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Day 1 - Monday 11th October: Flight from UK to Santiago
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Airport Lounge, we fly to Santiago.
Day 2 - Tuesday 12th October: Arrival and optional first birding
After arrival at Santiago airport we meet Rodrigo, our Leader, and transfer to our hotel. During the afternoon we will have an optional first excursion in the vicinity of Farellones for several mountain species including perhaps our first Andean Condor, Mountain Caracara, White-sided Hillstar, Rufous-banded and Creamy-rumped Miners, Cinereous, Black-fronted, White-browed and Rufous-naped Ground-tyrants plus Greater Yellow-Finch, Grey-hooded and Band-tailed Sierra-Finch. We will also look for endemic Chilean Tinamou and Chilean Mockingbird and might have the chance of seeing Variable Hawk and Aplomado Falcon. Overnight for two nights Hotel Galerías, Santiago.
Day 3 - Wednesday 13th October: El Yeso and Baños Morales Vallies
We have a full day to explore the surroundings of El Yeso reservoir in the Andean foothills, and will hopefully be rewarded with sightings of endemic Crag Chilia plus Andean Condor, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, and several other Andean specialities such as Black-winged Ground Dove, Grey-flanked Cinclodes, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant and Yellow-rumped Siskin. Careful scanning of grasslands and streams may produce the stunning Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, our main target species of the day. El Yeso valley is a lovely mountain spot where we also have good chances for flocks of Mountain Parakeet. During the afternoon we visit another valley, Baños Morales. This location offers great chances for several other specialities including Mountain Caracara, White-sided Hillstar, Rufous-banded and Creamy-rumped Miners, Cinereous, Black-fronted, White-browed and Rufous-naped Ground Tyrants plus Greater Yellow Finch and Grey-hooded and Band-tailed Sierra Finches.
Day 4 - Thursday 14th October: Lampa marshes and the Aconcagua river mouth
We will drive a short distance north of Santiago to visit marshes around the locality of Batuco. Our targets here will be Cocoi Heron, Rosy-billed Pochard, White-cheeked Pintail and South American Painted Snipe. In the afternoon, we will head to the productive rocky coast north of Valparaiso. We have planned a visit to a protected breeding colony of the endangered Humboldt Penguin, and endemic Seaside Cinclodes and the delightful Marine Otter are both possible here as well. Before ending the day, we stop by a coastal marsh to see a variety of waterfowl including Red Shoveler, Yellow-billed Pintail, Speckled Teal and Chiloe Wigeon, all three lowland coot species (Red-gartered, White-winged and Red-fronted), Spot-flanked Gallinule and Plumbeous Rail, which is surprisingly quite easy to spot as it often walks in the open. Overnight for three nights at Hotel Oceanic, Viña del Mar or similar.
Day 5 - Friday 15th October: La Campana NP & wine tasting in the Casablanca valley
The Coastal Range separates Chile’s central valley from the Pacific coast and we drive across it through La Dormida Pass. The highest peak hereabouts, Mount La Campana (The ‘Bell’), dominates the entire scene; this area receives enough moisture from the ocean to sustain broad-leaf forests and a shrub community known as ‘matorral’ (Chile’s equivalent to California’s chaparral). During the morning we will bird at La Campana National Park, where we will be looking for an interesting array of passerines all endemic to Chile: Dusky-tailed Canastero, Moustached Turca, Dusky Tapaculo and White-throated Tapaculo. We are also likely to encounter the remarkable Giant Hummingbird, Striped Woodpecker, Austral Pygmy Owl and Chilean Pigeon. Later in the evening, we enjoy a couple of wine tasting sessions at Loma Larga and Casas del Bosque vineyards; both produce outstanding and world-class Pinot Noirs, Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays, a grand ending to the day!
