Birding the Americas Trip Report and Planning Repository
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08 - 25 November 2001

by Burke Korol

8 November – Santiago and Estero Lampa wetlands

We three Canadians (Bill Crins, Patrick Bulman and myself) arrived in Santiago on the 8th.  We rented a car from Hertz and while driving from the airport to downtown we picked up White-tailed Kite and Rock Dove.  Rufous-collared Sparrows were all over the city and pretty well everywhere else.  We then headed out of the city to a nearby wetland (Estero Lampa).  Here we found: Red-fronted Coot, Yellow-billed Pintail, Yellow-winged Blackbird, Chilean Swallow, Great Egret, Cattle Egret, Cinnamon Teal, Chiloe Wigeon, Southern Lapwing, Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Chimango Caracara, Red-gartered Coot, White-backed Stilt, Spot-flanked Gallinule, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Brown-hooded Gull, Picui Ground-Dove, Band-tailed Gull, Kelp Gull, White-winged Coot, Shiny Cowbird, California Quail, Wren-like Rushbird, Franklin's Gull and House Sparrow.

9 November – Trip to El Yeso Reservoir in the Andes east of Santiago

Headed out of Santiago the southeast to this high elevation dam and reservoir.  We eventually got to a gravel road and started the 22 km ascent to the dam.  It was pretty narrow and winding in places, but there was no traffic.  Lots of cacti on the dry hillsides and lots of overgrazed pastures where ever the land was flat.  The reservoir was huge and kind of barren.  It started to snow once we got on top (2200 m elevation) and we really needed our warm clothes because the wind was howling too.  We had rubber boots, but even though Diademed Sandpiper-plover could be found on the other side of a raging glacial river, it was just too deep and fast to safely cross.

Added Austral Thrush, Tufted Tit-Tyrant and Eared Dove at the hotel grounds just before we headed out.  Saw tons of Chilean Mockingbird (endemic) on the paved road to the reservoir and also Variable Hawk, Long-tailed Meadowlark, Gray-hooded Sierra-Finch and Common Diuca-Finch.  On the gravel road there were big flocks of Rufous-naped and White-browed Ground-Tyrants, Black-winged Ground-Dove and some Band-tailed Sierra-Finch.  We had a spot for two Chilean endemics on this road (Crag Chilia and Moustached Turca) which we found without much trouble.  Also got House Wren here too (when are they gonna split this one???).  Further up the road we got our first Andean Condor and Mourning Sierra-Finch.  At the reservoir we found Cinereous Ground-Tyrant, Crested Duck, Baird's Sandpiper, South American Snipe, Bar-winged and Gray-flanked Cinclodes, Gray-breasted Seedsnipe, Correndera Pipit, Ochre-naped Ground-Tyrant, Greater Yellow-Finch, White-throated Caracara, Andean Goose, Rufous-banded Miner and Plumbeous Sierra-Finch.  On the way down we added White-sided Hillstar, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, American Kestrel, Chilean Flicker and Blue-and-white Swallow.  In the valley below we had a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle fly over.

10 November – Headed west to the Coast from Santiago to Valparaiso

Headed out of Santiago west towards Valparaiso.  We spent the morning near the coast south of Valparaiso looking for some chaparral habitat and birds.  Unfortunately it appears that most of this stuff was converted to Eucalyptus plantations, which are biological deserts and very boring to look at.  We soon left this wasteland and went to a little nature reserve (Laguna El Peral) with some nice wetlands.  Then we headed north and eventually made it to the northern suburbs of Valparaiso (Vina del Mar).  We continued north along the coast through Concon and eventually made it to Quintero.  We had enough time to walk the beach and rocky shoreline and saw some seals, penguins and other good stuff.

Finally was able to identify the siskins that were at our hotel each morning as Black-chinned Siskin.  Got also White-crested Elaenia at the hotel too.  Found Austral Negrito, Shiny Cowbird and Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail at a gas station just west of the city.  The Eucalyptus plantations and pastures had Fire-eyed Diucon and Giant Hummingbird, but not much else.  Laguna El Peral was productive for us and the following new birds were seen: Black-necked Swan, Black-headed Duck, Lake Duck, Lesser Yellowlegs, Neotropic Cormorant, Rufous-tailed Plantcutter, Silvery Grebe, White-tufted Grebe, Plumbeous Rail, Turkey Vulture and Austral Blackbird.  Driving north to Valparaiso we added Pied-billed Grebe.  On the coast at Concon we saw Peruvian Pelican, Peruvian Booby and Black Vulture.  Quintero Bay had Ruddy Turnstone, Humboldt Penguin, Blackish Oystercatcher, Chilean Seaside Cinclodes (endemic), Guanay Cormorant and Sanderling.

