Argentina part I: The Pampas

Nov 8th to 15th – From Buenos Aires to Trelew.

Travel route Nov 8th to 15th.

I’d been saving money since January and now it was time for the highlight of the year – a 27 days long journey to an area as far from Sweden as I’ve ever been before: Argentina.

The plan for the trip was to go with the Swedish tour group Avifauna, a concept I’ve never tried before. After speaking to the tour leader on the phone for an hour around last New Year’s Eve and thinking about it for I few days I applied for the trip. We stayed in contact and eventually I ended up prolonging my stay in Argentina until Nov 30th.

During the summer I logged in to the domestic airline Aerolineas Argentinas website to add an extra piece of luggage, when I found out that my flight back to Buenos Aires had been cancelled postponed 2 days. That meant I would miss my flight home and the worst part was that they never notified me about it. I later realized that this had to do with the G20 meeting occurring in Buenos Aires Nov 30th to Dec 2nd, as it turned out all domestic had been cancelled for the Argentinian Air Controllers to be able to focus on the security of the meeting. Therefore I’ll be in Argentina until Dec 4th instead, if everything goes to plan that is. Never say never in this country, I’ve learned.

I met up with the others at Ezezia after a very smooth Norwegian flight from Gatwick and picked up an Argentinian SIM card on the way. We left with a tour bus straight to Lafayette Hotel where we dropped our stuff, had lunch and when down to the city reserve Costanera Sur to go birding for the rest of the day.

Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires.

Costanera Sur, Buenos Aires.

We saw lots of birds in the reserve, both wetland birds and passerines. The whole experience was a bit overwhelming for someone who hasn’t been to South America before as most species where entirely new.

Glittering-bellied Emerald | glanssmaragd | Chlorostilbon lucidus

Flying out of Buenos Aires.

The following day we headed to Aeroparque, the domestic airport, to fly an hours south to Bahía Blanca. We met our guide Héctor Slongo (very nice and dedicated guy indeed, highly recommend hiring him) who came in a day late due to an Air Strike leading to an 8 hour bus transfer. Our flight however wasn’t cancelled and after a long queue we dropped our bags and went to the gate.

We spent the afternoon birding Prarie-like habitat outside town with Pampas Meadowlark as highlight. I found photography quite hard here, but I managed to snap a couple of decent Burrowing Parrot shots from the bus on the way home. The best photo opportunities were actually just at our hotel where Southern Lapwings and Burrowing Owls were on the lawn in front of the entrance.

Outside Bahía Blanca.

Outside Bahía Blanca.

Burrowing Parrot | patagonienparakit | Cyanoliseus patagonus

Southern Lapwing | sydamerikansk vipa | Vanellus chilensis

Burrowing Owl | prärieuggla | Athene cunicularia

The following day we headed inland for a change of scenery from the never-ending grasslands to the Monte Forest. The area was quite birdy with a long list of lifers to me, but I once again struggled with getting any decent shots of anything as we where twitching in a rather high pace. Most birds where for some reason quite skittish in this area as well.

Low forest inland from Bahía Blanca.

After a field lunch we headed to the coast south of town to twitch the endemic Olrog’s Gull, which we did see quite well. The light was too harsh for any proper photography and I ended up shooting Lapwings on the lawn at the hotel again.

Southern Lapwing | sydamerikansk vipa | Vanellus chilensis

The following morning we went back to the forest. While the birding group started walking to clinch another couple of target species I stayed in one area and focused on a few couple of species, which turned out to be rewarding as I finally got good shots of the White-tipped Plantcutter singing in the area.

White-tipped Plantcutter | argentinaväxtmejare | Phytotoma rutila

Rufous-collared Sparrow | morgonsparv | Zonotrichia capensis

Long-tailed Meadowlark | långstjärtad ängstrupial | Sturnella loyca

Green-barred Woodpecker | grönbandad hackspett | Colaptes melanochloros

Vermilion Flycatcher | rubintyrann | Pyrocephalus rubinus

After another field lunch we headed south towards Las Grutas in rather miserable weather. We got to the hotel late in the evening and enjoyed the best food of the trip in a little restaurant in town. Up until now the food had been quite poor, but the chef had worked in Italy and knew how to treat the ingredients to make some really great dishes. Both the seafood and the meat were awesome here.

