02 - 03 March 2002
by Mark T. Adams
While in Chile for business in early March, I took a couple personal days to go birding around Santiago. Through recommendations from Birdchatters earlier this year, I contacted a knowledgable Chilean ornithologist who also guides (and very well), Michel Sallaberry. He suggested that we divide my two days into one day along the Pacific coast and a second day in the Andes.
The common names that I use in this post are those of "Birds of Southern South America and Antarctica" by Martin de la Pena and Maurice Rumboll. Had I been birding alone, the plates in this book would have been fairly useful for most species, but inadequate for others. The scale of the range maps makes them difficult to use. Fortunately, Michel was with me and his expertise rendered the book's deficiencies a non-issue.
Day-1: Saturday 2 March
Michel and I ventured out of Santiago towards Valparaiso (a major port and the second largest city in Chile) and further north along the coast, through Vina del Mar, Renaca, Concon and across the Rio Aconcagua, continuing as far north as Cachagua. The weather was excellent, with sunny skies (except for minor patches of fog when we first reached the coast), pleasant temperatures and a minor breeze that did not become stout until mid-afternoon.
Since this was my first trip to Chile (and South America), about 3/4 of the species I saw were new to me. Before we had even left Santiago, we had seen several Austral Thrushes. At the city's edge, we started to see Long-tailed Meadowlarks, Eared Dove, Chilean Mockingbird and Chimango Caracaras, which were fairly common everywhere we went on Saturday. As we reached the coast at Vina del Mar, I had hordes Kelp Gulls to study. Seaside Cinclodes were darting among the rocks. At Renaca, there was a large roost of Inca Terns, a striking dark tern species. Peruvian Boobies and Pelicans were also numerous, along with familiar birds such as Neotropic Cormorants, American Oystercatchers, Ruddy Turnstones, Franklin's Gulls and Surfbirds.
At the Rio Aconcogua, we had our only Elegant Tern, a moderately distant look. In addition to our first Yellow-winged Blackbirds, we found three Many-colored Rush-Tyrants in a reedy area along the Aconcagua. These small colorful (as you might expect) yellow, white, black and rufous birds were a Saturday highlight.
Continuing north, Michel spied a Plumbeous Rail wandering a small roadside marsh (We also had our first Picui Ground-Dove at this stop). I could not get on the rail at first, despite Michel's clear directions, but I eventually saw it. We had another on private land at day's end, too.
A stop at the roadside marsh across the highway from the immense Enami power plant, near Quintero, yielded several nice birds, including good scope looks at two Stripe-backed Bittern, White-tufted Grebe, Brown Pintails, Lake Duck and our first Red Shovelers and Southern Wigeon. We also plenty of Red-fronted and Red-gartered Coots.
A right turn off the highway, just south of Cachagua, put us on a dirt road that meandered through a region of native vegetation and trees. Here we added species such as Fire-eyed Diucon, Plain-mantled Tit-tyrant, Tufted Tit-tyrant, Thorn-tailed Rayadito and our first hummingbird, Green-back Firecrown.
At Cachagua, I walked down the beach until I was within a (hard) stone's throw of the rocky island favored by the Peruvian Penguin. More than a hundred of these penguins, the first I have ever seen in the wild, were standing around on the white-washed rock, waiting for inspiration, I suppose. Several Black Oystercatchers were resting there, too.
After Cachagua, we spent more time among the native vegetation, back south a bit. This added Striped Woodpecker and Grey-hooded Sierra-finch.
There is a particular flowering shrub that Michel told me the Giant Hummingbird favors. When we found some, he drove more slowly, and within a few minutes, we had great looks at two Giant Hummingbirds, battling each other for something as they raced around the sky at breakneck speeds and occasionally perched.
Our final Saturday stop was a set of private ponds just off Ruta 5, about 30 km north of Santiago. Here we added quite a few fine duck species including White-cheeked Pintail, Black-headed Duck, Speckled Teal, Rosy-billed Pochard. Amidst the ducks and common gulls, we also found several Collared Plover. Driving around the largest of the pond yielded four Brown-hooded Gulls. Numerous Austral Negrito were wandering the pond's edges. A fair bit of searching finally yielded a couple White-winged Coots.
Day-2: Sunday 3 March
Michel Sallaberry and I drove away from Santiago into the mountains, birding our way up the Yeso Valley. Of the mountain ranges I have seen in the United States and Europe, nothing can match the grandeur of the Andes. It was sometimes hard to concentrate on finding birds because the scenery was so overpowering. Glacier melt was flowing everywhere. Remnant snow and glaciers were brilliant white or blue-white above us. I took alot of photographs.
