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Catamarca

Condor
Andean Condor Vultur gryphus ©James Lowen Website

The province of Catamarca is a good example of how man can survive in a semidesert area. Crossed from north to south by rugged mountains and trapped in the west by Andes Cordillera, cities and small settlements of this province were distributed strategically where people found water. Farming is only possible by artificial irrigation and actually the old fashioned irrigation ditch with superficial waters diverting rivers is being gradually substituted by buried pipes, which get it across the desert.

The state lies in the Northwest bordered by Salta province in the north, Tucumán in the northeast, Santiago del Estero in the east, Córdoba in the southeast, La Rioja in the south and Chile to the west. Its total surface is 102,602km2, with a population of just 332,390 inhabitants, giving a demographic density of 3.1 people per km2.41% living in the Capital City, San Fernando de Catamarca.

As part of the semiarid region, Catamarca’s climate is continental-temperate with an annually precipitation of between 400mm to 500mm in the east of the province. Going west the average diminishes to 150mm or less in the cordilleran Puna. Temperatures in the east average 20ºC, with a top of 45ºC in summer, in the west temperatures in winter can drop to -30ºC at higher altitudes.

Catamarca is crossed from north to south by 4 main chains of mountains. Between the first and the second chain, in the east, is the Capital City and the majority of its industries and satellites urbanizations, more of 60% of both commerce and population. The connections between the cities is por el llano, (longer but quicker roads across the plain) or por los caminos de cornisa, (shorter but slower mountain roads).

The rugged geography of Catamarca has created many areas with micro-climates.

Birding the High Andes and Puna

The High Andes rise to over 4,400m. As this height the Cordillera gradually descends to the south forming an archipelago of isolated islands emerging from the Puna. Further south the High Andes, finally and the Puna disappear.

The climate at higher altitudes is very cold and extremely dry. During the day, the mountains can feel very warm in the strong sun, but it can also be bitterly cold and windy and temperatures can fall to -20ºC at night. In summer there is more high cloud cover reducing the solar radiation, but the sunlight is very intense and you can burn in a few minutes without good sun protection. The ultraviolet radiation there is 20% higher than at sea level.

In the Catamarca, the High Andes has numerous volcanic cones and big lava deposits of different composition and pyroclastic morphology surrounded by a chain of high mountains and many inactive volcanoes. 44 of them still stay potentially active including the two highest volcanoes of the American Continent, Pissis at 6,795m and Ojos del Salado and 6,893m. This later is also the tallest volcano in the world and the second highest peak of Argentina.

Galán volcano is 6,600m and shows fumaroles in its 40km diameter; the most extensive crater in the world. The road from Antofagasta de la Sierra to Galán volcano is 70km as the crow flies to El Mirador, at 4,792m. In its north, inside the big caldera, is founded Diamante Lagoon.

The High Andean steppe is dominated by tussock grasses such as iros and flechillas in the lower levels, from 3,900m to 4,400 m. Altitudes from 4,400m to 4,800m is dominated by large cushion plants such as yaretas with other small rosettes stuck to the rock ground.

The lower level of High Andes is the Puna, which has an irregular form in Catamarca the height averaging 3,500m. Some areas were thrust up higher thasn others and after the action of glaciers the area has been shaped into high plains and plateaus.

The high plateau, known as Dry Puna, forms a depression with valleys lying north to south separated by the 150km long Calalaste Mountains. At westward end is Salar de Antofalla with Antofalla Volcano, at 6,100m and on the eastern side Salar del Hombre Muerto and Salar Diablillos. The Puna is one of the most beautiful and haunting remote places in the Andes. In Catamarca province it has the most beautiful and intense colors, where red or green slopes are contrasting with yellows ones.

The southernmost part of the province the Puna finishes a few kilometers north of San Francisco Pass in the Buenaventura Mountains, the Cordillera ends with Tres Cruces Peak of 6,356m. To the east are a line of peaks with Negro Muerto, Azul, Laguna Blanca Mountain, Galán Peak crossing to Salta province with the snow-capped mountains of Cachi, Acay and Chani and in Jujuy with Aguilar Mountain and Santa Victoria Mountain. This chain of height peaks is known as Precordillera Salto-Jujeña or Moist Puna. On the eastern side are big ravines such as Humahuaca in Jujuy, Quebrada del Toro or Calchaqui Valley, in Salta, and Abaucan River with Chaschuil Valley in Catamarca.

Weather in the Puna is extremely cold and dry, as it has an Andean dry steppe climate. Its daily temperatures are near 0º to -15ºC in winter during the long dry season. In summer temperatures rise to 15º to 25ºC when the short wet season occurs but it often feels cold due to constant winds from the east that average 80km per hour. The winds are highly variable and strongly influenced by local geographical conditions.

In spite of its hyper-aridity, intense solar radiation, high-velocity winds, daily frost, and a short growing season, the region has developed wetlands such as bofedales, vegas, mallines, salares, cushion bogs, wet grasslands, and peat wetlands. Many of these are only small patches in the immensity of the plateau, but other are significant, up to 100 hectares in surface area. Furthermore, Catamarca has more than two dozen endorreic lagoons (i.e. with no outflow) that vary in size according to the annual cycles of precipitations and also by effects of El Niño ENSO events, who can alter rain patterns and in the northwest region cause droughts.

This mosaic of water and wetlands naturally attracts a diversity of resident birds and other summer migrants and altitudinal movements from the low regions of the zone or from the Patagonia.

The Puna vegetation is known as tolar lying between 3,150m and 4,400m. It is a diverse scrubland with such species as tola, tolilla, checal, monte amargo, rica-rica, chijua, añagua, espinal, cardones and churqui mixed with grass including pasto vicuña, peludillo, paja, iro.

There is only one main route into the Catamarca Puna, Route Nº 43, which goes to Antofagasta de la Sierra, at 3,396m, and starts in El Eje on the paved sector of national road 40 that is 52km north of Belen. It’s not easy to travel to this town with a 2DW car because there are some fords and summer rainfall can cause flash floods and mud. Extra fuel needs to be carried as petrol is not always available in Antofagasta de la Sierra and Belen is 272km away by mountain, mostly unpaved, roads.

