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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative

Argentina: The North - High Andes, the Chaco and Iguazú Falls

2019 Narrative

The 2019 Northern Argentina tour produced 470 species of birds and an impressive 18 species of mammals amid a cornucopia of habitat types. These ranged from Flamingos and Horned Coots seemingly out of place in the lagoons of the arid Andean altiplano, to a complete surprise Harpy Eagle in the Yungas cloud forest below. The tropical lowlands of the Northeast were filled with hummingbirds, motmots, trogons, and antbirds all competing for our attention with the captivating Iguazú Falls. Everywhere we traveled the group was met with comfortable accommodations, excellent food, and the welcoming people that Argentina is noted for. The laid back pace of the itinerary and general openness of the environments meant lots of time was spent getting very good looks at many of the specialties of the region. As luck would have it we only had rain our last two days and otherwise managed perfect birding weather throughout. Ending in the lush Brazilian rainforest we experienced 2 full days of birding bliss amid beautiful waterfalls and a wonderful forested setting while getting up close and personal with Black-fronted Piping Guans and Blonde-crested Woodpeckers.

It was a cold day in Buenos Aires but the conditions couldn’t sway our determination to get to Costanera Sur Ecological Reserve to begin bagging life birds. For one person on the tour, it was their first time to South America so excitement abounded for the first day’s adventure. Right off the bat birds started appearing on the sidewalks, including numerous Chalk-browed Mockingbirds, Grayish Baywings, Picazuro Pigeons and Eared Doves. The Rufous Hornero made its presence known by walking within a meter of us in full strut. This bird is known for its hard work, spending most of the year building and maintaining its mud nest with a laborious work ethic. This is why it was chosen as Argentina’s national bird. A Green-barred Woodpecker, actually a flicker, shone tall on a leafless tree with glowing bright yellow chest and red malar displayed nicely. A male Glittering-bellied Emerald call rattled as it fed on hanging purple flowers and Masked Gnatcatchers flitted along the trail sides. A kind passerby gave us some intel on a Diademed Tanager he had just seen 10 minutes earlier, a short way up the trail. We were lucky to have this beautiful bird feeding on fruits at eye level after a mere 5-minute wait. In this area another nest was spotted, but this one contained two huge young Rufescent Tiger Herons hunkering down out of the wind. We had to pull ourselves away from the woodland birding to check out what this area is really known for, the waterbirds. From one viewing platform we saw colorful Rosy-billed Pochards, White-tufted and Pied-billed Grebes, Common Gallinules, Silver Teal, and much to the delight of the entire group, very close views of a pair of reclusive Masked Ducks. This pair fed just below the surface of the floating vegetation only occasionally lifting their heads up for a quick breath. Black-backed Water Tyrants shared space with numerous Cattle Tyrants picking bugs off the duckweed. On shore, a striking Red Crested Cardinal flaunted its vibrant headdress, and proving once again why it graces the cover of the most popular field guide to the country. Black-necked and Coscoroba Swans each had young in tow and all three expected species of Coot were seen including Red-Gartered, White-winged, and Red-fronted. A couple of circling Maguari Storks eventually landed for scope views, but had trouble stealing the spotlight from the handsome Cocoi Herons. Southern Screamer families were easy to spot amongst all the smaller birds, but never did broadcast their namesake scream. Limpkins constantly searched for apple snails just below the waterline and both White-rumped and Blue-and-White Swallows passed by constantly snapping insects just over the water. A total of 78 species of birds were seen here on our meanderings. Not a bad start to a birding trip in the southern cone!

Then we were off to Salta in the Northwestern part of the country. This town sits at the base of the Yungas forest, a habitat we would explore extensively over the next couple of days. Even before leaving the grounds of Salta’s airport, our first stark White Monjitas were seen repeatedly foraging from shrub to ground and a family group of wily looking Guira Cuckoos made their way through the grass stubs like a group of foraging cattle. We scoured some nearby roads in the Monte habitat and lucked into some really nice birds. Mario spotted a fly-by Cream-backed Woodpecker, from the driver’s seat no less, so we slammed on the breaks and jumped out to enjoy scope views of this closest living relative to its extinct Ivory-billed cousin. As luck would have it a male Red-tailed Comet was in the same exact spot and wasn’t shy about showing off its long bronzy tail, bright red back, and fluffy gorget while it fed on flowers. Also here, some sneaky Striped-crowned Spinetails finally revealed themselves and our first of many Plush-crested Jays gave us a curious eye. In the evening we learned why this is called a ‘cloud forest’ but even though water was dripping from the trees we went to look for nightbirds. It’s a good thing we did because we managed to get about 20 feet away from a Scissor-tailed Nightjar that refused to leave its perch as we all sat out in the rain.

