Guided by Andrés Vásquez; co-guided by Sam Woods. This was a fast-paced custom tour with an itinerary similar to that of our set-departure Northwest Argentina: The High Andes, Yungas, and Monte Desert tour.
Northwest Argentina is an incredible place and a wonderful birding destination. It is one of those locations you feel like you are crossing through Wonderland when you drive along some of the most beautiful landscapes in South America adorned by dramatic rock formations and deep-blue lakes. So you want to stop every few kilometers to take pictures and when you look at those shots in your camera you know it will never capture the incredible landscape and the breathtaking feeling that you had during that moment. Then you realize it will be impossible to explain to your relatives once at home how sensational the trip was, so you breathe deeply and just enjoy the moment without caring about any other thing in life. This trip combines a large amount of quite contrasting environments and ecosystems, from the lush humid Yungas cloud forest to dry high Altiplano and Puna, stopping at various lakes and wetlands on various altitudes and ending on the drier upper Chaco forest.
All this is combined with some very special birds, several endemic to Argentina and many restricted to the high Andes of central South America. Highlights for this trip included Red-throated Dipper, 5 species of Tinamou seen (of which Elegant Crested-Tinamou was the favorite), Least and Gray-breasted Seedsnipe, the quite local Red-faced Guan, Yungas Pygmy-Owl, Hoy´s Screech-Owl, 3 species of Flamingos, 35 furnariids, the uncommon Rufous-bellied Saltator, a flock of 13 Andean Condors soaring together, the unique Tawny-throated Dotterel, many beautiful finches, warbling-finches and sierra-finches, some awesome hummingbirds like Red-tailed Comet, Wedge-tailed, Andean and White-sided Hillstars plus a great number of waterbirds that included the scarce Black-headed Duck, Lake and (Andean) Ruddy Ducks, Rosy-billed Pochard, Comb Duck, Ringed, Cinnamon, Puna and Silver Teals, Great, White-tufted, and Silvery Grebes, and 6 species of coots including the rare and local Horned Coot.
We covered a lot of ground in this trip but road infrastructure is brilliant and landscapes are never boring. Food is really good throughout the trip, perhaps especially for meat-lovers, since Argentina offers some of the best steaks on the continent. That, combined with superb and inexpensive wines that come from vineyards of this region, helps makes this trip even more enjoyable.
This was a custom tour with a good friend of mine, Rick Goldfarb, who has been with Tropical Birding for 9 tours already; this was the 7th time I had the pleasure to guide him. Sam Woods, another of our TB guides, also joined the tour, both to learn it as well as get a few lifers. It was basically a tour among friends, so the atmosphere was superb and the easiness of being a small group made things flow nicely.