We are very excited to announce this new tour that quite simply has everything as we cover the Central region of Chile and the far south in Patagonia. It has fabulous waders, such as the highly sought after Diademed Sandpiper Plover, Magellanic Plover and Rufous-chested Dotterel, stunning seabirds including numerous Albatrosses, a visit to a King Penguin colony, a good chance of seeing Puma and other mammals and all in a spectacular landscape!
Arrival to Santiago an transfer to hotel
Most flights from London arrive in the early morning to Santiago and after such a long flight we shall transfer to a hotel to rest and then take an optional visit of the city before being ready for an early start to begin the bird tour on day 2. Overnight Santiago
Full day exploring the Andes: El Yeso Valley
We will begin our day early exploring El Yeso Valley in the Andean foothills, where for many two of the start birds of the trip can be found, the superb Diademed Sandpiper-Plover or Diademed Plover and the Andean Condor. The beautiful wader breeds in the Puna zone of the High Andes at low densities and although its taxonomic status has been debated for many years, it is now generally thought to be most closely related to a group of Australasian Dotterels. Andean Condors certainly need no introduction and we should see a number of birds on this great day! Other key species we shall look for are Crag Chilia, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, and several other Andean specialties such as Black-winged Ground Dove, Grey-flanked Cinclodes, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Grey-hooded Sierra Finch and Yellow-rumped Siskin. We will visit a lovely mountain spot where we will look closely for the cryptically coloured Grey-breasted Seedsnipe and passing flocks of Mountain Parakeets. Overnight Santiago.
The Pacific coast: Maipo Estuary – Laguna El Peral Nature Reserve – Quintero coastal areas
This morning we will visit the Maipo river mouth and surrounding coastal wetlands, including the exceptional El Peral Nature Reserve, where we will concentrate our efforts to finding the cryptic-coloured Stripe-backed Bittern, the brood-parasitic Black-headed Duck and the superb Many-coloured Rush Tyrant. We will also have a chance to find the scarce and local Ticking Doradito. During sunset and before heading north to Quintero, we will inspect the productive rocky coast as well as the Aconcagua river mouth. Here we shall search for the endemic Chilean Seaside Cinclodes and endemic seabirds of the Humboldt Current such as Red-legged and Guanay cormorants, Peruvian Booby, Grey Gull and the stunning Inca Tern. Overnight Quintero.
La Campana National Park – Cachagua (Humboldt Penguin breeding colony)
Another early start as we head to La Campana National Park, where we will look for a number of interesting species that are mostly endemic to Chile. Dusky-tailed Canastero, Moustached Turca, Dusky Tapaculo and White-throated Tapaculo will be the key targets. Around the slopes and gullies covered by cacti, Puya, an endemic bromeliad, we will look for Chilean Pigeon, Striped Woodpecker, Giant Hummingbird and Green-backed Firecrown. During the afternoon we will explore the coastal areas north of Quintero, visiting a protected breeding colony of the Humboldt Penguin. Here we also have a chance of seeing the range-restricted Southern Sea Otter.
At the end of the day we will stop at a coastal marsh to see a variety of waterfowl including Red Shoveler, Yellow-billed Pintail, Speckled Teal and Chiloe Wigeon, all three lowland species of coot, Spot-flanked Gallinule and Plumbeous Rail. Overnight Quintero.
