One of the classic birdwatching destinations, Argentina’s Northern Patagonia and Pampas area not only offers superb birding, but also excellent cuisine, accommodation and transport. A vast country that possesses a large variety of habitats and climates, our tour introduces one to the famous Gaucho ridden Pampas, windswept steppes and endless barren Atlantic shores. Bird diversity thrives here, with almost half of Argentina’s endemics available. The southern Atlantic coasts will provide for some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. We start off with some relaxed city birding around Buenos Aires before heading south, birding the wetlands and tidal mudflats to Punta Rasa. We search for the rare and endangered Yellow Cardinal and range restricted Pampas Meadowlark around Bahia Blanca, while targeting two endemics, White-throated Cacholote and Sandy Gallito around Las Grutas. With a burgeoning list of impressive species, we head to what will surely be one of the tour highlights, the magnificent Valdés Peninsula, home of Sea Lion hunting Killer Whales as well as several immense bird and marine mammal breeding grounds. Departing this expansive peninsula, we pay a visit to Punta Tombo. It is here that around half a million Magellanic Penguins gather every year to breed in the roughly 200,000 active nests! Finally, we travel to the newly created Patagonia National Park, home to the very attractive, but unfortunately critically endangered Hooded Grebe. With the main core of the breeding population found within the park boundaries, our chances of success are rather high! A fitting end to an absorbing tour. This tour is suitable for those who enjoy easy and accessible birding, awe inspiring landscapes, comfortable travel, fine cuisine and comfortable lodgings, and comes very highly recommended!
Hooded Grebe, Pampas Meadowlark, Yellow Cardinal, Olrog’s Gull, Darwin’s Nothura, Patagonian & Red-winged Tinamous, Burrowing Parrot, Sandy Gallito, Carbonated Sierra Finch, White-throated Cacholote, Straight-billed and Curve-billed Reedhaunters, White-tipped Plantcutter, Elegant Crested Tinamou, Scaly-throated & Band-tailed Earthcreepers, Patagonian Canastero, Patagonian & Cordilleran Canasteros, Magellanic Penguin, Blackish Oystercatcher, Dolphin Gull, Patagonian Mockingbird, Andean Condor, Short-billed Miner, Austral Negrito, Cinnamon-bellied Ground Tyrant, Coscoroba & Black-necked Swans, Masked Gnatcatcher, Yellow-billed Cardinal, Black-and-rufous Warbling Finch, Spectacled Tyrant, Pampa Finch, Greater & Lesser Rheas, Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper, Brown Cacholote, Lark-like Brushrunner, Short-billed Canastero, Tufted Tit-Spinetail, Diademed Tanager, Southern Screamer, Long-winged Harrier, Giant Wood Rail, White-tipped Dove, Checkered Woodpecker, Chotoy Spinetail, Warbling Doradito, Spotted Nothura, Chiloe Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, Red Shoveler, Sulphur-bearded Spinetail, Scarlet-headed Blackbird, South American Painted-snipe, Hudson’s Canastero, Firewood-Gatherer, Bay-capped Wren-Spinetail, Black-headed Duck, Dot-winged Crake, Speckled Rail, Many-colored Rush Tyrant, Snowy-crowned Tern, White-winged Black Tyrant, Southern Giant Petrel, Snowy Sheathbill.
Pampas Deer, Guanaco, Patagonian Mara, South American Grey Fox, Culpeo, Humboldt’s Hog-nosed Skunk, Large Hairy Armadillo, South American Sea Lion, Southern Elephant Seal, Killer Whale, Patagonian Huemul, Patagonian Lesser Cavy, Lesser Grison, Geoffroy’s Cat
Patagonian steppe, wetlands, tidal mudflats, coastal steppe, Atlantic Patagonia, Patagonian plateau
Moderate along the coast, moderate to cold in the higher steppe, strong winds can be expected at times
spectacular scenery, pristine & little-explored wilderness, great cuisine, super-friendly people
Day 1: Arrival in Buenos Aires, birding Costanera Sur
After arrival at Buenos Aires International Airport, we transfer to the nearby Costanera Sur Nature Reserve. Located within the boundaries of Argentina’s capital city, this 350-hectare reserve is an excellent introduction to Argentina’s Pampas birding and wildlife. We will walk along some of the numerous trails in order to explore different Pampas and riverine habitats such as grasslands, lagoons, marshes and forest. Some of the commoner local species seen here are Coscoroba and Black-necked Swans, White-winged, Red-fronted and Red-gartered Coots, Monk Parakeet, Picazuro Pigeon, Grey-necked Wood Rail, Green-barred Woodpecker and many passerines, including Masked Gnatcatcher, Yellow-billed Cardinal, Black-and-rufous Warbling Finch, Spectacled Tyrant and Pampa Finch. Several species of mammals live here as well, and it is not unusual to find Coypu (Nutria), two species of opossum and Brazilian Guinea Pig on an afternoon walk. After this wonderful introduction to the birds of Argentina, we head off to our hotel to enjoy a delicious welcome dinner.
