Northwest Argentina: Yungas, Chaco and High Andes Birding Tour
Northwest Argentina: Yungas, Chaco and High Andes Birding Tour
September 2023/October 2024
Argentina is the second-largest country in South America and this birding trip offers the opportunity to travel across the northwestern section of this vast and picturesque land. We will go from lowland wetlands of Buenos Aires, through the dry Chaco shrublands and into the lush Yungas cloudforest, before we climb in elevation through the dry Andean valleys and puna mountains to the high Andes in the Altiplano where we seemingly reach the roof of Argentina at 13,000 feet (3,900 meters).
Rufous-throated Dipper is one of the most-wanted targets of the trip.
Our northwest Argentina trip can be considered one of the best birding trips in southern South America as it provides a unique set of birds found only in this part of the world which can be enjoyed by the most serious birder to those only setting foot on the continent for the first time. During this spectacular 17-day birding trip you may feast your eyes on some of the region’s most-wanted species such as Rufous-throated Dipper, Horned Coot, Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, Sandy Gallito, Red-faced Guan, Tucuman Mountain Finch, Moreno’s Ground Dove, Red-tailed Comet, Wedge-tailed Hillstar, the attractive Burrowing Parrot, White-throated Antpitta, Tucumán Amazon, Lyre-tailed Nightjar, Giant Antshrike, Black-legged Seriema and Black-bodied Woodpecker. Other more widespread yet classic neotropical species will include Andean Condor, Andean Goose, Torrent Duck and Southern Screamer, highly prized for those visiting South America for the first time.
Spectacular rock formations greet you along the way into the Andes. You will find high-altitude alkaline lakes filled with three different South American flamingo species including Chilean Flamingo, Andean Flamingo and James’s Flamingo, one of the world’s rarest members of the family. The trip will provide a unique set of waders too, such as Andean Avocet, Puna Plover, Collared Plover, Tawny-throated Dotterel, Andean Lapwing and the most-wanted Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, a highly attractive wader and considered among the 100 top birds in the world for many birdwatchers.
The great Chaco will provide you with both Black-legged and Red-legged Seriemas along with a host of other amazing Chaco birds that, with some luck, will include Lark-like Brushrunner, Black-bodied Woodpecker, Quebracho Crested Tinamou, Chaco Owl and Spot-winged Falconet.
The splendors of the Calilegua National Park include stunning birds such as Yungas Manakin, Golden-collared Macaw, Giant Antshrike, White-throated Antpitta, Tucuman Amazon and with luck Ornate Hawk-Eagle and Solitary Eagle.
Lowland marshes around Buenos Aires are full of water birds including the likes of Maguari Stork, Limpkin, Black-necked Swan, Plumbeous Rail, Whistling Heron and Southern Screamer which will all help boost our already impressive bird list and crown a fantastic trip.
All in all, this is a spectacular tour through Argentina’s famous wine-growing area taking in some of South America’s classic bird species as we traverse varied and breathtaking landscapes.
Andean Goose can be seen in high-altitude wetlands.
This tour can be combined with our Birding Tour Argentina: Northeast – Iberá Marshlands and Iguazú National Park, followed by our Birding Tour Argentina: Southern Patagonia – Los Glaciares National Park, Austral Rail and Hooded Grebe tour.
Itinerary (17 days/16 nights)
Day 1. Arrival in Buenos Aires and Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve
We will meet you on arrival at the Ezeiza International airport in Buenos Aires. You will be transferred to the hotel and if time permits and the group is keen, we can spend our first afternoon birding the Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve. This is a wonderful spot located within the city where we might find Coscoroba Swan, the fabulous-looking Rosy-billed Pochard, Masked Duck, Silver Teal and many other good wildfowl species. Picazuro Pigeon, Gilded Sapphire, Checkered Woodpecker, Green-barred Woodpecker, Wren-like Rushbird, the brightly colored Red-crested Cardinal, Rufous Hornero and Guira Cuckoo are common here and are certainly full of charisma. Monk Parakeet abounds and we usually also find its stunning-looking cousin, Nanday Parakeet. Rufescent Tiger Heron, Chimango Caracara, Grey-breasted Martin, Masked Gnatcatcher and if we are lucky Long-winged Harrier.