Day 6 - Saturday 16th October: Pelagic from Valparaiso & Laguna El Peral Nature Reserve
Today we make an unforgettable visit to the cold and productive waters of the Humboldt Current, considered one of the world’s finest pelagic birding destinations. Here, we should see a great variety of tubenoses including up to six albatross species: Black-browed, Salvin’s, Buller’s, Chatham, Wandering (Antipodean) and both Northern and Southern Royal Albatross. We also hope to find Southern and Northern Giant Petrel, Cape, Masatierra, White-chinned and Westland Petrel, Pink-footed, Buller’s and Sooty Shearwater, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, and Peruvian Diving Petrel. Other seabirds we may encounter include Red (Grey) Phalarope, Sabine’s Gull and Chilean Skua. There are good chances of cetaceans although they are always difficult to predict; on recent trips we have recorded Dusky Dolphin, Southern Right Whale Dolphin, and Orca! After a whole morning at sea, we enjoy the delicious seafood of Valparaiso.
During the afternoon we explore the productive Maipo river mouth and surrounding coastal wetlands, including El Peral Reserve. Our target birds here will be cryptic-colored Stripe-backed Bittern, brood-parasitic Black-headed Duck and striking Many-colored Rush Tyrant; we will also have a chance to find scarce and local Ticking Doradito.
Day 7 - Sunday 17th October: Flight to Chiloé Island & Drive to Tepuhueico
This morning we return to Santiago and take our flight southwards to Castro. Chiloé Island is a land of myths, legends and history, with countless outstanding natural and cultural riches. We land on this lush island and drive for a couple of hours to the spectacular Tepuhueico Park, a magnificent, untouched example of Valdivian Temperate Rainforest. The unique wooden lodge where we will be based for the next couple of nights is located by the lake and is quite a piece of architecture! Noisy flocks of endemic Slender-billed Parakeet and Chilean Pigeon gather in large numbers around the building. After dinner we take a late evening walk looking for Band-winged Nightjar, and with luck we may spot one of the remarkable small mammals that occur on the island. Overnight for two nights at Hotel Tepuhueico, Chiloé
Day 8 - Monday 18th October: Tepuhueico Park
We have the whole day to explore the pristine Tepuhueico woodlands, part of the unique ecosystem known as Valdivian Temperate Rainforest. Tepuhueico Park has the reputation of being a highly reliable place to see critically endangered Chilean endemic Darwin's Fox. A few hundred individuals survive in the ecozone between dense temperate forests and the coast. We also take interesting walks in search of Pudu (the second smallest deer in the world) and the 'Kodkod' or 'Guigna' (a very rare woodland cat). While searching for this array of enigmatic and poorly-known mammals, we should find several endemic birds of the Patagonian woodlands such as Black-throated Huet-huet, Chucao, Ochre-flanked and Magellanic Tapaculos, Patagonian Tyrant, Des Murs Wiretail, Chilean Pigeon, Magellanic Woodpecker, Chilean Hawk and Green-backed Firecrown.
Day 9 - Tuesday 19th October: Drive to Castro, North Chiloe
After some morning birding around the lodge, we head to the northern part of the island. We stop at several mudflats and bays, which hold an important part of the world population of Hudsonian Godwit, which winters in extensive bays of Patagonia together with Red Knot and a variety of other shorebirds.
We also have the opportunity to admire local culture, starting with the peculiar island architecture comprising wooden houses and churches, with characteristic walls and roofs covered with shingles. After lunch we´ll drive east across the island to reach the picturesque towns in the protected eastern coast. Here we will concentrate on cultural features including the famous stilt houses set right on the rocky shore, and the local wooden churches. During the afternoon we visit the churches of Dalcahue, Tenaún and Castro, Chiloé Island's largest town. These three churches are representative of 18th century colonial wooden construction, inspired by shipbuilding. Overnight for two nights at Hotel Ancud, or similar.
