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CHILE -- El Norte Grande

1-15th August 1999 and 10-24th November 2000

by Carlos Pedrós-Alió

I visited Norte Grande in winter (August 1999) and spring (November 2000). The trips were part of a scientific project with microbiologists from the Universidad Católica del Norte in Antofagasta. Therefore, most of the time was spent in Región II visiting different “salares” (salt flats) and “vertientes” (thermal springs) to sample for the microorganisms living in these extreme environments. Some of these places are remote and hard to reach while others a fairly touristic. Even though the main purpose of this part of the trip was not bird watching I could see quite a few birds. I mention even the places that were not productive so that other travelers do not waste their time. We did all the traveling in this part of the trip with 4wd vehicles belonging to the University and driven by professional drivers with a long experience of the desert. I have tried to point out the places that could not be reached with a normal car.

The last three days of the 1999 trip I took a bird-watching vacation. I flew to Arica (in Región I) with a "Visite Chile" ticket from Lan Chile, and rented a small car (three days for 89000 pesos from American, phone 56 58 252234, email They provided an extra tank for gasoline upon request. This is important, because there is no gas in the way to Lauca and a full tank is not enough to drive safely. I think renting a car is the best option. It is not that expensive and provides a freedom of movements to stop wherever you like. I could not have seen so many areas in three days in any other way. Incidentally, the Lonely Planet Guide listed at least three non-existent car rental companies in Arica. I found it particularly difficult to find a good road map both in Antofagasta and in Arica. Finally, I found that the maps in the Turistel guides were the best available. The main road from Arica to Lauca is well paved and dirt roads within Lauca NP were also good.

Weather was foggy in the coast (due to the Humboldt Current offshore) and always pleasant in terms of temperature. It was brilliantly sunny and very cold in the interior. In the puna I had to wear several layers of clothes under my parka, as well as wind stopper trousers, two pairs of socks, a hat and mountaineering sunglasses (in fact I was wearing the same gear than when I work in Antarctica). At midday, I could take off several layers. In the spring visit, temperature was a lot nicer. Rain in the Norte Grande is not a problem, it is a miracle!

In Arica I spent the first night at Residencial Chungará (at the lower limit of acceptability, 4000 pesos for a cubicle without restroom and a piece of chewing gum stuck to the wallà). The other two nights I stayed at Hostería Las Vicuñas in Putre. They charged $55 per night including breakfast and dinner (in a large room with bathroom). I found this arrangement excellent and the hotel very nice, convenient and comfortable (except for the lack of good heating in the rooms). Birding around the hotel was very good. If you want to make a reservation in advance, arrangements have to be done with the office in Arica (phone 56 58 232216, email: However, when I was there, most rooms were empty and the second night I was the only customer!

Altitude sickness. Many of the areas visited are above 3500 m (up to 4500 at Lake Chungará). Most people I know feel a mild to very strong headache at these heights. A few do not feel anything and a few have serious trouble. I have tried local remedies (“chachacoma” and “coca” teas) and aspirins, as well as sleeping the night before at 2000, 2300 or 3800 m). Usually I develop a strong headache no matter what I did the night before. Sometimes I do notà I have the suspicion that this is like seasickness with which I have a long experience (I am a marine microbiologist): you never know when or where a certain remedy is going to work for you. So, be patient and if things get really bad go back down!

1. Antofagasta

August 1999. In Antofagasta I stayed at an apartment directly in front of the beach, south of the new harbor. I spent several hours distributed among four or five days watching marine birds (see table). No matter how hard I looked for them I could not see a single Inca Tern. In fact I only saw a few South American terns (including two juveniles being fed by their parents at the old harbor). More about this in the Arica section.

Both the beach and the old harbor had gulls (Grey, Band-tailed and Dominican), Peruvian Pelicans, Peruvian Boobies and Guanay and Olivaceous Cormorants. There were also abundant Blackish Oystercatchers and Sea lions. The city parks were full of Turkey vultures.

In November 2000, I stayed in the same apartment. Again no terns whatsoever. Not even the South American Terns. The usual Humboldt Current assemblage was present every day: Peruvian Pelican, Olivaceous Cormorant, Grey, Band-tailed and Dominican Gulls, plus some Peruvian Boobies. On November 22 I could see a distant group of about 100 dolphins porpoising towards the north. Sea lions were occasionally seen. On November 15 I took a walk along the Costanera at noon. This allowed seeing the small birds, something impossible from the16th floor apartment. About every 200 m there was one very active Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant. I was surprised to see this bird that I had enjoyed in Tierra del Fuego a few years ago in such a different environment.

The coastline has many rock outcrops in between gravel beaches. These outcrops were the roosting place for the three Gulls, especially there were hundreds of Grey Gulls. Many Whimbrels were inspecting the rocks and tidal pools. There were also American and Blackish Oystercatchers, Ruddy Turnstones, Surfbirds, Sanderlings, and dozens of Pelicans and Cormorants. I also saw a Little Blue Heron. Howell (1996) records this bird as "of very rare occurrence" in the North of Chile. Araya and Millie simply mention that it occurs in northern Chile. However, I also saw a juvenile and an adult on November 12. And, as explained later, I saw this heron also in Arica in 1999. So, it appears to be relatively common along the northern coast.

On November 21 I visited the old harbor. This time there were the Sea lions again and several turtles. The three gulls were abundant and the Turkey Vultures were again resting with the Pelicans and Olivaceous Cormorants on the fishing boats. A Whimbrel was on the small beach area. And there were several Black-crowned Night Herons, both adults and juveniles all over the place.