Going north from Salta province, next city is San Antonio de Los Cobres 330km away, taking Route 43, crossing Salar del Hombre Muerto. Another, longer road, follows the Calalaste River to Antofalla village. This settlement of just 60 people, at 3,431m has a small hostel. The north road has many small lagoons along the way such as Lagunita del Conito, Las Lagunitas, Los Patos, Potrero Grande, Las Quinuas and Botijuela and passes to Salta crossing Arizaro Salar in a straight line of 58km to Tolar Grande and the road to San Antonio de los Cobres.

In Antofagasta de la Sierra, with 750 inhabitants in the town and 1500 in the surrounding area, there are two hostels and many family rooms. But there is just one telephone! It’s a public phone and its number is 54-03835-471001/02. When you want to communicate about anything, asking for lodging, pretrol or guides, it’s very simple. First, research by internet, call at this number and says (in Spanish) the name of who you want to speak to and that in one hour, you will call again. The operator seeks out this person and gives them the message. In one hour you call and make your reservation etc. In summer (January-February) there are many tourists and not many rooms. There is no bank or ATMs.

This entire complex of wetland is still being studies by the Argentinean National Park System looking to implement a new park, Las Parimas National Park and Natural Monument. The major interest is to protect flamingo species and the entire associate fauna. As flamingos are migratory and nomadic they depend on wetland conditions in the different areas that fluctuate seasonally and year on year. However, mining interests are taking great quantities of water; locals are increasing their livestock and collection of firewood and extending agriculture, degrading the habitat; human encroachments and uncontrolled tourism are affecting the physical landscape. Because the Puna crosses regional and international boundaries its conservation is complicated.

An integrated study had identified 207 wetlands sites in Perú, Bolivia, Chile and 86 in Argentina. The most important species in the Puna is Puna Flamingo, also called Jame’s Flamingo, where it nests in Colorada Lagoon, Bolivia, producing 3,000 chicks annually. Other breeding areas are Salar de Pujsa and Salar de Surire, in Chile.

The Chilean Flamingo is second in major abundance, producing each year at least 5,000 chicks distributed in different wetlands. The Andean Flamingo is the species with fewest numbers of birds and its nest sites are found in Chile, mainly in Surire, Huasco and Atacama saline lakes.

Some of the special birds of the High Andes and Puna together, are: Ornate Tinamou, Puna Tinamou, Wilson’s Phalarope, Lesser Yellowlegs, Baird’s Sandpiper, Golden and Diademed Plover, Greater Yellowlegs, Tawny-throated Dotterel, Andean Snipe, Common Gallinule, Black-necked Stilt, Speckled, Cinnamon and Puna Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, Torrent Duck, Crested Duck, American, Horned, Andean & Giant Coot, Andean Goose, Ruddy Duck, Southern Pochard, Puna Plover, Andean Gull, Silvery and White-tufted Grebe, Puna Flamingo, Andean Lapwing, Chilean and Andean Flamingo, Andean Avocet, Andean Condor, Turkey Vulture, Variable Hawk, Mountain and Southern Crested Caracara, Aplomado Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Rufous-bellied and Gray-breasted Seedsnipe, Golden-spotted and Bare-faced Ground-Dove, Gray-hooded & Mountain Parakeet, Great Horned Owl, Band-tailed Nightjar, Andean Swift, White-sided and Andean Hillstar, Giant Hummingbird, Andean Flicker, Common, Creamy-rumped, Puna, Rufous-banded & Slender-billed Miner, Rock, Scale-throated & Straight-billed Earthcreeper, White-winged Cinclodes, Steinbach’s, Puna, Rusty-vented and Cordilleran Canastero, Plain-mantled & Brown-capped Tit-Spinetail, D’Orbigny’s Chat-Tyrant, Black-billed, White-tailed & Gray-bellied Shrike-Tyrant, Puna, Ochre-napped, Plain-capped & Rufous-naped Ground-Tyrant, Cliff Tyrant, Andean Negrito, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, Bank and Blue-and-White Swallow, Band-tailed, Black-hooded, Carbonated, Red-backed, Mourning, Gray-hooded & Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, Common & White-winged Diuca-Finch, Short-tailed Finch, Tucuman Mountain-Finch, Rufous-sided Warbling-Finch, Bright-rumped, Puna and Greater Yellow-Finch, Plain-colored and Band-tailed Seedeater, Yellow-rumped and Black Siskin.

Birding the Prepuna

The Prepuna in the Catamarca province is a narrow fringe in its central region with a shape similar to a distorted ‘H’. In the west are Quilmes Mountain, Chango Real Mountain, and Fiambala Mountain. In the east are Aconquija Mountain, Del Manchao Mountain and Ambato Mountain. In the central segment that joins both areas spread the slopes of the Capillitas Mountains and Del Atajo Mountain crossing between Capillitas and Farallon Negro. In this last sector there are two big mining projects, Bajo de La Alumbrera and Agua Rica, working to extract copper, gold and molybdenum. Consequent machine movements, workers settlements and mine explosions displace local fauna, specifically birds, compromising conservation. There are no public roads and birder access is not easy, impeded by control barriers, trucks and wire fences.

The Prepuna is made up of sparse xerophytic shrubs spanning from 2,800m to 3,150m with species such as queñoa, Opuntia cactus mixed with creeping cactus, portulaca, verbena, flechilla, columnar cacti, churqui, arca, chilcas, molle with cushion-forming and cliff-dwelling bromeliads. The surface is very rocky and soils are very shallow.

National road 40 crosses the west from Londres, Belen, Hualfin, Punta de Balasto to Santa María with many unpaved stretches. In El Eje, the beginning of Route 43 to Antofagasta de la Sierra crosses the Prepuna to the Puna. From Punta de Balasto, going south, a provincial road traverses the Prepuna, crossing El Arenal and Capillitas in an unpaved circuit, Andalgalá, Saujil, Estación Pomán and Chumbicha. In Saujil or Estación Pomán an east road goes to small settlements such as Poman, Mutquin, Mischango, and Rincón, located in the high environments of the mountain slopes.

