Central-south Chile birding trip report Dec. 2016  -  John van der Woude  www.jvanderw.nl

From 28 November to 20 December 2016 Nollie and I had a great time travelling and birding in the beautiful central-southern part of Chile. We rented a car from Santiago airport for the whole period. The roads are good, and hotels are easily found while travelling by using booking.com on our mobile phone with a Chilean prepaid sim card. The itinerary was partly based on the old but still useful birding guide by Mark Pearman, partly on some birding trip reports via cloudbirders, and partly on recent observations in eBird.org and observado.org. In the latter we used some exact locations of target species that were recently found by Arjan Dwarshuis in his Biggest Year.

We started with La Campana NP, not far from Santiago (see Chile map below). Then we visited some coastal sites nearby before driving up north to the amazing Fray Jorge NP. From La Serena we visited both the Choros semi-desert and the barren Elqui valley. We then drove straight down to the famous El Yeso valley for the high-altitude specialties. Then along the Rio Los Cipreses nature park to the Altos de Lircay reserve. Then straight down to Osorno for visiting the beautiful Puyehue NP along the main road to Argentina. The ferry to ChiloŽ island proved good for seabirds. ChiloŽ island itself is marvellous, especially along the west coast. On the way back north we visited Conguillio NP, which is nearly a must-see in terms both of scenery and birds. Back towards Santiago we again visited the impressive Altos de Lircay reserve as we had missed Chestnut-throated Huet-huet there on the first visit. In between these main sites we visited some minor sites, which can be seen on e.g. Google Earth via the kml-link below.

The weather was pleasant all the time, with of course higher temperatures in the north and cooler temperatures on ChiloŽ island. Also pleasant is the calm driving habit of the Chileans. For navigation, we had brought our own Garmin car navigator loaded with the most recent Chile map from openstreetmaps. We also used the 1:400.000 maps of Copec (sold in Copec gas stations but we had bought them in Holland already). We also navigated with the maps.me Android app on my phone, and when preparing the trip I had marked many interesting points on that app (sightings of some target birds, birding site details, etc.)

Highway 5 runs all the way north-south through this country, and the birding sites are never far away from it. Accommodation in the towns and cities along the 5 can be much better value for money than further away from it, especially in the business hotels with large discounts via booking.com. Also, in these hotels you can have a very early (and extensive) breakfast.

Chile may not be as rich in bird species as other countries in South America, but this (as well as the fact that Chile is a bit expensive) is compensated by the beautiful scenery and the ease of travelling.

A species list is at the bottom of this page.
See also the long separate page with bird photos.


Map with the main birding sites of our trip.

Field observations were recorded in the Android app Obsmapp and uploaded to observado.org. This field app is the quickest way to keep track of individual bird observations. I also use eBird but as this is based on a bird list for a given area rather than individual observations, it takes more time in the field. Our 181 recorded observations can be found in chronological sequence at https://goo.gl/mtU8tI and in systematic sequence at https://goo.gl/BM6xjx.
View the locations of these observations in e.g. Google Earth or any other map, like the app maps.me, via observadoChile.kml
As field guide we used of course Birds of Chile by Alvaro Jaramillo (2003). We also brought the wonderful Wildlife guide to Chile by Sharon Chester (2008). The latter is also good for a better understanding of the very different biozones in this elongated country.


La Campana NP near the OlmuŽ entrance which is at -32.982913, -71.134207. You can enter here on foot before the gate opens and pay when coming back. Most birding here is done within 1 to 2 km from the entrance. A good introduction to birding in Chile, and also rather essential for the dry forest habitat. Inside the park are a few trails and the main sand track of the photo below. No cars allowed.



At the mouth of the Aconcagua river at -32.918210, -71.505426, opposite Concon town. A good wader and marsh bird area with nice platforms.

The rocky shore of Cachagua, well known for its Humboldt Penguin colony on an island around the corner. We parked the car near -32.579274, -71.453662 and walked the steps down, then this trail SW along the bottom towards the viewpoint opposite the penguin island. Along this trail we saw six Seaside Cinclodes in total.

Between Ovalle and Fray Jorge NP, this Hacienda Santa Cristina lodge at -30.535893, -71.443558 is a real gem set in a sort of oasis. Barn Owl active at dusk here. The very helpful owner gave us directions how to best reach the Fray Jorge NP and assured us that this can be done in a normal car.

