Flamingos are beautiful.  Adorned in a cloak of pink and white, they have a regal appearance.  Their long legs and graceful neck make them truly elegant as well.


Flamingos conjure up warm feelings in everyone however Paula and I  had to brave sub-zero temperatures and a severe lack of oxygen when trying to locate the breeding location of the James’ Flamingo in the high Andes. We drove to nearly 15,000ft, across endless salt flats to reach Laguna Pujsa in northern Chile, arriving just as night fell.



Laguna Pujsa, Chile

Laguna Pujsa, Chile

Overnight ice formed around us as we slept and we woke at dawn half frozen.  The sight that greeted us was worthwhile.  We found ourselves in an amphitheatre of Andean mountains surrounding an ultramarine lake encrusted with white saline deposits and upon this ‘stage’ thousands of dancing pink flamingos!


Uno anfiteatro andino con flamencos

Uno anfiteatro andino con flamencos


The James’ or Puna Flamingo is the smallest of the three species in South America.  They breed in the highest zones of the altiplano in Argentina, Chile and Bolivia and so isolated are they, that their breeding grounds were not discovered until the mid 1950s.



James, Flamingo or Parina Chica.

James’ Flamingo or Parina Chica.



James’ feed on blue-green algae and diatoms whose populations fluctuate according to the season and water quality of the high mountain lakes.   So when looking for these nomadic birds one can travel for days to known sites and yet find none. Paula and  I had struck lucky.


The hardy flamingos have had 65 million years to adapt to their environment and have a combination of feathers that satisfy their three requirements;


Flight –


Un Flamenco en vuelo

Un Flamenco en vuelo

 Display –


Los colores hermanos de un Flamenco

Los colores hermanos de un Flamenco



and  Warmth –


Una pluma de un flamenco

Las plumas especiales de un flamenco dan  aislamiento thermico


A close relative of the James’ Flamingo is the Andean Flamingo, the relationship is based on the similarity in  bill structure and feeding strategy.




Un Parina Grande esta comiendo

Un Parina Grande esta comiendo



In deeper water, flamingos will  dabble their feet to stir up the water and food.  This in turn can  attract other birds  like this Wilsons Phalarope.


Falaropo comun esta comiendo cerca un Flamenco Austral

Falaropo comun esta comiendo cerca un Flamenco Austral




The Andean Flamingo breeds lower down in the Andes but still in the shadow of the snow-capped Volcanic peaks.


Flamingo 10 A


The third species of Flamingo to be found in the Andes is the Chilean Flamingo, this species is different from the James’ and Andean as it feed on tiny molluscs and crustaceans.



Los Flamencos chilenos en la Puna (3500m)

Los Flamencos chilenos en la Puna (3500m)


The size of Flamingos means that they need to run along the surface of the water to take-off.



Un Flamenco a punto de despegar

Un Flamenco a punto de despegar


This makes them vulnerable to predators, particularly at night when they roost in large groups out in the saline lagunas.



Un zorro con su victim !

Un zorro con su victima !


The High Andes is a hostile environment.  This fox is fortunate as the flamingo will feed its family for several days.  Paula and I saw this fox with its prey in the very early morning so the fox had probably been out hunting all night.


Unlike the flamingos, we were not so acclimatized to the environment.  The thin air made it difficult to breathe and outside the freezing wind buffeted our camera tripods, so after a day watching the birds, we reluctantly descended to a lower altitude.


Michael and Paula

Michael and Paula










Penguin Islands

These islands are so good: we have to tell you about them.


For any visiting families, naturalists, wildlife enthusiasts, photographers or birdwatchers they are a ‘must visit location’ in Chile; located north of La Serena in region III and officially called  Reserva Nacional Pinguino de Humboldt.


The reserve consists of three islands. Two of the islands, Isla Choros and Isla Damas are accessed from the small coastal village of Punta Choros. The road to Punta Chorus from the south, Ruta 5, is a poor 60 km, dirt road, but any vehicle can easily drive the road.

In Punta Choros there are plenty of cabins to hire as well as campsites, restaurants galore and fabulous beaches nearby. Boat trips to the islands maintain the local economy, without which the village would be poor and dependent on sea weed gathering and small scale fishing. 


