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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Cruise: Buenos Aires to Santiago

Birding Sea and Land

Wednesday 28 February to Wednesday 14 March 2018
Pre-tour to Ceibas & IguazĂș Falls from Friday 23 February
with Fabrice Schmitt and Steve Howell as leaders
Thursday 14 February to Thursday 28 February 2019
Pre-tour to Santiago area from Monday 11 February
Post-tour to Ceibas & IguazĂș Falls to Monday 4 March
with Fabrice Schmitt and Steve Howell as leaders

Price: $3,000* (02/2018)

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A Yellow-nosed Albatross cruises by our ship northwest of the Falkand Islands Photo: Will Russell

Have you dreamed of taking an extended pelagic trip along the Humboldt Current and traveling to such legendary places as Cape Horn, the Beagle Channel, the Strait of Magellan, or the Falkland Islands? What about seeing 30 to 35 species of tubenose, 8 species of albatross, 4 species of penguin, 3 species of diving-petrel, among others? If so, you may not have imagined that this could be done on a comfortable and well-appointed Princess cruise ship, which also happens to be stable enough to permit telescope use even in these turbulent waters. We feel this cruise offers the best accessible seabirding experience in South America and probably one of the best in the world. 

If we have your attention, we should say that in addition to spending six full days at sea, we’ll arrange land-based expeditions to such wonderful areas as the South American Sea Lion colony on the Valdes Peninsula,penguin colonies on the Falkland Islands,the Patagonian steppe around Punta Arenasand the primeval Nothofagus forest near Puerto-Montt. During our landings we’ll look for highly sought-after specialties such as Chucao Tapaculo, Black-throated Huet-huet, Magellanic Plover, and Magellanic Woodpecker at stops in Chile, King Penguin, Brown Skua, and Ruddy-headed Goose on the Falklands, and Elegant Crested-Tinamou and Lesser Rhea in Argentina.

If this isn’t enough pelagic birding for you, in 2018 it’s possible to continue the voyage northwards with us on another cruise from Santiago to Los Angeles, California after the 28 February cruise.

I loved this tour — the combination of seabird and land birding gave us such diverse birds and days that it was impossible to get bored. Fabrice and Steve were so wonderful in sharing information on the life and habitat of the seabirds. I learned a great deal and have much more appreciation of the wildlife at sea. In fact, I am thinking of signing up for next year’s extension cruise Santiago to Los Angeles.

Eva Lydick, Mar. 2017

**Note that after the February 28, 2018 departure the leaders aren’t available for a post-tour Santiago extension as they will be continuing towards Los Angeles on the cruise listed above. If you are interested in a post-tour extension around Santiago with a trusted local leader please let WINGS know. 

*** The 2019 cruise will be run in reverse, starting in San Antonio (Santiago), Chile and ending in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The reversed itinerary will be posted here around the beginning of 2018.

Details on booking space with both WINGS and Princess Cruises can be found here.

Pre-tour extension: Ceibas and Iguazú Falls, Argentina.

We’ll take advantage of being in Argentina to make a trip to the stunning Iguazú Falls. With a height of 200 to 270 feet and a width of 1.7 miles, the 275 drops of Iguazú may be the most impressive falls in the Americas. Iguazú has the sixth-greatest average annual flow of any waterfall in the world, with an average rate of 61,660 cubic feet per second.

But Iguazú is not only a scenic place, it is also a wonderful birding destination. We’ll spend a day at the Iguazú National Park, enjoying both the falls and the birds, and then explore the surrounding Iguazú area and its avifauna.

The extension also includes a day of birding in the Ceibas area, a mix between pampas and Chaco habitat. This area is usually extremely birdy, and a visit there should not be missed.

Day 1: The pre-cruise extension begins this evening in Buenos Aires. Night in Buenos Aires.

Day 2: We’ll spend all day near Ceibas, birding a variety of habitats, especially wetlands and Chaco scrubland. In this bird-rich area more than 100 species are often seen in a single day, including such stunning birds as Giant Wood-Rail, Southern Screamer, Long-winged Harrier, White-fronted and White Woodpeckers, Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper, Curve-billed Reedhaunter, Lark-like Brushrunner, Chotoy Spinetail, White Monjita, and Red-crested Cardinal. Birding will be easy in this pampas-like open to semi-open habitat, and we’ll have great photo opportunities. We’ll enjoy a picnic lunch in the field and be back in Buenos Aires in the afternoon. Night in Buenos Aires.