Overnight: Hotel Pestana, Buenos Aires
Day 2. Flight to Tucumán and transfer to Tafí del Valle
We shall fly to Tucumán and drive from here to Tafí del Valle, where we spend two nights. During our drive we ascend into beautiful cloudforest (Yungas) and start looking for Rufous-throated Dipper (one of the most important birds of the trip). Other good birds to be found in the area include the spectacular Red-tailed Comet, Yellow-striped Brushfinch, Rusty-browed Warbling Finch, White-browed Tapaculo, Torrent Duck, Grey-hooded Parakeet, Aplomado Falcon, Variable Hawk, Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, Brown-capped Tit-Spinetail and Ornate Tinamou.
Overnight: Hostería Lunahuana, Tafí del Valle
Andean Condor is an iconic bird of the high Andes (photo Alejandro Tello).
Day 3. Birding the Tafí del Valle area
This always proves to be an exciting, birding-packed day, as we bird at various altitudes. We start the day by ascending the El Infiernillo Pass until we are high above the tree line, often seeing Burrowing Owl and the 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 fairly 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 too. 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 as it’s a highly range-restricted species! While here we will also look for Rock and Buff-breasted Earthcreepers, Maquis Canastero, Monte Yellow Finch, Rufous-bellied Mountain Tanager and Brown-backed Mockingbird.
After what will hopefully have been an amazing morning, we will enjoy lunch and then head to a small lake, where we hope to see 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: Hostería Lunahuana, Tafí del Valle
Day 4. 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. The poorly-known Sandy Gallito, White-throated Cacholote (endemic) and Patagonian Mockingbird are the major targets. We will of course 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, Black-winged and Moreno’s Ground Doves, Slender-billed and Rufous-banded Miner, Streak-fronted Thornbird, Puna Canastero, White-browed Chat-Tyrant and the noisy Greater Wagtail-Tyrant.
Overnight: Viñas de Cafayate Wine Resort
Day 5. Cafayate to Coronel Moldes
We continue our exciting journey that traverses the spectacular scenery of Argentina’s wine country looking for Long-tailed Meadowlark, Burrowing Parrot, Tufted Tit-Spinetail, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, Rusty-vented Canastero, the endemic Steinbach’s Canastero, Many-colored Chaco Finch, Band-tailed Sierra Finch, Green-barred and White-fronted Woodpeckers, Golden-billed Saltator, Chaco Earthcreeper, White-tipped Plantcutter, Ultramarine Grosbeak, Pampa Finch, Stripe-crowned Spinetail, 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 Crested Gallito, Spot-winged Falconet, Red-legged Seriema, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle and the poorly known Sandy Gallito.
Overnight: Hostería Cabra Corral, Coronel Moldes
Day 6. Bishop’s Slope via Los Cardones National Park
The scenery today arguably gets even better (if that is possible) as we drive through Los Cardones National Park and other remarkable areas. We might see our first of some unusual and spectacular hummingbirds such as Red-tailed Comet and White-sided Hillstar while Rufous-bellied Mountain Tanager is also one of our key targets. We should add further parrots to our list which might include Scaly-headed Parrot and Grey-hooded Parakeet. A high-altitude bird that we really hope will cooperate is Zimmer’s Tapaculo. Rock Earthcreeper and Rufous-banded Miner are usually easy enough to find.
Then we will head to Salta looking for Cream-backed Woodpecker, Smoke-colored Pewee, Rough-legged Tyrannulet, White-bellied Hummingbird, the beautiful Plush-crested Jay, Golden-winged Cacique and Grey-cowled Wood Rail.
Overnight: Hotel Boutique Villa Vicuña, Salta
The handsome Cream-backed Woodpecker is possible around Salta.
Day 7. Salta to the Chaco habitats of Joaquín V. González
Today we shall explore El Chaco where a diverse array of new birds awaits us. This dry desert, dominated by scrub and large cacti, is found only in northern Argentina, Paraguay and southern Bolivia. There is a long list of immensely-wanted species, such as Black-legged Seriema, Tataupa Tinamou, Brushland Tinamou and the spectacular-looking Quebracho Crested Tinamou, Chaco Chachalaca, Many-colored Chaco Finch, the sought-after 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 and it usually needs quite a bit of work. Much easier are Lark-like Brushrunner, Crested Hornero, the sometimes-skulking Crested Gallito, Chaco Earthcreeper should hopefully be found too while new parrot species add splashes of color. As always, there are far more birds than we can mention here and these two days represent the most productive days of the trip in terms of adding many high-quality species to our growing bird list. We should mention that we’ll be sure to try for Chaco Owl at night.
Overnight: Hotel Rass Ballbeck, Taco Pozo, Chaco
The most-wanted Black-legged Seriema is one of the main targets in the Chaco.
