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22 November - 14 December 1997

by Michael Mills

During the latter part of 1997 I was fortunate to go on a tourist expedition to the Antarctica, Falklands and South Georgia Islands with my family. Our ship departed from the southern tip of South America - Ushuaia in southern Argentina. In order to reach our port of departure, we had to travel via Buenos Aires. To catch connecting flights, we had either to spend some time in Buenos Aires or Ushuaia and decided upon some time in each. Being a bird-watcher from the African bush, even the thought of a sprawling city didn’t put me off. This was a great opportunity for an introduction to South American birds. Having done some prior research, I knew that Costanera Sur was a good place to start. We also managed to get some information from the National Parks Office in Buenos Aires about other nearby sites: Otamendi National Park and Refugio Natural Educativo de la Ribera Norte.


This is a small (I would estimate 8 km2) ecological reserve situated very conveniently, about 20 minutes walk from the city centre. Reed-fringed pools, pampas grassland, shrub-land and woodland create a good mosaic of habitats, excellent for birding, which are easily accessed via the various paths. All in all I spent two and a half days at this site and didn’t regret a second of it, although I did this more out of the lack of options than for superior birding. Armed with my modest bird book, "Birds of Argentina and Uruguay" by Narosky I managed to identify about 90 species during this time.

I spent the whole of the 20th of November here with my father. On the way to the reserve, we stopped for a short time in one of the many city parks. On the lawns were raucous rufous horneros (the Argentine national bird, which build large dome-shaped mud nests), eared doves, Picazuro pigeon, monk parakeets (making their presence known with their shrill calls), chalkbrowed mockingbirds (always in small parties), cattle tyrant, rufouscollared sparrow (probably the bird most commonly seen in Argentina), rufousbellied thrush and baywinged cowbirds. Overhead greybreasted martins lazily glided and in the trees were saffron finches.

On reaching the reserve, chaos struck. We didn’t know where to look first and often our attention was diverted before a previous bird had even been identified. The first bird we saw was the aptly-named red-crested cardinal at the entrance gate to the reserve. Followed shortly thereafter were the vividly coloured black-and-rufous warbling finch and hooded siskin. On the verge of the road was a large feeding flock of seedeaters - mainly shiny cowbirds but also golden-billed saltator. We proceeded slowly along the road which made its way through mixed woodland and shrub and ran alongside a more open marshy area for a while.

Here we added crested and chimango caracara (birds of the hawk family), southern lapwing (a plover), dark-billed cuckoo, glittering-bellied emerald (a species of hummingbird), spectacled tyrant, great kiskadee, tropical kingbird, crowned slaty-flycatcher, vermilion flycatcher, warbling doradito, white-crested tyrannulet, white-rumped swallow, house wren, masked yellowthroat, double-collared seedeater, great pampa-finch, epaulet oriole and yellow-winged cowbird.

At lunch time we parted company with some of the less bird-minded people in our party. We slowly made our way to the other entrance gate (there are two) in order to grab something to eat nearby. On the way we added masked gnatcatcher (which reminded me of fairy flycatcher), yellow-browed tyrant and guira cuckoo to our list. Being around ponds and reed beds for the first time our list was boosted by white-tuftted and pied-billed grebe, neotropic/olivaceous cormorant, snowy egret, Coscoroba and black-necked swan, brown pintail, speckled cinnamon and silver teal, rosy-billed pochard, lake duck, whistling heron, plumbeous rail, white-winged and red-fronted coot, wattled jacana, South American stilt, lesser yellowlegs, wren-like rushbird, chestnut-capped blackbird and screaming cowbird.

After lunch we entered a part of the reserve with pampas grassland interspersed with bushes and trees. Although we saw few new species, the ones we did see were striking. Forktailed flycatchers perched prominently, field flickers (a large type of woodpecker) were sitting in the road and we had fantastic views of golden-breasted woodpecker in a low bush just off the road. Back in the wooded area we added rusty-collared seedeater and yellow-billed cardinal to our list.

On the 22nd of November we were due to depart for Ushuaia at midday. The only birding option was Costanera Sur. I spent the morning birding here, alone. Most of the birds we repeats of our previous visit but I did see a few lifers. The highlight of these was a pair of awkward looking southern screamers. Other birds were white-faced ibis, brown-hooded gull, freckle-breasted thornbird, white-winged becard, black-capped warbling finch and Picui ground-dove.

