Flamingos in the puna

November 10, 2019

We were up at 6:30 am for a light breakfast at 7 am, and then we headed out. Today we were going to Laguna Grande to see flamingos and anything that might be around.

We started out on the paved road but soon we turned off onto a dirt road. It was impossible to get lost now because there was only the one road. It started out as a good dirt road but later it became quite rocky, so we proceeded very slowly.

Puna Miner

Puna Miner

It was a beautiful day and the scenery was spectacular. High in the Andes puna the mountains didn’t seem all that high, but then again we were climbing to 4,300 meters. After a while we came to a field of rica-rica bushes, which are what the locals harvest to make tea which is supposed to protect against altitude sickness. We had had some of that tea last night.

Black-fronted Ground-Tyrant

Black-fronted Ground-Tyrant

It took over two hours to reach Laguna Grande, and we stopped several times to see little birds like Puna Ground-Tyrant and Puna Miner. After a while we started to see small groups of vicuñas, and we guessed that we saw several hundred. We were also lucky to see an Andean Fox, looking hopefully at the flamingos.

Andean Fox

Andean Fox

Laguna Grande was absolutely full of flamingos! Ricardo and Patricia estimated there were about 4,000 of them in the lagoon, and they’ve been studying them for 20 years so they should know. There was a scattering of other birds but the flamingos were what made it impressive. The James’s flamingos were the most abundant, and they were absolutely gorgeous birds in their breeding plumage!

Our first flamingos, James’s Flamingo

Our first flamingos, James’s Flamingo

James’s Flamingo

James’s Flamingo

From here the track kind of evaporated and Ricardo had to pick his route carefully. There were hazards ranging from cliffs and soft spots to holes dug by tuco-tucos. But we got through to our lunch spot by the third lagoon, where we had a picnic out of the back of the truck.

Vicuña herd

Vicuña herd

This was where Ricardo and Patricia’s research place was set up. Basically it was some stone walls to keep the wind out and an area inside to camp. But they said they don’t use it much anymore because of altitude sickness.

Flamingos near the research station

Flamingos near the research station

After lunch we walked along the foreshore and checked out the birds, finally locating a Grey-breasted Seedsnipe. That’s not always an easy species to find. But by now it was after 2 pm so we started our return journey, arriving back at El Peñon at about 4:30 pm.

Baird’s Sandpiper

Baird’s Sandpiper

Dinner tonight was to be barbecued beef. Rosemary had eaten lunch without too many stomach spasms so perhaps the medicine the doctor had given her had done the trick. The barbecue was supposed to be served at 8 pm but it wasn’t really ready until 8:40 pm. There were six other guests besides us, and the room also seemed to be the hangout for locals to watch soccer games on TV.

Besides beef and lamb we also had lettuce and tomatoes, potatoes and eggs. It was a really good meal.

November 11, 2019

Again we were up at 7 am and on our way, this time on our way to the small town of Antofagasta de la Sierra. The scenery along the way was amazing, all different landscapes from pumice fields to dunes of sand to volcanoes.

Llamas at a ranch

Llamas at a ranch

The town was about the same size as El Peñon, but a bit more developed because it’s the county capital. Patricia was meeting officials in the town to discuss water use by the local mines, so we took off with Ricardo to look for birds. The town itself had birds other than Rufous-collared Sparrows and there were other birds in the fields just outside the town.

Statues of llamas in Antofagasta de la Sierra

Statues of llamas in Antofagasta de la Sierra

There were lagoons just south of the town, and it also had flamingos. But there were only a few juvenile Chilean Flamingos and no Andean or James’s. However it had a lot of coots, three species including Giant Coot, and lots of ducks. There was even a Rosy-billed Pochard, which Ricardo had never seen there before.

Antofagasta Cone and lagoons

Antofagasta Cone and lagoons

Giant Coot

Giant Coot

We watched the waterfowl for a while before deciding to go for a drive through the lava fields. The track was very rough as we bounced along, and eventually we came to a very sandy area. It looked like somebody had had to dig a vehicle out of an “armadillo hole”, and so we decided to turn around and head back to town. Getting stuck would have been a bad thing.

Cinnamon Teal and Yellow-billed Pintail

Cinnamon Teal and Yellow-billed Pintail

Volcanic lava field

Volcanic lava field

We met Patricia after her meeting and had lunch at a restaurant in Antofagasta de la Sierra. Once again the meal was quite good but very large. It’s amazing that the food, especially fresh salads, is good food considering how remote the place is.

Black-hooded Sierra-Finch

Black-hooded Sierra-Finch

From here it is a day and half drive back to Salta, so it was time to get started. We retraced our route for most of the way and then headed south through a narrow canyon to the town of Belén, where we arrived at about 6 pm. Our hotel was a few blocks away from the main square; it was a new hotel and very nice too. Our room was quite large, with a covered patio at the front.

The two of us went out for a walk to check out some artisanal textile shops. (According to Lonely Planet, Belén is noted for its textiles.) The first place was in the back of a house and looked like a cooperative. Nothing really appealed to us so we headed along the road to find the other shop. It looked more interesting, and the man inside gave us a good tour, showing us the different types of wool, explaining the spinning, and also told us that the dyes he used were all natural. This was all in Spanish but we could follow it very well. He even had a sample of the very expensive vicuña wool, but he didn’t have any products made from it.

After looking around for a bit we bought two small table runners dyed in a variety of colours. One would be for a birthday present and we’d keep the other one for ourselves.

We went out for a dinner at a good restaurant; it opened at 9 pm and it was only 8:15 pm, but they opened up for us anyway. We ordered our meals and chatted until they arrived. Just as the waiter came out of the kitchen there was a resounding crash. This turned out to be Paul’s dinner. The other three got their meals and we asked for a clean plate so that Paul could share Rosemary’s dinner of chicken with mushrooms, which was a huge serving. Later Paul’s actual dinner of ravioli arrived, but Ricardo explained what had happened and sent it back.

November 12, 2019

It was a long drive back to Salta, over 400 km, so we were up early. We retraced part of yesterday’s route and then joined the main road heading to Salta. We did very little birding, although we did stop for a group of Elegant Crested-Tinamous crossing the road with their elegant crests.

