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!

No comments: