Uruguay uncovered

The rarest  bird we saw – Surucua Trogon. Only a couple of pairs breed on the Uruguayan side of the border with Brazil

We’ve spent the last ten days discovering the delights of Uruguay – its landscapes, birds and people. At 68,000 sq miles (England – 94,000 sq miles) it’s the second smallest country in South America, sandwiched between Argentina and Brazil, with the great River Plate forming its western boundary, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. More than half the country’s total population of 3.5 million people live in the capital Montevideo, with the rest thinly distributed across the gentle rolling hilly grasslands, woods and coastal lowlands. With its relatively small bird list of 455, Uruguay wouldn’t be most people’s first-choice birding destination in South America (cf. Colombia – 1958, Peru – 1818 or Ecuador – 1634), but with relatively short distances to travel, good infrastructure and roads, a strong sense of personal safety and very hospitable people, it’s a great location for our style of ‘do it yourself’ birding holidays. Unsurprisingly, the birdlife reflects that of its neighbouring countries, with species from the Atlantic rainforests of Brazil in the north and pampas birds from Argentina to the south and west making up the bulk of the bird list. The 400 miles of coastline, dotted with marshes and coastal lagoons and innumerable inland ponds and lakes providing habitat for many interesting wetland and water birds.

We started our trip with a few days at the Wyndham Gardens hotel on the eastern edge of Montevideo, with its own lagoon and wooded park close by – a good place to get to grips with the commoner species. Our stay here also included a day trip to the protected wetland areas around Santiago Vazquez and the outstanding Colonia Wilson road. We then headed north-east to another protected area, that of Quebrada da los Cuervos – staying at the well-equipped eco-lodge of El Capricho, before continuing east to the Brazilian border at Paso del Centurion. This location has been pioneered by Laura and husband Francisco who, working with the local community, have found a number of new birds for Uruguay here – helping achieve ‘protected area’ designation – and laying the foundations of a sustainable community eco-tourism enterprise. Although our accommodation was pretty basic – it was essentially a ‘home stay’ – traditional food was provided by a kindly neighbour and Laura showed us around a number of private sites, with the permission of the land owners. This delightful and dedicated couple truly deserve to succeed in this significant Uruguayan conservation project. Our final stop was in the traditional beach-side holiday resort of La Paloma – combining birding with family holiday activities. So far, we’ve found and identified nearly 180 species, close on fifty being additions to my world list.

A somewhat random selection of our birds of Uruguay, beginning with the charming but common Saffron Finch – first seen on a work trip to Jamaica!

A reasonably common seedeater – this is Double-collared

More scarce and increasingly threatened, the Great Pampa-finch 


One of the dazzling monjita family (I always thought that was a Cuban drink!) – this one is White

Other grassland species included Savannah Hawk

Guira Cuckoo

The smallest of the tinamou family, at just 20cm – Spotted 

by contrast, Greater Rhea – measuring 1.8m in its ‘stockinged feet’!

and the always-endearing Burrowing Owl

Around the El Capricho eco-lodge several woodland-edge species. This is Tropical Parula – last seen in Texas on our Great American Birding RoAd Trip

This is Golden-crowned Warbler – hiding in deep cover

and the much more showy Red-crested Cardinal

The numerous inland ponds and coastal lagoons provided habitat for many interesting water birds. This Plumbeous Ibis had just caught an eel

Rufescent Tiger-heron – last observed at Regua – Brazil

Whistling Heron, perhaps the most lovely of them all

Courtesy of Laura and Francisco we got excellent views of Chotoy Spinetail

Rufous-capped Antshrike

Bran-coloured Flycatcher

and Freckle-breasted Thornbird

Other birds, found only around Paso del Centurion, included this Large-tailed Antshrike

the giant though elusive Planalto Woodcreeper

and White-winged Becard, which just has a toehold in Uruguay

The coastline of Uruguay provided plenty of interest too – this is Collared Plover at Laguna La Rocha

In the harbour at La Paloma – Snowy-crowned Tern

At La Barra, a very confiding Striated Heron

Whilst absorbing the detail of Cayenne Tern (South American Sandwich Tern) we noticed another tern (top right in the photo) – subtly different – could this possibly be an Elegant Tern? Any comments on id welcome. Now shown with inset of Royal Tern, taken at same location, for comparison


..and then this evening, we were just enjoying a beer at the beach bar when Joe called (in jest) ‘frigatebird’. I took a look through the binoculars and sure enough… an immature Magnificent Frigatebird!!

We fly back to Santiago on Saturday and then, after a couple of days R&R, we return to the UK – a different place from the one we left just after Christmas, in more ways than one. But we’ll take with us very fond memories of our first birding trip to Uruguay.