We visited the Santiago area of Chile for 4 days on our way back to Australia from Ecuador in order to try and find species missed on previous trips; Chilean Tinamou, Scale-throated Earthcreeper, White-sided Hillstar, Creamy-rumped Miner, White-throated Tapaculo and most notably Diademed Sandpiper-Plover.
We relied for forward planning and help during the trip on the excellent article by Fabrice Schmitt in Neotropical Birding volume 6: Capital Birding – Santiago de Chile. The trip report by Ian Merrill (2011) was also helpful. For identification we used primarily the latest edition of Jaramillo et al. “Birds of Chile”. We also had various tapes of all the species we were looking for. For navigation we used the ‘Nelles’ map of Chile which was adequate for the main roads, but less so for remoter areas.
We flew into Santiago, Chile from Quito, Ecuador, arriving at 1600 hrs on 19 April. We had pre-booked a double cab 4x4 from Avis, which we collected at the airport without any problems. We had also booked to stay the four nights at the Diego De Almagro Airport Hotel (Pudahuel) because it is close to the airport and gives easy access to the Santiago area motorway system and routes we needed to follow during the stay.
20 April 2013 – Yerba Loca N.P. & Farellones area
We reached Yerba Loca by opening time at 08:30 hrs. After registering and paying the entrance fee we drove 5 km to the Los Coralles picnic site, Here we birded for about an hour. Plenty of activity, but none of our target species. Moustached Turca were surprisingly common. Other species noted were: Chilean Mockingbird, Grey-hooded Sierra Finch, Austral Thrush, Common Diuca Finch, Fire-eyed Diucon, Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, Long-tailed Meadowlark, Austral Blackbird, Harris’s Hawk, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Green-backed Firecrown and Grey-flanked Cinclodes.
Leaving Yerba Loca we continued up the sequence of hairpin bends towards Farellones. As recommended by the article in Neotropical Birding, we stopped at Bend 21. Here two White-throated Tapaculo responded to playback and the first of our targets was in the bag! Next we headed up to Farellones. After some time messing about in Farellones and La Parva which produced few birds, we drove along the Valle Nevado road. Birds were numerous just below the resort, and we located several Creamy-rumped Miners, our second target species, among the more common Rufous-banded Miners. Alas no White-sided Hillstars, but lots of Mourning and Plumbeous Sierra Finches, as well as a Black-billed Shrike Tyrant, Black-chinned Siskins, Greenish-yellow Finches and a Variable Hawk. We returned to Farellones for a late lunch. On the way down we re-visited Yerba Loca, but there were few birds around and we headed back to the traffic of Santiago.
21 April 2013 El Yeso
It took us about two and a half hours to reach the turn-off to El Yeso from the Maipo Valley road. On a previous visit during winter, we had only managed to get about 5 km along this road before being blocked by snow. Now it was very different and just rough and dusty! It is about 22 km to the El Yeso Dam from the turn-off. Once you reach the dam there is a rough track that snakes its way along the side of the dam for about 8 km. It is bulldozed out of the scree slopes several hundred metres above the dam and a nerve wracking single track road! We followed the Neotropical Birding directions and headed for the bog at the upper end of the dam. At first site this did not look promising, very little water and lots of grazing horses and cattle. Tessa was first to spot a brownish wader some distance off in the only area with surface water and tussocks of short grass. The ‘scope was brought into play and lo and behold – a juvenile Diademed Sandpiper-Plover! Diadem well marked in both. Amidst great excitement we located another close by, in what seemed to be partial adult plumage. The dreadful drive along the lake had been worth it! After some time watching these birds we returned to the vehicle and searched the rocky slopes for Scale-throated Earthcreeper. After a short time, one responded to the tape and our fourth target species was recorded. No other species of interest were noted, and it only remained for us to negotiate our way along the road above the dam and head back down the main dirt road to the Valle de Maipo and then Santiago.
22 April 2013 Yerba Loca N.P. & Farellones
Our targets were now Chilean Tinamou and White-sided Hillstar, so we decided to head back to Yerba Loca and Farellones a second time. We drove straight up to the Valle Nevado area, reaching there by about 10 am. Unfortunately, it was more windy than on 20 April and numbers of birds were much fewer. After searching and scanning for an hour we returned to Farellones for coffee. Next back to Yerba Loca where we walked to the ‘Sector La Vega’ – an area of grassland and scrub in the valley. Lots of Moustached Turcas and Firecrowns, but no sign of any tinamous or hillstars. A disappointing day after the highlights of the 21st.
23 April 2013 Lampa ‘Marshes’
Again following the directions in Neotropical Birding we drove to the Lampa area in the hope of South American Painted Snipe. Traffic was very heavy getting to the area and along the road past the site. Fortunately this did not matter because the ‘marshes’ were completely dry – probably in an even worse condition than that described in Ian Merrill’s trip report of 2011. We drove around, investigating the situation and soon concluded that it was a waste of time. The only bird of note was Cinereous Harrier. Although it was the dry season it is possible that the situation has now been exacerbated by water extraction for agriculture. We returned to the hotel for lunch, check out and return to the airport for our flight that evening to Australia. This short stop over en route for Australia netted most of our targeted species.