The trips take two and a half hours and most trips spend 1 hour on the Isla Damas.


Isla Choros

Isla Choros


The boats are very well organised and safe.  The trips cost 10,000 pesos (£10) per person + 2,500pesos (£2.50) to the parks authority.


Un barco sale del muelle en Punta Choros

Un barco sale del muelle en Punta Choros


The Punta Choros boats look for a school of Bottlenosed Dolphins which are resident in the seas around Isla Choros and Isla Damas.


Una familia mira delfines narizes de botella

Una familia mira delfines narizes de botella




Delfin nariz de botella

Delfin nariz de botella


These trips also manage to get you close to large numbers of birds, such as  Guanay Cormorants, of which there are tens of thousands.


Una colonia de Guanays

Una colonia de Guanays





Red-legged Cormorants, one of South America’s most beautiful sea birds.


Cena para Lile polluelos

Cena para Lile polluelos

Peruvian Boobies –



Dos Piqueros
Dos Piqueros


and of course, what everyone wants to see,  Humboldt Penguins.  The Isla Choros holds 70% of the world’s population of these captivating birds.


Pinguino de Humboldt

Pinguino de Humboldt

Most boats then go to Isla Damas and allow visitors to stay for an hour.


Isla Damas

Isla Damas


Sometimes there is no rain for years in this area, it is a desert, but a very special desert, a coastal desert where moisture only comes from the unique morning fog blown ashore from the Humboldt current – the Camanchaca.

Were it not for this ethereal and bountiful phenomenon there would be no plantlife whatsoever, as it is these islands and the neighbouring mainland are a wonderland of cacti.


El cactus esta cubierto de liquen

El cactus esta cubierto de liquen

To facilitate the retention of moisture the cacti are covered with lichen, a symbiotic relationship. The grey lichen  drapes around the cacti.  From a distance this gives the island a ghostly appearance as if some deadly disease had invaded the plants, the truth being that this is nature’s way to enable the cacti to survive.


To reach the island of Chanaral a short drive round the coast to the village of Chanaral de Acietuno is required.  The village is small and less popular but the boat trips are very special and just as good as from Punta Choros.


Un barco sale el Puerto de Chanaral de Acietuno

Un barco sale el Puerto de Chanaral de Acietuno


There is no landing on an island but the wildlife is spectacular especially for marine mammals.  Three species of Whale are regularly seen, Fin, Humpback and the mighty Blue.


Ballena jorobada

Ballena jorobada


Colonies of  Sea lion breed around the rocky coast


Lobo marino de un pelo

Lobo marino de un pelo



Even the less common Fur seal can be found, (look at that pointed snout)  –


Lobo fino de dos pelos

Lobo fino de dos pelos



and of course there are plenty of Humboldt Penguins



Pinguino de Humboldt

Pinguino de Humboldt


 as well as their chief  predator,  the Sea Otter.



Nutria de mar, Chungungo.

Nutria de mar, Chungungo.


Sea Otters will take young Penguins and so the adults are forced to nest above the tops of the cliffs on the top of the island out of reach of the otters.  It is a large island so that is no problem for the Penguins except that to reach the sea they have to walk all the way down the cliffs, a good job they have better legs than wings!





The Humboldt current

Travelling north on the Chilean coast has reminded us of being on the Hebridean islands off the west of Scotland.


Below is Isla Choros, Chile.



Los Pinquinos

Both places are in remote locations, sometimes difficult to access, giving visitors a sense of isolation, a rare commodity in this overcrowded world.  Both have exotic white beaches and turquoise seas.



White beach

Both places are blessed with sea currents which promote a profusion of marine life around them. The  seas off  the Hebrides are ‘brushed’ by the warm Gulf Stream  and despite being at 58 degrees north one can amazingly find Palm trees on the seashore.


The Chilean coast  has its own ‘marine’ magic wand, the Humboldt current.  The similarities end when comparing both sea currents, the Gulf Stream is a warm current from Mexico which interferes with the cold waters of the arctic, whereas the Humboldt is a cold current flowing from the Antarctic into warm tropical waters.


