Saturday, 6 April 2002

CHILE 2002: 24 March- 06 April

Introduction. Nick and I were keen to visit Chile but Nick being a teacher, me not wanting to miss Christmas with the family and our summer being their winter made Easter the only realistic time for us to go. Easter 2002 was an early one so we booked return flights to Santiago (via Buenos Aires). We had two weeks so decided to concentrate on the southern half of the country and after looking at various options decided to fly to Punta Arenas and work our way back to Santiago. We booked Santiago-Punta Arenas and Punta Arenas-Puerto Montt internal flights online (strangely they were cheaper than the first on its own but we weren't arguing) and a hire car to pick up in Puerto Montt and drop off back in Santiago. Internet bookings were still fairly novel in late 2001 but despite some concerns all went smoothly. John and David Cooper, who had visited Chile in November 2001, kindly provided very helpful information and recordings and we loosely based our trip on where they’d been. Despite the season it was mainly a camping trip, internet accommodation bookings hadn’t taken off although in most places it was nice to be on site anyway. This blog is my recollection of the trip, based on unreliable memories and very basic notebook entries. It is illustrated with some digitised prints taken with a basic camera.

We arrived in Santiago in the morning of Sunday 24 March. Our flight to Punta Arenas wasn’t until late afternoon and we hung around outside the airport for several hours reading and seeing amongst others Red-backed Hawk, 5 Chimango Caracaras, 35 Southern Lapwings, 40 Picui Ground Doves and 15 Long-tailed Meadowlarks. Our flight was on time and we arrived in Punta Arenas after dark.

Monday 25 March. We birded along the road to Pali Alke National Park, highlights being 19 Darwin’s RheasGreat Grebe, 2 Rufous-chested and 15 Tawny-throated Dotterel, 10 Least Seedsnipe, and 75 Grey-hooded Sierra Finches. We saw 4 Magellanic Penguins on the ferry across to Isla Grande and then drove down to Porvenir. Ruddy-headed Goose was our first new bird, seeing 2 then 13, as were 8 Short-billed Miners and 17 Magellanic Plovers, the latter was probably our main target for the trip and they did not disappoint. We also saw 30 Black-faced Ibis, 300 Chilean Flamingo, 500 Upland Geese (both white and barred morphs), 6 Flying Steamer DuckApolmado Falcon, 15 Two-banded Plovers, 12 Rufous-chested Dotterel, 7 White-rumped SandpipersGrey-breasted Seedsnipe, 50 Chilean Skuas, 8 Dolphin Gulls and 20 Patagonian Yellow Finches. A very enjoyable first day birding.
Magellanic Plover on Isla Grande
always nice to see the main target species early in a trip
Magellanic Plover with White-rumped Sandpiper
Porvenir Beach
coast near Porvenir

Dolphin Gull and Crested Duck at Porvenir
Crested Duck
Strait of Magellan
Tuesday 26 March. We woke to a strong westerly (onshore) wind and decided to seawatch off Porvenir. The Strait of Magellan is about 25km wide here, although it narrows to 5km at the northern entrance where we crossed by ferry. Despite this we were surprised to see 150+ Black-browed and a Grey-headed Albatross, 4 Magellanic Diving Petrels, 3 Southern Fulmars, 2 Grey, 2 White-chinned and 2 Southern Giant Petrels, 30 Blue-eyed Shags and 200 Chilean Skuas. We saw 3 Kelp Geese in Porvenir Bay and driving back north to the ferry 3 Magellanic Oystercatchers as well as similar, sometimes the same, birds as previously - 10 Ruddy-headed and 400 Upland Geese, 8 Flying Steamer Duck, 6 Two-banded Plovers, 2 Rufous-chested Dotterel, 8 White-rumped Sandpipers, 10 Dolphin Gulls, 75 Short-billed Miners and 50 Patagonian Yellow Finches. We also saw at least 31 Magellanic Plovers which were brilliant. We crossed back on the ferry (seeing the same or another 4 Magellanic Penguins) and spent the rest of the day on the Pali Alke Road and along the first 24km of the aptly named Punto Dungeness Road. We saw 12 Darwin’s Rheas, White-tufted Grebe, female Cinereous Harrier and an Austral Canastero as far as we went.
Isla Grande
Magellanic Oystercatchers
Laguna de Los Cisnes

roadside Vicuna

Wednesday 27 March. We birded back down the Pali Alke road, spent time around a superb pool at km 3 and visited the Sen Otway penguin colony before returning to Punta Arenas. Best birds today were 80 Darwin's Rheas, 50 Magellanic Penguins (but sadly no wandering Kings as were sometimes there), 500 Blue-eyed Shags (most roosting on the pier in Punta Arenas), 75 Ashy-headed and 2500 Upland Geese, 3 Flying and a Flightless Steamer Duck, 10 Two-banded Plovers, 8 Rufous-chested Dotterel, 19 adult and a juvenile Magellanic Plover, 200 White-rumped Sandpipers, 89 Least Seedsnipe, 62 Dolphin Gulls, 2 Scale-throated Earthcreepers, 10 Short-billed Miners, a Dark-bellied and 12 Bar-winged Cinclodes, 3 Austral Canasteros, Dark-faced Ground Tyrant, 4 Austral Thrushes and a superb male and 2 female Black-throated Finches (the day’s only new bird that took a bit of finding first thing).
early morning on the Pali Alke Road, note frost on car windscreen, it was cold
Pali Alke road

Ashy-headed Geese
Upland Geese

Nick scoping on the km 3 pool
we were watching Magellanic Plovers
adult Magellanic Plover

juvenile Magellanic Plover

Darwin's Rhea from the track to Sen Otway

Flightless Steamer Duck at Sen Otway doing a good impression of a grey rock

Magellanic Penguins heading for the sea at Sen Otway 
Magellanic Penguins returning from the sea

quite approachable

Thursday 28 March. We flew from Punta Arenas to Puerto Montt where we picked up our hire car and drove north then east to Puyuhue where we saw eight new birds, being 3 Chilean Pigeons, 40 Austral Parakeets (we couldn’t find any Slender-billed Parakeets but weren’t sure they were present at this time of year), 5 Green-crowned Firecrowns, Striped Woodpecker, Des Muir’s Wiretail, 4 excellent Black-throated Huet-Huets, 14 brilliant Chucao Tapaculos and a Common Duica Finch. 10 Thorn-tailed Rayaditos, a White-throated Treerunner and 6 Patagonian Sierra Finches were also nice to see. We left before dark for the long drive of about 600km north then west to Nahuelbuta.
Punta Arenas Airport
approaching the Strait of Magellan
over the coast of southern Chile
the southern Andes
glacier in southern Andes March 2002
Friday 29 March. We almost became lost in Angol but a combination of luck and instinct saw us on the right road, seeing a Barn Owl before arriving at Nahuelbuta. Dawn didn’t seem long after we arrived but we’d managed some sleep and had an excellent day birding in the damp forest. A Chilean Tinamou ran across the road and we saw White-throated Hawk, 45 California Quail, 40 Austral Parakeets (still no Slender-billed), 5 Green-backed Firecrowns, female Striped and Magellanic Woodpeckers, Chilean Flicker, a superb Des Muir’s Wiretail, 30 Thorn-tailed Rayaditos, White-throated Treerunner 3 Black-throated Huet-Huets, 5 Chucao and single Ochre-flanked and Magellanic Tapaculos (all excellent), 4 Patagonian Tyrants, Chilean Swallow, 6 Chilean Mockingbirds, 8 Common Duica Finches, 10 Austral Blackbirds and 15 Black-chinned Siskins. At night we heard a distant Rufous-legged Owl which as often seems to be the way had stopped calling by the time we got our act together and emerged from our tents to look for it.

Monkey Puzzle or Araucaria at Nahuelbuta

Southern Beech at Nahuelbuta

a truly wonderful place
Saturday 30 March. We spent much of the morning at Nahuelbuta seeing similar birds to yesterday - 30 Austral Parakeets, 3 Green-backed Firecrowns, 2 Striped Woodpeckers, Chilean Flicker, 20 Thorn-tailed Rayaditos, Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, White-throated Treerunner 2 Black-throated Huet-Huets, again 5 Chucao and single Ochre-flanked and Magellanic Tapaculos, 4 Fire-eyed Duicon, Patagonian Tyrant, 3 Chilean Swallow, 4 Austral Thrushes, 6 Chilean Mockingbirds, 12 Common Duica Finches, 3 Patagonian Sierra Finches and 2 Black-chinned Siskins. Leaving we saw Chilean Tinamou by the road near Vegas Blancas where a brief stop failed to produce Slender-billed Parakeet, adding weight to our view that we were not looking at a good time of year. We drove back to cross the main highway and continued east and up into the Andes at Laguna del Laja. There before dark we saw Spot-flanked Gallinule, 2 Green-tailed Firecrowns, 6 Dark-bellied Cinclodes, 6 Thorn-tailed Rayaditos, 2 Dark-faced Ground Tyrants and an excellent juvenile Chestnut-throated Huet-Huet. The latter was the day’s only new bird and put us on course to seeing all eight possible tapaculos. A nice thought for another cold night.
Chuaco Tapaculo, a strong contender for my bird of the trip

another Chucao Tapaculo at Nahuelbuta
they were just so good
Laguna del Laja entrance
Sunday 31 March. We spent the morning birding at Laguna del Laja. Just 18 species seen but they did include 2 more Chestnut-throated Huet-Huets, 2 Torrent and 3 Spectacled Duck, 12 Green-backed Firecrowns, 8 Dark-bellied and 5 Bar-winged Cincloides, 6 Thorn-tailed Rayaditos, 3 Magellanic Tapaculos and 25 Dark-faced Ground Tyrants. We packed up and continue north towards Santiago reaching Talca, about half way, in daylight and seeing 12 Chimango Caracaras on the way. We continued for several hours after dark to Puente Alto on the southern outskirts of Santiago and southeast past San Jose del Maipo. No new birds on what was really a travel day.
one of our warmer campsites, at the Laguna del Laja entrance with Volcan Antuco in the distance
driving higher into the park

the views became more spectacular the further into the park we went

Monday 01 April. We slept in a lay-by at the start of the dirt road up to Emblase El Yeso having seen 4 Band-tailed Nightjars on the way there. We were up at dawn to discover we had a puncture. The car only had a small spare tyre, the first space saver I’d seen, and we were nervous driving on it but felt returning to the nearest town would end up wasting all morning. The first of five Moustached Turcas seen during the morning was some compensation for having to change the wheel. We continued somewhat anxiously up to the reservoir but were not able to make sense of the directions we’d been given to the site for Diademed Sandpiper Plovers. As we’d seen them in Peru in 1984 I’d not given as much attention to finding out about them as I should have, assuming the site would be easy to find. We tried three or four areas off the track past the reservoir, which we drove almost to the end of, without success. Back home I feel sure that we had been within 100m of the site at the first place we tried. Despite this we had a decent morning seeing 15 Rufous-banded Miners, 4 Scale-throated Earthcreepers, 4 excellent Crag Chilias, 4 Grey-flanked Cinclodes, 50 Greater Yellow Finches and 6 Yellow-rumped Siskins. We drove back to Puente Alto to fix our tyre, the space-saver had done its job but had rather restricted where we’d felt able to drive on the tracks at El Yeso. It took an hour or so, quicker than wed thought, and we continued through Santiago and north to La Campana.
road to El Yeso
Emblase El Yeso

above the reservoir was the area for Diademed Sandpiper Plovers
looking back at the reservoir but we just couldn't find the precise spot

Tuesday 02 April. We spent all day birding along the tracks at La Campana seeing just 17 species but they did include good views of both our remaining Tapaculo targets, White-throated and Dusky and we also heard Moustached Turca. The other species seen were 10 California Quail, 15 Chilean Pigeons, a roosting Magellanic Horned Owl, 15 Green-backed Firecrowns, Striped Woodpecker, 2 Dusky-tailed Canasteros, 6 Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetails, White-throated Treerunner, White-crested Eleania, 10 Tufted Tit-Tyrants, 4 Fire-eyed Duicons, Chilean Swallow, 12 House Wrens, 5 Grey-hooded Sierra Finches and 5 Rufous-collared Sparrows. It was cold and after dark our candle kept blowing out until we thought to cut the top off a cola bottle and use as a windshield, the bottom being a handy mug. The joys of camping in poor weather.
dry forest at La Campana

glad this one wasn't in my tent
Wednesday 03 April. We had the morning at La Campana recording a similar selection of species to the previous day including 17 Chilean Pigeons, Red-backed Hawk, 25 Green-backed Firecrowns, 2 Dusky-tailed Canasteros, 3 Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetails, 2 Thorn-tailed Rayaditos, 8 Tufted Tit-Tyrants, 4 Fire-eyed Duicons and 2 White-throated Tapaculos with Dusky and Moustached Turca heard. We drove to Concon, on the coast north of Valparaiso and at the mouth of the Rio Aconcagua. Here we saw a range of wetland and coastal species including 20 Peruvian Boobies, 100 Peruvian Pelcians, White-necked Heron, 6 Chiloe Wigeon, 100 American Oystercatchers, single Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs and Willet, 20 Hudsonian Whimbrel, 100 Franklin’s and 6 Grey Gulls, 350 Black Skimmers, 8 Inca Terns and 6 Austral Negritos. The Franklin’s Gulls were mostly in superb summer plumage while I almost dismissed the Hudsonian Whimbrel being rather casual on hearing their familiar call and only raising my bins to count them forgetting they were different from those at home. Our last stop was the rocky coast at Quintero to the north. Here we found 7 Seaside Cinclodes, the days new bird, 2 Blackish Oystercatchers, Surfbird and 30 Turnstones. Offshore were 2 Humbolt Penguins, 15 Sooty Shearwaters, 100 Peruvian Boobies, 250 Peruvian Pelicans and 200 Neotropic and 10 Guanay Cormorants. We found a cheap place to stay in Quintero.

