We should see Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe around high Andean wetlands. Photo: David Fisher
Northern Argentina combines the best of our previous short tours to this wonderful country — the High Andes in the northwest and Iguazú Falls in the northeast — and adds a visit to the dry chaco in the lowlands which is home to a group of very special birds. We’ll pass through spectacular scenery such as the Painted Desert in the northwest, take in favourites such as Giant Hummingbird and all three high Andean flamingos, and end up at world-famous Iguazú Falls surrounded by a rainforest full of colourful Neotropical birds.
Day 1: The tour begins at midday in Buenos Aires. After lunch, we’ll visit the wetland reserve of Costanera Sur, established on reclaimed land very close to the city center. Depending on water levels, this reserve may hold a good selection of waterbirds, including White-tufted Grebe, Whistling Heron and Ringed Teal. Night in Buenos Aires.
Day 2: We’ll transfer to the domestic airport and fly to Salta. On arrival we’ll drive to the village of San Lorenzo, located on the nearby slopes of sub-Andean mountain ridges. In the afternoon we’ll visit a natural lagoon on a private ranch for an introduction to the local waterfowl, including several attractive species of ducks such as the impressive Comb Duck, the colourful Ringed Teal, and the parasitic Black-headed Duck. Red-legged Seriemas are usually seen in the surrounding grasslands while passerines might include Red-crested Cardinal, Black-and-chestnut Warbling-Finch, Great Pampa-Finch, and Stripe-capped Sparrow. In the evening and depending on weather conditions we’ll visit Huaico Reserve, close to our hotel, to look for the localized Montane Forest (Hoy’s) Screech-Owl, Scissor-tailed Nightjar, and Common Potoo. Night in San Lorenzo.
Day 3: Early in the morning we’ll explore the forest in Huaico Reserve, which protects a unique stand of Yungas cloud forest carpeting the San Lorenzo mountain ridge. Here we’ll walk the trails in search of the stunning Cream-backed Woodpecker and the localized Rusty-browed Warbling-Finch, and the minute Ocellated Piculet,. We should as well encounter noisy flocks of Mitred Parakeets and Scaly-headed Parrots. Hummingbirds present may include White-bellied Hummingbird, Red-tailed Comet, and Slender-tailed Woodstar. The list of passerines is extensive, and some of the possible highlights include the beautiful Fawn-breasted Tanager, Crested Becard, Brown-capped Redstart, Stripe-crowned and Azara’s Spinetails, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, a fine collection of tyrannulets including Rough-legged, Mottle-cheeked, White-throated, and Sclater’s, as well as Pale-legged Warbler, Mountain Wren, and Fulvous-headed and White-browed Brush-Finches. In the afternoon we’ll drive north to Calilegua National Park, stopping for some roadside birding en route. We’ll spend two nights at a comfortable hotel located near the entrance to the park. Night in Calilegua.
Day 4: Calilegua National Park encompasses about 270 square miles of rugged country. Its deep valleys and vertical slopes are carpeted by dense Yungas forest and almost permanently immersed in clouds and life-giving mists in the springtime. We’ll spend a full day exploring the park, from its lowest section to the top at about 5900 feet (1800 m). On the forest edge we hope to find foraging White-tipped and Long-tailed Doves, and we’ll search for the rather tame but difficult to spot White-throated Antpitta and Giant Antshrike as they call from the thickets. Yellow-collared Macaw and the Green-cheeked Parakeets will be in the tops of the taller trees, and their loud calls should attract our attention. In the middle strata highlights in the long list of possibilities include Planalto Hermit, Blue-capped Puffleg and both Golden-olive and Dot-fronted Woodpeckers. Listening to calls and watching for movements in the canopy, we should find some of the subtropical Andean forest inhabitants such as Chestnut-vented Conebill, Rust-and-yellow Tanager, Two-banded Warbler, Black-backed Grosbeak, and Slaty and Highland Elaenias. We’ll also spend some time looking for Blue-crowned Trogon and the Amazonian Motmot, although easier to spot will be the striking Crested Oropendola and the inquisitive Plush-crested Jay. Raptors are always unpredictable, although the secretive Barred Forest Falcon, the elegant Swallow-tailed Kite, White-rumped Hawk, Short-tailed Hawk, and King Vulture are all possibilities, and we may even spot a scarce Black-and-chestnut Eagle soaring overhead. Night in Calilegua.