The Humboldt is an amiable ‘monster’ of a current.  As it flows north it splits into two as it reaches Tierra del Fuego.  One part flows east,up the Argentinean coast.  The other part flows westwards up the Chilean coast –  a 1000 mile wide mass of nutrient rich water.


The importance of the Humboldt first became obvious to us as we were seawatching at La Boca.


michael seawatching



The sea was absolutely teaming with Shearwaters.  Whereas off Western Scotland we were used to seeing  hundreds of Shearwaters in a day,  here we were seeing tens of thousands at any one time, too many to count.


Sooty Shearwaters



Sooty Shearwaters mixed in with  Pink-footed Shearwaters and the occasional Giant Petrel.


Sooty Shearwaters 2



There were great seabird nesting colonies, Pelicans, Peruvian Boobies and Guanay Cormorants .


Cormorant colony



and not only birds, but marine mammals lke Bottlenosed Dolphins


Bottlenose Dolphin 2

and pods of Fin Whales, the second largest mammal on the planet.


Fin Whale 1

The effects of the Humboldt current are truly awesome.


The Chilean coast

We had crossed the Andes from Argentina into Chile and journeyed through its flat, fertile central valley, full of oranges, lemons and rich vineyards.


Then up again into the coastal cordillera from the top of which we could see the whole width of this absurdly thin country.


In front of us now lay the Pacific Ocean.  The air that filled our lungs was different, gone was the dust, now a salty scent enticed us towards the blue vastness.


beach at Constitucion


The narrow winding road led us into the village of Horcon and suddenly were surprised to find ourselves at a tiny harbour full of wooden fishing boats.



We had crossed the continent of South America and there, as if to greet us, was a Pelican !


Pelicans bill 2

In this part of the world wherever there are fish and fishermen there will likely be Pelicans and Gulls and this village was no exception.


Coastal fishing nets



Over the next few weeks we gradually moved south along the coast and found that three species of gull were the most common.

Firstly the Kelp Gull –


Kelp Gull

Then the Brown-hooded Gull –


Brown-hooded Gull

And finally the Franklins Gull, although this is a migrant species from North America.


Franklin's Gull



There were few wading birds, except small numbers of Blackish Oystercatcher which are resident all year round.


Blackish Oystercatcher


Through the rushes

For the last three months we have been travelling through the wild, rugged deserts and impenetrable cloud forests of north western Argentina, but now it was time to leave.

 We did so by climbing the circuitous road from Mendoza towards the border with Chile.  As soon as we started to descend the western side of the mighty Andes, it was immediately clear we were entering a completely different floristic region; dry arid lands were replaced by forests and streams. The hot dusty desert air had parched and dried our skin, we longed to be at the ocean.

Heading west as quickly as we could, around the northern suburbs of Santiago and crossing the fertile central valley of this thin country, we encountered the mountains that skirt coastal Chile.  From their summit the deep blue of the Pacific beckoned.

Following the Rapel river valley we approached the sea near to the village of  Navidad  and found a small marsh.

La laguna en Navidad

La laguna en Navidad

 – over which circled a shower of ‘snowflakes’, nesting egrets.


Garzas boyeras, Garcitas bueyeras, Cattle Egrets

Garzas boyeras, Garcitas bueyeras, Cattle Egrets

Better still, this tiny marsh was the home to a flotilla of Black-necked Swans.


Cisnes de cuello negro , Black-necked Swans

Cisnes de cuello negro , Black-necked Swans


We decided to camp here at the marsh, the ocean would have to wait a little longer.


Nuestro camping en Navidad

Nuestro camping en Navidad



The marsh was fringed by a dense margin of rushes but we found one small spot that cattle used to come to drink, here we set up a hide.


Nuestro observatorio para sacar fotos

Nuestro observatorio para sacar fotos


As we slept at night we could hear the distant rollers pounding the cliffs but on this Chilean marsh we found peace and prolific wildlife.

For three days we watched, through the rushes, as the birds left the marsh in the morning to feed on the estuary and then return in the afternoon to feed their young.


Cisnes de cuello negro, Black-necked Swans.

