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Day 1: Tue 22 November 2022 - Flight from UK to Chile
After relaxing in our complimentary VIP Airport Lounge, we fly London to Santiago overnight.
Day 2: Wed 23 November - Farellones and Valle Nevado
Our birding adventure in Chile begins today, and after recovering from the flight and check into our hotel, we meet our local guide and head out birding for the afternoon. We won’t have to travel far before finding ourselves in the spectacular setting of Farellones, where several Andean specialities may be seen, including White-sided Hillstar, Rufous-banded and Creamy-rumped Miner, Cinereous, Black-fronted, White-browed and Rufous-naped Ground-tyrant, Greater Yellow-Finch, Grey-hooded and Band-tailed Sierra-Finch. We also look for endemic Chilean Tinamou and Chilean Mockingbird and may see Mountain Caracara, Red-backed Hawk and Aplomado Falcon while scanning the skies for raptors. Overnight Santiago for two nights.
Day 3: Thur 24 November - El Yeso Valley
A full day to explore part of the Andes, where in the foothills surrounding El Yeso reservoir we hope to see our first Andean Condors. The largest and without doubt one of the most iconic birds of prey in the world, to see them gliding on mid-morning thermals within their natural surroundings will be etched into our birding memories forever! Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle are likely and we hope to be rewarded with sightings of endemic Crag Chilia and flocks of Mountain Parakeet too. Other Andean specialities which may be encountered today include Black-winged Ground Dove, Grey-flanked Cinclodes, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant and Yellow-rumped Siskin. Stunning Diademed Sandpiper-Plover is one of the top targets of our tour, and though we plan to visit locations for them in the North, scanning the grasslands and streams here may produce our first sighting. In the afternoon we visit nearby Baños Morales, another valley offering good birding with further chances of seeing local specialities amid wonderful mountain views.
Day 4: Fri 25 November - Maipo Estuary, Laguna El Peral Nature Reserve
The Coastal Range separates Chile’s central valley from the Pacific coast, and today we drive west to explore the productive Maipo river mouth and surrounding coastal wetlands. At El Peral Reserve our targets include cryptic-colored Stripe-backed Bittern, the brood-parasitic Black-headed Duck and striking Many-colored Rush Tyrant to name but some. Commoner wetland species in this area include Silvery, White-tufted and Pied-billed Grebe, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black-necked Swan, Yellow-billed Pintail, American Oystercatcher, Kelp, Grey and Brown-hooded Gull and we may also find scarce Ticking Doradito in the scrub. Overnight Viña del Mar for two nights.
Day 5: Sat 26 November – Valparaiso Pelagic – Albatross and Humboldt Penguins
Today we explore one of the world’s finest pelagic birding destinations with an unforgettable boat trip out into the seas of the Humboldt Current. The cold and productive waters off western Chile are fantastic for tubenoses with many species of albatross possible including Black-browed, Salvin’s, Buller’s, Chatham, Wandering (Antipodean) and both Northern and Southern Royal. Among other possible seabirds are Southern and Northern Giant Petrel, Pintado, Masatierra, White-chinned and Westland Petrel, Pink-footed, Buller’s and Sooty Shearwater, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Peruvian Diving Petrel, Grey (Red) Phalarope, Sabine’s Gull and Chilean Skua. We plan to visit a protected breeding colony of endangered Humboldt Penguin north of Valparaiso and may also see Marine Otter here too. Cetaceans are possibe, and though harder to predict can include Dusky Dolphin and Southern Right Whale Dolphin. Before ending the day, we may visit a nearby marsh to see wetland species. A variety of waterfowl including Red Shoveler, Speckled Teal and Chiloe Wigeon may be seen, plus Red-gartered, White-winged and Red-fronted Coot, Spot-flanked Gallinule and Plumbeous Rail, the latter often surprisingly easy to see as it often walks in the open.