Day 10 - Wednesday 20th October: Boat trip Puñihuil - Chepu river
We have an early start aiming towards the wild west coast of the island, to take a boat trip to the interesting location of Puñihuil. Here we will circumnavigate an islet to see one of the few mixed breeding colonies of Humboldt and Magellanic Penguins. Marine Otter, Magellanic Cormorant, Kelp Goose and Flightless Steamer Duck are all usually found here, too. Later we explore part of the nearby Chepu River, a scenic watercourse bordered by lush and dense forest. Its clear waters protect a critically endangered species, Southern River Otter, or 'Huillin'. We will make efforts to see this mammal, and hopefully be rewarded for our patience. We also have chances for rare Rufous-tailed Hawk and endemic Slender-billed Parakeet.
Day 11 - Thursday 21st October: Ferry to mainland & Flight to Punta Arenas
From Ancud we drive north to take the ferry across the Chacao Channel. This 30-minute journey offers great wildlife viewing opportunities and we are likely to see pods of Peale's Dolphin, groups of South American Sea Lion and a great array of seabirds including Southern Giant Petrel, Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwater, Imperial and Red-legged Cormorant, Peruvian Pelican and South American Tern. We then catch our flight to Punta Arenas, Chile’s most southerly city, located right on the shores of the mythical Magellan Straits. Overnight Hotel Diego de Almagro, Punta Arenas
Day 12 - Friday 22nd October: Puerto Natales - Torres del Paine National Park
Today we enjoy an exciting and productive drive towards Torres del Paine National Park. We will be fascinated by the changing landscapes and vegetation comprising the Patagonian steppes, the Chilean Fjords and the southern Andes. On route, we will check at some alkaline ponds to attempt to find one of the world’s most sought-after waders, Magellanic Plover. We will also look for other Patagonian specialities including Lesser Rhea, Least Seedsnipe, Band-tailed Earthcreeper, Chocolate-vented Tyrant and White-bridled (Canary-winged) Finch. Large herds of Guanaco (related to the Camel) will be a common sight along the drive towards Puerto Natales and other mammals potentially include Southern Grey Fox, Patagonian Hairy Armadillo and Patagonian Hog-nosed Skunk.
The scenic town of Puerto Natales will be a delightful place to study the abundance of waterfowl occurring along the coast of Last Hope Fjord. Lots of Black-necked and Coscoroba Swan, together with Chiloe Wigeon, Yellow-billed Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail and Crested Duck breed and feed here. This coast, influenced by the Pacific Ocean, is also frequented by Imperial Cormorant, Chilean Skua, Dolphin Gull and South American Tern. Occasionally pods of the endemic Chilean Dolphin are found in these waters. We continue northwards to reach one of the most scenic places on Earth, Torres del Paine. The Andean foothills and scrub are home to Black-chested Buzzard, Southern and Chimango Caracara, but the most iconic and memorable moment will be seeing Andean Condor with the stunning scenery behind. Our lodge is located in the southern fringes of the park and has good access to productive habitats where we expect to find Ashy-headed and Upland Geese, Spectacled Duck, South American Snipe, Austral Parakeet, Austral Pygmy Owl and Dark-bellied Cinclodes. Overnight for two nights at Hotel Rio Serrano, Torres del Paine.
Day 13 - Saturday 23rd October: Torres del Paine
We make an early start to explore this vast national park and its many birding habitats. We begin by exploring its western flank, and bird the sub-Antarctic Beech (Nothofagus) forests. Here we will look for Austral Parakeet, Striped Woodpecker, Chilean Flicker, striking Magellanic Woodpecker, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, White-throated Treerunner and Austral Blackbird. Occasionally Chilean Hawk is seen here stalking the flocking parakeets. The scenery around Grey Lake and its namesake glacier is simply breathtaking.
During the rest of the day we explore the lakes in the eastern side of the park searching for a wealth of waterfowl including Great, Silvery and White-tufted Grebe, Andean Duck, Silver Teal plus Red-gartered and White-winged Coot. The reed-fringed lagoons can be very interesting, and with some luck, elusive and recently re-discovered Austral Rail might be seen. We also expect to see Cinereous Harrier and Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle hovering in search for prey, and we scan the fast-flowing rivers hoping to find remarkable Torrent Duck. Although our time in the park is limited, there is a reasonable chance of seeing a Puma, especially in the eastern side.
