"I should like to thank you for organising and leading the fantastic trip to Chile. The accommodation, food and wine all added to the experience
but the highlights were the scenery and the wildlife."...... Ms M, Norfolk, November 2013
Chile is an extraordinarily long country squeezed between the high Andes and the Pacific Ocean. Our tour is a magnificent journey starting in the towering Andes and culminating in the Humboldt upwelling off the Pacific coast. On the way we will explore magnificent ancient Araucaria forests which grow on the edge of huge lava fields; walk amongst dense stands of bamboo beneath a canopy of towering Notofagus trees; stand in the shadow of giant snow-capped volcanoes; and watch the sunset over fabulous bays on the coast.
High in the stunning Andean valleys near the capital, Santiago, we will seek out the unique Diademed Sandpiper-plover on its breeding grounds. Here the Andean Condor is king, but still this huge vulture is dwarfed by the sheer scale of the mountain backdrop. An amazing array of birds have evolved to occupy a treeless landscape including the tiny but exotic Mountain Parakeet, which is no bigger than a Budgerigar.
The Chilean Lake District is an area dominated by the snow-capped peaks of dormant volcanoes, cloaked in extensive forests of Southern Beech and Monkey Puzzle trees. Resident birds match the habitat. The magnificent Magellanic Woodpecker is like a Black Woodpecker on steroids, whilst the delightful White-throated Treerunner, though unrelated, is very like a nuthatch. Chile is famous for its tapaculos with their weird and sometimes haunting vocalisations as well as their skulking habits.
Down on the shore, the Chilean Seaside Cinclodes dodges the surf on the rocks, whilst offshore we can find an interesting mix of seabirds which include Humboldt Penguin, Peruvian Pelican, Peruvian Booby and Guanay Shag. At the end of the tour we will do a boat ride off the central coast of Chile. This pelagic experience is second to none with a feast of albatrosses, shearwaters, gadfly petrels, diving petrels and more.
The tour starts in the capital Santiago and on arrival we will transfer to San Jose in the Maipo Valley. This will be our base for three nights as we explore the valleys of the high Andes. Here we will get our first taste of Chilean birdlife which should include the endemic Chilean Mockingbird along with Austral Blackbird, Austral Thrush, Eared Dove and the unusual Tufted Tit-tyrant. Raging rivers are home to the unique Torrent Duck, which hold their own in the rapids just like the best of Olympic canoeists. Other specialities include the endemic, rock-loving Crag Chilia and the ground-hugging Moustached Turca. Other species adapted to a terrestrial way of life given the lack of trees at this elevation include several species of ground-tyrant, plus the Rufous-banded Miner and the strange looking Scale-throated Earthcreeper.
We will visit the valley of El Yeso which is one of the best places on earth to see the splendidly named Diademed Sandpiper-plover. Also up here we may find a hummingbird and a parakeet. Amazingly the White-sided Hillstar can survive the freezing overnight temperatures, whilst the tiny Mountain Parakeet gets the pulses racing of even seasoned birders. No trip into the Andes is complete without a sighting of the majestic Andean Condor and we will not be disappointed.
CONGUILLIO NATIONAL PARK
From Santiago we will make a short internal flight to Temuco, from where we quickly transfer to one of the most scenic national parks, at Conguillio. Again, we spend three nights so that we can explore the park and its habitats at a comfortable pace. The park is dominated by the towering peak of Volcan Llaima and contains native old growth forest. Giant Araucaria dominate, better known to us as monkey puzzle trees. Resident birds match the splendour of the habitat and include the magnificent Magellanic Woodpecker, the endemic Slender-billed Parakeet, Black-throated Huet-huet, the stentorious Chucao Tapaculo, the extraordinary Des Murs Wiretail, the nuthatch-like White-throated Treerunner, and swarms of dynamic Thorn-tailed Rayadito.
Leaving Conguillio NP we head south by road to the heart of the Chilean Lake District. Our lakeside hotel in Puerto Varas offers stunning views of the Osorno Volcano, noted for its similarity to Mount Fuji. During our four night stay we will have ample opportunity to visit a variety of forest habitats in two very different national parks.
