Birding trip report Buenos Aires province Oct 2000

Part 1. Logistics and sites

John van der Woude, The Netherlands - www.jvanderw.nl

See also:
- part 2. Pictures of sites
- part 3. Species list

During a 5-day stopover on our flight from Bolivia (see report) back to Europe, we birded in Buenos Aires province. This province has some well-known birding sites, mainly at or near the coast. Here we added 68 species, passerines as much as non-passerines, to the list of the whole trip, although we had already seen quite some pampas species in the Bolivian lowlands.

Upon arrival at Ezeiza international airport of Buenos Aires in the afternoon we swiftly picked up our pre-ordered rental car at the Avis office just outside the main building. We got a brand new Opel/Chevrolet Corsa for 300 USD in total from Friday evening till Wednesday evening. The friendly Avis manager (Jose Sanz: josevsanz@avis.com.ar) gave us a good map and good directions for downtown, and pointed out an ATM with Cirrus just opposite their office. The local peso has been tied to the US dollar in a 1:1 ratio, and both currencies are used here, although dollars mainly in B.A. I think.
We drove downtown in a world we had not seen in Latin America before: we would call B.A. the Paris of South America. We first headed to a hotel (Bolivar) that is recommended in the South American Handbook (1999) as reasonable but on inspection we learned that its reasonable price meant that we were rather at the bottom of comfort level in this expensive city. We ended up in the 96-dollar hotel Republica at the plaza of the same name in the big avenue that is the heart of the city center. We appreciated the evening life in the direct vicinity of the hotel, especially at the Italian restaurant called Guaira or something. This is nearby around the corner and recommended to us by the friendly porter of our hotel mainly because of the draft beer they serve, but we liked the food and the busy atmosphere as well.

 

The center of Buenos Aires also is the best place to stay for the famous Costanero Sur reserve at the sea front of the city center. So here we drove in the morning and thought we were a bit late but it appeared to open at 8 and not 7 a.m. We had not brought a bottle of water this time and now needed some time for finding somebody who was willing to change money in order to have coins for the soft drink machine at the park headquarters at the entrance. In order to find the entrance, look for a big white sign Costanero Sur Reserva Ecologico etc., a bit from the street (Av. Tristan Achaval Rodrigues) and next to a small roundabout. This is approximately where the Av. Brasil comes down to the sea front. Or otherwise just cruise on the most seaside avenue, keeping a bit South. You should see the park from this avenue, across a canal. We could park the car along the street. The recommended birding route here is the triangular round around the Laguna de los Patos (Duck Lake), providing many water and marsh birds, but also nice warbling-finches etc. in the trees. In total we had 57 species here (see the list) in just four hours. Even if you have no time for visiting the park (free entrance), it would be worthwhile to check that canal from the avenue. In this canal we ticked most of the duck and swan species, a/o Black-headed Duck.

Costanera Sur nature reserve at Buenos Aires. From entrance, walk the triangle around the lower of the two marshy lakes.

We had asked at the hotel if we could check out at 2 or 3 p.m. only and this was no problem. So we had left our luggage in the hotel room and came back at about noon for a shower (the weather was unusually hot these spring days) and for a sort of lunch at the large tearoom at the corner left (as I said it's just like Paris here). Refreshed and happy with so many good species in our pocket we headed off to the Southeast, to Magdalena, a small town near the marshy woods and pastures of Atalaya, a sleepy seaside village. In the late afternoon, we had a brief reconnaissance at this birding location known from several reports, and we thought we heard the wish-list species Giant Woodrail already, as a foretaste of the next day. In Magdalena we moved into the moderate but clean hotel Nuevo Colon next to the only other but much more moderate hotel here. Nearby is the plaza and here we first paid a short visit to the local museum, mainly in order to be inside a well preserved big old mansion. This is also a tourist office, and the friendly girl gave us info about a hacienda with rooms (El Destino), just inside the Costero Sur reserve further to the Southeast. This may be worthwhile I think, but it is very expensive (as usual at such places in South America).

Restaurants here would be open at 9 p.m. only, far too late for us birders, but we had real good pizza (and beer) at 7 p.m. already. This was at the pizzeria La Barra at the right-hand side of the street that goes on after the tourist office and the plaza, as seen from the hotel side of the plaza. Well this is not a big town, just ask for the pizzeria. On the bill I see now it is Av. Rivadavia 1068, phone 45-3000. Talking about speaking to the people here in Argentina - we had real difficulties in understanding their pronunciation of the Spanish. For example, 'Yo voy a llamar' (I'll phone) is pronounced as 'Sho bosh a shamar'.

 

That night an enormous amount of rain came down and the temperature dropped considerably. Bird life went on as usual however (after all this is spring), but the fields, ditches and marshes were very wet. Maybe this was to our luck, because at the old railway track (see map) we saw several Giant Woodrail walking on the meadow bordering the overflown reed marshes (actually mostly Yellow Iris). But maybe walking there is just their daily routine. Nevertheless they were rather shy; we scarcely got the time to put up the scope. This is not a long trail and it would be best to walk very slowly, also for spotting the Curve-billed Reedhaunter, the other wish-list species that we got here, next to the trail. The end of the old railway track is at WP27 (waypoint/GPS, see at bottom). We liked this site, with its diverse habitat of marsh woods, reeds and small pastures.
From Magdalena we drove to Punto Indio on a good sand road (a main road after all) through the very scenic Costero Sur reserve, passing by that hacienda El Destino. What we could see from it along the road, this reserve is mostly savanna/pampas with woodlands and less marshy than the Atalaya site. We drove on to San Clemente del Tuyu, the sleepy seaside resort town, with several good birding sites around it. We stayed there three nights, in hotel Morales (tel. 0054 2252 421207, fax 430357, hotelmorales@infovia.co.ar, at Calle 1 no. 1856), which I can highly recommend for its comfort, service, parking place and nearness to a good restaurant (El Hispaño). There were many other hotels in this town, but several of them seemed closed for the season.

