15 Mar 2018

15 Mar 18 - Chile: Going High Again

Having spent most of the morning around San Miguel de Azapa in one of Arica's valleys, the plan was to head back up into the North Chilean Andes & spend the night at Putre. On paper, this was a two hour drive, excluding the time I stopped to look for a Greyish Miner. I had two potential plans for the afternoon depending on when I arrived. The first was to carry on to Laura National Park which was another hour of driving beyond Putre in the hope I could connect with the main target species of Diademed Sandpiper-plover. This cracking-looking Plover occurs in High Andes bogs from Peru & Bolivia to Chile & Argentina. Chile has a couple of easily accessible sites at Lauca & El Yeso, near Santiago. The alternative plan was to spend the afternoon Birding around Putre. Both sites had several Ticks for me & I still hadn't finalised the plan. Finding a queue of lorries, I thought I had reached a checkpoint, as this was the main Arica to Bolivia road. I drove past all the stationery lorries to the front of the queue, as waiting for lorries to get their papers checked can be slow & cars are often waved through. This general behaviour of queue-jumping, known as a Hopper manoeuvre, would not be popular in the UK. But I had already seen other cars doing it & it seemed more acceptable in Chile. It turned out I was going nowhere fast as the road was closed. There were a couple of Birds here, but both disappeared incredibly fast.
Greenish Yellow-finch: Male
Black-hooded Sierra-finch: Male
The road was closed for a few miles as the road surface was being improved, but helpfully the Chilean road gang decided to close off several more miles for no good reason. Eventually, they reopened the road for traffic heading to Arica & of course, this meant that many very slow lorries heading from Bolivia had to cover both the good road & the road works. It was frustrating watching them slowly wind down the far side of the valley several miles away, knowing it would be fifteen minutes before they reached me. A few minutes later, another lorry appeared at the start of the road works & the fifteen minute waiting time would be reset. Eventually, they opened the road for us to go & I was at the front, apart from a 4WD that had pushed in front of me. I made good time on the final stretch to Putre. As I had lost the best part of two hours with the road closure, my afternoon plan was decided: I would spend the later afternoon in the dry valleys at Putre.
A typical lorry doing about 20 miles an hour in a no overtaking zone
Spot-winged Pigeon: This was sitting on a road sign at the start of Putre. I was initially confused when I tried to check it out later, as it wasn't in the Birds of Chile field guide. But it is another new arrival in the fifteen years since the Chile guide was written. Checking one of my trip reports sorted it out
Spot-winged Pigeon
Not long after I cleared the roadworks, I arrived at Putre & checked into the Hotel Las Vicunas, which had looked to be the biggest in town when I organised the accommodation from the UK. It turned out to be an uninspiring place. I immediately had to change rooms as I couldn't lock the door on my first room. It was mid-afternoon and I was being asked to decide what I wanted for dinner so it could be cooked. That is generally a warning sign about a hotel for me, especially as the dinner wasn't cheap. I had pre-paid in the UK when I booked, so I couldn't look elsewhere in town. Still at least I could find a cafe in town for dinner: which was the better option. There was no running water the following morning, but they gave us bottled water & said it was down to a power failure of the main water pump for the town. I left the bags in the locked hotel room & headed off to try the dry valley immediately North of Putre. I parked in one of the far streets & walking down into the valley. This provided a couple of hours of good Birding, before the light started going.
The dry valley to the North of Putre
Some of the local Llamas
Black-winged Ground-dove: This is the melanoptera subspecies which occurs from Peru to Southern Chile & Argentina
Black-winged Ground-dove: Another great looking Ground-dove
Black-winged Ground-dove: Head & shoulders
Bare-faced Ground-dove: This is the zimmeri subspecies of Southern Peru, Bolivia, Northern Chile & NW Argentina
Bare-faced Ground-dove: Another head & shoulders
Mountain Parakeet: My second group of the trip. Perhaps they are easier to see at the end of the breeding season
Buff-breasted Earthcreeper: Buff-breasted Earthcreeper & the very similar White-throated Earthcreeper occur at Putre. They are very similar, but White-throated Earthcreeper has a more contrasting white throat compared to the breast, a greyer-brown contrasting crown compared to the mantle & more rufous wings. Looking at photos online have confirmed they are still a tricky pair to separate, but I looking at these features, this looks to be a Buff-breasted Earthcreeper
Buff-breasted Earthcreeper: One of the South American Hoopoes: well they occupy a similar niche to some of the Hoopoes I've seen in Tibet
Cream-winged Cinclodes
Yellow-billed Tit-tyrant
Mourning Sierra-finch: Female
Ash-breasted Sierra-finch
Ash-breasted Sierra-finch
Greenish Yellow-finch: Male. The overall greenish-yellow colouration, the greenish wing coverts and the lack any grey tones to the ear coverts & neck confirm this is another Greenish Yellow-finch
Greenish Yellow-finch: Male. Showing the bill profile
Hooded Siskin
Butterfly sp.: It looks superficially similar to one of the UK Whites. I've not got a guide on Chilean Butterflies so it will have to remain unidentified
It was getting cold & the activity was dropping off. I had only had some snacks since leave Arica, so it was time to look for a cafe in Putre. I found a small cafe by the square, which was OK & saved having to wait for another two or three hours for overpriced food at the hotel.
My hire car in the main square in Putre