The next morning we returned to the preserve to saunter along the trails under huge corral trees and stately copacs. Dusky-legged Guans jumped from limb to limb through the canopy along the soggy orchid-laden branches. Somehow the entire group managed to see a normally very active Buff-browed Foliage Gleaner in the scope as it probed a tree crack with plenty of tasty morsels to keep it busy.  Andean Slaty Thrushes’ creaky metallic songs echoed through the undergrowth and we lucked into a Rufous-capped Antshrike that perched within feet of us unsure of what to make of what it saw. Fawn-breasted and Blue-and-yellow Tanagers found pygmy owl imitations curious and both Ultramarine and Black-backed Grosbeaks enjoyed feeding on fruiting trees. Throughout the day we saw several of the southernmost race of Roadside Hawk, which looks completely different with an almost black head. Thanks to a fruiting shrub we managed to see the nearly impossible-to-view Large-tailed Dove as it took a few breaks from gorging on its feast. Tyrannulets were present, with Mottle-cheeked and Sclater’s seen well, and Elaenias were represented by great looks at both Small-billed and Highland. Crested Oropendolas were tending to their hanging basket nests and barely noticed the group of Mitred Parakeets perched in the tree overhead. The diminutive Mountain Wren crept secretly through the dense vines along with the talkative Azara’s Spinetails. A duo of Brush Finches made their presence known including a group of White-browed and stunning looks at the Yungas specialty Fulvous-headed. It was tough to leave this extremely productive location and the group of Rusty-browed Warbling Finches we found just before we left couldn’t sway our decision to continue our journey. We couldn’t resist stopping at a local river when we noticed a bunch of swallows foraging and it’s a good thing we stopped because SEVEN species were in the mix. Most numerous were Blue-and-White and White-rumped with Barn and Cliff in a close second, and these only slightly outnumbered Bank, with smaller numbers  of Southern Rough-winged and the handsome Tawny-headed. Numerous dams hold back water for hydroelectric use and tend to harbor lots of waterbirds on their shores. One such spot had no less than 500 Fulvous Whistling Ducks with some White-faced versions peppered throughout. Andean Ducks, formerly Ruddy Duck, stuck their stiff tails up high and a few Great Grebes fished successfully in the shallows. Both young and adult Snail Kites worked the shoreline and numerous Red-legged Seriemas squawked from the hillsides. Yellowish Pipits did their zipping flight display songs and Wattled Jacanas tiptoed through the mud. Andean Gulls were present in good numbers and White-faced Ibis had no problem probing with the Black-necked Stilts.

A full day was dedicated to thoroughly exploring the Yungas forest in and around Calilegua National Park, a protected area covering nearly 300 square miles of prime habitat. We shot right up to the top of the mountain and into the Loma Chata Preserve, an abutting tract of Yungas owned by the reputable conservation organization, Yuchan. It was here we realized exactly why they call this a cloud forest. The air was so moist the trees seemed like they were crying, but despite having to wear a rain jacket, the conditions didn’t seem to affect the bird activity much at all. High shrills of Buff-banded Tyrannulets rang loud, and we quickly tracked down the rising and falling song of the Pale-legged Warbler. Some of the higher elevation species found here were Plumbeous Black-Tyrant, several Slaty and Highland Elaenias and White-throated Tyrannulets. Our luck continued a White-throated Quail-Dove was spotted right next to the bus, allowing us to catch a glimpse of this beauty slowly going uphill in the open. A carefully positioned group on a pre-constructed trail was what we needed in order to get superb views of the vocal White-throated Antpitta we’d been hearing all day. One of these birds ended up getting extremely close to us and started encircling the group seemingly unbothered by the nine people trying their best not to move. This area was also a spot where we’ve had Yungas Manakin on previous tours and sure enough a male was in the same location as last year! This blue-fronted, green-backed, black-faced stud was relentless in his bid to attract a female to his lek. It was while enjoying this manakin that a local park guide pulled up to the group and showed us a picture of a Harpy Eagle she had just seen three kilometers down the road! Needless to say we made tracks to get to the area and when we arrived it didn’t take long for us to spot the humongous eagle perched atop a large tree, flicking its well-adorned head feathers as it moved its neck around. It was completely unaffected by our presence and didn’t mind as we watched it fly up to a tree, grab a dead branch, and fly off down the valley into the mist out of view. If that wasn’t amazing enough, as we were heading down the mountain, pinching ourselves, the Harpy Eagle was spotted again – this time at eye-level only about 100 feet away. We slowly came to a stop and got out of the bus with cameras at the ready. It was a good thing too, because we all recorded an amazing event that would unfold as this massive monkey-eating eagle grappled with a tree branch it seemed determined to fly away with. It was biting, grasping, pulling and shoving with so much effort it eventually decided to hang upside down for more force and eventually won, flying off with its quarry to the west.