Cisnes de cuello negro, Black-necked Swans.


Sitting silently, unseen in a hide, keeps you in a constant state of expectant suspense. Marsh sounds are weird, there are croaks, groans, high pitched squeals, sploshes and whooshes.  Sometimes there is nothing to watch except the mesmeric reflections in the water.


Los reflejos de los juncos en el agua

Los reflejos de los juncos en el agua

But the life in a marsh is a vibrant one.


Pato real, Pato overo, Chiloe Wigeon.

Pato real, Pato overo, Chiloe Wigeon.



Constantly peering through the vertical lines of the rushes, imagination turns to reality as its inhabitants appear and disappear.




Crias de Cisne de cuello negro, Black-necked Swan cygnets.

Crias de Cisne de cuello negro, Black-necked Swan cygnets.



Swimming –


Coipo crias estan jugando, Coypu youngsters playing.

Coipo crias estan jugando, Coypu youngsters playing.


Creeping –


Tagua de frente roja, Gallareta escudete rojo, Red-fronted Coot

Tagua de frente roja, Gallareta escudete rojo, Red-fronted Coot



Fishing –

Huiravillo, Mirasol comun, Striped-backed Bittern.

Huiravillo, Mirasol comun, Striped-backed Bittern.


Balancing –


Trabajador, Junquero,  Wren-like Rushbird.

Trabajador, Junquero, Wren-like Rushbird.


And cavorting –


 Siete colores , Tachuri siete colores, Many-coloured Rush-tyrant.

Siete colores , Tachuri siete colores, Many-coloured Rush-tyrant.


A few days previously a birdwatcher had said to us that all the birds in Chile were brown and uninteresting. What would he have said had he spent a few hours overlooking this marsh?

What would he have said if he had seen an adult Many-coloured Rush Tyrant ? This tiny reclusive denizen of the rushes would stand up proud in any competition as ‘the most colourful bird in South America’.  In Chile it is called ‘siete colores’, the seven colours!


Siete colores, adulto, Tachuri siete-colores, Adult Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant.

Siete colores, adulto, Tachuri siete-colores,
Adult Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant.

Swifts !

We had  been told about some White-collared Swifts that had been seen in a cave, behind a waterfall, though they had not been seen for three years.

At dawn one morning we climbed up a mountain,  then down into an arid valley and followed a small stream.  Although it was the dry season the presence of the stream indicated that the waterfall would be there and it was.


Birdwatching under Waterfall,_


We spent some hours searching  in vain for the swifts, they may have been present, hiding in the dark recesses of the cave.   We decided to wait and see if any returned to the cave for the night.

White-collared Swifts breed all the way down from Mexico, through the western side of South America as far as Argentina, so we were at the very southern limit of their distribution.  Three years before, there had only been juveniles seen in the cave, no one had recorded adults.  These swifts being mainly tropical breed in March and April so if they were around now it would indicate year round residency – very important to know.

The sun dropped behind the far mountains, then a blur above us and a flurry of  activity inside the cave: swifts!


No 1 Swift


It happened so quickly.  We had seen nothing in the sky above us; some swifts had flown into the cave almost unseen.


No 4 Swift


We  crept around the waterfall, water was dripping everywhere, including on what was now a very wet swift clinging to the wall.  We could make out its white collar and amazingly long wings, but had to retreat out of the drenching water and maintain our vigil outside.

Another hour went by and the same thing happened. This time we just managed to see the swifts coming.  A small tightly bunched group flew low round the distant curve of the valley.  Like black leather-clad racers, they passed us like a lightening flash straight through the curtain of water and disappeared. I didn’t have time to raise my camera – they were gone into the void.


No 2 Swift

The same thing happened several times.  Small groups appeared as if from nowhere and darted into the cave.  By now we had counted at least 35. As the numbers inside grew so did the noise inside the cave.  Whenever new birds arrived, they were greeted with high pitched screams.  They bunched up together, water pouring over them.


No 3 Swift

It was getting dark and thunder clouds started to roll over the hills.  Afraid of rain making the return treacherous, we headed home.

We had found what we wanted, a resident population of at least 50 White-collared Swifts, rare birds this far south.