Day 3: In the morning we’ll fly from Buenos Aires to Iguazú. After lunch at our hotel we’ll bird the hotel grounds looking for Yellow-fronted Woodpecker, Thrush-like Wren, and the first Green-headed Tanagers. In the evening we’ll visit the Jardín de los Picaflores, where Black Jacobin, Versicolored Emerald, Black-throated Mango, Gilded Hummingbird, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird and others will be buzzing around the feeders. Night in Iguazú.

Day 4: We’ll make an early departure for the Iguazú National Park. But before visiting the falls themselves, we’ll bird the first hours of the day in the periphery of the park, looking for Robust Woodpecker, Spot-backed and Tufted Antshrikes, Eared Pygmy-tyrant, Yellow Tyrannulet, Green-headed Tanager, and the superb Chestnut-bellied Euphonia.

When the temperature begins to get hot, we’ll head toward the falls, where we’ll have our lunch. We’ll spend the rest of the day enjoying the falls but also the wildlife usually seen here, such as South American Coati and Black-and-white Tegu. In the heat of the day we’ll especially appreciate the refreshing spray at the falls! Night in Iguazú.

Day 5: We’ll leave very early to arrive at Urugua-í Provincial Park at dawn for a picnic breakfast and a chance to find the rare Black-fronted Piping-Guan. The rest of the morning will be spent on the trail system, looking for Surucua Trogon, Red-breasted Toucan, Ochre-collared Piculet, Large-tailed Antshrike, White-shouldered Fire-eye, Speckle-breasted Antpitta, Ochre-breasted Foliage-gleaner, Drab-breasted Pygmy-tyrant, Swallow-tailed Manakin, Riverbank Warbler, Chestnut-headed Tanager, and so many more.

After a picnic lunch at the reserve we may bird the Urugua-í trail system a bit more or just drive back to our hotel. A few stops along the way will add more new species to our already impressive list. Night in Iguazú.

Day 6: After some early birding near the hotel, we’ll transfer to the airport and fly back to Buenos Aires for lunch. In the afternoon we’ll board our cruise ship to begin our exciting journey toward Santiago. Night onboard the Star Princess.

Cruise Itinerary:

Day 1 (Extension Day 6): The cruise begins this afternoon in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We will meet in the evening for an introductory meeting and spend our first night onboard ship in the Buenos Aires Harbor.

Day 2: In the morning we’ll leave the ship as early as possible and drive to the Costanera Sur Reserve, close to the harbor. The number of potential species today is huge, and birding here (it will be hot!) will be very different from our forthcoming days in cold Patagonia. We’ll look for Giant Wood-rail, Gilded Sapphire, Checkered Woodpecker, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Masked Gnatcatcher, Red-crested and Yellow-billed Cardinal, Black-and-rufous Warbling-Finch, among many others. At day’s end we’ll drive back to the ship for our second night on board while sailing towards Uruguay.

Day 3: Uruguay’s port-of-call will be different for each of the 2018 tours. For the late January departure, it will be at Punta del Este. Here we’ll visit a wetland considered crucial for many migrant and breeding bird species by BirdLife International. We’ll also visit a municipal park that preserves a patch of remnant native woodland where we’ll find a completely different set of birds. Species we hope to see today include White-throated and Gilded Hummingbird, Campo Flicker, Green-barred and White-spotted Woodpecker, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Streaked Flycatcher, Red-crested Cardinal, Whistling Heron, Bare-faced Ibis, Giant Wood-Rail, Snowy-crowned Tern, Stripe-crowned Spinetail, Rufous-capped Antshrike, Masked Gnatcatcher, Black-and-Rufous Warbling-Finch, and Long-tailed Reed-Finch.

For the late February departure we’ll spend the morning in Montevideo’s lovely botanical garden, where Monk Parakeet, Rufous Hornero, and Picazuro Pigeon are common. Birding along the alleys of the garden, we’ll have a good chance of finding Green-barred and White-spotted Woodpeckers, White-crested Tyrannulet, Short-billed Elaenia, White-throated Hummingbird, Swainson’s Flycatcher, and with some luck even a pair of Grey-necked Wood-Rails. After lunch in the park, we’ll wend our way to the coast and nearby wetlands. We’ll scan for shorebirds and gulls and in the reedbeds and shrubs we’ll look for Curve-billed Reedhaunter, Great Pampa-finch, Firewood-gatherer, and the beautiful Spectacled Tyrant and Freckle-breasted Thornbirds.

