Thursday, March 4, 2021

Southern Cone: ChAr 2016 Part 11: Buenos Aires to Santiago and summary

Mar 2

Somehow my notes from my last week or so in the Southern Cone disappeared, so what follows is pieced together from my memory, photos and eBird lists.

After Adam and I's failed attempts to get from Buenos Aires to Otamendi a month earlier, I had figured out that it was easiest to get to the reserve when coming from farther away, as the long-distance bus companies were more willing to sell tickets that stopped just short of Buenos Aires than they were tickets that didn't make it far out of BA. By this point in the trip I was running out of birds to see without biting the bullet and renting a car for a week, so this was what I did! After an early arrival in Campana, I caught a cab from the bus station out to the Otamendi reserve. Arriving at the gate at 6:30, I found it locked, with their opening hours much later in the morning. As I wasn't really sure where exactly my target birds were, I hopped the fence and set out to find someone who could help me out. It turned out that all I needed to do was continue down the road. The reserve proper has some nice trails and decent birding, but my targets lay in the marshes to the northeast of the reserve. After walking down the hill and across the train tracks, I found a good hiding spot behind a tree and some bushes and ditched my big pack. I spent the next few hours slowly birding my way along the road toward the river, making it as far as the pulloff at km 2.8 from the curve before turning around ( Along this stretch I had good success, adding both Curve- and Straight-billed Reedhaunters, Bay-capped Wren-Spinetail, Spix's Spinetail, and Glaucous-blue Grosbeak. Other highlights were getting prolonged views of a Red-and-white Crake, several Diademed Tanagers, and catching up with many species I had seen a few weeks earlier in Buenos Aires. Due to a light rain all morning, I didn't have my camera out as much as I might have liked and missed a few good photo op's as a result.
Curve-billed Reedhaunter

Straight-billed Reedhaunter
With most of my targets well-seen, I returned to the spot where I'd hidden my pack, then walked back up the hill into Ing Otamendi, where I caught a colectivo back to the Campana bus terminal. Here I encountered the opposite problem Adam and I had had in BA - I couldn't get any of the long-distance bus companies to sell me a ticket into the city! After being sent from one ticket window to another, eventually I found someone who told me that I'd need to catch one of the local buses to the old terminal in BA, and I ended up sitting on the side of the highway with a group of locals who knew what they were doing. I finally ended up on a standing-room only bus, getting into the city in the afternoon, where I then caught a cab to the V&S Hostel - the same one I'd stayed at a month or so earlier. The price here had changed, and was only 196p for a dorm, despite the value of the peso dropping, meaning the same bed that had cost me ~$22 Canadian earlier in the trip was now worth about $16.50.

Running trip list: 747 (AR: 639)

Mar 3

I'm not entirely sure what I did on this day, as my only eBird list is from the balcony of the hostel. I think I tried to figure out buses to San Clemente del Tuyu, where my last specialty bird in BA province could be found (Hudson's Canastero), but looking at the price tag and the 10h+ round-trip I decided against it. I had also hoped to meet up with some of the people I'd met at the hostel here in January, but they all ended up being busy and so I probably just spent the day sleeping and doing laundry.

Running trip list: 747 (AR: 639)

Mar 4

I went down to the Costanera reserve for the morning, not really expecting to add anything but eager to get out and enjoy the cool morning hours ( The diversity wasn't as great as on our previous visits, however a Spot-flanked Gallinule was new for the trip. After another sausage-on-a-bun on the promenade, I went back to the hostel.
White-tufted Grebe
Running trip list: 748 (AR: 640)

Mar 5

Another day for which I have no notes or photos. I suspect I spent most of the day researching what to do around Mendoza, my next planned stop, after it became apparent that I wouldn't be able to meet up with the other backpackers as I'd hoped, and San Clemente was just too far for a day trip. After checking out of the hostel, I got a cab to the bus station and caught an overnight bus to Mendoza, some 13h away. 

Running trip list: 748 (AR: 640)

Mar 6

I awoke shortly after sunrise as we pulled into San Luis. Some time later, our bus stopped at a little roadside restaurant, where the driver told everyone to get off. There was some confusion at first as they encouraged everyone to go in for breakfast, but none of us really wanted to eat there as the place looked a bit upscale and expensive. It turned out that the bus line I was on had a partnership with the restaurant, and the breakfast was included in our ticket! Once that had been cleared up, we all happily ate before getting back on the bus. By late morning we arrived in Mendoza, where I inquired about the next bus to Potrerillos. Buying my ticket for the 13:00 bus, I had enough time to head down the street and check in at the Casa Pueblo Hostel, where I ditched my big pack before running back to the station to eat lunch and catch my bus. Potrerillos is a popular spot for locals and tourists to spend a hot afternoon swimming or whitewater rafting, and the fact that I arrived on a Sunday meant that the town was extra busy. Luckily, I was not there for either of those things, and I spent the next few hours walking the road east of town and then pretty far up a few of the dry washes to the SW of the highway (
Some sort of Smooth Iguana


Here, I got better looks at Steinbach's Canastero, and added Black-and-chestnut Warbling-Finch. After quite a lot of searching, I eventually got a decent look at a female Monte Yellow-Finch, a species which at the time was only known from a few locations around Mendoza, this being the most reliable. It has since been discovered up in the Salta-Cafayate-Tucuman monte scrub as well.
Steinbach's Canastero
As it was getting late in the day, and the last bus back to Mendoza was at 19:00, I headed back to the little town to wait. It turned out that a lot of other people had the same idea, and the 18:00 bus was filled up before I even got close to getting on. An hour later, with quite a large crowd sitting there, a few people ended up calling taxis before the bus finally arrived. A few minutes later, another bus pulled up, and I think everyone eventually made it on, getting back to Mendoza after dark.