Day 6: Sun 27 November - La Campana National Park and fly to the Atacama Desert
We begin the day with a morning visit to La Campana National Park, an area close enough to the ocean to sustain broad-leafed forests and a xeric shrub community named ‘the matorral’ (Chile’s equivalent to California’s chaparral). The habitat supports several Chilean endemics and among our targets are Dusky-tailed Canastero, Moustached Turca, Dusky and White-throated Tapaculo. La Campana can also be a good site for Giant Hummingbird and also possible are Striped Woodpecker, Austral Pygmy Owl and Chilean Pigeon. While birding, our attention will inevitably be drawn to Mount La Campana (The Bell) which dominates the skyline offering a superb vista. After a rewarding morning, we drive to Santiago airport for our afternoon flight east to Calama. As we come to land, we see the unique Atacama Desert environment for the first time, board our vehicle and drive to the vibrant oasis village of San Pedro de Atacama where we stay for three nights.
Day 7: Mon 28 November - Chaxa, Miscanti and Meñiques Lagoons and Salar de Talar
Today we begin our exploration of the driest desert in the world, visiting a series of high Andean lakes which at an altitude of around 4000m above sea level offer a striking and unique birding environment! We enjoy birding as we pass through the agricultural villages of Socaire and Tocanao, the latter characterized by its stone houses and beautiful orchards. Gaining height and continuing to Lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques, we aim to see an array of specialist birds from well-defined trails within the protected reserve. Horned Coot is the largest and most threatened coot in the world and one of the few breeding populations is found here. Also possible are Puna Flamingo, Pena Tinamou, Puna Plover, Rufous-bellied Seepsnipe, Black-hooded and Red-backed Seirra Finch, Golden Spotted Ground Dove, Straight-billed Earthcreeper and perhaps Mountain Parakeet. Herds of Vicuña gather around the lakes, while also in the area are Culpero Fox and Vizcacha. Later, we continue south to Salar de Talar for one of the most splendid vistas of the day. Offering wonderful photo opportunities of the turquoise-colored lake and the soft textures of the surrounding mountains and volcanos, this will be a spectacular place to end a day in the desert.
Day 8: Tue 29 November - El Tatio Geysers and Tamarugo Forest
An early start for a visit to the impressive El Tatio Geysers, the third largest geyser field in the world, and at an altitude of 4200m above sea level are among the highest. On a dawn visit we take in this bizarre landscape as the sun rises, observing columns of steam, cones of crystallized silica and other salts, plus ponds of boiling pastel-colored mud. Surprisingly, some plants and animals have adapted to live in these extreme environments at the very limit of where life is possible. Later we descend to the Putana River for Giant and Andean Coot, Puna and Yellow-billed Teal plus a range of other birdlife. We also have time to explore the flora, adapted to the extreme altitude and harsh conditions and one of the most conspicuous plants is the tall, columnar Atacama Cactus which grows in the gorges and hillsides along the Puritama river. In the afternoon we devote time to check the Tamarugo and Chañar woodlands near San Pedro, to search in particular for Tamarugo Conebill, a speciality of northern Chile.
Day 9: Wed 30 November - Transfer Calama – Santiago - Arica
A travel day, returning to Calama for a connecting flight to Arica via Santiago. Depending on our time of arrival, we may have time for some coastal birding close to our hotel. Overnight in Arica
Day 10: Thur 1 December - Putre Highlands
Leaving the coast and heading inland towards the imposing slopes of the Andes, we search first around the lowland cultivated valleys for Peruvian Thick-knee, Andean Swift and Grayish Miner. Next we drive into the highlands to reach the hyper-arid desert and mountain village of Putre, a picturesque Andean settlement located at 3400m above sea level, and our base for the next two nights. The pre-puna, semi-arid bushy slopes are rich in birdlife, with Sparkling Violetear, Andean Hillstar, Creamy-breasted and Canyon Canasteros, Golden-billed Saltator, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Hooded and Thick-billed Siskin among the many exciting species. The gardens, cultivated terraces, eucalyptus groves and rocky walls surrounding Putre provide the perfect habitat for Aplomado Falcon, Mountain Parakeet, Bare-faced Ground Dove, Spot-winged Pigeon, White-throated, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, White-winged Cinclodes, Black-throated Flowerpiercer, Chiguanco Thrush, White-browed Chat-Tyrant, Band-tailed Seedeater and Black-hooded, Mourning and Ash-breasted Sierra Finches. We can certainly expect a great day’s birding!