On November 22 I visited Juan López, a small village with summerhouses and the favorite swimming beach for Antofagastans. The three Gulls, the Olivaceous Cormorants and Pelicans were there as well as the Whimbrels. On the way, we stopped at La Rinconada, a brackish lagoon that has been recently divided into sections to build a weird "resort". There were several Baird's Sandpipers. Apparently these birds arrive en masse during the spring and can be seen in any shore, be it at sea level or 4000 m up in the Andes. I also saw an adult Snowy Plover with two chicks and a Rufous-naped Ground-Tyrant.

2. Salares from the Antofagasta Region

a. Salar de Atacama and surrounding area.

San Pedro de Atacama is 98 km east of Calama through paved road 23. San Pedro is the most convenient place to explore the area. It can be reached by bus and excursions can be arranged with tourist companies in town. Most places can be reached with a normal car, although a 4wd is always nice to have. We did several trips: to El Tatio geysers, to lagoons in northern salar de Atacama, to Lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques, and to Laguna Burro Muerto in the central section of the salar.

* El Tatio

4 August 1999. El Tatio geysers are found about 90 km north of San Pedro through an unpaved and bumpy road that takes about 3 to 4 hours to drive in the dark. The ideal time to reach the area is at sunrise, because the geysers and fumaroles are at their best. At the time of my visit this meant leaving San Pedro at 4 am. It was very cold. I had only experienced such bitter cold in the Wisconsin winter. The geysers can be reached with a normal car, but it takes time. There are many organized excursions from San Pedro. At 4200 m the thermal area has a dramatic landscape. Many of the fumaroles and springs have profuse growth of microbial mats, in all shades of orange, gold, brown and green. The outlet from the springs forms a marshy area and there is even a swimming pool with warm water.

There were Crested Ducks, Puna Plover, Rufous-naped and Puna Ground-Tyrants. The way back, this time with daylight, provided fantastic views of the puna, the volcanoes, the sulfur mines and dozens of vicuñas. Close to the “azufrera” Saciel, the track crosses River Putana and borders another extensive marshy area. Here there were Speckled Teal (+100), Crested Duck (20), Andean Goose (6), Andean Gull, a Cinclodes that I could not identify, and the only Red-backed Sierra-Finch of the trip.

On 14 November 2000 we visited el Tatio again. This time we left San Pedro at 9 am and we did not have to suffer the cold. While climbing "la Cuesta del Diablo" we saw a Red-backed Hawk. The road seemed considerably improved. The only exception was the crossing of the River Putana. This river periodically destroys the road, and one has to find the way around the different shallow arms of the river. As in 1999, the marshy area around this river was very rich in birds. We could not stop as we had a demanding sampling schedule, but we saw several -round Tyrants, an Andean Negrito and Andean Geese. Reaching the geyser field I was very happy to see a Puna Tinamou, a bird I had missed in 1999. While sampling one of the acid pH hot springs we enjoyed the company of a very vocal male of Grey-breasted Seedsnipe. Vicuñas were all over the place, just as the previous year. This time we returned directly to Calama through the "cuesta de Chita". Suffice it to say that the route through San Pedro is much more interesting and prettier, but longer.

* Northern Salar de Atacama. 5 August 1999.

There are several lagoons in this part of the salar that can be reached by dirt roads through the salt crusts. On the road between San Pedro and Toconao (paved route 23), just before the 110 km milestone there is a track to the right, next to a dry tree. After 5 km one can see a solitary “Algarrobo” tree (Prosopis sp.) and the “ayio” of Socor with its “Chañar” (Geoffroea decorticans) oasis to the right. The track leaves to the left, about 100 m before the tree. This track can be followed with a normal car (although with caution). Take always the left-hand track at junctions. 17 km after leaving the paved road Cejar lagoon appears to the west, and after 28 km the track passes between two dolines in the salt crust. From here one can see (and walk to) Tebenquiche lagoon to the west. These lagoons were devoid of birds when we sampled them (afternoon), but especially Tebenquiche could have flamingos and waterfowl at other times. In Socor we saw a Chiguanco Thrush and Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant.

On 13 November 2000, we visited Tebenquiche lagoon again, this time in the morning. There was an Andean Gull in one of the dolines. In Tebenquiche we could see several small groups of Andean Flamingos, several pairs of Speckled Teals and a few Andean Avocets. Blue and white swallows were flying around. There were Baird's Sandpipers here and there. These were very tame and were still feeding when approached at four or five meters.

* Central Salar de Atacama.

4 and 5 August 1999. This is probably the easiest place to see Andean flamingos. There are organized trips from San Pedro that usually include a visit to some Puna lakes in addition (Lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques, see below). From Toconao, the road to Minsal and El Litio, goes through one of the areas of the Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos (the Soncor area). There is a minuscule reception center with the proceedings of a symposium on flamingos as the only literature (see references below). According to this booklet, the lagoons in the salar de Atacama are the main breeding grounds for the Andean flamingo. Puna flamingo, on the other hand, has its main breeding grounds in salar de Surire (Región I, south of Lauca NP). A short walk brings one to an area of many lagoons next to the River Burro Muerto. Laguna Chaxsa is a bit further south and not easy to reach (for protection). The lagoon one can see, however, is fantastic. The calm waters reflect the snow-capped volcanoes where dozens of Chilean and Andean flamingos go about their own business. I never saw either one of these two species of flamingos so close in any other location (great for pictures!). There were many Andean avocets (around 60) and Puna Plovers (around 20). We also saw a Puna Hawk over the salt flats.

