27th February - 6th March 2007
27th February 2007 – Buenos Aires
We arrived in Buenos Aires in a huge lightening storm at the end of a twelve hour flight from Madrid. With the plane being buffeted in the turbulence and forks of lightening falling all around us, the Iberia pilot put the aircraft down so smoothly that we hardly noticed that we had landed and a spontaneous cheer and round of applause rose from many of the passengers.
There were only six of us on this trip to the Andes – two couples.
Meeting up once we had cleared customs we waited for the driver to collect us and take us across town to the domestic airport so that we could catch our internal flight to Juyjuy in the north of the country. The driver didn’t arrive and after twenty anxious minutes – with our internal flight leaving in two hours and a one hour journey across town awaiting us, we rang the ground agent’s office who assured us that a driver was on his way. Still no driver arrived and a couple of calls and a couple of assurances later we decided that the best thing would be to take a taxi across town ourselves. We had cut things pretty fine but as long as we did not have any more holds up we should make our connection. En route to the domestic airport we picked up our first two species, Picazuro Wood Pigeon and Southern Lapwing.
On arrival at the domestic airport we found that our hurry had been in vain as due to the torrential rain of earlier in the day all flights had been delayed and ours would not be leaving for another four hours. So we settled down with books and bins and did a bit of birding from the airport lounge, adding Chalk-browed Mockingbird and Chimango Caracara as well as the two introduced European species of House Sparrow and Starling.
After a wait of several hours we boarded our plane only to be told that we would not be going to Juyjuy as we would arrive after dark and Juyjuy does not have any runway lights! Our flight had been diverted to Salta. Oh well, nothing to be done now except hope that the local guide, Mario Mosquiera, was on the case. As it turned out, he was, and he greeted our arrival with food and hot and cold drinks as the six of us spread out in the spacious twenty-seater bus. Suddenly things seemed to be taking a more relaxed turn.
28th February 2007 – Yala Valley, Volcan and Cerro Morado to Humahuaca.
We spent the night in a small hotel in the town of Salta before taking an early breakfast and heading off to the Yala Valley and the start of our birding.
The Yala Valley is a heavily wooded river valley with some very nice houses in its lower parts and a nature reserve at mid-altitude.
We parked up by the riverside and walked up the valley adding 40 species to our list, including Sayaca Tanager, Crested Becard, Chiguanco and Rufous-bellied Thrushes, Dusky-legged Guan, Torrent Duck, Mitred Parakeet and the lovely Cinnamon Flycatcher.
This part of the river was meant to hold several Torrent Ducks but when, after an hour of more of searching the mid-stream rocks, we thought our luck was out Denis managed to find a pair of them. The Dusky-legged Guan appeared on the far side of the river during out search for the ducks. The only disappointment here was missing out on Rufous-throated Dipper that is meant to frequent this river valley.
After spending most of the morning in the Yala Valley we headed of to Volcan for lunch, stopping en route at bridge over the Arroyo Yutamayo (a shallow, fast flowing river with a wide rocky riverbed) where Cocoi Heron and Buff-necked Ibis were among the five species we added. We stopped also at Varsena where we saw some lovely Eared Doves as well as Guira Cuckoo and Shiny Cowbird.
Volcan is an area of hilly scrub and farmland with a few trees and some areas of tall grass. There were thousands of quite large grasshoppers (about 1.5 inches long) in the dry grassy ground and they would leap away in swarms as one approached them. In this area we saw our first Patagonian Mockingbird on a farm gate and watched Cinereous Harrier hunt over the grassland and a couple of huge Andean Condors soar overhead.
Near Volcan we visited an area of marshland, adding Andean Swallow, Long-tailed Meadowlark and Blue-and-yellow Tanager. Our next stop was at another nearby marshy area, Cerro Morado (Purple Hill), where was saw three species of coot at close range - Andean, Red-fronted and Red-gartered. We were also fortunate to get a couple of good views of Plumbeous Rail as it emerged a couple of times from the dense reeds fringing the water. We also saw Aplomado Falcon and the beautiful Black Siskin as a small flock of these birds fed on plant seeds on a rockface. Leaving here on our way to our overnight stop at Humahuaca, we made one more stop on the RN9 to see the scarce Moreno’s Ground Dove that we found perched on a rockface, just a little too far away to a good photograph.