Not only swifts but also a stream fed by a graceful waterfall,  a watery haven for a host of animals.

We find the waterfall

We had spent a couple of hours walking up an arid valley, following a tiny stream in the hope it would lead us to a waterfall.  It was the dry season so we didn’t know if the waterfall even existed and if it did, would we see any of the rare White-collared Swifts which had been seen some years before.

Eventually we rounded a curve in the valley and there before us stood the waterfall.

There was nothing pretentious about this waterfall, it was neither imposing or magnificent, but it fitted into its surroundings as naturally as a nut fits into its shell.  At the top of a small cliff, lay a huge boulder around which the water flowed and then down over a red sandstone drop , cascading about sixty feet to a clear pool beneath, but behind the tumbling water there appeared a deep, dark cleft in the cliff.


best waterfall

We were overjoyed to re-discover this watery gem.

Hot and tired we stood beneath, unable to hear one another for the force of the spray hitting the rocks by our feet.

Thank you Swarovski for waterproof binoculars !




The most noticeable bird was not a Swift at all but a stout little passerine, a Grey-flanked Cinclodes.


Grey-flanked Cinclodes

Grey-flanked Cinclodes

The Cinclodes called and then a second bird appeared from around the side of the Canyon, then the first flew round the cascade and disappeared, whilst the other alighted on a nearby boulder, almost directly under the cascading water.  It called again and out from under the boulder appeared a fledgling, which was duly fed by its parent.


grey-flanked Cinclodes at nest

Not to be outdone by a mere bird, I likewise darted under the cascade – only I had both an umbrella and a light !




Once behind the silvery tumult I found myself in a dark dank chasm.  Behind me the cave stretched twenty or so metres and disappeared into a narrow tunnel, where I had no intention of going.  On top of me, water either trickled or poured, depending where I stood.



Light  streaked in from the outside, creating mesmeric rainbows.


Cave colours

The cave walls were wondrously covered in a kaleidoscope of emeralds and browns where mosses, slimes and fungus flourished.


cave walls 2

Slime 1


more cave walls 1

As I turned round and looked up in the hope of seeing a Swift more colourful patterns emerged, this was a beautiful place to be.


cave walls 1



The ground inside the cave was littered with the carcasses of freshwater crabs.  Maybe a small mammal was catching the crabs and bringing them in the cave to eat them and maybe that animal was lurking in the tunnel at the back of the cave.  Whatever was taking the crabs had clearly found a safe and secure place.

Looking down again I saw a live one in the water at my feet.


Cave crab

So we had found the waterfall.


Looking at the waterfall from a distance the cave behind it seemed nothing,  just a black ‘smudge’ across a red rock face.  But penetrating that ‘smudge’ was entering a mysterious place with its unique beauty, a  watery world of colour and patterns.


Standing inside and looking upwards the cave split into multitudinous crevices where black voids were separated by mossy envelopes dripping with water,   Swifts could easily hide in such places.


A Cinclodes flew through the spray and started to probe about in the moss looking for food, it found a long worm and then flew away with it.



searching for food


Once I thought I could see a swift in a hidden crevice, but I wasn’t sure.


The sun outside was high in the sky,  if there were any swifts they would no doubt be away in the clouds catching insects.


Had we hiked along the thorny and arid hillside for nothing, definitely not  !  we had seen a fantastic cave, a beautiful Cinclodes and a strange freshwater crab. But no swifts.


We settled down to wait till sunset, if there were any Swifts that’s when they might return.


See our next blog for news of the swifts.


To a waterfall

In early December we found ourselves in the  Andean foothills west of the city of Mendoza, Argentina, visiting a contact given us by Aves Argentinas,  Andy Elias.  Andy had for many years worked for the National Parks authority and was a renowned local naturalist.  One evening he told us about a waterfall he had visited three years before where he had seen White-collared Swifts.  He wondered if the waterfall would be dry. Would the Swifts still be present?  Would we like to accompany him ? YES!