We stopped at a place where Ricardo buys his favourite grappa. They also sold local olive oil and other jams and salsa. We bought some olive oil and balsamic vinegar, hoping it would survive the trip home. Later we stopped at a winery/hotel for lunch. We sat out in the garden to have our meal, and it was a lovely setting and very peaceful.

Quebrada de las Conchas view

Quebrada de las Conchas view

About 5 pm we stopped at Posta de las Cabras, a popular restaurant in the gorges north of Cafayate, for a coffee and tea stop. Unfortunately we got there just after a convoy of tourist vans so the ordering counter was a bit of a zoo. But eventually we got served and relaxed for half an hour.

Chimango Caracara

Chimango Caracara

We headed onwards and almost right away a Black-legged Seriema ran across the road in front of us! There were two of them and they ran into the grounds of the Sombra de Toro artisan workshop, where Rosemary got a good picture. Seriemas are funny-looking birds; there are two species of seriema and we’d seen the Red-legged last year, so now we had the whole set.

Black-legged Seriema

Black-legged Seriema

Onwards we went, taking the back route into San Lorenzo so we could look (without success) for Brushland Tinamou. This was our last night with Ricardo and Patricia, and we had certainly enjoyed our time with them learning about the flamingos as well as the water problems of the high puna.

We checked into the Selva Montana hotel again, in the same room we’d had a few days ago. Later we went down to Don Sanca for dinner. We’d been there last year and found that their pizzas were pretty terrible. But this year we sat outside and tried other menu items, which were actually pretty good. The evening was really lovely and it was such a nice way to spend our last night in the area.

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Going to Salta to visit the puna

November 7, 2019

This was our last morning in Buenos Aires (for now) and we actually slept in until after 7 am, having no pressing engagements. We met up with the remainder of the group at breakfast, where there were plenty of choices from the buffet. Our checkout time was noon so at about 11:30 am we headed downstairs to check out; the last half-dozen of our group had also chosen that time to leave.

We arranged for a taxi to take the two of us to the airport, an unnerving trip since our taxi driver was very aggressive in the busy streets. We got there safe and sound and checked in for our flight to Salta. There were actually two flights to Salta, one leaving at 2 pm and the other at 2:35 pm, so we checked very carefully that we were lining up for the 2:35 pm flight!

The flight left on time, and it was a bit bumpy in spots but for the most part it was fine. Our guide Ricardo Clark met us at the airport and drove us up to the Selva Montana hotel in San Lorenzo, the same place we had stayed last year. We arranged to meet him at 7:30 pm to go for dinner and then we were going to go owling in the Huaico Reserve.

We had dinner at a restaurant where we had eaten last year, and while waiting we watched National Geographic Wild on their TV. At 9 pm Ricardo returned and off we went to the reserve. We first looked for nightjars, unsuccessfully, but we did see a beautiful Barn Owl. Probably the nightjars were keeping out of its way!

Ricardo drove around the grassy paths and finally stopped at a likely location for our first target, the Montane Forest Screech-Owl. It’s a very localized species. We had both brought our headlamps but they were unnecessary because Salta’s city lights illuminated the overcast sky. We could hear a Common Potoo singing but we had to wait for the owl. After a while we heard one calling, but it took a long time it to come in and perch near us. But finally it did and we had a good view of it. (But not a good photograph.)

November 8, 2019

We were heading towards an area of lagoons in the Andes where flamingos lived, but today we were just driving a shortish distance to Cafayate. So luckily it was a not too early start. Ricardo’s wife Patricia was coming with us; she is doing research into flamingo populations up in the puna. There are several breeding lagoons so she was hoping to get a good idea of the breeding population numbers before doing the breeding survey in February. She would also take the opportunity of having meetings in some of the towns up there.

Variable Antshrike

Variable Antshrike

Las Conchas gorge

Las Conchas gorge

The trip from Salta to Cafayate went through some spectacular country. We stopped several times to look for interesting species like Chaco Chachalaca and Streak-crowned Spinetail. We were in chaco habitat here, so we stopped several times to look for White-throated Cacholote, an Argentine endemic which builds bulky stick nests. We saw some nests but none of the birds. We even toured the Cafayate dump, which had numerous nests, but we still saw no cacholotes.

Cliff Flycatcher

Cliff Flycatcher

Southern Martin

Southern Martin

We were also in a wine-producing area, so a lot of the good areas for birds are being cleared and replanted with vines. We stopped at a really nice restaurant for lunch, whose chef used to work at Selva Montana when it operated a restaurant.

Black-crested Finch

Black-crested Finch

Our hotel in Cafayate was reasonably good, but its main advantage was that it would give us a one-night reservation on a Friday night. We went over to the town square and had a very good meal at one of the restaurants there.

November 9, 2019

We were ready for a 6:30 am departure today, because it was a long drive to El Peñon. Luckily the hotel had put out some breakfast food, so we sat down and eat before leaving.
We carried on southwards through the Cafayate vineyards, where there were no birds to be seen. Rosemary’s lunch yesterday had contained a lot of onions, and now she was starting to have violent stomach spasms. It was going to be a long day!

Sandy Gallito

Sandy Gallito

From time to time there were small areas of native vegetation among the vineyards. We stopped at one of them and tracked down a Sandy Gallito and a pair of Ringed Warbling-Finches. And last but not least, the mythical White-throated Cacholote, at a nest!

Ringed Warbling-Finch

Ringed Warbling-Finch

We stopped a few times but it was a long way to El Peñon. Soon we left Route 40 and turned up a provincial road into the mountains. There were a lot of places where rivers were allowed to cross the road, but this was the dry season so luckily we didn’t have to ford any rivers.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

We stopped in Barranca Larga for lunch, but Rosemary wasn’t hungry at all and didn’t order anything. In the end she ate a small piece of bread to see what would happen, and within half an hour she had the stomach spasms again, for the next hour or so.

The road climbed up into the puna, where there were no bushes and no more grassland. After a while we started to see small groups of vicuñas near the road. Apparently the local people round them up from time to time and shear them, so that their hair can be made into exotic fabric. We could see that some of them had been shorn.

