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

To: "Vader Willem Jan Marinus" <>
Subject: VS: Argentina with Bird guides. 3. The High Andes
From: Graham Buchan <>
Date: Mon, 29 Nov 2010 07:01:59 +1100
Thanks, Wim! One day I hope t get to South America and see the Andes.

Best, Graham Buchan

On 28/11/2010, at 10:04 PM, Vader Willem Jan Marinus wrote:

> ________________________________
> 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
> Flickers.
> 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.
>                                                                       Wim
> Vader, Tromsø Museum
> 9037 Tromsø, Norway
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