Thursday, 17 December 2015


I've just returned from a trip to South Georgia and the Antarctic, run by Aurora Expeditions.  For reasons best known to themselves, Aurora booked me into two full days in Chile on the way.  One day they offered a tour of Santiago; the other day they scheduled a winery tour, including a visit to the picturesque seaside township of Valparaiso.  I declined these offers.

I've never been to Chile before and the chance to spend two days birding was far more appealing.  I engaged a guide:  Fernando Diaz from Albatross Birding and Nature Tours.  He was excellent!  His English was very good, his catering was wonderful (table cloths, no less!) but, most important, his knowledge of birds was unsurpassed.

Before I left home I purchased a field guide:  Birds of Southern South America and Antarctica by Martin R. de la Pena and Maurice Rumboll.  I would not recommend it.  The text is inadequate and the illustrations are poor.  I later discovered that the book I should have bought was Birds of Chile by Alvaro Jaramillo.  It is very good indeed.

Thanks to Fernando (and not to the field guide) we saw 56 species in two days.  We were high in the Andes and the scenery was spectacular.  The first day we spent in the Yeso Valley and the second day we were on Faranelles Road.  The only two species I managed to get for myself in the city of Santiago were the Rufous-collared Sparrow and the Chimango Caracara.  These birds were both common just about everywhere we went.  Chilean Mockingbirds were common too, as were Moustached Turca and Long-tailed Meadowlarks, with their pretty red breasts.  I saw my first hummingbird on the first day:  the White-sided Hillstar.  Later we saw its nest, suspended from the ceiling of a cave.  Our first endemic was the not very inspiring Crag Chilia.  The beautiful Diademed Sandpiper-plover more than made up for that.
Diademed Sandpiper-plover

Birding in Chile, photo by Chris Melrose

As I knew absolutely nothing about the birds of Chile, I enjoyed the strange sounding names as much as the birds.  I'd heard of siskins, of course, but not Cinclodes, Tit-spinetails, Canasteros, Earthcreepers, Diuca-finches or Ground-tyrants.  So much to learn!
Great Horned Owl, photo by Chris Melrose

Highlights of the second day were a Giant Hummingbird, a Great Horned Owl, a couple of woodpeckers (Striped and Chilean Flicker) and a Black-chested Buzzard-eagle.  We saw plenty of Andean Condors.  We saw them both days, but had better looks on the second day.  And we saw a culpo fox, not in the least bit intimidated by us intruding onto his territory.
Andean Condors fly from the roofs of the buildings at the ski resort

Later, after we returned from the Antarctic, we cruised up the Beagle Channel and moored at Puerto Williams.  I saw almost as many new species here as I had in the past fortnight at sea.  From the boat, I admired a Ringed Kingfisher and a Black-crowned Night-Heron, while Magellanic Penguins swam by.  Both Chilean Swallows and Crested Ducks flew past and some sort of dark cinclodes played amongst the kelp on the shore.  Later, we went for a walk.  Black-faced Ibis flew overhead and a very handsome Thorn-tailed Rayadito squeaked in the bushes above.  In Punta Arenas, while looking unsuccessfully for Brown-headed Gulls, I saw Two-banded Plovers on the rocky shoreline, bringing my total Chilean bird count to 70 species.

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