Day 2: Otamendi Natural Reserve & Ceibas
This morning on our Argentina bird safari, we make an early start to reach Otamendi Natural Reserve. This 3,000-hectare reserve sits on the shores of the Rio Paraná just north of Buenos Aires and is included in the international list of Important Bird Areas.
It takes in three of the main Argentine birding habitats: Pampas grasslands, thorny woodland and Parana River Delta. Highlights to be found in Otamendi include both Straight-billed and Curve-billed Reedhaunters, Diademed Tanager, Long-tailed Meadowlark, Austral Thrush, Chilean Swallow, Warbling and Crested Doraditos, and Giant Wood Rail, as well as more widespread species such as White-tufted Grebe, Southern Screamer, Long-winged Harrier, Whistling Heron, Ultramarine Grosbeak, Variable and Rufous-capped Antshrikes, the giant Toco Toucan, White-rimmed Warbler, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, White-tipped Dove, Checkered Woodpecker, Chotoy Spinetail, Orange-backed Troupial, and Pampa Finch.
We will leave Otamendi Natural Reserve around mid-morning and then drive to Ceibas. This is an area located across the Rio Paraná in the province of Entre Ríos. Its abundant birdlife makes it an attractive and enjoyable birding site. We have time to traverse the birdy dense thorn forests and marshlands that are home to Greater Rhea, Red-winged Tinamou, Bare-faced and Plumbeous Ibis, Savanna Hawk, White-fronted and White Woodpeckers, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Blue-tufted Starthroat, Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper, Unicolored, Yellow-winged and Chestnut-capped Blackbirds, Brown-and-yellow Marshbird, Spot-flanked Gallinule, Brown Cacholote, Lark-like Brushrunner, White-naped Xenopsaris, Rufous-bellied and Creamy-bellied Thrushes, Short-billed Canastero and Tufted Tit-Spinetail. After exploring this area we head back to our hotel in Buenos Aires for the night.
Day 3: Buenos Aires to San Clemente del Tuyú
Our drive from Buenos Aires to San Clemente del Tuyú is not particularly far, and we shall spend the majority of the day birding the roadside verges en route. The habitat is predominantly flat grasslands interspersed with lagoons, marshes and mud flats making for easy and rewarding birding. We can look forward to seeing a high number of species today with highlights likely to include Spotted Nothura, Chiloe Wigeon, Cinnamon Teal, Red Shoveler, Long-winged Harrier, Campo Flicker, Sulphur-bearded Spinetail, Curve-billed Reedhaunter, Greyish Bay-wing and Scarlet-headed Blackbird. A combination of effort and luck might elicit some of the trickier species such as Dot-winged Crake or South American Painted-snipe. We shall spend the following two nights of our Argentina bird safari in San Clemente de Tuyú.
Day 4: Punta Rasa
Our day will be spent birding the tidal mudflats, salt marshes and sand dunes of Punta Rasa and the Bay of Samborombón. This area, not far south of Buenos Aires, is home to the most spectacular flocks of migrant waders, a wide array of grassland birds and some unique mammals, such as the scarce and elusive Pampas Deer. Northern migratory shorebirds are likely to include Hudsonian Godwit, Red Knot, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, White-rumped and Baird’s Sandpipers amongst many others that spend the northern winter (Austral summer), on the southernmost tip of our continent. Punta Rasa is one of the main feeding grounds for these long-range travellers that share the area with some local residents, such as the near endemic Hudson’s Canastero, Firewood-gatherer, Bay-capped Wren-Spinetail, Greater Rhea and Spotted Nothura.
Day 5: San Clemente del Tuyú to Bahía Blanca
Today on our Argentina bird safari, we travel south-west along the Atlantic coast to the city of Bahía Blanca and its surroundings. This is a fairly long drive, but we shall only make cursory birding stops en route in suitable habitat. Today’s drive may produce Black-headed Duck, Dot-winged Crake, Speckled Rail, Blue-crowned Parakeet, Bay-capped Wren-Spinetail and Tufted Tit-Spinetail.
