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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Cruise: Antarctic Peninsula and Around Cape Horn

Tuesday 21 January to Thursday 6 February 2020
Pre-tour to Ceibas & IguazĂș Falls from Thursday 16 January
Post-tour to Santiago Area to Saturday 8 February
with Steve Howell and Luke Seitz as leaders

Price Pending

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Antarctic Peninsula scenery Photo: Fabrice Schmitt

Have you dreamed of taking an extended pelagic trip around the tip of southern South America and cruising off the Antarctic Peninsula, traveling to such legendary places as Cape Horn, the Beagle Channel, the Strait of Magellan, and the Falkland Islands, seeing in the process 30 or more species of tubenoses, 8 species of albatross, 4 species of penguin, and 3 species of diving-petrels, among others? If so, you may not have imagined that this can be done brilliantly on a Princess cruise ship which is of course both comfortable and well-appointed, but it’s also 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 Patagonian steppe around Punta Arenas, penguin colonies on the Falklands, and the wetlands near Montevideo. During our landings we’ll look for specialties such as Magellanic Plover near Punta Arenas; Magellanic Woodpecker near Ushuaia; King Penguin, Falkland Steamer-Duck, and Ruddy-headed Goose on the Falklands; and Giant Wood-Rail and White-throated Hummingbird near Montevideo.

The five-day pre-tour extension in Argentina will sample the birds of Ceibas area before continuing on to spectacular Iguazú Falls and its semi-tropical birdlife. The short post-tour extension around Santiago offers birding in both the High Andes and coastal wetlands. We’ll have good chance of seeing seven of the twelve species endemic to Chile plus the elegantly named Diademed Sandpiper Plover, all in remarkably beautiful natural settings.

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: 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 3: 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 4: 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. A few stops along the way will add more new species to our already impressive list. In the late afternoon we’ll transfer back to the airport for our flight back to Buenos Aires. Night in Buenos Aires.

Day 5: 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 6: If boarding times allow, we may spend the early morning birding at the nearby Costanera Sur Reserve, close to the harbor. Species possible in even a short visit include Southern Screamer, Giant Wood-rail, Gilded Sapphire, Checkered Woodpecker, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Masked Gnatcatcher, Red-crested and Yellow-billed Cardinals, and Black-and-rufous Warbling-Finch.

Cruise Itinerary:

Day 1 (Day 6 of the extension): The cruise begins today with boarding the ship in Buenos Aires, where we will become acquainted with our new home for the next two weeks. Depending on the schedule of ship procedures (such as emergency drills) we will plan a group meeting on the bow at 4 pm. The ship is scheduled to sail in late afternoon for Montevideo, Uruguay, a short distance across the La Plata River. 

Day 2: We’ll spend all day in Montevideo’s surroundings, where Monk Parakeet, Rufous Hornero, and Picazuro Pigeon are common. Visiting some nearby wetlands, we’ll scan for shorebirds and gulls we have not yet seen, and in the reedbeds and shrubs we’ll look for Rufous-sided Crake, Great Pampa-finch, Firewood-gatherer, and the beautiful Spectacled Tyrant and Freckle-breasted Thornbird. In more shrubby habitat, we have good chance of finding Green-barred Woodpecker, White-crested Tyrannulet, Short-billed Elaenia, White-throated Hummingbird, and with some luck even a Rufous-capped Antshrike.

Days 3-4: We’ll have two full days at sea en route to the Falkland Islands, including some waters we have yet to visit on regular Cape Horn cruises, waters that promise to be very interesting for seabirds. We’ll find our first tubenoses, including Yellow-nosed, Black-browed, and Southern Royal Albatrosses, White-chinned Petrel, Great Shearwater, and perhaps Gray-backed Storm-Petrel, as well as wintering Long-tailed Jaegers from the tundra and perhaps some Southern Right Whales. The handsome Soft-plumaged Petrel should be fairly common, and other possibilities in this stretch include Cape Verde Shearwater, Atlantic Petrel, and perhaps the much sought-after Spectacled Petrel or even a Sooty Albatross.

Day 5: Today we’ll spend visiting in the Falklands, arriving off the capital Stanley in early morning. Tenders (the ships’ lifeboats) take us ashore, where we’ll meet or drivers and head off to Volunteer Point. It is 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 (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 towards the Antarctic Peninsula, and we’ll want to be outside looking for albatrosses, petrels, whales, and dolphins as we leave this outpost of the UK.

Days 6-7: Again taking a route through waters we’ve not previously visited on the regular Cape Horn Cruises, we’ll have 1–2 days at sea in the South Atlantic, heading towards the Antarctic Peninsula. We’ll carefully check the common Black-browed Albatrosses for the less numerous Grey-headed Albatross, and we should see Snowy Wandering and Southern Royal Albatrosses, with a slim chance of Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. Small seabirds will also be interesting, including Slender-billed and Antarctic Prions, Black-bellied Storm-petrel, and perhaps Common Diving-Petrel.