Running trip list: 750 (AR: 642)

Mar 7

Having seen my only target birds in the Mendoza area, I had a day to kill, and was thinking about trying to get out to a winery, seeing as this is where almost all of the Argentinian wine sold in Canada comes from. As I was eating breakfast at a table by myself, contemplating my options, two British girls asked if they could sit with me. After hearing their accent, I asked them where in England they were from, and it turned out they lived in the same town as my cousins, and one had actually done some work at their school! They were on a trip from Buenos Aires up to Ecuador, and were planning to go on a wine tour they'd found out about the day before from some brochures at the hostel, and kindly invited me along. Happy to have some company, I agreed, and we spent the day getting shuttled out to a couple of wineries and an olive oil production company. It was all quite interesting; they let us try the various grapes that go into the different types of wines, and the two vineyards had different picking and production methods (one produced about 20 million bottles/year, the other half a million) that they showed us. Of course, we also got to try a bunch of wines and the olive oil place had crackers, cheese and a bunch of different types of olive oil for us, making the day quite worthwhile. Back at the hostel, I stayed up chatting with the two Brits for a while - it turned out they were also heading to Santiago the next day, but unfortunately we'd already booked bus tickets on different buses.
Giant bottles at one of the vineyards

mmm, grapes
Running trip list: 750 (AR: 642)

Mar 8

After checking out of the hostel and saying good-bye to the Brits, I made my way to the bus station to catch my 09:00 ride to Santiago. As we passed through the (quite scenic) mountains west of Mendoza, I picked up some new birds for my Argentina list: Rufous-banded Miner and Buff-winged Cinclodes (along with 2 Monte Yellow-Finches!, Scale-throated Earthcreeper (, and Plumbeous Sierra-Finch ( As we passed Aconcagua (the highest peak in the Andes) and headed for the border, I picked up five new birds to cap off my Argentina list, the highlight being Creamy-rumped Miner, a species we'd searched hard for near Santiago almost two months ago (
A glimpse of Aconcagua
At the border crossing, everyone had to get off the bus and go through customs, where they checked our papers and scanned our bags before eventually letting us go through. We eventually arrived in Santiago around 16:00, where I got a cab to the La Casa Roja Hostel, the same place we had stayed last time. Unfortunately for me, my pack towel that I'd left was long gone. After dinner, I spent the evening relaxing and playing pool with some guys from Israel.
Descending the west side of the Andes
Running trip list: 751 (AR: 651)

Mar 9

After a sleep-in, I spent most of the day relaxing at the hostel, venturing out in the afternoon to go for a long walk around the neighbourhood, enjoying my last day in Chile with no real plans or goals. A quick check of the park near the hostel ( was my only real birding of the day. In the late afternoon, I checked out of the hostel and walked to the bus station, where I caught the next bus out to the airport. After going through security and getting dinner with the last of my Chilean pesos, I boarded an overnight flight back to Canada. The last bird of the trip was, appropriately, a Chimango Caracara from the window of the plane as we took off - perhaps one of the same individuals that had been my first birds in the country some ten weeks earlier (

Final trip list: 751 (Chile: 235, Argentina: 651) - was originally 750 with 235CL, 650AR, but a split in one of the warbling-finches added a species!

Mar 10

Arriving in Sault Ste. Marie the next morning was, as usual, a shock to the system as I went from the 25-45C in Chile and Argentina to the -25C of the frozen north. My mom was waiting for me at the airport with homemade muffins (score!), and once home I promptly passed out (at about noon), waking up briefly for dinner before going back to bed and sleeping soundly until the next day. I guess ten weeks straight of overnight buses and birding had caught up to me, and I ended up sleeping for about 18 hours!


Overall, the trip was an amazing experience, as I saw almost all of my target birds and some amazing scenery, met many great people, visited a few iconic places, and managed to avoid any major incidents (food poisoning and a bad cold notwithstanding). Toward the end I lost steam a bit, as I ran out of new birds to see along with the motivation (and funds) to track down the last few, but that doesn't hamper my memory of the trip - just makes me wish I'd pushed through a bit for those last couple birds! For those wondering, the total cost of the trip was around $9000 Canadian, including the $1700 international flight and the internal flights in Chile, for a total of ~$7300 in-country costs over 70 days of travel. The biggest chunk of this was transportation, as in-country flights, rental cars, and long-distance buses added up quickly. To put that number in perspective, one Chile tour including the Northern Chile extension in 2018 cost about $11,000 Canadian (in-country) for ~3 weeks, and saw mostly the same birds we had in Chile. Adding in the Argentina portions of the trip would up the cost to over $35k Canadian, for likely the same number of species! To reduce costs, we often (about half the nights on this trip) slept in the rental car or on overnight buses/planes, meaning we would wake up at our next birding destination, relatively rested-up and ready to bird. This ended up saving a lot of time over the trip, even if we had to sacrifice some sleep along the way.