Day 6: Bahía Blanca
Bahía Blanca sits in an ecotonal area between the Pampas and Patagonia regions, thus offering a fantastic diversity of species. It is here that we will have the opportunity to see the spectacular and highly restricted Pampas Meadowlark, a near-endemic bird only possible in the southern Pampas and some areas of Uruguay. It is also here where chances are best for another highly restricted passerine: the Yellow Cardinal. We will also look for Olrog’s Gull, one of the most endangered seabird species that nests in the area. Some of the many species we can expect to see during our time here include Hudsonian Godwit, Many-colored Rush Tyrant, Long-tailed Meadowlark, Correndra Pipit, White-banded Mockingbird, Gull-billed, South American and Snowy-crowned Terns, American Cliff Swallow, Stripe-crowned Spinetail, near endemic Sharp-billed Canastero, Short-billed Canastero, Firewood-gatherer, Short-billed Pipit, Black-crowned Monjita, White-winged Black Tyrant and Ringed Warbling Finch.
Day 7: Bahía Blanca to Las Grutas
Today on our Argentina bird safari, we continue to travel south towards Las Grutas. While much of the day will be spent travelling, we can expect to add yet more species to our list. Excluding the above-mentioned birds, we will also be keeping our eyes on the road verges for Darwin’s Nothura. On arrival at Las Grutas, we will no doubt be greeted by flocks of Burrowing Parrots, as they are very common here. After checking into our hotel, we will then go birding along the coast where we will look for a number of endemic and near-endemic species such as Sandy Gallito and Carbonated Sierra Finch, Hudson’s Black Tyrant, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, White-throated Cacholote, White-tipped Plantcutter, Austral Thrush, Common Diuca Finch, Black-chinned and Hooded Siskins, and Greater Wagtail-Tyrant. We spend the following two nights in Las Grutas, a small village turned popular beach resort.
Day 8: San Antonio Oeste and Las Grutas
We start early this morning on our Argentina bird safari, birding the surrounding areas of San Antonio Oeste. Our first stop will be just outside the city boundaries where we will search for White-throated Cacholote and Sandy Gallito (if we missed them yesterday). Here we also have a good chance for Elegant Crested Tinamou, the near-endemic Dark-faced Ground Tyrant, Black-crowned, Rusty-backed and White Monjitas, Grey-hooded and Mourning Sierra Finches and Vermilion Flycatcher.
We will then drive eastwards to search for the elusive Yellow Cardinal (in case we missed it previously), as well as Pale-breasted Spinetail, Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, Short-billed Canastero and Cinnamon Warbling Finch. Time permitting, we will again bird the surroundings of Las Grutas for any birds we might have missed to date.
Day 9: Las Grutas to Valdés Peninsula
We will spend the morning birding the surroundings of Las Grutas in search of any birds we might have missed in this area, and then start heading southwards to the Valdés Peninsula where we will spend the next two nights of our Argentina bird safari, in the small village of Puerto Pirámides, situated on the shores of the Nuevo Gulf. The Valdés Peninsula is a marine mammal’s paradise, and those wishing to do so will be able to watch Southern Right Whales on a boat tour this afternoon. We will also bird the surroundings of Puerto Pirámides in search of species such as Rusty-backed Monjita, near endemic Band-tailed Earthcreeper and endemic Patagonian Canastero. Further interesting steppe dwellers may include Elegant Crested Tinamou, Short-billed Pipit, Least Seedsnipe and Common Diuca Finch. We should also find a number of land mammals that include Guanaco, a wild relative of the Llama, Patagonian Cavy (Mara), an overgrown, long-legged version of the Guinea Pig, and if we are lucky, South American Grey Fox, Humboldt’s Hog-nosed Skunk and the Large Hairy Armadillo.
Day 10: Valdés Peninsula
Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1999, we will spend the day exploring the riches of the Valdés Peninsula. A harsh yet spectacular environment, this remote peninsula is a haven for Patagonian marine and terrestrial wildlife including massive colonies of South American Sea Lion and Southern Elephant Seal. The abundance of afterbirth and young pups here attracts the attention of several scavengers and predators, including the striking Killer Whales that are known to beach themselves along this coastline to capture prey, as well as Southern Giant Petrel and unique Snowy Sheathbill that forage through the remains. The rocky coastline may hold Imperial and Rock Shags alongside the commoner Neotropic Cormorants.
The more barren interior of the Valdés Peninsula offers a chance to find the endemic Patagonian Canastero and Carbonated Sierra Finch, as well as Lesser Shrike-Tyrant and Two-banded Plover. Other birds we will search for include the stately Lesser Rhea, near endemic Patagonian Yellow Finch, Grey-bellied Shrike-Tyrant and Elegant Crested Tinamou walking through the short stunted growth.
