Saturday, 12 August 2017

Journey to the Southern Cone: Part 15 (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

Introduction
January 8, 2016 - Santiago area, Chile
January 9 and 10, 2016 - Quintero pelagic, Parque Nacional La Campana, Chile
January 10, 2016 - Farellones, Chile
January 10-11, 2016 - Embalse El Yeso, Chile
January 12-13, 2016 - Nothofagus forests in Talca, Chile
January 14-15, 2016- Chiloé Island, Chile
January 16-17, 2016 - Chiloé Island penguins, Puerto Montt, Chile
January 18, 2016 - Patagonia: Puerto Montt to Sierra Baguales, Chile
January 19, 2016 - Patagonia: Sierra Baguales to Tierra del Fuego, Chile
January 20, 2016 - Patagonia: Tierra del Fuego, Chile
January 20-24, 2016 - Punta Arenas, Chile to Puerto Deseato, Argentina
January 25-26, 2016 - Valdes Peninsula and Las Grutas, Argentina
January 27-28, 2016 - San Antonio Oeste, Punta Tombo, and Bahía Blanca, Argentina
January 29-30, 2016 - Buenos Aires, Argentina


January 29, 2016

It was hard to believe, but I was down to my last two days in Argentina. These trips always go by too quickly!

Buenos Aires is one of the most populous cities in the western hemisphere. Its metropolitan area contains between 13 and 17 million people depending on the criteria that are used, making it the fourth or fifth largest metropolitan area in the Americas behind São Paulo, New York City and Mexico City, and possibly Los Angeles.

Since I was flying out of Buenos Aires anyways, we decided that it would be easiest to just stay in the city for two nights as opposed to renting a car to leave the metropolis. One factor behind our decision was the presence of a large man-made ecological reserve that had been built along the waterfront, known as Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur.

While popular with joggers and other pedestrians, the many trails weaving through the reserve and the abundant tall trees and diverse environs provide habitat for a wide range of species. Currently the eBird hotspot for the reserve has 341 species listed, many of which would be new for us due to the much different ecozone surrounding Buenos Aires.

Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Our hostel was located a short walk from the entrance of the park and by 7:30 AM we were coming across new species around every bend!

A marshy canal separates the park from the city. Ducks, wading birds, coots, grebes and more were easily observed from the adjacent promenade, and within minutes we had seen our first Silver and Ringed Teals and White-faced Whistling-Ducks.

Ringed Teal - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Limpkin and Wattled Jacana - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Over the course of our first day at the reserve I added 33 life birds (94 total species) - the second highest tally of the trip, after the 38 life birds during our first day of the trip near Santiago, Chile. Without describing in detail every species, below are several photos from the day, as we explored the reserve on foot.

Yellow-browed Tyrant - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Brown-chested Martin - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Gray-cowled Wood-Rail - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Nanday Parakeet - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Chalk-browed Mockingbird - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Masked Gnatcatcher - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Gray-cowled Wood-Rail - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

White-eyed Parakeet - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

We returned to the hostel by mid-afternoon, happy with our extremely productive morning of birding. That evening we hung out with some of the other travelers staying at the hostel and experienced our only Argentine Asado of the trip - better late than never! We splurged on some decent wine and enjoyed our last night together in Argentina.


January 30, 2016

After a somewhat delayed start to the morning we returned to Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, hoping to add a few more species before I needed to depart for the airport.

Certainly one of my highlights from the morning was observing a few Southern Screamers. While not a particular uncommon species over most of its range, this was my first screamer of any species.

Southern Screamer - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Hummingbirds are absent over much of the area we covered during this trip. Feeling a little bit hummingbird-deprived we enjoyed the numerous Glittering-bellied Emeralds as well as a single Gilded Hummingbird.

Glittering-bellied Emerald - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Exploring the reserve proved successful on our second day. New species for us included two Solitary Black Caciques, a few Sulphur-throated Spinetails, a distant Brown-and-Yellow Marshbird, and a pair of confiding Black-backed Water-Tyrants.

Tiger-herons never fail to disappoint. This Rufescent Tiger-Heron was roosting in a tree at eye level, providing incredible views.

Rufescent Tiger-Heron  - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

With our stomachs rumbling we returned to the concrete promenade that lined the canal separating the park from the rest of the city. A number of food trucks were set up which we took full advantage of! Best sausage on a bun that I have ever had, complete with dozens of toppings including a variety of different salads.