It was  to be about a 1 to 2 hour walk up an isolated valley at approx 2,300 metres, so we started early, shortly after dawn.  On the rock strewn hillside above us we could see bright white shapes, these were the lovely flowers of the Cacti ‘candicans’,  its fragrant blooms normally open at night and remain open until early morning. The bright white petals and yellow centres attract night pollinators such as moths and bats.


candicans cacti


We continued to walk to the top of a ridge overlooking the valley we were to follow to the waterfall. The image  below shows the valley, we followed the one on the left hand side.  The valley to the right was the one where the celebrated  General  Don Jose de San Martin led 10,000 soldiers, the force that eventually defeated the Spanish and liberated Argentina.



Being at such a height, the habitat was alto-andino, so fairly sparse of vegetation, mostly pampas grasses, Chilka and Altepe shrubs as well as many cacti.


Paula 2

It was a long hot walk as we  followed the stream up the valley, but there were many exciting birds along the way,  Brown-capped Tit-Spinetails , White-winged Black Tyrants and White-winged Doves.


Brown-capped Tit Spinetail

Brown-capped Tit Spinetail


White-winged Dove

White-winged Dove


Arid lands such as this can seem barren and devoid of wildlife. The truth is that life abounds and is even more fascinating because of the amazing adaptations that enable survival.  All the plants in this landscape had mechanisms to deal with the lack of rain and high temperatures, eg small leaves with waxy coatings to reduce water loss.  Some have no leaves at all and photosynthesise by having bright green chlorophyll-laden stems or spines, the Berberis grevilleana for example has vicious spines and is locally named the crucero plant, due to its three sharp thorns.


Berberis grevilleana

Berberis grevilleana

We found a rather special beetle bumbling over some pebbles.  This little animal is beautifully adapted to face the harsh realities of this land.  It has given up the power of flight and so its hard outer covering  is fused together.  Over this domed body a series of delicate channels and ridges can be seen.  At night the insect curls up with its head pointing downwards to rest.  During the night tiny droplets of moisture condense on the dome and this moisture flows down the intricate channels into its mouth. An everyday miracle of evolution and nature.


 Tenebrionidae sp beetle

Tenebrionidae sp beetle

and a lizard, beautifully camouflaged and scurrying between crevices in the rocks.


Diplolaemus lizard or Matuasto

Diplolaemus lizard or Matuasto


Still following the valley stream,  we found a rather special animal, a small freshwater Crab.



Freshwater crabs like this are endemic to Argentina and Chile. There are about 20 species altogether, each confined to its own isolated region. Genetic studies have found them all to be related and it is thought that over the millennia when glaciers covered the Andes, they speciated into the varieties to be found today.


crab in hand_


 In the azure skies above us circled an occasional Condor but no sign of any Swifts.

 On we walked towards the mythical waterfall……..

…..was the waterfall dry? did we find the swifts? See the next blog!



The birds of an unknown desert

Paula scans for birds in the northern Monte desert of Salta Province, Argentina, one of the wonderful south American eco-regions and only found in Argentina.


Mont landscape Los Cardones

 60% of Argentina is classified as ‘arid’ and these arid lands are considered to be the Puna, a cold steppe desert at a high altitude in the Andean mountains, Patagonia which is a cold steppe of low altitude and the Monte which is  a warm shrub desert. As these arid lands are sandwiched between the hot steamy Neotropics  and the Antarctic,  they are very important for bird distribution and endemism in South America.


Laguna Del Diamente camp

This is one of our camps near to Lake Diamante in Mendoza Province, at a height of 2300m it represents the limit between the Monte and Puna eco-regions, at such a height it is sometimes referred to as the pre-puna.


Monte - Grey headed Sierra Finch

Grey-headed Sierra-finch




Blach-hooded Sierra finch


Black-hooded Sierra Finch


Mourning Sierra Finch

Mourning Sierra-finch.  The Sierra-finches are a genus of Andean seed-eating birds closely related to the North American Tanagers. They forage on the ground and these tree species are widely distributed across the length of the Monte.


Monte - Straight-billed Earthcreeper

The Straight-billed Earthcreeper is a widely distributed but little known, it is rather secretive, scuttling around rocky crevices in search of insects.



Monte - A Giant Hummingbird

One of the great birding highlights of the Monte is the possibility of locating the biggest hummingbird in South America, the Giant Hummingbird.