11 November – Pelagic trip off Quintero; backtrack to Concon and then inland to Olmue

We were up before dawn and awoke to clear skies and light winds.  We got to the pier and boarded the 50’ “Catalina”.  A group of British birders kindly allowed us to join their tour (thanks Mark Finn), which they had booked some time ago.  We also had a Chilean guide (Enrique Couve) who was very good too.  The trip was to take six hours and basically would get to, cross and return over the Humboldt Current, which comes up from Antarctica and keeps Chile chilly.  The ship’s mate was constantly chumming.  It wasn’t long before we were seeing shearwaters, petrels, diving-petrels and storm-petrels.  The pelicans from shore followed the boat all day and we saw a few seals too.

Once back on shore we checked out the tidal flats and salt marshes near Qunitero, but soon headed back south through Concon to see a few birds that the British guide ‘staked-out’ for us.  We then drove inland to Olmue, which is a nice little town near Parque Nacional la Camapana.

The pelagic was pretty good.  It wasn’t long before we got a brief, but not bad look at Peruvian Diving-Petrel.  We then added Humboldt Penguin, Red Phalarope, South American Tern, Sooty Shearwater, Antarctic Giant Petrel, Pink-footed Shearwater, White-chinned Petrel, Inca Tern, Black-browed Albatross, Wilson's Storm-Petrel, Southern Fulmar, Gray-headed Albatross (unexpected), Chilean Skua, Buller's Albatross, Cape Petrel, Westland Petrel (unexpected), Defilippe's/Cooks Petrel and Parasitic Jaeger.

Land birding near Quintero we got: Whimbrel, American Oystercatcher, Gray Gull, Red Shoveler, Great Grebe and Greater Yellowlegs.  Also on the coast at Concon we found: Surfbird, Red-legged Cormorant and Elegant Tern.

12 November –Parque Nacional La Campana

Near Olmue is a national park with its mature mountain forests and big peaks.  We only had one day here so we couldn’t hike too far and the main road was too rough to take our car.  We hiked up through a live-oak forest and down along the main road.  It was steep, hot and pretty dry.

Tough slugging today, despite some decent looking habitat only added Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Chilean Pigeon, Green-backed Firecrown, Des Murs's Wiretail and Striped Woodpecker.  Found Dark-bellied Cinclodes along the stream at our cabana and I found a Giant Hummingbird on a nest.

13 November –Travel day – Olmue to Santiago to Los Angeles

Had to hit the road today and leave the general area of Santiago and start heading south.  We went to another national park (Lago Penuelas) on our way to Santiago, but most of it was off limits and the reservoir had lots of fisherman, Eucalyptus and not many birds so we didn’t stay too long.  Then it was off to Santiago and then south on Ruta 5, which is a pretty good, two-lane divided highway that pretty much runs the entire length of all but the southern quarter of this 4,500 km long country.  Speed limits were usually 80 km/hr, but after an hour or two 100 km limits were more common.  Many toll booths too.

Parque Nacional Lago Penuelas had a bit of waterfowl, but not much else.  However, I did add Cocoi Heron to my life list here.  Now new birds along Ruta 5.

14 November –Parque Nacional Nahuelbuta

We drove a few hours west of Los Angeles into the mountains and had one of the most interesting days of the trip.  This national park is sort of an outlier of forests more typical of the temperate rainforests of the Andes to the east.  It featured forests composed of a few species southern beech (Nothofagus spp.) and Monkey Puzzle trees (Auracaria sp.).  The beech trees are covered with lichens and the Monkey Puzzle stands usually had a dense bamboo (Chusquea spp.) understorey.  We hiked for about 6 hours.

Got into some quality birds here.  Heard lots and glimpsed a couple of Chucao Tapaculos.  The near endemic Chilean Hawk flew over us I got a look at the endemic Chestnut-throated Huet-huet.  We all got a decent look at Striped Woodpecker, but a great tick was the male Magellanic Woodpecker!!  Another cool thing was the White-throated Treerunner, which behaves like a nuthatch and flakes the scaly leaves off of Monkey Puzzle trees.  I also found Patagonian Sierra-Finch

15 November –Parque Nacional Laguna del Laja

Left Los Angeles early and drove a few hours east into some higher elevation habitat in the Andes.  This national park had a big reservoir, some nice open views, raging rivers and a huge, snow-capped volcano – complete with lava rocks and old lava flows all throughout the area.  We met a couple of German birders here who had their telescope on an Andean Condor, which was nice.

No new birds on the drive to the park but once in the park we found Mountain Caracara, another Scale-throated Earthcreeper, Ashy-headed Goose, Brown-hooded Gull (which we unsuccessfully tried to turn into an Andean Gull) and Spectacled Duck.