Some special birds for this area are: Lesser Rhea, Ornate, Brushland, Puna, Andean, Darwin’s and Elegant-crested Tinamou, White-tufted, Least, Silvery & Pied-billed Grebe, White-faced and Buff-necked Ibis, Chilean Flamingo, Maguari Stork, Speckled, Silver, Blue-winged & Cinnamon Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, Lake & Ruddy Duck, Andean Condor, Turkey and Black Vulture, White-tailed Kite, Cinereous & Long-winged Harrier, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, White-tailed, Variable and Harris’s Hawk, Mountain, Chimango & Southern Crested Caracara, Aplomado & Peregrine Falcon, American Kestrel, Plumbeous Rail, Southern Lapwing, Tawny-throated Dotterel, Rufous-bellied, Gray-breasted and Least Seedsnipe, Spot-winged, Pale-vented & Band-tailed Pigeon, Moreno’s, Black-winged and Golden-spotted Ground-Dove, Mitred, Blue-crowned, Gray-hooded & Mountain Parakeet, Ash-colored & Dark-billed Cuckoo, Western Barn Owl, Burrowing, Short-eared Owl and Great Horned Owl, Ferrugineous Pygmy-Owl, Nacunda Nighthawk, Band-winged, Scissor-tailed & Little Nightjar, Rothschild’s, White-collared, Ashy-tailed & Andean Swift, Andean & White-sided Hillstar, Sparkling Violetear, Giant Hummingbird, Gilded Sapphire, Red-tailed Comet, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Blue-tufted Starthroat, Ringed, Amazon & Green Kingfisher, Spot-backed Puffbird, White-barred Piculet, Andean and Campo Flicker, Green-barred and White-fronted Woodpecker, Common, Puna and Rufous-banded Miner, Straight-billed, Rock, Scale-throated and Buff-breasted Earthcreeper, Cream-winged and White-winged Cinclodes, Brown-capped Spinetail, Plain-mantled & Tufted Tit-Spinetail, Azara’s Spinetail, Cordilleran, Puna, Rusty-vented, Steinbach’s & Scribble-tailed Canastero, Streak-fronted Thornbird, White-throated Cacholote, Gray-bellied, Black-billed & White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, Rufous-napped, White-browed, Ochre-napped, Cinnamon-bellied, Black-fronted Plain-capped, Cinerea & Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant, Andean, Spectacled and Yellow-browed Tyrant, Andean Negrito, Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, D’orbigny’s & White-browed Chat-Tyrant, Many-colored Rush Tyrant, White Monjita, Cattle Tyrant, Crested & Sandy Gallito, White-tipped Plantcutter, White-rumped & Blue-and-White Swallow, Purple Martin, Short-billed, Yellowish, Correndera, Hellmayr’s & Paramo Pipit, Grass & House Wren, Patagonian, Chalk-browed and White-banded Mockingbird, Chiguanco & Creamy-bellied Thrush, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Black-hooded, Gray-hooded, Mourning, Plumbeous, Red-backed, Ash-breasted & Band-tailed Sierra-Finch, Common Diuca-Finch, Short-tailed Finch, Rufous-sided, Black and Rufous Warbling-Finch, Tucuman Mountain-Finch, Ringed Warbling-Finch, Puna, Stripe-tailed, Bright-rumped, Greater, Greenish, Saffron & Grassland Yellow-Finch, Pampa Finch, Band-tailed & Plain-colored Seedeater, Red Pileates-Finch, Golden-billed Saltator, Sayaca & Blue-and-Yellow Tanager, Long-tailed Meadowlark, Shiny Cowbird, Hooded Siskin.

Birding the Monte

The Monte is a warm semi-desert which spreads across the Catamarca province in two central sectors separated by the 27th Parallel. In the north it is made up of longitudinal valleys and the surrounding slopes of nearby mountains. In the south it is in the closed river basin or bolsones and the valleys of the Pampas Mountains. The Monte is dominated by two types of vegetation; the jarillal, found in sandy, stony soils and the spiny steppe or spiny Monte in thicker stony soils. Both areas have the same species but they are distributed in different proportions. In the dry season it is easiest to see differences because in the spiny steppe all vegetation practically disappears.

The Northern Monte

The northern part forms a long depression that is located in a flat valley surrounded to the west by Quilmes Mountain and the Chango Real Mountains, and in the south by Del Atajo Mountain and the Capillitas Mountains and in east by Aconquija Mountain. In the north this eco-region continues into Tucumán and Salta provinces, up to la Poma town, its most northerly limit.

In the center of the valley, at 2,450m, Campo del Arenal is a bone dry-desert, called Sahara Argentina because of its big dunes. It is an old geological formation refilled by tertiary and quaternary sediments of mud and fine sands forming a really level area. Below the surface there is a widespread aquifer from which Bajo de La Alumbrera Mine is taking water for its mining activities. Agua Rica Mine will soon start a project to put its inert mining material into the sands over the next 10 years, taking more and more water for its projects.

This area is crossed by paved Route 40. In this zone, and in all of Catamarca, there are some places with spas such as Cerro Colorado Spring, Villa Vil Spring, De Llampa Spring, Colpa Spring, Del Cura Fierro Spring, La Cienaga Spring and Agua de Dionisio Spring. So you can combine birding with health travel. In the east an unpaved provincial road joins Punta de Balasto to Andalgalá, where there are other spas Vis Vis Spring, Nacimientos Spring, La Choya Spring and La Alumbrera River.

This part of the Monte is one of the most arid places in the ecoregion with high temperatures in the day and very little rains all year, 144mm, mainly in summer. The vegetation on its sandy soils had adapted to extreme dryness and is dominated by resinous evergreen bushes called jarillas. The four most numerous are jarilla hembra, jarilla macho, jarilla fina and falsa jarilla. Other scrub includes pichanas, rodajillo, piquillín, montenegro, brea, cachiyuyo, retamo, chañar, alpataco or lata forming a steppe with scattered species.

