Trip report: Northwestern Argentina (Dec 2006) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Nick Athanas.

This was our first tour to Argentina, a custom tour designed to search for all the endemics and specialties of Northwest Argentina. We tried to cram a lot of sites into a short amount of time, but the birds cooperated making it a fun and successful trip; we plan to offer a similar itinerary as one of our standard tours starting in late 2008.

December is later than most tours to this area, but the weather was still fairly good overall. Most areas were quite dry, and when it did rain, mainly in Calilegua NP and the Sierra de Córdoba, it didn’t cost us much in the end.

The variety of habitats that we visited made this a really interesting tour. The southernmost cloudforests of the Andes, also called yungas, get into northern Argentina, and while these forests are not as diverse as those farther north along the chain, they harbor more birds than any other habitat type in the region. Calilegua National Park was best yungas site, and when it was not raining, the birds were really active. Rufous-throated Dipper, Red-faced Guan, Giant Antshrike, and White-throated Antpitta were some of the key birds we saw in the yungas. Below the yungas, the mountains level out into a flat, dry plain dominated by low, dry woodland and scrub, called chaco. There are loads of great birds restricted to this habitat, and some of our favorites were Olive-crowned Crescent-chest, Crested Gallito, Spot-winged Falconet, Black-crested Finch, and the beautiful Many-colored Chaco-Finch pictured above. Back up in the Andes, the complex geography of the mountains makes for starkly beautiful scenery. Rain shadows create extremely dry valleys dominated by cactus and scrub, another unique habitat often called “monte desert.” While few birds live here, the few that can include several of Argentina’s endemics, like the noisy White-throated Cachalote and the perky Sandy Gallito. Higher up the slopes only grasses and small bushes can survive the often harsh conditions, and here we find the puna with a quite different avifauna characterized by furnariids like earthcreepers, miners, and canasteros, and a huge variety of finches. Scattered lakes up on the altiplano are magnets for birds like flamingos, ducks, coots, and wading birds.

A couple of towns has fairly basic hotels, but for the most part they were of a medium to high standard, with good service and food, not to mention the great wines available almost everywhere, which all helped to make this quite a nice tour.

I’m not including a daily log in this report, rather I’m showing photos of a variety of birds we found on the tour to give you an idea of what can be seen, and also adding a checklist with brief notes on most of the specialty birds we saw.

Click this link to view the full report