So this is my third and last part of the 38 days I spent in India. My plan was to stay one more week around Sattal after returning from the northern Himalayas. As my stomach was still in rather bad shape I felt I needed some change. Therefor I booked a flight to Goa which is a heaven for beach, party and Yoga lovers. As the beaches stretch more than 100 km, there are different types of places depending on what you want to do. I chose one just south of the airport which is very quiet. I just spent time here biking around and taking long walks on the beach. I had some problem with my lens so many photos were a no use. This Kentish Plover from my beach is one of only a few I could save. Fortunately I found what was wrong for the more important last days.
After 7 days in Goa I flew up to Delhi and was picked up by my driver for the first part, one day in Barathpur. My stomach was pretty bad this day and we had to make a stop at a hospital before continuing. The reason to go here was more or less only to see the Indian Courser. The park itself is not worth visiting this time as all migrants have left and the resident birds live a quiet life, so we went to a place about 10 km north of the park. To my big disappointment we never saw the courser. It had been there the day before and though we spent 7 hours here it never showed up. My guide told me this was the first time he hadn't seen it on this site!! I saw these two lapwings; the Yellow-wattled, the Red-wattled Lapwing and a few very shy Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse but I have seen them all quite a few times before.
Next to a tree where we parked in the shadow, a group of Bank Mynas were searching for food in the rubbish on the street.
I the went back to Delhi to catch the night train to Ramnagar which is the main hub for the eastern part of Corbett. We slept a few hours before the jeep came and picked us up. For the next 4 days I was invited to stay and do safaris with 4 Indian fellows. 2 of them are doctors and one of the doctor's son also on his way to become one. The fourth man is working for WWF. Is was a great opportunity to go with them and my excellent tour operator had managed to find place in Dhikala zone which is the true hard core place for wildlife. Unfortunately, the government plan to close this fabulous place, so I can call myself lucky to have been there. Here you see all of us at the gate and a pic of the lodge area. On the way from the gate to the lodge, which is almost 1,5 hors drive in to the core area, we saw this roosting Tawny Fish-owl which didn't look too happy to see us.
Weather was much worse than normal for this time of the year and we had plenty of rain which made some of the safaris hard. A lovely moment was when the rain stopped in the afternoon and gave strong colours with the mountains and the grassy area. A stunning White-throated Kingfisher also wanted to enjoy the fresh air after the rain.
The grassy area was is a lovely place to see many elephants and Spotted Deers. Several "families" gathered here especially in the mornings and afternoons. We saw 2 bulls fighting which was a new experience. Here we also searched for and found the West Himalayan Bush-warbler which had been seen the day before. First record for this area.
The jeeps usually choose from the grassy areas or to go to the other side of the Kosi River. The river and its edges are popular sites for both mammals and birds. Here I saw my first tiger ever, which was a fantastic moment and a great relief. Now I had seen one quite far away resting and make small moves and could just hope to see one closer further on. As Shorebirds are my favorite group of birds this hour was one of the most memorable occasions, when we also spotted our first River Lapwing close up.
Corbett is well known as the oldest and biggest national park in India and also holds the greatest numbers of tigers of any park. The areas where tourists are allowed are just a fraction of the park itself. That combined with the vegetation which is very thick or covered in high grass makes observations hard. Not many people see tigers in Corbett, except for the lucky ones that makes it to Dhikala. My second tiger here was in high grass and we stood still for quite a while waiting for it to rise. One jeep had seen it for a few seconds and were pointing at the spot where it was resting. After almost an hour it rise and moved away. We had decent looks at it before disappearing in to the higher grass again. Here we also saw a splendid male Black Francolin, a proud Paddyfield Pipit and the ever present Pied Bushchat.
Monkeys are present at most places in nature habit and people are around. The seem to specialize in finding food in the jeeps. This guy (an old one and the baby one) liked to break themselves in to the jeeps during lunch breaks in hope to find some snacks.
As said before, rains were heavy a few times. Obviously, you will not stay at the lodge though raining. Time is precious during these few hours you have the opportunity. But it also meant some special moments according to nature. This Elephant and the drained track and dizzy landscape are examples of this.
Though I still had some severe pain in my stomach, thankfully reduced by help of my Indian friends I loved this part of the trip and even if we look happy here it was sad to leave this marvelous spot.
Anyway, time for the next and also last destination of the trip, Ranthambore NP. The trip there was made by train and once more I entered a night train, this time towards Jaipur where I had a half day before my afternoon train to Sawai Madhopur which is the town next to the park. Jaipur is famous for being one of the most beautiful towns in India. I hired a taxi for a half day and visited the most famous sites. Here a street view near the Water Fort, a pic of the big Amber Fort and a man at a local factory producing world famous hand made fabrics.