I mentioned at the start of the report that I'd made a list of Southern Cone specialties, and loosely planned our trip around how to see as many as possible. These were broken down into Chile endemics (17), Chile specialties (27), Argentina endemics (23), Argentina specialties (17), other shared Chile/Argentina endemics (37), and other Southern Cone specialties (97), which could be shared with Uruguay and also possibly present in portions of countries bordering Chile and Argentina. Of the 218 species I had listed (that number is likely slightly higher by now with splits and newly-described species), I had mentioned at the beginning of the report that 10 of these were not possible on our trip. They were:
  • Juan Fernandez Firecrown, Juan Fernandez Tit-Tyrant and Masafuera Rayadito, endemic to the Juan Fernandez archipelago some 700 km west of mainland Chile
  • Chilean Woodstar, endemic to extreme northern Chile
  • Hooded Grebe, which at that time of year is found only on high-elevation lakes in inland Patagonia - in winter it can be seen along the coast near Rio Gallegos
  • Falklands Steamer-Duck, Fuegian Snipe, Blackish Cinclodes, Cobb's Wren and Striated Caracara, all endemic to the Falklands and/or southern Tierra del Fuego and surrounding islands
The 12 species missed (although I've just now realized I made a mistake back in 2015 by leaving out Masatierra Petrel from the accounting, giving 219 specialties and 13 species missed!) were:
  • Juan Fernandez, Stejneger's and Masatierra Petrels, all breeding endemics to the Juan Fernandez archipelago but possible on summer pelagics off Quintero - calm winds and bad luck on our pelagic meant we missed all three
  • Pincoya Storm-Petrel - 6 ferry crossings in the Puerto Montt area failed to turn up this localized species
  • Rufous-tailed Hawk - there were eBird reports as far north as Talca, although I see that anything north of Concepcion in Chile has now been invalidated. This species is widespread but rare, ranging between Tierra del Fuego and Concepcion, and we simply didn't luck into one anywhere in that range. 
  • White-bellied Seedsnipe - a difficult species in Patagonia in the summer - in the winter they come down to lower elevations and are much easier to see!
  • Patagonian Forest Earthcreeper - looking at summer eBird records, we simply didn't get into the right habitat for this species, which seems to be easier in winter when it descends to lower elevations in central Chile
  • Rusty-backed Monjita - widespread but rare in much of Argentina, our best chance at a breeding bird was on the Valdes Peninsula
  • Hudson's Canastero - we missed it in Bahia, and I just didn't make the effort to get into the southern coastal region of Buenos Aires province where this species is found more commonly
  • Montane Forest Screech-Owl, Zimmer's Tapaculo, Maquis Canastero, and Rufous-bellied Mountain-Tanager (formerly Saltator) - these species are all in the mountains west of Salta, however we got rained out on all three of our proposed attempts for the Screech-Owl, and a combination of lack of knowledge of the bus system, rain, and Adam's dengue fever prevented us making an attempt at the other three
All in all, a successful trip, and a region to which I hope to return someday, to track down those last few species and spend a bit more time in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego!

Monday, March 1, 2021

Southern Cone: ChAr 2016 Part 10: Córdoba to Buenos Aires

Feb 26

Arriving in Córdoba at 06:40, I got a much-needed coffee and went off to find out how to get to my intended destination. I ended up on the 09:30 bus to La Pampilla, which passed through a rainstorm before stopping at a little roadside restaurant for a snack/bathroom break.
View from the restaurant
Loaded up on food, the bus carried on and I got the driver to drop me off right at the entrance to the Parque Nacional Quebrada del Condorito. I sat down for a quick lunch, and just as I was finishing a dense fog rolled in and the wind picked up, reducing visibility to near-zero. I decided to make my way down the road into the park anyway, as I was quite used to birding in dense fog from my time on the islands in Nova Scotia! It didn't take long to find my targets; both Olrog's and Cordoba Cinclodes, right along the road (<10m -="" .="" a="" accustomed="" after="" and="" area="" behind="" but="" cinclodes="" city="" cordoba="" covering="" didn="" ditching="" down="" endemic="" entrance="" field="" find="" fog="" for="" fortunately="" grass="" grown="" had="" here="" href="" i="" in="" into="" it="" long="" me="" my="" near="" nova="" of="" olrog="" pack="" park="" proper.="" quite="" rest="" road="" rock="" s="" scotia="" seasons="" several="" small="" sort="" southern="" species="" stayed="" t="" take="" targets="" the="" this="" time="" to="" two="" walked="" west="" with="">
My view of Quebrada del Condorito...

Olrog's Cinclodes

Cordoba Cinclodes
Since it didn't look like the fog was going to burn off any time soon and it was quite windy, I headed back to the highway to wait for a bus. Various travel guides say that this is an official bus stop, and it isn't difficult to get a bus to the city from here. This proved not to be the case though, as over the next hour, three different buses passed by me without even tapping the brakes (and I was waving to get their attention...). As I was pretty cold by this point and getting wet from the fog, I gave up on the buses and stuck out my thumb. Ten minutes later, a delivery driver named Diego kindly offered me a lift. It turned out he worked in Mina Clavero but lived in Villa Carlos Paz, and was heading home for the day. We chatted on the hour-long drive to Carlos Paz (adding a Stripe-capped Sparrow on the way -, where he dropped me off a couple blocks from the bus station (he lived near it, luckily!). There, I caught the next bus into Córdoba, then got a cab to Hostel Alvear (160p for a dorm bed), where I ended up staying a few days and living off the express Carrefour (grocery store) next door.

Running trip list: 733 (AR: 623)

Feb 27 and 28

These two days were a write-off for birding, as I spent my time catching up on laundry and sleep, used the hostel computer to finish writing and submit my grad school application, hung out with people from various countries, and did some research on my remaining target birds and how I might be able to see them without spending too much more money.

Running trip list: 733 (AR: 623)

Feb 29

Having completed all my to-do's, I finally decided to check out, and walked to the bus station where I caught the 11:30 bus out to the airport. I had figured out online which car rental company was the cheapest, and by paying the 12% airport tax I avoided having to find my way out of downtown Córdoba, a city with 1.5 million inhabitants. From my time on the buses here I was very glad I spent the extra money to avoid this hassle! By 13:00 I was on the road, in a little manual-transmission Chevy Chexa, which I'd paid a few dollars more to get unlimited kilometres on. I made a beeline to Laguna Mar Chiquita, where I birded the RN Lomos de los Indios near Miramar ( The trail to the observation tower is pretty short, and I spent most of my time walking the edge of the marshy areas south of the tower. Dinelli's Doraditos proved easy to find (this lake is one of the only places in the world to see this species), and Gray-hooded Gulls were abundant. Those two were my main targets here, but I also added White-cheeked Pintail, South American Painted-Snipe and Olive-crowned Crescentchest (heard-only) as lifers. While walking the marsh, I heard a Dot-winged Crake calling, and eventually managed to get a quick look as it peeked out at me from the reeds! This species is quite rare, with a few scattered records across north-central Argentina on eBird.
Gray-hooded Gull

Grayish Baywing
After covering the Miramar area, I headed west, trying to check a few other viewpoints over the lake without much success. I stopped in Villa del Totoral for dinner before carrying on to San Jose de las Salinas, passing through several large thunderstorms on the way. At 22:30, I arrived, and headed down Rd 100 west of town to find a quiet place to car camp for the night. Out on the salt flats, I was quite exposed, and due to the heat (28C plus humidity), I was unable to fall asleep. I stayed up watching thunderstorms rage all around me in the distance, however it thankfully didn't rain and I couldn't actually hear any thunder - just saw lightning flashing like a strobe light for several hours, at a rate of 1-7 bursts per second! Sometime around 02:00 I finally drifted off to sleep.