Arriving at our lovely hotel on the outskirts of Humahuaca. Denis and I went for a wander around the farmland and open scrub outside the hotel grounds and I added seven species to my list, including White-tipped Plantcutter, Picui Ground Dove and Hooded Siskin. My trip ist stood at 80 as I went to bed that night
1st March 2007 – Abra Pampa and Laguna de los Pozuelos.
Another early morning start and we were in the bus heading out across the Altiplano towards Abra Pampa as the sun slowly illuminated the vast landscape, giving us glimpses in thr pre-dawn light of herds of Llamas with bits of brightly coloured wool tied into their ears and in the coats of their backs.
We arrived shortly after sun up at our destination near Abra Pampa – a lake and area of wetland lying in the huge flat landscape of the High Plain. The whole scene, lit in the olive green, deep gold and purple of the dawn was beautiful and we said this to Mario whose reply was ‘This is a hard land’.
At this lake and on another short stop en route to Laguna de los Pozuelos I added twenty-six species to my trip list, twenty-four of which were lifers. There are too many to list here, but among them were Mountain Caracara, Yellow-billed Pintail, Chilean Flamingo, Andean Avocet, Andean Goose, Andean Negrito, White-tufted Grebe and a good many Wilson’s Phalaropes.
I was reluctant to leave this spot and could easily have settle here for the day but Mario had a schedule to keep to and so we headed off for the famous reserve of Laguan de los Pozuelos, finding Ornate Tinamou, Golden-spotted Ground Dove, Bar-winged Cinclodes and White-tailed Shrike-tyrant on the way.
The Laguna de los Pozuelos is situated in a large flat sandy plain with no trees and very little ground cover of any kind. Arriving at the reserve a pair of Burrowing Owls seen at close quarters from the bus kept us entertained as they emerged from their hole and stood watching us, occasionally bobbing up and down, before we moved on and parked up for another picnic lunch and then set off on the long walk, in the intensity of the high sun towards the lake that we could see shimmering in the heat haze. Even from this distance we could make out large numbers of flamingo and smaller birds but they were not possible to identify as the combination of heat haze and distance made it difficult to get a clear view of anything Frustratingly, as we approached the lake, so the birds moved off to another part. Eventually we decided that we were close enough and that no real advantage was to be had from getting closer to the water as this would only serve to drive the birds to a distant shore.
We were soon able to pick out Chilean and Andean Flamingos, but had trouble finding the rarer Puna Flamingo, but did find a group of about six. Their bills, smaller and predominantly yellow were quite distinctive even through these far from ideal viewing conditions.
Among the wading birds we were able to make out Andean Lapwing, Puna Plover, Baird’s Sandpiper and American Golden Plover.
Here I also saw my only gull of the trip, Andean Gull, though a few days later back in Buenos Aires, Denis was to see Kelp Gull.
Giant Coot, Correndera Pipit and Andean Flicker added to the list of species seen.
At the end of the day my trip list was 125.
2nd March 2007 – Yavi and Abra de Lizoite
We spent this morning walking through the village of Yavi in search of finches and seedeaters. During this pleasant stroll we added eight species including Common Diuca-finch, Citron-headed Yellow-finch, Band-tailed Seedeater and Great Pampa Finch as well as Black-billed Shrike-tyrant and Bare-faced Ground Dove.
Leaving the warmth of this little valley we got into the bus for a long climb up some narrow Andean roads in search of some high altitude specialities. Perhaps the most extraordinary of these is the Andean Hillstar, a hummingbird that lives at high altitude, above the tree line feeding on the nectar of the few flowers that make their homes in the high Andes.