Day 8. Chaco habitats at Joaquin V. González to Calilegua National Park
This is another day looking for specials of the thorny habitats of the Chaco woodlands. Among the many species we might encounter are Greater Rhea, Tataupa Tinamou, Bicolored Hawk, Blue-crowned Parakeet, Striped Cuckoo, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Blue-tufted Starthroat, Chaco Puffbird, Chaco Earthcreeper, White-barred Piculet, White Woodpecker, Campo Flicker, Turquoise-fronted Amazon, Great Antshrike, Variable Antshrike and Stripe-backed Antbird. From here, we drive to Calilegua National Park, looking for birds we may have previously missed.
Calilegua National Park is a stunning destination for birding. It protects important Yungas cloudforest habitat and we will get to explore this impressive park and its avifauna over the next couple of days.
Overnight: Posada del Sol, Calilegua
Day 9. Birding Calilegua National Park
We spend an 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, Yungas Manakin, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Great Rufous Woodcreeper, Black-banded Woodcreeper, Giant Antshrike, Sclater’s Tyrannulet, White-throated Antpitta, Mountain Wren, Sclater’s Nightingale-Thrush, Glossy-black Thrush, Rusty-browed Warbling Finch, Grey-browed Brushfinch, Crested Oropendola and Yungas Pygmy Owl.
Overnight: Posada del Sol, Calilegua
Dusky-legged Guan can be seen in the forests of Calilegua National Park.
Day 10. Calilegua to Potrero de Yala Provincial Park
Today will be our second day birding in this lush region of Calilegua National Park. We shall look for species such as Blue-crowned Trogon, Toco Toucan, Dot-fronted Woodpecker, Streaked Xenops, Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet, Saffron-billed Sparrow, Two-banded Warbler, Orange-headed Tanager, Ochre-cheeked Spinetail, Brown-capped Whitestart, Andean Slaty Thrush, White-tailed Kite, Swallow-tailed Kite and the shy White-browed Tapaculo.
Over the last few years, a pair of Harpy Eagles has sometimes been seen from the upper roads of the park, although we would consider ourselves most fortunate with a sighting of this massive eagle! In the afternoon we will drive from Calilegua to Potrero de Yala Provincial Park, another wonderful transitional Yungas habitat.
Overnight: La Posta del Lozano, Yala
Day 11. Potrero de Yala Provincial Park
Today we will have a predawn start to look for some night birds including the spectacular male Lyre-tailed Nightjar and Yungas Screech Owl which 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. The localized Tucuman Amazon is another target of this trip. We shall look for the Streak-throated Bush Tyrant, Chilean Elaenia, Rufous-capped Antshrike, Spot-breasted Thornbird, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, Mountain Wren, Sooty-fronted Spinetail, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Yellow-browed Tyrant, Crested Becard and Golden-rumped Euphonia.
Overnight: La Posta del Lozano, Yala
Day 12. 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 at 12,000 feet (3,650 meters). 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 the most-wanted Horned Coot. From here we will continue our drive towards Tilcara.
Overnight: Hotel Las Marias, Tilcara
Day 13. Puna Lakes and transfer to Yavi
From Tilcara we continue driving northward (and higher), passing a number of lakes, where we have the chance to admire the stunning Argentinean Altiplano, while hopefully finding Andean Gull, Andean Coot, Giant Coot, Andean Goose, Puna Teal, Crested Duck, Puna Ibis, Andean Avocet, Puna Plover, Chilean, Andean and James’s Flamingos, Cordilleran Canastero and Grey-breasted Seedsnipe.
Overnight: Posada Tika, Yavi
The Diademed Sandpiper-Plover is another trip target in the high Andes of Argentina.
Day 14. Yavi
Yavi is a small hamlet that is home to the range-restricted Citron-headed Yellow Finch. We will also bird the highland valleys above, looking for Rufous-backed Inca Finch. Here we will also have a chance for Mourning Sierra Finch, Puna and Bright-rumped Yellow Finches, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Cream-winged Cinclodes and Spot-winged Pigeon. The star bird we’ll be looking for, however, is Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, a rare high-elevation wader restricted to mossy tundra, grasslands and bogs in northern Argentina, Chile, Bolivia and Peru.