Young vicuña

Young vicuña

The scenery was spectacular, with colourful red and green geological formations, distant high mountains, and the occasional salt-fringed lagoon. We climbed over a 4,200-meter pass and soon were down in El Peñon, a remote village of about 200 people, arriving at 3:45 pm.

The hotel was an adobe building with a few rooms around a dirt parking area, and it was surprisingly cool and comfortable. Rosemary went to sleep and Ricardo found the town doctor, who gave her some Omeprazole tablet to cut down on the acid in her stomach.

Dinner was at 8 pm, and Rosemary was dubious about eating anything. But she had some soup and some of the shepherd’s pie, along with a small cup of herbal tea made from a local plant. It was a lovely tea and supposedly good for the digestion.

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The end of the replacement tour

November 4, 2019

Today was sort of the last day of our ad hoc replacement tour of northeast Argentina, as we would be starting the long trip back to Buenos Aires. The plan was to drive to Posadas and fly to Buenos Aires, so there was still scope for birding. And so we were up at 4:15 am, all packed and ready to leave at 5 am!

The hotel gave us a packed breakfast of—no prizes for guessing this—a ham and cheese sandwich, as well as an apple and a bottle of water. We ate that and fell back asleep as we drove down the road to Urugua-í Provincial Park, which we had also visited last year.

Maroon-bellied Parakeet

Maroon-bellied Parakeet

We got there at 6:50 am, and we didn’t have to look for the piping-guans because we’d already seen them back in Iguazú. So we were ready for some forest birding. But the place was infested with swarms of bees! They landed everywhere, which was very unpleasant. The group divided up again, some going with Patricio on a long walk while the majority of us stayed with Keith and Glen.

Slaty-necked Wood-Rail

Slaty-necked Wood-Rail

Everywhere we went the bees were with us, and several people got stung. (Not us.) After a while Rosemary retreated to the bus, where she caught up with three days of journal writing and photo editing. But she and the other refugees came out after a while to rejoin the group. Today’s forest birding had different birds than previous days of forest birding, such as Southern Bristle-Tyrant, which we both saw well.

Southern Bristle-Tyrant

Southern Bristle-Tyrant

But now we had to head south. We stopped in a town named Wanda, a town based on mining of semi-precious minerals and for lunch we went to a place with a salad bar and parilla, similar to the one at Iguazú. Then the rest of the afternoon was spent travelling to Posadas, where we would spend the night before flying to Buenos Aires tomorrow.

As we reached the city we could see clouds massing and then the lightning and rain started. It rained as we drove through Posadas in rush hour, as we got out of the bus, during dinner, and into the night. But the Maitei Hotel, where we stayed, was a nice place.

Tonight we were all seated at one long table for dinner, and it was interesting to see all of us at one table. We ordered our main course and then did the daily bird call, which we finished just before they started to serve the meal. Rosemary had a mushroom omelet with stir-fried vegetables, which was quite a change from our usual meals.

As we returned to our room the power kept going off, but it quickly came back on every time. And the lightning storm was still raging outside, as well as the torrential rain. We went to sleep hoping that it wouldn’t be an airport-closing storm!

November 5, 2019

The storm had passed, so that was good. Breakfast was the usual buffet and we had already packed our bags so we didn’t need to rush. The bus arrived at 8 am for the last time and took us on the short 10-minute ride to the airport.

Last night’s storm had indeed been an airport-closing storm, so there were a lot of people there whose plane hadn’t taken off yesterday. But all that meant was that they would get on their delayed plane and we would get on our regularly-scheduled plane. We were checked in as a group, which speeded things up. Some people had been concerned about excess baggage fees, but nothing was said about that.

The flight to Buenos Aires was on time and uneventful, except for a few turbulent patches. After landing we collected our bags and then waited while some people went to ATM’s and others went to Aerolineas Argentinas to cancel their tickets from Ushuaia. We then loaded into minibuses, which would take us to the Lafayette Hotel.

En route we stopped for lunch at a really good buffet restaurant named Siga La Vaca (Follow The Cow). Its food was fairly standard buffet food with lots of choices, but the desserts were great and they included beer and wine in the price!

Small-billed Elaenia

Small-billed Elaenia

The buses then took us to our hotel; we were in the second bus and it couldn’t park outside the hotel so it had to go “around the block”. But this area of Buenos Aires is full of one-way streets and transit-only streets, so it took about 15 minutes to do that. And on the way we noticed some pigeons being hunted by a Peregrine Falcon, a new species for our Argentina list!

Great Egret

Great Egret

Brazilian Cavy

Brazilian Cavy

Black-crowned Night-Heron in flight

Black-crowned Night-Heron in flight

By the time we finally got checked into the hotel it was after 3 pm. We met in the lobby to go birding at Costanera Sur; the group was smaller now as some people chose not to come. Late afternoon was a great time to visit the park! The temperature was lovely and with no humidity, and it was a “no bicycles” day which made things easier for birding. It was a lovely outing. We got out of the park gate just at the 7 pm closing time.

Black-and-rufous Warbling-Finch

Black-and-rufous Warbling-Finch

Plumbeous Rail

Plumbeous Rail

We all had dinner together at the Lafayette Hotel—it was still part of the tour, after all. Unlike many of the other places we had stayed, the food was served very promptly and we finished dinner just after 9 pm!

November 6, 2019

We had the day in Buenos Aires with not much to do except move to another hotel, since the Lafayette was full for tonight. Our original schedule had us arriving here from Ushuaia tomorrow, so now we were almost back to our original plan.

So we went to breakfast and then joined the group for a morning birding trip to Costanera Sur. This time we walked along a different trail that took us out along the river’s edge. From there we could look back and see One Ocean Expeditions’ ship Resolute, which was currently under arrest for non-payment of bills.

RCGS Resolute, under arrest

RCGS Resolute, under arrest

Yellow-billed Teal

Yellow-billed Teal

The highlight of the birding walk was a great encounter with a Dusky-legged Guan: as we were walking along the path it was walking along the path towards us. We stopped and waited as it slowly approached us, getting quite close before veering off onto the grass so it could go past. This is a species which likes to be in trees and bushes and doesn’t like to be close to people!

Dusky-legged Guan

Dusky-legged Guan

We arrived back at the Lafayette at 11:30 am, retrieved our bags from the room, and checked out. Our new hotel, the 474, was nearby so the easiest way to get there was to walk. And that didn’t take long. The 474 was really nice, much nicer than the Lafayette. It was only noon but we checked in and could go up to our rooms, where we deposited our bags.

