A female Magellanic Woodpecker works the Nothofagus beech trees in Tierra del Fuego. Photo: David Fisher
Argentina contains a greater variety of habitats than any other South American country. Stretching from the sub-tropical forests around Iguazú Falls to the sub-Antarctic island of Tierra del Fuego, the landscapes are as varied as one could wish, and the birds are similarly diverse. Our tour starts in the pampas southeast of Buenos Aires, home to countless waterbirds and raptors, and moves south to explore the Valdez peninsula, quintessential Patagonia with dry stony plains covered in xerophytic bushes and dotted with tinamous and rheas, remote shingle beaches teeming with elephant seals and sea lions and colonies of seabirds. We’ll then visit Los Glaciares National Park to search the forests and steppes for birds ranging from seedsnipe to sierra-finches, and to marvel at the beauty of the Perito Moreno Glacier. Finally we’ll visit ‘the land of fire’, Tierra del Fuego, where we’ll look for Magellanic Woodpeckers in magnificent southern beech forests and sail down the Beagle Channel among albatrosses, penguins surrounded by snow-capped peaks.
Day 1: The tour begins at noon in Buenos Aires. After lunch we’ll visit the wetland reserve of Costanera Sur, established on reclaimed land very close to the city center. Depending on water levels, this reserve may hold a good selection of waterbirds, including White-tufted Grebe, Whistling Heron, Lake Duck, and sometimes the rather local Masked Duck. White-winged, Red-gartered, and Red-fronted Coots and Plumbeous Rails nest among the aquatic vegetation, and Monk Parakeets chatter in the surrounding trees. Night in Buenos Aires.
Day 2: This morning we’ll depart for San Clemente del Tuyu, a coastal resort southeast of Buenos Aires where we’ll spend two nights. Here we’ll explore many different habitats, including coastal, wetland, and pampas areas. Night in San Clemente.
Day 3: After an early morning visit to San Clemente harbour to look for the endangered Olrog’s Gull we’ll visit nearby Punta Rasa, an area of sand dunes and salt marshes rich in birds. On the sandy beaches and mudflats there will be flocks of waders, including American Oystercatchers and hundreds of White-rumped Sandpipers, large flocks of wintering terns, along with a few local Snowy-crowned Terns, and groups of graceful Black Skimmers. In the reeds and rushes around the salt marsh we may see Bay-capped Wren-Spinetail and Long-tailed Reedfinch. On the edge of town we’ll look for Firewood-gatherer, named after its habit of building enormous nests of dry sticks. In the afternoon we’ll explore the pampas areas just inland, where we should see a wide selection of pampas birds, such as Maguari Stork, Yellow-billed Pintail, Rosy-billed Pochard, Southern Screamer, Snail Kite, Long-winged Harrier, Guira Cuckoo, and Scarlet-headed Blackbird. We’ll also search for Greater Rhea, Spotted Nothura, Silver Teal, and the elusive South American Painted Snipe. Night in San Clemente.
Day 4: We’ll depart early for a day with many stops, including at a reed-fringed canal where we’ll search for Stripe-backed Bittern, Black-headed Duck, Curve-billed Reed-haunter, Sulphur-bearded Spinetail, Wren-like Rushbird, Warbling Doradito, and Many-colored Rush-Tyrant. Our focus will be on finding species that inhabit the more wooded areas, including Dark-billed Cuckoo, Freckle-breasted Thornbird, and Black-and-rufous and Black-capped Warbling Finches. After looking for Giant Wood Rail and any other pampas birds we may have missed during our time in San Clemente, we’ll return to Buenos Aires in the late afternoon for our flight to Trelew in northern Patagonia. Night in Trelew.
Day 5: In the morning we’ll visit the vast Magellanic Penguin colony at Punta Tombo. The colony is a reserve, but carefully roped-off walkways allow superb viewing and photographic opportunities. The bay beneath should hold a few Great Grebes in their attractive breeding plumage, and it’s here that we’ll look for the White-headed Steamer-duck, a recently split species of very limited range. Southern Giant-petrels cruise back and forth offshore, and a few pairs of Brown (Southern) Skuas scavenge amid the colony. In the afternoon we’ll visit several bodies of water around Trelew with hopes of finding waterfowl such as Black-headed Duck, Rosy-billed Pochard, and White-cheeked Pintail. Night in Trelew.
Day 6: After breakfast we’ll drive to Puerto Madryn, the gateway to the world-famous Valdez peninsula. En route we’ll probably see our first Elegant Crested Tinamous —by far the most obliging of the normally skulking tinamou family—and we’ll look for the unique Burrowing Parrot, related to macaws and the only species in its genus. We’ll stop in the semi-desert scrub to look for a variety of small passerines, including the rather local White-throated Cachalote, which builds large stick nests, and we’ll watch out for the distinctive display flights of the Carbonated Sierra-Finch, an Argentinian endemic. We’ll end the day in nearby Puerto Piramides where we’ll spend two nights.
Day 7: Starting early, we’ll visit the desert near town to look for a variety of special passerines, including Scale-throated Earthcreeper, Patagonian Canastero, Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, and Lesser Shrike-Tyrant. Darwin’s Nothuras will be calling in the scrub, and if we are lucky we might spot one. After breakfast we’ll drive around the peninsula, stopping en route to look for Darwin’s Rheas, Tawny-throated Dotterels, Guanacos, Patagonian Foxes, and bizarre Patagonian Hares (Maras). Our destination is Punta Norte, where the beaches will be littered with Southern Elephant Seals as well as a few South American Sea Lions. On rare occasions Orcas are seen cruising up and down offshore. Night in Puerto Piramides.
