Trip Report – Jan-Feb. 2022
This trip to Argentina was intended to be part of a longer trip that included an Antarctic Cruise, Chile and Brazil – but COVID disrupted our plans quite a bit, so we had to adjust everything and finally managed to pick up the Argentina leg of the trip!
It was 5 weeks and we made sure to have plenty of down time so, instead of doing a daily summary I have broken it down into the areas that we visited. As usual I am only listing life birds.
This is one of the best trips we have ever done – admittedly we splurged on the accommodation whenever possible but even without that it would have been pretty great. Great roads, great food, great wine, great people and great birds! Hard to beat!
This is possibly the most beautiful city that we have ever visited. It has stunning architecture, beautiful parks and gardens, fabulous accommodation and great birding.
The first birding stop for everyone is Costanera Sur. On the walk down there, we checked off Rufous Hornero, Greyish Baywing and Rufous-bellied Thrush and when we got to Costanera Sur we were blown away.
We went several times while we were in town and each time, we had something new. It can be a bit challenging because it closes for the whole day if there is any chance of bad weather (and there’s no advance notification, which can leave you turning up only to find the park is closed for the day!) but there are always the ponds which you can view from the front esplanade without entering the park. These ponds alone gave us 13 life birds – Rosy-billed Pochard, Silvery, Ringed and Brazilian Teals, White-winged & Red-fronted Coot, Black-backed Water-tyrant, Chestnut-capped Blackbird, Picazuro Pigeon, Southern Screamer, White-rumped Swallow and Coscoroba & Black-necked Swans.
Walking inside the reserve was also amazing – in total we had another 15 life birds there. The first time we went on our own (Glittering
Emerald, Checkered & Green-barred Woodpeckers, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Swainson’s Flycatcher, Masked Gnatcatcher, Creamy-bellied Thrush, Unicolored Blackbird, Blue & Yellow Tanager, Black-and-Rufous Warbling Finch, Double-collared Seedeater, Green-winged Saltator and Southern Streaked Flycatcher) and the 2nd time we went with our guide to get some of the trickier ones – Grey-throated Warbling-finch! There is also a Dusky-legged Guan that you can see outside the reserve. It is at the north entrance, and it visits the food trucks on the street around 12.00 pm!
We loved this area as well. The scenery was spectacular and, once again, the birding was amazing. Our first stop when we arrived and met our guide (Julian) was the lake. It was already 8pm but there was so much light left that we decided to spend an hour before going to the hotel. In that short time, we got 13 more life birds. Grey-headed Sierra-finch, Chimango Caracara, Lake & Crested Duck, Chiloe Wigeon, Red-gartered Coot, Red Shoveler, Upland Goose, Chilean Swallow, Spectacled Tyrant, Austral Negrito, Correndera Pipit and Black-faced Ibis.
The next day we drove up to the Steppes and made a few stops before taking a hike up by the ski area behind El Calafate town. Austral, Cordilerian & Sharp-billed Canasteros, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, Patagonian Mockingbird, Long-tailed Meadowlark, Austral Thrush, Spot-billed & Cinnamon-bellied Ground-tyrants, Plumbeous Sierra-finch and Trilling Miner. On the way back to town we were on the way to some ponds when we lucked out with Great Shrike-tyrant and Lesser Rhea. Then at the ponds our only life birds were Silvery Grebe and Ashy-headed Goose.
An afternoon trip to the lake was mainly for Magellanic Plover which we didn’t see but we did get Flying Steamerduck.
Last stop for the day was 5 km before the entrance to the Los Glaciers National Park – we didn’t go in from this entrance as it is too busy but we got some good birds at this stop – Austral Parakeet, Austral Blackbird, Dark-bellied Cinclodes, Chilean Flicker, Chilean Elaenia, Magellanic Tapaculo, Austral Pygmy-owl and Thorn-tailed Dorydito. We made two stops on the way home for Plain-mantled Tit-spinetail and Rufous-tailed Plantcutter.
Our first full day with our new guide was great. Julian was with us for our entire trip and we enjoyed him immensely. His birding skills were unbelievable and he was great company – a great start!
Hooded Grebe area
The next day we did the long drive up to the area for Hooded Grebe. The driving in this country is significant. Luckily the roads are fairly good (even the dirt ones) but the area we went to north of El Calafate was very short on gas stations which meant we had to keep going and hour out of our way to fill up. On the way to our accommodation the first day, we had Brown-hooded Gull, Black-chinned Siskin and killer views of Austral Rail, a highly sought species by world listers and a bird often heard but hardly ever seen, and it walked out in to the open for us at a private spot that Julian knew!