How to reach Fray Jorge NP. 1= Hacienda Sta Cristina lodge, 2= leave highway 5 at -30.600172, -71.497778 (signposted Fray Jorge NP), 3= follow the parallel road (Cinereous Harrier in the adjacent field), 4= keep this dirt road, 5= pay here for the national park, 6= small museum and some large planted trees (Lesser Horned Owl). Carefully drive the sometimes steep gravel road up to 7, and park there for a circular walk in the area of the mist woods.

Nollie on the trail in Fray Jorge NP. Remnants of woods that can only survive in this dry climate thanks to the sea mist. Both Moustached Turca and White-throated Tapaculo here. Both also present in the small gorge NE of the 3rd '4' in the map above.

Inside the mist woods of Fray Jorge NP.

Well east of VicuŮa town in the barren but beautiful Elqui valley, famous for its many astronomy observatoria. Grey-flanked Cinclodes and Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant at -29.923864, -70.301788. We stayed in the lovely Hosteria VicuŮa at the border of the town, where Burrowing Parrots fly around at dusk.

The semi-desert some 100 km north of La Serena, along road 110 west of highway 5. Leave the highway at -29.366306, -71.138513. We saw several Common Miners here, very pale, and probably belonging to the uncommon deserticolor subspecies. Here we also saw our only guanacos of the trip.

Driving along highway 5 towards Santiago from the northwest, we decided to just drive the ring road 70 all the way west around Santiago up to the La Florida exit in the southeast of Santiago. From there it is still a long drive along the Maipo valley to the start of the El Yeso valley. There is plenty of accommodation in the Maipo valley, although what we chose on booking.com (Los Abedules in San Alfonso) was not good and clearly overpriced. Maybe best to just try along the road, but not in the weekends which reportedly are very busy here. In San Alfonso we had a good meal in the Cascada de las Animas resort, which may be good for a room also, anyway in a very green setting.

The high Andes southeast of Santiago, in the El Yeso valley, famous as probably the best place for Diademed Sandpiper-Plover. Of course also good for many other high-altitude bird species. Driving up this valley from San Gabriel we soon had our only Crag Chilia of the trip, at -33.773760, -70.168994.


The El Yeso reservoir. This can be reached with a normal car, although with some care (drive slowly). Especially the sandy road above the reservoir (from where this picture was taken) must be driven with care. The aim of driving this far are the green mossy patches beyond the reservoir as this is where the Diademed Plover is found. Along the sand road above the reservoir we had Sharp-billed Canastero and Cinereous Ground-Tyrant.

Nollie scanning for the target bird here, the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover of the photo below. We also found Grey-breasted Seedsnipe here, and a group of six Andean Condors at a dead animal. Also Rufous-banded Miner here.


On our way to the Rio Los Cipreses nature park. Except for the large Burrowing Parrot colony, this park is probably not essential for a birding trip to Chile, but as we stayed in Rancagua after our day trip to El Yeso, this was a nice area to go in the morning. The bridge from where this picture was taken is at -34.235047, -70.481966. To enter the park drive along the south side of the river to -34.265775, -70.465233.

Lesser Horned Owl was pointed out by the friendly warden right behind the entrance of Rio Los Cipreses park.

In the overwhelming forest of El Pionero trail above Aguas Calientes in Puyehue national park, the park along the road from Osorno to Argentina. Black-throated Huet-huet, Magellanic and Chucao Tapaculo all seen along thi trail just above and below -40.73820, -72.311693. On our trip, we heard the loud chucao call in many places but the bird is very shy.

The scenery of inland ChiloŽ island is often very much like in NW Europe.

One of the many lagoons on ChiloŽ island.

Typical bay along the ocean coast of ChiloŽ island.
The endemic Des Mur's Wiretail was not difficult to find, like in the brambles front left. It was even at the parking place of our lovely Kim Piyan cabaŮa at -41.868739, -73.748319, east of Ancud.

Scanning the Magellanic Penguin colony from the beach at -41.926279, -74.039815 (PuŮihuil). After this and the above bay we also visited Chepu bay a little further south. All bays are worthwhile.


