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)

Friday, February 19, 2021

Southern Cone: ChAr 2016, Part 7 - Northeast Argentina

Feb 1

We pulled into the bus station in Mercedes at 06:45, and after a brief search we found the ticket booth for the bus to Carlos Pellegrini. They told us the next bus was at 08:00, so we got some food and settled in to wait. Other people trickled in over the next hour or so, and also asked about the bus. Eventually there was a small crowd of us hoping to get to Carlos, and the bus failed to show up (seemed to be a pattern forming here). After some discussion with the others, one of the travellers (a girl from Mexico) went off to find a truck. A little while later she showed back up with a pickup truck and driver, and our whole crew piled in after agreeing on a price (I forget the exact price, but I think it was somewhere around 200-250p each). In the truck we piled the girl from Mexico, a family of 5 from Germany (parents, 2 kids and a grandparent), a local guy, Adam, and myself, plus all of our collective gear and the driver. It was a rather cramped 3h drive from there to Carlos, sitting in the back of the pickup (and picking up a pretty good sunburn despite using sunscreen!), but we did eventually make it. Along the way, Adam and I did our best to bird, as many of the species here were new for us. Some of the highlights along the drive were Streamer-tailed and Strange-tailed Tyrants, Saffron-cowled Blackbird, White-bellied Seedeater and Plumbeous Ibis. Unfortunately, due to our seating arrangement, Adam was looking to the south, while I was looking north - my side of the road had a fence and therefore quite a few flycatchers and seedeaters perched, while his side had more wetlands and therefore more waterbirds. It was pretty difficult to get on a bird that the other person saw, so we each missed a few things on the way in. In town, we ended up staying at the Hospedaje San Cayetano (there are a ton of places to stay - this one I had found from another report and it had good reviews), where a room cost us 150p each for a night. Since it was now the heat of the day, we took a nap at the hostel - or at least tried to. The owners had a couple pet parakeets, and the Blue-headed was a bit of a jerk, crawling up on our beds and biting us. It was pretty funny to watch its antics though, and it did end up cuddling with me for a bit before biting my leg...
The jerk - Blue-headed Parakeet
After our rest, we headed out on foot to the west of town to see what we could find. At the interpretive centre just west of the bridge, we did a lap of the boardwalk and trails, finding plenty of Capybaras and two species of Caimans. From there we walked west down the road a ways, finding loads of seedeaters (a few of them quite range-restricted), Lesser Grass-Finch, Chotoy Spinetail, Giant Wood-Rail and many others ( After our walk, we got dinner at a little outdoor bar a few blocks away from our hostel before getting to bed.
Birding the road west of Carlos Pellegrini

Great Pampa-Finch

Rufous Hornero nest

Running trip list: 401 (AR: 252)

Feb 2

I awoke this morning to the sound of Adam squealing. It turned out a bat had gotten into our room and hit him in the face when he got up! After turning the lights on and snapping a photo, we managed to help the bat escape and then got ready for the day.
A free-tailed bat of some sort
It had turned out that the owner of our hostel also ran bird and boat tours to get to some of the more distant reaches of the marsh, so we had signed up for the morning tour. After an included breakfast, we were off on the 2.5h tour, with a couple from Belgium - they were the only other guests at the hostel while we were there. We headed south from town, to a small channel through the reeds at the south end of the lake. Here we added more marsh and water birds, including Muscovy Duck, Least Bittern, White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, Scarlet-headed Blackbird and others. We also had great looks at Long-winged Harrier, Southern Screamer, Capybaras, Marsh Deer, Spectacled Caimans and some neat red and black dragonflies on the boat ride.
On the boat tour