Monk Parakeet

Monk Parakeet

After that our remaining small group went out for lunch. The tour was officially over so we were on our own for paying, though. We found a place not far away and the twelve of us trooped in. It was a bit confusing but eventually we figured out the system. After we finished, the two of us headed back to the 474 to do some catching up with documentation. Rosemary had a week’s worth of photos to be identified, and some of them were quite difficult, even with Paul’s notes on what birds we had seen and the order we had seen them in.

At about 6 pm our group went out for dinner, this time choosing a pizza place. We had a great time, lots of laughter and sharing of stories. Back at the hotel we had goodbyes to say to some of our group, including Craig and Dougald, as they were catching a very early flight to Trelew.

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Iguazú Falls

November 1, 2019

We were up at 4:30 am to go out looking for the Rufous Nightjar. As soon as we went outside the hotel we could hear them calling, but it took about half an hour to call one in so we could see it fly past. As a bonus we heard and saw a Common Potoo as well. Soon it was light and we went for a short walk around the hotel area, again finding a number of interesting birds.

Wedge-tailed Grassfinch

Wedge-tailed Grassfinch

After breakfast we got into the vans and headed over to Ituzaingó, where we were reunited with our big pink bus.

The drive to Iguazú took a long time, but we stopped at a few places to do some birding. We stopped on a road which went towards Paraguay and searched the roadside for Sharp-tailed Tyrant. We found some moderately interesting birds, but not that one.

Brown-and-yellow Marshbird

Brown-and-yellow Marshbird

Later we stopped at another site, an eBird hotspot. We climbed down past an informal junk disposal site and followed the route of a disused road for about an hour. Again we found some interesting birds but we only found our target species, Glaucous-blue Grosbeak, at the last moment.

Streamer-tailed Tyrant

Streamer-tailed Tyrant

We stopped outside Posadas for lunch, and this was a real change as the place was a buffet, complete with salads, hot food, and even pizza, which they seemed to make especially for us. Apparently this style of restaurant is common in the area because of the proximity of Brazil. It was a pleasure to not have to order chicken and chips and have it cooked to order!

During the afternoon we slept for a lot of the time; the bus seats were more comfortable than typical airline seats. Then about 7 pm we finally arrived outside a fancy hotel, the Loi Suites, in a tropical forest. The hotel was in sections connected by suspended bridges. It also had four pools, walking trails, and most importantly it blended right into the jungle.

Dinner was an interesting meal: it seemed that they thought we were all vegetarians. It was good but not what we expected. It started at 8 pm and the service was terribly slow. Most of us got up and left around 10:30 pm, rather than waiting for dessert to arrive.

November 2, 2019

Up early again! Today we were heading to the National Park. As we went out to get on the buses this morning, there was a Toco Toucan in the parking lot. (He’s the one on the cereal box.) That was a good start to the day.

Toco Toucan

Toco Toucan

With our local guide Patricio we had an insider’s view, starting with birding along a road which most people wouldn’t go on. Forest birding is hard because it involves looking into thickets and tangles to identify distant birds. Birders with experience identify the birds by their calls, but nevertheless we did manage to find and identify a lot of species during our walks.

Birding the forest in the National Park

Birding the forest in the National Park

Grey-headed Kite

Grey-headed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Yellow Tyrannulet

Yellow Tyrannulet

We had lunch at the restaurant in the park, the same restaurant we were at last year. A great buffet with a parilla. The lineups for the parilla were long but they moved quite quickly. And it had a pretty good dessert buffet, too. Paul got a half pear which had been marinated in a fluorescent green liquid; it just tasted like pear, though.

Surucua Trogon

Surucua Trogon

Yellow-fronted Woodpecker

Yellow-fronted Woodpecker

After we were all finished we headed along the upper trails towards the falls, the Garganta del Diablo. We were surprised to see a pair of Black-fronted Piping-Guans on the way, because last year we had to go to a special place at 7 am. The volume of water in the river seemed much higher than last year, but on the other hand there wasn’t as much spray from the falls.

Red-rumped Cacique

Red-rumped Cacique

Black-fronted Piping-Guan

Black-fronted Piping-Guan

We didn’t spend too much time at the falls because it was late in the day and the park rangers were hustling us out. We caught the last train down, which was a good thing because it was a long walk otherwise.

Plush-crested Jay

Plush-crested Jay

White-winged Swallow

White-winged Swallow

Dinner was a bit faster tonight, but it was still vegetarian and we still didn’t wait for dessert. Tomorrow would be another early start and we needed our sleep.

November 3, 2019

We had breakfast at 6:15 am again, and today as we loaded up the buses there were Thrush-like Wrens in the trees above the parking lot. We headed over to the park again, and on the way out to the main road we drove past the Guaraní aboriginal settlement, passing two little girls who were going for a swim in their lake.

Chestnut-eared Aracari

Chestnut-eared Aracari

The National Park train

The National Park train

We entered the park by the main gates and went birding along the Macuco Trail. We split into two groups, as trying to get 30 people to see a forest bird is virtually impossible. Patricio took the group with the more ambitious birders and went off down the trail, and the rest of us stayed back with Keith and Glen. Periodically we would find little scraps of paper on the trail, which Patricio had left to alert us to certain birds.

Capuchin monkey

Capuchin monkey

Rusty-breasted Nunlet

Rusty-breasted Nunlet

Some of the birds were easy to find but others, particularly the Southern Antpipit, were incredibly hard to locate. It was calling all the time but we spent about 45 minutes stalking it and trying to get a look at it.

Sayaca Tanager

Sayaca Tanager

Lunch was at the buffet restaurant in the park again, and we were then met by the buses. In the afternoon we spent about an hour at the Jardín de los Picaflores, the Hummingbird Garden. It was a tiny garden with about half a dozen hummingbird feeders, plus a couple of banana feeders for the other birds. We all managed to squeeze in and during the hour we saw six species of hummingbird, of which two were lifers for us.

