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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Paraguay

Saturday 15 September to Tuesday 2 October 2018
with Paul Smith and Stuart Elsom as leaders

Price: $6,450

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The remarkable White-winged Nightjar is regularly seen at only three locations in South America. Photo: Stu Elsom

Paraguay is a landlocked country in the center of South America, sandwiched between three giants: Argentina to the south, Brazil to the east, and Bolivia to the north. Its borders are more or less traced by a series of major rivers. The fast-flowing Paraná marks the south and east; the sluggish, weed-choked Pilcomayo defines the southern Chaco; and the Paraguay, the country´s main artery of commerce, bisects the country. Paraguay can be split geographically into two distinct biological zones—the arid Chaco in the west and the humid, forested Oriente in the east.

It is becoming increasingly clear that Paraguay, with its abundance of rivers and esteros, is an internationally important site for migrant waterbirds (including Northern Hemisphere species migrating to Southern Hemisphere wintering grounds) that were previously thought to be strictly coastal.

Our tour explores all of the country’s major habitats and will concentrate on finding such range-restricted species as Chaco Owl,  Strange-tailed and Cock-tailed Tyrants, Saffron-cowled Blackbird, Collared Crescentchest, Ocellated Crake, Ochre-breasted Pipit, Black-bodied and Helmeted Woodpeckers, and the rare and endangered White-winged Nightjar. We’ll also search for species endemic to the Atlantic Rainforest, such as Saffron Toucanet, Bare-throated Bellbird, Red-breasted Toucan, and Blond-crested Woodpecker, along with numerous tanagers, woodcreepers, and antbirds. Paraguay has been overlooked by birders for decades and is one of the least-watched countries in South America, so there is great potential for new discoveries.

Day 1: The tour begins with the departure of the Sunbird group on an overnight flight from London to Asunción, the capital of Paraguay. WINGS participants traveling directly to Asunción should arrive no later than this evening (see Note **, below).

Day 2: Following the early arrival of the Sunbird group, we’ll begin our journey across the Chaco to Laguna Capitán. We’re likely to notch up a surprisingly long list of spectacular species at the roadside pools along the Trans-Chaco Highway, not least among them Jabiru, Maguari, and Wood Storks, Roseate Spoonbill, Plumbeous and Buff-breasted Ibis, Limpkin, Cocoi Heron, and Black-collared Hawk. 

In areas with more grass Whistling Heron, Savannah Hawk, Long-winged Harrier, Yellow-headed Caracara, Chotoy Spinetail, and Screaming and Shiny Cowbirds are all likely, while in the true palm savanna Southern Screamer, Giant Wood Rail, and Blue-crowned and Nanday Parakeets are common. Along the way we’ll stop at reedbeds for Donacobius, Olivaceous Pampa-finch (a potential split), Unicolored and Scarlet-headed Blackbirds, and, with luck, Rufous-sided Crake and some of the smaller bitterns. Night at Laguna Capitán.

Day 3: We’ll explore Cuenca Upper Yacaré Sur, a region of dry Chaco and salt lagoons. Birding in the Chaco is not always easy, but the rewards are great. Though our accommodation is basic, the birding is like nowhere else on earth. Our main aim will be to see the 18 Chaco endemics. Many of them, such as Chaco Nothura, Brushland Tinamou, Many-colored Brush-finch, Crested Hornero, and Black-capped Warbling-finch, are easy to find while others, such as Chaco Eagle, need a little luck. The real prizes are the “Chaco Big Six”: Quebracho Crested-Tinamou, Spot-winged Falconet, Black-legged Seriema, Black-bodied Woodpecker, Chaco Owl, and Crested Gallito. 

On the saltwater lagoons we might see the last of the winter flocks of Coscoroba Swan, Chilean Flamingo, and ducks such as Brazilian and Ringed Teals, White-cheeked Pintail, three whistling-ducks, and maybe Rosybill. The surrounding habitat can hold Cream-backed Woodpecker, Scimitar-billed and Great Rufous Woodcreepers, and Chaco Earthcreeper.  

