13 Mar 2018

13 Mar 18 - Chile: A Cracking Parakeet

Having left the El Tatio geysers, it was a two hour drive back to San Pedro de Atacama. Having spent a fair bit of time stopping at the salt lakes & bogs on the way up, I only stopped when I saw something more interesting in those areas. However, I was still keen to stop for other species.
Condor sign: This was the nearest I got to an Andean Condor in Chile on this trip. But I've seen them in a number of South American countries, so I wasn't going to spend too long looking. I did see some in Ushuaia a couple of weeks later
Vicuna sign: The sign creator had clearly not seen a Vicuna (or maybe they have introduced Springbok into Chile)
A final volcanic mountain
As I was planning this trip, one of the species that looked tricky to see was Mountain Parakeet. This clearly isn't guaranteed on trips during the middle of the Austral summer. The latest Birdquest trip I looked at as I was planning the trip, Jan-Feb 15, only briefly heard them at Lauca National Park. So, I was a little surprised & pleased to see a few feeding on low vegetation as I drove off the high Altiplano. I quickly stopped the car & started to photograph them. They were happily feeding & weren't worried as I slowly rolled the car forward to within a few metres. When they finally departed, there were twenty in the flock. I find Bird tour reports a useful, but sometimes annoying, source of information when planning trips. They are generally based upon the benefit of many years of visits to the country & the inside information of local guides. So, it is a good indication of what is possible to see along the route when you have good information or get lucky. But understandably, they rarely provide any information as to the exact locations for seeing most of the species. As an independent Birder on a tight timescale, then it is unlikely I will ever do as well as a tour group. But then I'm not paying a fortune for a trip which I can easily organise myself. I enjoy planning the trip & obviously the trip itself. On the occasions, I managed to do significantly better than a tour group, it is a good moment. Especially, as Mountain Parakeet was one of the Birds of the trip for me.
Mountain Parakeet: I'm always happy if I don't need to crop a photo
Mountain Parakeet: I even got a friendly, but subtle, wave
Mountain Parakeet: They were happily feeding on the seeds of these roadside flowers
Mountain Parakeet: The Pearman site guide to the Birds of Chile mentions it for several of the Altiplano sites, but other Birders have also struggled to see them
Mountain Parakeet: The nine in the photo aren't even half the flock
Mountain Parakeet: Unlike the other Chilean Parakeets, they are really small, only a bit bigger than a Budgie in size
Mountain Parakeet: They occur from North Peru to Bolivia, North Chile & NW Argentina
The next highlight was when I stopped to check another larger-looking Ground-tyrant. This one had a black forehead: my first Black-fronted Ground-tyrant.
Black-fronted Ground-tyrant: It was larger & looked slimmer than the Rufous-naped Ground-tyrants. The black forehead & the black line through the eye gave the identification away. The white brow in front of the eye isn't as obvious as the books show, but is more subtle & in line with other photos I've seen online
Black-fronted Ground-tyrant: It was clearer how extensive the black forehead was as it turned its head
Black-fronted Ground-tyrant: The white line in front of the eye is more obvious in this photo
Another of the classic groups of Chilean Birds are the Cinclodes. These are members of the Ovenbirds & Woodcreepers family which is a large Latin American family of around three hundred species. Cinclodes occupy a wide variety of habitats from open grassland & streams in the high Altiplano to coastal beaches: therefore, a similar niche to some of the Rock Pipit, Water Pipit & Buff-bellied Pipit complex in the Old World. They are generally the size of a small Song Thrush. I like Cinclodes, but often they need more than a cursory glance to identify them. There are two species in the Altiplano: Cream-winged Cinclodes & White-winged Cinclodes.
Cream-winged Cinclodes: This individual isn't giving a lot away on this view
Cream-winged Cinclodes: As it turns it is possible to see the wing coverts are buffy-brown & the bill is reasonably thin
Cream-winged Cinclodes: As it spread its wing, then the wing has buff within the white wing bar
Cream-winged Cinclodes: Another individual seen later in the journey. Again, the bill is fairly thin, the wing coverts & mantle are brown & there is a bit of buff within the wing bar. They are noticeably smaller than a Song Thrush would be
White-winged Cinclodes: The larger White-winged Cinclodes is Song Thrush size & has clean white wing bar & a richer, more rufous wash to the wing coverts & mantle
White-winged Cinclodes: There is also more contrast between the wing coverts & mantle and the crown. The bill is stouter on White-winged Cinclodes
Continuing down the hill off the high Altiplano, I briefly bumped into a party of Black Siskins feeding on a small bush.
Black Siskin: The right-hand individual is an adult & the pale wing tips confirms the left-hand individual is an immature
Black Siskin: Immature
This mountain stream looked interesting: There was nothing obvious around & I didn't have the time to get out & have a look, not even for a few minutes
A message to Boris Johnson & Farage for the damage they have done to the UK in recent years
I needed to get a very late lunch & get on the road to my next hotel in the town of Pica. This was a small town off the Pan-American Highway which would roughly get me half way to my next main site of Arica. Pica was 260 miles, or four hour, drive.
As I got closer to the Pan American Highway, I entered the featureless Atacama Desert
The occasional wind farms indicated somebody lived around here to benefit from the wind farm
The big mountains were still visible in the distance
Sunset: But I was in the middle of nowhere & had another two hours of driving before my hotel
I arrived in Pica about 21:00 & quickly checked into the hotel & found a small restaurant still serving food. It had been a long, but excellent day.