Trip report: Northwest Argentina with Iguazu Falls Extension (December 2016) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Andrés Vásquez.

This is the only tour that I guide where I feel that the scenery is as impressive (or even surpasses) the birds themselves. This is not to say that the birds are dull on this tour, far from it. Some of the avian highlights included wonderfully jeweled hummingbirds like Wedge-tailed Hillstar and Red-tailed Comet; getting EXCELLENT views of 4 Tinamou species of, (a rare thing on all South American tours except this one); nearly 20 species of ducks, geese and swans, with highlights being repeated views of Torrent Ducks, the rare and oddly, parasitic Black-headed Duck, the beautiful Rosy-billed Pochard, and the mountain-dwelling Andean Goose. And we should not forget other popular bird features like 3 species of Flamingos on one lake, 11 species of Woodpeckers, including the hulking Cream-backed, colorful Yellow-fronted and minuscule Ochre-collared Piculet on the extension to Iguazu Falls. Dozens of Andean Condors were also seen on 5 different days of the tour; as were ALL of the Argentinian endemics in range on this itinerary; Southern Screamers, and seemingly endless numbers of furnariids, finches, sierra-finches, warbling-finches, yellow-finches, diuca-finches, pipits, and last, but by no means least, the highly sought-after Rufous-throated Dipper.

In spite of the impressive list of beautiful birds, the beauty of the areas we visited was what left us breathless; Argentina has some the most impressive backdrops to birding scenes anywhere. Evidence of the extraordinary beauty of Iguazu Falls even left a famous North American person nearly speechless; “Even the late U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was reportedly so impressed when she saw them that she purportedly said ‘Poor Niagara’.” (Taken from CNN’s “Bucket List of Travel” program). And, this is real, not merely hyperbole. When we stood on the viewpoint near the Devil’s Throat (the iconic narrowest section of the falls), my mind went blank, and I was probably not alone in having a memorable moment of internal peace, brought upon me by the extraordinary scene in front of my eyes. Iguazu was not the only place of extraordinary beauty on this tour that brought about such inner peace, as dramatic scenery is near daily on this unique tour. We also observed spectacular multicolored rock formations, as we drove alongside La Quebrada de Humahuaca, a UNESCO World Heritage site; and I should also mention the astonishing Quebrada de la Conchas too. Such sites were so regular it made us feel like we should stop around every corner, just to admire the sculpted mountains that not even the most gifted of all the renaissance artists could have imagined.

Lastly, especially for me as a self-confessed “foodie”, gastronomy was also a nice feature of this tour once again. We crossed many areas that are internationally famous for producing high quality wines. Some of the wine-orientated participants, who knew their wines extremely well, were exceedingly happy with the nightly opportunities to drink excellent regional wines at very reasonable prices that could only be dreamed of back home. And for the meat lovers, Argentina exports to the World some of the most tender and tasty beef on the market; many of our meals included juicy, tender, flavorsome steaks, cooked as the Argentinians say, “al punto”, meaning “just right”. With fine wines, excellent steaks, near daily magnificent landscapes, to stand alongside an outstanding list of birds, it’s hard to understand why this tour isn’t more popular than it is!

Full Tropical Birding Northwest Argentina Trip Report here in PDF format (6.1 MB file)