The water table is 100 meters below the surface so inaccessible to vegetation. Many tree species, such as mesquites, which are water dependent are scarce here.

The high temperatures confine observation to very early in the morning or at late afternoon. Insectivorous birds make up 50% of all bird species in the area, mainly in summer, and in many areas only in summer, when there is a greater quantity of insects. Birds which eat grains and seeds dominate all year, moving to different environments to supply their needs. These birds have seasonal eating habits, eating seeds in summer directly from the plants and in autumn and winter eating on the ground. Many of then, such as Picui Ground-Dove or the tinamous eat on the ground for the entire year. Other species, such as Chaco Chacalaca, only eat big seeds such as chañar, tusca or tala and similar. The most numerous groups in the Monte systems are ground-feeding birds, then those that eat vegetation, then arboreal herbivorous birds and finally flying hunters. This last group is variable in winter. Also, in winter, many insectivorous birds change habits turning to seed-eating. There are many nocturnal activities in the desert and carnivorous species follow prey at this time as do the normally diurnal Burrowing Owls.

Ascending the Colorado River’s gorge there are environments that are more humid. Following the unpaved road to Famabalasto, Cerro Colorado, La Hoyada and Toro Muerto, it’s possible to see the transition from Monte to Prepuna and the subsequent changing bird species. In the lower level, Santa María River, crossing the valley of the same name, receives some tributary water from the Aconquija Mountains, which form areas with aquatic vegetation and gallery forests of mesquites and willows, forming extensive forests that attract many species of aquatic birds such as Andean Goose that overwinter.

The most important town in the area is Santa María, near the provincial border with Tucumán, connected with the center of the country by Routes 40 and 60.

The Southern Monte

The southern part of the Monte is in the center of the province shaped like a quadrilateral the borders of which are Del Atajo Mountain and Capillitas Mountain in the north. To the west is Belen Mountain, Fiambalá Mountain, Zapata Mountain and Narvaez Mountain, which form transitional levels with the Prepuna and Puna. The provincial border is the southern edge of the area, which has continuity to the south and at east with Ambato Mountain and Del Manchao Mountain that separate this eco-region with the Chaco and Yungas.

The most well-known geographical feature of this sector is Salar de Pipanaco, a wide, flat valley with a salty depression at its centre. Salar de Pipanaco, at 730m, runs north to south for 90km and has no more than 100mm of rain per year.

Campo de Saujil in the east and Campo de Belen to the north have typical Monte vegetation with evergreen bushes of 1.50m to 2.50m tall consisting of four species of jarillas with usillo, retama, tala falso, manca potrillo, pela suri, brea and alpataco, many species of Opuntia cactus and diverse seed-rich herbaceous annuals grow on the sandy or sandy and rocky soils. In the salty soils other plants prosper including jume, jumecillo, cachiyuyo, jume colorado, jume blanco, carne gorda, barba de tigre chica and other species. All this area is low lying, with elevations of no more than 1,000m., allowing species like algarrobo dulce, which are subterranean water dependent, to prosper because their roots can reach the water-table only 25m deep, forming gallery forests near the rivers with other species.

The immediate upper level of the ecoregion, the spiny Monte, is founded where the vegetation are ascending on the first foothills of Del Manchao Mountain and Ambato Mountains and is developed over the dejection cones or in its surrounding. Here, jarillas are no so important. Main species are spiniers and seasonals as brea, lata, albarillo, mastuerzo, matasebo, rodajilla, montenegro, matapulgas, tusca, garabato hembra. In the same slopes and with more water in the gorges, but in more height, prosper the Monte with species more similar to Chaco ecoregion as tintitaco, arca, poleo, chilca, retama, espinillos and many mesquites species of algarrobo blanco and algarrobo negro forming a transitional zone with the Prepuna.

To the west is Salar de Pipanaco a wide plain with sandier soils with many Bad Lands, called here huayquerias. Near Tinogasta Valley, Campo de Andaluca and Fiambalá Valley, the area is drier with generally impoverished vegetation. Many years ago the area between Tinogasta-Fiambalá had very good algarrobos forest that today is much degraded.

The South Monte eco-region in Catamarca is crossed on the west side by the paved Route 40, which follows the Belén River on its left, from Hualfín to El Eje, San Fernando, La Ciénaga, Belén, Londres and Cerro Negro, where this road meets with Route 60.

Route 60 continues to the west bordering the Colorado River, also called Salado River, and passing small settlements such as Cordobita, Salado, Andaluca, Carrizal, Copacabana, La Puntilla before reaching Tinogasta. From this city to the north the difference between oasis and desert here is marked, mainly by wind erosion. Here orchards and farming are only made possible by artificial irrigation, such as in Medanitos where grapes are grown surrounded by dunes. The Fiambalá Valley has an extensive wide dune system; here the towns are invaded by sand and dry fields with dead algarrobos abound.

Near Tinogasta there are many places with spas such as Santa Rosa, San José and Fiambalá. Paved provincial road 45 crosses the Chile border by San Francisco Pass, ascending from the Monte eco-region to Puna and the surrounding High Andes.

From Belén, Route 46 crosses Campo de Belén to Andalgalá and then goes to the south bordering Salar de Pipanaco, on the right, and Ambato Mountain, on the left, until it meets with Route 60 in Estación Mazán, La Rioja.