Ranthambore is perhaps the most "famous" tiger park in India. The fact that it is the closest one to Delhi, relatively open in nature structure for easier spottings and full of tigers make this park the hot spot number one. That means plenty of people! The good thing is that each zone (10 of them), have a limit amount of jeeps and canteens to enter. All parks in India have the structure that they provide two safaris each day, one morning and one in the afternoon. You always go back to your lodge/ hotel for lunch and rest for about 4 hours before going back in the afternoon. This differs from most park in Africa where you usually are out all day. This is a famous spot at one of the entrances whit winding roots around the walls. You can see a Peacock on the road. This bird is extremely beautiful and also very common in the park.
On my first safari I didn´t see tigers but it was during this first one I saw my only Sloth Bears. Two of them were looking for ants just by the track. They were moving constantly so getting a decent picture wasn't easy. This was the best shot I could get before they proceeded in to the forest.
In zone 2 where I saw the bears there are lots of smaller patches of water which attracts some birds. I had good views of this Brahaminy Starling which was a new tick and also of several Indian Pond Herons waiting for a catch.
It was not until my third safari I saw my first tiger here. Actually this individual was the only one I saw. Riddih is her name. She is about 4 years old and hardly a ridiculous creature. This first sighting was when she was resting at a cliff about 200 meters away. After about 2 hours she yawned 3 times and rose. Lucky for us she didn't go backwards but headed sideways. She disappeared behind a big rock but then came in to great views for about 30 seconds before disappearing in high grass. The last day we saw her again. She was walking slowly quite far away from us and we also had the sun in our eyes which made the observations rather difficult. I'm glad I had my binoculars (most people didn't as they just carry cameras), so I got to see her starting a hunt. She caught a big male Wildboar and the fight was very heavy. She dragged him in to the water and it took almost 4 minutes before you could see the desperate moves of the Wildboar stop. Great experience!!
As said before, it had rained a lot more than usual, which made the park much wetter than normally this time of the year. In April to June tiger sightings is more or less guaranteed but this year many smaller pools did not force the tigers to visit the bigger lakes. A very special bird is theh Great Thick-knee and we were lucky to see it up close with a chic which made the guide surprised. The Painted Stork was not plentiful but easy to observe as the always keep next to the shore of the lakes.
As the sun was getting closer to the horizon we stopped at the biggest lake with the fort at the back drop. Around here we had several Spotted Deers coming for an afternoon drink as well as this handsome Black-winged Kite. The last bird before leaving the park was this day roosting Indian Scoops Owl.
If interested in all bird sightings, you can check it up on my profile at Ebird. ebird.org (Leryd24, Leif Rydell)
Bye bye India!!
This is the next section in my travel blog from India. Part 1 is describing Sattal areas in the southern part of the Himalayas. During this part of the trip my close friend Nick joined me. He was here to visit some places where his family used to live back in time. This part will give the story of two other destinations in this part of the Himalayas. Pangot and Chopta. Pangot is less than 2 hours from Sattal with car but on a higher elevation. Sattal is at around 15-1600 meters while Pangot is at 19-2300 meters above sea, depending on where you go. This means other species specialized for this altitude will be possible. We stayed at the cosy Jungle Lore Lodge which is placed well in the forest and some scattered open areas with a hide.
The restaurant here is very good with excellent food. I asked for a guided tour in the kitchen with the chef as I do like to cook myself. I spent about an hour looking and writing down his secrets. Here also a photo with my close friend Nick on the veranda with a cup of afternoon tea and our excellent guide Mahesh in the background (with a cap).
If you want to explore the area and see most of the birds possible, you need to have your own car or hire a guide through the lodge. We did the latter and had the young but excellent Mahesh who took us around for two days. The first of these days we travelled up to Cheer Point where just Cheer Pheasant sometimes can be seen. We didn't see it but we saw a pair of Koklass Pheasants. The road is very narrow and as I suffer from heights, I had to put some energy to concentrate on that. This part was also hard to take any photos on as they were either rather high up on cliffs or further down the slopes. Superb birds but with no photos were Black-faced Warbler, Pink-browed Rosefinch and Altai Accentor.
On the other side of the valley we walked through some areas where we saw some more good birds. Especially this Grey-crowned Prinia, which is quite rare and made our guide very excited as he only sees it occasionally. One more pic from the lower valley of me and Nick as well.
The second day we drove towards the famous touristic town Nainital. Here we saw quite a few new birds. A true mega bird for the area, the Vinaceous Rosefinch, had been present here for a month or so. Normally a more eastern bird, it made twitchers and photographers take the trip here just for this bird. This is in a very poor and dirty area and though I saw less of poverty than expected in India in general, we had it here. Also a very poor picture, mostly here as a memory.
