Andes to the Pacific – Chile 2016


The iconic Andean Condor, the largest flying bird in the world, by combined measurement of weight and wingspan. We saw ten together around El Colorado

Having arrived back in Santiago from our Atacama experience, we spent the next six days exploring the central belt, from the Andes to the Pacific ocean. This region is rich in bird-life and home to many of Chile’s endemics. The first couple of nights were spent in one of Refugios Rukara Rayen’s comfortable cabanas at Olmue, on the doorstep of the national park of La Campana. Unfortunately, close proximity didn’t translate into admittance, at least on our first attempt, due to a public workers strike. This frustrating set-back forced us to go exploring and led to the discovery of the excellent Embalse Llilliu, where we came across plenty of interesting stuff. The following day we did manage a crafty squiz around the park, courtesy of the kind ranger who had promised us the day before that the park would be ‘open tomorrow’. We only had time to reach the ‘band-stand’ and back but it was long enough to nail our principle target, White-throated Tapaculo. The rest of that day was spent birding the coast, from Algarrabo to the mouth of the mighty Maipo river. A night in a rather average cabana in the hills above San Antonio, was followed by a visit to the excellent private nature reserve of Tricao, before heading north to Quintero and the quaint cabanas at Rocas del Pirata, with breath-taking views out over the Pacific. A day birding the sites north of Quintero, including the infamous Sulphurico Acido plant laguna – a few kilometres north of the town, La Laguna estuary and Penguin Rock at Cachagua, was an excellent warm-up for the much anticipated pelagic out of Quintero, the following morning. In the event, not quite as good as last time, but an outstanding birding experience nonetheless, with three species of albatross, two large petrels, Northern Giant petrel, plenty of close Wilson’s petrel, Magellanic Penguin, a couple of shearwater species and a plentiful supporting cast to keep us amused. Our final morning in the central region was again spent in the Andes above Santiago, revisiting the ski resort of Farallones and the Valle Nervado, before a leisurely farewell family BBQ at Las Condes.

Black-winged Ground-Dove, the ‘default’ dove sp. of the Andes


Grey-headed Sierra Finch, regular on the scrubby slopes of the lower Andes 


Another common bird of the Andean slopes, White-browed Ground-Tyrant


Not so common or easy to catch up with, the imposing Magellanic Horned Owl


Forced, by the closure of La Campana NP through strike action, to look elsewhere, the reservoir above Llilliu produced some excellent alternative birding


From the common but stunning Chiloe Wigeon


to the rather understated Pied-billed Grebe


and this Red-gartered Coot, the common coot species of Central and Southern regions


The prize for our persistence at La Campana was White-throated Tapaculo, a Chilean endemic and a Chile ‘tick’ for me 


Other birds in the park included Dark-bellied Cinclodes, the commonest of the family in Central and Southern regions


and Chilean Mockingbird, another Chilean endemic


There are several excellent wetlands and river estuaries in the Central belt – good for ducks, coot and waders. Here is Neil on the swing-bridge at the Tricao private nature reserve (photo courtesy of Jane Williams)


This handsome pair of Cinnamon Teal were also at Tricao


Collared Plover, an uncommon river island breeder. These were at La Laguna


and White-backed Stilt, at Lago Peñuelas NP


There were some superb birds along the coast, between Algarrobo and the Maipo delta – this is Snowy Plover


and the Americas version of Little Egret – Snowy Egret, with Brown-headed Gull and American Oystercatcher in the background


Hudsonian Whimbrel – common on the coast in Chile. Previously seen in Cornwall this autumn! Follow this link for details 


A nice group of Surf Bird, which winter along the coast of South America but breed in the Alaskan tundra


Black Skimmer and Franklin’s Gull, on the estuary at Concon


A lovely larid – Grey Gull


Blackish Oystercatcher


To conclude this section, another Chilean endemic – this is Seaside Cinclodes


My next ‘Chile 2016’ blog will feature some of the birds seen on the pelagic out of Quintero.



Atacama and Altiplano – Chile 2016


The road to San Pedro, Atacama desert (photo courtesy of Jane Williams)

On previous visits we’ve been as far north in Chile as Arica, close to the border with Peru, but missed out the Atacama desert, which lies between the Andes and the Pacific coast, two and half hour flying time north of Santiago. The Atacama, which totals nearly 50,000 sq. miles, is the driest (non-polar) desert on earth and and is home to some of Chile’s most interesting fauna and flora.