The following morning we quickly loaded the bags into the van and decided to see what was happening at the nearby river. Some tiny birds made an appearance here and tested our patience as they zipped through the vine tangles. An Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher repeatedly called and an equally small Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant made us work for its identifying features. A male Great Antshrike hopped up to sing at us and glare with its bright red eyes. Some Rufous-fronted Thornbirds meticulously worked in their stick nests. A pair of Yellow-billed Cardinals worked the riverside wood debris piles, along with a couple Yellow-chinned Spinetails. A group of Southern Martins was constant companionship while they, along with White-rumped Swallows, perched at eye level on some power lines the entire time. A huge group of swifts appeared out of nowhere. It was comprised mostly of the huge White-collared, but peppered throughout were many Sick’s Swifts for comparison of size and shape. Both a male and female ‘lowland’ Hepatic Tanager perched in the open for a while, as did a Large Elaenia. An interesting Great Black Hawk stood on the water’s edge peering into the flowing current in hopes something might come close enough to grab. Ringed and Green Kingfishers kept diving into the clear waters and a statuesque Striated Heron eventually moved proving it was actually alive. Small groups of Yellow-collared Macaws kept flying by. It was nice to see so many in this region this year as most years we feel lucky to see a single one. With some coaxing a pair of Gray-cowled Wood Rails came into the open for good views. This turned out to be the first of three species of Wood Rail we’d see in the coming days.

After the 64 species were enjoyed at the river we decided to see if we would have any more luck in Calilegua National Park. Despite the new bathrooms being non-existent, I’m sure we can all agree the extra ¼ mile walk to the campground toilets was well worth it! As soon as we made our deposits, a White-tipped Dove strutted in front of us showing very nicely for a change. On our way back to the vans there was a quick succession of amazing birds that could probably never be duplicated. A normally-shy Tataupa Tinamou was seen strutting across a grassy picnic area and then a large flash popped in. It turned out to be the spectacular Great Rufous Woodcreeper. Another of its relatives appeared all of a sudden when a Black-banded Woodcreeper joined the party. Almost immediately the double ‘ooop’ of the Amazonian Motmot led us to see it perched halfway up a tree in plain view. Just as that finished, two more close encounters with a brave Variable Antshrike and normally furtive (but easily seen today) Ochre-cheeked Spinetail pair. Before we could leave the Yungas forest completely we explored the famed Yala River Valley for four specialties of this area. The raging river here continues to support a pair of Rufous-throated Dippers, seen well by the entire group and closing out a coveted world bird family for some! Barely off our lifer high, a pair of Torrent Ducks, one white and one orange, were spotted leaping up the tumultuous waters to safety. At the end of the day we had an amazing show when a male Lyre-tailed Nightjar swept within meters over our heads showing off its luxurious tail feathers to both us and the awaiting females high up on the nearby cliff.    

