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ARGENTINA

29 November–15 December 2019
Extension to 21 December

This new tour covers a huge range of habitats from the Caatinga, Chaco and Salinas of the north to the coasts, estuaries and Pampas of the south and the Xorophytic plains of the Valdes Peninsula and high Patagonian steppes on the extension. This gives us the opportunity to see species as diverse as White-headed Steamer-duck, Hooded Grebe, Black-bodied Woodpecker, Lesser Rhea and Magellanic Penguin.

Day 1 Direct overnight flight from London to Buenos Aires.

Day 2 Morning arrival in Buenos Aires and connecting flight to Cordoba, one and a half hours to the northwest. On arrival we will check into our hotel for an overnight stay.

Day 3 After an early breakfast, we will drive to Pampa de Achala, the highest plateau in the heart of the Córdoba Hills. Woodlands and scrub more typical of the Chaco habitat surround this granitic massif. Detached from the main Andes range by some 300 km, the high levels of endemism are a direct consequence of this geographical isolation. High up on our list of priority species today is the endemic Olrog’s Cinclodes, a bird we often find from the roadside. Further exploration should yield Cordoba Cinclodes, Rufous-banded Miner, Subtropical Doradito, Rufous-naped Ground-tyrant, Red-legged Seriema, Red-tailed Comet, Andean Swift, Band-tailed and Plumbeous Sierra-finches, Hellmayr’s Pipit and Puna Canastero (the locally-occurring subspecies sclateri is often considered a species in its own right – Cordoba Canastero). We will spend the night in Icho Cruz.

Day 4 We plan to spend the day birding amongst the woodlands surrounding the Cordoba Hills. This scrubby habitat is actually the very southern edge of the chaco – fertile grounds for Blue-tufted Starthroat, Tataupa Tinamou, the very rare Black-bodied Woodpecker, Black-crested Finch and Spot-winged Falconet. Amongst the commoner species, we should find Stripe-crowned and Yellow-chinned Spinetails, Brown Cacholote, Lark-like Brushrunner, Spectacled Tyrant, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Ultramarine Grosbeak, Screaming Cowbird, Long-tailed Meadowlark and Hooded Siskin. Overnight in Capilla del Monte.

Day 5 After a final few hours of birding for any species we may have missed around the Cordoba Hills, we will head to the tiny village of San Jose de las Salinas. Home to the last remnants of the now-derelict salt-mining trade, this is our access point to the massive Salinas Grandes salt pan (8900 km2). The salt pans harbour a remarkably range-restricted species that occupies a highly specialised niche: the Salinas Monjita, found almost exclusively in the highly stunted vegetation surrounding the area’s salt flats and pans. Around the salt pans we pass through excellent chaco habitat, with a good chance of seeing the much-sought-after Olive-crowned Crescentchest, Brushland Tinamou, Black-legged Seriema, Suiriri Flycatcher, Crested Hornero, Straneck’s Tyrannulet, White-banded Mockingbird, Red-crested and Pileated Finches and Many-coloured Chaco Finch. Night in Dean Funes.

Day 6 We will spend the day birding in the buffer zone of Araripe National Forest. The arboreal Caatinga habitat here is simply the best area for most of the Caatinga endemics. We should find the localised Tawny Piculet, Silvery-cheeked and Barred (Caatinga) Antshrikes, Caatinga Antwren, Speckle-breasted Antpitta, Great Xenops, Pale-bellied Tyrant-manakin, Grey-eyed Greenlet and Cinnamon Tanager. We will have a few more hours to bird the Chaco habitat around Dean Funes before lunch and our drive to Córdoba City Airport to take our flight to Buenos Aires, where we will spend two nights.

Day 7 We will make an early start this morning to bird at Ceibas. This is an area located across the Paraná River in the province of Entre Ríos. Its abundant birds make it really enjoyable for birders the world over, and its dense thorny forests and marshlands are home to an incredible number of species; these include Red-winged Tinamou, Savanna Hawk, White-fronted and White Woodpeckers, Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper and Short-billed Canastero. We will leave Ceibas around mid-morning and then drive to the Otamendi National Park. This 3000-hectare reserve sits on the shores of the Paraná River just north of Buenos Aires and is included in the international list of Important Bird Areas. It takes in three of the main Argentine bird habitats: Pampas grassland, thorny woodland and Parana River Delta. Possible highlights to be found in Otamendi include both Straight-billed and Curve-billed Reedhaunters, Diademed Tanager and more widespread species such as White-tufted Grebe, Southern Screamer, Giant Wood-rail, White-tipped Dove, Checkered Woodpecker, Chotoy Spinetail, Warbling Doradito and Great Pampa-finch.

