FLY BUENOS AIRES, COSTANERA SUR
Our birdwatching tour to northeast Argentina begins with an overnight flight from London Heathrow to Buenos Aires, where we arrive on the morning of Day 2. We shall be met at the airport and transfer directly to our comfortable city hotel before heading out to enjoy lunch and an afternoon of birding at nearby Costanera Sur reserve - a remarkable wetland of pools and reed beds set beside the gaping mouth of the famous River Plate.
If the water levels are high, this fine reserve can be teeming with waterfowl, including Lake Duck, Ringed Teal, Coscoroba Swan and Red-fronted and Red-gartered Coots - plus a host of great passerines, while Chimanco and Southern Caracaras patrol the lagoons.
After a splendid first afternoon of birding in the Argentine capital, we return to our hotel to freshen up before dinner - then it’s off to bed early in preparation for the exciting days ahead! Night Buenos Aires
FLY RESISTENCIA, ISLA DEL CERRITO & CHACO NATIONAL PARK
We leave Buenos Aires this morning on a 90-minute flight north to Resistencia and check in there for two nights at a nice hotel.
Our afternoon birding along the Paraná riverine forest takes us on an excursion to the Isla del Cerrito. Birdlife can be abundant and we will hope for views of Red-winged Tinamou and Spotted Nothura along with Cinereous Harrier, the parasitic Striped Cuckoo (often located by their call), rowdy Amazon Kingfisher, the rather unimaginatively named Brown-and-yellow Marshbird and the ubiquitous Grassland Yellow Finch. Setting off into the woods should quickly produce the stunning Vermillion Flycatcher and smart Chotoy Spinetail. We will also spend time here looking for the gorgeous Yellow Cardinal, an endangered which is becoming very scarce.
Next morning, we set off to explore the Chaco, an area of dry plains and palm savanna with a distinctive array of species. With most of the rain falling on the Andean slopes to the west, this region of Argentina is extremely dry and forms an area known as the Chaco. Originally covered in thorny woodland, its landscape is now more open and we will be looking here for a range of species such as Bare-faced Curassow, Chaco Chachalaca and Black-bodied and Pale-crested Woodpeckers that we will not encounter elsewhere.
Making regular stops as we drive across the largely uninhabited arid country of the Chaco, we should see thousands of Eared Doves and Picui Ground Doves. We'll also be keeping a keen eye open for the strutting Black-legged Seriema and a variety of raptors including Aplomado Falcon, White-tailed Hawk and the lowland race of Black-chested Buzzard Eagle. Maguari Storks often sit about huffily and Giant Wood Rails may be picked out beside the road, along with Wood Storks and Chestnut-capped Blackbirds.
In contrast, the Humid Chaco creates a transition zone between the Arid Chaco to the west and the humid tropical forests to the east - and can feel like a different country! Woodland birds here might include Gilded Sapphire, White-eyed Parakeet, the rag-bag Greater Ani, Greenish Elaenia, Yellow-olive Flatbill, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Purplish Jay, White-rimmed Warbler, Saffron-billed Sparrow and the ubiquitous and sweet-singing Green-winged Saltator. Two nights Resistencia
TO COLONIA CARLOS PELLEGRINI & IBERÁ MARSH
After an early breakfast we leave Resistencia and drive south via Mercedes today, heading to Colonia Carlos Pellegrini, on the southern edge of the Iberá marshes. We spend three nights here, staying at Ecoposada del Estero.
This is a fantastic area for birds and wildlife and we will make numerous stops as we approach Iberá. Dropping into the more humid low-lying grasslands, seedeaters become a common sight with Double-collared, Tawny-bellied, Rufous-rumped and the extremely smart and endangered Marsh Seedeater. However, we will be keeping our eyes peeled along the road as we search for an iconic species of Iberá Marsh - the red-faced and weird-looking Strange-tailed Tyrant. As dusk approaches, Capybaras (the world's largest rodent) and Plains Viscacha (a large, gregarious nocturnal chinchilla) emerge.
Iberá is a native word meaning 'brilliant waters' and the marshes are largest in Argentina, a vast complex of rivers, lagoons, grassy meadows and woodland that is home to a wonderful variety of wildlife. They are packed with Limpkins and Snail Kites and alive with a superb range of smaller birds together with wildfowl and waders.