This Argentine Black-and-White Tegu was cruising along the edge of the canal, likely looking for something to eat. A pretty impressive species to see in such an urban setting!

Argentine Black-and-white Tegu - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

One of the guys (I can't remember who) made a great spot with this Stripe-backed Bittern, skulking along the edge of the marsh canal, as we scanned from the adjacent promenade.

Stripe-backed Heron - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Even though it was around noon the overcast conditions were not terrible for photography.  The most common species were Rosy-billed Pochard, Silver Teal, White-faced Whistling-Duck and Yellow-billed Pintail, but we also found Brazilian Teal, Ringed Teal, Masked Duck and a pair of Fulvous Whistling-Ducks. The Fulvous Whistling-Ducks were a long overdue life bird, the very last of the trip for me.

female Rosy-billed Pochard - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

male Rosy-billed Pochard - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Ringed Teal - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Guira Cuckoos are hard not to like. Something about their boldness combined with that hairdo!

Guira Cuckoo - Reserva Ecológica Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires, Argentina

With the clock ticking it was time to call it a day since I had a flight to catch. Dave and Adam would continue on for the next month-plus to see more of what Argentina had to offer, but I had to return back home (the joys of a full-time job!). 

For those scoring at home, we finished with over 330 bird species as a group, of which I counted 327. The 210 species in Argentina narrowly eclipsed the 201 found in Chile. All told I added 245 life birds, or roughly 3/4 of all the species we observed. 

The trip was awesome, filled with incredible highs contrasted with some lows, but overall it was everything we could have hoped for. I am sure I will be back at some point in the future! 

Journey to the Southern Cone: Part 14 (San Antonio Oeste, Punta Tombo and Bahía Blanca, Argentina)

Introduction
January 8, 2016 - Santiago area, Chile
January 9 and 10, 2016 - Quintero pelagic, Parque Nacional La Campana, Chile
January 10, 2016 - Farellones, Chile
January 10-11, 2016 - Embalse El Yeso, Chile
January 12-13, 2016 - Nothofagus forests in Talca, Chile
January 14-15, 2016- Chiloé Island, Chile
January 16-17, 2016 - Chiloé Island penguins, Puerto Montt, Chile
January 18, 2016 - Patagonia: Puerto Montt to Sierra Baguales, Chile
January 19, 2016 - Patagonia: Sierra Baguales to Tierra del Fuego, Chile
January 20, 2016 - Patagonia: Tierra del Fuego, Chile
January 20-24, 2016 - Punta Arenas, Chile to Puerto Deseato, Argentina
January 25-26, 2016 - Valdes Peninsula and Las Grutas, Argentina
January 27-28, 2016 - San Antonio Oeste, Punta Tombo, and Bahía Blanca, Argentina
January 29-30, 2016 - Buenos Aires, Argentina


January 27, 2016

We had done quite well over the previous days exploring the Valdes Peninsula as well as the Las Grutas/San Antonio area, yet a few main target species still eluded us. Olrog's Gull was our main priority on the morning of January 27 as we birded the estuary near San Antonio Oeste under cloudy skies. We discovered a decent concentration of Kelp Gulls and a few Brown-hooded Gulls, as well as a few species of shorebirds, but in the hour that we devoted to this area we could not turn up any Olrog's Gulls.

That evening our rental car was due back in Puerto Madryn, located about three hours to the south. With most of our target species wrapped up, we made the somewhat crazy decision to drive almost six hours to the south to Punta Tombo, overshooting Puerto Madryn by six hours, since this is a location where White-headed Steamer-Ducks are found with some regularity. If all went well we would have an hour or two of time to search for the ducks; at which point we would need to drive back to Puerto Madryn  to return the rental car, hopefully before closing time.

scoping a White-headed Steamer-Duck - Punta Tombo, Argentina

White-headed Steamer-Duck is the least common of the four steamer-duck species. Likely less than 3000 individuals can be found in the wild, all of them limited to a section of coastline in southeastern Argentina. After previously missing this species on the Valdes Peninsula, this would be our remaining shot at them.