The next morning a slight detour en route to your first birding destination was a welcome sight. Mario slammed on the breaks as he noticed a flock of Tucuman Parrots coming in to land with red coverts and foreheads ablaze! This is a bird we had only heard previously in the cloudy mist and were happy to catch up with as they conveniently fed on some seasonal mulberries.  Upon entering the lush Yala River Valley the same type of mulberry tree produced once again when a single guan resting in the open turned out to be the southern Yungas specialty Red-faced. The ‘reddish’ facial skin and legs were noted and accurately assessed when the similar-looking Dusky-legged Guan walked out onto the same branch for some comparative views. In the lower reaches of this valley a suite of birds not normally encountered at such a low elevation were ticked. A Spot-billed Ground Tyrant ran across the pasture in search of fleeting insects amongst Band-tailed Seedeaters cracking seed heads. A welcome spectator to the event was one of six Streak-throated Bush Tyrants we tallied for the day. A ‘double tap’ revealed the presence of a male Cream-backed Woodpecker who eventually came in to investigate the group. An abundance of flowers, perhaps due to the cornucopia of cow dung, were attractive to attractive species including dirty-bellied Rusty Flowerpiercers that insisted on nabbing nectar in an ecological penalty as they munched little holes at the base of tubular flowers. A pair of Spot-breasted Thornbirds was a great addition, this being the last likely location we could run into this bird on the tour.

It was time to gain elevation and leave the shrouded cloud forest for drier climes. Once cactus species overtook the landscape we realized we were in Tilcara, where the jagged hillsides hide Inca-style houses and permanent springs provide a welcome source of refuge for hydrophilic species in an otherwise barren landscape. Choosing the spring area was a cooperative Plumbeous Rail that showed its red and blue-based yellow bill nicely, and a Sedge (Grass) Wren that alit long enough for all to see in the scope…not an easy task. Spectacled Tyrants of both sexes displayed their sizeable yellow skin discs surrounding their eyes, which if you ignored the brilliant white wing patches this bird displays, is a very good name for this wetland denizen. Long-tailed Meadowlarks sang loudly, Great Pampa Finches tucked out of the wind, and an extremely confiding White-tipped Plantcutter pair needed no coaxing as we observed them already in the open upon our approach. A quick stop nearby turned a very unassuming side canyon into quite an exciting birdventure. The flowering tree tobacco was fragrant and attractive to several Giant Hummingbirds. These monstrosities were also joined by a showy Sparkling Violetear vying for a spot to feed. A male Black-hooded Sierra Finch ate hungrily from the huge white flower of a Cardon cactus. Our first Creamy-breasted Canasteros cheered from the hillsides and were joined by some Streak-fronted Thornbirds courageously defending their sticky nests embedded in the giant cacti. A group of very cute Gray-hooded Parakeets shot in and took shelter under the rock ledges from the winds that were starting to pick up. Before we had to rush out of there, a d’Orbigny’s Chat-Tyrant made a brief appearance on the slippery slopes. We then hit the road for our long journey to the altiplano surrounding Abra Pampa. The lighting storm, complete with hail and rain, that we ended up driving through was an unbelievable experience. Seeing the flashes of light against the burnt orange and red stratified layers of the 100-mile long Humahuaca Canyon was the perfect way to end a very special birding day.

While loading the bags into the vans the following morning, some keen eyes spotted a target for the area: Bright-rumped Yellowfinches were nesting in the roof of the building next door! So that was one less species we’d have to look for on the next leg of our journey. The road to Laguna Pozuelos always guarantees to provide a nice ‘Andean massage’ as we trundled along the rutted track, but along the way lots of high elevation species began to reveal themselves in quick succession. Our first huge white Andean Geese foraged like pigs along the roadside and a pair of Crested Ducks was alert due to a family of five youngsters they were guarding. At one of the few habitations in the area a sizeable flock of Puna Yellow Finches graced the hillside and were just as exciting to see as the similarly-sized flock of Citron-headed Yellow Finches, a recent range extension of this mainly Bolivian species to the canyons near Abra Pampa. A few Black-winged Ground Doves foraged in the Llama pens and a bold Rock Earthcreeper shouted from a handmade rock wall. A slow stroll along the pampas grass-lined drainage also provided good looks at Plain-colored Seedeaters, Variable Hawk (probably nesting), and finely marked Ornate Tinamous. Laguna Pozuelos is always a great place to catch up with anything that has Puna or Andean in the name. This high elevation saline lake is rich with food for the scads of nesting species that call this place home. Such highlights include Giant and Slate-colored Coot, Puna Plovers and Puna Teal, Crested Ducks, Andean Negritos and the flamingo trifecta; extensive looks eye to eye of Andean, Chilean, and James’s Flamingos were enjoyed. So was picking through the hundreds of Baird’s Sandpipers and Wilson’s Phalaropes for the other long-distance migrant Hudsonian Godwit. Mario hit the jackpot again when he spotted some distant, but distinct, Horned Coots that were slowly building a nest one soggy grass clump at a time.