Neil, Jane and Joe in the oasis town of San Pedro


We flew to Calama before collecting our hire car and driving a further hundred kilometres east, to our comfortable cabana in the oasis town of San Pedro. The following day we crossed the vast salt flats of the Salar de Atacama to Laguna Chaxa, in search of Puna or James’ Flamingo, an understandably rare and globally threatened species. First discovered in 1886, but not recorded again until 1956, it has only a transient foot-hold in Chile. It had been an ambition of mine, ever since Joe moved to Chile, to see this amazing bird, which survives in such an apparently hostile environment, on the ‘roof of the world’. After considerable searching through the mixed flock of Andean and Chilean Flamingo, we finally located two individuals – an adult and immature. Other species of interest at the laguna included Puna Plover and Andean Avocet.

The vast salt-flats of Salar de Atacama (photo courtesy of Jane Williams)


A group of Andean Flamingo


Our target species, Puna or James’ Flamingo, the smallest of the three flamingo species found in Chile – recognisable by it’s pink, rather than yellow, legs and black ‘behind’


Other birds of interest at Laguna Chaxa included Andean Avocet and Puna Plover



We had a few incidents with our hire cars on this trip, the first was when we became bogged down in sand, on our way between the salt-flats and our next destination, Laguna’s Miscanti and Meniques. Whilst Joe went in search of help, to a village 10k down the road, a kind local towed us out with his jeep – but not before this minibus, which had stopped to help, also got stuck!


Our target at the two laguna was Horned Coot, a near-threatened species in Chile, with a population of less than 600, all found above 3000m. We didn’t need to work hard for this bird, however, as there were several pairs on their rock cone nest structures, close to the shoreline. They are weird looking things though!

Horned Coot – completing the set of three Altiplano Coot species – the others being Giant (not seen on this trip) and Andean


Our first day in this extraordinary landscape concluded with an exploration of several rock gullies and rough cultivation on the edge of various altiplano villages, the best being Socaire. Here we added a number of Sierra-Finch, Siskin, Earthcreepers and Tyrants but most surprising of all was the discovery of several pairs of Mountain Parakeet – which looked completely out of place in this rather bleak and un-vegetated environment.

The pale, northern form, of Scale-throated Earthcreeper


The diminutive and very endearing Mountain Parakeet – a Chile ‘tick’ for me


Day two was spent on a long exploratory drive up Route 27, as far as the Argentine border. This route takes you past several interesting saline lagoons, high up into the altiplano, at well over 4000m. There was always something of interest along the route including Burrowing Owl, two species of Seedsnipe, waders, ducks, coot and flamingos. On our return to San Pedro we went to the Tamarugo woods around Tombillo, in search of Conebill, but found rather more than we expected – see previous blog for the full story of the discovery of Chile’s second only documented Veery! On our final day in the Atacama, we visited the historic sttlement of San Francisco de Chiu Chiu, where we added a handful of additional species.

Volcan Licancabur, 5916m, – marks the border with Bolivia (photo courtesy of Jane Williams)


Burrowing Owl, enjoying the warmth of the morning sun, after a night at -5 deg.


With it’s cryptic plumage, the rather grouse-like, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe


One of my favourite Tyrants – this one is Ochre-naped. Last seen at Ushuaia airport, on our world tour


Another Seedsnipe, this one is Grey-breasted


The range-restricted White-winged Cinclodes


Final species for this section, one of the most rare and stunning of the altiplano Sierra-Finch – this one is Red-backed


The historic church at San Francisco de Chiu Chiu


Next stop is the Central belt, from the High Andes to the Pacific coast.




Chile 2016, Introduction & Check-list


The ubiquitos Rufous-collared Sparrow, this one is of the wide-spread southern race – australis 

We’ve just returned home from an eighteen day trip to see our son and daughter-in-law in Santiago, Chile and bird three specific areas of that beautiful country, the Atacama desert and nearby altiplano, the Central region from the Andes to the coast and Tierra del Fuego, in the far south. There’ll be separate blogs, covering each of these areas, coming soon. We were accompanied, on this occasion, by Neil, my oldest friend and compatriot birder – this was his first experience of South America. We flew with Iberia and stayed at a variety of places from budget hostels and cabanas to swanky hotels. Various car rentals were courtesy of Econorent, Hertz and Avis. Apart from the pelagic out of Quintero, the trip was entirely self-guided. We found just over two hundred species and I added 31 new birds to my Chile list – not too shabby an outcome! For an annotated check-list, covering all the species, follow this link.