Just a half mile or so past the end of the paved road, near a gypsum (yeso) processing plant, an owl flew across the road in front of our car. Michel located it in a nearby tree: an Austral Pygmy-Owl. As we ascended further, parallelling the Rio Yeso, we had good looks at two Torrent Ducks in the gorge.
Our first attempt to see the endemic Crag Chilia was frustrating. We spent quite awhile at a spot that has been consistent for Michel in the past. Though we heard at least one bird several times, we could not see it. As a (fine) consolation prize, while we were searching for the Crag Chilia, a Black-chested Buzzard-eagle soared across the broad canyon, and our first White-sided Hillstar went flitting past, working shrubs that seemed to grow out of solid rock. At our next stop, just a short distance up-canyon, it took only a few minutes to see a Crag Chilia at close range and in good light. A half hour later, six Andean Condors came soaring over the north ridge of the Andres, gliding on thermals. Yet a bit further, we saw one Mustached Turca and heard at least another two.
The Embalse El Yeso is a huge expanse of turquoise blue (miles of shoreline) lying between steep-sided, crayola-colored Andean crags. A moderate wind stirred the reservoir's surface into a few whitecaps. A narrow, dusty dirt road with an unprotected edge that drops sharply into the watery abyss hugs the shoreline. It eventually deposits the persistent at a broad bog. Beneath the towering Andean ridges, the birding here was among the most spectacular I have ever had the pleasure to pursue.
Most of the extensive Andean bog on the north side of the Embalse El Yeso has a crusty, hard, mineralized surface. Booted feet do not sink into the ground and leave no impressions. But every once in awhile, the ground texture changes, becoming much softer. While searching the edges of the bog, for example, I took what seemed like a reasonable step forward and my right foot and leg suddenly sank in up to the knee. I was seriously stuck. Losing Michel's boot seemed a likely outcome, and for a couple minutes it was not clear to me how I was going to get myself out of this mess (Michel was about a half mile away at the time). The muck had a firm grip on me. While working to extract my right foot from the quaqmire, my left foot sunk into the ooze, too. Eventually I extricated both feet, but it was touch and go.
In this Andean bog, Michel and I did find the day's ultimate bird, a gorgeous adult endemic Diademed Sandpiper-Plover with a chick that we studied in Michel's scope. The whole area was birdy. Multiple individuals were seen from three cinclodes species: Grey-flanked, Dark-bellied and Bar-winged Cinclodes. Greater Yellowfinch were abundant; Yellow-rumped Siskins were fairly common. I had a single Black-fronted Ground-tyrant just before my encounter with the bog described above; White-browed Ground-tyrant was common. After a half-hour's search, Michel and I located two Gray-breasted Seed-snipes in the bog.
My complete 98 species trip list (74 lifers) follows in a separate e-mail. Two species -- Chilean Tinamou and Burrowing Parrot -- were seen later, while I was travelling around Chile for business.
If anyone has questions or wants additional details about the places Michel and I visited, feel free to contact me at the e-mail below.
The complete species list for my Chile report follows. Because there is significant variation in common name usage for the South American birds, I have included scientific names for these species.
Lifers are indicated in my species list by an asterisk (*) preceding the common name.
Abundance estimates are provided in parantheses after the scientific name. All abundances refer to appropriate habitat, of course.
abundance codes, in decreasing abundance order
a = abundant, c = common, fc = fairly common, s = several.