We have travelled  well over one thousand kilometres through the Monte and only found one area, in Salta Province, where they were to be seen. On this occasion though we observed courting pairs and witnessed ‘aerial duels’ between several males.  These duels were ignited when one male  strayed into the territory of another.  The defending male would circle the other male and both would rise upwards into the heavens, each facing each other and using their long bill in a manner that resembled sword-fighting.


Monte -Elegant crested Tinamou




Monte -Elegant crested Tinamou 2

Tinamous are only found in South America and belong to one of the most ancient of bird families the Ratites, whose giant relatives ranged over this land  during the Miocene  period, when the earth was much warmer and arid lands were advancing over forested landscapes..  This is the Elegant-crested Tinamou and is typical of the family with cryptic camouflaged plumage.


Monte -Red-shouldered Hawk


 The Red-shouldered Hawk is one of the top predators of the Monte.





 We will be spending more time in the Monte over the next few months, there are so many hidden valleys and mountain ranges to try to visit.

Spectacular birds of the Southern Yungas forests

We have been so astounded by the richness of the Southern Yungas ecoregion that another visit was necessary. This time to the Eco-Portal de la Piedra lodge in the Santa Barbara region, a mountain range east of Calilegua.  The forested mountains are complex, as you progress upwards you pass through a number of ecologically distinct types.



Southern Yungas forest_

We walked from approximately 1,000m to 2,200m and camped overnight, horses carrying our equipment and food.


On hoseback into the Yungas_

The lower slopes are the domain of the iconic Toco Toucan,  here seen flying over the Quebracho canopy, it’s only in these forests and those in Missiones province, especially around Iguacu falls, that this bird can be seen in Argentina.


Toco over the canopy

Fruiting trees are a magnet for many tropical forest birds like the Toucan


Toco toucan eating


 the Scaly-headed Parrot –


Scaly-headed Parrot

and the Green-cheeked Parakeet


Green-cheeked Parakeet


The lower  transitional forest is more humid and comprises many dense thorny acacia shrubs with taller trees such as the Cebil and Laurels. Tropical Kingbirds, Narrow-billed Woodcreepers, Tropical Parulas, Red-eyed Vireos and White-tailed Doves appeared and then disappeared, almost as if the forest absorbed them back into its greenery.  Big colourful birds are outnumbered by tiny indistinct ones, such as  the Tyrannulets –

A Mottled – cheeked Tyrannulet.


Mottled-cheeked Tyrannulet


We criss-crossed the jungle, following ancient logging trails, dropping down to a stream then up again.  By following precipitous ridges we avoided deep forested ravines, these ridgeways were more open than the forest either side, ideal habitat for the Rufous- collared Nightjar.


Rufous-fronted Nightjar


At around 1500m we entered the rainforest with its moss draped Myrtles and Ceder trees, tall evergreens that provided a dense canopy,  The thorny acacias disappeared, replaced by luxuriant ferns and here we found the  Black-capped Elaenia & Cinnamon Flycatcher, pictured below.


Elainia in the Yungas_

Cinnamon Flycatcher

This was also the home of White-crested and Slaty Elaenias, Grey Flycatchers, inquisitive Plush-coloured Jays, Black-capped Thrushes and  this White-chested Tyrannulet.


White-throated Tyrannulet

  as well as the endemic Yellow-striped Brush Finch.


Yellow-striped Bush Finch

We passed along a narrow, dark, damp, rock strewn pass and were immediately ‘buzzed’ by the tiniest of birds, the rare and local Blue-capped Puffleg.



Blue-crested Puffleg


The following day we explored the montane ‘alisos’ forest above 2100m, home to the nesting Alder Parrot. Above the trees soared the Andean Condor, but the Alder Parrots were keeping quiet, after all they would have eggs by now, we heard a few in the distance even saw several pairs as they passed over the forest canopy but were unable to find a nest in the time we had.    After the breeding season this endangered parrot moves to the lower Transitional forest for the winter and congregates at large roosting sites.

It seems that if we wish to photograph this wonderful bird we will have to return in the winter also.