The trail inside the densely wooded El Tepual part of ChiloŽ national park at Cucao (the road to Cucao is asphalted all the way). Here we chose to stay in a nice cottage of the national park instead of one of the hostels in Cucao.  Near the cottages is also a must-visit cafť restaurant.



The ferry crossing to and from ChiloŽ island was rewarding in terms of seabirds. These are mostly concentrated in the middle part of the crossing. We had a dozen 'Pincoya' storm petrels, several Pink-footed Shearwaters, a Chilean Skua, White-chinned Petrel and Magellanic Diving-Petrel.

The Llaima twin volcano in Conguillio national park, seen across the rather recent and barren lava field. We entered the park from the south.

The wonderful, open Araucaria (monkey-puzzle tree) forest in the highest part of Conguillio NP. The dust road across this park is no problem for a normal car.

The Llaima twin volcano of Conguillio NP.

Me in the wonderful Conguillio NP.

The tall forest along the Sendero Los Carpinteros (the woodpecker trail) in Conguillio NP. Slowly walking this trail we discovered our target bird, the Magellanic Woodpecker, a pair.
We stayed as long as possible in the park and were glad to find accommodation after leaving the park in the direction of Curacautin for 8 km at -38.552402, -38.552402 (a small shop with good rooms). Driving a further 18 km on to Curacautin would also have resulted in a room, as we saw several hospedajes (pensions) there the next day. However, this probably means you have to drive in the darkness, we now arrived just at dusk at the mentioned shop with rooms.

Given how nice we had found the coastal sites NW of Santiago, we could not resist to drive west to the ocean from Chillan. And indeed the coast is wonderful here too, like at this 'Iglesia de Piedra' at -36.09891, -72.8116. Driving further north along the coast we had our only Ochre-flanked Tapaculo of the trip at 35.934809, -72.719208.

Visitors to the famous Altos de Lircay reserve have to walk this 2 km stony track from the parking place at 35.604045, -71.072307 up to the entrance, where you may enter before opening time and pay when coming back. We stayed nearby in the lovely HosterŪa de Vilches at -35.583289, -71.114151 so we were early at the gate. The hosterŪa is/was not on booking.com so we had called them from the lowlands (+56 9 9826 7046). We came here mainly for a last try to see Chestnut-throated Huet-huet, and we succeeded with full views especially at -35.602175, -71.04725. As a bonus we saw Magellanic Woodpecker again, at the parking place.

View from one of the two trails near the entrance of Altos de Lircay reserve.

