Saturday 4 February 2023

Potrero de Yala - Dippers, Red-faced Guans And More

Laura and I were up early to make the most of our morning at Potrero de Yala. As dawn broke, we slowly drove in along the entrance road, keeping an eye out for guans.

We found quite a few guans on and around the road but none were our hoped-for Red-faced Guans; they were all Yungas Guans. But we wouldn't have to wait long. Once we entered the reserve we discovered our first of many Red-faced Guans for the morning. 

Red-faced Guan - Potrero de Yala, Jujuy, Argentina

Birding this reserve was a nice change of pace. Most of our previous birding sites had been along busy mountain roads, and while this one saw a small amount of traffic, it was very manageable. Just a few cyclists and runners passed us. 

Potrero de Yala, Jujuy, Argentina

The sun stayed hidden behind thick clouds which also prolonged the morning's bird activity. And there were birds just about everywhere! Rust-and-yellow Tanagers, Rusty-browed Warbling Finches and Fulvous-headed Brushfinches were fairly common lower down. We picked out a few White-browed Brushfinches and enjoyed close views of a Golden-winged Cacique. A distant Rothschild's Swift soared effortlessly by, high in the sky.

Rusty-browed Warbling Finch - Potrero de Yala, Jujuy, Argentina

Golden-winged Cacique - Potrero de Yala, Jujuy, Argentina

Plumbeous Black-Tyrants were a lifer for us, but each individual was rather distant on the top of a tree. 

Plumbeous Black-Tyrant - Potrero de Yala, Jujuy, Argentina

I'm feeling generous and will allow a few of the common species to have their moment of fame on the blog: Plush-crested Jay and Rufous-collared Sparrow...

Plush-crested Jays - Potrero de Yala, Jujuy, Argentina

Rufous-collared Sparrow - Potrero de Yala, Jujuy, Argentina

Laura and I had been pretty relieved to discover a pair of Rufous-throated Dippers a few days earlier at Quebrada Los Sosa. This interesting species had been a top target of mine, and Quebrada Los Sosa was our best chance at this species. But they inhabit the river here at Potrero de Yala as well. The problem, however, is that most of the river snakes by out of view of the road, and its few access points are usually clogged with throngs of tourists enjoying warm summer days, making the dippers disappear somewhere up or downstream. We were glad to have gotten it "out of the way" at Quebrada Los Sosa since it is a lot trickier at Yala. 

All of this means, of course, that we easily found a trio of dippers as we walked past one of the river access points! It was early in the morning and the people had yet to arrive. Surely, a slightly later visit would have been hopeless as it was a prime summer weekend. 

Rufous-throated Dipper - Potrero de Yala, Jujuy, Argentina

Rufous-throated Dippers - Potrero de Yala, Jujuy, Argentina

A little higher up, we found some more Red-faced Guans including one that was quite approachable. The soft light created by the overcast sky was nice to work with as a photographer. 

Red-faced Guan - Potrero de Yala, Jujuy, Argentina

Red-faced Guans have a limited distribution on the eastern slope of the Andes, mainly in southern Bolivia but also over the border into northwestern Argentina. They seem to prefer semi-humid forest with a high proportion of Podocarpus and alders. 

Red-faced Guan - Potrero de Yala, Jujuy, Argentina

As we worked our way higher up the slope, the cloud ceiling descended and the fog rolled in. Luckily, we found a nice mixed flock right before we were enshrouded in fog, and I picked out the distinctive vocalizations of a pair of Buff-banded Tyrannulets. This is another species with a relatively limited range in the middle elevations of the eastern slope of the Andes. Sense a theme?

Buff-banded Tyrannulet - Potrero de Yala, Jujuy, Argentina

By the time that we crested the top of the road and pulled up next to one of the lakes, the fog had continued to surround us and a light rain was falling. Luckily, the morning's heavy lifting had been done with most of our targets acquired...

Potrero de Yala, Jujuy, Argentina

Eventually though the sun did reappear, giving us the chance to scan the waterbirds bobbing on the surface. Yet another Red-faced Guan was unsucessfully blending in with the Neotropic Cormorants beside Laguna Comedero, while several Andean Slaty Thrushes lent their ethereal voices to the soundscape. 

One of the cormorants had something funky going on with its pigments...

Partially leucistic (?) Neotropic Cormorant - Potrero de Yala, Jujuy, Argentina

On a hunch, I tried a bit of playback for Giant Antshrike and got a response! A territorial male came close to check us out, and then he slipped away. The size of this antshrike was preposterous - definitely, a well-named species. 

Giant Antshrike - Potrero de Yala, Jujuy, Argentina

We were in for one final surprise on our way back down the mountain. A pair of huge woodpeckers appeared next to the road - our first Cream-backed Woodpeckers!

Cream-backed Woodpecker (male) - Potrero de Yala, Jujuy, Argentina

I'm a sucker for a good woodpecker and these fit the bill. The male was striking with his crimson head contrasting with an ivory bill and a jet black body. The female was arguably even more attractive, with beautiful black edging to her red crest and gape. What a species.

Cream-backed Woodpecker (female) - Potrero de Yala, Jujuy, Argentina

Laura and I had considered staying for another night and visiting the reserve the next morning, but our day had been quite successful with all targets acquired. And so we began driving north. In the next few days, we hoped to explore near the Bolivia border. We would be searching for some new species for us up there, including the Horned Coot, Wedge-tailed Hillstar, Red-backed Sierra Finch and more. 

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