scenery. Since we had to fly via Buenos Aires and had a few hours there before and after the main trip, we also saw quite a few of the species common around this huge city of 16 million people (but not occurring in north-west Argentina).
Day 1, 11 September 2017. Arrival in Buenos Aires, flight to Tucuman and an introduction to high altitude birding.
After an overnight flight from Columbus, Ohio (via Houston) we arrived tired but excited in Buenos Aires. We had to drive across the city to the domestic airport, lapping up the interesting sights as well as a large number of birds – Buenos Aires is a “birdy” city, for sure. Many of the species were common Argentinian/South American birds such as Monk Parakeet, Chimango Caracara, Southern Lapwing, Picazuro Pigeon, Guira Cuckoo, White-rumped Swallow, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Rufous-bellied Thrush, Shiny Cowbird, and of course the all-too-common (but attractive) Rufous-collared Sparrow (which we saw daily, as one does in most birding tours anywhere in South America). On the last day of our trip, when we were back in Buenos Aires, we focused on getting less widespread birds such as two species of swan; more on that later. We then flew to Tucuman, and on arrival there we immediately started ascending to Tafi del Valle, where we were to spend the night. We saw a Firewood-gatherer (of the avian variety) just outside of Tucuman before we got into the Alder Forest/Yungas/Cloud Forest zone. Here stacks of brilliant birds awaited us, including Torrent Duck (easy to see in north-western Argentina), the Argentinean endemic Yellow-striped Brushfinch, Rusty-browed Warbling Finch, Yellow-billed Teal, Dusky-legged Guan, Cream-winged Cinclodes, Mountain Wren, Brown-capped Whitestart, and many others. The highlight, however, was getting pretty good views of White-browed Tapaculo (and getting “pretty good” views of a tapaculo is not always easy)! Tapaculos are notoriously skulking, fast-moving, and generally in dark places; I was lucky to get some kind of picture of this White-browed Tapaculo in the low light.
Day 2, 12 September 2017. Birding the high altitudes: El Infiernillo, El Mollar, and the Yungas again
What a spectacular day! After breakfast we ascended above the tree line to bird El Infiernillo pass. En route to our first birding stop we found a couple of Burrowing Owls sitting atop fence posts, along with a flock of neat-looking Black Siskins. When we reached the first stakeout, things only got better. The highlights here were two Argentinean endemics, Moreno’s Ground Dove (in addition to Black-winged Ground Dove) and Tucuman Mountain Finch. The supporting cast included several other finches, such as the attractive Rusty-browed Warbling Finch and our first Sierra Finches (Plumbeous and Ash-breasted). Other amazing birds also pitched up, one by one. For example, we got fantastic views of a majestic Cinereous Harrier quartering low over the high altitude grassland, saw some of our first Southern Crested Caracaras, and enjoyed close-up views of Buff-breasted Earthcreeper. We then drove on a little further and hiked up to our Scribble-tailed Canastero stakeout. It was hard work getting to the site, but we were richly rewarded with a pair of displaying canasteros. What a bird, and what a great name it has! Interruptions are rarely pleasant, but when a close-flying Andean Condor is what interrupts one, it’s certainly excusable. Condors proved pretty easy to see throughout our northwestern Argentina route, so in retrospect perhaps we didn’t have to allow this first condor to interrupt our canastero viewing.
On the hike to the canastero stakeout we also encountered Cinereous Ground Tyrant and White-winged Cinclodes along with the much more common Cream-winged Cinclodes (which put in appearances all over the place throughout our Argentina trip). We found a good number of birds with “Andean” in their names today, not just the Andean Condor but also Andean Swift, Andean Flicker, and in the afternoon at an artificial lake called El Mollar (Dique La Angostura) also Andean Goose, Andean Gull, and Andean Coot. The late afternoon was well-spent as we managed to find a pair of Rufous-throated Dippers building a nest when we ventured to lower elevations below the tree line again. What a bird! Incidentally, I got some video footage of this species from later in the trip, which is now on the Birding Ecotours YouTube channel. It’s well worth a watch, as dippers are always amazing, and one keeps getting flashes of the striking reddish throat in this video.
