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- Chiloé Island, Chile
January 16-17, 2016 - Chiloé 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 - Valdes Peninsula and Las Grutas, Argentina
January 27-28, 2016 - San Antonio Oeste, Punta Tombo, and Bahía Blanca, Argentina
January 29-30, 2016 - Buenos Aires, Argentina
In 2015 David Bell and I began the early stages of planning a birding trip to the Southern Cone area of southern South America. I was eager to travel with David again, to keep alive our tradition of mid-winter birding trips to exotic places further south in the Americas (Panama in 2014, Colombia in 2015). Several other friends and fellow birders expressed interest in going, though due to various reasons most people dropped out. By September of 2015 our group had been whittled down to three - David, myself, and Adam Timpf, a Long Point-based naturalist who had traveled with David and I throughout Colombia. We began working on a rough itinerary as the days grew shorter, and before long January was close on the horizon with the trip about to commence.
|Salvin's Albatross - offshore Valparaiso, Chile|
David flew down to Chile right around the start of the new year to explore the Atacama desert in northern Chile with his friend Regan, while Adam and myself planned on meeting up with him in Santiago, after his week in the desert. I boarded my flight at Pearson Airport in Toronto late on January 7, eager to meet up with the guys, though not exactly excited about the 12 hour non-stop flight!
|Gray-breasted Seedsnipe - Embalse El Yeso, Chile|
The flight was surprisingly not as bad as I had anticipated (I don't think I even got up once all flight), and by mid day on January 8 I was greeting the other fellow gringos in the airport lobby. We quickly picked up our rental and by 2:00 PM were on our way, driving through the arid landscapes towards the coast. It would be an all-out, hardcore birding trip with our plan to find as many of the Southern Cone specialties as possible in three and a half weeks. Below is a map of our itinerary. Most of our travel would be done by overnight bus, though we also had an internal flight booked to cover a swath of land in southern Chile (orange line on map). Our plan would be to rent vehicles for 1-4 days at several of the locations, while in other spots we would be able to access the good birding areas with public transport. David and Adam planned on continuing onward after dropping me off in Buenos Aires - unfortunately with my work schedule, the 3.5 weeks was all I could afford to take off.
Of course the main reason I was so highly anticipating this trip would be for the chance to see my first wild penguins and albatrosses - two iconic bird families that I have dreamed about seeing ever since I was a small child. But of course, we would be taking in many scenes other than these. From the arid Andes to the rich coastal waters fed by the Humboldt Current, from the steppe of Patagonia dotted with guanacos and rheas to the alpine bogs frequented by rare shorebirds, from the pampas of southeastern Argentina to the humid, forested environs of Buenos Aires, this trip would cover a lot of ground and explore some fascinating places. We were excited!
|Burrowing Parrots - Las Grutas, Argentina|
Compared to our previous trips to the tropical forests of Panama and Colombia, this expedition would see far fewer species. As this is a temperate part of the world that in many areas experiences minimal rainfall, species diversity would be much lower - that being said, many of the unusual species that have evolved in these habitats are spectacular in their own right. Sometimes it is nice to see quality species over a great quantity of species (though it can be argued that Colombia and Panama have both quantity AND quality), and the southern Cone has no shortage of unusual birds and other wildlife that call it home.
|Magellanic Plover - Porvenir, Chile|
Over the next few weeks and months, I will try to complete the series of blog posts I intend to make about this trip. I will probably divide it into 14 sections, each detailing a particular section of the trip in roughly chronological order.