Day 8 Our drive from Buenos Aires to San Clemente de Tuyú is not particularly far, but we will spend the majority of the day birding the roadside verges en route. The habitat is predominantly flat grassland interspersed with lagoons and marshes, making for easy birding. We can look forward to seeing a high number of species today: Chiloe Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, Red Shoveler, Long-winged Harrier, Campo Flicker, Sulphur-throated Spinetail, Greyish Baywing and Scarlet-headed Blackbird are expected. A combination of effort and luck might elicit one of the trickier species such as South American Painted-snipe. We will spend two nights in San Clemente de Tuyú

Day 9 Our day will be spent birding the tidal mudflats, salt marshes and sand dunes of Punta Rasa and the Bay of Samborombón. This area, not far from Buenos Aires, is home to the most spectacular flocks of migrant waders, a wide array of grassland birds and some unique mammals like the scarce and elusive Pampas Deer. Northern migratory shorebirds, such as Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knot, White-rumped and Baird’s Sandpipers, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs amongst others, spend the northern winter (South American summer) on the southernmost tip of the continent. Punta Rasa is one of the main feeding grounds for these long-range travellers that share the area with some local residents, such as Hudson’s Canastero, Firewood-gatherer, Greater Rhea and Spotted Nothura.

Day 10 Today we travel southwest along the Atlantic coast to the city of Bahía Blanca, our base for the next two nights. This is a fairly long drive, but we will make birding stops along the way, which are likely to produce Black-headed Duck, Dot-winged Crake, Speckled Rail, Blue-crowned Parakeet, Bay-capped Wren-spinetail and Tufted Tit-spinetail.

Day 11 Bahía Blanca sits in an ecotonal area between the Pampas and Patagonia and thus the area offers a vast diversity of birds. It is here that we will have the opportunity to see the spectacular and highly restricted Pampas Meadowlark, a near-endemic bird only possible in the southern Pampas and some areas of Uruguay. It is also here where chances are best for another highly restricted passerine: Yellow Cardinal. We will also look for Olrog’s Gull, one of the most endangered seabird species, which nests in the area. Some of the many species we can expect to see during our time here include Many-coloured Rush Tyrant, Gull-billed and Snowy-crowned Terns, Cliff Swallow, Sharp-billed Canastero, White-winged Black-tyrant, Ringed Warbling-finch and Band-tailed Seedeater.

Day 12 We will continue to travel south before turning west again to the coastal city of Las Grutas, a small village turned popular beach resort and our base for the next two nights. While much of the day will be spent travelling, we can expect to add yet more species to our list. Excluding the above-mentioned birds, we will also be keeping our eyes on the road verges for Darwin’s Nothura. On arrival at Las Grutas we will no doubt be greeted by flocks of Burrowing Parakeets, as these are very common here. After checking into our hotel we will go birding along the coast, where we will look for birds that include the endemic Sandy Gallito and Carbonated Sierra-finch, Hudson’s Black-tyrant, White-throated Cacholote, Austral Thrush, Greater Wagtail-tyrant and White-tipped Plantcutter.

Day 13 We will start early this morning to bird the surrounding areas of San Antonio Oeste. Our first stop will be just outside the city boundaries, where we will try again for the endemic White-throated Cacholote and Sandy Gallito if we missed them yesterday. Here we also have a good chance for Elegant Crested-tinamou, Black-crowned and White Monjitas, Grey-hooded and Mourning Sierra-finches and Vermilion Flycatcher. We will then drive eastwards to search for Pale-breasted Spinetail, Plain-mantled Tit-spinetail and the endemic Cinnamon Warbling-finch. Time permitting, we will again bird the surroundings of Las Grutas for any birds we might have missed to date.

Day 14 We will spend the morning birding the surroundings of Las Grutas, searching for any birds we might have missed in this area, and then start our journey southwards to Puerto Madryn; we will spend the night in this charming city situated on the shores of the Nuevo Gulf. Time permitting, we will bird the surroundings of Puerto Madryn to look for birds like the endemic Rusty-backed Monjita and Band-tailed Earthcreeper together with some interesting steppe dwellers that include Short-billed Pipit and Common Diuca-finch. We should also find some interesting mammals including Guanaco, a wild relative of the Llama, Patagonian Mara, an overgrown, long-legged version of the Guinea Pig and, if we are lucky, South American Grey Fox, Humboldt’s Hog-nosed Skunk and Large Hairy Armadillo.

Day 15 We leave Puerto Madryn early this morning and drive south, all the way to the biggest nesting colony of Magellanic Penguins on Earth: Punta Tombo. On our way there we will make frequent birding stops to look for birds like the endemic Patagonian Canastero, but our main goal is to find White-headed Steamer-duck, a highly restricted Argentine endemic only found on the southern seashores of the Province of Chubut. Other birds that we will search for include the stately Lesser Rhea walking through the short, stunted growth. Aside from the penguins, Punta Tombo is a great location to look for other seabirds and shorebirds including Blackish Oystercatcher, Dolphin Gull and Brown Skua, and several passerines such as Cordilleran Canastero, Scale-throated Earthcreeper and Patagonian Mockingbird, to name but a few. In the afternoon we will continue south to Comodoro Rivadavia, where we will spend the last night of our main tour.