Days 8-10: These days are described in the Princess literature as “Antarctic Peninsula (Scenic Cruising)” and where we go and what we see will depend on ice conditions, which are notoriously unpredictable. There will no opportunity to land on the Antarctic continent, and we suspect the captain will be (understandably and commendably) wary of approaching too close to areas with too much ice. Nonetheless, this should be a unique opportunity to experience some of the “Great White South” and at a fraction of the cost of other trips to this part of the World. Given that there will be almost 24 hours of ‘birding light’ at this season, we’ll tailor our birding times to the ship’s itinerary, but there aren’t too many bird species this far south. We recommend bringing some good books or other projects that may help pass the time, although it must be said that staring at icebergs is a pretty nice way to pass the time!

Birds around the Antarctic Peninsula are also dependent on ice conditions, and the often calm seas and absence of open ocean mean that few larger tubenoses are found here. We expect to see Chinstrap and perhaps Adelie Penguins, South Polar and Brown Skuas, Wilson’s Storm-petrels, Antarctic Fulmar, and perhaps with luck the ethereal Snow Petrel. There is a good chance of Humpback Whales and Antarctic Minke Whales, and we’ll be on the lookout for pods of Killer Whales, which roam these waters. The ice floes may also host some Weddell Seals and perhaps a Leopard Seal or two. And of course we could be incredibly lucky and come across something unexpected, but that would be, well, unexpected. The last day we will be heading back north across the notorious Drake Passage, but with luck and on ship this size we may not even notice it!

Day 11: As we approach the Cape Horn archipelago, Black-browed Albatrosses and Sooty Shearwaters will probably be swarming around us, and weather permitting we will round the cape and be close enough to see the famous albatross monument that marks this place of history and legend. From Cape Horn we will then enter the Beagle Channel and continue toward Ushuaia, Argentina.

Day 12: We’ll arrive early in the morning in Ushuaia (the southernmost town in the world), where we’ll spend much of our time in the Tierra del Fuego National Park, with its fantastic Nothofagus forest and scenic lakes. Birds here include Great Grebe, Flying and Flightless Steamer-Ducks, White-throated Caracara, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Thorn-tailed Raydito, Patagonian Sierra-finch, Austral Parakeet, and of course the impressive Magellanic Woodpecker, although we are by no means guaranteed of finding this iconic bird. The landscapes surrounding Ushuaia are stunning, although we’ll also visit the garbage dump, looking for White-throated Caracara, as well as coastal areas that host Kelp Goose and 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 13: We’ll have a full day to explore the Patagonian steppe around Punta Arenas, where our main target will be the bubblegum-pink-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. Lakes and wetlands are home to several waterfowl species including Crested Duck, Yellow-billed Pintail, Red Shoveler, and the odd Coscoroba Swan, along with perhaps some Chilean Flamingos or Silvery Grebes.

Days 14-16: Our first morning we’ll wake up near the exit of the Strait of Magellan and sail into the open ocean, for three days of exciting seabirding as we transition from the Southern Ocean into the Humboldt Current, arguably the richest seabird region in the world. Up to eight albatross species are possible in one day! We’ll leave behind Slender-billed Prions and Snowy Wandering Albatross, start to see gadfly (or Pterodroma) petrels, and transition from Southern to Northern Royal Albatrosses. Each day will see subtle changes, as Antipodes Wandering Albatross appear and Salvin’s Albatross becomes commoner than Black-browed. We have found the poorly known Stejneger’s Petrel to be regular in these waters at this season, and with luck we’ll also see Juan Fernandez and De Filippi’s Petrels—all three of these species breed only on Chile’s far offshore islands. Pink-footed Shearwaters will also appear, and we should find a few Westland Petrels among the common White-chinned Petrels. We won’t be visiting Puerto Montt on this itinerary, so we’ll miss the core area for the enigmatic Pincoya Storm-petrel, but we have seen it out at sea once, so who knows. Other slim possibilities include Chatham Albatross and Subantarctic [Little] Shearwater. Marine mammals can also be interesting on this stretch; Fin Whales and Humpbacks are the most common species, but we have also seen Sperm Whale, Blue Whale, and once a pod of Southern Rightwhale Dolphins.

Day 17: We’ll disembark in the port of San Antonio, near Santiago, Chile, in time to catch international flights home, 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 (Day 17 of cruise): 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 often have excellent views of condors. The rare Creamy-rumped Miner and Black-fronted Ground-tyrant can also be found here.

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

Updated: 24 August 2018


  • 2020 Tour Price Not Yet Known
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* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

* The cruise price noted above covers only the four land excursions during the cruise plus the leaders’ time on-board ship. It does not include your berth on the Coral Princess (2020) which must be booked directly with Princess Cruises. Details on booking space with both WINGS and Princess Cruises can be found here.

Maximum group size 14 plus leaders.