With two full days to explore, we will set about cleaning up on the region's seedeaters: Rusty-collared and the threatened Chestnut, but most importantly the recently described Iberá Seedeater. The marshes can seem alive with Lesser Grass Finches, shocking Scarlet-headed Blackbirds and among increasing numbers of Brown-and-yellow Marshbirds we will seek out Yellow-rumped Marshbirds. Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures replace Turkey Vultures as they drift above the landscape bedecked with the huge and showy Giant Wood Rail. Rhythmic ticking should reveal the presence of Crested Doraditos, a small bright flycatcher with a black eye mask and yellow below. Taking a gentle stroll along a boardwalk through the marshes adds vocal groups of Black-capped Donacobius, a good chance of Rufous-sided Crake, Green Kingfisher and Greater Thornbird, along with Large Elaenia, White-headed Marsh Tyrant and Sooty Tyrannulet.
Small, forested islands are often home to Little Woodpeckers and Solitary Caciques, while about our lodge Yellow-billed Cardinals jump about the feeders. Scattered about the landscape we will check for Grey Monjita and, with luck, the handsome Black-and-white Monjita. Numerous small pools might reward us with good views of Plumbeous Ibis and Ringed Teal, and about them the unusual, scruffy necked Chopi Blackbird (named after its sharp, shrill call). Wildlife of all kinds is abundant, with Black Caiman, Howler Monkey and Armadillo among creatures to watch for. Three nights Ecoposada del Estero
IBERÁ & TRANSFER NORTHEAST TO ARISTOBULO DEL VALLE
We'll spend the first hours of the day around the marshes, perhaps savouring our last views of Capybaras or Strange-tailed Tyrant before departing for the drive northeast into Misiones province. Travelling via Caza Pava and Colonia Garabí, we will have lunch en route should arrive at Aristobulo del Valle mid-afternoon.
Aristobulo sits at the western end of the Selva Misionera (also known as the Mata Atlantica), a tropical forest ecosystem that has suffered a great deal of deforestation in recent decades. Encompassing a variety of tropical forest habitats - from dry forests through moist forests to coastal mangroves - it once stretched along the coastline of southeast Brazil and covered parts of Paraguay, Uruguay and northeast Argentina. More ancient than the Amazon, today it survives largely in small, degraded patches and protected areas.
Being cut off from other tropical forests has allowed the Selva Misionerato evolve unique ecosystems, which harbour a large number of species found nowhere else on Earth. Night at Tacuapi Lodge, Aristobulo del Valle
SALTO ENCANTADO TO EL SOBERBIO, MOCONA & YABOTI
We rise early for a short drive to Salto Encantado, where against a backdrop of Parana rainforest (our new ecosystem for the remainder of the tour) Great Dusky Swifts depart their roost. New birds will come thick and fast in the forest as we seek the likes of Surucua Trogon, Green-billed Toucan, Ochre-collared Piculet, Rufous-capped and Grey-bellied Spinetails, the canopy-skulking Spot-backed Antshrike, Plain Antvireo, the reclusive Rufous Gnateater, outstanding male Blue Manakins, Pale-breasted Thrush, Golden-crowned Warbler, and Black-goggled and Ruby-crowned Tanagers. We will also hope to witness the faltering walk of the Short-tailed Antthrush and home in on a Purple-crowned Plovercrest lek, where males sit and ‘chip’ away at each other – vocally not literally!
Later we head south to El Soberbio, on the Uruguay River, with stops along the way that could yield Yellow-headed Caracara, numerous White-eared Puffbirds and perhaps Large-tailed Antshrike or even the appearance of a Cocoa Thrush - a recently discovered new species for Argentina that appears to be advancing south from Brazil. Soon we will reach the edge of Argentina’s largest swathe of subtropical rainforest, the Moconá sector of the UNESCO Yabotí Biosphere Reserve. This important area holds the largest number of endangered bird species in Argentina, and of 83 species endemic to the Atlantic Rainforest region, no fewer than 60 have been seen at Yaboti.
From several vantage points along the road it is possible to enjoy views of the rainforest out to the horizon, where regular species include Grey-rumped Swift, Black-throated Trogon, Planalto Woodcreeper, Social Flycatcher, Greenish Schiffornis and Red-rumped Cacique. At dusk we might be lucky to see the delightful male Silky-tailed Nightjar or a Long-trained Nightjar, the most spectacular of all South America's nightjars.
Around Mocona we will explore some of the region's labyrinthine tracks and trails, seeking to add Scale-throated Hermit, Yellow-fronted Woodpecker, the vocal Spix’s Spinetail, the recently split and fairly localised Scalloped Woodcreeper, and handsome yet skulking Bertoni’s and Dusky-tailed Antbirds. With much luck, we might even encounter the ultra-skulking Planalto Tapaculo. Low in the understory we will listen out for Southern Antpipit, and watch keenly for Black-tailed Tityra, the quietly perching White-throated Spadebill, White-necked Thrush, Chestnut-headed Tanager and Ultramarine Grosbeak of the Atlantic forest form. Another possible highlight here might be views of a Spot-winged Wood Quail rummaging through the leaf litter. Two nights Don Mocona Lodge, El Soberbio (Mocona)
IGUAZÚ NATIONAL PARK - IGUAZÚ FALLS, HUMMINGBIRD FEEDERS AND RN101
We make an early morning departure from Mocona to drive north along the border with Paraguay, heading for the renowned Iguazú Falls - arguably the most spectacular waterfall system in the world. The falls are surrounded by humid subtropical forest (a habitat formerly more common in adjacent Brazil, where it has almost disappeared due to land development). Northeast Argentina now holds the biggest and most continuous extension of this forest, offering some superb tropical birdwatching: tanagers, antbirds, toucans, manakins, parrots, motmots, trogons and tyrant flycatchers will thrill us!