Long-winged Harrier

Capybara family

Southern Screamer

Diastatops intensa

Marsh Deer

Scarlet-headed Blackbird
Back in town, we decided to try to rent bikes so we could get a little farther afield. We ended up finding some at Posada Yacare, for 100p/day each, and tried to head east of town. By this point in the day the sun was blazing and the temperature was pretty high. This, combined with the extremely soft sand of the road, hampered our efforts on the bikes, and before too long we simply had to admit defeat. We went back to our hostel and took a 3.5h siesta, emerging once more in the late afternoon once the heat began to subside. We biked to the west of town (where the road was better), making it about 8 km before turning around. On this stretch we added Crested Doradito, Marsh, Rusty-collared, Pearly-bellied and Tawny-bellied Seedeaters, Long-tailed Reed Finch and Dark-billed Cuckoo among others ( - yes, I know I should have done a separate list for the boat ride and our bike tour...). A quick stop at the interpretive centre's boardwalk gave us great looks at Rufous-sided Crake before we made it back to town. Dropping off our bikes and gear at the hostel, we went back to the same little outdoor bar for dinner.
Biking west of town

Rufous-sided Crakes

Running trip list: 421 (AR: 273)

Feb 3

We were up at 06:15, figuring we might be in luck for another breakfast, but the owner wasn't around this morning and it was not to be. On a tip he had given us the day before, we headed east of town in the relatively cool morning air, on a quest for Yellow Cardinals. He had told us they were out that way, but would be too far for us to bike to. Eager to give it a shot anyway, we made our way slowly through the soft sand, adding Gray-fronted Dove, Little Woodpecker and Black-and-white Monjita plus seeing many of the same birds as we'd had on the west side of town the day before. A few kilometres from town, we came across a female Yellow Cardinal, and after we'd stopped to check her out, a male joined her and started singing! It turned out we didn't need to go as far as we'd been told to see this rare species, and we enjoyed watching them for a few minutes as they went about their business.
Yellow Cardinal (the real one!)

White Monjita

Biking the soft sand road was tough work
Having had success in the cardinal department, we headed back to town to return our bikes and check out of our hostel. From there we went back to the interpretive centre, where we left our big packs at the front desk and went for a walk around the trails. We mostly saw the same birds as the other days, but a highlight of this walk was seeing a Geoffroy's Cat that the rangers had rescued - it now followed them everywhere they went. Just after noon, we started looking for a ride back to Mercedes. The staff at the centre told us the bus would be by at 14:00, but given our track record with buses in the last while we decided to try our luck with hitch-hiking. At 13:30, only a single car had gone by, and not even looked at us, when one of the park staff came up and mentioned that an employee was leaving in a few minutes to drive home, and he lived in Mercedes. We went over to talk to him, and he kindly offered to give us a lift in his truck, refusing any money for gas. Tossing our stuff in the back, we hopped in, and he positively blasted down the road on his way home. Along some of the slower stretches we managed to add our last few birds for the south side of Laguna Ibera - Gray Monjita, Sharp-tailed Tyrant and Bearded Tachuri, plus had looks at a few male Marsh and Chestnut Seedeaters ( The road that had taken us three hours on the way in took less than two on the way out, and we thanked the kind man profusely as he dropped us right at the bus station! From there, we hopped on the 15:50 bus to Paso de los Libres (adding Pectoral Sandpiper and White Woodpecker on the way -, where we caught the 19:00 bus to Posadas. From there we got on the 01:30 bus to Iguazu and promptly fell asleep.

Running trip list: 432 (AR: 284)

Feb 4

Arriving in Iguazu at 06:45, we ditched our big packs in the lockers at the bus station, bought some snacks and then caught a bus to the national park. The Iguazu Falls are a must-see for anyone visiting the region, and the place was busy despite it being a Thursday. Most of the crowds were around the falls and the tourist kiosks though, and some of the trails were actually pretty quiet. We walked as many trails as we could over the course of the morning; unfortunately the Macuco trail (the most productive one for birds) was closed due to flooding while we were there. We quickly located Iguazu's specialty bird - the Great Dusky Swift, as a flock of ~100 birds cruised over the falls. Other lifers for us over the morning included the omnipresent Plush-crested Jays, Green-headed Tanager, Ochre-collared Piculet, Green-throated and Violaceous Euphonias, Surucua Trogon (heard-only), Riverbank Warbler and Blue-winged Parrotlet among others ( Late in the morning, as bird activity died down, we were entranced by swarms of tropical butterflies, and stopped to take in the diversity and some photos. Of course, the falls themselves were extremely impressive as well, and we spent a fair amount of time just admiring them.
Plush-crested Jay