The drive went pretty smoothly and by late afternoon we had arrived at Punta Tombo. The problem was that the only way to access the bay often frequented by the ducks was to pay to enter a colony of Magellanic Penguins, thereby gaining access to the cove. While I've never been known to turn down an opportunity to visit a penguin colony, the entrance fee was quite steep and we had limited time before needing to backtrack to Puerto Madryn. Despite our best efforts we were unable to convince the gate attendant to let us in for just a couple of minutes. We just wanted to run down to the cove, see the duck, and head back (good twitchers that we are).

Plan B was to attempt to scope the bay from a distance. After approaching as close as possible, we set up Dave's mini-scope on a sign for stability and took turns intently staring through the optics towards the direction of the bay. In the image above and below, Adam is acting as a wind shield for Dave (did I mention that it is always windy in Patagonia?). Despite our unconventional methods we were able to observe a distant duck swimming in the bay that appeared to be a steamer-duck, complete with a light-colored head. Success, though far from "crippling" views!

scoping a White-headed Steamer-Duck - Punta Tombo, Argentina

Feeling a little bit of shame because we had just driven six hours to twitch a duck whose field marks could barely be discerned, we jumped back in the car and turned down the long dusty road which would take us towards the highway, and eventually Puerto Madryn. As the car rumbled down the bumpy road I reflected on our time in this part of the country over the previous three days. We had done quite well with most of our target birds, even though we missed a few species including Olrog's Gull and Rusty-backed Monjita, as well as the Sandy Gallito which only Dave heard. We also missed Chocolate-vented Tyrant, a Patagonian specialty which was one of my most-wanted birds before the trip began. That evening we would be taking an overnight bus further north east, finally taking us out of the range for Chocolate-vented Tyrant. All things considered this leg of the trip was one of the better ones filled with many highlights, even though we missed a couple of species. As they say, it's just another reason to come back.

But wait, what was that, flying over the road? I brought the car to a halt while the other guys got on the bird....a few choice words later and we were staring at a Chocolate-vented Tyrant!

Chocolate-vented Tyrant - road to Punta Tombo, Argentina

We could not believe our luck. After passing through thousands of kilometers of suitable grassland habitat over the previous week without success, here we were, looking at one face to face.

Chocolate-vented Tyrant - road to Punta Tombo, Argentina

Already running a little late, the Chocolate-vented Tyrant added another 20 minutes to our arrival time but we did not care as we soaked up the views. A fantastic end to this portion of the trip!

January 28, 2016

The rental agency had closed by the time we rolled in to Puerto Madryn but after some asking around we were able to get in contact with them, return the vehicle, and settle up. We walked to the bus station and arranged  yet another overnight bus to take us further northeast.

The next morning we awoke to the sights of the countryside outside of Bahía Blanca, an important port city located in southwest Buenos Aires province. The windswept grasslands of Patagonia had been replaced with agricultural fields, pastures, and even copses and hedgerows. We were now on the edge of the pampas region of Argentina; vast fertile plains which provide suitable conditions for agriculture, but which also provide habitat for a unique suite of species, some of which we were hoping to cross paths with.

countryside near Bahía Blanca, Argentina

Our plan for the Bahía Blanca portion of the trip was to only spend one day here. With only three days remaining until my flight departed Buenos Aires to return home, it seemed like a better decision to spend one day in the pampas surrounding Bahía Blanca, followed by two days in the bird-rich environs of Buenos Aires.

We found a car rental agency and half an hour later had hit the road, meandering through the city to reach the countryside. As the car was a stick shift like most of the rentals in South America, I was the designated driver once again.

Our first stop was an accessible portion of an estuary on the edge of the city. Here we spotted a Gull-billed Tern and our first (and only) Snowy-crowned Terns on the trip, while we also noted our first Picazuro Pigeons, a common species we had not previously been in range of.

We motored on a paved road through the countryside to the northwest until we reached an area near Chasico. Based on trip reports and eBird checklists, this seemed like a good area for many of our targets - Grassland Sparrow, Spotted Nothura, Great Pampas-Finch and Pampas Meadowlark among other species.

The lifers came hot and heavy and over the course of several hours we found everything we had hoped to, and more. Several Pampas Meadowlarks, a Vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List, were a big highlight during the late morning. Most Pampas Meadowlarks can be found in the Pampas region of southeastern Argentina while a small isolated population subsists in southwest Uruguay. Formerly this species was quite common in southern Brazil, much of Uruguay and east-central Argentina, but its range has decreased by over 90% since the year 1900.

