Friday, 17 February 2017

Journey to the Southern Cone: Part 4 (Farellones)

Introduction
January 8, 2016 - Santiago area, Chile
January 9 and 10, 2016 - Quintero pelagic, Parque Nacional La Campana, Chile
January 10, 2016 - Farellones, Chile
January 10-11, 2016 - Embalse El Yeso, Chile
January 12-13, 2016 - Nothofagus forests in Talca, Chile
January 14-15, 2016- Chiloe Island, Chile
January 16-17, 2016 - Chiloe Island penguins, Puerto Montt, Chile
January 18, 2016 - Patagonia: Puerto Montt to Sierra Baguales, Chile
January 19, 2016 - Patagonia: Sierra Baguales to Tierra del Fuego, Chile
January 20, 2016 - Patagonia: Tierra del Fuego, Chile
January 20-24, 2016 - Punta Arenas, Chile to Puerto Deseato, Argentina
January 25-26, 2016 - Valdez Peninsula and Las Grutas, Argentina
January 27-28, 2016 - San Antonio Oeste, Punta Tomba, and Bahia Blanca, Argentina
January 29-30, 2016 - Buenos Aires, Argentina


January 10, 2016 (continued)

Mountains are some of my favorite places to explore. The scenery is always spectacular and the species assemblage changes dramatically with subsequent changes in elevation, always keeping things interesting. We planned on visiting two locations high in the Chilean Andes near Santiago. Our first stop would be Parques de Farellones, a popular ski resort during the winter that happens to double as an excellent birding location throughout the rest of the year. Our little Chevrolet rental car struggled to make it up and around some of the steeper switchbacks, even when I had it firmly in first gear. Slowly but surely we crawled up the mountain, stopping occasionally to enjoy the scenery while also scanning for birds. 

Parques de Farellones, Chile

Since this was out first time visiting the Andes on this trip, we added quite a few new trip birds - 22 in total - of which 20 were life birds for myself. An enjoyable morning of productive birding, and a great taste of what the Andes had to offer.

We were successful in finding a Chilean Tinamou that was calling persistently from a distant hillside, and scored some other great birds including Cordilleran Canestero, Dusky Tapaculo, several species of sierra-finch and Chilean Flicker.  We also spotted an Andean Condor soaring way up in the sky, several kilometers away. Fortunately we would see many more later in the day.

Dave and Adam at Parques de Farellones, Chile

Rufous-banded Miner is the default miner species in these mountains. They proved to be abundant around every turn when we were in the right elevation range. We tried to turn some of them into the similar looking but extremely localized Creamy-rumped Miner, to no avail.

Rufous-banded Miner - Parques de Farellones, Chile

Our little Chevrolet struggled but eventually made it all the way to the top and we parked near the ski resort. We walked around for a while, looking for ground-tyrants and other high elevation birds. Due to the altitude it was difficult to catch our breath, and we needed to stop several times when climbing a small rise.

birding - Parques de Farellones, Chile

We were successful in turning up a handful of ground-tyrants, including Ochre-naped and White-browed, while Greater Yellow-finches flew overhead and flitted along the mountain ridges. We also spent some time watching the antics of a colony of Coruros, an interesting little rodent endemic to Central Chile.

White-browed Ground-Tyrant - Parques de Farellones, Chile

At the ski resort we were surprised to see Andean Condors sitting on the roof of the hotel! I guess they are pretty tame here. It was pretty spectacular watching these giant birds soaring only a few meters from us. 

Andean Condor (on roof of hotel) - Parques de Farellones, Chile

Andean Condor - Parques de Farellones, Chile

Andean Condor - Parques de Farellones, Chile

A walk along a flowing creek proved to be ridiculously birdy and we added quite a few new species here. Among them were Magellanic Tapaculo,Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant, Scale-throated Earthcreeper and White-sided Hillstar. Looking back, I do not have photos of any of these four species, which is really too bad! I guess I must not have taken my camera with me on this excursion. We eventually encountered Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Gray-flanked Cincoldes and Dark-bellied Cinclodes in this general area as well.

It was a successful few hours in Parques de Farellones, though we did not come across Creamy-rumped Miners or Mountain Caracaras, two of our main targets here. Can't get them all I guess!

Since we were doing this trip without the use of any local guides and we had limited amounts of time available to search each location, that ultimately meant that we would miss some target species. However the slight drawbacks are worth it in my opinion, as there is a sort of satisfaction that you get when you do your own research and come across a difficult species without having to rely on someone's guaranteed spot. It is a lot cheaper too! That being said, it is a little painful when you miss out on a few target species because of this strategy.

Andean Condor - Parques de Farellones, Chile

We ascended back down from the mountains and drove across to Santiago, where we had hoped to find a place to stay in the southeast portion of the city; a suburb called Puente Alto. We stopped for some Chinese food at a little restaurant in town. Unfortunately it was some of the worst fake-Chinese food I had ever eaten. After filling up on our yearly dose of MSG we drove around for a while, trying to find a hostel or somewhere to stay. Asking for directions in a gas station, we were informed that there were not any places to stay in this area and that it can be dangerous at night. The city did not look too welcoming so we decided that the option of sleeping in the car in the mountains sounded much more appealing.

We found a nice secluded spot and prepared for our first night of camping. Fortunately I had decided to pack a thermorest and a light sleeping bag, so I slept outside under the stars while Dave and Adam cozied up together in the car.

camping along the road to El Yeso, Chile

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