Still some good birds to spot among all social disaster and rubbish. Here two of the most beautiful laughingthrushes, the Striated and the Chestnut-crownwed Laughingthrush.
At the lodge there are 2 families of different monkeys, sometimes arguing with each other and sometimes seem to live peacefully together. Here a mother and baby of Rhesus Macaque and Terai Langur.
The last day here before we prepared for our long trip further north towards Chopta, we took a walk by ourselves to the old "hill station" .... which used to be a cool stop for travelers but also for resident people at lower levels. The house is still there but probably not used. Up here we had our first views of the Himalayas far far away. The sky was decently clear this day but the pollution in the valleys is obvious at some spots. On the way back we had great views of this Rufous-tailed Niltava.
After these awesome 4 days we started our trip towards Chopta. actually Chopta is just a couple of houses high up in the mountains and most birders stay in Mandal which is lower down in the valley near a nice river where some of the best birds can be seen. The trip was arranged via Birder's Den and our guide was again the gentle Trilok. The drive up here is about 9-10 hours though only 320 km in length. On the way up you will do several stops both for stretching your legs and look for birds. Here Trilok and Nick at one spot and one of my very sought after species, the Wallcreeper at the other picture. I have tried for this bird before in Spain and Switzerland with no luck. Far up on a cliffs but still a nice memory.
Just before we came to Mandal we stopped at a hotspot for Scarlet Finch. We saw it but not close enough for pictures but the Red-headed Bullfinch, Grey-breasted Canary-Flycatcher and Tickel's Thrush did to my joy. As did the surroundings, it's lovely up here with all the terraces and coloured houses.
The following morning we set an early start for Chopta. Weather was not as good (clear) as normal for this season and the forecast for our 3 full days up here predicted only a few hours of sun this morning. If I should be able to see the Himalayas closer than in Pangot, it had to be this morning. On the way up we stopped at Monal Point which is the best (only) place to see this magnificent bird for the region, the Himalayan Monal. In total we saw 8 of which 5 were males. Great moment.
We had no time to loose so we continued further up the mountain. As we rounded the las curve, we finally saw the impressive horizon of the peaks. Starting to get cloudy we didn't get the total panorama but still a moment I have dreamt of for many years. An other fascinating thing about this area are the forests of Rhododendron. In Sweden we have these in our garden but normally at heights between 50 cm to max 2 meters. Here there are forests with trees that reach 8-10 meters. You can see a smaller tree next to me on this picture.
The roads are very narrow in places just hanging on the edges of the cliffs. Some with broken road fences! The few houses of Chopta.
We went back towards Chopta, which I have explained before, is just a few houses. Here we enjoyed a local breakfast in the local primitive way. Temperatures in the morning just a few degrees above zero.
Mainly a bird trip, I truly also enjoy animals. Up here you can see Jackal, Himalayan Thar and in the deeper forested areas also Sambar.
Obviously, we also had some excellent birds up here. Among these were: Ashy-throated Warbler, Alpine Accentor and the lovely Mrs Gould's Sunbird.
More birds in the upper parts were Himalayan Woodpecker and the awesome White-collared Blackbird in a Rhododendron tree!
We had luck to come close to a pair of Koklass Pheasants here as well.
The most spectacular part of this region is of course the higher parts, especially when it comes to the nature scenery. However, Mandal is very good for some highly wanted species. In the river that flows right through the village you should quite easily see Little Forktail, Spotted Forktail, Crested Kingfisher and Brown Dipper. Never got close enough for a decent photo of the Dipper but the other 3 were more cooperative.
In the river itself or on the rocks next to it you will have no problem seeing 2 stunning Redstarts, The White-capped and the Plumbeous Water Redstart. Decently easy also in Sattal, I came closer to them here.
Well, all things end at sometime. It was time for us to return back south. Nick to meet his brother for the "family history" trip and me for the next part (beach and tiger).
Total amount of birds seen in Pangot and Chopta area was 176. Some of these were obviously also seen in Sattal. The total amount for the whole Indian trip, Sattal, Pangot Chopta, Goa, Bharatphur, Corbett and Ranthambore was 290. The last 4 places will be described in part 3.
1st of march (2023) I went to India for 38 days. This was a special trip in many ways as I travelled alone and purpose was not only to do birding/ wildlife watching. India has been interesting me for many years and I also wanted to go there to "feel the essence" of this, in many ways, dramatic and complex country. I also had two dreams that I wanted to fulfill, seeing the peaks of the Himalayas and see a wild tiger. The first part is about my first 12 days which was spent in Sattal and vicinity (Birder's Den).
I landed in Delhi and spent the first day there for a classic sightseeing tour. I saw the most popular sites, for example Qutub Minar and the big and quiet Lodhi Garden with many Black Kites flying around the different fort buildings just before dusk.
