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WINGS Birding Tours – Narrative


2018 Narrative

After the weather did its best to disrupt the incoming flights, we eventually all met up at Asuncion Airport and headed off towards Laguna Capitan mid-morning. En route several well-timed stops produced a multitude of fantastic sights and sounds. The first of which was a reed-frilled ditch where a Spotted Rail gave great close views, followed by Rufous-sided Crake and a single Warbling Doradito. Nearby Scarlet-headed Blackbirds, each replete with an almost fluorescent head, showed well on the reed tops as did Unicolored and Chestnut-capped Blackbirds. Roadside birds to which we would become accustomed over the coming days included Guira Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Roadside Hawk and a wealth of ducks, egrets, herons, storks and ibises.

Reaching our lunch stop at Pira Hu produced a host of quality new birds in a flooded field with both Plumbeous and Buff-necked Ibis joined by Southern Screamer, a couple of Solitary Sandpipers, Giant Wood Rail and several Wattled Jacanas. Nearby in the Eucalyptus trees, a pair of Guira Cuckoos were busy collecting nesting material and a male White Monjita showed well. Creamy-bellied Thrushes were on the football pitch nearby and both Great Kiskadees and Tropical Kingbirds adorned bushes, trees, and roadside wires.

Parakeets present here included Nanday (Black-hooded), White-eyed, and Blue-crowned, whilst other species present and vying for our attention were Red-crested Cardinal, Chopi Blackbird and Chalk-browed Mockingbird.

Just after lunch we enjoyed a huge slice of luck as a superb Giant Anteater was found ambling along a ditch right next to the road. We had several minutes of views before this huge mammal vanished into the thick thornscrub - quite incredible how an animal 6-7 feet in length could disappear right under our noses, but it did, so how lucky were we?

We arrived at Laguna Capitan in the early evening and were treated to a wonderful Spaghetti Bolognese prepared and cooked by Franci. The following morning we set off for a pre-breakfast walk. The weather was comfortably cool and bird activity was plentiful. The first pool we visited had a huge selection of herons, ibises and storks in addition to Ringed Teal, White-cheeked Pintail and White-faced Whistling Duck. Nearby several Vermillion Flycatchers were observed flycatching from low fences, their bright red plumage seemingly even brighter on this overcast morning. Walking through dry scrub produced an obliging Checkered Woodpecker and our first Great Antshrike, replete with its piercing red eyes. A little further along came our first prolonged views of Many-coloured Chaco Finch, and also a surprise in the form of a female Hudson’s Black Tyrant, similar in appearance to Cinereous Tyrant, this is a Bolivian migrant only ever seen in ones and twos, so an added bonus for us.

One of our target species here was the Crested Gallito, a large and noisy but often shy bird of the dry chaco. We soon located a male singing from some low scrubby bushes, but this was one stubborn individual who showed for a few seconds at a time, constantly changing its position and constantly eluding our attention, and our considerable endeavours to see the whole bird. A very frustrating few minutes resulted in several adequate views, but on the whole, the bird was definitely not in a cooperative mood!

Distracting us momentarily from the Gallito was a wonderful Lowland Tapir which ran across the mud only a few feet from where we were standing. This area also produced several Collared Plovers, a few flights of Chilean Flamingoes and several small flocks of Coscoraba Swan. Nearby in the thick thorn scrub, a pair of Stripe-backed Antbirds showed well along with Red Crested Finch, Southern Scrub Flycatcher and Straneck’s Tyrannulet. The day produced many more sights and sounds than we could have expected after such a cool and damp start, and our total at the end of the day was over 120 species.

The wetlands in the Loma Plata area were very productive with lots of quality birds seen. The close views afforded by the roadside pools allowed us to study White-winged and Red-fronted Coots, Silver Teal showed very well, as did Yellowish Pipit. Huge Southern Screamers looked quite ungainly and totally out of place in the tops of trees. Nearby lakes held single Red Shoveler and Silvery Grebe, as well as small flocks of Brazilian Teal, White-cheeked Pintail and Cinnamon Teal. Wader passage was evident with both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, American Golden Plover, numerous Solitary Sandpipers, Stilt and White-rumped Sandpipers, and a handful of Wilson’s Phalaropes at various sites.