The next day, after fixing the first of several flat tires, we headed about 1.5 hours east of our estancia and enjoyed great views of Least Seedsnipe, Tawny-throated Dotterel, Chocolate-vented Tyrant, Common Miner and Grey-bellied Shrike Tyrant. The habitat near a stunning lake (Lago Cardiel) produced Band-tailed Earthcreeper and Great Yellowfinch.
The following day was all about the Hooded Grebe.
We started very early (4am) as it was a marathon 4-hour 4×4 drive up barely a mountain track to a high plateau lagoon where Hooded Grebes are found and where the wind can reach speeds up to 120 kph – it was brutally cold and windy but such an experience to be in such a remote and wild place!
We had a local guide with us who had been working on the Hooded Grebe project for 10 years. It was very challenging terrain and we were very happy when we arrived – we did get the grebe – not the best views as the lake was quite large and the water was rough with the wind but with a bird like that you take what you can!
Other lifers for the day were Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Short-billed Miner and both Grey-flanked and Buff-winged Cinclodes.
Then, it was the crazy long drive back to El Calafate – only one flat tire on the way!
We visited here from El Calafate as a day trip but really should have stayed here on the way down from the Hooded Grebe location. It is a stunning place and you can enter Los Glaciers National Park without the crowds. The birding was fabulous. We were now down to a few targets and we got them all: Fire-eyed Diucon, Patagonian Sierra Finch, White-throated Treerunner and Magellanic Woodcreeper.
Cordoba – San Luis
The hills of Pampa-Achala were our most northern birding spot in this area and, while not terribly birdy delivered some great species – all with good views. Red-tailed Comet, Orlog’s & Cordoba Cinclodes, Puna Canastero, Great Pampa Finch, Brown-capped Tit-spinetail, Sierra meadowlark Hellmayr’s Pipit and Grey-hooded Parrot. Its times like this when the value of an excellent guide with super local knowledge with spots for each of these is invaluable – we simply wouldn’t have seen these species without him!
We stayed a little further south in Villa de las Roses and the birding at our lodge was amazing. Screaming Cowbird, Black-capped Warbling
Finch, Southern Martin, Crowned-slaty Flycatcher, White-bellied Tyrannulet, Austral & Striped-crowned Spinetail, Picui Ground-dove, Brown Cachote and Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper – and that was before breakfast!
Then a trip to Rufigio de Vida Silvestre for Ultramarine Grosbeack, Brown-capped Whitestart, Bran-colored Flycatcher, Perly-vented Tody-tyrant, Greater Wagtail Tyrant, Sooty-fronted Spinetail, Short-billed Canastero, Tufted Tit-Spinetail, Golden-breasted & White-fronted Woodpeckers, Burrowing Parrot, Guira Cuckoo and a great fly-over view of Chaco Eagle!!
An afternoon trip to a road near the refuge continued to offer more amazing birds – Chaco Sparrow, Many-colored Chaco-finch, White-tipped Plantcutter, Suirir Flycacther, Olive-crowned Crescentchest and Cream-backed Woodpecker. This whole area is so birdy it is fantastic – the only thing we missed was Black-bodied Woodpecker!
We then drove down to San Luis and birded 2 main areas there: the Salinas and National Park Sierra Las Quijadas.
First the Salinas: They are about an hour west from San Luis, just as you enter the province of Mendoza in Desaguadero. The birds were not nearly as numerous here but they were great. Black-crowned, White & Salinas Monjitas, Crested & Sandy Galitos, Lesser Shrike-tyrant, Ringed Warbling Finch and White-banded Mockingbird. It was unbelievably hot here so we were lucky to see as much as we did.
The next day we drove up to the National Park. Julian had a private site to visit just before the park and it was amazing. The main target was Yellow Cardinal and we had fantastic views of a male and female. Fabulous! We also enjoyed Southern Scrub Flycatcher, Black-crested Finch, Crested Hornero, Spot-winged Falconet, Straneck’s Tyrannulet, Chaco Earthcreeper, Red Tanager and White-winged Black-tyrant.
Next was the national park itself: The main target was Chaco Canastero which we got but we
also lucked out with Elegant Crested Tinamou and Spotted Nothura. The landscape in this park was unbelievable – worth a visit just for that.
The final spot we checked out in San Luis was a reservoir just behind the town. In the space of about 10 minutes, we had great views of Black-and-Rufous Warbling Finch, Sub-tropical Dorodito, Tawny-headed Swallows and Andean Tinamou. There were also a large number of Many-colored Rush Tyrants nesting in the reeds which, although not new, were spectacular.