Back north towards Santiago along highway 5. Driving north means that it gets progressively hotter, which feels so strange compared to what we are used to in the northern hemisphere.
List of the species entered in the field app
* = lifer. More specific location details are at https://goo.gl/ECIvQU
California Quail - Callipepla californica  -  several sites, often families
Flying Steamer Duck* - Tachyeres patachonicus  -  only at ChiloŽ island
Fuegian/Flightless Steamer Duck* - Tachyeres pteneres  -  only at ChiloŽ island
Kelp Goose* - Chloephaga hybrida  -  only at ChiloŽ island
Chiloe Wigeon - Anas sibilatrix  -  e.g. at arrival of ferry to ChiloŽ
Black-necked Swan - Cygnus melancoryphus  -  large groups on ChiloŽ
Magellanic Penguin* - Spheniscus magellanicus  -  colony on ChiloŽ
Humboldt Penguin - Spheniscus humboldti  -  colony at Cachagua
White-chinned Petrel - Procellaria aequinoctialis  -  from ChiloŽ ferry
Sooty Shearwater - Ardenna grisea  -  dozens along both east and west coast of ChiloŽ
Pink-footed Shearwater - Ardenna creatopus  -  from ChiloŽ ferry
Magellanic Diving Petrel* - Pelecanoides magellani  -  from ChiloŽ ferry
'Pincoya' Storm Petrel* - 'Oceanites pincoyae'  -  c. 10 from ChiloŽ ferry
Pied-billed Grebe - Podilymbus podiceps
Great Grebe - Podiceps major  -  family in river mouth at Concon
Black-faced Ibis - Theristicus melanopis  -  many in south, but unexpectedly also two in Choros semi-desert
Peruvian Pelican - Pelecanus thagus
Peruvian Booby - Sula variegata
Red-legged Cormorant - Phalacrocorax gaimardi
Guanay Cormorant - Leucocarbo bougainvillii
Imperial Shag* - Leucocarbo atriceps  -  several ChiloŽ north and east coast
Turkey Vulture - Cathartes aura
Andean Condor - Vultur gryphus  -  group of seven on carcas near DSP site
Cinereous Harrier - Circus cinereus  -   a few in open areas
Chilean hawk* - Accipiter chilensis  -  in Rio Los Cipreses park, by chance, very closeby in flight
Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle - Geranoaetus melanoleucus
Variable Hawk - Geranoaetus polyosoma  -  commonest raptor
American Kestrel - Falco sparverius
Southern Crested Caracara - Caracara plancus
Plumbeous Rail - Pardirallus sanguinolentus
Spot-flanked Gallinule - Gallinula melanops  - at Concon, see exact location via above link
Blackish Oystercatcher - Haematopus ater  -  several sites along the coast
American Oystercatcher - Haematopus palliatus
White-backed Stilt - Himantopus melanurus
Southern Lapwing - Vanellus chilensis
Grey Plover - Pluvialis squatarola
Collared Plover - Charadrius collaris  -  at river mouth at Concon
Diademed Plover* (DSP) - Phegornis mitchellii  -  upstream of the El Yeso reservoir, before (!) bridge over river.
Snowy Plover - Charadrius nivosus  -  on beach of Maitencillo
Grey-breasted Seedsnipe - Thinocorus orbignyianus  -   same place as Diademed Sandpiper-Plover
Hudsonian Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus hudsonicus  -  on several beaches
Greater Yellowlegs - Tringa melanoleuca
Lesser Yellowlegs - Tringa flavipes
Baird's Sandpiper - Calidris bairdii  -  e.g. at river mouth Concon and at lagoon on ChiloŽ
Black Skimmer - Rynchops niger
Kelp Gull - Larus dominicanus
South American Tern - Sterna hirundinacea
Inca Tern - Larosterna inca  -  large group at river mouth Concon
Franklin's Gull - Leucophaeus pipixcan  -  the common gull along the beaches
Grey Gull - Leucophaeus modestus
Brown-hooded Gull - Chroicocephalus maculipennis
Chilean Skua* - Stercorarius chilensis  -  from ChiloŽ ferry
Eared Dove - Zenaida auriculata
Picui Ground Dove - Columbina picui
Black-winged Ground Dove - Metriopelia melanoptera  -  in Elqui valley
Chilean Pigeon* - Patagioenas araucana  -  e.g. at La Campana and on ChiloŽ
Burrowing Parrot - Cyanoliseus patagonus  -  large colony at opposite river bank Rio Los Cipreses park
Austral Parakeet* - Enicognathus ferrugineus  -  at Altos de Lircay
Slender-billed Parakeet* - Enicognathus leptorhynchus  -  the further south on ChiloŽ island the more we saw them
Western Barn Owl - Tyto alba  -  hunting at Hacienda Sta Cristina lodge
Austral Pygmy Owl - Glaucidium nana  -  during a walk in the hills, see above link
Lesser Horned Owl* - Bubo magellanicus  -  at Fray Jorge NP and Rio Los Cipreses park (Magellanic HO)