Blue Dacnis

Blue Dacnis

Glittering-bellied Emerald

Glittering-bellied Emerald

Violaceous Euphonia

Violaceous Euphonia

Violet-crowned Woodnymph

Violet-crowned Woodnymph

Black Jacobin

Black Jacobin

The afternoon wasn’t over yet. We drove half an hour down the road the Araucaria (monkey puzzle tree) forest. Most of the trees are gone, only about 1 percent are left, but there are a few reserves which protect the remnants. We were at the San Jorge private reserve in order to find Araucaria Tit-Spinetail, which only lives in Araucaria trees. The buses pulled into the parking lot, where we all got out and looked at the nearest Araucaria. The bird duly appeared at the top of the tree and we all got good looks at it.

Araucaria Tit-Spinetail

Araucaria Tit-Spinetail

Shortly after we got back to the hotel the rain started. We had the option of going to look for the Long-Tufted Screech-Owl, and we dithered over whether we wanted to devote two or three hours to that. Eventually we decided no, we were worn out. But with the thunderstorm the bus company said the buses couldn’t travel on the owl’s roads as they were too muddy and slippery. So the trip was cancelled anyway. We were 100% in support of the drivers, having slipped and slid over muddy roads last year.

Dinner tonight was not vegetarian! Keith had spoken to the hotel staff last night, so they finally got the message that we only had a few vegetarians in our group. We had a nice piece of beef with mashed carrots and scalloped potatoes. Once again we skipped out on dessert because we had a really early start tomorrow.

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Iberá National Park

October 30, 2019

This was our first day of birding in Iberá and we were in full birding mode. We were up at 4:30 am for a 5 am start. There was fresh orange juice, tea, coffee, and small cheese buns waiting for us. The buses were a bit late in arriving so it was closer to 5:30 am before we left the hotel.

Almost the first thing that happened was that there was a nightjar sitting on the hotel’s access road. We all got out of the buses to take a look at it, which was difficult because it had flown into the trees and you could only see it by the reflection of a flashlight in its eyes.

Rounding up the cattle

Rounding up the cattle

Capybara with young

Capybara with young

On the main road we shortly came to a local road which led to Iberá National Park, a dirt road which ran through pastureland. There were a fair number of cattle, and quite a few dead cows in the fields. After a while we came to a gate which marked the park boundary, and the park guides who were accompanying us opened the gate so we could proceed. Now we were in moist grasslands with capybaras instead of cattle. At 9 am we stopped and the guides set up breakfast for us: tea, coffee, ham and cheese buns, and Danish pastries.

Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill

Double-collared Seedeater

Double-collared Seedeater

Spotted Nothura

Spotted Nothura

There was a greater variety of birds inside the park, too. We stopped periodically to look at interesting birds, mostly seedeaters which are the specialty birds of the area and live in the long grasses. We even found the Iberá Seedeater, which is a new species just described in 2016. Unfortunately we missed the Marsh Seedeater, which was also a really good bird.

Chestnut-capped Blackbird

Chestnut-capped Blackbird

Least Bittern

Least Bittern

Iberá Seedeater

Iberá Seedeater

We ended up at the local park offices, where there was a picnic area. Lunch was being made for us so we headed out on a trail to see what else we could find. Luckily there was some shade as by now the temperature was close to 39°C. Lunch was a barbecue with plenty of meats in the Argentine style, along with salad and bread. It was a nice meal, especially while sitting in the shade.

Lunch at the park offices

Lunch at the park offices

After lunch we walked around the area trails some more. This was where they were working to reintroduce the Red-and-Green Macaw, which had become almost extinct in the area, and we saw a couple of them fly by. We saw a lot more local birds too, including an unexpected Orange-headed Tanager.

Hooded Tanager

Hooded Tanager

South American Snipe

South American Snipe

On the return trip we birded along the road again, stopping for interesting birds, most notably Upland Sandpiper. And we surprisingly found another couple of life birds in the ranching area outside the park.

Just before we reached the hotel we were asked if we wanted to go and look for the Sickle-winged Nightjar. That would have meant driving another half an hour and then waiting until sunset. We had seen that bird last year with Tom and so we (and several others) opted to return to the hotel.

Once back we had showers, which felt so good. We also had some time to wash our very sweaty clothes. Dinner was scheduled for 8:30 pm so we headed down earlier to use the wi-fi, and after dinner we went back to our room to sleep.

October 31, 2019

We were up early again, but quite as early as yesterday. However that was mostly because the hotel couldn’t produce breakfast before 5:30 am. So we headed out when the buses arrived, about 6:30 am.

Today we drove for an hour to Estancia San Juan Poriahú. The main building had been built about 400 years ago by Spanish Jesuit priests and it was a cattle ranch for a long time, but recently the owners have turned it into a nature sanctuary and dude ranch, the first eco-lodge in Argentina.

Grassland birding with a storm in the distance

Grassland birding with a storm in the distance

Caimans in the lake

Caimans in the lake

It was cloudy and cooler this morning, and in the distance we could see thunder clouds and lightning. We were hoping to see several new species, but the weather didn’t cooperate. The clouds were coming our way but the sky lightened a bit, so we headed out to look for the Black-and-White Monjita.

The storm is getting closer

The storm is getting closer

The head gaucho from the estancia accompanied us because he knew where the bird was to be found. But quickly the rain began and we all huddled under a tree. We all had cheap plastic ponchos which sort of kept us dry, but the tree provided almost no shelter so it was pretty pointless.

Waiting out the rainstorm

Waiting out the rainstorm

After about half an hour a lot of us decided to return to the estancia. The amount of water that had come down was amazing and so was the fork lightning! We were even wringing out our socks. Rosemary spent some time drying the camera and hoping for the best. They brought tea and coffee and we stood under the porch awnings, hoping the rain would stop, but we knew from last year that it could rain for a couple of days straight in this area.

Finally the other group returned without having seen the Monjita. The guides told us that in order to go to the Strange-tailed Tyrant’s location we would have to walk along a muddy track for up to 5 km with the hope of finding the bird. Some people still wanted to do that, but we didn’t, having luckily seen the bird last year. Eventually the transportation got sorted out and we got onto the “back to the hotel” bus.

It was still raining as we drove back, and the windshield wiper on the driver’s side wasn’t working. Once we got back to the main highway the driver got out and tried to fix it, but no luck. But he crossed himself before carrying on, so it turned out okay.