Details of our itinerary were as follows:

28th October  – departed Heathrow for Santiago, via Madrid – Iberia airlines

29th October – arrived in Santiago, established ‘base camp’ in Las Condes and birded around the ski resorts of Farellones and El Colorado in the afternoon.

30th October – am, another abortive attempt to find any wetlands at Lampa, near Santiago airport, before flying north to Calama and driving to San Pedro – staying at the perfectly adequate Casa Ancestral cabanas

1st November – Early morning visit to Laguna Chaxa for flamingos and later driving to the lagunas of  Miscanti and Meniques, at a height of over 4,000m. Birding the village and adjacent gullies of Socaire on our return descent

2nd November – followed Route 27 to Jama, on the Argentine border, looking for altiplano specialities, passing Tara, Pujsa and Aguas Calientes saline lagoons on the way. Evening birding around the tamarugo woods at Tombillo

3rd November – Visited the historic settlement of Chui Chui am, before our return flight to Santiago. Drove to Olmue for a couple of nights in the Refugios Rukararayen cabanas

4th November – due to public workers strike, an abortive attempt to visit La Campana NP. Visited Embalse Llilliu am and the hills around Olmue in the afternoon, as an alternative.

5th November – Successful but brief visit to La Campana am, followed by a drive to the coast, birding from Algarrabo to the Maipo delta, via El Peral (which was also closed due to the strike!)

6th November – visited the excellent private wildlife reserve of Tricao, south of Santo Domingo before following the coast north to Quintero and Renaca. Overnight at the picturescue cabanas at Pirates Rock.

7th November – a day visiting various birding sites north of Quintero, including the infamous Sulphurico Acido plant, La Laguna estuary and Penguin Rock at Cachagua

8th November –  excellent morning pelagic, out of Quintero, organised by Rodrigo Reyes of Birdwatching Chile, followed by local birding

9th November – drove to Santiago and a return visit to the ski resort of Farallones and Valle Nervado

10th November – early morning flight to Punta Arenas, followed by the long drive to Cerro Sombreo, Tierra del Fuego, via the ferry at Punta Delgado, and including the approach track to Pali-Aike

11th November – drove to Penguino Rey NP, on the Bahia Inutil, for King Penguin, returning to Porvenir. Visit to Laguna Verde and Lago Serrano, late afternoon for Magellanic Plover. Stayed at the excellent Yendegaia House – where David Couve, our host, provided excellent birding information and advice

12th November – returned to Punta Arenas birding the area south of the city, pm

13th November – morning visit to Magallanes NP prior to return flight to Santiago

14th November – flight home to London via Madrid

First blog, covering the Atacama desert and altiplano, will follow shortly!

Veery Victorious


Veery – Tombillo, Chile – only the second ever record.

We’re over in Chile visiting our son Joseph and his wife Gabi, who live in Santiago. On this occasion we are joined by Neil, my oldest friend and fellow birder, giving him his first taste of South America and showing him some of the avian delights of this beautiful country.

We’ve just returned from a few days in the Atacama desert, realising a long-held ambition of mine, to see all three flamingo species – Chilean, Andean and James’s, on the salts flat of San Pedro. But our greatest birding surprise came a couple of evening ago when we were in the woods around Tombillo, looking for Tamarugo Conebill. Whilst searching for our target we’d heard an occasional chucking noise – almost amphibian-like, from the bushes but failed to locate it’s source. We were just on the way back to the car, having successfully seen a couple of Conebills, when a brown and buff bird, with a cocked tail, appeared on the ground 50m in front of us. It had all the appearance of a catharus – North American thrush species! The bird obligingly kept a short distance away from us, flying to the ground from various low perches until we’d seen enough of it’s features and obtained records shots to confirm identification – which we were able to do, on return to our accommodation. We reported the sighting via Avis Chile.

We’ve just received the news that this is only the second ever documented sighting of Veery in Chile – the first record being detailed in Alvaro Jaramillo’s Birds of Chile. We assume that this is an autumn ‘overshoot’ – Veery winter as far south as Brazil, and is therefore likely to remain in the area for sometime.