16 November –Travel day – Los Angeles to Parque Nacional Puyehue

Had to do another few hundred kms south again today.  The drive had the usual roadside birds but got our first looks at Buff-necked Ibis, which turned out to be very common south of our first sighting.  On our afternoon hike in the park we heard a bunch more Chucao Tapaculo and had better looks at Patagonian Sierra-Finch.  We got some nice trip birds along the river (Ringed Kingfisher) and the recently split Southern Caracara.

17 November –Travel day – Parque Nacional Puyehue to Puerto Montt

Spent the morning in the rain at the park, but we soon left because of the uncooperative weather.  We again headed south to our final land accessible destination – the coastal city of Puerto Montt.  We checked into a very flash place on the oceanfront just west of town that had a totally unobstructed view of the ocean and islands and boats in front of us.  We got settled and took a tour out west of town.

Didn’t get anything new in the park but had better looks at Southern Caracara and Ringed Kingfisher.  Once in Puerto Montt added Imperial Shag, which is half of a pair of rather distinct cormorants that Clements lumps, but others don’t.  Just west of town we found some nice marshes (which are scarce) with lots of grebes, gulls and ducks.  The highlight here was getting Spectacled Tyrant and Cinereous Harrier.  This area was rife with Rufous-tailed Plantcutter and Austral Parakeet was a nice find too, but we already had them.

18 November – Day trip to Chiloe Island

This island is about a 45 minute drive and a half hour ferry ride SW of Puerto Montt.  It is infamous for its rain and it lived up to its reputation.  The ferry runs often and we saw penguins from it.  We got to a national park on the west-central coast of Chiloe but it was pretty much a downpour there so we never left the car to hike the shrubby dunes.

Had a pretty good day of birding today, despite the rain.  On the way to the ferry we got a Short-eared Owl.  Magellanic Penguin, Common Tern, Sooty Shearwater and Rock Shags were seen from the ferry.  Once on the island the ocean shores had Hudsonian Godwit and Flying Steamerduck.  Later in the afternoon we got a pair of Common Miners on some coastal dunes.  On our way back to the ferry, we had a huge flock of the endemic Slender-billed Parakeet, which was really our last chance for this species (apparently Chiloe is one of the few remaining places where they are likely to be found).

19 November – Waited in Puerto Montt for evening Boat Trip Departure

This was the day our 4 day boat trip thru Patagonia was supposed to start, but the departure time depends on currents and tides and our expected departure time of noon ended up being after supper.  We took our rental car back to Hertz and paid the drop off fee.  It was fairly expensive to take a car one-way from Santiago to P.M., but it was much cheaper than 3 guys buying airfare.  We got all checked in at the boat in the morning and had all day to explore the city.

We got onto the 121 m ship (Magellanes) in the late afternoon and got settled into our ‘cozy’, but very clean, cabin.  We had dinner on board, which was basic, but tasty – as were all of the other meals on board.  We sailed out of Puerto Montt around 9 p.m.

Couldn’t really do any birding today and there wasn’t anything on the Puerto Montt waterfront that we hadn’t already seen.  It was too bad that we missed Snowy-crowned (Trudeau’s) Tern on the promenade because they have been known to be there.

20 November – Sailing Golfo de Ancud to Canal Moraleda to Puerto Chacabuco

The night was smooth sailing because we were in fairly sheltered water in the gulf overnight and very sheltered water later in the day.  We couldn’t see too much land and the low clouds and showers kept visibility down.  We entered a long fiord in the afternoon and headed toward Puerto Chacabuco and we were in it’s small harbour for over 3 hours.  We headed back out of the long fiord before dark and toward our only stretch of unprotected water.  It would take about 15 hours to go around Peninsula Tres Montes and across the Golfo de Penas.  Although we would only be about 20 km from shore, the waters off of the peninsula reach depths of 3,000 m!

The pelagic birding was amazing today.  I woke up to clouds of Pink-footed and Sooty shearwaters and White-chinned Petrels.  Also had better looks at Peruvian Diving-Petrel, Antarctic Giant Petrel, Magellanic Penguin, Black-browed Albatross, Imperial Shag, Westland Petrel, Southern Fulmar and Chilean Skua.  Got my life sighting of Dolphin Gull too.  I was surprised to see Antarctic Giant Petrels right in the harbour at Puerto Chacabuco.  We were still seeing Franklin's Gulls here too.