Arriving here at lunchtime, we will make a superb stop at hummingbird feeders in Puerto Iguazú. Run by a famous Brazilian lady, who maintains one of the best set of hummingbird feeders in the country, the garden is alive with the noisy zaps of up to seven busy species of hummingbirds. Delights include Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, the superb Black Jacobin, Black-throated Mango, Violet-capped Woodnymph and Versicoloured Emerald, together with Violaceous Euphonia, Blue Dacnis and plenty of Bananaquits.
Iguazú Falls are truly one of the world's most awesome natural wonders. On the Argentinian side, access is outstanding: a series of walkways bring you right up to the thunder and spray of the water - and to the Great Dusky Swifts that cling precariously to the rocks behind. We stay in a fine hotel on the Argentinian side, close to the falls and the reserve, and with excellent birdwatching in the grounds.
Our first morning on the Argentinian side of the mighty Iguazú Falls will be devoted to exploring the forest by means of well-maintained trails that give fantastic views of this small corner of the national park. Here, a staggering 275 waterfalls make the ground almost shake, and the area round the excellent Hotel Sheraton hosts many superb species, including the endangered Black-fronted Piping Guan and Plush-capped Jay. We can expect to encounter a plethora of parrots, hummingbirds, woodcreepers, flycatchers and tanagers not seen during the preceding days. In particular we will be hoping to find the exquisite Swallow-tailed and White-bearded Manakins. There are strutting Giant Cowbirds and a variety of tanagers including Magpie, Green-headed and Swallow Tanagers. Gangs of Coatis loaf about like uncouth youths.
Birdlife tends to slow down quite dramatically in the afternoons so we will then largely devote our time to admiring the spectacular waterfalls for which Iguazú is so rightly renowned. Toco and Red-breasted Toucans, Chestnut-eared Aracari and Blue-winged Parrotlet are regularly encountered and, in the late afternoon, we hope to witness the remarkable spectacle of thousands of Great Dusky Swifts gathering overhead before diving down and dashing through the cascading water to their evening roost behind!
One walkway extends out above the main falls themselves. En route to this, we should see White-winged Swallows perched on the handrails or on rocks mid-river. Standing on the suspended platform and looking down into the roaring, ‘steaming’ waters, the sheer volume of water crashing over the edge is mesmerising.
Driving out to other tracks through the forest – including the famous RN (Route Nacional) 101 – will bring us yet more new birds... perhaps a Rufous-capped Motmot or a croaking Spot-billed Toucanet. Birding the tropical forests can be especially exciting when one encounters a mixed feeding flock, which here might include such treats as the remarkable Black-billed Scythebill, White-eyed Foliage-gleaner, Lesser Woodcreeper, Streak-capped Antwren and the dapper Chestnut-bellied Euphonia. Two nights at the Hotel Sheraton, Iguazú
IGUAZÚ FALLS & FLY PUERTO IGUAZÚ TO BUENOS AIRES
Iguazú is such a great place for birds that on our final morning here we might still have a chance of adding new birds. Perhaps a Plain-winged Woodcreeper, Sepia-capped Flycatcher or a tiny Eared Pygmy Tyrant will come our way? Or we might enjoy more views of Rufous-crowned Greenlet, the superb Blond-crested Woodpecker or a diminutive Creamy-bellied Gnatcatcher. We might spot a Toco Toucan perched on a bare snag protruding through the forest canopy or see a Snail Kite flying low overhead as we depart after lunch for the short drive to Puerto Iguazú and our afternoon flight back to Buenos Aires.
Arriving in Buenos Aires, we transfer to our city hotel, retiring to our rooms after dinner this evening to prepare for the flight home next day. Night Buenos Aires
Days 14 - 15
FLY BUENOS AIRES-LONDON
Following a leisurely breakfast at our hotel this morning and a transfer through the busy streets of the Argentine capital, we catch our afternoon flight from Buenos Aires to London.
Arrival in London next day (Day 15), where our birdwatching tour to Northeast Argentina: Iberá & Iguazú' comes to an end.