We contoured east along Route 7 towards the formidable mountain pass of Abra Lizoite, towering at 14,600 feet above sea level. En route a pair of Aplomado Falcons perched shoulder to shoulder on a power pole,  allowing close inspection through the scope of the size difference between male and female. A lovely Andean Flicker was a welcome distraction to the drive and when we jumped out to check it out a pair of Andean Hillstars were also perched nearby, the male replete with glowing green gorget and brown stripe down the front. We later stopped by this area to see if there was any nesting activity and were able to track down a nest within the confines of an abandoned house.

High up in some wetlands filled with cushion plants, Red-backed Sierra Finches were common and we met up with Dark-fronted, Puna and Cinereous Ground Tyrants. Eventually a male Plumbeous Sierra-Finch showed nicely, as well as several fly-by Andean Swallows maneuvering through the ravines with the like-minded Andean Swifts. A short stroll up a vega at just under 15,000 feet yielded a bird that is extremely difficult to find anywhere in its range. As luck would have it a pair of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipes were spotted and allowed extended looks through our scopes as they slowly foraged up the hillside! Roadside birding in this zone proved fruitful as well. We were lucky to run into a pair of Slender-billed Miners, droves of Mountain Parakeets, and several stoic Gray-breasted Seedsnipes blending in on the road verges. The roads led us near the Bolivian border to the hamlet of Yavi. This pastoral scene boasts tiny country homes amid lush green trees with a small canal system bringing water to this otherwise desolate region. This oasis is excellent for birds and we had great run-ins with species like Yellow-billed Tit-tyrant, Brown-capped Tit-Spinetail, Gray-hooded Sierra Finch, White-winged Black-Tyrant, and a few of the scaled Bare-faced Ground Doves foraging at the entrance to town. Another highlight of the area was spotted here when a male Wedge-tailed Hillstar flew in and lit on a branch right in front of the group. It wasn’t until later we realized a pair of Aplomado Falcons was watching these events unwind the whole time from their perch basking in the afternoon sun.         

We left La Quiaca in -2 degrees Celsius and pointed the bus south, retracing our steps down along National Route 9. Near Abra Pampa we had a field breakfast and enjoyed hot coffee and croissants while observing White-winged, Slate-colored, and Giant Coots – some with adult-sized young. We also added scads of Silvery Grebes in nice contrast to the much darker White-tufted Grebes swimming about. A bold Giant Hummingbird was hawking insects over the bulrushes right before our eyes. It’s amazing to actually be able to see a hummingbird’s wingbeats like you can with this unique species. A couple of Wren-like Rushbirds worked the bases of the bulrushes gleaning insects from the surface and the gratuitously gorgeous Many-colored Rush Tyrants zipped to and from their nesting area amongst the reeds. A pair of Straight-billed Earthcreepers in the abutting boulder pile added another species to our ever-growing furnariid list. Going the opposite way through Humahuaca Canyon was interesting and gave us an entirely new perspective of the Devil’s Backbone and the millions of years of geological formations that cover this 120 kilometer stretch of Andean landscape. Surface water in this arid land is a hot commodity and produces lots of insects that in turn produce the birds that eat them. One such area near Azul Pampa hosted a Rufous-naped Ground Tyrant that darted back and forth along the water’s edge. It was also here that we found a big target when the endemic Moreno’s Ground Dove came in for a drink with its vibrant glowing neon orange eye patch.

