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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary


Sunday 20 October to Wednesday 6 November 2024
with Paul Smith as leader
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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 this evening at our hotel in Asunción (see Note **, below). Participants traveling directly to Asunción should arrive no later than this evening.

Day 2: Following an early morning introductory meeting at our hotel, 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.

Days 3-4: 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 stunning. 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 Five”: Quebracho Crested-Tinamou, 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, Olive-crowned Crescentchest, 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, as well as Tropical Screech-Owl, Striped Owl and Chaco Pygmy Owl.

Mammals are bolder and more visible in the Chaco than anywhere else in Paraguay, and night drives may produce anything from armadillos, foxes 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.

Day 5: We have an early departure to travel east through the Humid Chaco and cross the river to the Cerrados of Concepción. En route we will stop for Rufous-fronted Thornbird and Common Tody Flycatcher and maybe Pale Titi monkeys in the Humid Chaco forests. North of Concepción and we begin to pick up our first Cerrado specialities, White-rumped Monjita, Black-throated Saltator, Peach-fronted Parakeet are all straightforward and with a bit of luck we may stumble across a Pied Lapwing or a Giant Anteater along the way. Tall forests in this area may hold Grey-headed Tanager, Orange-winged Amazon and the soon to be split nominate subspecies of Olivaceous Woodcreeper. Night at Estancia Arrecife.

Day 6:  Estancia Arrecife is famous for its parrots, and we have two very large and colourful reasons for spending time here – Red and Green and Hyacinth Macaws, which breed here. Other parakeets include Monk, Nanday, Blue-crowned and Maroon-bellied. Once we have our megaticks in the bag we will explore the gallery forests on the Apa River where there is a chance of Amazonian Motmot, Blue-crowned Trogon and Bare-faced Currassow, before heading back to Concepción for a fancy dinner. Night in Concepción.

Days 7-8: We’ll continue on to Laguna Blanca, where we’ll be looking for more 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), Thrush-like Wren, White-eared Puffbird, 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. 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. Nights in Santa Rosa de Aguaray.

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. We should arrive just after lunch. 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: We head east to bird in a tiny but very special enclave of forest on the Paraná River adjacent to the town of Salto de Guairá. It doesn´t look like much, but this tiny blob of trees is home to five species that to date have not been recorded anywhere else in Paraguay – White-wedged Piculet, Large-billed Antwren, Ashy-headed Greenlet, Rusty-backed Spinetail and Buff-breasted Wren Night. In addition to these we’ll be hoping for Saffron-billed Sparrow, Orange-backed Troupial, Rusty-backed Antwren and Masked Tityra, as well as Yellowish Pipit on the river beaches. Night in Salto de Guairá.

Day 13: Transferring from the north of the country to the south, along the way we will stop at Salto del Monday to twitch the Great Dusky Swifts that call the waterfall home and hopefully arrive in time to see the Hooded Capuchins coming to roost close to our accommodation, serenaded by circling Short-tailed Nighthawks. Night at San Rafael National Park.

Days 14-15: 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. Night birding in the forest may well deliver us Rusty-banded and Tawny-browed Owl. 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, Strange-tailed Tyrant, 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, another weird mega. 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, which will be new for the tour such as Orange-headed Tanager, Green-backed Becard and Crimson-crested Woodpecker. After picking up Grey-headed Gulls on the river and undoubtedly coming across Azara’s Agouti and Black-and-gold Howler Monkeys, we’ll return to the hotel for a late breakfast before driving back to Asunción. Night in Asunción.

Day 18: We’ll make a brief visit to 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, Spotted Rail, Azure Gallinule, and Long-tailed Reedfinch. The tour concludes after lunch with flights home.

Updated: 02 May 2024


  • 2024 Tour Price : $6,250
  • Single Occupancy Supplement : $520


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Questions? Tour Manager: Stephanie Schaefer. 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.

**Because most flights arrive in Asunción late at night, we include that night’s lodging as Day 1 of the tour. Your meals and other tour services are included beginning with the official start of the tour on Day 2.


Maximum group size 7 with one leader or 10 with two leaders. 

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