Day 3, 13 September 2017. Tafi del Valle to Cachi, birding the western slope to Amaicha del Valle and the Río Santa Maria
We crossed over the high mountains (El Infiernillo) again. We had to be self-disciplined enough not to stop for birds we had already seen before, as we wanted to get to the dry habitat of the rain shadow on the far side of the pass early enough to bird it during peak time. And our plan worked well, as we found the bulk of our targets without problems. We got great views of Burrowing Parrots, close-up Cliff Flycatcher, and Greyish Baywing (Bay-winged Cowbird) as we drove toward our main birding sites. Our list of Canasteros rose to five species (it became to be six by the end of the trip) with the addition of the endemic Steinbach’s and several of the more numerous Rusty-vented. Green-barred Woodpecker (which is basically a flicker – the same genus – but more arboreal than most flickers) and Golden-billed Saltator seemed to enjoy sitting atop the giant cardon cacti. We encountered many other very exciting species, including Brown-capped Tit-Spinetail, Tufted Tit-Spinetail, Streak-fronted Thornbird, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, noisy Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, Patagonian Mockingbird, White-fronted Woodpecker, Checkered Woodpecker, Grey-hooded Sierra Finch, a lot of Common Diuca Finches, pretty Rufous-sided and Ringed Warbling Finches, Greenish Yellow Finch, and last but definitely not least the endemic White-throated Cacholote (a really strange bird).
Day 4, 14 September 2017. Cuesta del Obispo (Bishop’s Slope) to Salta via Los Cardones National Park
We started the day with our first of many Blue-and-yellow Tanagers just as we were about to leave our hotel. We then embarked on an amazing drive. The scenery throughout this tour was as varied as it was spectacular. Today it seemed like the scenery got even better than on previous days, if that is possible. Moreover, the rate at which we were adding new birds was not slowing down in any way – by now it was already evident that habitats (and the resulting suites of bird species) change unusually fast in northwestern Argentina. We found our first hummingbirds today, the peculiar White-sided Hillstar (which often perches to feed or combines hovering with perching – strange for a hummer) and the truly spectacular Red-tailed Comet, one of the most marvelous-looking hummingbirds I have ever laid eyes on. Parrots were – as always during this whole trip right until the final day – much in evidence, and we added two new ones to our list today, Grey-hooded Parakeet and Scaly-headed Parrot. Northwestern Argentina is a furnariid paradise, and we added more of them today in the form of Rufous-banded Miner and Rock Earthcreeper. Other good species we saw today included Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, our first Mourning Sierra Finch, and many others. Probably the highlight of the day, however, was seeing the localized, Near-threatened (IUCN) Rufous-bellied Mountain Tanager (previously called Rufous-bellied Saltator and now placed in the genus Pseudosaltator). Zimmer’s Tapaculo tantalized us with some very close-singing individuals, but we never did manage to lay eyes on one – this was truly bad luck as this species is known to sometimes co-operate really well. We spent the night at Hotel Selva Montana in Salta.
Day 5, 15 September 2017. Salta to Joaquin V. González via Palomitas and Rio Juramento (Chaco-habitat dirt roads we birded)
Hotel Selva Montana proved to be a difficult place to pull away from, especially since its gardens tantalized us with some cloud-forest-type birds which were new for us. So we spent perhaps an hour after breakfast birding the hotel garden and the surrounding affluent suburbs and found brilliant birds, including Plush-crested Jay, Grey-necked Wood Rail, White-bellied Hummingbird, Rough-legged Tyrannulet (our list of tyrannulets growing nicely as we’d already seen a few other species before today; please refer to the bird list at the end of this report as not all species are mentioned in the text), Smoke-colored Pewee, gorgeous Cream-backed Woodpecker, Golden-winged Cacique, tame and beautiful Tropical Parula, and many others. We then drove for a while to bird two amazing dirt roads, both of which gave access to the arid Chaco habitat, adding a suite of spectacular birds to our list (which tends to happen when one finds oneself in a new habitat). One of the biggest highlights at our first birding site of the day (Palomitas) was getting multiple views of Black-legged Seriemas (which also spent a lot of time calling (or “singing” if non-songbirds/passerines can actually be said to do this) as well as a pair of Red-legged Seriemas striding across a patch of grassland within the Chaco woodland. A White-barred Piculet showed really well at one point. Pretty little Masked Gnatcatchers were everywhere. Stripe-crowned Spinetail and Little Thornbird, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Variable Antshrike, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, many Suiriri Flycatchers, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, a great many Black-capped Warbling Finches, etc., were all added to our growing bird list. Our second birding site for the morning was another dirt road leading to a bridge over the Rio Juramento, and this road was just as productive as Palomitas. Birds were spectacular, and included Many-colored Chaco Finch and Ultramarine Grosbeak. We were surprised to see an undomesticated-looking Muscovy Duck well away from any human habitation, so we assume it was indeed a wild one sitting on the bank of Rio Juramento. We enjoyed seeing some Chaco Chachalacas along with some Buff-necked Ibises, a Green Kingfisher, and several other birds also along the river. On our way back to the main road after the bridge we managed to locate a close-up Chaco Puffbird – this turned a brilliant day into a spectacular day!