Running trip list: 739 (AR: 631)

Mar 1

I was up before sunrise, hoping to take advantage of the relatively cool morning air. A Spot-winged Falconet across the road from my campsite quickly became my first new bird of the day, and my 2500th lifer! I birded along the road from my camping spot near the first gate to the second road on the right, which had been listed in one of the trip reports I found for the area, adding Black-crested Finch and seeing quite a few other Chaco species ( On this road, I walked out to the salt flats and wandered around for a while along the edge, eventually getting distant looks at a Salinas Monjita. I wanted to go closer to get a better look, but I had been keeping an eye on an angry-looking storm on the horizon that was getting closer, and the wind had suddenly picked up. Taking a moment to judge the speed of the storm, I decided to head back to the car, with a plan to return to the flats once the storm passed. It turned out I made it just in time, as the moment I reached the car, the sky opened and I was in the midst of a heavy downpour.
Spot-winged Falconet - bird #2500!

The road out to the salt flats

Keeping an eye on the storm
Sitting there for a few minutes, I realized that the dirt road was turning into a mud pit, and that my car likely would be stuck if I waited too long. I headed back to the first gate, where the road was a little firmer, just barely making it through the now-muddy road. There I waited out the rain, which ended up taking an hour. Venturing out, the road had turned into a mud pit and the side tracks out to the flats were completely flooded. Running out of time and with no viable paths to try again for the monjita, I decided to head out a little earlier than planned. This turned out to be a good decision, as the road was quite soft and my little front-wheel-drive car struggled to get back to pavement. Once on the highway, I made it most of the way back to the city before an accident near Jesus Maria meant that everyone had to take a long detour down some back roads. My hour of buffer time was quickly eaten up, and I ended up getting back to the airport to return the car about five minutes late. Luckily they waved this off, and after a smooth return process (the guy at the counter couldn't believe I'd driven over 700 kilometres in 24h!), I caught a bus to the terminal in Córdoba, where I got dinner and hopped on the 21:00 bus to Campana (near Buenos Aires).

Running trip list: 742 (AR: 634)

Friday, February 26, 2021

Southern Cone: ChAr 2016 Part 9: Northwest Argentina - Salta to San Miguel de Tucumán

Feb 16

Today was Adam's last full day in Argentina, and unfortunately he was feeling pretty horrible, likely as a result of pushing through his illness over the past few days in order to keep our travel plans and see our targets. We spent most of the day sleeping and hanging out with our fellow travellers at the hostel, with a few excursions to find food and a bank. I ended up going for dinner with one of the Argentinians who was staying at the hostel, and we ended up at a restaurant near the plaza where I got my first and only steak dinner in the country. It was pretty amazing, I must say, and I think the whole fancy dinner plus a half-bottle of Malbec cost somewhere around $12! We had originally hoped to get out to look for owls near Salta but nightly thunderstorms prevented that from happening. Night again at Salta por Siempre.
Night scene in Salta
Running trip list: 689 (AR: 574)

Feb 17

Today was basically a write-off, as we were unable to figure out how to get to Los Cardones and back using the bus system without potentially being stranded. As a result, I spent most of the day on the WiFi figuring out my next move while Adam caught up on sleep and packed his stuff. He flew out from Salta in the afternoon, making it home to Ontario the next day where he was able to get some better medical help for his dengue! Night again at Salta por Siempre.

Running trip list: 689 (AR: 574)

Feb 18

After a late breakfast, I packed up my stuff and headed for the bus station, where I caught the 13:00 bus to Ledesma (Libertador General San Martin). While waiting for the bus, I managed to use the free station WiFi to submit my initial application to grad school from my phone, as I was planning to start a Master's at Acadia in the fall. Arriving in Ledesma at 16:00, I went across the street to the Hosteria Real Victoria, where a single room cost 300p (there were no dorm options). After a foray to the grocery store to load up on food for my next three or so meals, I spent the evening in the A/C, researching the rest of my target birds.
Not how you want your day to turn out!

Running trip list: 689 (AR: 574)

Feb 19

I was up at 05:50 to have breakfast, make a lunch, and pack my bags. After checking out and getting the person working at the desk to store my big pack in a safe place for the day, I walked over to the bus station. There I was told that the first bus/colectivo going through Calilegua National Park departed at 08:45, meaning I would miss the best morning hours. Not wanting to waste those, I caught a taxi, which got me to the park entrance for 100p, arriving at 07:20. After paying my entrance fees, I birded my way up the main road through the park, making it about 200m in before encountering a mixed flock where I was pretty sure I had one of my target birds. I was straining for a better look when a car pulled up. This had happened several times at other locations in northwestern Argentina, as the mountains are a popular place for people from Buenos Aires to go during their 2-week summer holiday, and each time it had been an Argentine tourist asking me for directions. Preparing to launch into Spanish-mode, I was surprised when I looked down to see three Europeans with binoculars looking back at me! The entire trip up to this point, we had encountered no other birders at any of the sites we'd visited, so it was nice to finally see some like-minded people. In this case, the surprise was extra-nice, as they were headed to the upper elevations and offered me a lift. They had already birded the lower elevations the day before, and had some targets left higher up. This was an area of the park I wasn't expecting to get to, and I'd basically written off those species, so I jumped at the opportunity. We gained elevation as we made introductions - it turned out they were all long-time world birders from Denmark, in Argentina on holiday. In exchange for the lift, I did my best to guide them at the top, as I was pretty good with my Argentina bird calls by this point in the trip. Up top, we added White-throated Antpitta, Pale-legged Warbler and Blue-capped Puffleg to my life list, plus quite a few new birds for the trip such as Rough-legged Tyrannulet, Glossy-black Thrush, Hepatic Tanager and White-throated Quail-Dove. The Danes also got most or all of what they were hoping for, and they seemed quite happy to have the company.
White-throated Antpitta