Swainson’s Flycatcher

Swainson’s Flycatcher

Green-barred Woodpecker

Green-barred Woodpecker

Later in the afternoon the rain stopped so we and several others went out for a walk around the hotel area. There were a surprising number of birds around, considering that we were next to a large eucalyptus plantation. But it was definitely much harder to find and to identify the birds on our own!

Guira Cuckoo

Guira Cuckoo

Campo Flicker

Campo Flicker

The hard-core group got back at about 8 pm. They had been in the rain for a while and they had had to hike through the mud for several kilometers. We were glad we didn’t subject our shoes to that.

Shortly after that we had dinner and then returned to the room to pack up, because tomorrow we would be heading up to Iguazú to stay for three nights.

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On the way north to Iberá

October 27, 2019

When we woke up we were at the dock in Buenos Aires and for the first time since boarding we had breakfast in the dining room. The disembarkation procedure was really well organized, and by the time we had finished breakfast we were all cleared to leave.

Leaving the Resolute in the port at Buenos Aires

Leaving the Resolute in the port at Buenos Aires

The first people off the ship were the ones on Rockjumper’s Brazil tours, because they had flights to catch. There were about 30 of us in the group going to northeast Argentina and we disembarked together. When we got out to the street we found we would be travelling in a large pink double-decker bus!

Roadside birding in Ceibas

Roadside birding in Ceibas

We all sat upstairs, where seeing birds would be a bit easier, and off we went, driving through Buenos Aires suburbs to start with. There was very little traffic as today was Sunday; it was also their election day so tonight we would know who the next president was.

Masked Yellowthroat

Masked Yellowthroat

Sooty-fronted Spinetail

Sooty-fronted Spinetail

Like last year, we crossed the big bridge over the Paraná River and soon after that we stopped for lunch at a dumpy parador. We turned off into the Ceibas area, where there were a lot of birds. We stopped in three or four places for short walks and by the end of the day we had gained seven species for our world lists. The most impressive find was by Bjorn, who found a Stripe-backed Bittern, and how he noticed it we’ll never know.

Spectacled Tyrant

Spectacled Tyrant

Stripe-backed Bittern

Stripe-backed Bittern

The overnight stop was in the town of Colón, on the banks of the Uruguay River. We arrived there during a lightning storm and we seemed to drive a lot of dirt roads through run-down areas, hitting overhanging tree branches all the way, before finally reaching our hotel.

It was about 9 pm when we arrived and they gave us an empanada followed by chicken and roasted potatoes for dinner. It was a pretty good hotel for an Argentine country town, but we were very tired and went to bed pretty much right after dinner. Luckily we were staying there for two nights.

October 28, 2019

Last night we were exhausted and went to bed right after dinner, but we were up for 7 am breakfast. Today was our day trip to El Palmar National Park, an area of native palm trees which we had also visited last year. After breakfast we had to wait for confirmation that the park would be open, and then we left in two small buses. We were at the park by 9 am but we had to wait again to pay our admissions and to get a park guide for each bus.

Narrow-billed Woodcreeper

Narrow-billed Woodcreeper

Tegu lizard

Tegu lizard

There weren’t many birds in the grasslands, but later in the forest edges there were more. By lunchtime we were at the visitor area, where there were restaurants and toilets. We all ordered our lunch and then went off birding until it was ready. By far the best bird was a Great Horned Owl, with a couple of young! Paul ordered “fish” for lunch and it turned out to be a large river fish, larger than a dinner plate. So he shared some of it with Sharon.

Great Horned Owl chick

Great Horned Owl chick

Capybara

Capybara

After lunch we looked over the river towards Uruguay and there was a continuous stream of Eared Doves flying up the river. We’d seen flocks of 20 or 30 birds flying back and forth over the park, but this migration was exceptional. Then we birded around the edges of the grassy areas before starting back to Colón. Our route back took us through Liebig and past the place we stayed in last year, which was such a horrible place to stay. It still looked the same on the outside and undoubtedly was the same inside.

Large-billed Tern

Large-billed Tern

We ended the day with a walk along the river near a forest and wetland area. There were people swimming and fishing there, and as it started to get dark several Whistling Herons flew in from the river. Our local guide Patricio tried to call in a Tropical Screech Owl but with no success.

The bridge over an arroyo near Colón

The bridge over an arroyo near Colón

By now we were all very hot and sweaty so it was great to get back to the hotel with time to have showers and get into clean clothes before dinner. At 8 pm we had the daily bird call, and we got to contribute the Solitary Sandpiper which Rosemary had photographed.

Dinner started with a ham and cheese pie followed by spinach ravioli with meat sauce. Neither of us could finish our meals because there was way too much food.

October 29, 2019

Today was scheduled to be a long driving day, so we were up at 6:15 am to pack our bags before heading down to breakfast. Rosemary went across the street to take some photos in the park, and by 8 am we were all on the bus, bumping our way towards the main highway.

A statue near our hotel in Colón

A statue near our hotel in Colón

We drove for a long time through the flat countryside of Corrientes, passing by eucalyptus plantations, rice fields, and cattle pastures. At one place we were stopped at a police control; luckily we passed, having working seatbelts and the correct number of fire extinguishers and hammers to break the windows in case of fire.

Another statue near our hotel in Colón

Another statue near our hotel in Colón

Lunch was at the town of Paso de los Libres. We found a restaurant which looked very nice, but they didn’t think they had enough food for 30 people. So we walked across the highway to another, larger, place. We placed our order and then went out for a short walk. Across the road were some Bonpland’s Palms, a species which was only discovered in 2012. They are short and bushy and they live in only a small number of sandy sites around here, so they’re nearly endangered.

We drove all afternoon, passing through Gobernador Virasoro, where we had stopped for lunch last year. Both of us slept for a while, and then the sun set and it got dark. Finally we got to the town of Ituzaingó, on the bank of the Paraná River just across from Paraguay. We were met by two smaller buses plus a truck, which would transport us to the Howard Johnson hotel. We would be staying there for the next three nights. Would we ever see our big pink bus again?

