Santiago-Humboldt Extension Nov 15—21, 2016

Posted by Andrew Whittaker


Andrew Whittaker

Andrew Whittaker, a senior member of the VENT staff, has led VENT tours since 1993 throughout Brazil, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina, Costa Rica, Panama, Europe,...

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Upon our arrival in the bustling capital of Santiago, and after saying a fond farewell to those who were unable to spend more time in wondrous Chile, we welcomed Bob, who joined us on this exciting extension.

Rested up and raring to go, early the next morning we began to climb into picturesque Andean foothills filled with spectacular arrays of colorful spring blooms, neat cactus, and exotic bromeliads such as that incredible turquoise puya spike.

Turquoise Puya bromeliad

Turquoise Puya bromeliad— Photo: AndrewWhittaker


At Yerba Loca Park we were quickly enjoying close roadside looks at Chilean Mockingbird and an enigmatic endemic Moustached Turca (yet another large, easy to see tapaculo) foraging like a towhee along the roadside. Next up, a neat pair of endemic Chilean Tinamous and Chilean Flickers!  Searching for the furtive endemic White-throated Tapaculo paid off at last when Fernando spotted one perched; we also enjoyed great looks at Giant Hummingbirds and Black-winged Ground-Dove. After a short drive we had great Band-tailed Mourning-Finch and soon had our bins on yet another endemic, this time Dusky Tapaculo that with bluetooth magic even climbed up onto a fence post for stunning looks! 

After many switchbacks I located a wonderful roosting Magellanic Horned Owl which afforded great scope studies. Arriving at a wonderful restaurant with a panoramic view to die for of the snow-capped peaks of Valle Nevado (the valley of snow), we had our first soaring Andean Condors of the day and a nice mix of ground-tyrants too.

Moustached Turca, endemic

Moustached Turca, endemic— Photo: Andrew Whittaker










After a great meal we continued upwards past blue-hued mountain streams for another exciting stop that soon saw us drooling over the stunning iridescent green gorget of a perched male White-sided Hillstar, and we even found a nest. The stark rocky area was birdy with displaying Rufous-banded Miner, Cordilleran and Sharp-billed miners, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, and some very smart Yellow-rumped Siskins. At the peak we enjoyed stellar close-up looks at different aged Andean Condors on their roost and in flight. We ended on a high with Black-fronted and Ochre-naped ground-tyrants and a confiding, much sought after near endemic Creamy-rumped Miner screaming into playback at our feet.

El Yeso—what can I say—one of my most favorite spots in Chile, with its stupendous panorama of glacial valleys, turquoise-mirrored lakes, vast multicolored scree slopes, and snow-capped peaks. Home to one of the world’s greatest shorebirds (voted number one of the trip), the mythical, most-wanted Diademed Sandpiper-Plover!

Andean Condor

Andean Condor— Photo: Andrew Whittaker




An exquisite panorama greeted us in this magical valley and soon, with Fernando’s intimate knowledge, we were enjoying mind-blowing views of the fabled endemic Crag Chilia and, oh yes, a magnificent pair of sandpiper-plovers too—what a bird! The neat high altitude marsh held displaying Gray-breasted Seedsnipe, which came in to tape playback for great studies of this almost ptarmigan look-alike. In fact, surprisingly, its closest relative is the Plains-wanderer from the interior of Australia! We enjoyed learning how to separate the ground-tyrants after observing one of the smallest displaying, a Spot-billed, then Cinereous and White-browed. Our scenic picnic lunch was a gourmet’s delight, and the afternoon rewarded us with a pair of rare Thick-billed Siskins, Mountain Parakeet (how Bob found this bird I will never know, amazing), Buff-winged and Gray-flanked cinclodes, Gray-hooded Sierra-Finch, and Greater Yellow-Finch.

El Yeso Valley

El Yeso Valley— Photo: Andrew Whittaker


The following day we headed east to the rich coastline and famous Miapo Estuary, which was brimming with migrant shorebirds, waterfowl, terns, gulls and, of course, a host of cool passerines. The limelight was stolen by a family of confiding Many-colored Rush Tyrants, their vivid colors stupendous. Tape playback rewarded us with fantastic studies of the recently split Ticking Dorodito, Plumbeous Rail, the odd Wren-like Rushbird, and a stunning male Rufous-tailed Plantcutter, while an albino Chilean Swallow was a very strange and unusual sight. 

We also enjoyed superlative scope studies of Gray Gull (which fly way inland to nest in the desert) and Austral Negrito; a Parasitic Jaeger steamed by, and along the beach were Collared Plover, with Ruddy Turnstone and Blackish Oystercatcher on the rocks. Quiet freshwater was graced with courtly Great and White-tufted grebes, flocks of Black Skimmers, Black-necked Swan, Cinnamon Teal, and both Yellow-billed Pintail and Teal.

We had a scrumptious seafood meal at an incredibly picturesque cove that produced the endemic Seaside Cinclodes. The afternoon birding included Laguna Cartagena Reserve. Here we had memorable close studies of Lake Duck with chicks, Red Shoveler, Red-gartered and Red-fronted coots, and Yellow-winged Blackbird. However, the highlight must surely go to our next stop where we were very privileged to observe the antics of several Stripe-backed Bitterns fishing! Finally we visited some coastal scrub and at last nailed down the endemic Dusky-tailed Canastero and a lovely Striped Woodpecker.

Diademed Sandpiper-Plover

Diademed Sandpiper-Plover— Photo: Andrew Whittaker


Our grand finale was, of course, our last day pelagic trip. Early the next morning we boarded our private boat at a dock alive with fishing boats bringing in vast quantities of squid, with South American Sea Lions and large flocks of hungry gulls waiting for leftovers. Very soon, entering the rich Humboldt Current, we enjoyed superb studies of several Peruvian Diving-Petrels and one of the world’s greatest terns, the majestic Inca. As if like magic, a few miles offshore the crew started chumming; majestic albatrosses glided in out of nowhere, and soon we were surrounded by non-stop action! Our maximum count was 80 Salvin’s Albatross gracing the water, with many Black-browed too.

Northern Royal and Salvin's albatrosses

Northern Royal and Salvin’s albatrosses— Photo: Andrew Whittaker


However, these beauties were eclipsed by the unforgettable sight of our first massive Northern Royal Albatross gliding in, showing off its amazing 12-foot wingspan! These gorgeous monsters travel the vast oceans of the world, often racking up over 190,000 km a year!  Shearwaters included Pink-footed and Sooty; two species of petrel, White-chinned and many moulting Westlands, were simply dwarfed! The smallest of all visitors were the dainty and tiny dancing Fuegian Storm-Petrels. To my surprise, we had an ever-present flock of the “bover birds,” Peruvian Pelican, and, of course, hundreds of Kelp Gulls.

Peruvian Pelican

Peruvian Pelican— Photo: Andrew Whittaker


We were even able to compare Northern to Southern Giant-Petrel side by side, while a few orange-breasted Chilean Skuas put in a quick visit too. Peruvian Boobies followed us back into the harbour, with both Red-legged and Guanay cormorants seen amongst flocks of terns around the salmon pens. Here, to my great surprise and excitement, I located a Cayanne Tern (Sandwich Tern split) that was a first for Chile, as they are known only from the Atlantic coast! After another fantastic seafood lunch, we rounded off an excellent day by watching a colony of Humboldt Penguins before driving into Santiago for our farewell meal.

It truly was our pleasure to guide you on this action-packed extension. Thanks for being such a fun group. I look forward to sharing another exotic birding location with you sometime in the future. Until then, take care and, as always, great birding!