Birding the upper reaches of Calilegua

After we'd cleaned up at the top and had lunch, they gave me a ride back down and dropped me off at the ranger station. There, I walked the road back up to the lookout (Mirador San Lorenzo) and then around the two loop trails near the station. This netted me Yellow-collared Macaw, Green-cheeked Parakeet, Red-legged Seriema and Ochre-cheeked Spinetail. I spent some time trying to coax out a Giant Antshrike but was unable to get any kind of identifying looks at this species ( By 14:30, the thermometer was reading 36C plus 85% humidity (giving a humidex value well over 50C), and I decided to call it a day. Since I hadn't really birded the lower elevations in the morning while activity was high, I missed out on a few targets here - all species that I will hopefully get a chance at on a future trip to Bolivia or Brazil though! Not really sure when or if a bus might come by, I started walking down the road back toward town in the blazing heat. I made it about 3 km before some construction workers offered me a lift in the back of their pickup, and I happily hopped in and rode the remaining 5 km to the edge of town - that would have been a long walk in the heat. Back at the hotel, I picked up my backpack and headed to the bus station, where a guy was calling out for Salta. It turned out he was the driver of a shared cab, which ended up being a few pesos cheaper per person than taking the bus so I hopped in. Two hours later, we pulled into the city in the midst of a massive thunderstorm, and I hopped a cab to the Salta por Siempre hostel (it was quite a nice hostel - what can I say?!). Eventually the rain let up enough for me to go foraging for dinner.

Running trip list: 710 (AR: 595)

Feb 20

By this point I had figured out how I could potentially get to Los Cardones to pick up my last few specialty birds in the Salta area, however heavy rains all day put a damper on those plans and I ended up spending the entire day at the hostel, working on stuff for my grad school application and writing up my notes from the past few days. While out at dinner, I ran into some of the guys from the hostel and ended up joining them on the town for the night, going to a few clubs and getting back to the hostel sometime after 03:00...

Running trip list: 710 (AR: 595)

Feb 21

After a late breakfast, I packed up and checked out, heading for the bus station and cutting my losses in the Salta area. The next bus to Cafayate wasn't until 13:00, so I got lunch while I waited. The ride from Salta to Cafayate was pretty spectacular, passing through the Quebrada de las Conchas valley. Arriving in town at 17:00 on a Sunday, the town was a bit of a disaster as they'd just had some annual festival over the weekend. This also meant that the town had mostly cleared out, and I quickly found a bed at the Hostel Ruta 40 for 180p in a dorm. I ended up just spending the evening hanging out with some people at the hostel after getting dinner at a nearby restaurant.
Scenes from the bus

Running trip list: 710 (AR: 595)

Feb 22

I had originally planned to try to get out into the monte scrublands today, but after waking up with a painful stomachache I decided to take it easy and hoped it would go away. It didn't, and it turned out to be a rather bad case of food poisoning - I guess two sketchy sandwiches in a row were too much for my system (lettuce on the first and a semi-rotten tomato on the second that I ate part of before realizing...). I spent the day alternating between the bathroom and my bed, with a brief foray outside to look for birds ( By the evening, the sickness seemed to have subsided so I went for dinner with some girls from the hostel (from Denmark and New Zealand). We tried one of the local specialties - gelato made from Torrontes wine, a super sweet white that is only grown in this region. It was pretty delicious - I'd recommend you try it if you're in Cafayate!

Running trip list: 710 (AR: 595)

Feb 23

I was feeling a bit better this morning, so I went over to the bike rental place near my hostel, picked up a bike and headed 10 km out of town. My destination was the km 8 monte desert, a stretch of mostly untouched scrub east of Cafayate. Luckily, the day was cloudy, as I got a bit of a late start between sleeping off my illness and waiting for the bike rental place to open, then cycling out of town. This kept things relatively cool and the birds active. My target Chaco Earthcreeper and Many-colored Chaco Finch proved relatively easy to find here, and I also added Rufous-fronted Thornbird for the trip. I also managed to actually see a few Sandy Gallitos, having only heard them a few weeks earlier with Josh and Adam, and was kept entertained by a decent variety of other Chaco species through the late morning (
Monte scrub near Cafayate
Having had success with my targets, I made my way back to town past the vineyards, returned the bike, had lunch, and then caught the 14:00 bus to Tafí del Valle. The bus ride was quite scenic, and as we passed by the Cuesta los Cardones, I managed to see and hear Steinbach's Canastero and Rufous-sided Warbling-Finch as the bus slowed down for some hairpin turns (and the windows were open - Unfortunately this would be my only individual of this warbling-finch for the trip as I missed them farther north where they're more common, but it was also my 600th species in Argentina! Over the pass, my first Andean Tinamou flushed from the roadside - luckily I'd have another shot the next day. Arriving in Tafí at 17:00, I made my way to the Nomade Hostel on the south side of town (200p, included dinner and breakfast), where there were a lot of people from Buenos Aires staying.

