15 Mar 2018

15 Mar 18 - Chile: Hummingbirds In The Desert

It was a dawn start as I had another day where I wanted to cover a lot of ground & I knew it would get hot quickly. The first site to cover was San Miguel de Azapa. This is an extended village in the Southern of the two valleys which run down to the coastline around Arica. The valley is less than a mile across with steep arid sides. The riverbed itself was bone dry, but there must be a lot of water extracted from the underground water table to irrigate the valley. It was very reminiscent of the contrast between an irrigated kibbutz & the surrounding desert in Israel. Chile was also similar to Israeli Birding in there were a limited number of potential Ticks in the country, albeit more than on my first Israel trip. This morning around San Miguel de Azapa, there were six potential Ticks & this was one of the best totals for any site. In the end I managed to find four of the six species, but I due a blank on Peruvian Thick-knee & Chilean Woodstar. Chilean Woodstars are a rapidly declining endemic & are limited to a few areas of natural woodland in the valleys in the extreme North of Chile. Peruvian Thick-knee is on the edge of its range in the Arica valleys, but it occurs further North as far as SW Ecuador. I tried driving along the valley & stopping to check out every orchard, as other Birders have bumped into the Peruvian Thick-knees roosting up under the trees. After a couple of hours, this tactic was clearly not working & I had checked all the accessible orchards as far as possible. Still it should be easier to see on a trip to Peru in the future.
American Kestrel: This is the cinnamominus subspecies which occurs in SE Peru, Chile & Argentina
There are also three species of Hummingbirds in the valley & all would be new: Peruvian Sheartail, Chilean Woodstar & Oasis Hummingbird. Peruvian Sheartail is a relatively recent new species to Chile, with the first record being seen in 1971. It is thought to be one of the reasons the Chilean Woodstars are declining, as the Peruvian Sheartails are able to outcompete them. Habitat loss & increased use of pesticides are probably also significant factors. After an hour of looking I had seen my first Peruvian Sheartail & adult males are easy to identify. But I didn't see any other Hummingbirds.
Peruvian Sheartail: Adult male. Their overall length is around seven inches, but the body length is under three inches
Having run out of orchards to look for Peruvian Thick-knees & struggled with most of the other local goodies, it was time for Plan B: to visit the Hummingbird Garden or El Santuario del Picaflor. The gardens don't open until 09:00 & aren't well signposted. I found it easier to look for the Hydraulics Institute & then spotted the small sign to the gardens on the track boarding the Institute. There was a small entrance fee to pay to walk around.
The Hummingbird gardens: There are no feeders, just lots of flowers
The Hummingbird gardens: Plus, a number of places to sit & look at yester year technology
The Hummingbird gardens: The only disadvantage is the amount of watering has allowed Mozzies to survive
The Hummingbird gardens: Another seating area in the gardens
The Hummingbird gardens
The Hummingbird gardens: The neighbouring monoculture. Unfortunately, most of the valley looks like this
It didn't take long to locate the first of several Oasis Hummingbirds.
Oasis Hummingbird: They are the largest of the three Hummingbirds by body size & have a longer, slightly decurved bill
Oasis Hummingbird: The rusty coloured rump is another feature as the other two species have green rumps
Oasis Hummingbird: Although, it isn't possible to see the bill, the rusty edges to the rump indicates this is another Oasis Hummingbird
Oasis Hummingbird
Oasis Hummingbird: One of the staff pointed out this Oasis Hummingbird nest
Peruvian Sheartail: This Hummingbird was a lot trickier to figure out than the adult male seen earlier in the morning. The smaller size & green rump indicates it isn't an Oasis Hummingbird. The tail tips are fairly long & have prominent white tips suggesting Peruvian Sheartail, rather than a Chilean Woodstar which would have a short tail with less obvious white in the tail
Peruvian Sheartail: Chilean Woodstars should have buffier flanks & a cleaner white throat
South American White-winged Dove
I had also drawn a blank when I was looking around the valley for the two new members of the Tanager family: Cinereous Conebill & Slender-billed Finch. However, my backup site was the Hummingbird garden & I had seen both species within ten or fifteen minutes of arriving.
Cinereous Conebill: This is the littorale subspecies which occurs in the West slope of the West Andes in Peru & North Chile. Other subspecies occur as far North as Southern Colombia
Cinereous Conebill: They are clearly helping the farmers remove insects from the crops
Slender-billed Finch: They occur from coastal West Peru to North Chile
Slender-billed Finch: The family that run the Hummingbird Garden had a small cafe serving natural fruit juices & hot drinks. I discovered the better strategy was to sit in the cafe & wait for this individual to reappear as it kept coming into the cafe to look around the picked fruit
Slender-billed Finch: Finally, a better place to perch
Slender-billed Finch: Immature. The posture & jizz help to identify this immature individual
Slender-billed Finch: Immature
It was getting on & I had seen all I thought was going to see, so it was time to get on the road to my next location of Putre. I was leaving the coastal area & going up to 3500 metres for my next night. Putre was the starting point for a drive up to Lauca National Park at 4500 metres.
It turns to desert as soon as you leave the valley bottom: The start of the road to Putra
Looking back on the valley from 50 metres above it
After driving for over an hour towards Putre, I tried an ad-hoc roadside stop at 2700 metres where there was a steep, but shallow, dry riverbed to the right of the road. This was before the small town of Zapahuira. One of the Birdquest tours had found Greyish Miners around the head of the valley near Zapahuira, but I had no better directions. Fortunately, I was within the general habitat as after thirty minutes of walking I had found a Greyish Miner: another Tick.
Greyish Miner: A record shot with the SX60. The more I use my SX60, the less I like it as a camera, as the colour balance is far too saturated & the image quality, unless really close to the subject, isn't great
Lizard sp.: Unidentified Lizard in the Greyish Miner riverbed