Day 8: We’ll return to Trelew this morning and catch our flight to Ushuaia on the south side of Tierra del Fuego and adjacent to the spectacular Beagle Channel. We should arrive by midday, giving us ample time to explore the harbour, where Flightless Steamerducks and Dolphin Gulls are both tame and common, and we’ll be able to study our first Kelp Geese and Chilean Skuas. This afternoon after checking into our hotel we’ll visit the Martial Glacier, just above the town. During the hike we’ll search for Yellow-bridled Finch and Ochre-naped and Dark-faced Ground-Tyrants, and we’ll have a very slim chance of finding a White-bellied Seedsnipe. Night in Ushuaia.
Day 9: We’ll spend the day in Tierra del Fuego National Park, a beautiful landscape of southern beech forests, lakes, and rivers. Here we’ll mainly be focused on forest birds, hoping to see the splendid Magellanic Woodpecker, Dark-bellied Cinclodes, White-throated Treerunner, Fire-eyed Diucon, Chilean Swallow, Austral Thrush, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Black-chinned Siskin, Patagonian Sierra-Finch, and the delightfully entertaining Thorn-tailed Rayadito. Returning to town in the afternoon, we may visit the local trash dump, a reliable site for White-throated Caracara, along with scores of gulls and skuas. Night in Ushuaia.
Day 10: This morning we’ll cruise down the Beagle Channel. This will be primarily a boat trip, although from time to time we’ll visit various islands inhabited by sea lions and seabirds. We should see graceful Black-browed Albatrosses along with giant-petrels and skuas. We may be lucky enough to see a Blackish Cinclodes, a recent colonizer to the islands at the mouth of Ushuaia Bay. We’ll stop at cormorant rookeries containing two different species, Blue-eyed and Rock, and we’ll also encounter Dolphin Gulls and South American Terns. We’ll visit a Magellanic Penguin colony that, although small compared to those farther north, attracts other species of penguin from time to time. In recent years a small colony of Gentoos has become established here, and there is even the chance of a King Penguin! This afternoon we’ll begin our drive to Rio Grande. We’ll head out across Tierra del Fuego through spectacular mountain scenery, of snow-capped peaks, forested slopes and glacial lakes. There are sites along the way for any of the species we might still be missing. Upon arriving in Rio Grande, we will stop on the edge of town to look for the elegant Rufous-chested Dotterel in the few remaining patches of original ‘tundra’ in this area. Night in Rio Grande.
Day 11: Today we can expect to explore the windy southern Patagonian step in search of regional specialities. We’ll make a morning trip north of town to look for the highly endangered mainland Ruddy-headed Goose, the scarcest of the five Chloephaga geese in Argentina. We’ll visit a cliff-nesting colony of Black-faced Ibis along the coast, and in the grassy dunes near the beach will search for Short-billed Miner. Other species we may cross path with here are Chocolate-vented Tyrant, Least Seedsnipe, and Tawny-throated Dotterel. Night in Rio Grande.
Day 12: Our last morning on Isla Grande, Tierra del Fuego might be spent exploring the southern beech forest around Escondido Lake in search of Austral Blackbird, Magellanic Woodpecker, Austral Pygmy Owl or Magellanic Tapaculo. Depending on weather conditions and the species we might still be looking for, we could drive farther north into the fuegian steppe. By midday we return to Ushuaia in order to take our short flight to El Calafate in southern Patagonia. After checking in to our hotel we’ll visit the shores of nearby Lake Argentino to look for the delightful Magellanic Plover, a species in its own family, which pirouettes in the mud on bubblegum-pink legs. Other birds of interest are likely to include Chilean Flamingo, Cinereous Harrier, Crested Duck, Red Shoveler, Magellanic Oystercatcher, Two-banded Plover, and Least Seedsnipe. Night El Calafate.
Day 13: We’ll spend the day visiting Los Glaciares National Park and the Moreno Glacier, a vast tongue of ice slowly descending from the Andes into Lake Argentino. The Perito Moreno Glacier has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a major tourist destination in Argentina. We’ll visit the best viewpoints and may witness chunks of ice calve off into the lake below with a tremendous crash. En route to the glacier we’ll pass through magnificent southern beech forests, open meadows, and farmland, each home to a variety of birds. Highlights will likely include Black-faced Ibis, Ashy-headed Goose, Andean Condor, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Austral Parakeet, Chilean Flicker, and the exotic Rufous-tailed Plantcutter. We’ll also have our best chance here for the scarce Spectacled Duck. Night in El Calafate.
Day 14: This morning we will spend more time exploring the vast landscape for any of our target species we may have missed the previous day. We’ll be searching for Austral Canastero, Great Shrike-Tyrant, and Ground Tyrants such as Cinnamon-bellied and White-browed. In the afternoon we’ll return to El Calafate for our flight back to Buenos Aires. Depending on the flight schedule we may end up back in the capital with enough time for some local birding. Night in Buenos Aires.
Day 15: We’ll spend the morning visiting one of the productive riverside reserves north of Buenos Aires where we’ll search for Gilded Hummingbird, Checkered Woodpecker, Rufous-sided Crake, Spix’s Spinetail, Diademed Tanager and Solitary Cacique as well as renewing our acquaintance with other Pampas birds we have seen earlier in our trip. The tour concludes this afternoon in Buenos Aires with transfers to EZE for international departures.
Updated: 17 November 2020