Day 11: Fri 2 December - Lauca National Park
The Altiplano, Puna or High Andean Plateau above 4000m is truly a mecca for wildlife and we have the whole day to discover its many secrets amid stunning landscapes. Established to protect the highest lake in the world (and a World Biosphere Reserve), Lauca National Park supports a great density of Andean fauna. The high-altitude bogs, locally known as ‘bofedales’, hold a remarkable number of species (all endemic to this eco-region), and specialities include exquisite Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, Chilean, Andean and Puna Flamingo, Andean Avocet, Giant and Andean Coot, Puna Ibis, Andean Goose, Puna Teal, Andean Avocet, Andean Lapwing, Puna Plover, Rufous-bellied and Grey-breasted Seedsnipes. The surrounding barren plains are good habitat for both Puna Rhea and Puna Tinamou - an impressive cast indeed! At 4500m, the Lake Chungara area will be the highest spot of our entire trip, and surrounded by imposing volcanoes, boasts one of the most beautiful views in Northern Chile. Among new species we might find here are Andean Flicker, Cordilleran Canastero, Puna and White-fronted Ground Tyrants, Andean Negrito, White-winged Diuca Finch and Black Siskin.
Day 12: Sat 3 December - Azapa and Lluta valleys
In the morning we drive back to Arica, planning to investigate the bird-rich valleys of Azapa and Chaca, the haunt of specialities such as Croaking Ground Dove, Chilean Woodstar, Peruvian Sheartail, Oasis Hummingbird, Tamarugo and Cinereous Conebill, Bran-colored and Vermillion Flycatcher, Peruvian Meadowlark and the odd-looking Slender-billed Finch. The productive estuary on the Lluta River should give us variety and boost our checklists, with ample opportunities to study coots, egrets, shorebirds, terns and gulls which gather to roost in large numbers. Overnight Arica for two nights
Day 13: Sun 4 December - Pelagic trip off Arica, Chaca and Camarones valleys
Early morning, we take a boat trip off Arica to continue our search for the endemic seabirds which favour the Humboldt Current. Our prized target will be Peruvian Diving Petrel and we should also find Elliot’s and Markham’s Storm Petrel and if lucky, scarce Wedge-rumped and Hornby’s Storm Petrel too. The delightful Inca Tern should be seen around the harbour, often alongside South American Tern while endangered and local Peruvian Tern is another potential sighting. Along the rocky coast south of Arica we expect a great array of seabirds including Peruvian Pelican, Peruvian Booby, Guanay and Red-legged Cormorant, Little Blue Heron, Elegant Tern, Belcher’s, Franklin’s and Grey Gull. Possible waders on the coast include Willet, (Hudsonian) Whimbrel and Surfbird. Extending our journey southwards to Camarones Gorge we hope to encounter Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant and Yellowish Pipit too.
Day 14: Mon 5 December - Flight to Santiago
We leave Arica and fly back to Santiago, perhaps with some time to relax or explore the city in the afternoon if flight times allow. Overnight Santiago for one night.
Day 15: Tue 6 December - Return to the UK
Transfer to Santiago Airport for the (usually) early-afternoon flight back to the UK overnight, arriving in the morning of Day 16. Those wishing to join the Robinson Crusoe extension, transfer to Tobalaba Aerodrome for the flight to the Juan Fernandez island group.