In Las Grutas we went birding in a arid, sandy canyon where the target species was Sandy Gallito. We found that and many other Earthcreepers, Tyrants, Spinetails and a Band-tailed Nightjar as a bonus. By now I was suffering from a major information overload thanks to all these completely new bird families. In the evening Héctor showed us his secret Yellow Cardinal spot, a bird which has declined heavily due to human interference and hunting. Héctor told me the street price for this bird is about 1 000 USD.

Héctor pointing out the Sandy Gallito.

Our tour Leader Mikael was very enthusiastic regarding the Cardinal.

Yellow Cardinal | gul kardinaltangara | Gubernatrix cristata

White-winged Black Tyrant | vitvingad sottyrann | Knipolegus aterrimus

Sandy Gallito | sandtapakul | Teledromas fuscus

Hudson’s Black Tyrant | Hudsons sottyrann | Knipolegus hudsoni

Fork-tailed Flycatcher | gaffelstjärtstyrann | Tyrannus savana

Band-tailed Nighthawk | bandstjärtad nattskärra | Nyctiprogne leucopyga

The following morning was clear and from my room I could see that there was some birds feeding in tidal pools on the coast. While the others had breakfast I went out with my waders on and got Crested Ducks in the best light possible.

Crested Duck | tofsand | Lophonetta specularioides

Crested Duck | tofsand | Lophonetta specularioides

We then headed south for another long drive to Puerto Madrýn where we picked up another local guide – we were now 12 people whereof 4 people were driving or guiding! We saw many cool things like the first Guanacos, Sea Lions, Whales and Snowy Sheathbills of the trip. The photo opportunities were few although I was able to get some shots of the local Kelp Gulls.

Kelp Gull | kelptrut | Larus dominicanus

Kelp Gull | kelptrut | Larus dominicanus

When we reached Trelew it was already dark so we headed for another superb dinner (some type of pork neck cut with baked pumpkin, wow!) and went to bed.

The following morning we headed south for a Sea Elephant spot (Isla Escondida) and later on a Magellanic Penguin colony (Punta Tombo). Not many new birds, but very cool experiences. The light was softened for a while at Isla Encondida, which meant I could start taking some photos of the Two-banded Plovers and White-rumped Sandpipers who were running around the Elephant Seals. A passing Northern Giant Storm Petrel and Chubut Steamer Ducks were among the highlights too.

Morning birding south of Trelew.

Rufous-collared Sparrow | morgonsparv | Zonotrichia capensis

Chimango Caracara | chimangokarakara | Milvago chimango

The first Guanacos of the trip.

White-rumped Sandpiper | vitgumpsnäppa | Calidris fuscicollis

Two-banded Plover | patagonienpipare | Charadrius falklandicus

Northern Giant Petrel | nordlig jättestormfågel | Macronectes halli

Southern Elephant Seal | Sydlig sjöelefant | Mirounga leonina

Southern Elephant Seal | Sydlig sjöelefant | Mirounga leonina

Bosse shooting Sea Elephants at Isla Encondida.

Magellanic Penguin breeding area at Punta Tombo

Magellanic Penguin | magellanpingvin | Spheniscus magellanicus

In the afternoon we returned back to Trelew and birded a couple of sewage ponds east of town. They were full of ducks, but conditions were a bit too windy to get really nice shots. I birded another pond in town where I found a Franklin’s Gull in the evening, without my camera. I was so good I just had to convince the group to go there in the next morning ahead of our lunch flight to El Catafate.

Yellow-billed Pintail | gulnäbbad stjärtand | Anas georgica

Cinnamon Teal | kanelårta | Anas cyanoptera

The following morning we went down to the city pond between 6 and 7 AM, resulting in a whole lot of pictures. Wish I had more time there!

We then continued our trip south through the country with another undramatic flight south to El Calafate.

Next part: Argentina part II: Patagonia

Me shooting coots and ducks in Trelew.

Chalk-browed Mockingbird | camposhärmtrast | Mimus saturninus

Austral Thrush | sydtrast | Turdus falcklandii

White-winged Coot | vitvingad sothöna | Fulica leucoptera

Red-gartered Coot | rödgulpannad sothöna | Fulica armillata

Red-fronted Coot | rödpannad sothöna | Fulica rufifrons

White-tufted Grebe | vittofsad dopping | Rollandia rolland

Lake Duck | argentinsk kopparand | Oxyura vittata

Black-headed Duck | svarthuvad and | Heteronetta atricapilla

Trelew from the plane to El Calafate.

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