Day 5: An early visit to a nearby river may produce Southern Screamer and Collared Plover, as well as a trio of Kingfishers; Ringed, Amazon, and Green. We’ll also look for Chestnut-capped Blackbird and Bare-faced Ibis, and listen for, and hopefully see, noisy flocks of Turquoise-fronted Parrots. The road we’ll follow goes south and then west along sugarcane-cultivated valleys and small islets of basal cloud forest still surviving amid citrus, tobacco, and soybean plantations. We’ll stop along the way to look for Rufous-fronted Thornbird at its hanging nest, Spot-backed Puffbird on shrubby hillsides and Great Antshrike calling from the understory, while pairs of low flying Turquoise-fronted Amazons cross the road. We’ll reach Yungas forest again at Yala River, where we hope to find the scarce Rufous-throated Dipper bobbing on rocks in the fast-flowing water and Torrent Ducks diving through the maelstroms in their own unique fashion. We’ll devote plenty of time to look for these two specialities, but this protected site will also provide chances for many other interesting species including the localized Spot-breasted Thornbird, Sick’s Swift flying over the ravines, Plumbeous Black-Tyrant, Dusky-legged Guan, and Smoke-colored Pewee. Other possible residents here are Mitred Parakeet, Dusky-capped Flycatcher, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, and Andean Slaty-Thrush. We’ll spend the night at a nice hostería in Yala at 4600 feet (c. 1400 m), and after dinner we may visit a nearby spot where Tropical Screech-Owl and Lyre-tailed Nightjar have been seen. Night near the Yala Valley.
Day 6: We’ll spend the early morning birding the forest in the Yala Valley in the hope of finding the scarce and near-endemic Red-faced Guan, which is suffering badly from habitat loss throughout its range. These huge mountain ridges create deep valleys that are the favourite habitat for large raptors, including Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle. In the afternoon we’ll continue driving northward, ascending through the dramatic landscapes of Barcena Slope and Volcan Canyon to the even more spectacular Humahuaca Canyon, where we’ll walk in search of Band-tailed Seedeater, Gray-hooded Parakeet, the attractive Blue-and-yellow Tanagers, the endemic Bare-eyed Ground Dove. A small pond bordered by reeds might produce close views of Plumbeous Rail, Red-fronted Coot, and Andean Duck. Later we’ll continue northward, gradually reaching heights at which we can expect Andean Swift, Andean Lapwing, Rufous-banded and Puna Miners, Creamy-breasted Canastero, Mourning Sierra-Finch, Greenish Yellow-Finch, and the localized Brown-backed Mockingbird. The attractive geological formations and the varied colours of the mountains give appropriate frame to ancient adobe villages, old churches of Cuzco influence, and other cultural aspects of Humahuaca Canyon that justify its designation as a World Heritage Site. Late in the afternoon we’ll arrive at the village of Abra Pampa, at about 13,125 feet (c. 4000 m), where we’ll stay overnight at a simple but comfortable hotel with private facilities and a restaurant offering delicious homemade food. Night in Abra Pampa.
Day 7: We’ll undertake a memorable journey across the altiplano wilderness. From Abra Pampa we’ll drive northwest for a couple of hours until we reach Laguna Pozuelos, a vast lagoon of shallow brackish water located high in a mountain-ringed plain. Ornate Tinamous can be spotted crossing the solitary dirt track, and Vicuña — the most elegant of the four South American camelids — run in small herds across the plain. The ravines are inhabited by some highly specialized furnariids such as Slender-billed Miner, Straight-billed and Rock Earthcreepers, Streak-fronted Thornbird, plus several attractive singers including Band-tailed Sierra-Finch, Plain-colored Seedeater, and both Bright-rumped and Puna Yellow-Finch. We’ll reach Pozuelos by mid-morning and spend the rest of the day exploring this magnificent natural monument, where we hope to find some of the highly specialized Andean avifauna, including James’s and Andean Flamingos, Lesser Rhea, Puna Silvery Grebe, Andean Goose, Puna Teal, Andean Avocet, Puna Ibis, Mountain Caracara, Puna Plover, the localized Giant and Slate-colored Coots, Puna Plover, as well as a host of migratory waders such as Baird’s Sandpipers, Wilson’s Phalarope, the occasional Hudsonian Godwits en route to their wintering grounds on the coast. In the afternoon we’ll reluctantly leave Pozuelos, as we still need to drive several more hours to the northeast and the village of La Quiaca, on the border with Bolivia. Night in La Quiaca.