On the 14th of December we had a day in Buenos Aires on our return from the Antarctica. Once again Costanera Sur was the only viable option. I was up early and got to the reserve well before 8 o’clock, which was opening time. I decided to walk along the wall running along reed beds on the edge of the reserve in the hope of finding many-coloured rush-tyrant. Moving slowly along the wall I kept my eyes fixed on the reed beds for any movement. Very shortly a little bird with a white V on its back flitted in the reeds. My target! - but disappointingly it was a sub-adult and showed no bright yellow under-parts, deep glossy purple ear patch or scarlet rump.

Despairing at the though of having to tick this little gem on a sub-adult bird I continued on my way. Without having gone far another bird showed me its white V - this time there was an adult and subadult! Feeling much better I entered the reserve at 8 o’clock. Here I met a local birder who fortunately spoke good English and knew his birds well. We birded together for the rest of the morning and saw rufous-sided crake, sooty tyrannulet, white-necked heron, grey-necked woodrail, long-tailed reedfinch, brown-chested martin, bran-coloured flycatcher and band-tailed gull.

In the afternoon I returned with my father and managed to find him a number of species he had previously missed. My only new addition was a pair of Maguari storks, which were circling high overhead.


The municipality of De San Isidro runs this small reserve as an education centre. It is situated on the banks of the Rio de la Plata and consists of riverine forest and a patch marshland and pools.

On the 21st of November we caught the train from Retiro in Buenos Aires to Acasusso on line one. Here we walked for about two kilometres to get to the reserve. In the forests we saw creamy-bellied thrush, white-tipped dove, red-eyed vireo and grey-necked wood-rail. Along the Rio de la Plata were white-necked herons and a giant wood-rail. Adjacent to the marshy area we saw a limpkin perched in a tree on the forest fringe and the striking scarlet-headed blackbird in the reeds. Many other birds that we had seen previously at Costanera Sur also occurred here. In addition were saw coypu and cuis, both fairly large rodents of marshland.

Here we met some locals who spoke good English. They gave us directions to get to Otamendi.


It was rather by good luck than good directions that we got to Otamendi. We had to change busses three times and our lack of knowledge of the Spanish language made it difficult to get help. Otamendi I would estimate is about 50 km2 in extent. There are patches of dense woodland, extensive flood plains and a considerable stretch of forest along the Rio de la Plata. It is however difficult to get around. The river is about 10 km from the train station, which stops conveniently near the reserve headquarters. This was most definitely the best birding spot we visited, but unfortunately we only had an afternoon here, which we spent in the woodland and on part of a floodplain. Red-rumped warbling-finch and streaked flycatcher were our only two lifers in the woodland. On the floodplain, there were Corenderra pipits and grassland yellow-finch in the shorter grass, brown-and-yellow marshbird in the taller, ranker areas and long-winged harrier and snail kite overhead. Once again many other species which we had seen previously were seen. We caught the train back to Retiro in Buenos Aires.


The morning before we embarked the ship for our cruise to the Antarctica we spent in the forests around the Los Glacier Hotel (where we had spent the previous night) and on the Martial Glacier. There was a snow storm the previous day so the high altitude birds of the glacier had most likely moved down towards the seacoast. The forests yielded Patagonian sierra-finch, black-chinned siskin, austral thrush, white-throated treerunner, Chilean swallow, white-crested elaenia and thorn-tailed rayadito. In the open areas were bar-winged cinclodes and dark-faced ground-tyrant. A beautiful buff-necked ibis also flew over us at one stage. In the afternoon, as we were boarding our ship, there were South American terns and Chilean skuas in the bay below Ushuaia.

After our 18 day cruise we had some time to spend in Ushuaia once again. In the area along the coast just west of the town we found common snipe, rufous-backed negrito, American kestrel, flightless steamer duck, crested duck, southern widgeon, long-tailed meadowlark and ashy-headed, upland and kelp goose. The following day we hired a car and went to the Tierra del Feugo National Park. Unfortunately the weather was bad and we added only white-throated caracara, black-chested buzzard-eagle and great grebe to our list. I also glimpsed a group of three austral parakeets as they screeched by. The highlight of the day was a Canadian beaver which I watched doing some repair works to its impressive "lodge".