I made quite a few trips by train which was a special experience. It had expected rather high quality in the 1 class wagons but it all felt rather simple. It was also quite uncomfortable with the beds as seats. Most trips I took were during the nights. Here a picture from Delhi major city terminal.
In the morning I arrived to Kathgodam and was picked up by Trilok who is working at Birder's Den, which is the main birding lodge in the Sattal area. Sattal is a hot spot for the lower parts of the Himalayas and most birders stay here a few days during their trips. I stayed for 10 days and it is a great place to see the best birds. You need to go to different places though, so if you don't have your own transport/ guide you need to hire Trilok at the lodge to take you around. The view is from my room.
There is a hide just at the lodge and many people stay most of their time there. Photographing has become so popular these days and many visitors are not birders in the general (old) way. Obviously I spent some time there as well. One of the star birds is the Kalij Pheasant which shows up every day to our delight. Here the male and the female.
The lodge has some surroundings (not big) where you can walk by your own and look for passarines which are resident but also migrants passing through. Birds nesting right in the garden are the very handsome Black-throated Tit and the ever present Himalayan Bulbul.
My first afternoon here, I started a walk down the mountain towards Sattal village and Sattal Studio Point by the small lake. The distance is much longer than expected and it took a while to get there. On the way down I meet a few active photographers. They were watching a Scaled Thrush in a slope. This bird is very shy and also almost impossible to find on the ground if you don't know exactly where it is because of its camouflage. Even a "brown" bird can be attractive!
I finally reached the studio but activity was quite low so I walked a little bit further before I went back. On the way back I started to feel sick and my stomach got more and more upset. Totally exhausted, I finally reach back home and made it to the toilet before hell broke out. Apparently I had got the infamous Delhi Belly. The next 36 hours were spent in bed with a few exceptions to make it to the dining hall for some rice and bananas. This stomach infection continued all 5 weeks though I went to different doctors. The good thing in this story is that I still manage to complete my plans every day, though quite tired some days.
Good to know that one of my true favorites during the trip, the White-throated Laughingthrush, made every day joyful. This bird is so funny with its very special sounds and social behaviour. It needs to be experienced to make justice.
Even though not like South America, this garden and adjacent areas are full of interesting birds. Here the common Grey Bushchat and Red-vented Bulbul.
Also common at the lodge and also sometimes at the hide were Great Barbet, Grey-winged Blackbird and Blue Whistling Thrush.
At the hide you can see around 20-25 species in a good day, depending on weather and time of the year. 4 woodpeckers frequently visit the hide. Here Greater Yellownape and then Grey-headed. The Grey-headed WP is very common and unshy here in contrast to Sweden where it is both shy and rare.
Other frequent birds at the hide but also in the garden are the very social and noisy Plum-headed Parakeet, the attractive White-crested Laughingthrush and Grey Treepie.
For many photographers, the colourful Red-billed Magpie was a mega bird and you could hear all the cameras taking pics in great numbers.
One evening there were a lot of flies which have just been hatched and they became a dinner party. On the lawn just a few meters away we all enjoyed Streaked Laughingthrush, Green-backed Tit, Blue-winged Siva (Minla), Red-billed Leiothrix, Russet Sparrow and as the strawberry on the cake a fabulous Slaty-blue Flycatcher.
Other nice species seen most days here were the strong coloured Verditer Flycatcher and striking Mountain Bulbul.
On day I hired Trilok to go birding further south, down the mountain where other species would be possible. I saw quite a few new species and among them the powerful Steppe Eagle and the absolutely smashing Crimson Sunbird.
If you go to Sattal, Chaffi which is a smaller village/ area about 30 minutes away with car, is a must. There's a stream here where you can see 2 Forktails, Chestnut-headed Tesia and many more. The Tesia and the Forktails are two of my favourites from this whole trip but light was poor in the creek so I didn't manage to get any decent photos. However I got good photos in Chopta of Forktails which is described in that blog part. Brown-capped pygmy Woodpecker, Black-throated Sunbird and Whiskered Yuhina were cooperative enough for photos though.
I will finish this part one with the most wanted bird for this part of the trip, an absolute stunner, the Himalayan Rubythroath, which stayed a few days in the village close to a lawn.
In this region I spotted 97 different species.
Next, part 2: Pangot and Chopta further north and higher altitude.
Our last part of the trip was a 2,5 day trip down to Rio Gallegos in the far South East (not as far as Ushuaia) but just two hours drive from the Chilean border. The reason to go here is hardly because of the high presence of many species but the high value of the one possible to see. On my shorebird list I had 4 (5) new birds that normally should be decently easy to see. I only saw two, the two Oystercathers down here, the Magellanic and the Blackish. The number two bird on my most wanted birds, the unique Magellanic Plover was not seen which was deeply disappointing. Normally a flock of 20-50 birds winter here every year so I was more or less certain to see it. But no, there were not here. There was two flocks in the vicinity but one of these at a restricted area and the other a little bit too far away from our planned route. The other one I was hoping to see was the White-bellied Seedsnipe which is restricted to this part of the world but also these were not seen at the expected sites.