Day 6, 16 September 2017. Full day birding quebracho woodlands around Taco Pozo
This was yet another highly, highly productive day in terms of adding new trip birds. We spent the full day in well-developed quebracho woodland, which seemed to have completely different birds compared to the similar, but not quite the same, type of Chaco woodland of the previous day. Just to emphasize how spectacular today was, we’d already thought “what an incredible, amazing day” when the last hour of light led to one of the most memorable events of the whole trip. Just imagine the atmosphere being set by hundreds of prehistoric-looking Chaco Chachalacas coming to the road verge in the late afternoon. Then four Quebracho Crested Tinamous suddenly appeared in the road ahead of us, followed soon thereafter by a Black-bodied Woodpecker! I shouldn’t have started with the end of the day, but I do wish to emphasize these birds. Moving back to the beginning, we added new birds to our list constantly and at quite a rapid pace throughout the day. Crested Gallito showed well but did not provide the best photo opportunities. We also started seeing things like Lark-like Brushrunner, Brown Cacholote, Crested Hornero, Red-crested Cardinal, hundreds of Monk Parakeets, Blue-crowned Parakeet, Turquoise-fronted Amazon, a pair of Spot-winged Falconets, Chaco Earthcreeper (which worked us very hard!), and Short-billed Canastero. Woodcreepers abounded, including the insane-looking Red-billed Scythebill, humungous Great Rufous Woodcreeper, ground-loving, hoopoe-like Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper, and dainty Narrow-billed Woodcreeper. Our list kept growing. Today we also added Stripe-backed Antbird and two new hummingbirds, Glittering-bellied Emerald and Blue-tufted Starthroat. A large number of other fine species entertained us – Straneck’s Tyrannulet, Cinereous Tyrant, Rufous Casiornis, Brown-crested Flycatcher, and White-banded Mockingbird were some of them. Mammal-wise, we saw a cavy today.
Day 7, 17 September 2017. Drive to the small town of Calilegua near Calilegua National Park
While this was basically a travel day to get to the cloud forests of the amazing Calilegua National Park area (where we were about to spend three nights), we did manage to find a large number of star birds during short stops along the road. Grasslands during the first section of our drive represented a new habitat for us; so, needless to say, there were new species awaiting us here. At one point we encountered a small flock of Greater Rheas. At another stop we got fantastic scope views of a singing Grassland Sparrow and saw Pampa Finches and Grassland Yellow Finches that needed no scope as they were right next to the road. We also saw Burrowing Owl. Cattle Tyrant also made an appearance today. Bridges along the route were very productive and generated species such as Brazilian Teal, Bare-faced Ibis, Collared Plover, the North American migrant White-rumped Sandpiper, Amazon Kingfisher, Sooty-fronted Spinetail, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, beautiful Yellow-billed Cardinal, and various other desirable birds. In wooded habitats en route we saw a new hummer for the trip, Gilded Sapphire, along with Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Great Antshrike, Barred Antshrike, Sooty Tyrannulet, Yellow-olive Flatbill, White-browed Blackbird, Crested Oropendola, Chestnut-vented Conebill, Greyish Saltator, and (as always!) a lot of others. One of the highlight birds was, strangely, a very drab-looking species – we waited patiently for it to “sing” and provide close views before we could clinch its ID – Dull-colored Grassquit. Bill saw a Giant Wood Rail along the roadside at one point today. Last but not least, arriving at the hotel which we would call “home” for the next three nights, we were treated to the Vulnerable (IUCN) Bolivia/northern Argentina endemic Tucuman Amazon, along with equally beautiful Golden-collared Macaws and Toco Toucan. All these species were feeding in stunningly colorful coral trees. Purple-throated Euphonia enjoyed the mistletoe of the same coral trees. A noteworthy mammal we saw today was crab-eating fox (nice close views).
Day 8, 18 September 2017. Calilegua National Park
We spent a full day in this wonderful national park looking for cloud forest species. We added a couple of spectacular eagles to our list, Solitary Eagle and a beautiful Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle. Yungas Manakin was one of the really good birds of the day. Blue-crowned Trogon showed well, as did Amazonian Motmot. Smoky-brown Woodpecker and Golden-olive Woodpecker were both new for the trip. Ochre-cheeked Spinetail worked us very hard but eventually rewarded us with super views on and near the ground next to us. We also found Azara’s Spinetail, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, Black-banded Woodcreeper, Sclater’s Tyrannulet, White-throated Tyrannulet, Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet, Grey Elaenia, Highland Elaenia, Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, Euler’s Flycatcher, fabulously beautiful Spotted Nightingale-Thrush, Glossy-black Thrush, Andean Slaty Thrush, Pale-legged Warbler, Two-banded Warbler, Saffron-billed Sparrow, Fulvous-headed Brushfinch, White-browed Brushfinch, and Red Tanager in the park. White-throated Antpitta also worked us hard (like antpittas tend to do), but we were eventually rewarded with excellent views near the end of a very productive day.