San Clement del Tuyu
I have to be honest this town is a dump – but the birding in the area is worth it! (Luckily our hotel was also ok). First, we stopped at another of Julian’s secret spots about 20 km before reaching San Clement. It was just a side road but
we had 8 life birds:- Sulphur-bearded Reed Haunter, Greater Rhea, Hudson’s Canastero, Firewood Gatherer, Yellow-browed Tyrant, White-browed Blackbird, Bearded Tachuri and Brown-and-yellow Marshbird. Another stop at a pond by the road before town and we had our first Maguira Stork, Black-headed Duck and Snowy-capped Tern.
After checking in to our hotel we headed back out to the marshes and couldn’t believe the number of birds – it was incredible. The lifers for us were Yellowish Pipit, Sooty Tyrannulet, Stripe-backed Bittern, Scarlet-headed Bla
ckbird, South American Painted Snipe and Warbling Doradito. Wow!
A visit to Punta Rosa Reserve the next day was with the hope of seeing Olrog’s Gull and South American Tern but it had been very stormy
and there weren’t any. It wasn’t a wasted trip though because we got Long-tailed Reedfinch, Freckle-breasted Thornbird, Two-banded Plover, Bay-capped Spintetail and Dot-winged Crake.
On our way back into Buenos Airies we had Campo Flicker and then stopped at Reserva Natural El Destino. This was surprisingly quiet after so many birds the day before but we still managed 5 life birds: Red-and-white Crake, Spix’s Spinetail, Curve-billed Reedhaunter, Rufous-thighed Hawk and White-throated Hummingbird.
This is an area about 2.5 hours north of Buenos Airies. As usual Julian had some spots that the regular trips don’t visit and the first spot was an area of dirt roads – unfortunately much of the habitat has now been turned over to soy bean farming so the birds aren’t as numerous as they were – but we still had 13 life birds – Grassland Sparrow, Giant Wood-rail, Variable Oriole, Rufous-crowned Antshrike, Dark-throated, Tawny-bellied and Rufous-rumped Seedeaters, Chotoy Spinetail, Lark-like Brushrunner, Chopi Blackbird, White-barred Piculet, South American Snipe and Grey Monjita.
We drove back to the main road and onto a marsh area to the west. I have never seen so many birds. There must have been 500 Southern Screamers, hundreds of ibis, swans, lapwings and egrets – it was a real spectacle! We also got our target which was Marsh Seedeater. And all this before we even got to Otamendi Reserve, which is where the regular bird groups go.
We finally got to Otamendi Reserve – it was very hot but Julian worked his magic – Little Thornbird, White-naped Xenopsaris, Glaucous-blue Grosbeak, Diadamed Tanager and Ash-colored Cuckoo.
It was a long day as we had left BA at 5.00 am and didn’t get back until 5.30pm but what a day!
We arrived here in the afternoon but couldn’t resist birding even though it was 38c – so we decided to walk around the grounds of the hotel – and wow! Golden-winged & Red-rumped Caciques, Green-barred & White Woodpeckers, Chestnut-vented Conebill, Gilded Hummingbird, Plush-crested & Purplish Jays, Crested Becard and then later, Lesser Grassfinch.
The next day we birded around the area, checking spots that Julian knew for specific species – we added Red-legged Seriema, Streamer-tailed Tyrant, Great Thornbird and Rusty-collared Seedeater.
Next stop, later in the day was Rincon Santa Marie – our main targets in the park, which we got, were Pearly-bellied Seedeater, Sharp-tailed Grass-tyrant and Wedge-tailed Grassfinch. But what came next was amazing. We waited until dusk and Sickle-winged Nightjars started to land on the path in front of us. After we enjoyed those for a while we started to drive back to the hotel and there were dozens of nightjars on the road – we picked up 2 more life birds: Scissor-tailed and Little Nightjar. A 3-nightjar day is pretty great!
The next day was about Ibera Marsh – unfortunately, drought in the area had caused a number of fires and the usual entrance was closed so we had to use a different route which required a lot more driving and also meant we missed about 4 species but what we did get was great: Chestnut Seedeater, Red-winged Tinamou, Mississippi Kite, Ochre-breasted Pipit, Black-and-white Monjita, Plumbeous Iris and Strange-tailed Tyrant.
Another flat tire on the way back in 38c, in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone reception and the wrong tire iron in the car put a bit of a spanner in the works but the help of a good Samaritan meant it all ended well if not a little fraught for poor old Julian!