Some of the best birds of the Monte eco-region are: Lesser Rhea, Brushland, Andean, Darwin’s & Elegant-crested Tinamou, Neotropic Cormorant, Least, Pied-billed and White-tufted Grebe, Stripe-backed Bittern, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Striated Heron, Cattle, Snowy & Great Egret, Cocoi Heron, Maguary Stork, Buff-necked and White-faced Ibis, Chilean & Andean Flamingo, Andean Goose, Torrent Duck, Speckled, Silver, Blue-winged & Cinnamon Teal, Yellow-billed and White-cheeked Pintail, Ruddy & Lake Duck, Andean Condor, Turkey and Black Vulture, Osprey, White-tailed Kite, Cinereous & Long-winged Harrier, Crowned Solitary-Eagle, Savanna Hawk, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Harris’, Roadside, White-tailed & Variable Hawk, Mountain, Chimango & Southern Crested Caracara, Spot-winged Falconet, American Kestrel, Aplomado & Peregrine Falcon, Chaco Chachalaca, Limpkin, Plumbeous & Spotted Rail, Rufous-sided Crake, Common Gallinule, Red-gartered, White-winged & Red-fronted Coot, Red-legged & Black-legged Seriema, Wattled Jacana, South American Painted-Snipe, Black-necked Stilt, Southern Lapwing, Golden, Semipalmated, Collared & Black-bellied Plover, Tawny-throated Dotterel, Hudsonian Goodwit, Upland Sandpiper, Greater, Lesser & Solitary Yellowlegs, South American Snipe, White-rumped, Semi-palmated, Baird’s & Pectoral Sandpiper, Wilson Phalarope, Andean & Franklin’s Gull, Picazuro, Spot-winged, Band-tailed and Pale-vented Pigeon, Picui, Morenos’s and Black-winged Ground-Dove, Eared, White-tipped & White-faced Dove, Blue-crowned, Monk, Mitred, Gray-hooded & Mountain Parakeet, Burrowing and Scaly-headed Parrot, Ash-colored, Yellow-billed, Dark-billed, Guira & Striped Cuckoo, Western Barn Owl, Tropical Screech-Owl, Great Horned Owl, Ferrugineous Pygmy-Owl, Burrowing & Short-eared Owl, Common & Nacunda Nighthawk, Band-winged, Little & Scissor-tailed Nightjar, Rothschild’s, White-collared, Ashy-tailed & Andean Swift, Sparkling & White-vented Violetear, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Gilded Sapphire, White-bellied Hummingbird, Andean & White-sided Hillstar, Giant Hummingbird, Red-tailed Comet, Blue-tufted Starthroat, Ringed, Amazon & Green Kingfisher, Spot-backed Puffbird, White-barred Piculet, White-fronted, Checkered & Green-barred Woodpecker, Campo & Andean Flicker, Scimitar-billed & Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Common, Rufous-banded & Slender-billed Miner, Chaco, Straight-billed, Scale-throated and Buff-breasted Earthcreeper, Cream-winged & White-winged Cinclodes, Rufous Hornero, Brown-capped, Tufted & Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, Azara’s, Sooty-fronted, Pale-breasted and Stripe-crowned Spinetail, Short-billed, Cordilleran, Puna, Rusty-vented and Steinbach’s Canastero, Streak-fronted and Spot-breasted Thornbird, Lark-like Brushrunner, Wren-like Rushbird, Brown & White-throated Cacholote, Gray-bellied, Black-billed & White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant, White, Black-crowned, Rusty-backed and Salinas Monjita, White-browed, Ochre-naped, Cinnamon-bellied, Black-fronted, Cinereous, Dark-faced & Spot-billed Ground-Tyrant, Andean Negrito, Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, D’Orbigny’s and White-browed Chat-Tyrant, Black Phoebe, Andean Tyrant, White-winged Black-Tyrant, Cattle and Spectacled Tyrant, Vermillion, Fork-tailed and Variegated Flycatcher, Streaked & Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Rufous Casiornis, Cliff Flycatcher, Subtropical Doradito, Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, White-crested, White-throated and White-bellied Tyrannulet, White-crested, Small-billed and Slaty Elaenia, Crested & Sandy Gallito, Olive-crowned Crescentchest, White-tipped Plantcutter, Crested Becard, White-rumped, Blue-and-White, Tawny-headed, Barn & Bank Swallow, Brown-chested, Purple & Southern Martin, Short-billed, Yellowish, Correndera, Hellmayr’s & Paramo Pipit, Grass & House Wren, Chalk-browed, Patagonian & White-banded Mockingbird, Rufous-bellied, Chiguanco & Creamy-bellied Thrush, Masked Gnatcatcher, Rufous-collared, Grassland & Stripe-capped Sparrow, Black-hooded, Gray-hooded, Mourning, Plumbeous, Ash-breasted & Band-tailed Sierra-Finch, Black-crested Finch, Common Diuca-Finch, Short-tailed Finch, Rufous-sided, Black-and-Rufous & Cinnamon Warbling-Finch, Tucuman Mountain-Finch, Ringed & Black-capped Warbling-Finch, Puna, Bright-rumped, Greater, Greenish, Saffron & Grassland Yellow-Finch, Pampa Finch, Rusty-collared & Double-collared, Band-tailed & Plain-colored Seedeater, Many-colored Chaco-Finch, Red Pileates-Finch, Red-crested Cardinal, Golden-billed Saltator, Rusty Flower-Pierce, Slaty Flower-Pierce, Tropical Parula, Rufous-browed Pepper-Shrike, Golden-winged Cacique, White-browed and Yellow-winged Blackbird, Long-tailed Meadowlark, Baywing, Screaming & Shiny Cowbird, Hooded & Black Siskin, House Sparrow.

Birding the Chaco

Catamarca province is on the western edge of the Chaco with three areas: Arid Chaco, Semiarid Chaco and Mountain Chaco, covering 30% of the province. The main area lies between the Del Manchao Mountain-Ambato Mountains and Graciana Mountain-Ancasti Mountain and valleys. In the bigger valley is Catamarca’s Capital, called San Fernando del Valle de Catamarca.

The entire eco-region is very susceptible to erosion because its soils are sandy, with little organic matter with some areas of high salinity. From colonial times, natural forest were severely degraded by felling for construction, livestock grazing, farming and overpopulation and today the Chaco is very scattered and fragmented. The majority of Catamarca industries and satellites urbanizations are in this valley with more than 60% of the commerce and population of the province.