Anyway, our third guide Emanuel Tiberi, a local guy picked us up in the early afternoon and took us to his home so we could change some clothes and have a quick coffee. Emanuel knows the area and the birds well and did his best to give us a good birding moment.
We had seen the Rufous-chested Dotterel the first days but all these were in non breeding plumage so it was a good feeling to spot a few almost fully in their awesome summer plumage. Very common and very handsome, the Upland Goose where the male is the white one and the female reddish.
This was also the place where to expect the Magellanic Plovers but birds were few here. I was still happy to see my first Magellanic Oystercathers, which are pretty common down here. The "beaches" or maybe just call them shore lines are in a special way very impressive and "massive". This old wreck (of Marjory Glen a British coal boat which was abandoned here after an accident) is a famous symbol for this region.
Down here the sundrops rather quick at this time of the year and we needed to go to our lodging which was a nice private apartment Emanuel had arranged for us. Next day was a big driving day as we had to go 360 km north to San Julian. This trip was needed for some special bird here, for me the Blackish Oystercather but for many the highly endangered Hooded Grebe. This is one of the rarest birds in Argentina and a major part of the population winters here (Puerto Santa Cruz on the way). All too far out for a photo we still saw a good number of them. Looking at them we also spotted the special Flying Steamer Duck, a pair of Crested Ducks and a handsome Southern Lapwing.
Our trip continued north and driving in this vast and very flat nature was in a way a special experience. Not many birds seeing during this route but we saw our only Lesser Rheas from this road.
In the early afternoon we reached San Julian which is very famous for the place where Magellan first came ashore at this part of the world during his "world tour". I have hard to understand that this tiny ship made it at this time! This is a full scale replica. Close to the city we also saw a flock of Chilean Flamingos which gives a strong colour experience.
The major target here was to go a little bit further north to one of the only small colonies of Red-legged Cormorant. This is probably the most handsome one of this normally rather boring group. As we came closer we also stopped at an old industrial building where we saw this local Black-faced Siskin and had some great views of the shore line.
We arrived to the dramatic cliffs where the colonies of cormorants are as well as this colony of (Southern) Sea Lions.
I have a problem with hights, especially when there are nature cliffs which I don't trust the surface on but in some way I managed to lean forward enough for some photos. Happily we saw 6 Blackish Oystercathers (a little bit too far away for decent photos but still a proof memory)here as well as a rock with all three species of cormorants possible here. The Red-legged, The Imperial and the Magellanic.
A few more photos of the vey special landscape here.
We returned to San Julian where we had a good hotel and meal before crashing in to our beds. Next morning we went back south and made a few detours to look for the White-bellied Seedsnipe which was not seen. A new bird of the trip was this pair of Black-chested Buzzard Eagle posted at an antenna. Here we also had close views of the Austral Thrush.
Realizing the trip was coming to an end we drove down to the harbour not far from the airport. Normally at this time of the year it is quite windy which helps to see birds like Southern Fulmar and Black-browed Albatross. Totally calm for three days made these birds more or less impossible. Nicer just concerning weather but worse for birding. At least we had some good looks of swimming Magellanic Penguins (they don't come ashore during non breeding) and close looks at a gliding Southern Giant Petrel. A great journey had come to its end. During 15 days, we had now been visiting 3 different major sites and in total driven more than 4400 km. We had also seen 295 different species of birds as well as some unique mammals. Not an extremely high count for South America but some very special ones. Now just a flight back to Buenos Aires and a very long one back to Europe was in front of us. A lovely and in many ways complex country with great nature and a mix of different cultures.
After a terribly early flight (04.30!) we arrived safely to Jujuy airport. Francisco Cornell, our new guide for 9 days picked us up and we started the journey east. First days were not planned to visit the high Andes, but the famous forested Calilegua National Park and also further east in to the drier Chaco. Temperature was much higher than normally for this time of the year. We experienced temperatures between -10 (at night in the high Andes) and +34 in the drier Chaco. Planning clothing for the trip was more unusual for a standard birding trip.
As we visited during the southern hemisphere winter, many migrants (especially flycatchers) were absent. We knew this when we booked but reason for choosing this time was both because of lack of possibilities for me and Per to have longer breaks from work but also because some shorebirds actually could be easier at this time.
Francisco told us it would be much quieter than during summer, which it was, but we still saw some nice birds. Among the most stunning ones was this curious Plush-crested Jay. Very active and restless made it hard to photograph.