13 November 2000. We visited Burro Muerto in the afternoon. There were the same birds as in 1999 (Andean and Chilean Flamingos, Andean Avocet, Puna Plover) plus a lot of Baird's Sandpipers. Again, the latter were very tame.

* Lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques.

13 November 2000. These lakes form another sector of the Reserva Nacional Los Flamencos. They are reached by following route 23 to Socaire, a picturesque little town in the altiplano, and then (about 20 km in the direction of Argentina), take a marked dirt road to the left. This road is awful. I doubt that a regular car can make it. A 4wd or a walk (about 7 km) are the only alternatives. The trip, however, is worth it. The view of the deep blue lakes, the perfect slopes of the volcanoes and the transparent atmosphere are unearthly. Plus, Horned Coots are all over the place. Moreover, they breed here! We could feast our eyes on the birds running over the water, diving for aquatic plants, fighting each other, and tending their nests. It is amazing how similar their ecology is to that of the Giant Coots (see below at Lauca N.P.). There is a mobile home next to Laguna Miñiques with two CONAF guards. They explained that the two lagoons contain a significant portion of the worlds breeding population of this weird and little known bird. It is not clear why the Horned Coot only colonizes certain lakes and not others, but suitable lakes seem to be colonized either by the Giant or by the Horned Coot, but not the two together. In addition to the coots, we also saw 6 James' Flamingos, dozens of White-Tufted Grebes, an Andean Gull, a pair of Speckled Teals and a Ground Tyrant that I could not identify for certain, either Puna or Rufous-naped.

b. Salar de Ascotán.

7 August 1999. From Calama, road 21 goes 33 km to Chiu Chiu, where it crosses River Loa. From Chiu Chiu it is 90 km to the Ascotán village. There is a “carabineros” outpost and a dangerous area full of mines (yes, antipersonnel mines!) before entering the valley of the salar at almost 4000 m. The scenery is breathtaking: the white flat bottom contrasts with the slopes, in all shades of red and brown, of the snow covered volcanoes against a deep blue sky. The eastern side of the salar has about 12 warm water springs (water comes out at 30 degrees Celsius) with the corresponding streams running into the salt flats. While sampling spring #11 noisy flocks of Golden-spotted Ground-Doves surrounded us. There was also a solitary Crested Duck on the stream and a Pipit singing in flight that was most likely a Correndera Pipit.

An unpaved road runs along the western side of the salar. Several lagoons on the salt flat can be seen from here. In the first lagoon after the Estación Cebollar borax-mining compound, we stopped to sample again. Cerros Aucanquilcha (6176) and Ollagüe (5870) were magnificent. Against this background, the fumaroles were visible on the other side of the salt flats, and about 100 Puna flamingos were feeding in the lagoon. It was an unreal vision hard to forget. There were also a few Crested Ducks. In addition small groups of vicuñas were roaming all over the place, including the salt crusts. One can drive further to Salar de Carcote that has the so-called Green Lagoon (although the water is blue).

c. Salar de Punta Negra.

9 August 1999. At 3000 m, this salar is hard to reach. There are a few unpaved and unmarked tracks running south from Mina Escondida  (about 30 km). It can also be reached cross-country through the Domeyko Sierra, south of Cerro Alto de Varas, but the driver has to know the desert extremely well. The Llullaillaco volcano (6739 m) is the dominant feature. There is also a completely black outcrop that gives its name to the salar. Apart from some more vicuñas, we did not see many signs of life during this trip. Only Puna Miner and a couple of Crested Ducks. The lagoons are too small and shallow for flamingos.

3. Arica

Between the harbor and the industrial fisheries area the coast of Arica is fairly accessible and offers several good spots to do marine bird watching. I spent 2 and a half hours on August 12 and 1 hour on August 14, stopping at different beaches and rocky outcrops to scan the horizon and the shores (see Table). It was permanently cloudy with a very slight breeze.

Surprisingly, I could not see a single tern. In theory Inca Terns should have been present by the thousands and other terns such as the South American and Peruvian Terns could have been present. No matter how intensely I looked for them I could not see a single one. The same thing happened in Antofagasta (see table). I have not been able to find a reference mentioning migration of Inca Terns out of this big area, and people have seen them in practically any month of the year. Is there an explanation for the missing terns?

The best places along the coast were the flat rocky area south of Hotel Panamericana-Arica, the Alacrán Península and the mirador just north of the industrial fisheries area. The first one provided extremely close views of waders (Blackish Oystercatcher, Surfbird, Ruddy Turnstone, Willet, and Whimbrel), herons (Snowy Egret and Little Blue Heron) and resting gulls (mostly Grey gulls). The Surfbirds were so close that fine details of plumage were easy to observe. The second spot provided a constant stream of passing gulls (Grey, Band-tailed and Dominican), Peruvian Pelicans, Peruvian Boobies and Red-legged, Guanay and Olivaceous Cormorants. Finally, the third spot produced both Blackish and American Oystercatchers in addition to the gulls, cormorants, pelicans and boobies.

While in the Alacrán Península I was attacked by a dog. Dog attacks are never described in trip reports. Am I the only one suffering from them? Many years ago I was bird watching with a friend and three dogs attacked us. The owner was looking from a distance doing nothing. A week later I was alone in the same place and two of the dogs attacked again. Fortunately they were not big and I could kick them off. Any strategies to avoid this inconvenience?