Travelling north towards the Bolivian border took us to the dry thorn scrub and chaco of Enciso National Park. Roadside birds included huge colonies of Monk Parakeets, Turquoise-fronted Amazons, Crested Hornero, Lark-like Brushrunner and the huge ostrich-like Greater Rhea. One of the target species here is Black-legged Seriema, and at least 7 were noted feeding under the shade of roadside trees and bushes as we pushed our way further north along the trans-chaco highway.

As if they had been ordered to perch there, a pair of the beautiful Chaco Owl sat motionless in trees adjacent to our accommodation within the national park – which meant one of the chaco target species was seen well on arrival, and this called for a celebration. Franci excelled himself by providing us with a wonderful barbeque, and so we sat, ate, and chatted under the stars.

Our night drive through the dry chaco at Enciso produced great views of Scissor-tailed Nightjar and a single Little Nightjar. The latter also showed early the following morning as did a Tapir as it crossed the trans-chaco road, along with several Chaco Mara. This morning also produced no less than 6 Black-legged Seriemas and a Brushland Tinamou. Now familiar birds, Scimitar-billed Woodcreeper, Brown Cachalote and Lark-like Brushrunner were noted in good numbers around the sandy, and often dusty, habitat found in Enciso N.P.

Heading onwards, our next destination was a site south of Asuncion. Arroyo y Esteros is divided by a road with a shallow wetland on one side and vast sprawling grassland on the other, which in turn holds a huge diversity of birdlife, including some very sought-after species. The first of which, the bizarre Strange-tailed Tyrant showed well, albeit a bit distant. This was closely followed by Yellow-rumped Marshbird, White-browed Blackbird and a very obliging Striped Cuckoo. Lesser Grass Finch and Long-tailed Reed-finch gave us great views whilst Pale-breasted Spinetail and Bran-colored Flycatchers were located in roadside bushes. White-headed Marsh Tyrants were noted perched on the tops of reeds where the odd Yellow-browed Tyrant was also seen. The pools held many waterbirds with good numbers of White-faced and Bare-faced Ibis, lots of Limpkins and just as with the other wetlands on the tour, more Southern Screamers.

The Atlantic Forest at Mbaracayu is a great place to go birding, and on our first afternoon there we hit the jackpot with superb views of Helmeted Woodpecker, White-eared Puffbird, Variegated Flycatcher and a couple of Bat Falcons. Rufous-capped Motmot bubbled away in the background whilst Black-crowned Tityra and Crested Becard showed well, along with four Chestnut-eared Aracari, and a clanging Bare-throated Bellbird along the river.

We explored this area again the following morning with great views of the Bellbird, as well as Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, Riverbank Warbler and both Blonde-crested and Robust Woodpeckers, although to our surprise the Helmeted Woodpecker was nowhere to be found. This is not entirely surprising as they do have large territories, so we were fortunate indeed to have enjoyed such great views of one the previous afternoon.

News of a storm and impending flash-flooding had us changing the itinerary in order to get off the mainly dirt roads of Mbaracayu and onto tarmac roads, if nothing else to enable us to keep on travelling east. The rain that night was torrential, and this reinforced our decision to bail out when we did. Our new destination therefore became a visit to the spectacular Salto de Monday waterfalls near Cuidad del Este. On arrival the rain had started to ease and flocks of large and impressive Great Dusky Swifts wheeled overhead together with a group of the much smaller Sick’s Swift. Also here were Bananaquit, Black-throated Mango and Gilded Sapphire Hummingbirds, and a flyover adult Short-tailed Hawk.

Our visit to the Laguna Blanca area produced the two open-country tanagers, namely White-rumped and White-banded, as well as Black-throated Saltator, Curl-crested Jay and great views of a male Cock-tailed Tyrant, beautifully backlit in the late afternoon sun. Later in the day a Bearded Tachuri showed well albeit briefly.

The evening saw us searching high and low for White-winged Nightjar, which was unusually elusive, but did show itself to a few members of the group after a lot of searching long into the night. The other special nightjar of the tour was the total opposite, showing down to just a few feet, the superb Sickle-winged Nightjar showed so well the rounded sickle-shaped wings could easily be observed.