Overnight: Posada Tika, Yavi
Day 15. Birding the high Puna
From Yavi we ascend to over 12,000 feet (3,650 meters) above sea level, searching for further specials such as Lesser Rhea, Ornate Tinamou, Puna Tinamou, Puna Yellow Finch, Puna, Spot-billed and Rufous-naped Ground Tyrants, Grey-bellied Shrike-Tyrant, Straight-billed Earthcreeper, Golden-spotted Ground Dove, Common Miner, Puna Miner and Andean Swallow. The high Andes of this section of Argentina are good to see other wildlife like wild Guanaco, Vicuna, Montane Vizcacha and with luck the distinctive Highland Tuco-Tuco, an endemic burrowing rodent of this part of the continent that resembles North American Prairie Dogs.
Overnight: Posada Tika, Yavi
Montane Vizcacha is one of the several interesting mammals to see on this tour (photo Alejandro Tello).
Day 16. 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 previously missed.
Overnight: Hotel Pestana, Buenos Aires
Day 17. Otamendi Reserve and transfer to Ezeiza International airport
On our last day, we will invest some time in the morning to visit the Otamendi Reserve near Buenos Aires. The wetlands here hold a large amount of water species including Southern Screamer, Brazilian Teal, Limpkin, Snowy and Great Egrets, Whistling Heron, Giant Wood Rail, Plumbeous Rail, Black-necked Swan, Anhinga, Wood Stork, Maguari Stork, Cocoi Heron, Rufescent Tiger Heron, White-winged Coot, White-faced Ibis, Cinnamon Teal, Wattled Jacana and Fulvous Whistling Duck. Other species include Snail Kite, Grassland Yellow Finch, Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, Yellow-chinned Spinetail and the most wanted Curve-billed and Straight-billed Reedhaunters, both secretive reed dwellers and among the most-prized furnarids for birders.
After a busy morning at Otamendi we shall return to the hotel and be transferred to the Ezeiza International airport to connect our international flights.
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, September 2017
11 – 23 SEPTEMBER 2017
By Chris Lotz
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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.
NORTHWEST ARGENTINA: YUNGAS, CHACO AND HIGH ANDES BIRDING TOUR: TOUR-SPECIFIC INFORMATION
This birding trip is an amazing adventure that will allow you to explore the fantastic variety of habitats of northwestern Argentina. From the wetlands of Buenos Aires, where you should get acquainted with the likes of Spectacled Tyrant, Curve-billed and Straight-billed Reedhaunters, through to the dry desert of the vast Chaco where we will look for specials such as Black-bodied Woodpecker and Black-legged Seriema. We will then see a drastic change in scenery as we visit the lush Yungas or humid montane forest in the Calilegua National Park and the Tucumán forest, looking for incredible birds such as Rufous-throated Dipper, Red-faced Guan, Black-and-chestnut Eagle, White-throated Antpitta, and Golden-collared Macaw. We will end this adventure in the high Andes of the Argentinean altiplano near the Bolivian border, where we will enjoy stunning high-altitude scenery and hopefully find desirable species such as Lesser Rhea, Horned Coot, Puna Tinamou, Diademed Sandpiper-Plover and many more. This tour, together with our central Peru tour, provides perhaps the finest quality Andean birding of any of our tours. The following information will help you prepare for your trip.
Please e-mail us ([email protected]) before you book any flights, as the information shown here is just an initial guide. Our tour will start in Buenos Aires, the capital city of Argentina. You can reach Buenos Aires’ Ministro Pistarini International Airport, better known as Ezeiza Airport (EZE), by flights from most major hubs around the world. You might wish to consult your travel agent to book your most convenient flight (and contact us if you would like any guidance). Our representatives will be waiting for you at Buenos Aires airport with a Birding Ecotours sign board and will then transfer you to your hotel. Please remember to keep your luggage tags, as they are required to exit the terminal building at the Buenos Aires airport. Please be aware that most international flights arrive in Buenos Aires around midday, so we don’t have any birding activities planned for the first day. In case you arrive on an early flight, you will be transferred to the hotel but may have to wait until check-in is available. For an early check-in you might be charged extra by the hotel; this cost is not included in the Birding Ecotours tour price.
When filling out the customs declaration form, if an address in Argentina is required, you can use the hotel address below:
Hotel Pestana, Carlos Pellegrini, 877 C1009ABQ, Buenos Aires, Tel: +351 218 442 001.
Our tour will end in Buenos Aires after a wonderful 17 days in Argentina. After the final morning’s birding, your tour leader and/or tour representatives will transfer you to the Ezeiza Airport from where you can take your international flights home.