The original Chaco forest is open dry woodland in three strata dominated by quebracho blanco and variegated algarrobos, a shrubby stratum with leguminous and jarillas species and an herbaceous stratum with a grass ground cover. 90% of the original forests were felled and replaced by secondry forests. Nevertheless, there are some persistent relicts, old trees isolated and the new ones growing in little altered areas where Chaco birds abound.

Although the eco-region as a whole has a medium temperature of 21ºC, part of the area has wide thermal variations peculiar to such arid environments, where temperatures can reach 40ºC-45ºC frequently, whereas in winter some frost does occur. The main rainfall, as a result of isolated storms, is from October to March; with 400mm annually.

The trees and plants commonly associated with this eco-region are: quebracho blanco, algarrobo blanco, algarrobo negro, sombra de toro, mistol, tala, espinillo, chañar, ucle, cardon, quimilo, jarilla, jarilla pispa, atamisqui, garabato negro, retama, usillo, and alpataco.

The Chaco eco-region is crossed south to north by Route 38 from La Rioja to Chumbicha, San Fernando de Catamarca, El Portezuelo, La Merced, La Viña to Tucumán. Between El Portezuelo and La Merced there are two roads. The old road is best for seeing Semiarid Chaco birds combining with the new road called Subida del Portezuelo to ascend to Ancasti Mountain. This road of 17km rises 1,000m through different levels of the forests and there is a spectacular view of the landscape of the Chaco area from the top of the road, at 1680m in El Alto del Portezuelo.

National Route 60 from Córdoba in San Martín has a diversion, to the right, with Route 33 to San Fernando de Catamarca. In the east Route 157 traverses the Santiago del Estero border and connects to Ancasti Mountain that has a good area of Mountain Chaco mixed with the last Yungas forests. Ancasti town and its environs is the best point of observation, with seriemas, chachalacas, tyrannids and furnarids. Most birds found here are atypical from normal Chaco bird of plain lands, being more similar to those living in Córdoba Mountain.

In the surrounding area there is a network of local roads connecting small communities and little dams such as Ipizca, Albigasta and Motegasta, which is little disturbed so attracts a diverse variety of aquatic birds. North of here is El Alto with Collagasta dam, Alijilan with La Cañada dam or Sumampa with a dam with the same name and a small level dam called Sauce Mayu. Others are too small to put in a map. When most riverbeds are dry in the plains, these same rivers in the mountains have permanent water. In the vicinity of San Fernando de Catamarca are situated El Jumeal dam and Las Pirquitas dam.

Some Chaco birds are: Tataupa, Elegant-crested, Brushland, Andean, Spotted & Darwin’s Tinamou, Least, Pied-billed & White-tufted Grebe, Neotropic Cormorant, Stripe-backed Bittern, Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Whistling & Striated Heron, Cattle, Snowy & Great Egret, Cocoi Heron, Maguari Stork, Buff-necked, Bare-faced & White-faced Ibis, Coscoroba Swan, Roseate Spoonbill, Southern Screamer, Fulvous Whistling-Duck, Southern Wigeon, Red Shoveler, Torrent and Ruddy Duck, White-faced & Black-bellied Whistling Duck, Crested Duck, Silver, Ringed, Blue-winged and Puna Teal, White-cheeked and Yellow-billed Pintail, Muscovy Duck, Rosy-billed Pochard, Speckled & Cinnamon Teals, Comb, Brazilian, Black-headed, Masked & Lake Duck, Andean & Chilean Flamingo, Turkey and Black Vulture, White-tailed Kite, Cinereous & Long-winged Harrier, Sharp-shinned and Bicolored Hawk, Crowned Solitary-Eagle, Savanna & Roadside Hawk, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Harris & White-tailed Hawk, Gray & Short-tailed Hawk, Variable Hawk, Southern Crested & Chimango Caracara, Spot-winged Falconet, American Kestrel, Bat & Aplomado Falcon, Peregrine Falcon, Chaco Chachalaca,, Red-legged & Black-legged Seriema, Limpkin, Plumbeous & Spotted Rail, Gray-necked Wood-Rail, Yellow-breasted, Ash-throated, Rufous-sided & Paint-billed Crake, Spot-flanked, Common & Purple Gallinule, Red-gartered, White-winged & Red-fronted Coot, Wattled Jacana, South American Painted-Snipe, Black-necked Stilt, Southern Lapwing, Collared, Golden and Upland Sandpiper, Greater, Lesser and Solitary Yellowlegs, South American Snipe, White-rumped, Baird’s, Pectoral and Stilt Sandpiper, Hudsonian Godwit, Wilson Phalarope, Gray-hooded, Brown-hooded and Andean Gull, Black Tern, Black Skimmers.

Picazuro Pigeon, Pale-vented & Spot-winged Pigeon, Eared Dove, Band-tailed Pigeon, Pale-vented Pigeon, Blue, Ruddy & Picui Ground-Dove, White-tipped and White-faced Dove, Mitred, Blue-crowned, Green-cheeked, White-eyed and Monk Parakeet, Scaly-headed Parrot, Turquoise-fronted Amazon, Yellow-billed, Ash-colored & Dark-billed Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Guira & Striped Cuckoo, Western Barn Owl, Tropical Screech-Owl, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl, Yungas Pygmy Owl, Great-horned Owl, Burrowing Owl, Rufous-legged & Striped Owl, Short-eared Owl, Chaco Owl, Common Potoo, Common & Nacunda Nighthawk, Band-winged, Little & Scissor-tailed Nightjar, Rothschild’s, Ashy-tailed, White-collared and Andean Swift, Sparkling and White-vented Violetear, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Gilded Sapphire, White-bellied Hummingbird, Red-tailed Comet, Blue-tufted Starthroat, Slender-tailed Woodstar, Ringed, Amazon & Green Kingfisher, Spot-backed Puffbird, White-barred Piculet, White, White-fronted, Checkered, Golden Green & Green-barred Woodpecker, Campo Flicker, Black-bodied & Cream-backed Woodpecker.