4. Azapa Valley

I followed the unpaved road indicated by several other people (Pearman, Wheatley) next to the Tarapacá University field station and the Vivero Municipal. I drove until the track crosses the dry bed of the Azapa River, and then walked back to (and from) the road spending about an hour. The three species of hummingbirds were easily seen throughout the path. They would appear singly or in small groups of two or three moving quickly from one flower to another and then they would suddenly stop to rest on telephone cables or bushes, allowing a detailed appreciation of their beautiful purple throats, and long beaks and tails. The most abundant species was Peruvian Sheartail and the least abundant Chilean Woodstar.

Between hummingbird appearances, I could see several Slender-billed Finches and Cinereous Conebills, as well as the extremely abundant White-winged Doves and Blue-and-white Swallows, the omnipresent Turkey Vultures and Rufous-collared Sparrows or the elusive White-crested Elaenia. Other areas pointed out in trip reports around San Miguel de Azapa seemed too crowded with humans to be worth exploring.

5. Lluta Valley

I drove through this valley, stopping only briefly when a bird was apparent. The most persistent image was dozens of Turkey Vultures flying in circles over the sharply contrasting green valley floor and the sandy slopes of the valley. Some of the uncultivated fields were full of Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant, alternatively posing on the turf pieces and disappearing behind them. A male Vermilion Flycatcher was very conspicuous standing on the telephone cables and periodically flying to catch some insect. When driving between trees White-winged and Eared Doves were extremely abundant and a few Golden-billed (Croacking) Doves were seen on the barbwires separating fields from the road. A Peruvian Meadowlark was standing on a tree and American Kestrels appeared here and there.

The road then rose above the valley to enter the desert. Here, only a Turkey Vulture could be seen once in a while until the area covered by Candelabro cacti (Browningia candelaris) was reached. There I could see a Streaked Tit-Spinetail actively searching over short bushes. Reaching the bush covered area near Zapahuira the number of birds increased significantly, although I could only identify a Straight-billed Earthcreeper. Periodically a large guanaco would be seen observing from a rock. Looking carefully around would normally show a small family group of a few females and young standing close by.

6. Putre

After the extreme dryness of the Atacama Desert, reaching the valleys around Putre seemed like reaching a green paradise. Putre made a stunning sight. Slopes were covered with cacti and flowers of many colors. The village extended along a ridge between two dry valleys with terraces for agriculture. These had a few trees (the only trees in many kilometers). Directly behind the village, the twin peaks of the Nevados de Putre rose making a dramatic background. Birds were also more abundant. Upon reaching the town I birded the valley to the right of the road (where the cemetery is found) from 17 to sunset (18:15). There were dozens of Black-winged Ground-Doves flying away from everywhere. Birds started to appear in quick succession: Andean Hillstar (a female and a male), Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, White-winged Cinclodes, Streaked Tit-Spinetail, Cinereous Ground-Tyrant, Mourning Sierra-Finch, Rufous-collared Sparrow, White-throated Sierra-Finch, Band-tailed Sierra-Finch and Hooded Siskin. I also saw a pair of Barefaced Ground-Doves, with their goggle-like orange eye rings, copulating. There was a Canastero that I could not identify properly.

The second day, I repeated the sunset bird watching in the same area between 17:30 and 18:30. Here dogs seemed more civilized than in Arica. This time I was followed by a few kids from the village who threw stones at me and verbally abused me in English (apparently anybody carrying binoculars has got to be English speakingà). They left when I asked in Spanish whether they did not have anything more interesting to do than to harass tourists. I could proceed undisturbed to see Barefaced Ground-Dove, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, Puna Miner, Puna Hawk, Black-hooded Sierra-Finch, Mourning Sierra-Finch, Thick-billed Siskin and Rufous-collared Sparrow.

Finally, the third day from sunrise around 8 to 10:30, I birded the valley to the other side of the village (west). It can be reached by walking from the main plaza to the end of Carrera Street. A path goes down the slope, through the valley floor and back up the other side of the small canyon. I walked on the plateau on the other side of the canyon first. A Barefaced Ground-Dove was waiting for me across the street from my cabin when I started for the valley. The Black-winged Ground-Doves were again extremely abundant. After a while, I could meditate over the birdwatchers' curse: birds tend to come in waves. You may spend what seems eternity not seeing or hearing anything and all of a sudden a multitude of birds appear and disappear quickly, making you very excited and frustrated at the same time: two Andean Hillstars, a Giant Hummingbird, and several Mourning and Ash-breasted Sierra-Finches appeared in this way. I saw the same Giant Hummingbird several times (impressive). A Common Hawk juvenile was calling their parents with insistence, flying back and forth to a large Eucalyptus tree at the bottom of the valley. One of the parents promptly obliged. Curiously, a pair of Puna Hawks seemed to be building a nest on a similar tree on the next valley, only half a kilometer away. I could see one of the parents flying over me with a branch in its beak.

Other birds seen from the small plateau were Blue-and-Yellow Tanager, Black-Hooded Sierra-Finch, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, and Streaked Tit-Spinetail. I climbed back down to the valley floor and walked along the bottom to see a Black-throated Flowerpiercer flying from bush to bush and never going too far from me, plus a Golden-billed Saltator. Andean Swallows were flying above all the time. When coming back to the village I saw a band of Greenish Yellow-Finches in an empty lot and a pair of beautiful D'Orbigny's Chat-Tyrants posing on the electricity cables.

7. Lauca National Park

* Lake Chungará. 8:45 to 10.