*White-tufted Grebe, Podiceps rolland (4)
*Peruvian Penguin, Spheniscus humboldti (100+)
all on one small island immediately offshore the beach at Cachagua
*Peruvian Booby, Sula variegata (fc)
*Peruvian Pelican, Pelecanus thagus (a)
Neotropic Cormorant (c)
*Stripe-backed Bittern, Ixobrychus involucris (2, Enami marsh near Quintero)
Great Egret (2)
Snowy Egret (3)
Cattle Egret (6)
Black-crowned Night Heron (3)
*Speckled Teal, Anas favirostris (fc, private ponds 30 km N of Santiago)
*Southern Wigeon, Anas sibilatrix (fc)
*White-cheeked Pintail, Anas bahamensis (3, private ponds 30 km N of Santiago)
*Brown Pintail, Anas georgica (4 , Enami marsh near Quintero)
Cinnamon Teal (s)
*Red Shoveler, Anas platalea (c)
*Torrent Duck, Merganetta armata (2, Yeso Valley)
*Rosy-billed Pochard, Netta pepposaca (3, private ponds 30 km N of Santiago)
*Lake Duck, Oxyura vittata (3, Enami marsh near Quintero)
*Black-headed Duck, Heteronetta atricapilla (4 , private ponds 30 km
N of Santiago)
Black Vulture (c)
Turkey Vulture (fc)
*Andean Condor, Vultur gryphus (6 flying at high ridge along Yeso Valley)
White-tailed Kite (2)
*Black-chested Buzzard-eagle, Geranoaetus melanoleucus (2, Yeso Valley)
*Red-backed Hawk, Buteo polyosoma (1)
* Chimango Caracara, Milvago chimango (a)
American Kestrel (fc)
California Quail (30+)
*Plumbeous Rail, Pardirallus sanguinolentus (2)
*Spot-flanked Gallinule, Gallinula mellinops (3)
*Red-gartered Coot, Fullica armillata (s)
*White-winged Coot, Fullica leucoptera (2)
*Red-fronted Coot, Fullica rufifrons (fc)
*Southern Lapwing, Vanellus chilensis (c)
*Collared Plover, Charadrius collaris (5)
*Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, Phegornis mitchelli (2 birds: 1 adult, 1 chick)
Andean bog past Embalse El Yeso
American Oystercatcher (40+, a large group at Enami marsh)
Blackish Oystercatcher (4 at Cachagua)
Black-necked Stilt (fc)
Lesser Yellowlegs (3)
Ruddy Turnstone (s)
*Grey-breasted Seed-snipe (2, Andean bog past Embalse El Yeso)
Black Skimmer (fc)
*Kelp Gull (a)
Franklin's Gull (c)
*Brown-hooded Gull* (4 , private ponds 30 km N of Santiago)
*Inca Tern (50+, Renaca and elsewhere)
Elegant Tern (1, Rio Aconcagua)
Rock Dove (a)
*Eared Dove (a)
*Picui Ground-Dove (15)
*Black-winged Ground-Dove (2, Yeso Valley just before dam)
*Mountain Parakeet (heard only)
*Austral Pygmy-Owl (1, just past end of pavement, perched in tree)
*White-sided Hillstar (3)
*Giant Hummingbird, Patagona gigas (2 chasing each other)
*Green-backed Firecrown, Sephanoides sephanoides (5)
*Striped Woodpecker, Picoides lignarius (1)
*Chilean Flicker, Colaptes pitius (2)
*Rufous-banded Miner, Geositta rufipennis (fc)
*Scaled-throated Earthcreeper, Upucerthia dumetaria (1)
*Crag Chilia, Chilia melanura (1 seen well, 2 - 3 others heard)
*Dark-bellied Cinclodes, Cinclodes patagonicus (3)
*Grey-flanked Cinclodes, Cinclodes oustaleti (5)
*Bar-winged Cinclodes, Cinclodes fuscus (2)
*Seaside Cinclodes, Cinclodes nifrofumosus (20+)
*Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Aphrastura spinicauda (6)
*Plain-mantled Tit-spinetail, Leptasthenura aegithaloides (10)
*Tufted Tit-spinetail, Leptasthenura platensis (7)
*Lesser Canastero, Asthenes pyrrholeuca (1, brief look)
*Moustached Turca, Pteroptochos megapodius (1 seen well, 2 others heard)
*Fire-eyed Diucon, Xolmis Pyrope (4)
*Many-coloured Rush-tyrant, Tachuris rubigastra (3 at Rio Aconcagua)
*White-browed Ground-tyrant, Muscisaxicola albilora (10)
*Black-fronted Ground-tyrant, Muscisaxicola frontalis (1)
*Austral Negrito, Lessonia rufa (15 - 20)
*Chilean Swallow, Tachycineta leucopyga (fc)
*Blue-and-White Swallow, Notiochelidon cyanoleuca (fc)
House Wren (s)
*Austral Thrush, Turdus falcklandii (10)
*Chilean Mockingbird, Mimus thenca (c)
*Greater Yellowfinch, Sicalis auriventris (c)
*Grassland Yellowfinch, Sicalis luteola (fc)
*Common Diuca-Finch, Diuca diuca (15)
*Grey-hooded Sierra-Finch, Phrygilus gayi (12)
*Mourning Sierra-Finch, Phrygilus fruticeti (10)
*Rufous-collared Sparrow, Zonotrichia capensis (fc)
*Austral Blackbird, Curaeus curaeus (15)
*Yellow-winged Blackbird, Agelaius thilius (fc)
*Long-tailed Meadowlark, Sturnella loyca (fc)
*Yellow-rumped Siskin, Carduelis uropygialis (fc)
Mark T. Adams
Fort Davis, Texas USA