19 Mar 2018

19 Mar 18 - Chile: Tap Dancing

My main reason for choosing Chile as a fill-in destination between the Birdquest Colombian trip & the arrival into Argentina in time for the Atlantic Odyssey trip, was to look for the Chilean Tapaculos. There are eight species of Tapaculos in Chile. Tapaculos are a family that are well known to Birders visiting any part of the South American Andes. They are easily described. Imagine the skulkiest Wren you have seen, now make that a uniform dark grey or blackish & imagine that skulking in the darkest part of the forest. Take away the loud song of a Wren & replace it with a quiet chattering call. Finally, change the name to blah-blah-blah Tapaculo, from the one that was in range at the last site you visited & that's virtually all of the family. Chile has a couple of Tapaculos that fit that description. But it also has another six species which look closer to one of the Antpittas than the standard Tapuculo template. On my first visit, I had managed to see one of the Tapaculos, Moustached Turca, at Parque Nacional La Campana, but I hadn't been able to find the other two species there. I didn't get in range of the remaining species. I was keen to improve on my Tapaculo list. Their stronghold are sites in Central & Southern Chile & Chiloe Island was a good place to start as four species can be seen on the island. I had spent a fair bit of time the previous evening downloading calls & songs to my iPhone. I had a small bluetooth speaker with me which allowed me to place the speaker on the ground & back away from it. I was now ready to go looking for Tapaculos. The plan was to drive South on the Pan American Highway about half of the length of Chiloe Island to the town of Castro. Sixteen miles South of Castro was a small road heading to Parque Nacional Chiloe on the West coast. Previous reports had similar messages, it was best to find patches of native forest, get into the forest & try the tapes. The Tapaculo species were fairly widespread & it was a case of just bumping into them. They are inquisitive & will respond well to recordings, providing they are fairly close.
Castro: Castro was a normal looking Chilean town, but this northern suburb was more colourful
First, I had to get to Castro. The Pan American Highway is a normal road on Chiloe. I had only travelled a few miles along it, before having to stop for roadworks. Normally, having to wait would be frustrating. But this time I was hoping I wouldn't get waved on, as there were a party of Slender-billed Parakeets feeding in the trees next to where I was waiting: my first Tick of the day. Many of the reports I had read said Slender-billed Parakeets were hit & miss & had given people a lot of grief trying to find them. However, it looks like March is a better time to see them as I saw over a hundred at various sites during the day.
Slender-billed Parakeet: This species disappears into the extensive Nothofagus forests during the breeding season, but after the breeding season appears in large flocks in agricultural fields
Slender-billed Parakeet: Head & shoulders showing how it got its name
There were a number of other species I saw fairly regularly as I was driving around the Chiloe Island roads.
Chimango Caracara: A common species in central & Southern Chile
Black-faced Ibis: Another species I just bumped into every now & then along the drive
Green-backed Firecrown: This is the common Hummingbird in central & Southern Chile & adjacent Argentina
After a late breakfast or early lunch in Castro, I carried onto the road leading to the Parque Nacional Chiloe. For the final two thirds of its length, the road runs alongside Lago Huillinco. A fair bit of the forest along the shore was private, but I managed to find some patches of native forest that weren't fenced off. One of the ad-hoc stops produced my first of around six Chucao Tapaculos I saw in Chile (I heard another fifteen). They are inquisitive & will often respond to a recording of themselves or another Tapaculo, although I can't be sure if they are calling in the background of the other recordings. They were easily my favourite species from the Chile trip.
Chucao Tapaculo: This is the rubecula subspecies which occurs in Southern Chile & adjacent West Argentina
Chucao Tapaculo: Absolutely brilliant & breaks all the Tapaculo rules by being fairly showy
Having seen Chucao Tapaculo, I changed my focus to Black-throated Huet-huet. This is a large Tapaculo. The first attempt drew a blank & it seemed the same at the second random stop. I then got distracted by another Chucao Tapaculo, which popped in.
Chucao Tapaculo
I then realised something moving very close & just above where I was kneeling. I moved carefully to see be able to see it: a Black-throated Huet-huet which had only come into investigate my recording a few minutes after I had stopped playing it: magic.
Black-throated Huet-huet: Uncropped photo showing how close the Black-throated Huet-huet was
Black-throated Huet-huet: Fortunately, my 100-400 mm lens allows me to reduce the magnification, so this it is now a 240 mm lens
Black-throated Huet-huet: The two species of Huet-huets are the largest Tapaculo species & similar in size to some of the larger Antpittas (although they are longer-tailed)
Black-throated Huet-huet: Some Birders have found them difficult to see & have spent a day or two of looking at known sites, so perhaps I was lucky
Black-throated Huet-huet
Black-throated Huet-huet: They occur in Southern Chile & adjacent SW Argentina
Black-throated Huet-huet
Black-throated Huet-huet
Black-throated Huet-huet
Black-throated Huet-huet
Four of the eight Chilean species of Tapaculos occur on Chiloe Island & I had just seen the two most enigmatic species. It has been a good twenty minutes. I carried on along the road looking for other areas of interesting habitat for ad-hoc stops. I didn't see any more Tapaculos, but my next stop produced a couple of Ochre-flanked Tapaculos which called, but didn't show themselves. However, I did see a Des Murs's Wiretail & a Thorn-tailed Rayadito. Both appeared briefly as they moved through the trees.
Des Murs's Wiretail: This species has a Wren sized body, with a tail which is at least twice the body length. The tail feathers are the pale brown (out of focus) feathers in the top left part of the photo
Des Murs's Wiretail: This is another species which occurs in the forests of central & Southern Chile & adjacent Argentina
Thorn-tailed Rayadito: This has a similar range to Des Murs's Wiretail in the Southern forests
Thorn-tailed Rayadito: A better photo of the bizarre tail feathers
Thorn-tailed Rayadito
It had been a good early afternoon along the road to Parque Nacional Chiloe, but I hadn't reached the West coast or the National Park yet. I'll finish off the other species in the next Post.