Birding extension to Robinson Crusoe Island within the Juan Fernandez Archipelago
Day 15: Tue 6 December - Fly to Robinson Crusoe Island, boat shuttle to San Juan Bautista
This exciting adventure begins with a private transfer from your hotel in Santiago to Aerodromo Tobalaba. From here we take a two hour flight to Robinson Crusoe, the only inhabited island of the whole archipelago. The latter stages of the flight will be part of the thrill, as once we see the island emerging from the ocean, its ancient volcanic origin becomes evident with numerous and dramatic ocean-facing cliffs often visible from the air.
The Juan Fernandez archipelago has a fascinating geological status, emerging as a lava flow originating from a hotspot located on the Earth’s crust, and being slowly conveyed eastwards on the Nazca Plate. We land at the western end of the island near El Padre Bay and from here take an hour and a half boat ride towards Cumberland Bay taking in our new surroundings and wildlife on the way. The small village of San Juan Bautista has a population of nearly 900, and is the only settlement on the island. Once settled into our accommodation we have the rest of the day to enjoy the comfortable facilities of Refugio Nautico or take a short wildlife walk close to the hotel grounds. During your stay, you will enjoy delightful seafood including the famous Juan Fernandez Crab. Overnight at Refugio Nautico, San Juan Bautista for three nights
Day 16: Wed 7 December – The Forest zone on Robinson Crusoe
A day devoted to exploring the Juan Fernandez National Park (a World Biosphere Reserve), where we target two endemic land birds, gorgeous Juan Fernandez Firecrown and the Juan Fernandez Tit-tyrant, though we will also be one the lookout for Austral Thrush, Short-eared Owl and the endemic race of American Kestrel. The Fernandezian forest has sub-tropical characteristics and is the only such habitat of its kind within Chilean territory. Supporting a large floristic diversity comprising 135 endemic species, this diverse forest ecosystem is not without serious conservation threats as nearly 20 species are represented by a population consisting of less than 25 individuals! Some, such as Robinsonia berteroi are at critical extinction risk as currently only one plant still survives! On our walks, we ascend towards the lookout of Alexander Selkirk and from here enjoy breathtaking vistas of the rugged topography of the island, including conspicuous jagged peaks such as Cerro Tres Punt as well as coastal wildlife.
Day 17: Thur 8 December - Cumberland Bay Pelagic Trip
The subtropical marine ecosystem around the island offers excellent feeding conditions for a diverse array of resident pelagic seabirds. Many are long-range visitors from sub-Antarctic islands off New Zealand, and even from Antarctic latitudes. This remote archipelago attracts the attention of even the most experienced sea birders, being renowned as the nesting location of some of the world’s rarest petrels and shearwaters. Among the targets on our five hour, dedicated pelagic trip are four species of Pterodroma (gadfly) Petrel with Juan Fernandez, De Filippi’s, Stejneger’s and Kermadec Petrel all possible. Other likely seabirds include Antipodean and Black-browed Albatross, Southern Giant Petrel, White-bellied Storm-Petrel and Sooty Tern. We aim to see Pink-footed Shearwater, which may be watched returning to land after spending the day foraging at sea. Our trip along the coastline will also provide excellent opportunities to see endemic (and formerly almost extinct) Juan Fernandez Fur Seal. This eared seal was historically hunted for fur, and eventually in 1824 considered extinct. Fortunately, a small colony was discovered in 1965 and its population has steadily increased in number.
Day 18: Fri 9 December - Boat shuttle to El Padre Bay – Flight to Santiago
Today our Robinson Crusoe adventure comes to an end. We head back to El Padre Bay by boat and from there, fly back to Santiago. A transfer to your hotel in Santiago will be provided with perhaps some time to relax or explore the city in the afternoon. Overnight Santiago for one night.
Day 19: Sat 10 December - Return to the UK
Transfer to Santiago for the (usually) early-afternoon flight back to the UK overnight, and arriving in the UK on the morning of day 20, Sun 11 December.