Chaqueño forest is a stunted, xerophytic, and often thorny affair, but it is home to a number of highly specialized species, such as Chaco Chachalaca, Chequered and White-fronted Woodpeckers, Greater Wagtail-tyrant, Solitary Cacique, Orange-backed Troupial, Short-billed Canastero, Stripe-backed Antbird, and Cinereous Tyrant. Only two nightjar species commonly occur in the Chaco—Scissor-tailed and Little—and we hope to see both.

Mammals are bolder and more visible in the Chaco than anywhere else in Paraguay, and night drives may produce anything from armadillos and the rabbit-like Chaco Mara to Crab-eating Raccoon and White-lipped Peccary. There is also the chance of a Lowland Tapir or a Puma, which are more abundant here than in much of South America. Night at Laguna Capitán.

Days 4–5: We’ll depart this morning for Teniente Agripino Enciso National Park, passing Fortín Toledo along the way. Located in the highest of the High Chaco, this area is conserved mainly for its healthy population of Chaco Peccary. It is a great place for Chaco specialties that are not as common elsewhere. We might expect Zone-tailed, Bay-winged, and Rufous-thighed Hawks, Stripe-crowned Spinetail, Black-crested Finch (more common in winter but some may be lingering), and maybe Ringed Warbling-finch, Little Thornbird, and Short-billed Canastero. Other sought-after birds here include Quebracho Crested-Tinamou and Chaco Owl. Three-banded Armadillo and Pampas Fox are both possibilities. The park is also of historical significance, conserving some of the trenches and barracks of the Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia (1932–35).

Almost on the Bolivian border, the nearby Médanos del Chaco National Park conserves the last wild herd of the endangered lowland race of Guanaco. It is more open than Teniente Agripino Enciso and shares many of the same birds, but here we can find an important Chaco endemic that is not present at Enciso—Spot-winged Falconet. It is also an excellent place to see Puma, Plains Viscacha, and Chaco Yellow-toothed Cavy. Nights at Teniente Agripino Enciso National Park.

Day 6: We’ll proceed back along the Trans-Chaco Highway with stops at Proyecto Tagua in Fortín Toledo. We’ll visit a captive breeding program here for the threatened Chaco Peccary (Tagua), supported by the San Diego Zoo. The project has already released over 250 captive-bred individuals, and we’ll be able to see all three peccary species, giving us the opportunity to note differences that are not always obvious in wild animals. There is also a healthy wild population of the rabbit-like Chaco Mara in this area, and the small, weed-choked lakes are a magnet for birds, including the rare Black-bodied Woodpecker and the elusive Chaco subspecies of Olive-crowned Crescentchest (another likely future split). Night in a comfortable hotel in Loma Plata Mennonite Colony.

Day 7: After some early morning birding we’ll spend most of the day driving back to Asunción, where we’ll spend the night.

Day 8: Leaving Asunción for Laguna Blanca, we’ll make a brief stop at Arroyos y Esteros to look for Strange-tailed Tyrant along with the newly described Iberá Seedeater. Other species of interest here include Lesser Grassfinch, Bearded Tachuri, Crested Doradito, and Long-tailed Reedfinch. We’ll continue on to Laguna Blanca, where we’ll be looking for a series of cerrado birds, including White-banded Tanager, Sharp-tailed and Cock-tailed Tyrants, and Black-masked Finch. Other birds of interest are Red-winged Tinamou, White-rumped Monjita, White-rumped Tanager (at its only known site in Paraguay), Plumbeous and Chestnut Seedeaters, and cerrado endemics Black-throated Saltator and Curl-crested Jay.

However, the real star here is the endangered White-winged Nightjar, at one of only three locations in the world where it is regularly recorded. Night birding generally is productive, and Grey Potoo and Rufous, Little, and Scissor-tailed Nightjars are all possibilities, in addition to the sought-after White-winged Nightjar. Tropical Screech Owl and Ferruginous Pygmy Owl are among the frequently recorded owl species. After our evening of birding we’ll head back to the hotel for a late barbecue dinner. Night at Laguna Blanca.