By now it was close to 9 pm and everyone was tired. The dinner was very nice, but we really wanted to get to bed because tomorrow’s wake-up call would be at 4:30 am. And tomorrow’s temperatures were predicted to be in the high 30’s with added humidity—luckily we would have air-conditioned buses, but when outside birding it was going to be hot.

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The cruise to nowhere

October 20, 2019

The first day of our cruise: we got up at 6:30 am and went upstairs to see what was happening. Out on the observation deck at the back of Deck 6 several people were already looking for birds. At first we didn’t see many but soon there were some very distant albatrosses. We had no experience with pelagic birding but with the help of people who were better birders we saw White-chinned Petrel and Black-browed Albatross.

White-chinned Petrel

White-chinned Petrel

Black-browed Albatross

Black-browed Albatross

For breakfast we could go to either the Bistro or the main dining room. We chose the Bistro, which was not as formal. The food was served buffet style, so we could have a small breakfast rather than a heavy meal. Once we were finished we headed back to the observation deck, where we saw our first Magellanic Penguins bobbing along in the water.

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

At 10 am we all had to attend the safety drill to learn about evacuating the ship into lifeboats, should the need arise. We learned how to put on the life-jackets as well as where to go to find our lifeboat. In the afternoon we had to try on rubber boots, which we would wear on all our landings.

Our pilot is leaving the ship

Our pilot is leaving the ship

Dinner was at 7 pm in the dining room, but for some reason the service was very slow and we didn’t finish eating until nearly 9 pm. The soup wasn’t very hot but otherwise the food was very good.

The ship’s upper deck, by the pool

The ship’s upper deck, by the pool

Once we were finished we went up to Deck 7 for the daily checklist review. There weren’t many species observed, and many of them were “write-ins”, in other words species we weren’t expected to see. But that was because we were in the far north near Buenos Aires, of course.

October 21, 2019

This morning we woke up at 7:30 am; breakfast started at 7 am but there was still plenty of food when we got up to the Bistro.

After we were finished we headed out to the back observation deck. The first bird we heard about was a Pale-bellied Spinetail which had landed on the ship. Usually spinetails hide in thickets, but here it was far offshore. A lot of us went up to the deck above, where the Zodiacs were stored, to see the bird. The poor little thing looked bedraggled as it sat on a wire in the shelter of the lifeboats. Later on a Guira Cuckoo landed on the ship, and there was also a Southern Lapwing and a Creamy-bellied Thrush. It was very strange to see those land birds so far out to sea.

Pale-bellied Spinetail

Pale-bellied Spinetail

Guira Cuckoo

Guira Cuckoo

At 9:30 am Rosemary went to a talk about photographing birds in flight, which was quite interesting. After that she had a one-on-one chat with Daisy Gilardini, the ship’s resident photographer, who helped to get the camera to produce better photos. And later she talked with fellow passenger Andrew (from Norfolk), who had more pointers about using the back focus button.

Paul went to the ship’s gym, which is a tiny room with a rowing machine, two elliptical trainers, and a treadmill, along with some free weights. Fortunately out of all of the 100-plus passengers there was only him and one other person, so he ran on the treadmill for 15 minutes.

Today we decided to eat lunch in the dining room so we shared a table with Karen and Anne (from Newfoundland, who was the one who initially persuaded us to book this cruise). Again the service was very slow, so it’s likely that we will eat lunch in the Bistro in future. And it’s also likely that we will be less likely to eat a large meal in the Bistro.

Southern Giant Petrel

Southern Giant Petrel

After lunch we went outside to watch more unexpected land birds arrive at the ship, and we also checked out a lot of Black-browed Albatrosses to see if they were Yellow-nosed, but no luck.

About mid-afternoon the wind rose and the seas became quite rough, and the captain announced that we shouldn’t go outside due to the swells. So after tea-time we took Stugeron tablets and retired to our room.

Paul went up to Deck 7 for the daily recap at 5:30 pm, and the ship was really pitching and rolling up there, but by dinner time the swells had lightened up a bit. We went for dinner at 7 pm and the waiters were having difficulty serving the food, and every so often a larger wave would hit the ship with a bang and a thud. We sat with Frank, Jim, Karen, and Dorothy; Frank had an endless supply of birding-trip war stories.

October 22, 2019

Sleeping on the ship last night was an interesting experience. The seas were very rough, so the ship was pitching quite violently, and partway through the night it started rolling from side to side. But despite all the movement we both managed to sleep quite well.

The crew on the bridge, approaching Puerto Madryn

The crew on the bridge, approaching Puerto Madryn

We had been told that the ship would put in to Puerto Madryn at about 4 am so that it could be refuelled after its emergency diversion. Why this hadn’t been done in Buenos Aires, we weren’t told. So when we went up to breakfast we were surprised to find out that we hadn’t arrived there yet.

Common Dolphins following the ship

Common Dolphins following the ship

The ship finally docked around 9 am, and so since refuelling was going to take several hours most of us got off the ship to go birding with our guides Keith and Glen. We had been in Puerto Madryn just last year, and we were seeing a lot of birds that we had seen then, so after a while the two of us and Anne split off from the group. We went back to Puerto Madryn to visit the bookstore, where Anne bought a copy of the Aves de Argentina book and Rosemary bought an Argentine cookbook, which had a lot of information about making empanadas.

American Oystercatcher

American Oystercatcher

Magellanic Oystercatcher

Magellanic Oystercatcher

At lunch back on the ship we found that nothing had happened, no fuel had been delivered yet. We were told that the broker hadn’t paid the fuel company so the fuel company wouldn’t deliver the fuel. So after lunch we went a on another excursion, in buses organized by One Ocean. They took us to Punta Loma to see the fur seal colony. There were a few big bull fur seals which were hanging out keeping an eye on the rest of the herd, and there were a lot of cormorants nesting on the cliffs above the colony.

Magellanic Penguin

Magellanic Penguin

We also looked for other birds, but there were really not many there. Probably just as well, it would be hard to point out a Canastero in a bush to a group of over fifty people! But on the way back we saw Elegant Crested-Tinamous on the road and just outside the town we stopped to find the Burrowing Parrots. We were lucky to find one sitting on a fence.