Day 16 This morning, those customers choosing not to take the Central Patagonia extension will depart from Comodoro Rivadavia airport to Buenos Aires and onwards to London, where the tour will conclude on Day 17.

Extension

Day 16 The Atlantic coast of eastern Patagonia and its surrounding arid steppes are two rich and productive areas in terms of wildlife abundance and diversity. Our journey begins with a morning departure from the city of Comodoro Rivadavia, on the Atlantic coast of central Patagonia. We will head south along National Highway Number 3 – which is actually the south-easternmost branch of the Pan-American Highway – and drive to Puerto Deseado, our home for the next three nights, where we expect to arrive in the early afternoon. We will spend the balance of the day birding in the surroundings of Puerto Deseado.

Day 17 We will spend the day birding in and around the nearby estuary of the Deseado River. The estuary and surrounding habitat host the most incredible array of fauna found outside of the Valdes Peninsula. Of the many highlights, there is the possibility of five species of cormorant, including the only nesting colony of Red-legged Cormorants on the Atlantic coast, as well as a resident population of Commerson’s Dolphins. During the day we hope to find, amongst many others, Magellanic and Imperial Cormorants, Flying Steamer-duck, Chocolate-vented Tyrant, Least Seedsnipe, Tawny-throated Dotterel and Black-chinned Siskin. Please be aware that prevailing weather conditions will determine our schedule. It may be the case that we alter the schedule of the days accordingly.

Day 18 Sure to be one of the highlights of this trip, we will spend the day visiting Isla Pingüino. This solitary island is home to the only nesting colony of Southern Rockhopper Penguins on the Atlantic coast of South America. As the island is a few miles from land, we should also find a number of pelagic species en route; species we are likely to find include Black-browed Albatross, Sooty Shearwater, Snowy Sheathbill and Chilean Skua.

Day 19 This morning we will leave the Atlantic coast of Patagonia and set off for a long drive to the small village of Los Antiguos, sitting in the heart of Patagonia’s High Plateau, not far from the Andes and Patagonia National Park, and our base for the next two nights. The drive will give us the chance to experience Patagonia’s wilderness first-hand. Patagonia is, for the most part, a region of vast, steppe-like plains rising in a succession of abrupt terraces about 100 metres at a time and covered with an enormous bed of shingle, almost bare of vegetation. In the hollows of the plains are ponds or lakes of brackish and fresh water. Towards the Andes, the shingle gives way to porphyry, granite and basalt lavas, animal life becomes more abundant and vegetation more luxuriant, acquiring the characteristics of the flora of the western coast and consisting principally of southern beech and conifers.

Days 20–21 We will spend these two days exploring different locations inside the national park, looking for Hooded Grebe. This species breeds on a few basaltic lakes in the interior of Santa Cruz in the extreme southwest of Argentina. The total population was estimated at 3000–5000 individuals in 1997. Counts on the wintering grounds suggested a decline of 40% over a seven-year period. During the 2010–2011 breeding season, 535 individuals were counted, indicating a population decline of more than 80% over the last 26 years. In 2013, greater resources allowed a simultaneous count across all plateaux known to have ever held grebes and virtually every lake with historic records of the species, resulting in a count of 691 adults and 144 chicks in 12 colonies. During the summer of 2014/2015, 771 adults, 138 juveniles and 12 colonies were recorded across 18 lakes. Nowadays, the main core of the breeding population is found within the boundaries of Patagonia National Park, so we hope to spend time watching and photographing these incredibly rare birds in their natural habitat. Besides Hooded Grebe, this is also a wonderful place to look for other Patagonian specialities, including birds like Andean Condor, Short-billed Miner, Austral Negrito, Cinnamon-bellied Ground-tyrant and Patagonian Tinamou, to name but a few. We will leave Los Antiguos in the afternoon and drive all the way back to Comodoro Rivadavia, where we will spend the night.

Day 22 Early-morning transfer to the airport to catch our flight back to Buenos Aires, connecting with our overnight flight back to London and arriving on Day 23.

General Information At this time of year the weather can be highly variable, from hot and humid in the north to cold and windy in the pampas and on the coasts in the south, with rain possible. The tour pace is moderate with generally easy walking. There are some health requirements which should be referred to your GP. Visas are not required for EU citizens.

Group Size Minimum number for tour to go ahead: 6; maximum group size: 10 with 3 leaders.

Hooded Grebe

Hooded Grebe

Recommended books available from NHBS