At night the temperature plummets and these birds go into a state of torpor that can only be relieved by the warmth of the sun’s rays the following morning. We found two of these fabulous birds at 14,500ft. They were feeding on a red flower that grew sparsely in the area. The temperature was cold and we were twice battered by winds and hail as we watched these birds dart around the mountainside.
Driving through this mountainous region we also saw Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, Puna, Dark-faced and Cinerous Ground Tyrants and were fortunate to come across a small group of three Gray-breasted Seedsnipes and a group of about a dozen Andean Condors, including some magnificent adult birds circling over the cordillera. We were high up enough at the time to be able to look down on some of the condors as they flew by.
On the way back to our hotel in Humahuaca we stopped on RN9, north of the town, where we saw Mountain Parakeet and the bird that Mario had stopped for - Giant Hummingbird.
At the end of the day my trip list was 144.
3rd March 2007 – Yala Valley, Presa las Maderas and the Reserva del Huaico
Quite a lot of this trip was spent travelling and we stayed in a different hotel every night to enable us to cover the area in such a short time. As a result of this, the bus became the place where we could relax and we were fortunate in being able to have three seats each to spread out in, if necessary.
Today would be no exception as we made our way from Humahuaca to the Reserva del Huaico at Salta, stopping at several places en route.
Mario suggested that we return this morning to the Yala Valley in search of the dipper that we had missed earlier in the trip, and we were all up for this.
On the way to Yala Valley we saw several beautiful White Monjitas. And back at the valley we were successful in our search for Rufous-fronted Dipper. Two of them showed very well on rocks in the water.
Moving on towards Salta, Mario stopped the bus in some farmland and said for us to search among the tall crops for Greater Rhea. A group of eight of these birds appeared obligingly in front of us. Unfortunately, though, we were unable to find the rarer Lesser Rhea on this visit.
Our next stop was at the large lake of Presa las Maderas where we added fourteen species to the trip list, eleven of which were lifers! These birds included Snowy Egret, White-faced Ibis, Great Antshrike, Scaly-headed Parrot and Narrow-billed Woodcreeper.
Continuing on towards Salta we added, from the bus, Savanna Hawk and on a partially bush covered slope with a few small trees dotted about we saw two Red-legged Seriemas that remained wary and frustratingly out of good camera shot. In a nearby tree we also had terrific views of a gorgeous Cream-backed Woodpecker.
We arrived in the late afternoon at the Reserva del Huaico where we added Yungas Dove, Crested Oropendola and Slender-tailed Woodstar during a brief walk around the grounds.
This brought the trip total to 179.
4th March 2007 – Salta to Los Cordones National Park and La Paya Ranch
This was another day spent in the bus with several stops between Salta and our destination for the night, La Paya Ranch near Los Cordones National Park.
Our first stop was at a heavily wooded valley a few miles outside of Salta where we parked up on the roadside and Mario tried to tape lure a Giant Antshrike. This was the second time that we had tried to find the bird at this spot and again we were unsuccessful as the tape didn’t even elicit a call in response. We did, however, add five new species to the list including Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet, Pale-legged Warbler and Whistling Heron.
Before we reached Los Cordones NP we drove through hilly areas with generally sparse scrub vegetation, adding fourteen species to the list among which were; at Chorro Blanco - Sclater’s Tyrannulet and Ocellated Piculet; at Peña Baya - Andean Swift; at San Martin - Masked Yellowthroat, Bicolored Hawk, White-browed Chat-tyrant; at Quebrada el Sunchal – Rock Earthcreeper a bird like an enormous brown Treecreeper, feeding on top of a rocky outcrop, and also Brown-capped Tit-spinetail and Maquis Canastero.