On day 8 we will explore the forests which lie in the shadow of Volcano Osorno at Puhuye National Park. Famed for its hot springs, the park provides easy access to mature forest with a healthy bamboo understorey. The forest resounds to the calls of huet-huets and tapaculos. Green-backed Firecrowns whiz about, defending their feeding territories around the ubiquitous fuchsia bushes. The meadows hold large feeding flocks of Southern Lapwings and Black-faced Ibis. Austral Parakeet and the endemic Slender-billed Parakeet form mixed feeding flocks in the orchards. At the roadside we can find common Chilean birds such as the Chilean Flicker, White-crested Elaenia, Fire-eyed Diucon and Grey-hooded Sierra-finch.
ALERCE NATIONAL PARK
This national park was created in 1982 to protect the ancient Alerce or Patagonian Cypress forest. It is one of the largest and oldest trees in the world; they can grow to a height of 45 metres and live for 3000 years! The forest here is a paradise for tapaculos with Black-throated Huet-huet, Chucao Tapaculo, Magellanic and Ochre-flanked Tapaculo all relatively easy to observe. With luck the uncommon White-throated Hawk can be observed soaring above the forest canopy.
We are also lucky to be able visit Chiloe Island which is part of a fascinating archipelago created by rising sea levels after the last ice age. Cut off both socially and economically from the mainland for many years, it has its own unique identity. Caulin Bay holds flocks of beautiful Black-necked Swans and thousands of Hudsonian Godwits, which winter here. Other attractions include two species of penguin and a large flightless steamer duck. On the ferry crossing we can expect to see Pealeís Dolphins.
VALPARAISO AND THE PACIFIC COAST
On day 12 we transfer to Vina del Mar our base for four nights; the grand finale of our tour. We will make the most of our time here exploring La Campana National Park. A speciality of the Pacific coast is the Inca Tern. The estuary at the mouth of the River Maipo holds thousands of roosting shorebirds and gulls, including the desert breeding Grey Gull and wintering Elegant Tern.
Our boat trip is arranged for the morning of day 14 from the waterfront at Valparaiso. The list of potential seabirds is second to none due to the attraction of the cold water upwelling of the Humboldt current. The commonest albatrosses are Black-browed, Salvinís and Bullerís. There is also the chance of seeing one or more of the larger Royal or Wandering Albatrosses. We can also expect White-chinned and Westland Petrels, Peruvian Diving-petrel, Cape Petrels and Northern Giant Petrels, Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters and Wilsonís Storm-petrels.
At El Peral marshes we hope to find Spot-flanked Gallinule, Wren-like Rushbird and the dazzling Many-coloured Rush-tyrant. Parts of this varied coastline are reminiscent of the Isles of Scilly with granite headlands carpeted in Hottentot Figs. The highlight is the bay at Cachagua with its stunning views of the ocean. A small offshore island is home to a Humboldt Penguin colony as well as countless cormorants and Peruvian Pelicans. On the rocks below, Black Oystercatchers and Surfbirds can be found.
Finally, on day 16 we will head back to Santiago, arriving at the airport in good time for our overnight flight home.
Breakfast will be taken at about 7am most days. Basic fitness is all that is required. Full days will be spent in the field with short/medium length walks. Some uphill walking will be necessary and at times this will be on uneven ground, but at a sensible pace. The highest point we reach is 8000 feet at El Yeso, so altitude should not present a problem.
ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD
Full board accommodation is provided with three nights at the Hotel Casa Bosque, San Jose de Maipo, three nights at Lodge la Baita, Conguillio, four nights at the Hotel Bellavista, Puerto Varas and four nights at the Hotel Oceanic, Vina del Mar. All hotels are of a good standard and all rooms have en suite facilities. Packed lunches will be provided every day.
PRICE INCLUDES Ö..
All birdwatching excursions with expert leader and local guide, full-board accommodation (starting with lunch on 9th, ending with lunch on 23rd), soft drinks at meal times, local transport by coach, boat trip, reserve entrance fees, ferry to Chiloe Island, domestic flights, international flights and airport taxes.
WHAT IS NOT INCLUDED
Travel insurance. Personal items, alcoholic drinks, laundry.
Return flights from London Heathrow and Manchester (via Paris CDG) to Santiago using the scheduled services of Air France. Outbound flight departs early evening, return flight arrives back early afternoon.
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