Duration: 13 days
Group Size: 8
Date Start: October 10, 2018
Date End: October 27, 2018
Tour Start: Buenos Aires
Tour End: Buenos Aires
Where else can you go from arid scrub with huge cacti to Yungas cloudforest at 7000 feet, to puna at 10000 feet, and to alto andino (high Andean) habitat at 13000 feet within the space of days? You’ll see cloudforest wonders like the highly range-restricted Rufous-throated Dipper and Red-faced Guan. Four species of attractive Metriopelia ground doves, one of them endemic, can be seen in the arid pre-puna of the Humahuaca Valley. Spectacular rock formations greet you along the way up into the Andes. You’ll find high altitude alkaline lakes filled with three different flamingo species, including one of the world’s rarest, James’s Flamingo. Isolated pockets of finches, hummingbirds, and furnarids of all shapes and sizes abound. Marshes full of rails, herons, jacanas, limpkins, screamers, seriemas, and ibis plus the many splendors of Calilegua National Park fill you with wonder. One of the most charismatic targets on this trip is the stunning Rufous-throated Dipper. Torrent Duck, Andean Condor, and other classic Andean species are rather easy to find here. Both Black-legged and Red-legged Seriemas are usually found without too many problems, along with a host of other amazing Chaco birds that with some luck will include Quebracho Crested Tinamou, Chaco Owl, the sought-after Spot-winged Falconet, and so many others. All in all, this is a spectacular tour through Argentina’s famous wine-growing area for some of South America’s classic birds as we traverse varied, spectacular scenery.
Itinerary (18 days/17 nights)
Days 1 – 2. Arrival in Buenos Aires and birding/sightseeing there
We meet you when you arrive at the airport in Buenos Aires. Birding at Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve is scheduled for the afternoon if everyone has arrived early enough, otherwise for tomorrow. This is a wonderful place for finding Coscoroba Swan, Black-necked Swan (both of them really beautiful), fabulous-looking Rosy-billed Pochard, strange-looking Masked Duck, many other good wildfowl species, Wren-like Rushbird, brightly-colored Red-crested Cardinal, and many other species. Rufous Hornero and Guira Cuckoo are common, tame, and full of charisma. Monk Parakeet abounds, and we usually also find its stunning-looking cousin, Nanday (Black-hooded) Parakeet. We also plan to do some sightseeing in this huge and interesting South American city. The amazing Ceibas can be visited during the full day we have in Buenos Aires. We’ll look for fabulous species like Saffron-cowled Blackbird, Southern Screamer, Straight-billed Reedhaunter, Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper, Giant Wood Rail, and a great many others. We also have a bit of time in Buenos Aires at the end of the trip in case we missed anything on Days 1 and 2 of the trip. A lot of these species near Buenos Aires don’t occur in northwestern Argentina, so it’s important we find them!
Overnight: Hotel Dolmen or similar, Buenos Aires, for two nights
Day 3. Flight to Tucumán and transfer to Tafí del Valle
We may have more time for Buenos Aires birding before going to the domestic airport. We then fly to Tucumán and drive from there to Tafí del Valle, where we spend two nights. During our drive we ascend into beautiful cloudforest (Yungas), and we already start looking for Rufous-throated Dipper (one of the most important birds of the trip), typically also finding Yellow-striped Brushfinch, Rusty-browed Warbling Finch, White-browed Tapaculo, Torrent Duck, and other specials without too many problems.
Overnight: Posada la Guadalupe or similar, Tafí del Valle
Day 4. Birding the Tafí del Valle area
This always proves to be an exciting, birding-packed day, as we bird various altitudes. We start the day by ascending the El Infiernillo pass until we are high above the treeline, often seeing Burrowing Owl and good-looking Black Siskin sitting on fence posts as the van climbs. We stop and do short walks at a couple of high-altitude sites in search of a mouth-watering list of targets. These include two Argentinian endemics, Moreno’s Ground Dove and Tucuman Mountain Finch. Andean Flicker is pretty common and likes to sit atop boulders. This is also usually where we see our first Andean Condor, and with luck we might also encounter Cinereous Harrier. Various high-altitude finches abound. We have a special site for Scribble-tailed Canastero, but this involves a steep walk, so do speak to your guide in advance in case you want to skip this. It’s worth seeing, though: what a bird! Various earthcreepers, two species of cinclodes, Cinereous Ground Tyrant, and various others are also often seen here.