Scimitar-billed, Great Rufous and Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Red-billed Scythebill, Chaco and Scale-throated Earthcreeper, Cream-winged and White-winged Cinclodes, Rufous & Crested Hornero, Brown-capped, Tufted and Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, Sooty-fronted, Pale-breasted and Stripe-crowned Spinetail, Short-billed Canastero, Rufous-fronted, Little and Freckle-breasted Thornbird, Lark-like Brushrunner, Wren-like Rushbird, Firewood Gatherer, Brown Cacholote, Great and Variable Antshrike, White, Black-crowned, Rusty-backed and Salinas Monjita, Pied Water-Tyrant, White-winged Black-Tyrant, Cinereous Tyrant, Vermilion Flycatcher, Spectacled Tyrant, Yellow-browed & Cattle Tyrant, Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Tropical Kingbird, Variegated & Crowned Slaty-Flycatcher, Piratic Flycatcher, Streaked Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee, Swainson’s & Brown-crested Flycatcher, Rufous Casiornis, Tropical Pewee, Euler’s Flycatcher, Bran-colored Flycatcher, Clift Flycatcher, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant, White-crested & White-bellied Tyrannulet, Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, Sooty Tyrannulet, White-napped Xenopsaris, White-throated Tyrannulet, Large-billed, Small-billed and White-crested Elaenia, Southern Scrub & Suiriri Flycatcher, Southern Bearless-Tyrannulet.

Crested and Sandy Gallito, Olive-crowned Crescentchest, Green-backed, White-winged Becard and Crested Becard, White-tipped Plantcutter, White-rumped Swallow, Brown-chested, Gray-breasted and Southern Martin, Blue-and-White, Tawny-headed & Rough-winged Swallow, Bank Swallow, Grass Wren, House Wren, Chalk-browed & White-banded Mockingbird, Swainson’s, Rufous-bellied & Creamy-bellied Thrush, Masked Gnatcatcher, Rufous-collared, Grassland and Stripe-capped Sparrow, Black-crested Finch, Black-capped, Ringed & Black-and-Rufous Warbling-Finch, Pampa Finch, Grassland Yellow-Finch, Saffron Finch, Blue-Black & Dull-colored Grassquit, Double-collared Seedeater, Many-colored Chaco-Finch, Red Pileates-Finch, Red-crested & Yellow-billed Cardinal, Black-backed Grosbeak, Golden-billed & Grayish Saltator, Ultramarine Grosbeak, Blue-and-Yellow & Sayaca Tanager, Hepatic & Guira Tanager, Blue-hooded & Purple-throated Euphonia, Tropical Parula, Rufous-browed Pepper-Shrike, Red-eyed Vireo, Epaulet Oriole, Yellow-winged Blackbird, Chestnut-capped Blackbird, White-browed Blackbird, Long-tailed Meadowlark, Baywing, Screaming & Shiny Cowbird, Hooded Siskin, House Sparrow, Plush-crested Jay

Birding the Yungas

Some boundaries between Catamarca and Tucumán are made by high mountains such as Nevado del Aconquija and Sierra del Aconquija where, on the eastern slopes, the yungas hs developed through the action of the humid winds of the plains. Such forests also crosses the mountains, but in its western basin they are not so wide, because the climate is drier.

From the vicinity of Santa María to Aconquija, Singuil, Balcosna, Alijilán, El Alto, there are some forest island inside Catamarca territory that finish near Ancasti in the Ancasti Mountains, where Yungas is mixed with the Chaco Serrano. One interesting sector of yungas is by Route 65 between Concepción, in Tucumán, to Aconquija, called Cuesta del Clavillo, in the south of the province and a unique pass to Catamarca province by the cloud forests.