Running trip list: 716 (AR: 601)

Feb 24

After the included breakfast, I wandered to the main plaza/bus terminal in town to figure out a ride. It turned out the bus up over the pass wasn't leaving until the afternoon, so I talked a cab driver into taking me for 200p. He dropped me off just south of the pass (by the sign that says Tafí 22 km, El Mollar 32 km), and I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon walking back down the mountain toward town, getting quite a sunburn in the process. The locations given in my eBird list here: use this starting point as a reference.
The starting point for my walk
The habitat here was mostly open pasture, with little gullies intersecting the road every now and then. The birding around these streams was great, and as I walked I picked up most of my target species: Huayco Tinamou, Bare-eyed Ground-Dove, White-browed Tapaculo, Slender-billed Miner, White-browed Chat-Tyrant and Tucuman Mountain-Finch. "Tucuman" Sedge Wrens were fairly common along the road, as were Hellmayr's Pipits. At the lower fork of the second stream, I found a pair of Gray-headed Parakeets, and farther down the road a pair of Andean Swifts flew over. At the first major hairpin turn (just past the 7th stream crossing), I finally encountered a couple of Andean Lapwings, my last target at El Infiernillo.
Hellmayr's Pipit

Tucuman Mountain-Finch

Bare-eyed Ground Dove

Andean Tinamou
Only a minute later, a farmer pulled up and asked if I needed a ride back to town. Seeing as I'd seen everything I was hoping to, I gratefully accepted his offer of a ride and hopped in the back of the pickup where his grandson was riding, and we had a bit of a chat on the ~8 km ride back to town. I then grabbed lunch and headed back to the hostel, where I spent the rest of the afternoon working on my grad school application and then stayed up way too late talking with the other travellers at the hostel.

Running trip list: 728 (AR: 618)

Feb 25

After breakfast, I checked out of the hostel at 10:00, leaving my big pack with them for safekeeping, then went to find a bus. At the terminal, I managed to find a bus leaving at 10:30 that was heading toward San Miguel, and got the driver to drop me off along the Quebrada Los Sosa (my notes say at "El Nogal" although I can't find that on a map). From here I spent the rest of the morning walking back uphill toward Tafí before stopping for lunch at the La Curva restaurant, checking out a few little side trails that led down to the river ( My main target, Yellow-striped Brushfinch, proved to be quite common along this whole stretch, and at some point I managed to find a Rufous-throated Dipper, plus quite a few Torrent Ducks which were new for the trip list. The birding here was generally decent, if difficult because of the noise from the river and the closed-in forest, and the road wasn't too busy.
Yellow-striped Brushfinch

Quebrada los Sosa

Some nice forest along the valley road

After my lunch break, I went to the roadside to wait for a bus. 15 minutes later, a bus drove by and signalled to me that he couldn't stop where I was - I had passed the 'official' bus stop 2 km earlier but didn't think much of it at the time. Not wanting to walk back and wait for another bus, I stuck out my thumb, and one of the pickup trucks that was stuck behind the bus stopped and offered me a ride. It turned out they were heading right into Tafí, and after passing the bus that hadn't stopped for me, and through a short thunderstorm, they dropped me off at the bus station in town. Back at the hostel, I picked up my big pack and charged my phone, then got the 16:30 bus to San Miguel de Tucumán, doing a scan of Dique la Angostura as we passed by ( Arriving at 18:30, I got dinner and bought a ticket for the 22:30 bus to Córdoba.
I did fairly well with hitching rides in the northwest!
Running trip list: 730 (AR: 620)

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Southern Cone: ChAr 2016, Part 8 - Northwest Argentina: Chaco to the edge of Bolivia

Feb 11

On our bus ride from Ituzaingo toward Taco Pozo, Adam had started to feel a little feverish, and generally 'off'. At first we passed it off as maybe the beginning of food poisoning, but we were soon to discover it was quite a lot worse than that! In any case, we got to Taco Pozo at 04:45, and walked across the street from the bus station to the Hotel Taco Pozo, where we checked-in to two single rooms (120p each) and dropped off our bags. As there wasn't much info on this area, we were mostly relying on Ian Davies' trip report from 2013, and began walking the road to the north of town in the dark. In the predawn gloom, a Scissor-tailed Nightjar almost flew right into us as it foraged under a light! As we walked out into the Chaco scrub, we eventually found a calling Chaco Owl, but were unable to get a visual on it. As the sun came up, we walked north along the little track, occasionally being passed by locals on their way to log the thorn forest farther from town or hunt for bushmeat. Along the track, we added a good variety of Chaco species, including Brushland and Quebracho Crested-Tinamous, Chaco Chachalaca, Spot-backed Puffbird, Black-bodied Woodpecker, Great Rufous and Scimitar-billed Woodcreepers, Crested Hornero, Lark-like Brushrunner, White-naped Xenopsaris and Cinereous Tyrant, plus quite a few other new birds that were more widespread! One of our oddest sightings of the morning was a Comb Duck flying over the dry Chaco - apparently they are a fairly regular species on small ponds in the region ( At the lumber yard (-25.559091, -63.285647), we found Silvio and after a quick chat he granted us permission to walk through his property on the road back to town (the road that runs roughly NNW/SSE). This road held mostly the same species as the one we'd just been on, with better views of some. Part way down this road, Adam started to feel quite unwell, and he hitched a ride back to town with some passing lumber workers. I opted to continue walking, adding a few more species as the sun got higher in the sky and the heat really ramped up. By 10:00 the heat was pretty much unbearable, and I still had a ways to go before getting to town. I did finally make it, soaked through with sweat and completely out of water, only to discover the locals wandering around in jeans and sweaters! I honestly don't know how they did it, as when I got to the hotel and checked the temperature it was 46C without the added effects of the humidity.
The thorn forest at Taco Pozo

Crested Hornero
Crested Gallito

Spot-backed Puffbird

White Woodpecker
After checking in on Adam and turning on the A/C in my room, I went back into the blast-furnace of the outdoor world to look for a bank. It turned out the only one in town was the same bank that was in Resistencia, and my card still wouldn't work. At this point I was down to my last 30p (about $2.75), but luckily Adam still had 650p on him, plus some US cash. I spent the afternoon catching up on laundry (which dried almost instantly in the heat) and relaxing in the A/C, trying to do some research on the spotty WiFi. Adam spent most of the day sleeping off his sickness. By this point he had some more symptoms, and we eventually figured out (several days later) he had dengue fever - not good! I guess those signs in Iguazu had been right, and despite our anti-mosquito efforts, at least one of us had gotten the illness. At some point Adam mustered the energy to inquire about a bus, and the guy at the front desk told him the next bus to Salta was at 04:30 the next morning, so we settled in for the night and watched Spanish-dubbed movies until bed. As the rest of our money would have to go towards paying our hotel and bus tickets, we ate our emergency rations for dinner...