Day 4: For our first full day at sea we’ll be heading south toward Puerto Madryn, Argentina. We’ll find our first tubenoses including Yellow-nosed Albatross and hopefully Cory’s Shearwater, and we may find a few Long-tailed or even Pomarine Jaegers. Compared to the forthcoming seabirding days farther south, it may be a quiet day, but that’s just what we need to familiarize ourselves with the different families of seabirds found during our trip.

Day 5: Upon arrival in Puerto Madryn we’ll leave the ship as early as possible as our drive to the wonderful Valdes Peninsula National Park is quite long. We may see Guanaco, Lesser Rhea, or Elegant Crested Tinamou along the way. The Valdes Peninsula is also well known for Orcas coming very close to the beach to catch young Sea Lions during their first swim, but we’ll have little chance of actually seeing this impressive hunt.

We’ll stop at a Sea Lion colony, where we’ll look for Snowy Sheathbill, Rock and Imperial Cormorants, and Cayenne Terns. Along the coast we’ll search for the Argentinean endemic White-headed Steamer-duck and also American and Blackish Oystercatchers. The scrublands are interesting too, and we’ll walk into steppe habitat looking for Plain-mantled Tit-spinetail, Patagonian Mockingbird, Mourning Sierra-finch, and Patagonian Yellow-finch. Around Puerto Madryn we may even find a flock of the fancy Burrowing Parakeet.

Day 6: We’ll now be sailing in the South Atlantic toward the Falkland Islands where we’ll begin to find a completely different species mix than we did the previous day: Soft-plumaged Petrel can be abundant, as well as Greater and Manx Shearwaters. We’ll also look for the elegant Atlantic Petrel and the minuscule Gray-backed Storm-petrel. We may also see a few Southern Right Whales.

Day 7: Just before we arrive in Stanley, several hundred Gentoo Penguins, breeding in the dunes, will welcome us to the Falklands. Once off the boat, we’ll immediately begin our drive to Volunteer Point. It will be a longish, off-road drive on a fairly rough track, but we’ll be rewarded by a huge mixed colony of King, Gentoo, and Magellanic Penguins. Other species that can be seen here include Upland and Ruddy-headed Geese, Two-banded Plover, Rufous-chested Dotterel, Southern Giant-Petrel, Falkland Steamer-duck, Dark-faced Ground-tyrant, and with some luck even a few Falkland’s (White-bridled) Finches. After our return to Stanley we should have enough time to enjoy some shopping or a beer in a truly British pub. Our ship will depart in the evening toward Cape Horn in Chile, and we’ll want to be outside looking for Greater Shearwater, and possibly our first Slender-billed Prion.

Day 8: After breakfast, we’ll begin our journey toward the storied Cape Horn. We’ll carefully check the common Black-browed Albatrosses for the rare Grey-headed Albatross. We should also see a few Wandering and Southern Royal Albatrosses, and possibly even the very rare Light-mantled Albatross. Small seabirds will also be very interesting, and we have a chance of seeing Black-bellied Storm-petrel and Common Diving-petrel. In the afternoon, Black-browed Albatrosses and Sooty Shearwaters will probably be swarming around us when we sail around Cape Horn Island. We will then enter the Beagle Channel and continue toward Ushuaia, Argentina.

Day 9: We’ll arrive early in the morning in Ushuaia (the southernmost town in the world), where we’ll drive directly to the Tierra del Fuego National Park. The plan is to explore the fantastic Nothofagus forest in search of the impressive Magellanic Woodpecker. On this excursion we also have good chances for the beautiful Spectacled Duck and the loon-like Great Grebe. The landscapes surrounding Ushuaia are stunning.

On the way back to Ushuaia we’ll stop at a less scenic place (the garbage dump), looking for White-throated Caracara, usually found with its two relatives, the Chimango and Southern Caracaras. Additional stops on the coast should also provide excellent views of Kelp Goose, South American Tern, and Flying and Flightless Steamer-ducks as well as good numbers of the beautiful red-billed Dolphin Gull. We’ll leave Ushuaia in the afternoon, sailing into the Beagle Channel towards the Chilean town of Punta Arenas. As the sun fades we’ll pass by islands covered with hundreds of breeding Imperial Cormorants, and we’ll likely see good numbers of the elegant South American Tern and Chilean Skuas.