During the day, we will be making a small detour to a huge Magellanic Penguin colony tucked away in a secluded area of Valdes. Aside from the penguins, there are also an array of seabirds and shorebirds that include Blackish, American and Magellanic Oystercatchers, near endemic Dolphin Gull and Brown Skua, alongside several passerines such as Cordilleran Canastero, Scale-throated Earthcreeper and the near-endemic Patagonian Mockingbird, to name but a few. This is a good site for rarities, and we could be lucky and find Upland or Ashy-headed Geese, or even Flying Steamer Duck.
Day 11: Pirámides to Punta Tombo and onwards to Comodoro Rivadavia
This morning on our Argentina bird safari, we will drive south along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in order to visit Punta Tombo. It is here that around half a million Magellanic Penguins gather every year to breed in the roughly 200,000 active nests! This is a very special place, and as the visitor’s trail passes through a high-density Penguin area, we will be able to view and photograph these birds at very close range.
Besides the penguins, there are also many other exciting birds here. These include a highly restricted Argentine endemic – the Chubut Steamer Duck, an array of seabirds and shorebirds that may encompass Black-browed Albatross, Great, Sooty and Manx Shearwaters, White-chinned, Cape and Northern Giant Petrels and Wilson’s Storm Petrel. From Punta Tombo, we continue our journey southwards to the town of Comodoro Rivadavia, our gateway to the High Plateau and our forthcoming search for Hooded Grebe. Around town, we have a good chance of finding the localised Chilean Pigeon.
Day 12: Comodoro Rivadavia to Los Antiguos
We leave the Atlantic coast of Patagonia this morning and set off for a long drive to the small village of Los Antiguos. Set in the heart of Patagonia’s High Plateau, Los Antiguous provides us with conveniently easy access to Patagonia National Park. The drive will give us the chance to experience Patagonia’s wilderness first-hand. Patagonia is, for the most part, a region of vast steppe-like plains, rising in a succession of abrupt terraces of roughly 100 vertical meters at a time, and covered with an enormous bed of shingle almost bare of vegetation. In the hollows of the plains are ponds or lakes of brackish and fresh water and we will make the occasional stop to search for Tawny-throated Dotterel, Lake, Crested and Andean Ducks, Rosy-billed Pochard, Chilean Flamingo, Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Chocolate-vented Tyrant, Greater Yellow Finch, Black-faced Ibis and possibly Upland Goose. Towards the Andes, the shingle gives place to porphyry, granite, and basalt lavas. Fauna becomes more abundant and vegetation more luxuriant, acquiring the characteristics of the flora of the western coast, and consisting principally of southern beech and conifers.
Day 13 & 14: Patagonia National Park & Hooded Grebe
We will spend two full days of our Argentina bird safari exploring different locations inside Patagonia National Park, specifically searching for Hooded Grebe. This species breeds on a few basaltic lakes in the interior of Santa Cruz, extreme south-west Argentina. The total population was estimated at between 3 000 – 5 000 individuals in 1997. Counts on the wintering grounds suggested a decline of over 40% over a seven-year period. During the 2010 – 2011 breeding season, only 535 individuals were counted – indicating a population decline of more than 80% over the last 26 years. In 2013, greater resources allowed a simultaneous count across all plateaus known to have ever held the grebes. Visits were made to virtually every lake with historic records of the species, resulting in a count of 691 adults and 144 chicks in 12 colonies. During the summer of 2014/2015, 771 adults, 138 juveniles and 12 colonies were recorded across 18 lakes. Nowadays, the main core of the breeding population is found within the boundaries of Patagonia National Park, so we hope to spend time watching and photographing these unique birds in their natural habitat. Besides Hooded Grebe, this is also an excellent location to find other Patagonian specialities, including the likes of Andean Condor, Patagonian Sierra Finch, near endemic Austral Canastero, scarce Rufous-tailed Plantcutter, Short-billed and Rufous-banded Miners, Chilean Elaenia, Austral Negrito, Cinnamon-bellied Ground Tyrant, Austral Blackbird and the near-endemic Patagonian Tinamou.
Day 15: Los Antiguos to Comodoro Rivadavia for final departure, or continue onwards with North West Patagonia extension
This morning, we depart early on the drive back to Comodoro Rivadavia. We will reach the airport in time for lunch, before taking an afternoon flight back to Buenos Aires. For those continuing onwards with our North West Patagonia extension, we shall instead head north to the small village of Esquel.