Birding in the South-eastern Chaco Region, Argentina, January 2004

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT

Participants: Sergio Corbet


Estancia Las Vizcacheras - in North-western entre Rios Province close to La Paz

During our summer (January in South America), I birdguided two outstanding birders. One of them, a birding friend, is an internationally known Ornithologist Dr. Roger Lederer PhD. who came to Argentina together with his friend Gary Cole and their wives Carol and Linda. During the 2 weeks itinerary I drew up for them, seeing local birds was one of the main goals, yet cultural activities combined with horseriding and even fishing completed the whole programme.

Fortunately during all that time the weather kept fine allowing us to see and do mostly all what was planned. Birding in the Pampas combined with the other activities went off very well so we went northwards to fish Dorado (a tough freshwater fighting fish) at Esquina in Corrientes province. Before arriving at our fishing destination, we stayed for a couple of days at Santa Helena in a 1000 hectares Estancia-Hotel by the name Las Vizcacheras whose owner and staff are english speaking. The plan was to visit an Estancia, do some horseriding and bird in a new region with a chance to see some new and different birds from the ones previously seen in the Pampas.

In Argentina, the northeastern and central boundaries of the Pampas limit with some typical Phytogeographical Provinces that belong to the Chaco Domain. In the latter, the Thorny Province has its northeastern limit quite close to La Paz and neighbouring Santa Elena. Native vegetation shelters birds that are quite different from the ones found in the closeby wooded galleries of the Parana and Uruguay rivers as well as in the open marshes and grassland fields. At the Las Vizcacheras Estancia-Hotel we found about half of the estate used with cropfields and cattle grazing in the pastures while the rest of the land was covered by an open native bush, with small to medium sized trees many of them with thorns on their branches, a typical character that gives the scientific name to the whole area.

So as to get tuned up, upon arrival we were greeted by a couple of White Woodpeckers that flew low and very close to our car. Now, while driving along a mudroad leading to the estancia, in several adjacent fiels we heard Spotted Tinamous calling. Over us in the sky several Chimango Caracaras were circling while farther away we could see with the help of our binocs swarms of Grey-breasted Martins and White-rumped Swallows. Tropical Kingbirds and Fork-tailed Flycatchers were seen swooping up and down along the road chasing insects mostly invisible to us. Grassland Yellow Finches sitting on the wirefences along the road would fly when our car would come too close to them just to sit back some yards farther away as if inviting us to catch up with them so as to start the game over again. Now this was a fine start and we decided to do some birding in the afternoon following some trails in the bushes. After a restoring siesta (after lunch rest) we went out birding as planned. Following a trail in the bushes we arrived at a clearing from where I could hear some Brown Cacholotes calling in the distance. I decided to bring them in by playing back their call and the response was so good that in a matter of seconds we had several of these large birds almost crashing into the heads of Carol and Roger who were standing by. They allowed us to look at them so close that binoculars simply were unnecessary.

While walking along the trail, quite often we would make Rufous-collared Sparrows fly, a bird quite common all over the place. Later we arrived at a large tree where we discovered several birds resting in its shade. A very deep yellow coloured Saffron Finch was singing while its greyish female didn't seem to be impressed sitting on a close branch. A Great Kiskadee was resting there too as well as a couple of Rufous Horneros.

I first heard and then saw a Glaucous-blue Grosbeak, quite a common bird in this area unfortunately very much sought after by trespassing birdtrappers as well as the Yellow Cardinal now almost extinct. A bit farther away we discovered several Eared Doves sitting very concealed yet in a ready to fly stance. This proved to be a fine tree, a truly rewarding stand! When the sun started to come down, we visited a small river flowing not far away. We discovered on its shores several Collared Plovers running along the water, quite tame so they allowed us to look them over very well. Most of the group decided to take a dip in the warm water while Gary and I kept on looking for some more birds. Now on the farthest shores we saw several Lesser Yellowlegs and Southern Lapwings and then a Double-collared Seedeater balancing while feeding on a long grass stem.

On the other bank, on top of a tree a small group of Neotropic Cormorants were sitting with their wings outstreched, drying them up before going back divefishing as they do. Back at the estancia, we discovered several Scimitar-billed Woodcreepers walking majestically under a tree looking for some food on the ground. Once it became dark and before dinner, I heard a Ferrouginous Pygmy-Owl calling. We all went to look for it and found it siting on a branch in a tree calling quite often ignoring the light from our flash bulbs, showing very well.