Day 9: We’ll travel to the Mbaracayú Biosphere Reserve, a model private reserve in Paraguay with 70,000 hectares of pristine Atlantic Forest and cerrado.  We’ve allowed plenty of time for exploration at this fabulous reserve, named by the World Wildlife Fund as one of the 100 most important sites for conservation on earth. Night at Mbaracayú Lodge Hotel.

Days 10–11: Over 400 species of birds have been recorded in the Mbaracayú Reserve, including the vast majority of the Atlantic Forest endemics. The endangered Black-fronted Piping-guan, Bare-throated Bellbird, Black-capped Screech Owl, Saffron and Spot-billed Toucanets, and Helmeted Woodpecker are all possible, and other species of interest that are frequently recorded include Solitary Tinamou, Red-breasted Toucan, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Surucua Trogon, Blond-crested and Yellow-fronted Woodpeckers, various woodcreepers and tanagers, Streak-capped Antwren, Red-rumped Cacique, and Rufous-capped Motmot. The list could easily become very long! In the cerrado we’ll search for specialties such as Rufous-winged Antshrike and Collared Crescentchest. Other target birds will be several of the big owls, such as Black-banded and Mottled. Nights at Mbaracayú Lodge Hotel.

Day 12: This is essentially a travel day as we move from Mbaracayú to San Rafael. It’s a long journey with few stops, and we should arrive in San Rafael in the early evening. Night at San Rafael.

Days 13–15: In San Rafael National Park we’ll be looking for birds in the Atlantic Forest and Mesopotamian Grasslands. San Rafael is the most biodiverse reserve in the country, but our time here is limited so we’ll want to spend it wisely. We’ll be up at dawn for a forest walk with some very special birds in mind, specifically some of the more sought-after and threatened passerines of the Atlantic Forest. These include Blackish-blue Seedeater, Creamy-bellied Gnatcatcher, and Southern Bristle-tyrant. After an early lunch we’ll travel to the Kanguery grasslands, where more great species await—Russet-winged Spadebill and Saffron-cowled Blackbird are two of these, and, once the sun has gone down, Giant Snipe and (with luck) Sickle-winged Nightjar. Our accommodations are provided by the conservation NGO Pro Cosara (so we’ll be doing our bit to assist with the conservation of the park). Our hosts, the Hostettler family, are renowned for their hospitality and delicious, hearty, home-cooked meals. Nights at San Rafael National Park.

Day 16: We’ll depart early for the rice fields of Isla Alta to look for Bearded Tachuri, various seedeaters, and, if the rice fields are at the right height, Pinnated Bittern. We’ll then drive for a couple of hours to Ayolas, stopping at roadside marshes along the way to see what birds they hold and arriving in the town in time for a late lunch. After a rest in our hotel we’ll venture into the grasslands to search for the threatened Ochre-breasted Pipit, and as darkness falls we’ll hope to get close-up views of the stunningly bizarre Sickle-winged Nightjar. Night in Ayolas.

Day 17: There will be a pre-dawn excursion to the gallery forests of Yacyretá Island, where we’ll hope to see the shy Bare-faced Curassow and the secretive Pheasant Cuckoo as well as other forest birds, some of which will be new for the tour. We’ll return to the hotel for a late breakfast before driving back to Asunción. Night in Asunción.

Day 18: The tour concludes this morning with flights home.

Updated: 09 June 2017

Prices

  • 2018 Tour Price : $6,450
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $550
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Notes

This tour is organized by our British company, Sunbird. Information on Sunbird and an explanation of Sunbird tour pricing can be found here.

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

**Accommodation the night of Day 1 and transfers from and to the airport as needed are included in the tour cost for WINGS participants. Meals are not included until you join the Sunbird group arriving on Day 2.

Maximum group size 10 with two leaders. Both leaders will accompany the tour irrespective of group size.