We then entered the beautiful landscape of the Los Cordones National Park. Set against a backdrop of the beautiful blue and black mountains of the Andes the park itself is a vast area of arid semi-desert scrub with huge cactus plants growing a few yards apart across the whole region. A couple of pictures in the Photo Gallery may give a flavour of this place. It was here that Mario tape lured the scarce Sandy Gallito (sounds like an exotic actress!). Mario taped lured birds on a number of occasions and this was the first time that I had been anywhere that it was used. The practice made me feel slightly uncomfortable as I think that it may cause stress to the birds. Certainly the Sandy Gallito that he called up responded vigorously and enthusiastically to our tape. These birds are quite scare and have territories covering a large area and I wasn’t happy to see this bird searching for the other one that it thought was there. The only thing that made it feel slightly better is that a second bird responded and was we left the two of them were calling to each other.
In the national park we also saw Elegant crested Tinamou, White-throated Cachalote and overhead we had distant views of our first Burrowing Parakeets looking like small macaws in flight.
Stopping near Cachi on Route 42 (R42) on our way to our overnight stop at La Paya ranch we saw several Cactus (White-fronted) Woodpeckers as well as Greater Wagtail-tyrant and Cliff Flycatcher and, as it sparkled through the air as it twice passed by us momentarily, Glittering-bellied Emerald.
La Paya is a working ranch, built of stone and time in the 1860s, set on a hillside with views across miles of the regions dry scrubland. I was not sure what to expect before arriving here, but the tranquil beauty of the beautiful buildings and gardens and the remoteness of its setting made me regret immediately that we should only spend one night here. My bedroom (see Photo Gallery) was a beautiful room and for the first time on the trip, and knowing that I should have to re-pack everything again that evening in preparation for our morning departure, I unpacked my case. I sat with Dick and Ann, two delightful New Englanders, on the terrace where we looked out across some trees and bushes at the birds constantly moving to and fro, and chatted as we drank some welcome cold beers. We added Black-capped Warbling-finch to the list and in the evening heard the call of a Tropical Screech Owl.
5th March 2007 – La Paya, Los Cordones NP, Valle Encantado and Reserva del Huaico
A morning walk around the grounds of La Paya added three Ringed Warbling-finches and, from the bus, as we were leaving, we saw a delightful little Andean Red Fox bringing our mammal list to four, along with the two camelids Vicuna and Guanaco and the little gopher like Highland Tuco-Tuco.
We spent much of the early part of the day in the national park visiting arid areas, though without the magnificent cactus plants that cover much of the area. Here I managed to get a couple of good photographs of Hellmayr’s Pipit.
We then drove on to the lovely area, aptly named Valle Encantado (Enchanted Valley), still within the national park. Here in this rugged valley we saw the second Argentine species of Hillstar, the White-sided Hillstar as well as Mario’s target species, D’Orbigny’s Chat-tyrant. Here we also had our first views of Plumbeous Sierra-finch and Puna (Cordoba) Canastero.
We left Los Cordones reluctantly and headed back to the Reserva del Huaica, stopping off on the R33 between Cachi and El Carril to see Great Rufous Woodcreeper and Variegated Flycatcher.
Arriving in the late afternoon we did not have time for any birding before dinner but after dark we visited Mario’s house where a Tropical Screech Owl was roosting in the garden. Then, back at the higher altitude of the Reserve (about 500m higher than Mario’s place) we went in search of Hoy’s screech Owl which settled in a tree near us. Stupidly I had not taken my camera with me and missed close range shots of both owls!
Hoy’s Screech Owl brought my trip list to 217.
6th March 2007 – Reserva del Huaico
Our final morning of the trip was spent birding the lush woods of the Reserve grounds before the drive to the airport and long flight home, via Madrid.
There was a large pond surrounded by rich tropical vegetation and tall mature trees near the Reserve hotel and around this pond we saw Mountain Wren, Golden-rumped Euphonia, Stripe-headed Brush-finch and Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture among other species. Back at the Reserve hotel, whilst waiting for the bus to collect us, I finally caught up with Golden-winged Cacique a bird that I had missed earlier in the day. This brought my trip total to 226 species of which 199 were lifers.
Argentina is a vast an beautiful country to which I should like to return. There is so much more here to explore both in terms of wildlife and landscape.