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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 and 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 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, 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 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 five-day pre-tour extension in Argentina will sample the birds of the 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 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.

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 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.

Pre-tour Extension Itinerary:

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 White Woodpecker, Thrush-like Wren, and the first Green-headed Tanagers. Later 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 departure early for the Iguazú National Park. 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 day warms, we’ll head to Iguazú Falls, where we’ll have lunch. We’ll spend the rest of the afternoon marveling at the great spectacle (and appreciating the refreshing spray) of the falls but also keeping an eye out for the wildlife usually seen here, such as South American Coati and Black-and-white Tegu. Night in Iguazú.

Day 4: We’ll leave very early to arrive at Uruguaí Provincial Park at dawn for a picnic breakfast and a search for the rare Black-fronted Piping-Guan.  We’ll spend the rest of the morning on the trail system, where sighting possibilities include 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, and Chestnut-headed Tanager, among many others.

We’ll drive back to our hotel for lunch, stopping for a stakeout for Araucaria Tit-Spinetail, and in late afternoon we’ll head to the airport for our flight back to Buenos Aires. Night in Buenos Aires.

Day 5: We’ll spend the morning near Ceibas, birding a variety of habitats, especially the wetlands and Chaco scrubland. In this bird-rich area more than 100 species are often seen in a single day, including such birds as Giant Wood-Rail, Southern Screamer, Long-winged Harrier, White-fronted Woodpecker, Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper, Lark-like Brushrunner, Chotoy Spinetail, White Monjita, and Red-crested Cardinal. Birding will be easy in this pampa-like open to semi-open habitat, and we’re certain to have some outstanding photo opportunities. We’ll take our lunch in a restaurant on the way back to Buenos Aires, where we’ll arrive in the afternoon. Night in Buenos Aires.

Day 6 (Day 1 of the Cruise): If the cruise ship boarding time allows, we may spend the early morning birding at Costanera Sur Reserve, close to the harbor. Species that are possible to see in even a short visit include Southern Gilded Sapphire, Checkered Woodpecker, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Masked Gnatcatcher, Yellow-billed Cardinal, and Black-and-rufous Warbling-Finch.

Cruise Itinerary:

Day 1 (Day 6 of the Pre-tour Extension): The cruise begins with boarding our ship in Buenos Aires, 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 4:00 p.m. 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. 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, Firewood-gatherer, 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 our regular Cape Horn cruises. 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 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 5: 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 Antarctic Peninsula, and we’ll want to be on deck looking for albatrosses, petrels, whales, and dolphins as we leave this British Overseas Territory.

Days 6-7: We’re again taking a route through waters we’ve not previously visited on our regular Cape Horn cruises, as we head towards the Antarctic Peninsula. We’ll have one to two days at sea in the South Atlantic, where we’ll 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 spotting the 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 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 sunlight each day, you’ll have a chance to catch up on your bird notes and pen a card home.

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. The last day we’ll be heading back north across the notorious Drake Passage, but hopefully 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 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. From Cape Horn we’ll 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 most 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 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 red-billed Dolphin Gull. The ship departs Ushuaia in the afternoon, sailing into the Beagle Channel towards the Chilean town of Punta Arenas. 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 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, as well as Chilean Flamingos and Silvery Grebes.

Days 14-16: We’ll wake up near the exit of the Strait of Magellan and sail into the open ocean for three days of excellent seabirding as we transition from the Southern Ocean into the Humboldt Current, arguably the richest seabird region in the world, where it is possible to see up to eight albatross species 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 we will see subtle changes, as Antipodes Wandering Albatross appear and Salvin’s Albatross become more common than Black-browed. We have found the lesser-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 will also appear, and we should find a few Westland Petrels among the common White-chinned Petrels. Other slim possibilities include Chatham Albatross and Subantarctic [Little] Shearwater. Marine mammals can also be interesting on this stretch of ocean; Fin whales and Humpbacks are the most common species, but we have also seen Sperm whale, Blue whale, and we once spotted a pod of Southern Rightwhale dolphins.

Day 17 (Day 1 of the Post-tour Extension): We’ll disembark in the port of San Antonio near Santiago, Chile, this morning in time to catch international flights home or join the three-day Santiago area tour extension described below.

Post-tour Extension: Santiago, Chile

The area around Santiago offers superb birding in varied habitats, from the spectacular scenery of the majestic High Andes to the extensive coastal wetlands and the dry scrublands in between. We’ll make a special effort to search out the 12 Chilean endemics found around Santiago, and we should have a good chance of seeing seven of them: Chilean Tinamou, Dusky and White-throated Tapaculo, Moustached Turca, Crag Chilia, Dusky-tailed Canastero and Chilean Mockingbird.

Day 1 (Day 17 of the Cruise): The post-cruise extension begins this morning in San Antonio. We’ll leave the ship as early as possible, but our schedule for the day will depend on our disembarking procedure and timing. After meeting our driver at the San Antonio harbor, we’ll 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’ll visit scrublands, where we will have a chance to find our first Chilean endemics, such as Chilean Mockingbird, White-throated Tapaculo or Dusky-tailed Canastero. We’ll have lunch at a restaurant overlooking 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, which 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 (8,000 to 9,000 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 also see Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Greater Yellow-finch, Rufous-banded Miner, White-sided Hillstar, and White-browed Ground-tyrant, and we have a chance for sighting 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 8,250 feet. Our route is particularly well chosen for sighting 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 will have good possibilities of seeing a few of these giants during our picnic lunch near Farellones. After lunch we’ll 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 5:00 p.m. at the hotel near the Santiago airport.

Updated: 25 September 2018

Prices

  • 2020 Tour Price Not Yet Known :
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Notes

* 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.