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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Cruise: Antarctic Peninsula and Around Cape Horn

Friday 20 January to Sunday 5 February 2023
Pre-tour to Santiago Area from Tuesday 17 January
Post-tour to Ceibas and IguazĂș Falls to Thursday 9 February
with Steve Howell and Gavin Bieber as leaders
featured image

Antarctic Peninsula scenery Photo: Steve Howell

Have you dreamed of taking an extended pelagic trip around the southern tip of 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 and seeing in the process 30 or more species of tubenoses, 8 species of albatross, and 5 species of penguin 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 and is also stable enough to permit telescope use even in these turbulent waters. We believe that this cruise offers the best access to a unique and memorable seabirding experience in South America and probably one of the best in the world. 

Now that we have your attention, we should also say that, in addition to spending six full days at sea, we’ll arrange land-based expeditions to such intriguing areas as the Patagonian steppe around Punta Arenas, the 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 short pre-tour extension around Santiago offers birding in both the High Andes and the coastal wetlands. We’ll have an excellent chance of seeing seven of the 12 species endemic to Chile, as well as the elegantly named Diademed Sandpiper Plover, all in their remarkably beautiful natural settings. The five-day post-tour extension in Argentina will experience the spectacular Iguazú Falls and its semi-tropical birdlife, plus sample the birds of the Ceibas area, north of Buenos Aires.

Pre-cruise optional extension around Santiago, Chile.

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 species: Chilean Tinamou, Dusky and White-throated Tapaculo, Moustached Turca, Crag Chilia, Dusky-tailed Canastero and Chilean Mockingbird.

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

Day 2: We’ll leave early for the coast near Santiago, where we’ll visit several interesting wetlands and scrublands. A short 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. After 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. On the rocky shore we may find a few Blackish Oystercatchers along with another of the possible endemics to be seen here, the Seaside Cinclodes. Before the drive back to Santiago, we will make a final stop at 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. Night in Santiago.

Day 3: 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 will 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-browed Ground-tyrant, and the rare Creamy-rumped Miner. The scenery here is stunning and is as much of a reason to make the journey as the birds. Night in Santiago.

Day 4: 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 elevation 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 chance of seeing a few of these giants during our picnic lunch near Farellones. After lunch we will transfer to Valparaiso to board the cruise ship. Night onboard the cruise ship.

Those not taking the pre-cruise extension will meet the group on the cruise ship at a time and place to be designated later.

Cruise Itinerary:

Day 1 (Day 4 of the Pre-tour Extension): We’ll meet onboard our ship this afternoon in San Antonio, Chile, where we’ll become acquainted with our new home for the next two weeks. Depending on the schedule of ship procedures (such as emergency drills) we’ll plan a group meeting on the bow at 6:00 p.m. The ship is scheduled to sail in late afternoon and we may have a chance for a little birding before sunset, likely our only chance for species such as Inca Tern and Peruvian Diving-Petrel.

Days 2-4: We’ll have three full days at sea as we transition between southern Humboldt Current and Southern Ocean avifaunas, where the rich mix of oceanic birds can include eight or more albatross species in one day! We have found the poorly known Stejneger’s Petrel to be a regular in these waters at this season, and we’ll also hope to see Juan Fernandez and De Filippi’s Petrels—all three of these species breed only on Chile’s far offshore islands. Pink-footed Shearwaters and Salvn’s Albatrosses should numerous in the north, and we may find a few Westland Petrels among the common White-chinned Petrels. Other slim possibilities include Chatham Albatross and Subantarctic Shearwater. As we move south we’ll transition from Antipodes Wandering Albatross and Northern Royal Albatross to Snowy Wandering and Southern Royal, and we may encounter some Slender-billed Prions before entering the sheltered waters of the Strait of Magellan. Marine mammals can also be interesting on this stretch of ocean; Fin and Humpbacks whales are the most common species, but we have also seen Sperm and Blue whales, and once a pod of Southern Rightwhale Dolphins.

Day 5: We’ll have a 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, as well as Chilean Flamingos and Silvery Grebes.

Day 6: We’ll arrive this morning in Ushuaia, the southernmost town in the world, where we’ll spend most of our time in the Tierra del Fuego National Park with its fantastic Nothofagus (“false beech”) 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 the impressive Magellanic Woodpecker—although we are by no means guaranteed of finding this superb bird. In contrast to the stunning landscapes surrounding Ushuaia, we’ll also visit the garbage dump, looking for White-throated Caracara, and the coastal areas that host Kelp Goose and Dolphin Gull. The ship departs Ushuaia in the evening , sailing into the Beagle Channel towards Cape Horn. As the sunlight 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 Terns and Chilean Skuas.

Day 7: Today we’ll leave the Beagle Channel waters to cruise around the Cape Horn archipelago before striking out south towards Antarctica. Black-browed Albatrosses and Sooty Shearwaters should be swarming around us, and, weather permitting, we’ll round the Cape and be close enough to see the famous albatross monument that marks this special place of history and legend. Most of the day will be spent out in the notorious Drake Passage, but hopefully on ship this size we may not even notice it! This may be our best chance for some oceanic birds of cooler subantarctic waters, such as Light-mantled Sooty Albatross, Blue Petrel, and Antarctic Prion, and we’ll be keeping an eye out for these and other species on our heading to the “Great White South.”