To find the quarter with hotel Morales easiest, you should, at entering San Clemente, take the wide sand road left just before a big ad sign for LEFT (a drink?; this is at WP34). Follow the sand road, which is actually better than the asphalted roads in town with all their bumps, till the Shell petrol station, turn right here and drive on till you meet a T-junction at an ellipsoid roundabout, from where you see the hotel at 150 m to the left. The restaurant El Hispaño is just before that T-junction, at the right. This cut-off to hotel Morales is also the easiest way to get to Punta Rasa if you don't stay in the city. Punta Rasa is a complex of different habitats on the small peninsula pointing northwards from San Clemente. There are salt marshes with tidal gullies, beaches, and woods around the lighthouse. The lighthouse area has been converted into a theme park with 8-dollar entrance fee pp. and we saw no birds that we did not see outside of it. For the specialties of the woods, e.g. White-throated Hummingbird, the wood strip to the left of the road just before the lighthouse area was sufficient. Along the beaches and gullies we had several terns, waders and several Olrog's Gull, a very rare species but just like Band-tailed Gull which is common at the Pacific Ocean.
To reach this area Punto Rasa follow the signs for Bahia Aventura, the theme park. One km or so before the lighthouse is a side road to the right into the Punta Rasa reserve proper, with a warning and time tables for high water. All the roads from San Clemente northwards to Punta Rasa are sand roads, easily done with a normal car without 4WD and this road also if you mind those timetables for high water. We drove this side road into the reserve all the way until we came out on the beach spit and that is a lovely spot for birdwatching all around you. About halfway along the road from Punta Rasa back to San Clemente we had the range-restricted Hudson's Canastero in very rough pampas vegetation (or however this coastal pampas variety may be called).

At the beach of San Clemente itself is a pier for anglers, and from the sheltered tip we did some seabird watching: Black-browed Albatross, White-chinned Petrel. Actually, we got the idea to go here because we saw those albatrosses, our first ever, from our hotel room already.
Perhaps the most intriguing site of this whole San Clemente/Punta Rasa region was the road back to Gral. (General) Lavalle ('Labashe'), a village in the big Samborombon Bay West of Punta Rasa. This road goes along wet and dry grasslands, reed marshes and lakes, and scattered small woods in this otherwise very open and flat landscape. You can stop everywhere along this elevated road (the 11), with its broad shoulders. Noteworthy spots were: at some bridges (like at WP28, WP29) with Freckle-breasted Thornbird and Bay-capped Wren-Spinetail; at the gate of the Campo del Tuyu reserve (on the seaside of the road) with Buff-breasted Sandpiper; at the estancia El Palenque (WP31 of Km 281.5, in the vicinity of Gral. Lavalle) with Firewood-Gatherer and many other woodland and wetland species; and at the old bridge South of the road (at WP32 or Km 280) amidst extensive marshes with Warbling Doradito, Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, amongst many others. From this old bridge (no cars allowed anymore), we drove the sand road left along the canal inland, and got the hoped-for Stripe-backed Bittern after a few 100 m, at WP33.

At that estancia El Palenque we asked somebody driving up to the road if we could walk around between the trees and they did not object. We walked the bushy area to the right of the sign El Palenque. Firewood-Gatherer nested in a single low small tree just behind the more dense bushy part.
Should you be interested in entering the Campo del Tuyu reserve in stead of viewing it only from the road like we did, then you may try this by contacting Mario Beade at Gral. Lavalle (phone 00252 49 1033, camptuyu@rpm-net.com.ar) as we found out in the village itself while he was out in the fields. On the other hand, from all the signs on the gate to the reserve I did not conclude that you are not allowed to walk into it by yourself, although this was not attractive because of the many bulls…

We drove back to Buenos Aires via an inland route (see map), and found the scenery dull except for the last part, from near San Miguel del Monte. Just before this town there is a strange pool with a narrow stream to the right of the road and here we had Spot-flanked Gallinule and Grey-hooded Gull very nearby, both of which we had missed earlier on the trip. Then along the road from there to Cañuelas you have a wide ditch to the right and here we had many Snail Kite and our only Red Shoveler, and some more of those beautiful Spot-flanked Gallinule.
From Cañuelas please take the highway to the airport and Buenos Aires. This highway was not yet on our map of the province, so we had the old road which cost us all the spare time we had before checking in at the airport at the proper time in the evening. We had a smooth flight back to Madrid and Amsterdam where we were heading for several weeks of foul weather. Most of all I missed the bright light we had had for all those five weeks in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, but then I also needed my time indoors to make up the list and the report of this interesting and highly varied trip.

Waypoints/GPS: (you may have to change the decimal comma into a point)
W 027 S35°01'37,74" W057°31'03,52"
W 028 S36°23'28,82" W056°48'43,73"
W 029 S36°23'47,93" W056°48'59,65"
W 030 S36°26'54,45" W056°57'19,71"
W 031 S36°28'40,96" W056°59'12,99"
W 032 S36°29'19,94" W057°00'14,95"
W 033 S36°29'46,54" W057°00'55,83"
W 034 S36°23'08,65" W056°43'39,05"