Giant Hummingbird - Patagona gigas  -  Elqui valley
White-sided Hillstar* - Oreotrochilus leucopleurus  -  at El Yeso reservoir (John only)
Green-backed Firecrown* - Sephanoides sephaniodes  -  mainly on ChiloŽ island
Chilean Flicker* - Colaptes pitius
Magellanic Woodpecker* - Campephilus magellanicus  -  Puyehue NP and Altos de Lircay
Striped Woodpecker - Veniliornis lignarius
Common Miner - Geositta cunicularia  -  the deserticolor ssp we presume, in Choros semi-desert
Rufous-banded Miner - Geositta rufipennis  -  at the DSP site
Creamy-rumped Miner* - Geositta isabellina  -  El Yeso valley (distinction from RbM based on tail-rump pattern when flying up)
Bar-winged Cinclodes - Cinclodes fuscus  -  El Yeso valley
Grey-flanked Cinclodes* - Cinclodes oustaleti  -  in dry Elqui valley
Dark-bellied Cinclodes* - Cinclodes patagonicus  -  rather common near streams etc.
Chilean Seaside Cinclodes* - Cinclodes nigrofumosus  -  several sites along the coast NW of Santiago, most at Cachagua
Des Murs's Wiretail* - Sylviorthorhynchus desmurii  -  well seen on ChiloŽ
Thorn-tailed Rayadito* - Aphrastura spinicauda  -  La Campana and further south, several sites
Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail* - Leptasthenura aegithaloides -  less seen than expected
Sharp-billed Canastero* - Asthenes pyrrholeuca  -  at border of El Yeso reservoir
White-throated Treerunner* - Pygarrhichas albogularis  -  e.g. La Campana and Altos de Lircay
Crag Chilia* - Ochetorhynchus melanurus  -  only in El Yeso valley, at -33.773760, -70.168994
Dusky-tailed Canastero* - Pseudasthenes humicola  -  maybe only at La Camapana
Black-throated Huet-huet* - Pteroptochos tarnii  -  more heard than seen; seen well at Puyehue NP
Moustached Turca* - Pteroptochos megapodius  -  often heard; best seen at Fray Jorge NP
White-throated Tapaculo* - Scelorchilus albicollis  -  often heard; best seen at Fray Jorge NP
Chucao Tapaculo* - Scelorchilus rubecula  -  often heard, seen a few times
Ochre-flanked Tapaculo* - Eugralla paradoxa  -  expected at ChiloŽ island, only seen along coast further north, see above link
Magellanic Tapaculo* - Scytalopus magellanicus  -  heard a few times, seen only in Puyehue NP
Chestnut-throated Huet-huet* - Pteroptochos castaneus  - only seen in Altos de Lircay reserve
White-crested Elaenia ssp chilensis - Elaenia albiceps chilensis -  very common (Chilean Elaenia)
Tufted Tit-Tyrant - Anairetes parulus  -  several small groups throughout, e.g. at La Campana
Austral Negrito* - Lessonia rufa  -  on beaches of ChiloŽ
Spectacled Tyrant - Hymenops perspicillatus  -  at Chepu coastal plain of ChiloŽ, recent expansion from mainland?
Spot-billed Ground Tyrant* - Muscisaxicola maculirostris  -  in dry Elqui valley
White-browed Ground Tyrant* - Muscisaxicola albilora  -  El Yeso valley
Fire-eyed Diucon* - Xolmis pyrope  -  a few times, e.g. La Campana
Cinereous Ground Tyrant - Muscisaxicola cinereus  -  along El Yeso reservoir
Rufous-tailed Plantcutter - Phytotoma rara  -  several sites
Blue-and-white Swallow - Notiochelidon cyanoleuca
Chilean Swallow* - Tachycineta leucopyga  -  several sites, and often mixed with Blue-and-white Swallows
Grass Wren - Cistothorus platensis  -  Sedge Wren, to be split as Austral Wren; Chepu coastal plain ChiloŽ
House Wren - Troglodytes aedon
Chilean Mockingbird* - Mimus thenca  -  many places
Austral Thrush* - Turdus falcklandii  -  common
Correndera Pipit - Anthus correndera  -  at coastal plain of ChiloŽ NP
Yellow-rumped Siskin - Spinus uropygialis  -  El Yeso valley
Black-chinned Siskin - Spinus barbatus  -  several sites
Austral Blackbird* - Curaeus curaeus  -  a few sites
Shiny Cowbird - Molothrus bonariensis
Long-tailed Meadowlark - Sturnella loyca  -  several sites
Grey-hooded Sierra Finch - Phrygilus gayi  -  several sites, not shy
Patagonian Sierra Finch* - Phrygilus patagonicus  -  Aguas Calientes in Puyehue NP
Mourning Sierra Finch - Phrygilus fruticeti  -  Fray Jorge NP
Common Diuca Finch* - Diuca diuca  -  a common bird and not shy
Greater Yellow Finch* - Sicalis auriventris  -  El Yeso valley
Greenish Yellow Finch - Sicalis olivascens  -  e.g. in dry Elqui valley
Grassland Yellow Finch - Sicalis luteola  -  lowlands, e.g. group of 40 on ChiloŽ
 
See also the long section with bird photos.