A gathering of sulphurs

The rather crowded falls at Garganta del Diablo

Iguazu Falls

Moody Garganta del Diablo
In mid-afternoon, we headed back into town to retrieve our packs and find a hostel. We ended up at the Garden Stone, a decent place on a quiet side street near the river, where a double room cost 540p. After a bit of a rest, we walked the few blocks to the Jardin de los Picaflores. The owner has a nice setup, and after paying our entry fee we sat and watched the hummingbird feeders, where a nice variety was coming to feed ( Among the eight species, the highlight was two Swallow-tailed Hummingbirds, followed closely by Black Jacobin. An Ochre-collared Piculet also came in quite close to us and provided great views. Around the garden were signs saying something along the lines of 'Beware mosquitos, dengue fever present'. We applied some of the bug spray the owner provided, but these warnings would soon prove their merit - more on that later!
Black Jacobin

Swallow-tailed Hummingbird

Ochre-collared Piculet
After getting our fill of hummingbirds (it was starting to get dark as well), we went off to find a grocery store to buy some food for dinner, since our hostel had a full kitchen. Our cheapest and one of the most delicious meals of the trip so far! We did have a bit of a fiasco trying to open our wine though, as someone had apparently stolen the corkscrew from the hostel. We managed to get the cork out using Adam's multitool and a bit of elbow grease after some brainstorming - crisis averted. While eating dinner we watched a good show of swifts flying over in the evening light and added Yellow-bellied Elaenia for the trip (
Desperate times...

Running trip list: 462 (AR: 314)

Feb 5

We had breakfast at the hostel, and spent some time figuring out plans for the next few days. After Josh had headed back to Canada, our trip scheduling loosened up a bit as we didn't have to cover as much ground in as short of a time span. We eventually decided that hiring a guide with a vehicle would be worth our time, despite the high cost, as many of the birding areas around Iguazu region are not accessible by bus, and we had a lot of potential target birds to see. Following Noah Strycker's lead from his Big Year birding in the region, we got in touch with Guy Cox, who agreed to guide us for two full days at $200 USD/day, and was cool with camping and eating grocery store meals! With that sorted out, we headed for Brazil. We had discovered through some other travellers that there was a bus to the Brazil side of the falls that skipped customs (unless you were planning to travel in Brazil after) and took you directly to the park. The customs bit was key; as Canadians we required an expensive visa to get into Brazil. While bird activity in the park was rather low (it was mid-day by this point), we did add one new bird - a male Blue-tufted Starthroat ( Unfortunately we had both left our cameras at the hostel, fully anticipating getting soaked as the Brazil side of the falls allows you to get much closer. We did get quite soaked, as it turned out, but it was well worth it to see both sides of the falls - there were even a few rainbows on the sunny day. After walking all the free trails in the park, we caught the bus back across to Argentina and spent the evening at our hostel.
The Brazilian side of the falls

Running trip list: 463 (AR: 314)