After what will hopefully have been an amazing morning we head after lunch to a small lake, where we hope to see the black-backed-gull-like Andean Goose, Andean Coot, Andean Gull, and others. Usually we then continue back to the cloudforest to clean up on species we may have missed the previous afternoon – Rufous-throated Dipper, of course, being the main target if we haven’t seen it yet.
Overnight: Posada la Guadalupe or similar, Tafí del Valle
Day 5. Birding the Monte Desert
We will leave Tafí del Valle and ascend the El Infiernillo pass, continuing beyond into the dry Calchaquí Valleys and birding the majestic Monte Desert with its large cacti. Sandy Gallito and White-throated Cacholote (endemic) are the major targets, but we’ll also look for a lot of other birds, such as Greenish Yellow Finch, Rufous-sided Warbling Finch, Ringed Warbling Finch, White-browed Brushfinch, Band-tailed Sierra Finch, and noisy, active Greater Wagtail-Tyrant.
Overnight: Hotel Boutique Villa Vicuña, Cafayate
Day 6. Cafayate to Coronel Moldes
We continue our exciting journey that traverses the spectacular scenery of wine country, looking for Burrowing Parrot, two species of tit-spinetail, several different canastero species including the endemic Steinbach’s Canastero, finches, woodpeckers, Golden-billed Saltator, and as always many others.
We spend some of the morning driving through the picturesque Enchanted Valley. After lunch we spend some time birding transitional forest in the canyon formed by the Juramento River. We’ll be looking for sought-after denizens of this arid region, including Sandy Gallito, Crested Gallito, Spot-winged Falconet, Red-legged Seriema, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, and many others.
Overnight: Hostería Cabra Corral, Coronel Moldes
Day 7. Bishop’s Slope (Los Cardones National Park)
The scenery arguably gets even better (if that is possible)! We drive through Los Cardones National Park and other remarkable areas. We might see our first of some unusual, spectacular hummingbirds, Red-tailed Comet and White-sided Hillstar. Rufous-bellied Mountain Tanager is one of our key targets. We should add further parrots to our list, and these might include Scaly-headed Parrot and Grey-hooded Parakeet. A high-altitude bird that we really hope will co-operate is Zimmer’s Tapaculo. Rock Earthcreeper and Rufous-banded Miner are usually easy enough to find.
We then drive to our next hotel, which happens to have some good Yungas birds all around it, including in the garden! We sometimes add a good number of trip birds just by having late afternoon drinks on the balcony, and the next morning we try and find whatever we are missing by walking around the garden and neighborhood. The species that we often see here include the majestic Cream-backed Woodpecker, Smoke-colored Pewee, Rough-legged Tyrannulet, White-bellied Hummingbird, beautiful Plush-crested Jay, Golden-winged Cacique, and Gray-necked Wood Rail.
Overnight: Hotel Selva Montana, Salta
Days 8 – 9. Salta to the Chaco habitats of Taco Pozo
We bird a completely new habitat, where a diverse array of new birds awaits us. There’s a long list of immensely sought-after species such as Black-legged Seriema, Red-legged Seriema, tinamous including the spectacular-looking Quebracho Crested Tinamou, Chaco Chachalaca (in the late afternoons we may see hundreds of these along the road), Ultramarine Grosbeak, Many-colored Chaco Finch, Black-bodied Woodpecker, spectacular woodcreepers such as Red-billed Scythebill, Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper, Great Rufous Woodcreeper, and their smaller relative, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper. Chaco Puffbird will hopefully be added to our list at some point. Spot-winged Falconet is never easy, so it usually needs quite a bit of work. Much easier are Lark-like Brushrunner, Crested Hornero, the sometimes skulky Crested Gallito, Chaco Earthcreeper, and some new parrots that add splashes of color. As always, there are far more birds than we can mention here, but pretty much these two days of the trip are disproportionately productive in terms of adding a great many high-quality species to our growing bird list. We should mention that we’ll be sure to try for Chaco Owl one night.
Overnight: Hotel Oasis, Taco Pozo, for two nights
Day 10. Drive to Calilegua
We have the option of “sleeping in” after doing some owling the previous night, or we can do some additional Chaco birding this morning if we missed any important birds and need to “clean up”. We then drive to the small town of Calilegua, the gateway to the national park of the same name.