Location map of Veery



Anyone for Desert?


First view of the bird suggested Black-eared Wheatear

I was passing Cley NWT this afternoon and decided to take a look for the Shore Lark, which had been reported earlier, along the shingle ridge behind Sea Pool. As I walked down Iron Road towards the sea I could see several birders looking intently over the shingle, between the pool and the ridge, although by the time I’d reach the end of the track they’d dispersed. I got to the spot and scanned around but there was no sign of any Shore Lark or anything else for that matter. Oh well, I walked along the ridge, somewhat aimlessly, towards Arnold’s, when I noticed a small passerine on the edge of the shingle. I took a look with my bins and was amazed to see a sandy coloured Wheatear with pronounced black face pattern – not unlike a  Black-eared Wheatear, melanoleuca! As quickly as it appeared it dipped down below the ridge and was lost to view. I didn’t manage to see the tail pattern. As the bird failed to re-appear and with no field guide to hand I quickly texted a local birder for back-up. I continued to search for the bird whilst another birder approached. I told him there was an unusual Wheatear nearby, which I suspected could be a Black-eared. He had a copy of Collins with him, which helpfully refreshed my memory of the salient id features, and fortunately, before long, the bird re-appeared. At which point the tail was more visible and other features apparent that suggested not BEW but a stonking adult male Desert! Mark and Steve arrived shortly after and confirmed the id. What a bird – but I didn’t get to see the Shore Lark!

Later it revealed it’s true identity – Desert Wheatear, adult male in near summer plumage



Isabelline ‘in the bag’


Record shot – Isabelline Wheatear, Gun Hill

Having been denied the opportunity, through a conspiracy of commitments, to get up to Yorkshire to see the Siberian Accentor and the ‘supporting cast’ of Isabelline Wheatear, I was delighted this morning to read a pager message announcing the presence of another Isabelline Wheatear, this time on the Norfolk coast! By the time I’d gathered the family together and got down to the start of the Gun Hill track, a couple of hours had elapsed. However, I needn’t have stressed, as the bird was showing well immediately on arrival. There was a regular Wheatear close-by, to emphasise the differences, and a nice Pallas’s Warbler in a nearby bush to provide additional interest. A nice bird, a UK and a Norfolk tick to-boot.

Pallas’s Warbler – providing additional interest


‘regular’ Wheatear, providing a helpful comparison of id features


Another few record shots of the ‘star bird’, showing some of the key identification points: thick black tail band, upright stance, dark lores, plain wing coverts contrasting with black alula and overall greyish buff colouration

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Cornish Cornucopia


Prime target for the trip – Dalmatian Pelican. Distant views on the Taw Estuary, now returned to Cornwall

We’ve just returned from a few days birding with our travelling companions Bob & Sue, in the South West. Following in the long and noble tradition of GPOG, we stayed at the Beachside Holiday Park, Hayle, and toured the various valleys and birding hot-spots of the Land’s End peninsular. The weather was fabulous with blue skies, a gentle breeze and peak temperatures of 18 degrees – perfect conditions to enjoy this lovely corner of the country. We managed to collect a couple of long-staying national rarities during the trip – Dalmatian Pelican on the Taw estuary and Hudsonian Whimbrel in Mounts Bay, together with a good supporting cast including: Baird’s & Pectoral Sandpiper, Richard’s Pipit x2, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Yellow-browed Warbler x3, an off-shore Osprey, Hen Harrier, Chough and Cirl Bunting. There were still a few regular migrants around like Swallow, Whinchat, Wheatear and Spotted Flycatcher keeping us entertained whilst searching out the scarcer species. The total trip list was 114 species.

Juvenile Baird’s Sandpiper, Davidstow airfield


Hudsonian Whimbrel, Boat Cove, Mount’s Bay


One of several Yellow-browed Warbler found during our trip


Some of the more regular species which kept us occupied whilst searching for the less common. A nice Raven at Pendeen


and Wheatear


An elusive Red-breasted Flycatcher in Kenidjack


Two Richard’s Pipit at Portgwarra – an adult and 1st winter, I presume


A total surprise – Osprey, seen off-shore at Pendeen


A late juvenile Common Tern at Argal Reservoir was a nice bonus after the Pectoral Sandpiper


A stop-off at the traditional site on the way home, produced several Cirl Bunting