Feb 6

As Guy wasn't available until the next day, we had the day to putter around. Since we'd already done both sides of the falls, and figured we'd see our remaining target birds with Guy over the next two days, we slept in and then walked the 2 km to the Hito Tres Fronteras, the spot where Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina all meet, with the Parana and Iguazu rivers forming the border. Here we added Chestnut-vented Conebill and Yellow-chevroned Parakeets to our life lists, plus added a few new birds for the trip ( Our main goal though was to add to our Paraguay and Brazil lists, by scanning the shores of each country from our vantage point, with some success (Paraguay -, Brazil -
Birding the tres fronteras
After this little adventure we headed back to the hostel for lunch, and since the internet was down all afternoon we spent our time lounging in the pool and enjoying our air-conditioned room while studying up on the birds of northern Argentina. We were due to meet with Guy at 22:30 to go over the plan for the next couple of days, but due to a scheduling change he actually showed up at the hostel at 20:30, where the guy working the desk sent him to the wrong room! At 22:15 the internet started working again and an email came through saying he was at the hostel, so we went outside to meet him and discovered he'd already been waiting for almost 2 hours and had sent the email when he arrived at 20:30... Thankfully he was quite understanding of the situation, and we quickly made a plan for the next few days before getting some sleep.

Running trip list: 469 (AR: 320)

Feb 7

Our first official day of birding in the Atlantic Rainforest, and what a day it was! We were up at 05:30 to meet Guy at our hostel, and after a quick coffee stop we made our way to Route 101, just east of town, where we spent the entire morning. Although it looks like a highway on the map, it's a narrow dirt road that runs adjacent to the national park, and passes through a large tract of Atlantic forest. We birded the road by driving a ways, then getting out at spots that Guy knew for various target birds. Our main goal for the two days was to see a Creamy-bellied Gnatcatcher, as this species is restricted to a small range centred on the Iguazu region, and looking at the eBird species map, almost all the recent records are from this one province in Argentina. Guy was a bit worried about this, as the species is fairly rare and he estimated he saw them maybe once or twice in every ten days in suitable habitat. Luck was on our side though, and at our first stop I almost immediately heard what sounded like a gnatcatcher calling, and after a few seconds I got on a pair of Creamy-bellied Gnatcatchers in the canopy over the road! Our third and fourth individual birds of the morning.
Birding the 101 track
After that stroke of good fortune, our next goal was just to see as much as possible in the rest of our time with Guy. Over the course of the morning, we added 44 new birds for the trip, of which 28 were lifers, just on this stretch of road ( Highlights were a good variety of Atlantic forest species, including White-bearded, Spot-backed, Tufted and Large-tailed Antshrikes, Red-breasted Toucan and Swallow-tailed Manakins doing their displays. After our success on the 101, we made a stop in Comandante Andresito for groceries and gas, then headed to Urugua-í Uruzu. Here, we spent the afternoon walking the loop trail behind the washrooms, encountering two really good mixed flocks and a few quality individual birds ( Highlights of this were an Ocellated Poorwill that we accidentally flushed from beside the path, a Purple-crowned Plovercrest that came into some flowers not 2m from us, Bertoni's Antbird, Ruby-crowned and Chestnut-headed Tanagers, and two birds that were extremely rare for Argentina - White-browed Foliage-gleaner and Sao Paulo Tyrannulet. The former had only one other eBird record for the country, and the latter was the only eBird record for Argentina, although Guy said he occasionally sees them in this area. I should also mention that at this point the heat, humidity and mosquitoes were getting to us a bit - humidex values in the Misiones area were pretty consistently above 40C during the afternoons, and the Uruzu area in particular abounded with mosquitoes!
Birding Urugua-í Uruzu

After dinner on the picnic tables and a bit of a vigil at the bridge, hoping in vain for the apparently regular Black-fronted Piping-Guans to come in, we headed onward to find a place to sleep. We ended up camping at the 101 section of Urugua-i. Guy had his van outfitted as a small camper, and had been kind enough to bring camping gear for Adam and I. We got set up on a flat spot near the outhouse as it got dark and then spent some time listening for nocturnal birds (, adding Short-tailed Nighthawk and Black-banded Owl before calling it an early night.

*Note* I don't really know why, other than the fact that we were so focused on target birding, but I didn't take a single photo with my camera between Feb 5-9. Some day I'll have to revisit the Atlantic rainforest to photograph its birdlife.