DOMESTIC FLIGHT INFORMATION
There are two domestic flights on this trip, covering the Buenos Aires-Tucumán and Jujuy-Buenos Aires legs. These flights are not included in the Birding Ecotours tour price. Please take note that luggage allowance is 33 Ib (15 kg) as checked luggage and 18 Ib (8 kg) as hand luggage. After booking your tour, we will be in touch to advise which flights to book.
PHYSICAL REQUIREMENTS AND PACE
We grade this trip as easy to moderate with most of the birding consisting of walking along roads and birding near to the vehicle. We will walk no more than 2.5 miles (4 km) per day and the vehicle will remain near to us, as much as possible.
Please note that (as is usual on our birding trips) we need to be awake very early in the mornings, and pre-dawn starts are in order almost every day. We normally spend the whole morning birding in the field, return to the lodge for lunch (followed by some rest), before continuing our birding in the afternoon. In some cases, particularly in remote areas, we will take picnic lunches along with us. When we have birding stops while traveling from location to location, people who feel tired do not have to follow the group and can remain in the vehicle.
Argentina is a big country, the second largest in South America, and as such this tour includes some long drives with much climbing in and out of the vehicle when we find interesting birds or suitable habitat en route. A positive of these long drives is that they will allow us to enjoy the amazing scenery and maximize our chances for unexpected birds along the route.
We think this trip might be difficult for people who battle with high elevations or who have back, walking, or balance problems. If you feel motion sickness, we ask you to bring your own medication. Furthermore, if you are not used to birding trips with early starts every morning, you may find this tour tiring.
ATM machines are available in Buenos Aires, Cafayate, Callilegua, and Tilcara. We recommend drawing money from ATMs or exchanging money at the bureau de change in the Buenos Aires airport upon arrival. Local currency may be difficult to obtain while on tour and may eat into our birding time and so we highly recommend sorting this out while at the airport.
Our tour starts in the lowlands and then gradually gains in altitude; this steady increase in altitude will give your body time to adapt to high altitude conditions. Please note that we will drive across some mountain passes above 13,450 feet (4,100 meters), with our highest overnight point being in Yavi, at 11,500 feet (3,500 meters). We will always have a vehicle near us while we bird at these altitudes which will help reduce fatigue.
Spending a few hours at high elevation is not normally a problem, however some minor symptoms might appear, such as a slight headache and mild dizziness. A regular Paracetamol tablet, taken two hours before we reach high elevations, often prevents any headache trouble. We suggest you avoid eating a large dinner on the previous night (before visiting high altitudes) which will aid with easier digestion.
We ask you to be ready for all kinds of weather during this trip. The range of habitats and altitude that we will pass through will mean we will also encounter a diverse array of weather conditions. In general, the weather will be subtropical (we will in fact cross the Tropic of Capricorn on the tour), but in the heights of the Andes it can be very cold, especially at night and in the early mornings. The eastern lowlands are usually warm and can even be hot in the winter. The Puna and high Andes can reach warm temperatures during the day, but at night, the temperatures decrease drastically; sometimes to below freezing. While birding some of the high Andean peaks, there is even the possibility of snowfall. October and November are still part of the “dry season” and therefore we should expect very little rain; any rainfall that we experience will likely be in the Yungas or cloud forest. Conversely, the Chaco is likely to be hot and dry.
Sometimes cold fronts from Antarctica can blow towards southern South America and as a result we might get unexpected cold winds reaching southern Argentina and Buenos Aires city for a couple of days when temperatures may drop to as low as 34 °F (1 °C).
PACKING FOR THE TRIP
Due to the complex weather conditions described above, packing clothing for this trip can be difficult. We recommend you take with you a good amount of light clothing (long-sleeved shirts and long pants to avoid insect bites), a light coat for the nights in the lowlands, while for the highlands, a warmer coat and a good sweater are recommended, a scarf and woolly gloves are also suggested. It is also essential to bring closed shoes (two pairs if possible), a raincoat (“ponchos” are quite useful) and a good hat. Along with that, you should bring sunglasses, sunscreen, and insect repellent, as mosquitoes, biting flies and ticks are a possibility on the trip, especially in the cloud forests and at lower altitudes. Please see here for a list of what we recommend you bring.
Laundry is available almost everywhere but we suggest you try to get laundry done in those locations where we will stay for more than one night, such as in Buenos Aires, Tafí del Valle, Calilegua, Yala and Yavi. Laundry fees are not included in the tour price.
We will provide you with a list of hotels and emergency phone numbers before the start of the tour.
We will have a private van for the whole tour with plenty of room for everybody.
‘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.’