DEPART LONDON FOR SANTIAGO
Our birdwatching tour to Chile begins this evening with a British Airways flight from London Heathrow, nonstop to Santiago.
THE ANDES: FARELLONES, VALLE NEVADO & EL YESO
We'll be met by our local guide on arrival in the Chilean capital Santiago on the morning of Day 2 and transfer directly to our comfortable city hotel, for a three-night stay.
In the afternoon, we'll drive a little way out of town to Lampa Marshes - the first of several terrific wetland sites we shall visit during our tour. The attractive Rosy-billed Pochard, White-cheeked Pintail and Cocoi Heron are among species we are likely to see here and, if the water levels are to its liking, we might also be lucky to spot the secretive South American Painted-snipe. Add chances of meeting the sociable Harris’s Hawk, strikingly-marked Wren-like Rushbird and 'wide-eyed' Spectacled Tyrant, along with the skittish Picui Ground Dove, Grass Wren, Correndera Pipit and Yellow-winged Blackbird, and our bird list should be off to a great start!
Over the next two days we'll enjoy spectacular trips into the Andes west of Santiago, driving up from the city at c570m (1900ft) to more than 3000m (c10,000ft), where the Farellones ski slopes make an excellent - and stunningly beautiful - spot to start our mountain birding. We may see our first mighty Andean Condors here, sailing on high, while other Andean specialities to watch for could include Rufous-banded Miner and Black-fronted, White-browed and Rufous-naped Ground Tyrants. The likes of Greater Yellow Finch and Grey-hooded and Band-tailed Sierra Finches will also keep us busy as we search for the endemic Moustached Turca, Chilean Tinamou and Chilean Mockingbird.
Climbing back up into the rugged Andean foothills next day, we’ll scan the ravines for Mountain Caracara, a striking black-and-white raptor of the high Andes, and the rare and range-restricted Crag Chilia, a Chilean Andes endemic with a gleaming white throat and richly rufous rear.
The grasslands and streams on the way up to Embalse del Yeso (2600m/8500ft) make a fantastic setting in which to seek one of the world’s most incredible waders - Diademed Sandpiper-plover. As we eagerly approach the upland meadows and bogs to search for this much wanted but decidedly unobtrusive bird, we shall keep a sharp eye open for the furtive Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, as well as boldly-coloured Thick-billed and Yellow-rumped Siskins. The impressive Black-chested Buzzard-eagle, red-backed variant of Variable Hawk and several other Andean specialities such as the superb Torrent Duck, Mountain Parakeet, White-sided Hillstar, Black-winged Ground Dove, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, Cordilleran and Sharp-billed Canasteros, Long-tailed Meadowlark, Grey-flanked Cinclodes and Black-billed Shrike-tyrant occur here, too. Three nights Santiago
FLY TO TEMUCO
We leave Santiago this morning and catch a short (80-minute) flight south to Temuco, gateway to Chile’s immensely beautiful Lake District.
Our Temuco hotel is situated close to the compact, forested reserve of Cerro Ñielol, which stands on a low hill (335m/1100ft) overlooking the city. Walking the trails here this afternoon, we shall be hoping to unearth such goodies as the infuriatingly secretive Black-throated Huet-huet and Ochre-flanked Tapaculo, peculiar Des Murs's Wiretail and the local and rare Rufous-tailed Hawk. Night Temuco
CONGUILLIO NATIONAL PARK
From Temuco, we pay a full day visit to the amazing Conguillio National Park, an 'other worldly' place famed for its dramatic Araucaria or Monkey Puzzle trees set against a magnificent backdrop of the imposing snow-capped Llaima volcano. The landscape is simply breathtaking - and the birding here is pretty special, too!
Top of the list is surely the goliath Magellanic Woodpecker and we'll certainly be keen to find this charismatic bird, which is maybe as close to seeing an Ivory-billed Woodpecker as we will ever come! We will listen for the distinctive 'double drum' of what is surely one of the world’s greatest woodpeckers, watching for the awe-inspiring males showing off a bright red head over a huge black body, while the females sport a ridiculously curled crest. The much smaller Striped Woodpecker, endemic Slender-billed Parakeet, tiny Green-backed Firecrown, Fire-eyed Diucon, Austral Negrito, engaging White-throated Treerunner, Chilean Elaenia, Patagonian Forest Earthcreeper, Patagonian Tyrant and Patagonian Sierra Finch are among an exciting range of other specialities here that are typical of Chile’s luxuriant Southern Beech (Nothofagus) forests - and we'll hope to get lucky with a trio of ever-elusive temperate tapaculos: Ochre-flanked, Magellanic and the rufous-chested Chucao.