Running trip list: 536 (AR: 387)

Feb 8

After an early breakfast at our camp, we walked the trail over the bridge at this section of Urugua-í, adding a few quality targets such as Spotted Bamboowren, Planalto Woodcreeper, Rufous-capped Motmot, Variegated Antpitta, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner and Rufous-capped Spinetail ( Once the bamboowren was in the bag, we headed back to pack up our camp and headed to San Sebastien de la Selva, a fantastic reserve only a few minutes down the road from where we'd camped. Here we birded the grounds around the lodge and talked with the owners for a bit to gain access, and then spent the rest of the morning walking the trails across the river and up the hill ( The trails here were well-maintained and went through a good diversity of habitats, but bird activity was pretty low for most of our time here, likely as we'd spent the best hours of the morning over at Urugua-í. We eventually encountered a good mixed flock, and through perseverance we slowly added new birds here and there - Tataupa Tinamou, Giant Antshrike, Dusky-tailed Antbird, White-throated and Scalloped Woodcreepers, Greenish Schiffornis, Crested Becard and Hooded Tanager were all lifers, and we added a few more widespread species for the trip. By 13:00, the heat was really kicking in and bird activity had died down, and since we had some ground to cover we reluctantly headed back to the van. Along the 2.5h drive south, Adam and I drifted in and out of consciousness (my notes use the words 'bobble-headed'), but managed to pick up a White-eared Puffbird sitting on a wire beside the road just a few kilometres outside San Pedro, our only one of the trip. In town, we went to Guy's home, right on the edge of Araucaria Provincial Park, to wait out the heat and get some snacks. Fueled up and cooled off, we went for a walk around the park, hoping for a few target birds ( Robust Woodpecker and Pileated Parrot were lifers, and eventually we found a few Vinaceous-breasted Parrots, an endangered Araucaria specialist (Monkey Puzzle Trees as they're also known). We spent some time playing hide-and-seek with a Canebrake Groundcreeper, but eventually it won and we had to leave it as heard-only. Heading back toward Guy's house, we sat down in an open area with a few Araucaria trees to await our last target. After a short vigil, a small group of Araucaria Tit-Spinetails came in and foraged on the trees in front of us.
Paraná Araucaria
As the last bus to Posadas was at 19:00, and we wouldn't make it there in time, Guy was nice enough to let us sleep at his place, and we set up the tent beside his house then went to find dinner. As is typical in Argentina, the restaurants didn't open until 21:00 and as we were pretty starving, we ended up eating empanadas and burgers at a little food stall. Back at Guy's, he gave us a bottle of his homemade beer to try, and we stayed up talking for a while before calling it a night.

Running trip list: 573 (AR: 424)

Feb 9

We did some casual birding around Guy's yard, adding White-throated Hummingbird and Chopi Blackbird before heading to the bus station to catch the 08:30 bus to Posadas. This ended up being quite a milk run, and we arrived in Posadas at 13:30 with enough time to find lunch before our 15:00 bus to Ituzaingo. Not long into the bus ride, it started raining quite heavily, and when we got into Ituzaingo at 16:00 it was pouring. We quickly found the tourist office we were looking for (Turismo Diversidad), but it was closed, so we went across the street to wait out the rain at a gas station until they reopened at 17:00. Eventually someone showed up, and we organized a tour for the next day, then found the Hostel la Plaza around the corner, where a room cost us 200p each. We got dinner at a gas station, which seemed to be the only restaurant in town that was actually open, adding Little Nightjar on our walk after the rain had stopped ( Ituzaingo may seem like an odd choice, as it isn't a place that featured on any birding tours or trip reports we had seen, but we had a good reason to be there. During our down day in Iguazu, Adam had been furiously researching spots to see Strange-tailed Tyrant, as he had missed them on our drive into Carlos Pellegrini, and this species is only found in the grasslands of northeastern Argentina and southern Paraguay. A small reserve not far from Ituzaingo boasted on their website that they held one of the highest concentrations of this species in the world, and a tour company in Ituzaingo ran trips to visit the reserve. Since we had an extra day or two banked into our itinerary, we decided to go for it, and here we were, hoping the rain would hold off for the next morning.

