October 26, 2018
After a not very good sleep last night, we were up even earlier today so as to get to Laguna de los Pozuelos early. Three species of flamingo awaited us! So breakfast was at 6:30 am and it was quite small: crackers, jam, and cheese.
We left at 7 am and headed out of town on a road heading to Laguna de los Pozuelos. It quickly changed from asphalt to dirt and in some places wasn’t very good. We stopped along the road a few times to check out the birds, mostly the birds in the scrubby hills. There were a surprising number of birds if you looked carefully, and it helped that Ricardo played recordings of some of the birds to lure them closer.
The weather was really nice today, blue sky with a few puffy white clouds. Before heading to the lagoon we stopped by the ranger station to check in. The ranger told Ricardo that due to yesterday’s heavy rain the park road to the lagoon was closed, but as we had a four-wheel drive vehicle he would allow us to go in. This was a good thing because the lagoon was still 7 km away! For the most part the road was dry, but there were a few sections where we diverted to go around large puddles. At the end of the road we parked and walked the rest of the way, until we were close to the water’s edge.
The edge of the lagoon was loaded with flamingos—three species, Chilean, Andean, and James’s (or Puna). The Andeans were the brightest, with brilliant pink wings with black feathers and spiffy yellow legs. Besides those there were lots of other birds. On the grass in front of us was a big flock of Pectoral and Baird’s Sandpipers, which we were familiar with from back home. In the water were Giant Coots, sitting on their nests and fighting each other off. There were Wilson’s Phalaropes, Andean Geese, and many other birds. We spent quite a lot of time scanning the shore to see what else we could come up with.
At noon we headed back to the car to have our picnic lunch. Our sandwiches were large and contained breaded veal, omelet, tomato, and cheese. (Rosemary removed the cheese.) After that we had some fruit and some Girl Guide cookies. (A fellow passenger on the flight to Toronto had given us a box of those.)
Once done we headed back along the park road to the ranger station. As we were driving along the track with the wind blowing into the car windows Ricardo suddenly said “I just heard a seedsnipe.” So we stopped and there, not far off the track, was a Grey-breasted Seedsnipe! That was a good deal—bird trips to Ecuador often devote a whole day to finding a seedsnipe.
We stopped at the ranger station to report on road conditions and then headed back towards Abra Pampa. On our way we stopped a few times to look at birds including Lesser Rhea, as well as some ground doves. We also saw several herds of vicuña as well as some llamas.
Just before we got back to Abra Pampa, Ricardo turned off the road to make a small detour to a small lagoon to see what might be there. The access was down an unpaved road and suddenly the car was stuck in a bog!
We got out of the car and Ricardo tried to rock it back and forth, to no avail. Finally he scavenged some sheet metal and plastic pop bottles to put under the wheels and, hurray! He managed to back the car out of the mud. Once this was accomplished he came back to us and we looked for birds. There was a Burrowing Owl perched on a fence several fields away; we would never have located it on our own.
After we walked through the mud to get back to the car we spent half an hour getting the mud off the soles of our shoes. It was caked on like glue and took some prying with sticks to dislodge it. Once our shoes were reasonably clean we headed back to the hotel. Dinner was at 7 pm, spaghetti topped with slices of meat and gravy.
October 27, 2018
We were up early this morning to start our long drive back to Salta. Just down the highway a bit we stopped at El Huancar, a place where the locals have celebrations with dancing and feasting. The area is sacred to them, but the lagoon there was easy to access. We stayed in the car and used it as our blind, also because the morning was a bit chilly outside. There were several species of waterfowl on the lagoon, including a large number of Yellow-billed Pintails and a Silvery Grebe, which was very pretty.
Farther along the highway we stopped at Azul Pampa, where we had stopped on the way north. We found both Grey-hooded and Black-hooded Sierra-Finches and also, a surprise for Ricardo, the endemic Moreno’s Ground-Dove. There were other interesting birds there, too.
When we reached Tilcara we went into the town to have lunch. It also had good food; Rosemary had beef empanadas and Paul had estofado de llama, which is llama stew. When our meal was finished we headed to a nearby wetland to look for Plumbeous Rail. Ricardo was a bit perturbed to see that the outside of the wetland had been dug up with a backhoe, but with the use of his bird calls we located one. We both got good views of it before it disappeared back into the reeds.
Back on the highway, Ricardo was planning to stop and look for the localized Brown-backed Mockingbird. He mentioned this to us and Rosemary said that she had just seen a big brown bird sitting on top of a cardon cactus. So he backed the car up until we reached the cardon and, sure enough, there was our bird!
After going through yet another police check we started up the mountain pass leading back to Salta. As we passed an open area with trees Ricardo said “I just heard a Sooty-fronted Spinetail, do you want to stop for 15 minutes?” Well, we did find the spinetail and after 45 minutes we had found six other species which were new for our list!
We got to Hotel del Antiguo Convento in Salta at just about 6 pm. It was a beautiful old place and our room was huge, with lovely corner windows overlooking the courtyard and pool area. We settled in, got our stuff sorted out, and had showers. We weren’t very hungry so we decided to walk up the street to the Coffee Store for a light meal. Bedtime was early tonight.