As we walked at first level in this mountainous park we encountered some rather common birds like the Common Chlorospingus and Moss-backed Sparrow.
In patches of more closed forest we had great views of this Amazonian Motmot. Not a new lifer but still an amazing bird to spot close up. This skulking Ochre-cheeked Spinetail was not easy to see and photograph in the dark forest floor and also a rather hard and challenging Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet moving fast in the tree tops.
As we climbed higher we started to see new species like this fabulous female Giant Antshrike. At the top I took this picture of my two friends together with our excellent guide Francisco Cornell. He is a very skillful birder and also very humble and polite, always ready to assist. The sign shows an endemic frog (which we never saw).
Going back down again we stopped at the lowest part where there is a camping. Here we had, in the evening sun, some more nice species. Also a nice group to collect is the New World Warblers of which 3 new would be possible during the trip. Here the Two-banded Warbler and the handsome Brown-capped Whitestart. The third one, the Pale-legged Warbler was never seen unfortunately.
We now drew further east to a small village where I had my first empanadas (oven baked pirogues whit different ingredients). These became a favorite during our trip. Next day we drove out to much flatter and dry country, the Chaco. Early in the morning we saw our only Black-legged Seriema (no photo). A little bit further away we stopped at a small dam. Again, you realize that water makes all the difference. This place was full of birds and we encountered many new species. Among these were these Ringed Teals and a Narrow-billed Woodcreeper.
We kept on driving east and during the day it became rather hot, 33 degrees in July is very high. At one point we made a short stop which did not give much as the heat was coming up. My biggest mistake during the trip was that I put my very precious leather hat from Australia on the roof of the car and forgot it there when we jumped in. After about 5 km I realized what had happened and we turned back. Unfortunately someone had stoped and taken it as it wasn't on the road. The road was so wide and the ditches very open so there is no chance it would have been hidden somewhere. Francisco told me that a hat like that would be like finding a small treasure. Not more than 10 cars had passed us but one of them must have been "happy". We went as far as Estrella to look for Crested Gallito but had no luck. We saw a few birds, among them this Many-colored Chaco Finch. Normally when you visit South America, hummers are plenty. There are a few in Argentina but we only saw 6 species, among these, one of the few I got a photo of was this Blue-tufted Starthroat. Close to where I lost my hat we saw this massive Great Black Hawk.
When drove back towards Jujuy, where we would spend our night, before heading up to the Andes, we stopped at a small private farm which Frincisco knew about. We paid them a small fee and entered a nice habitat. Again, you see what water will do to increase bird life. Down here you see the Red-billed Scythebill which surely is a remarkable sighting. This place would be a heaven if the owners would organize it whit a hide or two and maybe serve coffee and simple food.
We stayed in central Jujuy in a strange apartment. It was clean and safe but in a dark and closed galleria. I little bit spooky but also a new experience. We had one of our best dinners for the trip at a local restaurant. Early next morning we set of for the famous Yala NP, home to many bird including Torrent Duck and the endemic Rufous-throated Dipper. At one of the first stops on the way up to higher altitudes, we saw both of the earlier mentioned birds. Great luck as the Dipper can be hard and are missed by some groups. Here you see these fabulous birds and the happy guys celebrating. First med and Francisco by the sign to the Dipper and the then Per and Nick with Francisco.
As we continued further up we saw this Variable Hawk, a bird we saw plenty of during the trip. There are two morphs, red and light. Here the more common light.Actually, I was surprised we saw so few species of raptors during the trip. As we stopped at a grassy field, some kind of cattle area, I also saw a new shorebird, the fabulous Andean Lapwing. One standing and one flying.
We now had a long drive towards Abra Pampa up in the high Andes at 3500 meters. We passed trough some fantastic landscapes and dramatic cliffs. Not many long stops as we wanted to reach it before dark but a few ones gave us Ornate Tinamou, Patagonian Mockingbird and the fabulous and striking Mountain Caracara.
At one other place we had a good short top where I saw this curious Tufted Tit-Tyrant but also interesting because here was a part of the old rail road that was used backed in time for mining and transport. Always sad to see the decline of these things.
Just before Abra Pampa is a small lake full of birds and here we saw many Giant Coots and a few Andean Gulls. Dark was coming down so I had to manipulate the photos.
As we were standing here I stared to feel some smaller symptoms of higher altitude. As we cheeked in at our simple hotel, I felt a little bit more. Still, we had to have dinner and walked to a smallish restaurant at the central square. Outside a local group of boys were playing some local music which gave an extra touch to it.