Pointing the compass south and east put us in prime dry chaco habitat filled with different birds. En route to our first stop a resting Black-legged Seriema was spotted just along the busy highway we were jetting down. We reversed and sure enough one of these strange birds was walking slowly down the barbed wire fence looking for unsuspecting prey. Not long after this we encountered three Red-legged Seriemas exhibiting a unique behavior never actually seen in the wild by our local guide. The Seriemas were smashing land snails aggressively onto large rocks in hopes of exposing the tasty morsels inside. It was a great show observing this action repeated until the final successful blow. Along the dusty roads we managed to call in a Streak-backed Antbird, a very shy resident here. We sat silently roadside by the dense wood and all managed to see and hear this bird well. Some loud squeaking alerted us to a Chaco Earthcreeper, and nearby Greater Wagtail-Tyrants flopped around with tails raised singing in duets. Flocks of Chaco Chachalacas were seen but mostly heard as we traveled throughout and a very smart Many-colored Chaco Finch showed his array of colors nicely. A pair of Spot-backed Puffbirds eventually came in to show off their oversized heads and scattered Suiriri Flycatchers foraged singly. Several White-bellied Tyrannulets, and both Crowned Slaty and Brown-crested Flycatchers all took turns in the tree tops, while colonial White-fronted Woodpeckers adorned the tops of the spiny cactuses. Just as we were leaving, a welcome Cinereous Tyrant took some work but was eventually tracked down much to our delight. Continuing our search by heading west, the magnificent Juramento Canyon lay out before us. This area is not only a scenic wonderland, but also boasts a healthy population of nesting Andean Condors that were lazily soaring overhead at times. Our picnic lunch was perfectly situated on the banks of the river. As we enjoyed our homemade tortillas some Blue-crowned Parakeets reeled in to watch us eat. The river also produced a pair of Giant Wood Rails. We had heard these raucous callers from downriver and were shocked when two of these eventually ran right up to us high on the river’s bank. The birds took turns calling loudly back and forth to try and intimidate the intruders. With much luck it was near here that we heard a distant Crested Gallito and successfully taped it in for very good looks, eventually through the scope, of this normally reclusive chaco resident.                                

After our breakfast in Moldes we set off to target two special birds of this region. Almost instantaneously a Short-billed Canastero began calling and eventually perched up, showing off its pretty normal appearance. In a nearby shrub a single Red-Crested Finch was nice to see, especially in direct contrast with the Black-crested Finches we’d seen minutes earlier. When leaving Moldes we saw our only Burrowing Parakeets of the tour, preening on a hydro line. Heading northwest a brief visit to some grasslands added three new birds for the trip:  Stripe-capped and Grassland Sparrows and Black-and-chestnut Warbling-Finch. We traveled through the humid Escoipe Canyon and popped out above the Bishop’s Slope amongst the clouds. Scouring the cliffside vegetation and watered valleys in this area yielded Rufous-sided Warbling-Finch, Maquis Canastero, and hard-to-find Rufous-bellied Mountain Tanager, one of which was found in a much easier to navigate location for this range-restricted species. Further up the slope we successfully coerced an Andean Tinamou into the open for all to see. A pair of White-browed Chat-Tyrants at eye level was nice, and a flock of at least 20 Andean Condors lifting off all together was a welcome addition to our picnic lunch spot. Finally rising up and over the ridge, we found ourselves in the middle of the stark Los Cardones National Park with its huge cactuses. The grassy hillsides near the top gave us good views of Puna Canastero next to the van. The high elevation flat area in the park hosted over a dozen Tawny-throated Dotterels and a likely nesting pair of Least Seedsnipe, which closed out the three possible Seedsnipes on this tour! The creosote-laden landscape attracted a couple smart endemic Argentinian birds. A foraging White-throated Cachalote ‘sang’ while perched on its nest and the chirping melody of the Sandy Gallito attracted our attention and, after some searching, was finally seen well scurrying across the ground. The next morning as we made our way back along the same route we were rewarded with even more specialties. A fleeting brown bird turned out to be the endemic Steinbach’s Canastero, a new bird for the tour! While navigating the final stretch of road in its habitat, an Elegant Crested Tinamou shot across the road like an overstretched chicken. On our last stop on the Bishop’s Slope we scored with a duo of exciting birds. We tracked down a pair of Tucuman Mountain Finches that finally decided to come out in the open. A much more active Tufted Tit-Tyrant was much more in the open, but certainly more difficult to see given its tiny size. In our last minutes before heading to the airport the aerial flight display of White-browed Meadowlark was seen, albeit at a distance.

