Saturday 9 September 2023

Uruguay Part 3: Lagoon Shorebirding

February 28, 2023

Our first few days in Uruguay had been very successful. We had been able to experience a few days in the beautiful rural countryside, staying at a wonderful hacienda. We had found our first Uruguayan snake. And we had found most of the potential bird lifers that were available, the most important being the Saffron-cowled Blackbird, of course. 

Laura and I still had a few days remaining in Uruguay and so we considered our options. In the end, we decided to spend a few days in the town of Punta del Este. This beach town is very popular among the throngs of tourists, many of which visit here from Argentina. Villas and apartments were available for rent up and down the beach strip, while dozens of seafood restaurants lined the main street, and many others were situated right on the beach. 

Laura and I found a relatively inexpensive (for Uruguay standards, anyway) hotel that had air conditioning and our own private balcony, and we ended up staying here for three nights. At this point in our trip, we needed time to plan our next few weeks. Our Brazil adventure would be starting soon and I had done almost no research whatsoever. Time to change that! Our plan of attack while staying in Punta del Este was to go birding during the cooler hours of the morning, and then get cracking with the trip research in the afternoon (often while sitting on our patio with a frosty beverage in hand). 

On February 28 we made the drive from our accommodations in La Coronilla to the city of Punta del Este, with a few birding stops along the way. The first pitstop was at Parque Nacional de Santa Teresa. 

Laura and I walked several trails, enjoyed a botanical garden, scanned the coastline from on top of sand dunes, and checked out an aviary. We were happy to connect with some White-throated Hummingbirds near the botanical garden, just our second sighting following the brief view we had of one in Argentina. This was my first chance to photograph the species. 

White-throated Hummingbird - Parque Nacional de Santa Teresa, Rocha, Uruguay

A human-made pond had been created to house a group of Capybaras, no doubt a popular animal amongst the children who were exploring the park with their families. Numerous turtles were also basking on logs, most of which were Black-bellied Sliders (Trachemys dorbigni). They look similar to the Red-eared Slider, which is a closely related species of turtle that has been introduced around the world. Here, however, the Black-bellied Sliders are native. 

Black-bellied Sliders (Trachemis dorbigni) - Parque Nacional de Santa Teresa, Rocha, Uruguay

A single Hilaire's Side-necked Turtle was mixed in with the sliders. This species is native to southeastern South America, including southern Brazil, Uruguay, northeastern Argentina and southern Paraguay. 

Hilaire's Side-necked Turtle (Phrynops hilarii) - Parque Nacional de Santa Teresa, Rocha, Uruguay

Along one of the trails, Laura and I were able to find a female Chestnut-backed Tanager. This was a catch-up lifer for her (I had found mine during her horseback riding session a few days earlier). The tanager didn't want its photo taken, but this Diademed Tanager was a little more cooperative. 

Diademed Tanager - Parque Nacional de Santa Teresa, Rocha, Uruguay

The day had become very hot by this point and so we were happy to indulge in the air conditioning of our rental car for the long drive south to Punta del Este. 

March 1, 2023

The Uruguayan coast east of Montevideo has numerous lagoons which provide critical habitat for a wide variety of birds. Chilean Flamingos are numerous, while thousands of waterfowl, coots, and shorebirds feature prominently as well. Though I didn't anticipate that we would find any new bird species, I was looking forward to a smorgasbord of shorebirding, something I always enjoy!

Silver Teals (and a Black-necked Stilt) - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

We headed east to Laguna de Rocha, arriving just after 8 AM. The bird numbers were incredible! Black-necked Swans numbered at least 1300, with a smattering of Coscoraba Swans mixed in. You can see many coots amongst the swans in the image, below. Both regular species were present in triple digits: White-winged and Red-gartered Coots. 

Black-necked Swans - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

It was difficult not to notice the throngs of Chilean Flamingos stretching across the back of the lagoon. 

Chilean Flamingo - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

I was particularly interested in the shorebirds. Given the sun's angle, I walked to the far end of the beach so that I could scope the birds with the sun behind me. There were 11 species of shorebirds present - not a crazy amount, by any means - but enough to provide hours of enjoyment. 

White-rumped Sandpiper - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

Despite being far away from my native Canada, most of the shorebirds were species familiar to me from back home. Some of these are long-distant migrants, like the White-rumped Sandpiper above, or the American Golden-Plover below. They would soon be returning north, to nest during the boreal summer.  

American Golden-Plover - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

Some of the other shorebirds were a little bit more exotic and interesting to me, such as the Collared and Two-banded Plovers sharing a beach with a few Semipalmated Plovers. 

Collared Plover - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

Two-banded Plover - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

Try as I might, I couldn't find any locally unusual species, nor could I detect any Buff-breasted Sandpipers which are often found in this area. The oddest 'shorebird' was this ungainly fellow!

Southern Screamer - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

The Southern Screamer may have only been impersonating a shorebird, but it was an interesting study from close range. I never tire of seeing these dinosaurs.

Though landbirds weren't the focus of our excursion, we found a few here and there. Bay-capped Wren-Spinetails were a big target of ours just a few days earlier in Argentina, but we easily found a pair in the rushes and grasses fringing the lagoon. 

Bay-capped Wren-Spinetail - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

Great Pampa-Finches were common in this area, too. 

Great Pampa-Finch - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

The Guira Cuckoo is a common sight (and sound) in this part of the world, and quite a few were up to their usual antics.

Guira Cuckoo - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

A number of pipit species are possible in this region. I scrutinized them all closely; they all appeared to be Correndera Pipits. 

Correndera Pipit - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

Prior to departing the area, we stopped to check out a pair of Yellow-billed Terns. This is a widespread species in South America, but I always appreciate a good view of this tiny tern.

Yellow-billed Tern - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

Yellow-billed Tern - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

We scanned the pastures and short-grass habitats along the entrance road, hoping to connect with the elusive Buff-breasted Sandpiper (we were unsuccessful in this venture). Here are a few photos of some of the species found along the edges of the fields. 

Chalk-browed Mockingbird - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

White Monjita - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

American Kestrel - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

At one point, an armadillo scurried across the road and so I did what any reasonable biologist would do - I took off after it. Based on my photos, it appears to be a Seven-banded Armadillo (Dasypus septemcinctus). This species is widespread in grassy areas of South America, being especially numerous in eastern Argentina and Uruguay. 

Seven-banded Armadillo (Dasypus septemcinctus) - Laguna de Rocha, Rocha, Uruguay

March 2, 2023

Most of this day was spent cooped up in the hotel and researching Brazil, but we broke up the trip planning with a mid-day birding excursion to nearby Laguna Garzón. 

We added a few new birds to our Uruguay lists including Long-winged Harrier and Pantanal Snipe, and we enjoyed good views of a Giant Wood-Rail and five species of terns. The only organism I photographed was this moth. It is a type of cutworm moth (family Noctuidae) in the genus Helicoverpa. 

Helicoverpa sp. - Laguna Garzón, Maldonado, Uruguay

And with that, our Uruguay trip was a wrap. We had a flight booked to São Paulo the next day but the blogging about Brazil will have to wait for another day. As I write this, I am preparing for my next adventure - leading a tour of Sulawesi and Halmahera for Quest Nature Tours. Should be fun!

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