Pelagic followed by Lampa Marshes
Today will most definitely be one of the highlights of the tour as we spend a good 6-7 hours at sea where we should experience some of the most exciting pelagic birding in the world! The Humboldt current draws cold water from the Antarctic and pumps it northwards along the west coast of South America. This process brings nutrients from deep below making this area hugely attractive as a feeding ground for large numbers of amazing seabirds! At this time of year, we should see a great variety of Albatrosses such as Northern Royal, Antipodean, Salvin’s, Buller’s and Black-browed Albatross. Chatham Island and Antipodean Albatrosses are also possibilities. We should also find Southern and Northern Giant Petrels, Southern Fulmar, White-chinned, Westland and Pintado petrels, Pink-footed, Sooty and Buller’s shearwaters, and Pterodroma or gadfly petrels, including Juan Fernandez and Masatierra petrels. Small tubenoses of other families include Wilson’s Storm Petrel and even the Peruvian Diving Petrel. If that isn’t enough (!) then we will also look for Guanay Cormorant, Red-legged Cormorant, Humboldt Penguin, Inca Tern and Chilean Skua. These waters are also frequented by some interesting marine mammals but obviously this depends very much on the sea conditions. There are numerous possibilities such as Sperm Whale and Killer Whales, Bottlenose, Dusky and even the amazing Southern Right-whale Dolphin, but all sightings are infrequent.
Once we have recovered from the amazing pelagic we will drive a short distance north to visit some marshes where we might find South American Painted Snipe, Rosy-billed Pochard and White-cheeked Pintail. Overnight Santiago
Vilches and Colbun Lake
This morning we will drive south along the central valley and the Panamerican Highway and head to the mountains where our search will focus on the threatened local race of Burrowing Parakeet, which usually congregates in noisy flocks. We will make a number of stops as we venture into the forested Andean slope and spend the night in the rural area of Vilches in the forest and we can try for Rufous-legged Owl that can often be found roosting in the woodlands behind our lodge! Overnight Vilches
Altos de Lircay Nature Reserve
We will visit the forests of ‘Altos de Lircay’ Nature Reserve to look for several Patagonian woodland specialties. There will be many targets today as we look for the rare Rufous-tailed and White-throated Hawks, Austral Parakeet, Thorn-tailed Rayadito and White-throated Treerunner. We will keep searching in the undergrowth bamboo thickets for the skulking Chestnut-throated Huet-huet and Magellanic Tapaculo. Another key species we will look for is the hugely impressive Magellanic Woodpecker and the largest of the tyrant flycatchers, the Great Shrike-Tyrant. We will then return to Santiago for a final night before the second half of the trip begins! Overnight Santiago
Fly to Punta Arenas – Transfer to Torres del Paine National Park EAST
Today we will drive to the spectacular Torres del Paine NP. The journey will be impressive with the scenery changing with every turn of the Patagonian Steppes. We will explore the lakes on the eastern side of the park searching for numerous wildfowl species including Spectacled Duck, Crested Duck, Andean Duck, Silver Teal, Chiloe Wigeon, Speckled Teal and Yellow-billed Pintail, plus Great, Silvery and White-tufted grebes. We will also look for Cinereous Harrier and Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle. Chilean Flicker, Striped Woodpecker and Austral Pygmy Owl will be the key target species as we visit some wooded areas before visiting the fast-flowing rivers hoping to find the stunning Torrent Duck.
Overnight at Hotel Rio Serrano, Torres del Paine
DAYS 9 & 10
We will spend two full days dedicating our time in trying to obtain good views of Puma. The area comprised by the northern coast of Sarmiento Lake, Laguna Amarga and Laguna Azul is well known for holding one of the largest concentrations of pumas in the wild.
Our dedicated puma trackers will patrol known Puma corridors by car and on foot. Using this information we plan our 2-3 km (3-4-hour) hikes along authorized trails both inside the Park and the Laguna Amarga Ranch. These are moderate walks, so a minimum fitness to be able to keep up with the group is advised. Topography is usually not too demanding but there might be differences in altitude of around 50-250m sometimes, although we walk at a slow and gentle pace. Overnight at Hotel Las Torres or similar, Torres del Paine
Torres del Paine – Sierra Baguales
Early in the morning we will explore Sierra Baguales range, located northeast of Torres del Paine. Along the road, in the scrubby gullies, we will look for interesting passerines such as Patagonian Mockingbird and Grey-bellied Shrike-Tyrant. Further exploration of this montane habitat should reveal the White-throated Caracara, Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Rufous-banded Miner, Cinnamon-bellied and Ochre-naped ground-tyrants, Patagonian and Greater yellow finches and the stunning Yellow-bridled Finch. During the afternoon we return to Punta Arenas ready for our next adventure! Overnight Punta Arenas.