Overnight: Benitez Hostería, Calilegua
Days 11 – 12. Birding Calilegua National Park
We spend one entire day in Calilegua National Park itself, and on the second day we bird beyond the park as far as the small town of San Francisco. We have a long list of tantalizing birds to find. The steep, forested slopes are home to birds like Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle, Black-and-chestnut Eagle, Solitary Eagle, Bat Falcon, Dusky-legged Guan, Golden-collared Macaw, Speckled Hummingbird, Blue-capped Puffleg, Slender-tailed Woodstar, Blue-crowned Trogon, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Great Rufous Woodcreeper, Black-banded Woodcreeper, Giant Antshrike, Sclater’s Tyrannulet, White-throated Antpitta, Mountain Wren, Spotted Nightingale-Thrush, Glossy-black Thrush, Rusty-browed Warbling Finch, Grey-browed Brushfinch, Crested Oropendola, and Yungas Pygmy Owl.
Overnight: Benitez Hostería, Calilegua, for two more nights
Day 13. Birding Calilegua to Potrero de Yala Provincial Park
Lyre-tailed Nightjar (what a spectacular bird!) and Yungas Screech Owl are usually not too difficult to find on the outskirts of town. Red-faced Guan is one of our major targets and can be tricky, but of course we usually find it with persistence. Streak-throated Bush Tyrant, Chilean Elaenia, Spot-breasted Thornbird, Andean Lapwing, and White-winged Coot are other targets for the day.
Overnight: La Casona del Camino Real, Yala
Day 14. Birding the Humahuaca Ravine
Today we drive higher along the Humahuaca Valley, birding the puna salt lakes and highland lake habitats as we approach the town of La Quiaca on the Bolivian border (12000ft). We’ll bird the dry valley along the way, looking for Lesser Rhea, Andean Condor, Mountain Caracara, Mountain Parakeet, Andean Swallow, Rufous-banded and Puna Miners, Puna Yellow Finch, Andean Negrito, Brown-backed Mockingbird, Black-hooded Sierra Finch, and Black Siskin.
From La Quiaca we drive south, passing the Laguna de los Pozuelos National Park, a huge Altiplano lake, where we have a chance to see Andean Coot, Puna Teal, Puna Ibis, Andean Avocet, Puna Plover, three species of Flamingos (Chilean, Andean, and James’s), Andean Goose, Cordilleran Canastero, and Burrowing Owl. Then we continue to Yala, located near alder forest habitats, where we can scour the rivers for Rufous-throated Dipper and check in the evening for Lyre-tailed Nightjar.
Overnight: Hotel Rincon de Fuego, Tilcara
Day 15. Puna Lakes
From Tilcara we continue driving northward (and higher), passing some lakes, where we have a chance to see Andean Coot, Puna Teal, Puna Ibis, Andean Avocet, Puna Plover, three species of Flamingos (Chilean, Andean, and James’s), Andean Goose, Cordilleran Canastero, and Burrowing Owl.
Day 16. Yavi
Yavi is a small hamlet that is home to the range-restricted Citron-headed Yellow Finch. We’ll also bird the highland valleys above, looking for Rufous-backed Sierra Finch. Here we’ll also have a chance for Mourning Sierra Finch, Puna and Bright-rumped Yellow Finches, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Cream-winged Cinclodes, Spot-winged Pigeon, and others. The star bird we’ll be looking for, however, is Diademed Sandpiper-Plover.
Day 17. Birding the high Puna
From Yavi we ascend to over 12,000 feet (4,000 meters) above sea level, searching for further specials such as Lesser Rhea, Puna Tinamou, Puna Yellow-Finch, and others.
Overnight: La Casona del Camino Real, Yala
Day 18. Flight from Jujuy to Buenos Aires
We bird the area further, then eventually drive to Jujuy (about 1.5 hours away) for our afternoon flight back to Buenos Aires. Here, back in the big city, we hope to have some time to clean up on birds we may have missed there.
Overnight: Hotel Dolmen or similar, Buenos Aires
Day 19: Flights depart Buenos Aires
We may have time to visit Municipal Ribera Norte Natural Park or other birding sites near Buenos Aires before flying home.
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.