Next morningI wasn't completely well and Francisco took me to the local small hospital. A little bit high blood pressure and also my body didn't get enough oxygen so I had to get oxygen gas for 20 minutes. Then they let me off. A rather common situation for tourists they were used to. People who suffer initially usually gets better after a half day. Todays destination was Lake Puzuelo, a big shallow salt lake on the plateau. Our first stop was at this lake though. A very funny and strange look met us here. As the temperature had been several degrees below zero, the lake was frozen. I the middle a large group of Andean and James's Flamingos were stuck, waiting for the sun to loosing up the ice. Talk about natural adaption!!
Here we also saw our first Andean Geese.
As we drove the 50 km towards the lake we made short stops when birds appeared. In a tree we saw this awesome Variable Hawk (red morph) and the Streak-fronted Thornbird which makes their nests like grass-balls hanging. Quite like the weavers in Africa.
During this stretch we saw many different species of finches, both the "group" of yellow ones as the gray ones. Getting close enough for a photo was harder though. Later in the blog I have a few but being one of the most common bird groups during the trip they still behaved rather nervously.
When we arrived we had to register at the office. As we drove the narrow trail-road we encountered one of my dream bird immediately. Two Andean Avocets were standing on the bank of a small river. A little bit too far away for a good photo we (maybe just I?) climbed out from the car to approach. There was a small slope down to the bank so 1/3 of the birds was hidden because of this. As trying to get closer, they tool off and the only picture I got was this unsharp one of a flying bird. Still a big thing for me and top 2 or three of the birds I saw during the trip. We saw 6 more at the lake but they were all at "scope-distance".
As with many salt lakes and high altitude ones, water level is decreasing because of global changes (most likely). Down by the shore, as close we could get there were quite a lot of birds but not as many as during summer. Flamingos, ducks, coots were there but in small numbers. A few shorebirds of course and among them, an important one the Puna Plover. An endemic plover which remains more or less with migration. 5 or 6 of them and one half way to breeding plumage but that was not the one I got decently close to.
On the sandy and bushy shore we also saw this funny Cordilleran Canastero and driving back a juvenile Andean Flamingo. We also were lucky to spot a mammal quite hard to see, the Culpeo or Andean Fox, which is very robust to be a fox.
At this road, as at many others we saw Lamas. Lama is the domestic version of the wild Guanaco, which is much more common in the southern part of Argentina. The owner seems to decorate them, not sur why, if for just marking instead of numbers or of other traditions.
We now drove to the city of Quiaca next to the border to Bolivia. Actually, the city on the Bolivian side, Villazón is second half of this big trading hub. Francisco had some trouble with the rooms but refused to let the owners change our booking from the original one. Good on you Francisco! After having our dinner at a "famous" birding restaurant, can't understand why as the food was not much to write home about and the owner was also a little bit inflexible with the ingredients in our omelettes.
Anyway, next day, BIG DAY!! Per wasn't feeling so good and felt nervous about climbing up to 4600 meters which was our plan. After a while he felt ok and his oxygen level just slightly low. Of we went east and in to the part called Eastern Cordilleran. Target was the no 1 dream bird of them all, the Diademed Sandpiper Plover. An iconic bird in many ways but especially for me as my Australian (recently past away) Graham had been to Chile twice and Argentina once to see it without succeeding!!
As we started to climb on the rather rough road the landscaped changed. The other famous animal for (at least people outside SA) is the Vicuna. This is the wild version of the Alpacka. It's a little bit smaller and also cuter and less"rugged". Quite common up here but still not completely calm because of hunting (which I think is illegal).
At 4600 meters there is a pass from where you go down again further east. Here you can see us at the pass.
Ok, magic hour. Would we find DSSP or would it remain elusive also for me. 20 minutes drive from the top we stopped at one small ravine with smallish bogs and low vegetation, the habit for the bird. We walked slowly towards it and every move from birds made me nervous. Standing about 50 meters from the bog I realized I was looking at one. What a moment!! I actually got emotional. The sun was coming from straight forward so I decided to try to make a loop for better light. I never got as far as I wanted before they took off a couple of hundred meters. Still had seen it (a pair actually) and also brought a decent photo as a memory.
I rank this bird as no 1 in my lifetime (before seeing my first Wandering Albatross swooping by just by the boat I was in and a few drops from my eyed dropped). The reason is also because of the connection to Graham who actually was the person who made me a shorebird maniac. Under a stone I put a photo of me and him last time we saw each other on a trip to the Northern Territory and outback birding. Here you can see me and Francisco celebrating. Thank you so much Francisco!! Before we left I also saw a few of the specialized Red-backed Sierra Finch which is only found at these altitudes.
We now turned back as we had a long drive to go south and down. Still we had one bird to look more for, the Gray-breasted Seedsnipe. An other bird on my shorebird list and also if seen my first Seedsnipe ever. We had tried on the way up but would make longer and more efficient stops where Francisco knew it was usually seen. Not a breeding time they are much more secretive but most importantly, quiet. At the third stop Per became the hero by seeing a group down the slope. Just moving slowly in the low bushes they are easily overlooked. Nick and I climbed down as close as we could get to the group of 4. Very secretive indead.