The next morning after breakfast everybody went out for a horse ride. Gary stayed back and went into the fields along a road. While sitting in the shade of a tree, he saw several Spotted Tinamous that came out onto the road quite close to him. Another bird seen there was the Lark-like Brushrunner and a White Monjita too. Meanwhile we went riding across several fields and followed some trails arriving to a large marsh. Several Brazilian Ducks flew away showing the deep blue-green coloured feathers on their wings while a couple of Wattled Jacanas ran away from us running very casually on top of some water vegetation. We then spotted a couple of Rufescent Tiger-Herons balancing nervously on top of a tree. By midmorning we were back at the estancia and decided to do some birding before lunch. While walking towards the bushy area, on an Eucalyptus tree we discovered a Checkered Woodpecker soon joined by another one. Very close to this tree, on another Eucalyptus we saw a freshly arrived Green-barred Woodpecker and soon a couple of White Woodpeckers came along too. It was a sort of a Woodpecker morning as when we went into the bushes we soon saw a couple of White-fronted Woodpeckers feeding in a small tree in front of us.

Not far away, on a blossomin g vine several hummingbirds were feeding and chasing one another. A closer look allowed us to identify them as being all Glittering-bellied Emeralds. Playing the calls records, I managed to bring in a very shy Dark-billed Cuckoo that didn't show itself as it stayed very close to us but at our backs! One of us turned and discovered the bird just a few yards away! Hand signaling to the rest, we managed to have a very good look of it. Quite at a close distance there were 2 birds that appeared to be almost following us. Carefully looking over the birds and trying to identify them in the Field Guides, Gary at last found them and then we all concluded that the bird we were looking at was a Green-backed Becard. A lifer for me too!

We had lunch served on a veranda close to the main house. The table was set in the shade of a huge native wild fig tree that was full of small ripe figs. While having lunch, we often would discover newcomers visiting the tree searching for the ripe fruit. Now we saw Sayaca Tanagers, Rufous-bellied and Creamy-bellied Thrushes and Golden-billed Saltators. Although it looked like food was plenty, often we could see some of these birds chasing one another away. Spot-winged Pigeons would come and feed on the fallen figs when nobody was around. Our attention was drawn by a loudly calling Field Flicker sitting on a fence post at the edge of the surrounding park

On our final afternoon, we went out birding again. Now one of the birds we were trying to see was the Red-winged Tinamou that we heard calling in a field which had tall grasses and some brush at the edge of the bushes. Although the birds were whistling very close to us and one even seemed to be answering the recorded call, not a single bird showed nor came out into the open.

A medium sized red-coloured bird called my attention, it showed very well allowing Roger and Gary to look at it. It was a Hepatic Tanager male soon joined by its yellow-coloured female. While driving back, we went past a wirefence where a very nice Grassland Sparrow was sitting. Its eyebrow was of an intense bright yellow colour while the rest of the body was very similar to the body of the ever present Rufous-collared Sparrow. While we were nearing a small corral, on its bare soil I noticed quite a large grey bird flattening itself against the ground. The typical short bill and big eyes with some white spots on its long folded wings, reminded me of a nighthawk. When we came closer to the bird, it flew away beating its large sickle-shaped wings to land a few yards farther back but again on the bare soil obviously trying to mimic it. It was a Nacunda Nighthawk, one of the largest of its species. Quite a sight as later, after sunset while travelling through the open fields, in the dimm light several of these nighthawks would fly around us chasing the insects that would fly away from our truck.

We left the estancia in the morning and after travelling just several miles I saw a large Red-winged Tinamou crossing the pavement. I was very lucky as I stopped the car right at the place the Red-winged Tinamou stood as if waiting for us. Roger and Gary had it on their side of the car so they looked at it from very close. Then the Tinamou decided to take off and flew over a wire fence landing into a close by field. It showed all the rest of its rufous Pheasant-sized body, with strong legs partially hanging at the end of its egg-shaped almost tailess body with outstanding red primaries on the wings. A great sighting indeed!