The most spectacular bird was the Giant Coot. They had built their large nests along a line parallel to the coast, but about 30 m from the shore, where depth of the water was adequate, and maintaining a similar distance from each other. Obviously this distribution limits the total number of possible nests in a lake and forces competition for space. They spent a lot of time in pursuit of would-be invaders running noisily over the water. They were constantly bringing fresh aquatic vegetation to the nests.

I could also see large numbers of Silvery Grebes. Some couples were starting the nuptial parades. The areas closest to the shore were frozen and dozens of Puna Teals, Crested Ducks and Speckled Teals were sleeping on it. A few pairs of Ruddy Ducks were swimming far from shore. There was one Andean Gull, one Black-crowned Night-Heron and two White-winged Cinclodes flying around the pumping station at the west end of the lake.

At the “Guardaparques” the park ranger claimed that flamingos were not seen anymore in the lake because there was too much traffic and tourism and they are shy animals. In effect, I could only see four adult and one juvenile Chilean Flamingos at the end of the lake closest to the Customs compound in Tambo Quemado. But no Andean or Puna Flamingos appeared at any time. In the fields around the “Guardaparques”, among the “Queñoas” (Polylepis besseri) and “Llaretas” (Azarella compacta) I saw the brilliant Black-hooded Sierra-Finch, Puna Miner, and Mourning Sierra-Finch.

* Bofedales de Parinacota. 11 to 13.

The road to Parinacota goes around one of the lagoons just before entering town, at about 10 meters above. This provides a nice observatory since the birds feel confident at this distance. One can see a wide extension of “bofedales” and lagoons full of birds, llamas and vicuñas. The Giant Coots were predictably fighting each other. Two pairs were feeding their young. There were Speckled Teal and Crested Duck, Silvery Grebe, Ruddy Duck, Olivaceous Cormorant, Andean Goose, Puna Teal, and Andean Gull. In the distance a small flock of Puna Ibis was feeding among the marshy terrain and then took off. Seven Puna Flickers were scrutinizing the bumpy grounds just below my position and Andean Swallows were flying above: almost the whole collection of Puna birds. In addition, Cinereous Ground-Tyrant and White-winged Cinclodes were all over the place.

* Streams and football field at the entrance of Parinacota. 13 to 14.

I spent a whole hour in this area trying to find the Diademed Sandpiper -Plover without success. Both Pearman and Kirwan had seen the little animal on this spot, but no amount of scrutinizing the bumps produced the desired bird. On the other hand, I could enjoy at extremely close range the Giant Ground-Tyrant, White-winged Cinclodes, Andean Negrito and a flock of White-throated Sierra-Finches. Looking up to the sky trying to lower the excitement I saw Andean Swift and Puna Hawk. I also saw what looked like a Chimango Caracara, but this bird is not recorded in Lauca in any of the references I have seen and my identification was not absolutely certain. The lagoons behind the town were empty so I went back to the main road through the track bordering the lagoons south of town. From the car I could see at very close range the White-winged Diuca-Finch, and the two Cinclodes (White-winged and Bar-winged) together, clearly showing the difference in size.

It was getting late and my headache was getting stronger so I decided to start driving back to Putre. From the main road, however, I could see many groups of Vicuñas, and a pair of Mountain Caracara working on a corpse. I stopped at the Las Cuevas area because the sign said Vizcacha area. Without much hope I started looking at the rock outcrop to the south of the road and suddenly Vizcachas became visible! There were dozens of them all over the rocks not moving at all. On the other side of the road, in a small stream, I saw two Andean Lapwings and a pair of quite confident Ornate Tinamous, and some more White-winged Diuca-Finch. This concluded a very satisfactory Puna fauna seeing day at about 16:30 hours.


Altman, A. & B. Swift. Checklist of the Birds of South America. 3rd ed., Published by the authors, 1993.

Araya M., B. and G. Millie H.. GuÍa de campo de las aves de Chile. Editorial Universitaria, Santiago de Chile, Chile 1986.

Bakker, T. Northern Chile. CIL6 Trip report from Dutch Birding Travel Report Service. 1991.
Chester, S.R. Aves de Chile/Birds of Chile. Illustrated in color. Wandering Albatross, San Mateo, California, U.S.A., 1995.

De la Peña, M.R. and M. Rumboll. Collins Illustrated Checklist: Birds of Southern South America and Antarctica. Harper Collins Pub., London 1998.

Howell, S.N.G.   A Checklist of the Birds of Chile. American Birding Association, Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S.A., 1996.

Kirwan, G. Birding in northern and central Chile. CIL7 Trip report from Dutch Birding Travel Report Service. 1991.

Leitch, W.C. South America's National Parks. A visitor's guide. The Mountaineers, Seattle, Washington, USA 1990.

Narosky, T. and D. Yzurieta. GuÍa para la identificación de las aves de Argentina y Uruguay. Vázquez Mazzini Editores, Buenos Aires, Argentina 1993.

Parada, M., J. Rottmann & C. Guerra (eds.). I Taller Internacional de Especialistas en Flamencos Sudamericanos. San Pedro de Atacama, 4-11 abril 1988. Corporación Forestal Nacional / Zoological Society of New York. Text bilingual in Spanish and English.

Pearman, M. The Essential Guide to Birding in Chile. Worldwide Publications, Belper, Derbyshire, England 1995.

Ridgely, R.S. and G. Tudor. The birds of South America. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas, USA; vol. I 1989; vol. II 1991.

Wheatley, N. Where to watch birds in South America. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, USA 1995.

GuÍa turÍstica de Chile Turistel 1999. CTC Compañía de Telecomunicaciones de Chile SA. It can be purchased in Spanish as three separate volumes that are updated yearly, or as a single volume in English (less frequently updated).