Pampas Meadowlark - Chasico, Argentina

A big surprise was finding a group of Pampas Pipits performing flight displays over a field. We assumed that we would miss this specialty of the region since few eBird records could be found anywhere close to where we were birding. A nice way to finish off a solid morning of birding!

That afternoon we returned to the estuary around Bahía Blanca, with one bird on our mind - Olrog's Gull. From what we had read it appeared that Olrog's Gulls are often observed on the mudflats of the estuary since a productive colony of these birds can be found further within the Bahía Blanca estuary, representing about 70% of the species' population.

birding the Bahía Blanca estuary near Punta Alta, Argentina

crab at the Bahía Blanca estuary near Punta Alta, Argentina

Almost immediately upon arrival we struck pay-dirt! At least a dozen Olrog's Gulls could be seen scattered over the flats, while several were feeding on crabs in the mud close to the shoreline. I guess we shouldn't have worried so much about this species earlier on the trip!

Olrog's Gull - Bahía Blanca estuary near Punta Alta, Argentina

Eager to view the Olrog's Gulls from up close, I took off my hiking boots and squelched my way through the mudflats towards one individual that was pre-occupied with a small crab. Eventually I was close enough to manage some reasonable photos, though the mid-day light was harsh.

Olrog's Gull used to be conspecific with Belcher's Gull, a species found on the west coast of South America from southern Ecuador to central Chile. Olrog's Gull is found only in the coastal areas of central Argentina and Uruguay, though individuals will wander further up and down the coast during the non-breeding season. Olrog's Gull is listed on the IUCN Red List as Near Threatened due to its small number of breeding colonies and the highly fluctuating numbers at these colonies.

Olrog's Gull - Bahía Blanca estuary near Punta Alta, Argentina

Olrog's Gulls feed primarily on crabs, a behaviour that has been speculated to be caused by direct competition with the larger and more aggressive Kelp Gull. During the non-breeding season they become more opportunistic, eating other mulloscs, small fish, and snails as well as crabs.

crab at the Bahía Blanca estuary near Punta Alta, Argentina

Dave had some intel on a good location for Dot-winged Crake in a seasonally flooded, grassy area near the estuary. The grasses were dry at the time of our visit and we spent some time in the mid-afternoon trying to tease one out of the vegetation. Eventually we gave up due to the heat of the day. We decided to venture into the near town of Punta Tomba to have a late lunch as well as find wifi. After a couple of hours we returned to the grassy area to try for the crakes once more.

Great Pampas-Finch - Bahía Blanca estuary near Punta Alta, Argentina

This proved to be a worthwhile strategy as a Dot-winged Crake responded to our playback immediately, and occasionally vocalized over the coarse of the hour that we spent in the marsh. Try as we might we were unable to get a visual; this species rivals the Black Rail in its secretiveness. I took the image below as the three of us were listening to the Dot-winged Crake.

Dot-winged Crake location - Bahía Blanca estuary near Punta Alta, Argentina

With time running out, we gave up on actually seeing the Dot-winged Crake and drove back towards Bahía Blanca to return the rental car. It had been a busy but productive day! That evening we grabbed another overnight bus, this one taking us to Buenos Aires. It was here that we would spend two days before my flight departed, while the other guys would continue further north into Argentina.

Monday, 7 August 2017

More fun with Fish Crows

Fish Crow has been suspected as a breeding bird in Ontario for a few years, but a successful nesting has not yet been confirmed in the province as far as I am aware. A Fish Crow nest was identified in Oakville a couple of years ago, but the nest failed if I recall correctly. While I am still waiting to find an active nest in the Niagara area, on August 2 I was able to confirm the presence of recently fledged young at my house in Niagara Falls. The distinctive nasally calls of Fish Crows drew my attention outside during the afternoon where I discovered four individuals calling and perching on a hydro wire in front of my house. After observing them it became apparent that two of the individuals were hatch-year birds due to the presence of fleshy gapes, and the fact that they were begging from the two adults.

While this sighting alone doesn't confirm an Ontario nesting, as in theory the young birds could have been born across the river in New York, it does provide another piece of evidence of the slow expansion of Fish Crow into Ontario via the Niagara peninsula. Willie D'Anna indicated to me in an email that this provides the first confirmed nesting record for the Buffalo Ornithological Society area, which includes much of Western New York and the Niagara Peninsula. This image shows three of the four birds, including hatch-year birds in the front and rear, and one of the presumed parents in the middle.