1- 9 = Seen 1- 9 times (approximation); B = Seen 10 or more times; C = Seen more than 25 times; * = occurring in southern Africa
1 White-tuffted grebe B 71 Rufous hornero C
2 Pied-billed grebe 2 72 Wren-like rushbird 6
3 Great grebe 2 73 Thorn-tailed rayadito 3
4 Neotropic cormorant B 74 Freckle-breasted thornbird 6
5 White-necked heron 2 75 White-throated treerunner 1
6 Whistling heron 1 76 White-winged becard 3
7 Great white egret * C 77 Dark-faced ground-tyrant B
8 Snowy egret  C 78 Rufous-backed negrito 5
9 Black-crowned night heron * C 79 Spectacled tyrant B
10 Green-backed heron *  1 80 Streaked flycatcher 1
11 Maguari stork 1 81 Sooty tyrannulet 2
12 Buff-necked ibis 1 82 Many-coloured rush-tyrant 5
13 White-faced ibis 1 83 Cattle tyrant 4
14 Southern screamer 2 84 Yellow-browed tyrant 5
15 Fulvous duck * 1 85 Great kiskadee C
16 White-faced duck * 6 86 Tropical kingbird C
17 Coscoroba swan 8 87 Fork-tailed flycatcher C
18 Black-necked swan 4 88 Crowned slaty-flycatcher 1
19 Kelp goose B 89 Bran-coloured flycatcher 2
20 Upland goose B 90 Vermilion flycatcher 1
21 Ashy-headed goose B 91 Warbling doradito 8
22 Crested duck C 92 White-crested tyrannulet 2
23 Southern wigeon 2 93 White-crested elaenia 5
24 Brown pintail C 94 Grey-breasted martin B
25 Speckled teal C 95 Brown-chested martin 1
26 Cinnamon teal 2 96 White-rumped swallow C
27 Silver teal B 97 Chilean swallow B
28 Flightless steamer-duck 3 98 House wren C
29 Rosy-billed pochard 4 99 Chalk-browed mockingbird C
30 Lake duck B 100 Creamy-bellied thrush 7
31 Black-chested buzzard-eagle 1 101 Rufous-bellied thrush C
32 Snail kite 4 102 Austral thrush 9
33 Long-winged harrier 3 103 Corenderra pipit 2
34 White-throated caracara 2 104 Masked gnatcatcher 7
35 Crested caracara B 105 Red-eyed vireo 1
36 Chimango caracara C 106 House sparrow* C
37 American kestrel 1 107 Masked yellowthroat C
38 Limpkin 1 108 Golden-billed slatator 1
39 Giant wood-rail 1 109 Red-crested cardinal 2
40 Grey-necked woodrail 4 110 Yellow-billed cardinal 3
41 Plumbeous rail 2 111 Double-collared seedeater B
42 rufous-sided crake 2 113 Rusty-collared seedeater 3
43 White-winged coot C 114 Grassland yellow-finch 1
44 Red-fronted coot C 115 Saffron finch 7
45 Moorhen * C 116 Patagonian sierra-finch 8
46 Wattled jacana C 117 Rufous-collared sparrow C
47 South American stilt 5 118 Long-tailed reed-finch 3
48 Southern lapwing B 119 Red-rumped warbling-finch 1
49 Lesser yellowlegs C 120 Black & rufous warbling-finch C
50 Common snipe 3 121 Black-capped warbling-finch 4
51 Chilean skua 3 122 Great pampa-finch B
52 Dolphin gull B 123 Hooded siskin 6
53 Kelp gull * C 124 Black-chinned siskin B
54 Band-tailed gull 1 125 European greenfinch 1
55 Brown-hooded gull 2 126 Epaulet oriole B
56 South American tern 3 127 Screaming cowbird 2
57 Picazuro pigeon C 128 Shiny cowbird C
58 Feral pigeon  C 129 Bay-winged cowbird B
59 Eared dove C 130 Chestnut-capped blackbird 6
60 Picui ground-dove B 131 Yellow-winged blackbird C
61 White-tipped dove 1 132 Brown & yellow marshbird 1
62 Austral parakeet 1 133 Scarlet-headed blackbird 1
63 Monk parakeet C 134 Long-ailed meadowlark 2
64 Dark-billed cuckoo 7  -  -
65 Guira cuckoo 7  -  -
66 Glittering-bellied emerald C  -  -
67 Field flicker 1  -  -
68 Golden-breasted woodpecker 6  -  -
69 Narrow-billed woodcreeper 2  -  -
70 Bar-winged ciclodes B  -


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