The situation for a birding guide to Chile is sad. I find the case of Earthcreepers paradigmatic. The drawings of different Earthcreepers in Araya's are almost identical. In particular, the Plain-breasted Earthcreeper is not plain-breasted at all. The Collins guide by de la Peña does not help much, because the drawings are terrible. Chester has drawings in color but they are useless to help with the difficult groups. And Narosky does not have some of the Chilean species. The same situation holds for Miners, Cinclodes or Canasteros.

I found that studying Ridgely & Tudor before the trip was the only good way to learn how to distinguish all these Furnarids (I carried color Xerox copies of some drawings to the field). Araya and Millie was useful for accurate distribution information. In the field I kept shifting from Narosky to de la Peña back and forth everytime I had a problem.

With respect to tourist guides the Turistel guide is extremely good and nice. I found it far superior to the uninspiring Lonely Planet guide. It also has the best road maps.


An asterisk indicates the species was a lifer in the Norte Grande. The cross means that I had seen it previously but either very shortly or under non optimal conditions. The circle shows  that I had seen it in a different continent. Spanish names are taken from Araya and Millie (1986) and English names from Howell (1996).

*   Nothoprocta ornata
    Perdiz Cordillerana
    Ornate Tinamou
A pair in Lauca, in tufts in front of Vizcacha area.

*   Tinamotis pentlandii
    Perdiz de la Puna
    Puna Tinamou
One at El Tatio (Nov00)

+   Podiceps occipitalis
    Silvery Grebe
Very common in Lauca, especially in Lake Chungará (Aug99).
Very common at Laguna Miscanti (Nov00).

*   Pelecanus thagus
    Pelícano Peruano
    Peruvian Pelican
Very common along the coast, where dozens seen every day. Excellent photo opportunities at the old harbor in Antofagasta (Aug99 and Nov00).

*   Sula variegata
    Piquero Peruano
    Peruvian Booby
Common along the coast. Seen every day (Aug99).
A few along the northern coast (Nov00).

-   Phalacrocorax olivaceus
    Neotropic Cormorant
Very common along the coast. Seen everyday (Aug99 and Nov00).   A few in Lauca (Aug99).

+   P. bougainvillii
    Guanay Cormorant
Frequenlty seen along the coast (not every day) (Aug99).

*   P. gaimardi
    Red-legged Cormorant
A few seen in Arica (Aug99).

-   Egretta thula
    Garza Chica
    Snowy Egret
One seen in Arica (Aug99).

O   Egretta caerulea
    Garza Azul
    Little Blue Heron
One seen in Arica (Aug99).
Two adults and a juvenile seen on two different days in Antofagasta (Nov00).

-   Nycticorax nycticorax
    Black-crowned Night-Heron
One near Lake Chungará (Aug99).
Several adults and juveniles in harbor of Antofagasta (Nov00).

*   Plegadis ridgwayi
    Cuervo de Pantano de la Puna
    Puna Ibis
A group of 7 in the wetlands near Parinacota (Aug00).

-   Phoenicopterus chilensis
    Flamenco Chileno
    Chilean Flamingo
Many at Laguna Burro Muerto (Atacama, Aug99 and Nov00) and four adults plus a juvenile at Lake Chungará (Aug99).

*   Phoenicoparrus andinus
    Parina Grande
    Andean Flamingo
Many at Laguna Burro Muerto (Atacama, Aug99 and Nov00) at extremely close range.
Small groups of two to five at Tebenquiche (Atacama, Nov00).

*   Phoenicoparrus jamesi
    Parina Chica
    Puna Flamingo
About 100 at lagoon north of Estación Cebollar borax-minimg compound (Ascotßn, Aug99).
A group of six in Laguna Miscanti (Nov00).

-   Chloephaga melanoptera
    Andean Goose
Three pairs at River Putana.  Several in bofedales near Parinacota (Aug99).
A few at river Putana (Nov00).

-   Lophonetta specularioides
    Pato Juarjal
    Crested Duck
Isolated pairs at El Tatio, Ascotßn and Punta Negra. Many at Lake Chungará and in bofedales next to Parinacota (Aug99). A few isolated pairs at Tebenquiche, Miscanti  (Nov00).

-   Anas flavirostris
    Pato Jergón Chico
    Speckled Teal
Over 100 at River Putana and about the same in Lake Chungará (Aug99).

-   Anas puna
    Pato Puna
    Puna Teal
Many in Lake Chungará (Aug99).

-   Oxyura j. ferruginea
    Pato Rana de pico ancho
    Andean Ruddy Duck
A few pairs in Lake Chungará (Aug99).

-   Cathartes aura
    Jote de cabeza colorada
    Turkey Vulture
Very common in northern cities. The only bird seen in the desert zone between Arica and Putre.

-   Buteo polyosoma
    Red-backed Hawk
A breeding pair in Putre (Aug99).
One in the "Cuesta del Diablo" between San Pedro de Atacama and El Tatio (Nov00).

*   Buteo poecilochrous
    Aguilucho de la Puna
    Puna Hawk
A breeiding  pair in Putre. One in Lauca. One above Salar de Atacama (Aug99).

+   Phalcoboenus megalopteros
    Carancho Cordillerano
    Mountain Caracara
A pair working on a carcass in Lauca (Aug99).

-   Falco sparverius
    CernícalO   American Kestrel
Common in the Lluta Valley (Aug99).

*   Fulica gigantea
    Tagua Gigante
    Giant Coot
Very abundant in Lake Chungará. Common in bofedales near Parinacota (Aug99).