Day 9, 19 September 2017. Birding beyond Calilegua National Park all the way to the small town of San Francisco
Today we tried our best to drive all the way through Calilegua National Park without stopping. That’s no easy task, of course! Helpful, though, was the fact that we had an extremely full day of birding in the park yesterday. So we were reasonably self-disciplined and arrived at the top of the pass, which is also the exit from the national park, in good time to find our target birds. From here at the top exit gate we gradually descended the far slope, stopping often to look at brilliant species we were searching for. Right at the top of the pass (at the park exit) we enjoyed Buff-banded Tyrannulet and Chilean Elaenia. We were pleased to see King Vulture majestically flying overhead, and White-tipped Swifts also winged themselves over us. Bill and I were both scanning the tops of the small trees on the steep slope below us when a Yungas Pygmy Owl suddenly appeared in our binocular views, virtually at the same time. What incredible excitement! We scoped a stunningly beautiful Golden-rumped Euphonia proudly sitting next to a clump of its beloved mistletoe (euphonias really enjoy eating mistletoe fruit). A pair of Band-tailed Pigeons flew low over the road at one point. After slowly descending we eventually reached the small town of San Francisco and did a very productive birding walk from there. We were delighted to obtain excellent views of a couple of calling (which clinched the ID) Yungas Doves (we also saw the more widespread, very similar, White-tipped Dove earlier today). And we saw a pair of Dot-fronted Woodpeckers rather close up, near the Yungas Doves. We also saw Smoky-brown Woodpecker today. Then, as we walked further up the trail, we saw a Black-backed Grosbeak very nicely. Green-cheeked and Mitred Parakeets also put in appearances. Good-looking Plush-crested Jays entertained us even when other birding got a little quiet. A lovely Fawn-breasted Tanager showed really well.
Day 10, 20 September 2017. Drive to Lozano near Yala
This was the day we managed to get video footage of a family of Torrent Ducks, including three Torrent ducklings, and of a Rufous-throated Dipper! (These videos appear on the Birding Ecotours YouTube channel.) A couple of Andean Swallows were overflying the river. And this was the day in which we watched a male Lyre-tailed Nightjar swoop over us a couple of times at dusk, then photographed an extremely tame female Lyre-tailed Nightjar. The female Lyre-tailed Nightjar we saw; the male was seen flying a couple of times, showing off its spectacular tail very well. A little later we got video footage and photos of a nearby Yungas Screech Owl at the same site as the nightjars. Not just an average day – a cracking day (yet another one)! A few other amazing things happened today as well, including getting really close views of Red-faced Guan! In my excitement about writing about this day, I am jumping ahead, though. We started today’s birding at a couple of small lakes, where we added some good species to our list, including Andean Lapwing, White-winged Coot, and Spot-breasted Thornbird. Rufous-capped Antshrike, Chilean Elaenia, Streak-throated Bush Tyrant, and Creamy-bellied Thrush popped out even during the heat of the day hours.
Day 11, 21 September 2017. Lozano to La Quiaca on the Bolivian border via Purmamaca, Humahuaca, Abra Pampa, and high altitude puna lakes
We left our hotel in Lozano and headed on an exciting journey, up and up through spectacular scenery, to access Bolivian-type puna on the high plateau. We were, in fact, going to spend the night on the Bolivian border at La Quiaca. Here at La Quiaca on Bolivia’s border we found ourselves as far away (3200 miles) from Argentina’s southern-most town (Ushuaia) as we could get without leaving Argentina. After leaving Lozano we soon found ourselves in an amazing, colorful landscape adjacent to the touristy town of Humahuaca. Here we found a nice assemblage of spectacular new bird species as well as some old “friends” such as Cordilleran and Rusty-vented Canasteros. The stars of this morning’s show, however, were White-tipped Plantcutter, beautiful Black-hooded Sierra Finch, Band-tailed Sierra Finch (I could also mention the two other sierra finch species we’d previously seen), and Brown-backed Mockingbird. There were also a lot of Blue-and-yellow Tanagers; although we had seen them several times during the trip before, they are amazingly colorful birds, and it was good to see them in the rich morning light.