Days 8-10: These days are described in the Princess Cruises 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 ship’s captain will be wary of approaching too close to areas with too much ice. Nonetheless, we’ll experience some of the “Great White South” at a fraction of the cost of other trips to this part of the world. There aren’t too many bird species this far south, and, with the added feature of 24 hours of daylight each day, you’ll have a chance to catch up on your bird notes and pen a postcard home, although the stunning sights of glaciers and blue icebergs may keep you out on deck longer than you think!

Birding opportunities and birds around the Antarctic Peninsula are 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 Adelie Penguins, South Polar and Brown Skuas, Antarctic Tern, Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Antarctic Fulmar, and perhaps with luck the ethereal Snow Petrel. There is even a slim chance for Emperor Penguin and Antarctic Petrel, two sought-after icons of the region. We should see numerous Humpback 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.

Days 11-12: We’ll spend most of two days at sea heading towards the Falklands. Among the common Black-browed Albatrosses we should find the less numerous Grey-headed Albatross, and we should also see Snowy Wandering and Southern Royal Albatrosses, and with luck a Light-mantled Sooty Albatross. Smaller seabirds will also be interesting, including Slender-billed and Antarctic Prions, Pintado and Blue Petrels, Black-bellied Storm-Petrel, and perhaps Common Diving-Petrel.

Day 13: We’ll arrive in the Falklands’ capital, Stanley, in early morning. Tenders (the ship’s lifeboats) will take us ashore, where we’ll meet our drivers and head to Volunteer Point. It is a longish drive, partly on a fairly rough track, but we’ll be rewarded by a large mixed colony of King, Gentoo, and Magellanic Penguins. Other species seen here can 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 more 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 South American mainalnd, and we’ll want to be on deck looking for albatrosses, petrels, whales, and dolphins as we leave this British Overseas Territory.

Days 14-15: We’ll have two full days at sea en route to Uruguay, including some deeper offshore waters not visited on our regular Cape Horn cruises. This stretch offers the potential for some great pelagic birding, with numerous new species now that we’re in the South Atlantic. Tubenoses will include Yellow-nosed, Black-browed, and perhaps Tristan Wandering Albatrosses, White-chinned Petrel, Great and Manx Shearwaters, and perhaps Gray-backed Storm-Petrel, as well as wintering Long-tailed Jaegers from the northern tundra and perhaps a few Southern Right Whales. In addition, 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 16: We’ll spend the day in Montevideo’s surroundings, where Monk Parakeet, Rufous Hornero, and Picazuro Pigeon are common. At 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, 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. The ship is scheduled to sail in late afternoon for Buenos Aires, Argentina, a short distance across the La Plata River. 

Day 17 (Day 1 of the Post-tour Extension): The cruise ends this morning in Buenos Aires, in time to catch international flights home or join the five-day Ceibas and Iguazú Fallstour extension described below.

Post-tour Extension: Ceibas and Iguazú Falls, Argentina.

We’ll take advantage of being in Argentina by visiting the stunning Iguazú Falls. With a height of 200 to 270 feet, a width of 1.7 miles, and the sixth-greatest average annual flow of any waterfall in the world, Iguazú may be the most impressive falls in the Americas. It also happens to be a fantastic birding destination. In addition to spending a day at the Iguazú National Park enjoying both the falls and its birds, we will then explore the surrounding Iguazú area, which also presents excellent opportunities for spotting native birds.

The extension also includes a day of birding in the Ceibas area, which comprises an extremely birdy mix of pampas and Chaco habitat.

Day 18: The pre-cruise extension begins this morning in Buenos Aires. We’ll spend the whole morning 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 Woodpeckers, Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper, 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 lunch in a restaurant on the way back to Buenos Aires, where we will arrive in the afternoon. Night in Buenos Aires.

Day 19: In the morning we’ll fly from Buenos Aires to Iguazú. After lunch at our hotel we’ll bird the hotel grounds looking for White 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 20: 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 Yellow-fronted 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 21: 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, Southern Antpipit, White-shouldered Fire-eye, Ochre-breasted Foliage-gleaner, White-throated Spadebill, Swallow-tailed Manakin, Riverbank Warbler, Chestnut-headed Tanager, and so many more. We’ll drive back to our hotel for lunch, with a stop to look for Araucaria Tit-Spinetail. After a well-deserved break during the very hot hours of the day we’ll search the hotel surroundings again, where new species can still be found. Night in Iguazú.

Day 22: After some early birding near the hotel, we’ll transfer to the airport and fly back to Buenos Aires. The extension ends with transfers to the airport for flights home.

Created: 01 June 2021

Prices

  • 2023 Tour Price Not Yet Known
  • (2020 Cruise time and Land Excursions $3,150)

Notes

Questions? Tour Manager: Matt Brooks. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* 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 ship, which must be booked directly with Princess Cruises. Details on booking space with both WINGS and Princess Cruises can be found here.

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