Our ship, docked in Puerto Madryn

Our ship, docked in Puerto Madryn

Dinner was good tonight, except for sticky risotto, and we got served in a reasonable time. And it was quite nice to eat dinner on a stationary ship. Shortly after that was the daily recap up on Deck 7, where we stayed to hear from the ship’s resident glaciologist about his trips to Antarctica and his descent into the active Erebus volcano. He had some great photos of the volcano and of him inside the crater.

October 23, 2019

At 6:30 am there was an announcement, and we immediately noticed that the ship was still docked at the pier. That meant it wasn’t fueled up and ready to go. But after breakfast we heard that there would be an excursion to a lagoon in Trelew this morning.

Coscoroba Swan

Coscoroba Swan

We had assumed that we were headed to the same place that we had visited with our guide Agustín last year, but instead we went to a lagoon in the city. Laguna Cacique Chiquichano was right in the city and had a paved path around it, so it was a good choice for a large group. There were lots of ducks and coots on the lake and at the other end there were a fair number of flamingos.

Chilean Flamingo

Chilean Flamingo

Lake Duck

Lake Duck

Right away somebody spotted a Black-headed Duck, which is apparently not common. And in the rushes around the lagoon were numerous Many-coloured Rush-Tyrants, which were very photogenic. In Spanish they are called “Siete Colores” (Seven Colours). There were also two Wilson’s Phalaropes, which we hadn’t seen before in Argentina. We stayed at the lagoon for about an hour.

Black-headed Duck

Black-headed Duck

But then the staff were hustling us back to the buses and we sensed that something was up. When we got back to the ship we heard that two fuel trucks had arrived and delivered their loads. Things were looking up! But then we heard that this wasn’t enough because we needed extra fuel as a backup emergency plan. And this extra fuel was in limbo because of a problem with the fuel broker. And if this wasn’t resolved by 8 pm then the cruise would be cancelled.

Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant

Many-coloured Rush-Tyrant

After lunch the two of us headed into town to go to the cemetery, where we heard there might be good birds. And anyway South American cemeteries are interesting. But Paul misread the map and we walked the wrong way for a long distance. So we gave up on that idea and returned to the ship for some tea.

At 5:30 pm we went up to Deck 7 for the daily recap; most of the birds were write-ins. Yes, it’s unusual to find flamingos in Antarctica! Dinner tonight wasn’t the best; Rosemary’s veal was too rare and the mashed potatoes were very salty. The best part was the deep-fried ice cream for dessert!

In the evening there was another meeting, and we were told that a supplier had been found who was able to sell us the 230 tons of fuel the ship needed. Of course there was paperwork to be done and money to be transferred but at least we left the meeting cautiously optimistic that some of the trip could be salvaged.

October 24, 2019

This morning the ship was a hive of activity as shore excursions were being organized for whale-watching in the Gulf and a bus trip down the coast to the penguin rookery. We’d done both of those things last year so we weren’t interested. Instead we both went to the talk on “Shackleton and the Three Franks”, which was really good and we found out some things we didn’t know about before.

Soon after that there was another meeting. Yes, the ship could get the fuel it needed. But… it wouldn’t arrive for two days. So the trip was cancelled. Ouch. Very, very sad!

So the plan was to return to Buenos Aires immediately. Shore excursions? Nope. We were amazed at how quickly a 100-meter-long vessel could leave a pier.

We were so depressed. But it was hard to dwell on that because we were thinking “Now what are we going to do instead?” Rockjumper was scrambling to organize some tours to fill in the ten-day gap that everybody had. We had to consider rescheduling our post-cruise to northwest Argentina, but we didn’t have to act on that right away.

Putting together birding tours for 100 people with only three days’ notice is not an easy task, even for highly professional companies who put together birding tours for a living. So Rockjumper was floating all kinds of proposals and soliciting expressions of interest. However we held off deciding anything until they came up with specifics.

The mood on the ship was very subdued, to say the least. After dinner we had a meeting in which the Rockjumper team presented some possible options, and we ended up going to bed early.

October 25, 2019

We were awakened at 6:30 am by an announcement that a Cape Petrel was flying behind the ship, but of course by the time we got upstairs it was long gone. Not surprising.

We had our usual breakfast in the Bistro and sat with others to see what they were thinking about doing. The morning dragged on, and then Rockjumper had a meeting in which they told us about options for tours. We had originally considered their proposed tour to El Calafate and the Andes, but in the end it was taken off the list because there weren’t enough available seats on the plane.

So we opted for the northeast Argentina option instead. It was very similar to the tour we did with Tom last year, but we’d have more time in the Iguazu Falls area and it was likely that we’d get different species than we got last year.

Paul looked at the lunch menu and noticed that the dining room’s menu featured fish and chips, so we went there for lunch. Both the fish and the chips were very good.

It looked like our post-cruise trip to northwest Argentina would now be going as scheduled, so that gave us a problem. We had booked a flight from Ushuaia via Buenos Aires to Salta, and now we wouldn’t be using the first leg. So we had to contact Aerolineas Argentinas to change that ticket. We enlisted the help of crew member Andy, and even he couldn’t contact them on the ship’s phone. So then he phoned his sister in Buenos Aires and asked her to call them! Eventually the changes got made, and we gave Andy $125 US to cover the credit-card charges his sister had made.

Now we just had to hope that Rockjumper’s northeast Argentina tour went ahead, which it looked like it would. This has definitely been the most stressful vacation we have ever had!

October 26, 2019

Today the good weather continued, and before long there was basically nobody watching out for birds. We just sat around chatting to various people and waiting for the next meal to be served. Others sat in the bar to do that. This is what regular cruising must be like.

Now it was a waiting game to see what Rockjumper tours were going ahead. There was a lot of talk about the One Ocean Expeditions situation but of course it was all speculation. As the day went on more stories started to surface, and everything seemed to point to One Ocean being in financial difficulty. They called a meeting in which they handed out a letter which offered us a credit for a free cruise in the future, but we thought it would be unlikely that they would ever honour that.

We sent off an e-mail to Tugo, our travel insurance company, to notify them that we would be filing a claim, but we won’t do anything until we get home.

Before dinner there were a couple of meetings. The first was to deal with the procedures for getting off the ship in Buenos Aires, and the second was to confirm the details of the various replacement tours. As we had hoped, the northeast Argentina tour was going ahead.

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