Day 8: Our first stop will be in Yavi, which lies on a gentle slope crossed by several streams that local people use to irrigate farms and gardens, creating a small oasis in the altiplano desert. Here we’ll spend time looking for Bare-faced and Black-winged Ground Doves atop adobe walls, the rather local Sierra Spot-winged Pigeon, and the scarce Wedge-tailed Hillstar. During the morning we’ll drive through the farmlands, slowly climbing the mountains eastward and stopping for a fine selection of yellow-finches including the very regional Citron-headed. When we reach the higher rocky slopes, we’ll look particularly for the beautiful and localized Red-backed Sierra-Finch. The Andean grasslands at this altitude hold camouflaged species that can prove rather difficult to spot such as Puna Tinamou, Tawny-throated Dotterel, and Gray-breasted Seedsnipe, together with a selection of ground-tyrants including Cinereous, Puna, Rufous-naped, and Black-fronted. We’ll make gentle walks at a couple of high Andean wetlands in search of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe and Puna Snipe, and we even have a remote chance at the scarce Diademed Sandpiper-Plover. On our return to La Quiaca we’ll bird the slopes for Cordilleran Canastero, Dorbigny’s Chat-Tyrant, and Common Diuca-Finch. Night in La Quiaca.
Day 9: We’ll retrace our steps from the border with Bolivia, descending south along the paved road and stopping at different altitudes and various places in the altiplano. We’ll spend the day looking for any species we might have missed, which could include Black Siskin, Variable (Puna) Hawk, Aplomado Falcon, Sparkling Violetear, Andean Hillstar, Giant Hummingbird, Andean Flicker, and Mountain Parakeet. Sandy borders of shallow streams will provide our best chances for Plain-breasted Earthcreeper and White-winged Cinclodes. Grey-hooded and the striking Black-hooded Sierra-Finches are characteristic of shrubby slopes and gullies, but everywhere the fantastic landscape of Humahuaca Canyon and the Yacoraite geological formation will keep us busy taking photographs and marvelling at the grandeur of this vast landscape. Lower down we’ll enter the green cloud forest again, and in the early evening we’ll arrive back in San Lorenzo for dinner and a good night’s rest at relatively low altitude. Night in San Lorenzo.
Day 10: We’ll spend a full day birding the transitional habitat around Palomitas in search of typical chaco semi-desert species, including Tataupa Tinamou, Blue-crowned Parakeet, Variable Antshrike, White-bellied Tyrannulet, Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, White-tipped Plantcutter, and two beautiful finches — Ringed Warbling-Finch and Many-colored Chaco-Finch. Perhaps the most difficult species today will be the spectacular Great Rufous Woodcreeper and the scarce Black-legged Seriema, although the area has a couple of good places to try for them. We’ll eventually turn westward along a dirt road and travel through the scenic Juramento River Canyon to the large Cabra Corral Lake, eventually arriving in Moldes. At the base of the mountains here a narrow patch of Yungas cloud forest creates a transition zone with dry chaco habitat. Night in Moldes.
Day 11: Just after breakfast we’ll offer more chaco experiences and make our way to our exploration of Los Cardones National Park, which protects the cacti-clad slopes and towering peaks of the sub-Andean ranges southwest of Salta. Andean Condors can be found soaring over the ridges or just below us along deep valleys, while herds of Guanacos - another wild South American camelid - run across the puna grassland. The winding road crosses the river and climbs up the Escoipe Canyon to about 11,000 feet (3350 m), where Andean Tinamou and Gray-bellied Shrike-Tyrant occur. We’ll make short walks along vegetated gullies inhabited by Brown-capped Tit-Spinetail, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, White-winged Black-Tyrant, Maquis Canastero, Rusty Flowerpiercer, Rufous-sided Warbling-Finch, and the scarce near-endemic Rufous-bellied Saltator. Flowering tobacco bushes here attract the striking Red-tailed Comet, a hummingbird with a ridiculously glowing ruby tail. Later on we’ll drive along the Tin-Tin Valley toward the Calchaqui River and our comfortable hostel. Night in Cachi.