We drove from Posada to Mocona with one brief stop along the way for White-browed Warbler, Rufous Gnateater, Ruby-crowned Tanager
and Rufous-capped Spinetail. Then on to our lodge through an incredible rain storm that meant no more birding for the day.
Birding the grounds of the lodge the next morning was spectacular – Green-throated Euphonia, Green-headed, Black-goggled and Chestnut-headed Tanager, Greenish Schiffornis, Swallow-tailed Manakin, Sibilant Syristes, Eared Pygmy-tyrant, Southern Bristle Tyrant, Grey-bellied Spinetail, Buff-browed & Ochre-breasted Foliage Gleaners, Sharp-billed Treehunter, Lesser & Planalto Woodcreepers, Ochre-collared Piculet, Scale-throated Hermit, Maroon-bellied Parakeet, White-throated Spadebill, Toco Toucan, Bertoni’s Antbird and Slaty-breasted Wood-rail.
Next day we started at Parque Provinial Macona – it was quite foggy so visibility wasn’t great but we did get Rusty-breasted Nunlet, Robust & Yellow-fronted Woodpeckers, Southern Antpipit, White-necked Thrush, Spot-backed Antshrike, White-throated Woodcreeper and Rufous-crowned Greenlet.
Next stop was a lovely quiet side-road about 20 kms before the park entrance. We enjoyed a couple of visits to this spot. Dusky-tailed Antbird, Grey Elaenia, Rufous-winged Antwren, Black-billed Scythebill, Surucua Trogon, Rufous-thighed Kite, Grey-fronted Dove, Planalto
Tapaculo, Masked Duck, Black-throated Grosbeak, Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, Pileated Parrot, Purple-crowned Plovercrest, Yellow-browed & (the amazing) Helmeted Woodpeckers. Then in the evening we had Short-tailed Nightjar and Mottled Owl. Another amazing day – if we had ever known how good the birding is in Argentina we would have come before the other south American countries we have vsiitied!
Now on to Iguazu Falls. On the way up we stopped about 30 kms before the town in a stand of Araucaria trees and saw Araucaria Tit-spinetail. Then on in to town to the Hummingbird Garden. They have 8 species of regular hummingbirds and we saw them all – the new ones for us were Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, Planalto Hermit and Versicolored Hummingbird.
In the Iguazu area, a well-known birding road is Road 101 – we started about 30 kms down the road and worked our way back. Compared to what we had been used to it was quite quiet – but we still added 10 life birds: White-spotted & Blonde-crested Woodpeckers, White-bearded & Tufted Antshrikes, Riverbank Warbler, Chestnut-bellied Euphonia, Streak-capped Antwren, White-shouldered Fire-eye, Band-tailed Manakin and Buff-bellied Puffbird.
Back in the garden of our hotel we had Rufous-capped Motmot.
Our last birding spot for this trip was quite a long drive to another part of the Parque Nacional Iguaze – at a camp site about 40 km down route 19 – We were really there for Black-capped Piping-guan, which we missed, and, to be honest, it was painfully quiet but even then, we got 6 amazing life birds, although we had to work for them: Drab-breasted Bamboo-tyrant, Euler’s Flycatcher, Brown Tinamou, Black-blue Seedeater, Scaled Woodcreeper and Spot-winged Woodquail.
Before going back to Buenos Aries for a few days, we did take the time to visit the Iguazu falls and although it is incredibly touristy it was worth it because it was stunning!
We ended the trip with nearly 500 species and 312 life birds. Can’t wait to go back again and bird the North West with Julian quién fue fenomenal – muchísimas gracias amigo!
Buenos Aries – Four Seasons – fantastic! Park Hyatt, Palacio Duhua – good, but not as good as Four Seasons.
El Calafate – Esplendor El Calafate – OK EOLO Lodge – outstanding!
Hooded Grebe – Estancia La Angostura – this was booked by our guide
Cordoba – San Luis – Eco-Casas Boutique Hotel – very nice, book a garden villa
Hotel Potrero – big hotel, get a floating room!
San Clemente del Tuyu – Hotel El Aguila del Tuyu – the only place to stay in this twon.
Posadas – Hotel Puerto Valle – excellent
Mocona – Mocona Virgin Lodge – probably the best choice but very disappointing.
Puerto Iguazu – Mercure Iguazu Hotel – good value and just fine.
Guides & Resources
Guide: Julian Julián Quillén Vidoz Bielsa – cannot recommend him highly enough – wouldn’t go to Argentina without him! (#bestbirdguideinsouthamerica)
Tel: (054) 2944-703292
Qvidoz @gmail. com
Birds of Argentina and the South-west Atlantic, Mark Pearman & Juan Ignacio Areta