For a change of pace we were off to Puerto Iguazú getting us right into the middle of some southeast Brazilian rainforest habitat. A quick outing before dinner produced some new birds like our first Pale-breasted Thrushes, male and female Crested Becards, whistling Short-tailed Nighthawks, and the star of the show: a Common Potoo that repeatedly sallied to and from the same perch for 15 minutes. We traveled east of Iguazú to some foothills that gave us a chance at many birds not normally encountered near the falls. The lush forests of the Urugua-i Provincial Park were hopping with activity, including pairs of both Golden-crowned and Riverbank Warblers foraging in the river tangles. Eventually a Sharp-tailed Streamcreeper made an appearance near its previously- scouted nest. All of a sudden our main target here, the endangered Black-fronted Piping Guan, flew right in front of us and was comfortable enough for all of us to approach closely for lots of souvenir shots!

At another nearby reserve we took a break with delicious home-baked chicken and salads for lunch. Just outside the lodge we enjoyed watching Violet-capped Woodnymphs, Gray-fronted Doves and Ruby-crowned Tanagers come to the feeding station. Along the trails here, another new bird for the overall trip list was observed when a male Black-throated Grosbeak sat for scope views while singing its heart out. A very vibrant Bertoni’s Antbird was a challenge to see in the dense bamboo stands, but slightly easier to spot was the Ochre-collared Piculet perched in the sunlight. Other species tough to see through bamboo were Greenish Schiffornis, White-browed Warbler, Drab-breasted Pygmy-Tyrant, and Chestnut-headed Tanagers. Flycatchers were abundant here and we added Yellow Tyrannulet, Gray and Greenish Elaenias, Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Yellow-olive Flycatcher, and a single diminutive Eared Pygmy-Tyrant. This area also showcased some really showy birds. We saw males of both Surucua and Black-throated Trogons sitting still and calling loudly to mates. On our way back to home base we stopped by a remnant patch of Araucaria forest and were able to add even more birds in this unique habitat. They included the sizeable Lineated Woodpecker and, at the other end of the size spectrum, the Araucaria Tit-Spinetail, endemic to these odd tree forms.

Iguazú Falls proved once again to be one of the most amazing geologic spectacles on earth. Not only were there new birds all over the place, but being able to walk amongst these nearly 300-foot tall waterfalls was truly unforgettable. Our first morning, we were greeted at daybreak by a colorful Red-breasted Toucan perched on an open snag, a single Rufous-capped Motmot, chortling Swallow Tanagers, and Plain-winged Woodcreeper. The Macuco Trail didn’t disappoint this year. White-bearded, Swallow-tailed and Band-tailed Manakins came in to investigate us as did Black-goggled Tanagers, Fuscous Flycatcher, Red-crowned Ant-Tanagers, and Green-winged Saltator. It’s also always a treat to see the Great Dusky Swifts plunge behind the raging waterfalls and somehow find their nests every time. The high wind gusts, lightning, pelting rain and hail couldn’t keep us from getting all the way out to the Devil’s Throat. We were eventually rewarded with views of this iconic spot all to ourselves and we sat in awe as hundreds of these swifts wheeled through the mist created by the raging torrent. In the afternoon we dried out at a wonderful hummingbird garden that netted us several Gilded Hummingbirds, Versicolored Emeralds, Black-throated Mangos, and singles of Black Jacobin and the long-trained bright blue Swallow-tailed Hummingbird.

Even on our last morning new birds kept stacking up as we walked the roads near our lodge set amidst a 600-hectare tract of rainforest. As the group convened, a few Chestnut-eared Aracaris perched briefly overhead and Chestnut-vented Conebills and striking Guira Tanagers chipped from the tallest trees. A pair of Rufous-winged Antwrens did not like the owl imitations, but neither did the Thrush-like Wrens, Blue-naped Chlorophonias, Blue Dacnis, or Social Flycatchers. A pair of Red-ruffed Fruitcrows gave us brief views, but the Rusty-margined Guans sat longer so we could check out their rufous feather edges. A feisty Rufous Gnateater shot in at one point flipping out its white brows repeatedly in protest. Not to be outdone, a family of Blonde-crested Woodpeckers entertained us all as they flew from snag to snag in search of food items.

This year’s tour proved to be a sensational route through many different habitats encompassing everything one could want from this region. In a country full of contrasts, new birds kept appearing around every corner. One never knows what they’ll run into while exploring this vast and varied land. The group this year was very mobile, keen spotters, and full of energy, all of which helped add to this year’s species total, the highest yet for this tour. I hope we’ll all be able revisit this country together at some point, perhaps in Patagonia on a future expedition to the amazing Southern Cone of South America. 

-          Jake Mohlmann

Created: 12 November 2019