Day 12: We’ll spend the early morning in the monte forest and puna habitats around Cachi, where we’ll have excellent views of the Calchaqui Valley and the imposing snowcapped Cachi Mountain. We’ll see large flocks of Burrowing Parrots near the fields and pairs of White-fronted Woodpeckers atop cactus trees. The long list of possibilities today includes Elegant Crested-Tinamou, Cliff Flycatcher, Checkered Woodpecker, Harris’s Hawk (the southern form, probably a different species), Long-tailed Meadowlark, and Spectacled Tyrant. We’ll stop at several good spots to try for two endemics, White-throated Cacholote and Sandy Gallito, and later retrace our steps back to Salta, enjoying the Andean scenery while looking for any birds we might have missed yesterday. We’ll revisit the high puna steppe at Los Cardones National Park, where there is always a chance of finding the scarce Tawny-throated Dotterel running across the short grass and Least Seedsnipe feeding on bare ground. Descending through the superb Bishop’s Slope will provide magnificent vistas of endless Andean cordilleras. In the late afternoon we’ll arrive at the Salta airport, where we’ll catch a flight to the dramatically different Iguazú Falls in the northeastern corner of Argentina. On arrival we’ll transfer to our hotel in Puerto Iguazú, where we’ll stay for three nights. Night in Puerto Iguazú.
Day 13: After an early breakfast at the hotel we’ll drive a short distance to Iguazú National Park, where we’ll spend the day. In the morning we’ll walk one of the trails in the subtropical rainforest surrounding the falls. The forest here holds a wide selection of colorful tropical species, and highlights are likely to include Surucua and Black-throated Trogons, Rufous-capped Motmot, Toco Toucan, Yellow-fronted Woodpecker, Ochre-collared Piculet, Swallow-tailed Manakin, Green-headed and Black-goggled Tanagers, and Red-rumped Cacique. After lunch we’ll explore the fabulous waterfalls by foot. While the focus of our attention will be the awe-inspiring falls themselves, we’ll also see a selection of birds and other wildlife; vultures are numerous, and we’ll keep an eye out for King among the commoner Turkey and Black. Anhingas and Snail Kites drift over the many channels above the falls; flocks of Scaly-headed Parrots screech noisily overhead; Greater Anis skulk in the riverside bushes; hordes of swifts, swallows, and martins swirl in and out of the clouds of mist that roll up from the falls; and a variety of flycatchers and other small passerines, many of which are very tame due the crowds of visitors, live alongside the trails. Family groups of South American Coatis are a regular sight as they forage in the leaf litter beside the paths, and the occasional Black-and-white Tegu Lizard can be seen resting in a shady spot at the forest edge. In the late afternoon hundreds of Great Dusky Swifts plunge down to their roosting place behind the curtains of water, so we’ll wait in strategic spots in order to witness this natural wonder. Night in Puerto Iguazú.
Day 14: On the morning of our second day in Misiones we’ll make our way to eastern Misiones Province to some new areas where mixed-species flocks pass through the canopy and a variety of small passerines can be seen. The possibilities are endless, but in previous years some of the highlight species here have been Spot-billed and Saffron Toucanets, Creamy-bellied Gnatcatcher, Blond-crested Woodpecker, Ochre-breasted and White-eyed Foliage-gleaners, Tufted and Spot-backed Antshrikes, Rufous Gnateater, Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, Southern Antpipit, Thrush-like Wren, Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, Variable Oriole, and Red-Crested Finch. The butterflies are also exceptional here; hundreds of individuals of dozens of species gather in “puddle parties” on the mud around roadside puddles to drink the salty water. After visiting a few preserves we’ll head out in the evening to Jardin de Picaflores in Puerto Iguazú where several feeding stations attract a nice assemblage of hummingbirds. The list here is extensive and includes Black-throated Mango, Black Jacobin, Gilded Hummingbird, Versicolored Emerald, and the striking Swallow-tailed Hummingbird. Other species visiting the feeders might include Blue Dacnis, Bananaquit, and Violaceous Euphonia. Night in Puerto Iguazú.
Day 15: We’ll have time for another excursion into the rainforest near our hotel for more birds and can expect to see a number of new species—such is the richness and diversity of the avifauna at Iguazú. By mid-morning we’ll need to return to the hotel to check out and transfer to the airport to catch an early afternoon flight to the domestic airport (AEP) in Buenos Aires. After collecting our luggage we’ll take the shuttle transfer and drive across the city to the international airport (EZE), where the tour concludes in time to check-in for flights departing after 20.00.
Updated: 17 November 2020