Day 10: We’ll have a full day to explore the Patagonian steppe around Punta Arenas, where our main target will be the pink-bubble-gum-legged Magellanic Plover, the lone species in its family. We’ll have a good chance of finding Lesser Rhea, Upland and Ashy-headed Geese, Two-banded Plover, Austral Negrito, and Black-faced Ibis, among many others. We’ll also visit lakes and wetlands where we expect several waterfowl species including Crested Duck, Yellow-billed Pintail, Red Shoveler, Flying Steamer-duck, Coscoroba Swan, and maybe even the uncommon Silver Teal.

After our birding in the steppe, we’ll make a few more stops along the Strait of Magellan looking for Kelp Goose, Flying Steamer-duck, Magellanic Oystercatcher, and groups of Peale’s Dolphin, which sometimes fish very close to shore.

Day 11: We’ll wake up at the exit of the Strait of Magellan and sail into the open sea, where seabirding can be excellent. Here we expect to see our first Salvin’s Albatross and our last Gray-headed Albatross, and perhaps also a few Slender-billed Prions. In the afternoon we’ll pause for impressive views of the Amalia Glacier in the Chilean Fjords. After absorbing this wonderful scene for about an hour, we’ll continue on through the Chilean channel. The landscapes are stunning, but in addition to the scenery we should be surrounded by Black-browed Albatrosses, Chilean Skuas, and Southern Giant-Petrels. We’ll focus on diving-petrels, trying to find the rare (and not well named) Common Diving-Petrel among the more numerous Magellanic Diving-Petrels. We should also see a few Magellanic Penguins.

Day 12: During the day we’ll sail from Golfo de Penas towards Guafo Island, where a few million Sooty Shearwaters breed, which explains why the species will probably be the most common bird of the day. Stejneger’s Petrel is regular, and although they are very fast fliers and usually avoid the ship, we should have some good views. We will also hope to see the recently described Pincoya Storm-petrel amongst the numerous Fuegian (Wilson’s) Storm-petrel, as well as the (rare in Chile) Subantactic Little Shearwater.

Today could be an eight-albatross day. Black-browed, Salvin’s, and Northern Royal will be the most common, but we also have good chances of finding the huge Snowy and Antipodean Albatrosses as well as Southern Royal, and with good luck possibly even Chatham Island and Buller’s.

Day 13: This morning we’ll leave the ship as soon as it arrives in the Puerto-Montt harbor and drive south to the wonderful Alerce Andino National Park. We’ll be birding in impressive Nothofagus forest, looking for four species of tapaculo: Chucao, Black-throated Huet-huet, and Ochre-flanked and Magellanic Tapaculos. All of them should be easy to hear, but we’ll have to be lucky to see them! A common bird will be the migrant White-crested Elaenia, but there are lots of other species including White-throated Treerunner, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Austral Parakeet, Patagonian Sierra-finch, and even the rare Magellanic Woodpecker. On our way back to Puerto-Montt we’ll make several stops and may see the splendid Black-faced Ibis or the local (sub)species of Ringed Kingfisher. We may also find a few Hudsonian Godwits that have come from northern Alaska or Canada to winter on the rich mudflats on Chiloé Island near Puerto-Montt.

Our ship will depart in the afternoon, and everyone will want to stay on the outside deck to look for Pincoya Storm-Petrel. This enigmatic species was discovered in 2009 by a group of birders making a similar cruise and officially described in 2013. For the most part this species has only been seen in the Gulf of Corcovado, and we have good chance of seeing it as we leave Puerto-Montt.

Day 14: During our last sailing day, the most common albatrosses will be Salvin’s and Black-browed, but we’ll probably also find a few Northern Royal Albatrosses as well. We’ll sail within a few miles of Mocha Island, where 90 percent of the world’s population of Pink-footed Shearwaters breeds. By now, we should all be able to separate White-chinned Petrel, Westland Petrel, and Sooty Shearwater; three very similar-looking seabirds. Amongst the Stejneger’s Petrels we have a chance of finding rarer Pterodroma petrels such as Juan-Fernandez and De Filippi’s and with a bit of luck we’ll see a few whales migrating north towards their breeding areas. Fin and Humpback are the most common here.