Some of the most interesting and sought-after birds of the Yungas are: Tataupa Tinamou, Neotropic Cormorant, Fasciated Tiger-Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Cocoi, Striated & Whistling Heron, Cattle, Great & Snowy Egret, Muscovy & Torrent Duck, Speckled Teal, Collared Plover, Black-necked Stilt, American Wood Stork, Grey-necked Wood-Rail, Greater Yellowlegs, Black, King, Lesser Yellow-headed & Turkey Vulture, Andean Condor, Hook-billed and Plumbeous Kite, Bicoloured & Crane Hawk, Great Black, Roadside, Rufous-thighed, Short-tailed & Sharp-shinned Hawk, Aplomado, Barred Forest & Peregrine Falcon, Crowned Solitary-Eagle, Black-and-Chestnut Eagle, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Southern Crested Caracara, American Kestrel, Dusty-legged Guan, Rufous-sided Crake, Sungrebe, Southern Lapwing, Band-tailed, Picazuro & Pale-vented Pigeon, Blue, Picui & Ruddy Ground-Dove, Eared, White-faced & White-tipped Dove, Green-cheeked, Mitred, White-eyed & Gray-hooded Parakeet, Scaly-headed Parrot, Tucuman and Turquoise-fronted Amazon, Dark-billed, Guira & Squirrel Cuckoo, Smooth-billed Ani, Western Barn Owl, Tropical, Middle American & Yungas Screech-Owl, Ferruginous, Andean & Yungas Pygmy-Owl, Spectacled & Buff-fronted Owl, Band-winged, Little & Scissor-tailed Nightjar, Ashy-tailed, Rothshild’s & White-collared Swift, Sparkling, Green & White-vented Violetear, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Blue-capped Puffleg, White-bellied Hummingbird, Red-tailed Comet, Blue-tufted Starthroat, Slender-tailed Woodstar, Gilded Sapphire, Amazon, Green & Ringed Kingfisher, Toco Toucan, White-barred Piculet, Cream-backed, Dot-fronted, Golden-green and Golden-Olive Woodpecker, Black-banded, Great Rufous, Narrow-billed & Olivaceous Woodcreeper, Azara’s, Sooty-fronted & Stripe-crowned Spinetail, Freckle-breasted, Rufous-fronted & Spot-breasted Thornbird, Buff-browed Foliage-Gleaner, Streaked Xenops, Giant, Great, Rufous-capped & Variable Antshrike, White-winged Black-Tyrant, Black Phoebe, Cream-winged and White-winged Cinclodes, Plumbeous & Yellow-browed Tyrant, Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, Easthern & Tropical Kingbird, Dusky-capped, Streaked, Swainson’s & Piratic Flycatcher, Rufous Casiornis, Tropical & Greater Pewee, Euler’s, Cinnamon, Bran-colored, Cliff and Yellow Olive Flycatcher, Pearly-vented Toddy-Tyrant, Mottled-cheeked & White-bellied Tyrannulet, Dinelli’s & Subtropical Doradito, White-throated Tyrannulet, Large, White-crested, Small-billed, Slaty, Highland & Greenish Elaenia, Smoke-colored Pewee, Southern Scrub Flycatcher, Mouse-colored and White-crested Tyrannulet, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, Sclater’s & Rough-legged Tyrannulet, Suiriri, Variegated & Brown-crested Flycatcher, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Green-backed, White-winged & Crested Becard, Bank, Cliff, White-winged, White-rumped, Tawny-headed, Rough-winged and Blue-and-White Swallow, Southern and Gray-breasted Martin, Mountain Wren, Rufous-throated Dipper, Swainson’s, Chiguanco, Andean Slaty, Rufous-bellied & Creamy-bellied Thrush, Masked Gnatcatcher, White-browed Tapaculo, Stripe-capped and Saffron-billed Sparrow, Rusty-browed & Black-capped Warbling-Finch, Stripe-tailed Yellow-Finch, Saffron Finch, Lined Seedeater, Dull-colored Grassquit, Double-collared Seedeater, Rusty-browed Warbling-Finch, Brown-capped Warbler, Yellow-striped Brush-Finch, Red Pileates-Finch, Red-crested Cardinal, Grayish & Golden-billed Saltator, Ultramarine and Black-backed Grosbeak, Common Bush Tanager, Guira, Hepatic, Sayaca, Rust-and-Yellow, Blue-and-Yellow & Fawn-breasted Tanager, Golden-rumped, Purple-throated & Blue-hooded Euphonia, Cinnamon-bellied Flower-Pierce, Tropical Parula, Masked Yellowthroat, Brown-capped Whitestart, Golden-crowned Warbler, Rufous-browed Pepper-Shrike, Red-eyed Vireo, Golden-winged Cacique, Epaulet Oriole, Baywing, Screaming & Shiny Cowbird, Hooded Siskin, Plush-crested Jay.

Top Sites

El Peinado Lagoon

El Peinado Lagoon is 40km west of Purulla Lagoon, at 4,100m.

La Alumbrera Lagoon

Satellite View

The lagoon is situated very near to Antofagasta de la Sierra, at 3,250m. It’s a saline water body nourished by Punilla River and is highlighted by the richness of the species and the exclusive environments, with emerging aquatic vegetation. It holds an important population of birds in winter, gathering regional species of aquatic birds in summer, both endemics and migrants.

Laguna Blanca Provincial Reserve

Laguna Blanca Provincial Reserve and Biosphere Site is located 110km north to El Eje, by road 43. The 900ha saline lagoon is good for three flamingos species, and the surrounding area has some rivers and other small water bodies, for coot, duck, Andean Gull, Andean Goose and others.

Laguna Grande Reserve

Satellite View

The reserve is east of Antofagasta de la Sierra, at 4,150m. It’s the area where Puna Flamingo has its greater summer concentration with more than 12,000 birds, almost the 20% of the whole species. Also each year many Andean Flamingo and Chilean Flamingo nest in the lagoon and there are many boreal migrants.

Paicuqui

Paicuqui is 17km from Antofagasta de la Sierra, is a vega with grasses near the Punilla River.

Purulla Lagoon

The lagoon lies 80km west of Laguna Blanca, at 3,694m, without proper roads, but some tracks. Many local drivers don’t need GPS to move around these deserts, they know it like the back of their hands. It’s surrounded by the 5,000m Cueros de Purulla Peak. It has an important colony of Andean Flamingo and flocks of migratory waders.

Salar del Hombre Muerto

Website

Satellite View

Salar del Hombre Muerto lies in the extensive salt flats located near the boundary with Salta, at 74km north Antofagasta de la Sierra by road 43.

Contributor

Juan Carlos Grasso

Córdoba, Argentina

jcgrasso@arnet.com.ar or juangrasso23@yahoo.com.ar

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 382

As at July 2016

Useful Reading

Birds of Argentina and Uruguay - A field guide

by Tito Narosky, Dario Yzurieta & Hector Rivarola (Illustrator), Marioano Moldes (Translator) - Paperback - 348 pages - 15th Edition - (May 2003) [The English translation of 1st edition by Maurice Earnshaw - Vazquez Mazzini Editores [This is the field guide to the area most often used by locals]

ISBN: 987913205X

Buy this book from NHBS.com

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Argentinean Birdwatching Guide

Tour Operator

Argentina is the eighth largest country in the world with many climate conditions and habitats. Currently its bird list exceeds 1050 species with 390 of them thriving in Central Region where I lived. This area is home for many endemic and endangered birds and from here there are many routes at the best points in the other provinces of our country. I’m Birding Guide and currently, I work as wildlife photographer, researching about our flora and fauna. Maybe I can help you planning your bird trip. I’m available anytime and surely, we will enjoy looking for birds.

Trogon Tours

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Trogon Tours is the official nature travel company of Birding Argentina, the leading birding and nature specialists for southern South America since 2001… Birding Trips are available to ALL provinces!

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CloudBirders

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CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

2015 [11 November] - Andrés Vásquez - Northwest Argentina

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...Northwest Argentina is an incredible place and a wonderful birding destination. It is one of those locations you feel like you are crossing through Wonderland when you drive along some of the most beautiful landscapes in South America adorned by dramatic rock formations and deep-blue lakes....