Running trip list: 576 (AR: 427)

Feb 10

We were at the tourist office (only 1 block from our hostel) at 05:50, in time for our 06:00 tour to the Reserva Don Luis with our driver Freddy. The tour was a bit expensive by our standards (900p each), but it ended up being well worth the price. The drive in was quite birdy, passing through open grasslands and marsh habitat with Jabiru, Spotted Nothura, Gray Monjita, and hundreds of other water, wading and marsh birds.
Gray Monjita

Brown-and-yellow Marshbirds
Arriving at the reserve proper, we were greeted by Alejandra and her husband Seppi, who were the caretakers. Alejandra knew her birds pretty well, and took us for a tour around the general vicinity of the house, showing us some roosting Tropical Screech-Owls, their semi-wild Marsh Deer that they'd raised, a pen where they were raising Bare-faced Curassows for reintroduction, and then asking if we wanted to see their new seedeater. At first, we were a little skeptical, as she explained it was different in that the females have a white patch on the wing (most seedeater species in this region have that field mark), and we had heard nothing about an undescribed seedeater. Once we got to the spot though, all doubts vanished as a group of them popped up from the grasses right in front of us, with the males looking and sounding different from all the other species in the region. After we got back to internet we discovered this was known as the "Ibera" Seedeater, and will soon be recognized as its own species!
Tropical Screech-Owl

Ibera Seedeater (undescribed)

Adam and the Marsh Deer

The short boardwalk through the reserve
With that bonus bird, we inquired about whether we might be able to see the Strange-tailed Tyrants. They happily obliged this request, and we went for a spin in their truck down the rough road through the reserve. Along the way, we stopped at a few spots that Alejandra indicated might be good. The first was where she sometimes sees 'burritos', and to our surprise an Ash-throated Crake walked right out in the open (burrito is the Spanish name for small crakes and rails). At our next stop, she casually mentioned that she sometimes sees Azure Gallinules at this pond. Sure enough, a few seconds later an Azure Gallinule popped out of the reeds and wandered around in the open for a while, providing great viewing and photo opportunities of this difficult-to-find species! Three good birds that we hadn't been expecting, and the best was yet to come. We pulled up at an open field, and were soon looking at six Strange-tailed Tyrants - two pairs and two young birds! After getting our fill of these weird-looking little birds, we moved on to a patch of woodland where a nice mixed flock contained our first Orange-headed Tanager, Little Thornbird and White-barred Piculets. Somewhere on the reserve (I don't remember exactly where), we also added Blue-billed Black-Tyrant, Warbling Doradito and Ochre-breasted Pipit, all fairly range-restricted species (
Azure Gallinule

Strange-tailed Tyrant

Ash-throated Crake
After our successful time here, we went back to the little house to have lunch, and spent some time chatting with Alejandra over a beer on the porch before heading back to town in the heat of the day. In town, we tried to organize a trip across the dam to spend some time in Paraguay, but discovered that as Canadians we needed a visa, so we just did a quick check of the river before heading back to the Turismo office to pay our fees for the morning, and made a donation to the reserve as they refused our offer of a tip! Since we had cleaned up in this area and Paraguay was a no-go, we headed to the bus station, where the 14:10 bus was running late, luckily for us! We bought our tickets and hopped on just in time. We didn't make it very far before our bus was delayed 1.5h at a police checkpoint - I guess some people were trying to bring goods for sale into another province without permits or something, and they had all their stuff confiscated. We eventually rolled into Resistencia at 20:00 where we got dinner and tried to take some money out. Due to our tight schedule and relatively expensive tours over the past few days, our money reserves were running a bit low as we hadn't had a chance to get to an ATM. Unfortunately for us, none of the ATMs at the bus station or a nearby bank would accept our cards, and I used most of my remaining money to buy an onward ticket on the 22:00 bus to Taco Pozo, where we hoped we'd find a bank.

Running trip list: 588 (AR: 439)