Straits of Magellan – Ferry to Tierra del Fuego – Laguna de los Cisnes
Today we will take a 2-hour ferry journey towards Porvenir, in Tierra del Fuego. Here, we cross the mythic Straits of Magellan, where will see a variety of tubenoses such as Black-browed Albatross, Southern Giant Petrel, Cape and White-chinned petrels, Sooty Shearwater and Magellanic Diving Petrel. Other seabirds include Chilean Skua, Kelp, Dolphin and Brown-hooded Gulls and South American Tern. Marine mammals are also possible and we may get lucky with the playful pods of Peale’s Dolphins as well as South American Sea Lions. Once on land, we will check the coast around the little town of Porvenir, where we shall see Crested Duck, Chiloe Wigeon, Baird’s Sandpiper, Magellanic Oystercatcher and Dark-bellied Cinclodes, among several other species.
During the afternoon we will visit some alkaline lagoons and ponds east of the village. Our target here will be the local and rare Magellanic Plover. This enigmatic wader looks more similar to a little dove rather than to any shorebird, and is often seen feeding ‘scratching’ the mud with its bright pink legs. Other birds of the area will include Two-banded Plover, Wilson’s Phalarope, the abundant White-rumped Sandpiper, Short-billed Miner and the ubiquitous Austral Negrito. Overnight at Yendegaia House, Porvenir.
Tierra del Fuego: Useless Bay for King penguins – Baquedano Hills
Today, once again will no doubt be one of the tour highlights as we explore the vast Useless Bay, famous for its King Penguin colony! Of course there will be a wealth of other seabirds, waterfowl and shorebirds too. We will concentrate on finding Flightless and Flying Steamer-Ducks and Kelp Goose as well as King, Imperial and Rock cormorants.
En route, we’ll be checking the meadows and fields for the endangered Ruddy-headed Goose as well as for potential raptors including Variable Hawk, Aplomado and Peregrine Falcons. The main target of our visit to this scenic part of the island is the only continental King Penguin breeding colony. This splendid species congregates year-round on this site and in the past few years they have successfully re-started to breed here.
On our way back to Porvenir, we will explore the shrubby slopes and moorlands of the Baquedano Hills, searching for specialties such as the gorgeous Rufous-chested Dotterel, Austral Canastero, and the stunning White-bridled Finch.
Overnight at Yendegaia House, Porvenir.
Tierra del Fuego: Ferry to mainland – Otway Sound
Today we will cross the wind-swept steppes of Tierra del Fuego and mainland Patagonia in search of several of its specialties including Least Seedsnipe, Tawny-throated Dotterel, Common Miner, Band-tailed Earthcreeper and Chocolate-vented Tyrant.
Another short ferry ride will take us to mainland once again and we hope to see the striking Commerson’s Dolphin following the wake during our crossing of the Straits. Large herds of camel-like Guanaco will be a common sight along the entire drive towards Puerto Natales and other mammals potentially include Southern Grey Fox, Patagonian Hairy Armadillo and Patagonian Hog-nosed Skunk.
Chilean Flamingo, Upland and Ash-headed geese, Coscoroba and Black-necked swans and Silver Teal are all possible sightings along with waders such as Baird’s and White-rumped sandpipers and Wilson’s Phalarope at the roadside wetlands.
During the afternoon we will look for Lesser Rhea and visit the Skyring Sound and Fitz Roy Channel, where we hope to see some dolphins (Peale’s and hopefully the endemic Chilean Dolphin). Finally, we will scan the surrounding cliffs, which often hold an Andean Condor roost. Overnight Punta Arenas.
Punta Arenas Flight back to Santiago
Our final morning will be a great end to our tour as we take one last boat trip before our afternoon flight back to Punta Arenas. We will head our early and visit Magdalena Island where we will visit a Magellanic Penguin colony. We will then take our flight back to Santiago and connect with a return flight to the UK.