Chilean Flicker, Rufous-tailed Plantcutter, Common Diuca Finch, Spectacled Tyrant and Grassland Yellow Finch are also on the cards today, while birds of prey to watch for include Variable and White-throated Hawks, and both Chimango and Southern Caracaras. After an exciting day of birding in this extraordinarily beautiful national park, we return to spend a second night at our hotel. Night Temuco
PUYEHUE NATIONAL PARK
Leaving Temuco after breakfast, we take a four-hour drive south along Highway 5 to Osorno, where we turn east towards Puyehue National Park. We spend these two nights within this immensely scenic park, staying at the Antillanca Hotel, a ski lodge that's right on the spot for great birding.
The journey south will be a surprising one for UK visitors! The general scenery is rather reminiscent of West Sussex – the illusion strengthened by the presence of introduced English Oaks standing amongst fields of cattle, with the hedges lined with introduced bramble and other European species of plant. However, the illusion is shattered in the most dramatic of ways each time a snow-capped volcano - Casablanca (2240m/7350ft), Tronador (3554m/ 11660ft) and Osorno (2652m/8700ft) - pop into view in the background!
We have one full day plus the best part of two half-days to explore Puyehue National Park. In the Austral winter, Antillanca is a ski resort with plenty of snow, but in the Austral spring (at the time of our visit) its magnificent temperate rainforests set against a fine mountain backdrop are home to a range of Patagonian specialities. Black-faced Ibis, Austral Pygmy Owl, Green-backed Firecrown, Black-throated Huet-huet, Des Mur’s Wiretail, Chilean Elaenia, Fire-eyed Diucon, Dark-bellied Cinclodes, the cracking Thorn-tailed Rayadito and the unassuming Patagonian Tyrant are all gems of these species-rich Nothofagus forests. Above the treeline we might encounter the attractive Yellow-bridled Finch and Dark-faced Ground Tyrant, but access to the upper elevations depends on the level of snow.
On one night, we may head out after dark to see if we can find the rarely observed Rufous-legged Owl. Two nights Antillanca Hotel, Puyehue National Park
ANTILLANCA TO PUERTO VARAS
After some early morning birding at Antillanca, we set off on a two-hour drive (plus stops) south to Puerto Varas, in the ‘Chilean Lake District’. As we drive, we’ll have further chances to see the endemic Slender-billed Parakeet and, if luck is with us, the rare Rufous-tailed Hawk. Passing Lago Puyehue and Llanquihue en route - looking rather like the northern Swiss lakes - we will plan a couple of stops (for birding and lunch), with Chilean Flicker, Variable Hawk, Chimango Caracara and Patagonian Sierra Finch all likely.
If time permits, we'll continue 30 minutes south of Puerto Varas to the coast at Puerto Montt, where the intertidal mudflats of the Reloncavi Gulf provide rich pickings for wintering waders such as Hudsonian Godwit, Sanderling and Red Knot. The stocky Fuegian Steamer Duck, big flocks of beautiful Black-necked Swans and Silvery Grebes, and solitary individuals of the localised Snowy-crowned Tern won’t go unnoticed either! Two nights Puerto Varas
In Mapuche, the language of the island's natives, Chiloe means ‘place of the seagulls’, but though this is where many Kelp Gulls gather, we will have other targets in mind as we head to the port of Pargua for a short ferry crossing to the island.
Seabirds are likely on the crossing and we can hope for Black-browed Albatross, Pink-footed Shearwater, Peruvian Pelican and both Imperial and Magellanic Cormorants. With luck, we could also see Magellanic Diving-petrel, here at the northernmost limit of its range.
Once ashore on Chiloe we’ll head west towards the coast and offshore islands at Puñihuil, where we take a short boat trip to check the rocky shores for Magellanic Penguins that nest from November to March. Magellanic Oystercatcher, the flightless Fuegian Steamer Duck and the striking, sexually dimorphic Kelp Goose can also be found alongside Grey-flanked Cinclodes - the latter behaving like shorebirds on the rocks!
Away from the shore, Chilean Flicker, a different subspecies of Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Rufous-tailed Plantcutter, Black-chinned Siskin and Austral Blackbird are all possible in the coastal vegetation and it will be with some reluctance that we must tear ourselves away from the excitements of Chiloe Island and cross back to the mainland again to spend a second night at Puerto Varas. Night Puerto Varas
FLY PUERTO MONTT TO SANTIAGO, TRANSFER TO COAST AT QUINTERO
After breakfast in Puerto Varas, we bid farewell to southern Chile and catch a morning flight (of just under two hours) north from Puerto Montt to Santiago. We board our bus and set off on the 2 hour drive northwest to the coast at Quintero, stopping to bird and stretch our legs as we pass through some interesting valleys north of the Cordillera de la Costa.