Running trip list: 624 (AR: 475)

Feb 12

We were up at 03:50 to hastily pack and check out, only to be told by the guy working the desk that the bus had come and gone at 03:30, rather than the 04:30 we had been told! He said there might be another bus at noon, he wasn't sure, so we gave him our key for one room and put our stuff back in the other. Adam was still pretty sick, so I left him to sleep and went out to bird the same road we'd done the morning before, hoping to get a visual on a Chaco Owl and maybe add some new species. Since I was out earlier than the day before, I had a bit more time with the nocturnal birds. After again seeing a Scissor-tailed Nightjar, I found a pair of Chaco Owls in a different spot from the day before, and eventually got a look at one in the twilight. The birds for the rest of the morning were mostly the same as the day before, with better looks at a few species, adding Stripe-backed Antbird as a lifer, and adding both Common Nighthawk and Blue-tufted Starthroat to the Argentina list (
Lark-like Brushrunner

Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper
Before I left, I had checked the hours at the bus station, and I made it back shortly after 09:30 when the ticket offices opened. After asking around at the various offices, it turned out that the only bus to Salta that day was at 16:00, so we resigned ourselves to being stranded for the day. We bought our tickets with almost all of our remaining pesos, then went to try the bank with all of our cards. Nothing worked, so we went back to the hotel and watched more movies to pass the time, as the internet wasn't working. At 15:00, we checked out, and had to pay the rather unhappy desk guy in US cash, as we didn't have enough pesos to cover our bill. Explaining our problem, he eventually accepted it, and we went to the bus station to wait, spending our last pesos on some snacks. Thankfully, the bus left on time and we were Salta-bound, with a combined total of about 6 pesos ($0.50) to our name! This ride turned out to be another milk-run, and at about 20:00 our bus broke down. My first experience with this in Latin America, surprisingly! The driver and another bus operator who stopped to help quickly figured out that it was caused by some loose wiring, and 30 minutes later we were back on the road. At 23:30, we got to Salta, and quickly caught a cab to find a bank that would accept our cards. We got the driver to wait for us (he didn't have much choice, as we had no money to pay him) and then went back to the bus station to find a bus to Jujuy. It turned out we'd missed the last bus for the night though, and the next one was at 06:00, so we went to a hostel (International Backpackers Hostel, 150p each for a quad dorm).

Running trip list: 626 (AR: 478)

Feb 13

As we had quite a long day yesterday, we were a bit slow off the mark this morning, making it to the bus station in time to catch a 10:30 bus to Jujuy. From there, we caught another bus up to the small village of Yala for only 8 pesos, where we checked in at the Refugio Complejo Yala (100p each for a dorm, which we had to ourselves). This was very convenient for us, as the hostel is located right across from the entrance road that goes up to the Yala lakes (Potrero de Yala Provincial Park). We ate lunch at the restaurant here, and then debated whether to attempt the walk up to the lakes, as there was a huge thunderstorm raging right over where we wanted to go (although it wasn't raining where we were). After waiting a while, hoping for the storm to pass, Adam decided he was going to stay back, while I decided to risk getting wet as it didn't look like the storm would leave anytime soon and I had birds to see! I walked the road along the river and up through the switchbacks, making it as far as the last set of switchbacks (9 km from Yala) before turning around (
The switchbacks in Yala

Along the way, I found quite a few of my target species: Red-faced Guan, Large-tailed Dove, Rothschild's Swift, Slender-tailed Woodstar, White-bellied Hummingbird, Tucuman Parrot, Rufous-capped Antshrike, Spot-breasted Thornbird, Buff-banded Tyrannulet, Slaty Elaenia, White-browed and Fulvous-headed Brushfinches, Golden-winged Cacique, Brown-capped Redstart and Rusty-browed Warbling-Finch, along with several other trip birds. Many of these are restricted to the Yungas forests of northwest Argentina and southern Bolivia, so I was pretty happy with the afternoon's adventure!
Red-faced Guan
Making my way back toward Yala, I ran into Adam at about the km 7 mark - after he'd had a nap he'd decided he didn't want to waste the afternoon lying in bed, and we birded our way back to town together. The rain held off until we were about 1.5 km from the hostel, when suddenly the skies opened up and a massive downpour started. We ran for cover at a nearby restaurant, and after getting some food the rain let up a little and we managed to catch a bus the remaining distance back to Yala to avoid a further soaking. We made it in at 22:30, just as another huge downpour started, nixing any chance we had of looking for owls.

Running trip list: 653 (AR: 506)

Feb 14

We were up at 05:00, hoping to catch the 05:30 colectivo up the mountain to try for Montane-forest Screech-Owl. Unfortunately for us, the rains from the night before were still ongoing, and it wasn't until after sunrise that they finally let up, effectively ending any chance we had at this rare owl. We ended up catching the 07:00 colectivo, getting off about 1 km from the park entrance at Los Nogales. The trees were hopping with birds in the cool morning air, and we encountered quite a few mixed flocks on our way up. Checking in at every lookout over the Rio Yala, we finally found a Rufous-throated Dipper at the very last lookout before the river turned away from the road. We made it up as far as the second lake, where we took a break for lunch before walking a side trail (the one that cuts east of the road on your way down from Laguna Rodeo) and heading back down toward Yala. Our morning here was quite successful, and Adam picked up most of the birds he had missed the day before. We also added Dusky-legged Guan, Red-tailed Comet, Yungas Pygmy-Owl, Dot-fronted Woodpecker, Brown-capped Tit-Spinetail, Highland Elaenia, Sclater's Tyrannulet, Plumbeous Black-Tyrant, Andean Slaty Thrush, Two-banded Warbler and Rust-and-yellow Tanager here ( On our way down, a Black-and-Chestnut Eagle flew over the road, and we managed a few doc shots of it. At the time, it was one of only a handful of records for Argentina, although it now appears that there is an isolated population in the Yala area.
Yala river - dipper spot!