*   Fulica cornuta
    Tagua Cornuda
    Horned Coot
Very abundant at Lakes Miscanti and Miñiques (Nov00).

-   Vanellus resplendens
    Queltehue de la Puna
    Andean Lapwing
A pair at Lauca in tufts opposite Vizcacha cliffs (Aug99).

+   Charadrius alticola
    Chorlo de la Puna
    Puna Plover
About 20 in Laguna Burro Muerto. Two at El Tatio (Aug99).
Several  in Burro Muerto (Nov00).

O   Charadrius alexandrinus
    Chorlo Nevado
    Snowy Plover
An adult and two chicks at La Rinconada (Nov00).

-   Haematopus ater
    Pilpilén Negro
    Blackish Oystercatcher
Common along the northern coast (Aug99). Two in Antofagasta and one at Re±aca (Nov00).

-   Haematopus palliatus
    American Oystercatcher
One in Arica (Aug99). Two in Antofagasta (Nov00).

-   Recurvirostra andina
    Andean Avocet
Around 60 (Aug99) and a few (Nov00) at Laguna Burro Muerto.
A few at Tebenquiche (Nov00).

O   Catoptrophorus semipalmatus
    Playero Grande
50 in Arica (Aug99).

O   Numenius phaeopus
15 in Arica (Aug99). Common along northern (Antofagasta) coasts (Nov00).

O   Arenaria interpres
    Playero Vuelvepiedras
    Ruddy Turnstone
10 in Arica (Aug99).
About 20 in Antofagasta (Nov00).

*   Aphriza virgata
    Playero de las Rompientes
30 in Arica (Aug99).
10 in Antofagasta (Nov00).

-   Calidris alba
    Playero Blanco
5 en Antofagasta (Nov00).

*   Calidris bairdii
    Playero de Baird
    Baird's Sandpiper
A few at Tebenquiche and many at Burro Muerto. 5 at la Rinconada (Nov00).

*   Thinocorus orbignyianus
    Perdicita Cojón
    Grey-breasted Seedsnipe
One male at El Tatio (Nov00).

*   Larus belcheri
    Gaviota Peruana
    Band-tailed Gull
Very common along the coast. Several seen every day (Aug99). Less common, but present in Nov00.

*   Larus modestus
    Gaviota Garuma
    Grey Gull
Hundreds seen every day along the coast (Aug99 and Nov00). In Antofagasta much more numerous in Nov than in Aug.

-   Larus dominicanus
    Gaviota Dominicana
    Kelp Gull
Several seen every day along the northern coast (Aug99 and Nov00).

*   Larus serranus
    Gaviota Andina
    Andean Gull
One at River Putana. A few in Lauca (Aug99).
One at Tebenquiche and one at Miscanti (Nov00).

-   Sterna hirundinacea
    Gaviotón Sudamericano
    South American Tern
About 10, including immatures at the old harbor in Antofagasta (Aug99). None seen in either northern or central coasts in Nov00.

-   Columba livia
    Rock Dove
Very common in cities.

-   Zenaida auriculata
    Eared Dove
Common in Antofagasta, Arica and the Lluta Valley. A few seen everyday (Aug99).
2 in San Pedro de Atacama (Nov00).

*   Zenaida meloda
    Paloma de alas blancas
    Pacific (White-winged) Dove
Very common in Arica and the Lluta Valley. Many seen every day (Aug99).
2 in San Pedro de Atacama (Nov00).

*   Columbina cruziana
    Tortolita Quiguagua
    Croaking Ground-Dove
A small flock in Lluta Valley (Aug99).

*   Metriopelia ceciliae
    Tortolita Boliviana
    Bare-faced Ground-Dove
Three in Putre on two different days (Aug99).

*   Metriopelia melanoptera
    Tortolita Cordillerana
    Black-winged Ground-Dove
Very common in Putre (Aug99).

*   Metriopelia aymara
    Tortolita de la Puna
    Golden-spotted Ground-Dove
Large flock in Ascotán (Aug99).

*   Aeronautes andecolus
    Vencejo Chico
    Andean Swift
A few seen in Lauca (Aug99).

*   Oreotrochilus estella
    Picaflor de la Puna
    Andean Hillstar
Two pairs on two different days in Putre.

*   Patagona gigas
    Picaflor Gigante
    Giant Hummingbird
One in Putre seen several times (Aug99).

*   Rhodopis vesper
    Picaflor del Norte
    Oasis Hummingbird
Several in Azapa Valley (Aug99).

*   Thaumastura cora
    Picaflor de Cora
    Peruvian Sheartail
Several in Azapa Valley (Aug99).

*   Myrtis  (Eulidia) yarrellii
    Picaflor de Arica
    Chilean Woodstar
A few in Azapa valley (Aug99).

*   Colaptes rupicola
    Pitío del Norte
    Andean Flicker
A flock of seven in bofedales near Parinacota (Aug99).

*   Cinclodes atacamensis
    Churrete de Alas Blancas
    White-winged Cinclodes
Common in Putre and Lauca (Aug99).

+   Cinclodes fuscus
    Churrete Acanelado
    Bar-winged Cinclodes
Several in Lauca (Aug99).

*   Geositta punensis
    Minero de la Puna
    Puna Miner
A few in Lauca. Two in Punta Negra (Aug99).

*   Leptasthenura striata
    Tijeral ListadO   Streaked Tit-Spinetail
One in bushes in Lluta Valley in the cactus zone. Two in Putre. (Aug99).