Dominic Cormier and Lena Ware were in my neck of the woods on August 4 and one of their goals was to catch up with a Fish Crow which would be a new Canada species for both of them. We tried driving around parts of St Catharines and Niagara Falls where I had seen Fish Crows before, without any luck. By 8:00 PM we swung by the Fairview Cemetery in Niagara Falls. I had observed a large group of crows (including many Fish Crows) roosting in the cemetery on July 21, and it was our hope that a repeat performance would occur. Sure enough we quickly found a big group of crows and the distinctive calls of Fish Crows could be heard as I brought the vehicle to a stop. Below is a video of most of the flock.


As you can tell from the video this flock consisted almost entirely of Fish Crows - in fact we were only able to confirm a handful of American Crows present. All told we estimated that at least 55 Fish Crows were a part of the flock. Considering that the Niagara Region only had its first Fish Crow record in 2012, seeing this many in one spot was quite the spectacle, and a nice introduction to Canadian Fish Crows for Dom and Lena!

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Journey to the Southern Cone: Part 13 (Valdes Peninsula and Las Grutas, Argentina)

Introduction
January 8, 2016 - Santiago area, Chile
January 9 and 10, 2016 - Quintero pelagic, Parque Nacional La Campana, Chile
January 10, 2016 - Farellones, Chile
January 10-11, 2016 - Embalse El Yeso, Chile
January 12-13, 2016 - Nothofagus forests in Talca, Chile
January 14-15, 2016- Chiloé Island, Chile
January 16-17, 2016 - Chiloé Island penguins, Puerto Montt, Chile
January 18, 2016 - Patagonia: Puerto Montt to Sierra Baguales, Chile
January 19, 2016 - Patagonia: Sierra Baguales to Tierra del Fuego, Chile
January 20, 2016 - Patagonia: Tierra del Fuego, Chile
January 20-24, 2016 - Punta Arenas, Chile to Puerto Deseato, Argentina
January 25-26, 2016 - Valdes Peninsula and Las Grutas, Argentina
January 27-28, 2016 - San Antonio Oeste, Punta Tombo, and Bahía Blanca, Argentina
January 29-30, 2016 - Buenos Aires, Argentina


January 25, 2016

Our bus rumbled along a lonely Patagonian highway through the night, taking us northeast towards the Valdes Peninsula. The first rays of morning sun illuminated the countryside as we approached our destination of Puerto Madryn. Paying close attention to the bird-life out of the windows of the bus proved successful, as I spotted a Patagonian Tinamou in the roadside grasses.

After relying on public transportation and enduring long overnight bus rides, we were happy to rent a car for our three days that we had planned for this part of Argentina. The previous few days had been a little rough with few birds for our efforts, so this leg of the trip was a fresh start for us. While waiting for the rental agency in Puerto Madryn to open, we killed some time by enjoying a much needed coffee at a beach-side cafe.

Breakfast in Puerto Madryn, Argentina

The car rental process went smoothly and by mid-morning we hit the road, eager to bird the shrubby habitats and coastlines of the Valdes Peninsula. Being in a new part of the country meant that a novel suite of birds could be found alongside many of the species that we had already amiliarized ourselves with earlier in the trip. One of our first new birds was the Elegant Crested-Tinamou, proving to be quite common along the roadsides as we began our drive into the Valdes Peninsula. They did not appear to have a lot of street smarts and we saw several freshly hit individuals on the side of the road. One benefit to their boldness is that it made photography much easier!

Elegant Crested-Tinamou - Valdes Peninsula, Argentina

Dave contemplated turning this recently deceased Elegant Crested-Tinamou into lunch, but thought better of it.

road-killed Elegant Crested-Tinamou - Valdes Peninsula, Argentina

The Valdes Peninsula has an array of scenic beaches, high-relief topography, tall cliffs and an abundance of marine life in the surrounding waters. It has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, specifically due to its significance as a breeding ground for Southern Right Whales, but also due to its large colonies of Southern Elephant Seals and Southern Sea Lions. One of our first stops was a cliff overlooking a Southern Sea Lion colony on the beach below. The sights (and sounds) provided an interesting spectacle.