When looking at these we saw a few Andean Condors flying over us and they seemed to concentrate on something a kilometer away. We drove down and found them. 14 of them flying or sitting by some kind of dead body, probably a Vicuna. Some of them came so close over us that we heard the swooping of the wings in the wind. An astonishing experience, for sure. Here one adult male close up and one more "classic" view of one soaring with the Andes in the horizon. Hardly one of the cutest birds on earth but surely one of the most impressive.
Mostly bad luck but in some way good luck!! Just when we arrived the paved part of the road close to La Quiaca, we got a flat tire!! I'm glad it didn't happen high up on the steep and unpaved road. Not sure what could have happen if so. Anyway, we had to put the "donut" on and try to find a solution in La Quiaca. When we finally found a garage it showed up to be an already repaired tire and also in a very silly way. The guy at the garage was exremely polite and helpful and made a good repair as they didn't have the correct size in the garage itself. We gave him a big tip which we hope he appreciated. In some way nervous during the rest of the trip the repairment of the tire was sufficient.
A little bit later than projected we reached Tilcara which is a popular holiday destination for Argentinian people, mostly the ones from B.A. We stayed at a very nice place and went out to celebrate a fantastic day rich in different typed of content. Up in the high Andes we had to move very slow not to pressure our bodies too much, down her we felt more released. A heavy traditional (too heavy to be honest) meal of different meat ended the day. Next day was an other long travel day as we needed to pass both Jujuy and Salta to reach our hotel in a village further south. We made a few stops of course of which one was better than the others. At a local pond we got quite close to some ducks for photos. These are Cinnamon Teal, Inca Teal and Yellow-billed Pintail.
A highlight, (not for me though but Nick, who has a strange habit of picking "standard" birds as favorite ones) was this Great Pampa Finch.
This area where we stayed the following two nights is a "gate" to our next day and the last formal one for our trip. Parque National de Cardones is in the more southern range of the Andes and more greenish. The views here are just outstanding and trying in some way to give justice in a picture is more or less hopeless. These pictures are from one of the highest points here about 3200 meter above sea level.
This was a point where we had our only chance to see a new shorebird on my list, the Puna Snipe. It breeds down in some grassy wet areas here but were not present at the moment. What can you do? We saw some good and hard local birds but not close enough for a photo, though this Plumbeous Sierra Finch came close enough. Here we also were very lucky to spot one of the national monuments of Argentina, the rare and endangered Southern Guemal, at the top of a cliff. In this park we also saw a few "wild Lamas", the Guanacos which I wrote about earlier. This photo is a of a Rufous-bellied Mountain Tanager hiding in the bush. This is a hard and much sought after and not seen by every group.
Most likely, this also became my 3000 lifer. I wasn't aware of it when it happened but realized it when I came home. Not easy to know as some birds are not considered to be full species or vice versa depending on what taxon you prefer/ use. I also use iGoterra except for Ebird and on the first one I know I have all my species seen
Our goal now was to go down and further east to a very special place, which I still think is a part of the park itself. This part is the largest cactus forest (funny name?) in the world. Almost as far as you can see the nature looks like this, with one cactus after an other with about 10-15 meters in between. A marvelous but also a strange place. At the second picture you can see the peak of Cachi/ El Libertador which is 6380 meters high.
Close to the town of Payogasta we made an important stop. This is a great and easy spot to see the special Burrowing Parrot. A rather handsome one and very prolific where it hangs around. Almost an Australian feeling about the look and behavior. Also a hard bird and pretty high up on the wanting list was the Sandy Gallito as we had missed the other one at the start of this part of the trip. The parrot was very easy as it was the first bird we saw and all together about 300 of them. The Gallito was harder but eventually we saw it because of the skill of Francisco. I like this upright type of birds, they resembles the Pittas in a way.
We drove back to our hotel and could once more enjoy the dramatic and fantastic views of the Andes. We stopped for one bird that made Francisco a little bit puzzled, this Buzzing Miner had some differences from the one expected. It showed up to be a southern sub-species wintering here.
Next day was last day as our flight was leaving in the afternoon and we had some distance to make. We made a stop at a lake which was nice and gave decently closed look at this Buff-necked Ibis. Not sure exactly where we saw this Gray-necked Wood Rail but it was somewhere close. Francisco took us safely to the airport and we said goodbye. The nine days we spent here has been (in many ways) a great experiences which will never be forgotten. Francisco is a great guide but also a great guy and I will recommend him strongly to anyone who wants to experience this part of the world.
I'll end this part of the trip with a symbol from this part of the world, the Red-legged Seriema which we saw a group of the last day
Hasta la vista!