San Rafael is an oasis and a fragment of Atlantic forest set in hundreds of acres of soy and arable farmland. The birds here are very special and our 4-night stay produced a multitude of wonderful sights and sounds. None more so than the duetting Pavonine and Pheasant Cuckoos. The obliging Barred Forest-falcon, entertaining Ringed Antpipit, gaudy Guira Tanagers and a whole host of woodcreepers, antbirds and flycatchers. Out on the Chachi trail we enjoyed great views of Yellow Tyrannulet, Ultramarine Grosbeak of the sterea form (a potential split), Rusty-breasted Nunlet and White-rimmed Warbler, whilst in the bamboo Dusky-tailed Antbird, Chestnut-headed Tanager and the excellent Blackish Blue Seedeater showed well. Working our way further along the trail produced a calling Sharpbill, Wing-barred Piprites, Greenish Schiffornis, and Grey-hooded Flycatcher. Several Swallow-tailed Kites drifted over the forest early morning whilst a look over some weedy grasslands produced a small flock of Hooded Siskins, Swainson’s Flycatcher and Rusty-collared Seedeater. In the distance a single White-tailed Kite also shared the weedy grasslands with a male Long-winged Harrier.

The fruiting trees in the grounds are a magnet for toucans. During our stay we enjoyed daily close-up views of at least four Red-breasted Toucans, along with Chestnut-eared Aracari, and both Spot-billed and Saffron Toucanets. Most mornings a superb Red-ruffed Fruitcrow also joined them in the palm tree right next to the dining room, which made for exciting viewing during breakfast and lunch.

Exploring the dry and desert-like arable fields in the southeast produced quite a few new birds. Here we enjoyed watching several seedeaters including White-bellied and Tawny-bellied. Chimango Caracaras were numerous as were Campo Flicker and White Monjita, dotted along the fenceposts.

Moving further south towards the Argentinian border we visited an area of humid gallery forest which was very productive with great views of Saffron-billed Sparrow, Orange-headed Tanager and Little Woodpecker, followed by several Lineated Woodpeckers and a wonderful Cream-backed Woodpecker. Nearby a Fuscous Flycatcher obliging came into view along a small stream and after leading us a merry dance, a male Green-backed Becard came in and showed well in the tree-tops. Elegant Long-winged Harriers quartered the grasslands which also held Burrowing Owl, Grassland Yellow-finch and Spotted Nothura.

Returning to Asuncion, we visited Guasu State Park on our final morning. Even with an impressive 390 species already under our belts we managed to pick up four new birds for the trip. The first of which, Blue-winged Parrotlet, was doing a great job hiding behind bright green leaves! Working our way along to the river crossing we saw both Amazon and Green Kingfishers as well as Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers feeding at the edge of the fast-flowing water. Numerous gangs of Guira Cuckoos strutted their stuff, and a single Bank Swallow passed overhead together with small flocks of Barn Swallows - this was migration in progress.

As we came to the end of our tour we reflected on our experiences of the country and what had been, on the whole, a very productive and interesting tour. Our total of 394 birds was accompanied by numerous mammals, amphibians, reptiles and invertebrates. We’d travelled around 2500 miles and visited a myriad of habitats.

Once again we were met by so many friendly faces, and although we were in areas where the local facilities are basic, the hard work put in by Paul Smith, Franci, and our ground crew, made our trip incredibly comfortable. Not only was Paul a fantastic and enthusiastic local guide, but his and Franci’s driving was exemplary.

I’d like to thank all the tour participants for their good humour and patience whilst we sorted out a few logistical issues, and for their great company whilst travelling.

At the end of the tour, Stu asked the group to nominate their bird of the trip. With so many iconic and often spectacular species, this was not an easy ask. 18 species received votes, but the top 5 species were as follows:

1. Helmeted Woodpecker

2. Chaco Owl

3. Tied between Hudson’s Black Tyrant, Red-fronted Coot, and White-winged Nightjar.

- Stu Elsom

Created: 07 November 2018