Possibilities include the Rio Aconcagua near Caleres for waterfowl and waders, while at Humedal de Campiche we should encounter a selection of typical Chilean waterbirds and may be lucky with Many-coloured Rush Tyrant.
Arriving for a two-night stay at our hotel at Quintero in the late afternoon, we'll settle in with time to prepare for tomorrow’s excitement. Night Quintero
QUINTERO PELAGIC & CACHAGUA
The Humboldt Current draws cold water from the Antarctic and pumps it north along the west coast of South America, lifting nutrients from the ocean floor in the form of upwellings that make these waters the richest and most productive marine ecosystem on earth. Huge numbers of seabirds are drawn to the waters off Quintero and, following an early breakfast one morning here, we'll take an exciting boat trip a few miles offshore that simply rates as one of the world's most spectacular seabirding pelagics.
Among a long list of species possible from the boat, albatrosses might include Northern Royal (with its 3.5m wingspan, one of the largest in the world), Salvin’s, Buller’s and Black-browed, while Chatham and one or two other of the scarcer albatrosses are occasionally seen. The seabird bonanza continues, bringing chances of both Southern and Northern Giant Petrels, Southern Fulmar, White-chinned, Westland and attractive Cape Petrels, Pink-footed and Sooty Shearwaters, Juan Fernandez Petrel, Wilson’s Storm Petrel and even the diminutive Peruvian Diving Petrel. Add the prospect of seeing Humboldt Penguin, Guanay and Red-legged Cormorants, Grey Phalarope, Inca Tern and Chilean Skua... and we should be in for a memorable morning's birding!
After a late lunch back on dry land, we drive north to Cachagua this afternoon and visit the important breeding colony of Humboldt Penguins on Isla Los Pinguinos. As well as the penguins and chances of the 'must see' Chilean Seaside Cinclodes here, we’ll be looking out for Blackish Oystercatcher, Surfbird, Red-legged Cormorant, Peruvian Pelican, Peruvian Booby, Inca Tern and the elusive Marine Otter. Night Quintero
PACIFIC COASTAL WETLANDS: ESTERO MANTAGUA, LAGUNA EL PERAL & MAIPO RIVER MOUTH
Leaving Quintero, we head south for our final day's birding in Chile, following the Pacific coast to San Antonio and taking in some first rate wetland habitats along the way.
The coastal lagoon of Estero Mantagua is our first scheduled port of call. Perhaps a Grey Gull or Snowy-crowned Tern will be seen in flight, while possible shorebirds might include Two-banded, Collared and American Golden Plovers. South American Snipe, Cocoi Heron, Rosy-billed Pochard, and Chilean and Blue-and-white Swallows are also possible here and we could even be lucky to find the rare Ticking Doradito (now treated as a separate species to Warbling Doradito).
We move on to visit the exceptional El Peral Nature Reserve - an important rush-fringed lagoon - concentrating our efforts here on looking for a quartet of special birds: the tiny and cryptically-marked Stripe-backed Bittern; the strikingly patterned twosome of Many-coloured Rush Tyrant and Wren-like Rushbird; and, if we are lucky, the rare Black-headed Duck (unique in being the world's only brood parasitic duck). As we look for them, we should come across a good variety of other waterfowl too, such as Great and White-eared Grebes, Black-necked Swan, Red Shoveler, Yellow-billed Pintail, Speckled Teal and Chiloe Wigeon, along with White-winged, Red-fronted and Red-gartered Coots, the distinctive Spot-flanked Gallinule and the large Plumbeous Rail - the latter often surprisingly easy to spot as it regularly forages in the open.
Continuing south, we make our final birding stop just beyond San Antonio, where the mouth of the Maipo River can be a rewarding spot to scan for loafing gulls, terns and pelicans, along with Black Skimmer and migratory shorebirds. We have another chance to find the enigmatic Ticking Doradito, too.
Our birding over, in the late afternoon we make the 90-minute drive back east to spend our final night in Santiago. Night Santiago
SANTIAGO, FLY LONDON
Our final morning in Chile is 'free', so you can choose whether to have a leisurely breakfast and spend time in the hotel or visit the historic centre of the city for a bit of sightseeing in ‘downtown’ Santiago, where the old colonial buildings lie.
With our packing completed before an early lunch today, we depart to the airport this afternoon and catch the British Airways nonstop overnight flight home.
Mid-morning arrival back at London Heathrow on Day 15, where our birdwatching tour to Chile concludes.