Day 15: We’ll disembark in the port of San Antonio, near Santiago, Chile, in time to catch international flights home, continue with the Santiago to Los Angeles Cruise, or join the 3-day Santiago area extension described below.

Post-cruise Santiago extension

The area around Santiago offers wonderful birding opportunities in amazingly varied habitats, from the wonderful scenery of the High Andes to the coastal wetlands and the dry scrublands in between. We will make a special effort for the Chilean endemics found around Santiago, and have a good chance of seeing seven of the 12 endemic species: Chilean Tinamou, Dusky and White-throated Tapaculo, Moustached Turca, Crag Chilia, Dusky-tailed Canastero and Chilean Mockingbird.

Day 1: The post-cruise extension begins this morning in San Antonio. We will leave the ship as early as possible, but our actual schedule for the day will depend of the disembarking procedure and timing. After meeting our driver at the San Antonio harbor, we will head towards a small wetland where Stripe-backed Bittern is sometimes seen, as well as Many-colored Rush-tyrant, considered by some to be the most beautiful Chilean bird. Before lunch we will visit some scrublands, where we have a chance to find our first Chilean endemics, such as Chilean Mockingbird, White-throated Tapaculo or Dusky-tailed Canastero. We will have lunch at a nice restaurant by the rocky shore, where we may find a few Blackish Oystercatchers along with another Chilean endemic, the Seaside Cinclodes. In the afternoon, a trip to the Maipo River estuary will demonstrate just how important these coastal wetlands are for many migrant species—gulls, shorebirds, terns, and skimmers are usually found in great numbers. There are also several interesting resident species including Dusky Tapaculo, Austral Negrito, and Correndera Pipit. Night in Santiago.

Day 2: We’ll spend all day at high elevations (8000–9000 feet) in the Maipo and Yeso valleys, where the delicate Diademed Sandpiper Plover, one of the most beautiful shorebirds in the world, will be our main target. Other interesting species include Crag Chilia, a stunning ovenbird endemic to Chile. In the high-elevation bogs we should see Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Greater Yellow-finch, Rufous-banded Miner, White-sided Hillstar, White-browed Ground-tyrant, and we have a chance for the rare Creamy-rumped Miner. The scenery here is absolutely stunning and is as much of a reason to make the journey as the birds. Night in Santiago.

Day 3: We’ll leave early for the ski resort of Farellones, stopping at different elevations, from the Mediterranean matorral shrublands to the alpine zone at 8250 feet. Our route is excellent for several Chilean endemics, including the cryptic and difficult-to-see Chilean Tinamou and the charismatic Moustached Turca. At high elevations we’ll almost certainly find Rufous-banded Miner, Black-winged Ground-dove, Band-tailed Sierra-finch, and Greater Yellow-finch, but the Andean Condor will probably attract most of our attention—we have good chances of seeing a few of these giants during our picnic lunch near Farellones. After lunch we will reach the highest point of our excursion, Valle Nevado at 9,850 feet, where we usually have excellent views of condors. The rare Creamy-rumped Miner and Black-fronted Ground-tyrant are also often here.

The post-cruise excursion ends at 5 pm at the hotel near the Santiago airport.

Updated: 27 September 2017


  • 2018 (28 Feb) Cruise and Land Excursion Price* : $3,000
  • Iguazu Extension : $2,500
  • Iguazu Extension Single Supplement : $350
  • Santiago Extension** : $1,150
  • Santiago Extension Single Supplement : $130
  • 2019 Tour Price Not Yet Available
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* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

* The cruise price noted above covers only the seven land excursions during the cruise plus the leaders’ time on-board ship.  It does not include your berth on the Emerald Princess (2018) or the Star Princess (2019), which must be booked directly with Princess Cruises. Details on booking space with both WINGS and Princess Cruises can be found here.

** The February 14-16, 2018 Santiago post-cruise extension will be led by Fabrice Schmitt. Note that there isn’t a Santiago post-tour extension offered after the second cruise (28 Feb) as the leaders will be continuing on the ship on our Santiago - Los Angeles cruise. Those interested in a Santiago extension (starting 14 March) with a local leader should contact the WINGS office.

*** The 2019 cruise will be run in reverse, starting in San Antonio (Santiago), Chile and ending in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The reversed itinerary will be posted online around the beginning of 2018.

Maximum group size 14 plus leaders.