Day 14 - Sunday 24th October: Torres del Paine & return to Punta Arenas
This morning we again an early start in order to be ready to photograph the Towers or the Horns with the first light. With the right lighting, the mountain base turns to orange colours and the scene becomes very dramatic with peculiar lenticular clouds moving fast over the peaks. At the eastern corner of Sarmiento Lake, we will reach a location that commands magnificent views of the towering peaks of Las Torres, the pinnacles from which the park takes its name. As we move around the park, we see confiding herds of Guanaco, a southern relative to camels, the curious-looking Lesser Rhea and impressive Andean Condor soaring along the road. During the morning we visit the eastern side of the park to enjoy the views of one of the impressive waterfalls of Paine River and if it’s clear, the fabulous granite columns of the Paine massif from Laguna Amarga. After our picnic, we head back to Punta Arenas where our trip ends. Overnight again at Hotel Diego de Almagro, Punta Arenas
Day 15 - Monday 25th October: Tierra del Fuego – King Penguin colony
We begin the final leg of our adventure with a ferry journey across the waters of the Magellan Straits, and explore the huge Bahía Inútil - Spanish for 'Useless Bay' - for a wealth of seabirds, waterfowl and other shorebirds. We concentrate on finding Flightless and Flying Steamer-Duck, and Kelp Goose as well as King, Imperial and Rock Cormorant.
En-route, we’ll check the meadows and fields for endangered Ruddy-headed Goose as well as for potential raptors including Variable Hawk, and Aplomado and Peregrine Falcon. Great Horned Owl nests in some ravines, and there might be a chance of spotting this largest of Central and South American owls, second largest in the Americas.
The main target of our visit to this scenic part of the island is to visit the only continental King Penguin breeding colony. This splendid species congregates year-round on this site and in the past few years they have successfully re-started breeding here. On our way back to Porvenir, we explore the shrubby slopes and moorlands of the Baquedano Hills, searching for specialties such as Rufous-chested Dotterel, Austral Canastero, and stunning White-bridled Finch. Overnight Yendegaia House, Porvenir.
Day 16 - Tuesday 26th October: Laguna de los Cisnes, ferry to Punta Arenas, and flight to Santiago.
During the morning we visit alkaline lagoons and ponds east of the village. Our target here is local and rare Magellanic Plover. This enigmatic wader looks similar to a little dove rather than a shorebird, and is often seen feeding by ‘scratching’ the mud with its bright pink legs. Other birds of the area include Two-banded Plover, Wilson’’s Phalarope, abundant White-rumped Sandpiper, Short-billed Miner and the ubiquitous Austral Negrito.
Later we take the two-hour ferry journey back towards Punta Arenas; while crossing the mythical Straits of Magellan, we will see a variety of tubenoses such as Black-browed Albatross, Southern Giant Petrel, Cape and White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Wilson’s Storm-Petrel and Magellanic Diving Petrel. We will see other seabirds including Chilean Skua, Kelp, Dolphin and Brown-hooded Gulls and South American Tern. Possible marine mammals will include the common South American Sea Lion, Sei Whale and playful pods of Peale’s Dolphin. We then transfer to the airport for our internal flight to Santiago, where we stay at the Holiday Inn overnight.
Day 17 - Wednesday 27th October: Flight to Santiago - Connecting flights to the UK
In the morning we enjoy a whistle-stop tour of Santiago, including visits to the main Square and central market, Santiago's Cathedral, central train station, National Library, the financial district (Alonso de Cordova) and a visit to Cerro San Cristobal, a famous city viewpoint, as time allows. We then take our international flight to the UK, arriving on the morning of Day 18, Thursday 28th October.