Southern Sea Lion colony - Valdes Peninsula, Argentina 

Southern Sea Lion colony - Valdes Peninsula, Argentina 

A white, gull-sized bird can be seen in the image above. It was one of three Snowy Sheathbills that were loitering among the sea lions. Found only in southern South America, Snowy Sheathbill has several claims to fame; one being that it is the only landbird found on the Antarctic Peninsula. They can eke out an existence in the harsh environment by subsisting on such delicacies as downy penguin chicks, stillborn seals, tapeworms, carrion, and animal feces.

Snowy Sheathbills, Dolphin Gull and Southern Sea Lions - Valdes Peninsula, Argentina 

Only two species of sheathbills can be found in the world. There is still some debate as to the taxonomic relationships of sheathbills and other birds, but at the moment it appears that they are more closely related to the thick-knees and the Magellanic Plover. We kind of figured that we would not be seeing Snowy Sheathbill after the cancellation of our visit to the Rockhopper Penguin colony, so watching three of them here was a treat!

Southern Sea Lions and Snowy Sheathbill - Valdes Peninsula, Argentina 

Young sea lions superficially resemble a Black Bear cub, if you squint enough...

Snowy Sheathbills, Dolphin Gull and Southern Sea Lions - Valdes Peninsula, Argentina 

The adult males can grow to 9 feet in length and weigh up to 770 pounds, while the females are usually less than half of that. Impressive animals, to say the least!

Southern Sea Lions - Valdes Peninsula, Argentina 

Southern Sea Lion colony - Valdes Peninsula, Argentina 

The Valdes Peninsula is home to several species of mockingbirds, including Chalk-browed and White-banded, two species which were new to us. The only mockingbird I happened to photograph was the ubiquitous Patagonian Mockingbird.

Patagonian Mockingbird - Valdes Peninsula, Argentina 

We continued driving around the island, stopping whenever an interesting bird appeared on some of the vegetation next to the dirt roads.

Valdes Peninsula, Argentina

Patagonian Canastero and Lesser Shrike-Tyrant, two relatively drab species that stuck to the scrubby vegetation, were new species for the three of us. Both of these species are endemic to Argentina; however, the Lesser Shrike-Tyrant is considered a breeding endemic as it migrates north to Bolivia and Paraguay during the austral winter.

Patagonian Canestero - Valdes Peninsula, Argentina 

Lesser Shrike-Tyrant - Valdes Peninsula, Argentina 

At one point we exited the car to explore some of the surrounding countryside on foot.

Valdes Peninsula, Argentina

Adam birding the Valdes Peninsula, Argentina

We noticed a pair of mammals off in the distance that almost looked like overgrown hares; a closer look and photographs revealed them to be Patagonian Maras, a species of rodent endemic to Argentina. 

Patagonian Maras - Valdes Peninsula, Argentina

A pair of Band-tailed Earthcreepers skulked in the vegetation near the car. One popped up onto a fence post, providing great views and a brief photo op. We had previously observed a single individual of this range-restricted species while in the Sierra Baguales in Chile a few days earlier. 

Band-tailed Earthcreeper - Valdes Peninsula, Argentina

In the early evening we departed the Valdes Peninsula after a successful day in the field. As the sun lowered in the sky to the west we turned north up Highway 3, passing through endless scrubby fields towards our destination of Las Grutas and San Antonio Este. After approximately three hours we were within striking distance of Las Grutas, so we pulled off on a random sideroad and set up camp along the roadside. I laid out my air mattress and sleeping bag on the sandy ground under the starry sky, and quickly drifted off to sleep.

January 26, 2016

Early the next morning we were eased back into consciousness by a variety of bird songs. Some were familiar, like the omnipresent Rufous-collared Sparrows and Patagonian Mockingbirds, while others were new, such as the pair of endemic Carbonated Sierra-Finches.

Our goal for the day was to bird a road that passes by several washes/creek valleys just south of Las Grutas. The washes provide water and shelter for a great variety of birds and it was our hope that today would be a big day, full of new species. All told, we tallied just under 50 species, including 16 "lifers", during a thoroughly enjoyable morning of birding.

thorny vegetation near the Las Grutas washes, Argentina

White-throated Cacholote, an Argentine endemic, was one of our first targets to fall. Cacholotes are yet another species of Furnariid, being somewhat related to the spinetails, tit-spinetails, and canesteros, among other species.

White-throated Cacholote pair - Las Grutas washes, Argentina

White-throated Cacholote - Las Grutas washes, Argentina

This Straneck's Tyrannulet provided great looks as it called from within a thorny bush.