Thursday 04 April. We started at Quintero seeing 3 Humbolt Penguins, 50 Peruvian Boobies, 100 Peruvian Pelicans, Blackish Oystercatcher, 2 Seaside Cinclodes and 3 Common Duica Finches. We returned to the mouth of the Rio Aconcagua and the dunes to the north where we spent the rest of the day. Roosting on an offshore island were at least 1000 Peruvian Boobies and 250 Peruvian Pelcians and we also saw Pied-billed and 3 White-tufted Grebes, 7 Chiloe Wigeon, a female Lake Duck, White-tailed Kite, 40 Red-gartered, 3 White-winged and 20 White-fronted Coot, 3 Collared Plovers, 150 American Oystercatchers, 10 White-backed Stilts, Rufous-chested Dotterel, Hudsonian Godwit, Chilean Skua, 50 Franklin’s and 3 Grey Gulls, 350 Black Skimmers, 2 Elegant and 6 Inca Terns, 3 Burrowing Owls, Green-backed Firecrown, Wren-like Rushbird, Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, great views of Dusky Tapaculo, Many-coloured Rush Tyrant, 4 Tufted Tit-Tyrants, 4 Fire-eyed Duicons, 2 Great Shrike Tyrants, 20 Austral Negritos, 2 female Rufous-tailed Plantcutters, 100 Chilean Swallows and 20 Yellow-winged Blackbirds. The shrike tyrant and plantcutter being new. We left the coast and headed up into the Andes to the ski resort of Portillo at an altitude of just under 2900m. Not surprisingly it was another cold night.

Friday 05 April. Our final day started in the Andes at Portillo. It was expectedly cold at dawn and birds and us were very slow to become active. We slowly birded our way up to the 3800m Paso de la Cumbre before dropping down on multiple hairpins to the Argentinian border before returning. We saw 7 Andean Condors (2 juveniles), 2 Red-tailed Hawks, 2 Mountain Caracaras, a superb White-tailed Hillstar, 20 Rufous-banded Miners, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, 7 Grey-flanked and 4 Bar-winged Cinclodes, 2 Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetails, Cordilleran Canastero, another excellent Moustached Turca, Black-billed Shrike Tyrant, Dark-faced and 2 Cinereous Ground Tyrants, 2 male and 2 female Rufous-tailed Plantcutters, Austral Thrush, 10 Greater Yellow Finches, 25 Grey-hooded and 3 Ash-breasted Sierra Finches, 10 Rufous-collared Sparrows and 20 Yellow-rumped Siskins. I saw the White-tailed Hillstar feeding on an isolated red flower but it shot off before Nick arrived. It was a new bird for us having had a poor view of what was almost certainly one at El Yeso a few days earlier. We searched without finding any other flowers in the immediate vicinity and thought it best to return to keep watch on the flower I’d seen it on. We’d seen a TV programme, almost certainly one of David Attenborough's, suggesting they had fixed circuits and revisited isolated flowers at regular intervals so hoped it was just a question of time. After a long wait, which probably wasn’t actually more than an hour, it returned and gave very good views before shooting off again. Cinereous Ground Tyrant was our other new bird at Portillo and the last of the trip. We drove back down towards Santiago and Estero Lampa. We pulled up by the side of the road and were just leaving the car to look at some duck at the back of a nearby pool when a police car pulled up. Oh dear. Some of our experiences of police in other South American countries had not been encouraging but the officer walked up and offered a hand to shake, the first time that has happened to me. They wanted to know what we were doing, that we were OK and hoped we enjoyed the rest of our day, leaving us almost speechless. Commonest ducks were 100 Yellow-billed Pintail amongst which we added a Silver and 10 Cinammon Teal and 3 Red Shoveler to the trip list as well as seeing 3 Chiloe Wigeon and 8 Speckled Teal. Two White-faced Ibis and a Plumbeous Rail were also new for the trip and other sightings included 2 White-tufted Grebe, 50 Red-gartered and 10 Red-fronted Coot, 34 White-backed Stilts, Many-coloured Rush Tyrant, 5 Austral Negritos and a Long-tailed Meadowlark.
early morning at Laguna del Inca at Portillo
it was cold waiting for the sun to hit us

looking down on Portillo
near Paso de la Cumbre
looking down on Argentina
the far right peak is Aconcagua, 25km away in Argentina and at just under 7000m its the highest peak in the Americas
me near the border

heading back down
impressive railway tunnel
leaving the high Andes
That was it for the trip. We returned to Santiago and the next morning flew to Buenos Aires and home. In a very enjoyable two weeks I’d seen 168 species of which 36 were new, and all for about £1250. Best were the tapaculos, especially Chuaco (the following year a new field guide was published, fittingly it was on the front cover), Magellanic Plover, Des Muir’s Wiretail and Rufous-tailed Plantcutter. Thanks to Nick, as usual, for being there and John and David Cooper for information and encouragement.

[Blogged December 2019]