After birding this site we climbed up onto the high, windswept puna grasslands, where we focused our birding around three upland lakes: first, Lake Huancar, then (briefly, because we found it dry) Laguna de los Enamorados, and finally the much larger Lake Runtuyoc. Birding rewards around these lakes were amazing. We found the likes of Puna Ibis, Andean Gull, Andean Goose, Crested Duck, Cinnamon Teal, Puna Teal, Yellow-billed Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, all three Flamingo species (Chilean, Andean, and James’s), and the beautiful Andean Avocet. Two new coots, Andean Coot and Giant Coot, were not too difficult to find (imagine seeing a flock of coots running away from the lake over the grassland in the distance, coots so large that we joked they looked like rheas). The North American migrants Baird’s Sandpiper and Wilson’s Phalarope were around in large numbers. Common Miner, Puna Miner, and Andean Negrito also favored the lakeshores. Later today we birded a narrow canyon. Here we enjoyed views of the swift-like Giant Hummingbird (sometimes sitting on cacti) along with the species we were actually targeting in this habitat, D’Orbigny’s Chat-Tyrant, a pair of which showed very well. We also saw our first Mountain Parakeets today, although we waited until the next day to get scope views of a small flock of perched ones. Yellow-browed Tyrant was also new for the trip today. Vicuna was a good mammal we saw today during our initial ascent onto the high puna. But as they are skittish animals we were glad to find one that thought it was a cow the next day – this one was remarkably tame and was following a herd of cattle everywhere. Warming up the Swarovski scopes at Huancar Lake, where a giant sand dune (popular for sand-boarding) provided a scenic backdrop for the birding. This is where we saw Giant Coots running across the nearby grassland.
Day 12, 22 September 2017. Birding the high puna to Jujuy
This was our last full day in northwestern Argentina, and our final night would be spent in the large city of San Salvador de Jujuy. To some extent we used today as a “cleanup day”. Citroen-headed Yellow Finch was probably the most prized of all the birds we still “needed”, since it worked us so hard, but we were eventually rewarded with excellent views of a small flock. We also managed to find Bright-rumped Yellow Finch, another bird we’d missed the previous day, perhaps because it was so windy. We got close-up views of a lot of good-looking Bare-faced Ground Doves. Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail was excellent to see. Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant and Cliff Flycatcher, although neither of them new, are both worth mentioning here as they afforded good views. The last new trip bird for the day was Mountain Caracara, which we saw during the drive to Jujuy.
Day 13, 23 September 2017. Flight from Jujuy to Buenos Aires birding at Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve in Buenos Aires between flights
We flew from Jujuy to Buenos Aires and immediately went to the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve for a couple of hours of birding before going to the international Buenos Aires airport for our flight back to Ohio. It’s always nice to pad the trip list with a large number of “unexpected” birds – ones that are common in Buenos Aires but absent from (or rare in) northwestern Argentina. We encountered a whole stack of new trip birds with ease, thanks to having a bit of spare time. The two swan species were perhaps the biggest highlights, Coscoroba Swan and Black-necked Swan. Guira Cuckoo and Rufous Hornero were all over the place and amazingly tame. It was entertaining to see pre-historic, “mini-dinosaurs” in the form of Guira Cuckoos picking up scraps around peoples’ lunch tables. New birds we added to our trip list, apart from the swans, were a great many Wattled Jacanas, then also Silver Teal, beautiful Rosy-billed Pochard, Masked Duck, Red-fronted Coot, Limpkin, close-up Nanday (Black-hooded) Parakeet, Southern Yellowthroat, Golden-crowned Warbler, and, last but not least, Black-and-rufous Warbling Finch. We also heard Giant Wood Rail, Rufous-sided Crake, Plumbeous Rail, Wren-like Rushbird, and Green-winged Saltator here, but we did not have time to work on seeing them. Mammal-wise, the large number of swimming cavies at Costanera Sur provided loads of good entertainment.
Please see the downloadable PDF above for the full species lists. This is a sample trip report. Please email us ([email protected]) for more trip reports from this destination.
‘My trip to Argentina was amazing! We always see huge numbers of species on Birding Ecotours trips, and this one was no exception. Add to that the scenery in the Andes, among the most spectacular anywhere; meanwhile, accommodations, arrangements, and guiding were fully up to Birding Ecotours’ usual standards. Eduardo is a great guide, always watching out for our welfare as well as finding the birds, and Diego was one of the more knowledgeable – and friendly – local guides we have had in years. As my trip focused on the northwest, I look forward to visiting the rest of this wonderful country soon.’