VS: Argentina with Bird guides. 3. The High Andes

To: "birding-aus" <>
Subject: VS: Argentina with Bird guides. 3. The High Andes
From: "Vader Willem Jan Marinus" <>
Date: Sun, 28 Nov 2010 12:04:15 +0100


Fra: Vader Willem Jan Marinus
Sendt: sø 11/28/2010 12:03
Kopi: Ebn ; birdchat; Sabirdnet

Emne: Argentina with Bird guides. 3. The High Andes


The last two nights of the Bird Guides trip to NW Argentina we stayed
overnight in La Quiaca, at 3800m. This is a small town, where the locals
clearly have tried hard to make the town a bit more attractive than most
of the other villages and towns in the area; those all make a quite dour
and uninviting impression at first sight. The day before we had driven the
long way up from Jujuy (San Salvador de Jujuy, most of the Argentininian
towns have long names, either named for a saint or a general), mostly
slowly gaining height following a large river upstream, and then via the
Quebrada de Humahuaca up to the puna.

I have to confess that I had imagined the High Andes completely different
from what I actually found here, of course the result of insufficient
preparation. As I knew that the Andes are a relatively young mountain
chain, I had envisaged  steep mountains and deep valleys; instead the puna
here is a quite flat high plateau at about 4000m a.s.l. surrounded by bare
rounded hills. Erosion has gauged out deep gullies, as soon as there is a
little relief. But I have not seen 'a real mountain' at all during these
two days, even though the pass at Abra Lizoite was at 4500m, with high
rounded hills all around.

The puna makes at first sight a quite monotonous impression, with its
scarce vegetation of small bushes (I do not know their names) and large
grasses (Which they tell me is a Festuca, although they look quite
different from the european festucas). Large flocks of llamas---white,
brown, black and multicoloured---add some colour to the scene, and also
some spice to the driving, as there are also many on the road. There are
also here and there still flocks of sheep and cows, but the llamas
absolutely predominate. Away from the main road, there are also regularly
small flocks of their much more elegant wild relatives, the vicuñas.

On the way to La Quiaca we detour to a lagoon at Abra Pampa. It is heavily
overgown with water plants, and turns out to also have a very rich mix of
waterbirds. There are at least four species of coots, with the Andean
Coot, at first sight quite similar to our European Coot, the most common.
More spectacular are the two large species, the impressive Giant Coot, and
the droll Horned Coot with its strange 'horn' above the bill. There are
also Grebes, White-tufted and surprisingly both subspecies of Silvery
Grebes, and there are many ducks, mostly Yellow-billed Pintail and Crested
Ducks, but with also some Puna Teals, while Andean Geese and our first
Puna Ibis graze on the waterside. The always busy Andean Negritos patrol
the waterside, together with Bar-winged Cinclodes and, surprisingly, a
Swainson's Thrush.

The next day we drive along some 50 km of washboard roads to the famous
Pozuelos lagoon, home of the three Andean flamingo species; they do not
nest here, however. The water level here was quite low, but it is a large
lagoon anyhow, and there must be many ten thousands of flamingos. The
majority are Chilean Flamingos, but there are also plenty of Andean and
Puna (or James') Flamingos present. There were also an amazing number of
Puna Ibises, normally a scarce species even here; but this time we saw at
least 250. Many pairs of Andean Geese grazed on the flats, and there were
also here many vicuñas. Ducks also galore, basically the same species we
had seen at Abra Pampa the day before. The large mudflats around the lake
seem ideal for shorebirds, but we did not actually see all that many, and
had to work hard to 'get' the Puna Plover; there were also small flocks of
Baird's Sandpipers, a Greater Yellowlegs, and unexpectedly a Ruddy
Turnstone, a rare bird here. Along the channel running into the lagoon
there were many Andean Lapwings and several pairs of Andean Avocets (too
short legs to be really as beautiful as the other avocets, I deemed). In
the grassy areas surrounding the lagoon we came across our first miners,
Common and Puna Miners, and at one place there was a flock of at least 500
Puna Yellow Finches. We stopped at some farm houses, and found a lot of
finches there: Great Pampa Finch, , Mourning, Ash-breasted (common
everywhere here), Black-hooded and Band-tailed Sierra Finches, as well as
the Common Diuca Finch, here at the north end of its distribution
area.Here there were again many Andean lapwings , as well as Spot-winged
Pigeons,  Black-winged and Golden-spotted Ground Doves and also Andean

The last day in the High Andes we drove to the range east of La Quiaca,
more hilly terrain wih rolling hills, but also steep erosion gulleys many
places. We passed the village of Yavi, well-known as THE place to see
Citron-headed Yellow Finches (We had already found the Bright-rumped
Yellow Finch in La Quiaca itself, together with the Bare-faced Ground
Dove), and we were not disappointed; on the vegetable fields outside the
village we also found our first Rufous-sided Warbling Finches. The first
part of the road was still through rather flat puna, and here we found
quite many Rufous-naped Ground Tyrants, as well as regular pairs of
Tawny-throated Dotterels. Soon after the terrain got more hilly, and the
hillsides were strewn with smaller and larger stones and boulders. Here
there were Mountain Parakeets, we found an Andean Hillstar (after a more
unexpected Wedge-tailed Hillstar the day before) and d'Orbigny's Chat
Tyrant; in the vegetation along the dry river bed there were many Siskins,
mostly Black, but also some Yellow-rumped. But mostly this is hole-nester
country; we found Rufous-banded Miner, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, and
several species of ground tyrants and shrike tyrants. Few raptors, mostly
caracaras and Variable Hawk, and a single Andean Condor (in fact, we found
the condors cleqrly more common at lower altitudes, over woodland, than in
the High Andes).

 We walked up a small side valley close to the Abra Lizoite pass, also
here with Bar-winged Cinclodes along the rivulet, and interesting cushion
plants many places. Andean Swallows cruised overhead, there were
Red-backed Sierra Finches among the ruins of a building, and a
Grey-breasted Seedsnipe called from the hillside and gave me my fourth new
bird family of this wonderfull trip.

An official and more authoritative trip report by Dave Steyskal will no
doubt before long appear on the Bird Guides website, but I thought it may
be of some interest to supplement with my own impressions. Many thanks
again to Dave and Peter, and to the other participants, who made this such
a good experience.

Vader, Tromsø Museum

9037 Tromsø, Norway

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