Rufous-throated Dipper

Rufous-capped Antshrike
After this successful morning, we caught the bus back to Yala to check out of our hostel and grab a late lunch. As we had left early that morning, we had emptied our room and stuffed our big packs in one of the buildings (we may have had to sneak in through a doggie door to do this) to keep them safe while we were out birding, as nobody was around. Unfortunately for me, I had left my towel hanging to dry on the bedpost (the same way I lost my other one in Santiago), and the room was now locked, with the cleaning staff having left for the day, and no sign of my towel anywhere in the room! I was once again towel-less, and had to go the rest of the trip using my shirts as towels as there wasn't anywhere to buy another pack towel... We spent the rest of the afternoon at the restaurant, until they closed. As we sat waiting for the bus to Jujuy, a pair of Buff-necked Ibis flew by and were added to the trip list. In Jujuy, our bus went to the old terminal, where the local buses still went. We caught a cab from there to the new terminal, where the long-distance buses stopped. There, we got dinner and Adam went off in search of medicine. By this point we had figured out that he did, in fact, have dengue fever, and one of the most important things to know is never to take Ibuprofen when you have dengue! Unfortunately for Adam, that was all we had with us - some 600mg pills that I had been given at the pharmacy back in Puerto Natales for my cold. He eventually found some other kind of fever/headache medication that was supposedly ok to take with dengue, but the nurse would only give him one pill as she refused to believe he had dengue fever (there is no dengue near Jujuy, only in the eastern lowlands)! Eventually our bus showed up, and at 00:20 we were headed toward La Quiaca, on the border with Bolivia.

Running trip list: 669 (AR: 523)

Feb 15

We arrived in La Quiaca at 05:00, after a rather terrible and too-short sleep on the bus. As sunrise was still a few hours away, we tried to get a bit of a nap in at the terminal, but the place was just too sketchy for us. We had curled up near some stairs, but there were quite a few homeless-looking people there already, laid out on the floor with some of them performing rather lewd acts on themselves... We didn't last long before we decided we didn't need the sleep after all, and went upstairs to a cafe where we got some much-needed coffee and awaited the dawn. Once we saw a hint of light on the horizon, we caught a cab to Yavi, a small oasis in an otherwise arid landscape, not dissimilar to San Pedro de Atacama, which is ~300 km away. Here we spent the morning walking the road to Yavi Chico and back ( Citron-headed Yellow-Finches were easy to find in Yavi, and as we walked we gradually picked up more of our targets: Bare-faced Ground-Dove, Wedge-tailed Hillstar, Puna and Creamy-breasted Canasteros, Buff-breasted Earthcreeper, White-bellied Tyrannulet, Puna Ground-Tyrant, Brown-backed Mockingbird, Thick-billed Siskin and Puna Yellow-Finch. In Yavi Chico we added Tawny Tit-Spinetail, and an Ornate Tinamou flew out of someone's yard and landed right in front of us on the road - unfortunately I was a bit too slow with the camera! A pair of Andean Condors soaring over a distant ridge became our first and only bird on our Bolivia lists, as the little village of Yavi Chico sits right on the border.
Looking into Bolivia

Old building at Yavi Chico

Citron-headed Yellow-Finches
Back in Yavi, Adam decided he wasn't up for any more birding, and went to try to find a bus. I wasn't too surprised by this, and was impressed he made it as far as he did - he later said only the thought of finding a Wedge-tailed Hillstar kept him going! I had a few birds left to find, so I wandered the back streets of Yavi where it didn't take long to find a few d'Orbigny's Chat-Tyrants, and get photos of a few other species I'd been hoping to see. As I mentioned earlier, the Atacama desert isn't too far away from this part of Argentina, and many of the birds are the same - as a result we boosted our Argentina lists by a fair bit as we saw many species we'd already seen in Chile earlier in the trip.
d'Orbigny's Chat-Tyrant
With the Chat-Tyrants in the bag, I went back to the bus stop, finding Adam still waiting there. It turned out that no buses had gone by, but he wasn't too upset about missing the tyrants as he wasn't feeling up to more walking anyway. We ended up catching a colectivo back to La Quiaca, where we picked up our bags from the lockers. Adam got on a bus bound for Salta via Jujuy, while I opted to head toward Abra Pampa as I still had a few targets in the area. Once there, I eventually found a taxi driver who was willing to leave town limits, and took me out to Laguna Rontuyoc just north of town after agreeing on a price of 100p for the trip. I had found this spot from some other trip reports, and it looked like it had quite a few birds on it as viewed from the bus on my way into town. I managed to get the cab driver to wait for me (he was quite intrigued by the whole 'birding' thing), and scanned the lake and nearby fields, picking up Puna Ibis, Andean Flicker and Short-billed Pipit along with a whole suite of birds that I'd already seen in the San Pedro area several weeks earlier ( After that success, I headed back to the bus station, got lunch, and hopped on the 14:30 bus to Jujuy. Arriving at 19:00, I managed to get a bathroom break and buy tickets in time to get on the 19:15 bus to Salta - our stop here a few days ago paid off as I already knew my way around! Arriving in Salta at 21:00, I got a message from Adam saying he was at the Hostel Salta por Siempre, so I took a cab there and got a bed in a 4-bed dorm for 180p/night. It turned out Adam had arrived only 45 minutes before me, despite my layover in Abra Pampa.
Scenery from the bus

Running trip list: 689 (AR: 574)