21 November – Sailing Golfo de Penas to Canal Messier

There were zillions of albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters flying around the boat today.  Around noon we began seeing islands again and the seas were getting calmer.  We headed into more fiords and canals later in the day.  Unfortunately whale and dolphins are hard to see in crummy weather and we saw only a few of the latter, but I wasn’t too sure what kind (probably Austral Dolphin).  The weather really started to crap out as we headed further south.  The rain eventually turned to snow and it wasn’t really possible to see any of the peaks and glaciers that we knew were around us.

On the open ocean the pelagics were everywhere!  Hundreds of Cape Petrels circled the boat and Southern Fulmar, Buller’s Albatross, Red Phalarope, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, White-chinned Petrel, Antarctic Giant Petrel, Sooty and Pink-footed shearwater and Black-browed Albatross joined in.  Wandering and Royal Albatross were fairly common.  We got our life sightings of Common Diving-Petrel and saw more Magellanic Penguin and Peruvian Diving-Petrel.  In the more sheltered waters we got lifers like Flightless Steamerduck, Magellanic Oystercatcher and Kelp Goose.

22 November – Sailing Seno Union to Puerto Natales; bus to Punta Arenas

Woke up deep in the heart of the Patagonian Fiords and with a somewhat higher ceiling, so you could actually see the fresh snowline on the slopes above.  After steaming south to about 52o latitude, we turned east to our final destination: Puerto Natales.  The rocky slopes were gradually turning to the low rolling hills of the pampas.  We arrived to the cool and rainy harbour just before lunch.  After lunch we boarded a bus to take us to Punta Arenas ($5 CDN).  Once in P.A. we settled into a residencial and went for a walk along the Straits of Magellan.  We then headed back to our hotel and met up with a guide that I had arranged.  His name was Ricardo Matus (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – and he was going to show us around for the next 2 days.

Sailing into Puerto Natales we added Magellanic Diving-Petrel.  We got Lesser Rhea and Upland Goose on the bus trip but it was hard to ID other stuff at 100 km/hr.  Walking around the straits we had better looks at Dolphin Gull and got the ‘other’ Imperial (Blue-eyed) Shag.

23 November – Guided Birding Tour around Punta Arenas and Tierra del Fuego

Up early, Ricardo took us north from the city into the pampas.  We saw lots of good stuff and finally got to see some native mammals like Guanacos, Argentine Gray Fox and Commerson’s Dolphins (on the ferry to TDF).

Today we got 17 lifers and a couple of trip birds after nearly a month in the country!!  We tried to hire guides elsewhere, but none were available.  Anyway, shortly after leaving the city we had Sedge Wren, which looks, sounds and behaves differently than ours, so it could be split one day.  Saw over 100 Lesser Rheas today too.  Our first major stop was this brackish lagoon where we found Two-banded Plover, Least Seedsnipe (found hatched young later) and the best birds of the trip: a pair of MAGELLANIC PLOVER.  These grayish shorebirds have pink legs and bills and members of a monotypic family, which only occurs in Chile and Argentina.  On the shores of the lagoon we also saw Patagonian Yellow-Finch.

Later on we headed to some other productive wetlands and pastures with our first Barn Swallows, Ruddy-headed Goose, Tawny-throated Dotterel, Chocolate-vented Tyrant, Short-billed Miner, Silver Teal, Coscoroba Swan, Austral Canastero and Patagonian Mockingbird (not expected here).  We then went to some cliffs on the Straits of Magellan and found the pale race of Peregrine Falcon, which looked a little like a gyrfalcon and used to be considered a separate species.  We carried on and got Magellanic Horned Owl (recently split from Great Horned Owl), Canary-winged Finch, Rufous-chested Dotterel and Short-billed Miner.

24 November – Shorter Guided Birding Tour around Punta Arenas and flight back to Santiago

Ricardo took us around today and we added a few new birds, including our last of the trip: Chilean Flamingo.  The flight to Santiago left as soon as it was full (i.e. about half an hour early), which is apparently common on the national airline (LAN Chile).  Once in Santiago we hired another car and went back to the hotel we stayed at when we first got into the country.

25 November – Santiago area day trip and flight to Miami

We packed up the car and headed up a scenic switchback road for a morning of hiking in the dry mountains near Santiago.  It soon got hot and we stopped around noon.  We made a brief stop at the pond that we went to on Day 1 but didn’t see anything too exciting.

Saw some old favourites in the mountains: Moustached Turca, Giant Hummingbird, Andean Condor, Black-winged Ground-Dove and Long-tailed Meadowlark.  Back at Estero Lampa we dipped again on South American Painted-Snipe but saw Cocoi Heron, Red Shoveler and a bunch of stuff that was there on Day 1.  Thought I’d have to settle for Rock Dove at the airport for my last bird in Chile, but a trusty old Southern Lapwing flushed in front of the lights of the airplane when we left Santiago.