Straneck's Tyrannulet - Las Grutas washes, Argentina

Variable Hawks are the default Buteo in this part of Argentina.

Variable Hawk - Las Grutas washes, Argentina

Stripe-crowned Spinetails proved to be somewhat common along the roadsides, with several providing excellent looks as they called from the tops of thorny bushes.

Stripe-crowned Spinetail - Las Grutas washes, Argentina

This Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant was also new for us. It looks quite similar to the Tufted Tit-Tyrant, the yellow bill being the dead giveaway that it is a different species.

Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant - Las Grutas washes, Argentina

Birds were not the only items of interest that we came across. A big highlight for me was encountering this Chaco Tortoise out and about.

Chaco Tortoise - Las Grutas washes, Argentina

Chaco Tortoises are found in parts of Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia. Though they are still found to be reasonably common in some areas, this species is listed as Vulnerable according to the IUCN red list, in part due to habitat loss but primarily from illegal capture for the pet trade.

Chaco Tortoise - Las Grutas washes, Argentina


As the morning progressed we began to see a negative correlation between the temperature and the frequency of bird sightings. However new species kept turning up including Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Black-crowned Monjito, and White Monjito, as pictured below. As you can see the heat haze was playing tricks by this point in the morning.

White Monjito - Las Grutas washes, Argentina

Dave attempted to befriend this horse, somewhat unsuccessfully.


The last new bird was a calling Sandy Gallito that Dave heard; unfortunately Adam and I were not so lucky and it refused to call again. Missing an endemic bird is never fun, but you can't get them all!

With the sun high in the sky we made a stop in town for lunch, then continued driving east to a location with recent eBird sightings of Yellow Cardinals. The temperature was above 30 degrees Celsius by this point and the cardinals did not cooperate. These Burrowing Parrots provided a dash of colour in a landscape otherwise painted with drab browns, yellows and greens.

Burrowing Parrots - HWY 3 north of San Antonio Este, Argentina

Common as they may be in this part of Argentina, it was pretty hard to get sick of this charismatic species.

Burrowing Parrots - HWY 3 north of San Antonio Este, Argentina

We backtracked along the highway and explored the coastline near San Antonio Este for a few minutes in the mid-afternoon. Our main goal was Olrog's Gull, an uncommon species found predominately in a stretch of coastline between Uruguay and southeastern Argentina. While we could not turn up any Olrog's Gulls, we did enjoy the Sandwich Terns, Two-banded Plovers and various plumages of Kelp Gulls.

As the afternoon turned into evening the hot temperatures subsided, and we focused our attention on a stretch of road, Highway 52, perhaps 50 km east of San Antonio Este.

HWY 52 east of San Antonio Este, Argentina

This proved to be a productive birding road and in the two hours we spent along here we tallied 42 species. A group of Greater Rheas provided one of the first highlights, while we also observed Green-barred Woodpecker, Campo Flicker and Fire-wood Gatherer (a boring looking Furnariid with an awesome name).

Adam putting Dave's mini-scope to good use - HWY 52, east of San Antonio Este, Argentina

Hudson's Black-Tyrant is an Argentine breeding endemic which winters northward, reaching Paraguay and Bolivia. It was good to cross paths with some; we were getting a little worried that we would miss this species.

Hudson's Black-Tyrant - HWY 52, east of San Antonio Este, Argentina

Burrowing Parrots are not the only type of bird to take advantage of the sandy soils in this region; Burrowing Owls are also widespread and frequently observed.

Burrowing Owl - HWY 52, east of San Antonio Este, Argentina

Burrowing Owl - HWY 52, east of San Antonio Este, Argentina

Burrowing Owl - HWY 52, east of San Antonio Este, Argentina

A pair of Ringed Warbling-Finches materialized while we were looking at the Hudson's Black-Tyrants. Later on we heard a Cinnamon Warbling-Finch, but it remained out of sight, unfortunately. 

Ringed Warbling-Finch - HWY 52, east of San Antonio Este, Argentina

With evening closing in we backtracked to the west, arriving in San Antonio Este just after sunset. Our last new bird of the day was a Nacunda Nighthawk flying around as we entered the city limits. That evening we found a room in a hostel, went for a walk to find some empanadas and beers for dinner, and relaxed at the hostel for a couple of hours before calling it a night.