*   Uputhertia ruficauda
    Bandurrilla de Pico Recto
    Straight-billed Earthcreeper
Two in Putre. One near Zapahuira (Aug99).

*   Uputhertia jelskii
    Bandurrilla de la Puna
    Plain-breasted Earthcreeper
One in Putre. One in Lauca (Aug99).

-   Asthenes sp.
One unidentified in Putre (Aug99).

-   Elaenia albiceps
    White-crested Elaenia
Several in the Azapa Valley (Aug99).

*   Pyrocephalus rubinus
    Vermilion Flycatcher
One male in Lluta Valley (Aug99).

*   Ochthoeca oenanthoides
     Pitajo Rojizo
     D'Orbigny's Flycatcher (Chat-tyrant)
A pair in the village of Putre (Aug99).

*   Agriornis montana
     Mero Gaucho
     Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant
One in the Ayio of Solor, near San Pedro de Atacama (Aug99).

*   Muscisaxicola maculirostris
    Dormilona Chica
    Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant

Very common in fileds along Lluta Valley.

-   Muscisaxicola macloviana
    Dormilona Tontita
    Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant
Along coastal rocks in Antofagasta every 200 m (Nov00).

*   Muscisaxicola rufivertex
    Dormilona de Nuca Rojiza
    Rufous-naped Ground-Tyrant
A few in the Putana River and El Tatio (Aug99). One at La Rinconada (Nov00).

*   Muscisaxicola juninensis
    Dormilona de la Puna
    Puna Ground-Tyrant
A few at El Tatio (Aug99).

*   Muscisaxicola cinerea
    Dormilona Cenicienta
    Cinereous Ground-Tyrant
A few in Putre and Lauca. (Aug99).

*   Muscisaxicola albifrons
    Dormilona Gigante
    White-fronted Ground-Tyrant
One in Lauca at soccer field next to Parinacota (Aug99).

*   Lessonia oreas
    Colegial del Norte
    Andean Negrito
Two in Lauca at soccer field next to Parinacota (Aug99).
One at River Putana (Nov00).

*   Hirundo andecola
    Golondrina de los Riscos
    Andean Swallow
Many in Putre. Common in Lauca. (Aug99).

-   Notiochelidon cyanoleuca
    Golondrina de Dorso Negro
    Blue-and-White Swallow
Common in Azapa Valley. Several in Lluta Valley. (Aug99).
Common at Peine and Tebenquiche in Atacama (Nov00).

+   Turdus chiguanco
     Zorzal Negro
    Chiguanco Thrush
One in the Ayio of Solor, near San Pedro de Atacama (Aug99).

-   Anthus correndera
     Bailarín Chico
     Correndera Pipit
Possible at Ascotán (Aug99).

*   Conirostrum cinereum
     Comesebo Chico
     Cinereous Conebill
Common in Azapa Valley (Aug99).

+   Thraupis bonariensis
    NaranjerO   Blue-and-yellow Tanager
One in Putre (Aug99).

-   Saltator aurantiirostris
    Golden-billed Saltator
One in Putre (Aug99).

*   Sicalis olivascens
    Chirihue Verdoso
    Greenish Yellow-Finch
A flock in Putre (Aug99).

*   Xenospingus concolor
    Slender-billed Finch
Several in Azapa Valley (Aug99).

*   Diuca speculifera
    Diuca de Alas Blancas
    White-winged Diuca-Finch
Two in Lauca.

*   Diglossa brunneiventris
    Comesebo Negro
    Black-throated Flower-piercer
One in Putre (Aug99).

*   Phrygilus atriceps
    Comesebo del Norte
    Black-hooded Sierra-finch
One in Putre. A few in Lauca (Aug99).
One at Calama (Nov00).

-   Phrygilus fruticeti
    Mourning Sierra-finch
Common in Putre (Aug99).

*   Phrygilus erythronotus
    Cometocino de Arica
    White-throated Sierra-finch
One in Putre. A few in Lauca (Aug99).

*   Phrygilus dorsalis
    Cometocino de Dorso Castano
    Red-backed Sierra-finch
One in River Putana (Aug99).

-   Phrygilus plebejus
    Ash-breasted Sierra-finch
A few in Putre (Aug99).

-   Phrygilus alaudinus
    Band-tailed Sierra-finch
A few in Putre (Aug99).

-   Zonotrichia capensis
    Rufous-collared Sparrow
Extremely common, from cities to remote places such as Lauca.

*   Sturnella belicosa
    Loica Peruana
    Peruvian Meadowlark
One in Lluta Valley (Aug99).

-   Carduelis magellanica
    Jilguero Peruanó
    Hooded Siskin
Several in Putre (Aug99)

-   Passer domesticus
    Gorrión común
    House Sparrow
Common in cities.


-   Dusicyon culpaeus
    Zorro Colorado
One in the middle of the Atacama desert, towards Punta Negra (Aug99).

-   Otaria flavescens
    Lobo marino de un pelo
    Southern Sea Lion
A few frequently seen in the coast of Antofagasta (Aug99 and Nov00).

-   Lama guanicoe
Several family groups along the route from Arica to Putre, in the area coverd by bushes inland of the desert (Aug99).

-   Vicugna vicugna
Numerous groups in all the puna areas, from Punta Negra to Lauca. Specially abundant at el Tatio, Lauca and Ascotán (Aug99 and Nov00).

-   Lagidium viscacia
    Vizcacha de Montaña
    Mountain Viscaccia
A group of about 50 close to the entrance of Lauca National Park (Aug 99)

by Carlos Pedrós-Alió
Barcelona, Spain