Lark-like Bushrunner Coryphsitera alaudina ©James Lowen Website
Birding Chaco

Birding In The Southeastern Chaco Region

In Argentina, the northeastern and central boundaries of the Pampas are typically delimited by the phyto-geographical regions 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 close by 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 for crops and cattle grazing 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 characteristic that gives the scientific name to the whole area.

As if to get us tuned in, our arrival was greeted by a couple of White Woodpeckers that flew low and very close to our car. While driving along a mudroad leading to the estancia, in several adjacent fields we heard Spotted Tinamous calling. Overhead several Chimango Caracaras were circling while farther away we could see, with the help of our binoculars, 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 wire fences along the road would fly when our car came too close to them just to perch back on the fence a few yards farther away as if inviting us to catch up with them so as to start the game over again. 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 where I could hear some Brown Chachalates 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 our heads. They allowed us to look at them so close that binoculars simply were unnecessary. While walking along the trail, quite often we would put up Rufous-collared Sparrows, a bird we found 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 branch close by. A Great Kiskadee was resting there too, as well as a couple of Rufous Horneros. I first heard and then saw a Glaucus-blue Grosbeak, quite a common bird in this area unfortunately very much sought after by trespassing bird-trappers as is the Yellow Cardinal which has become a very rare bird in the area. A bit farther away we discovered several Eared Doves sitting concealed yet in a ready-to-fly stance. This proved to be a fine tree for birds. 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 edge, tame enough to allow us to look them over very well.

Most of the group decided to take a dip in the warm water while 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 picking at the seeds in a panicle 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 outstretched, drying them before going back to dive fishing 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 Ferruginous Pigmy-Owl calling. We all went to look for it and found it sitting on a branch in a tree calling quite often ignoring the light from our flash lights, showing very well.

The next morning, while sitting in the shade of a tree, I saw several Spotted Tinamous that came out onto the road quite close to me. Another bird seen there was the Lark-like Brushrunner and a White Monjita too. Meanwhile some of us we went riding across several fields and following trails arriving at 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, loping 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 a Eucalyptus tree we discovered a Chequered Woodpecker soon joined by another. 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 blossoming 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 birdcall tapes, 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 signalling to the rest, we managed to have a very good look at it. Quite close 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, one of us 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. We saw Sayaca Tanagers, Rufous-bellied and Creamy-bellied Thrushes and Golden-billed Saltators. Although it looked like food was plentiful, 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 also 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. 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 two of the party to look at it. It was a Hepatic Tanager male soon joined by its yellow-coloured female. While driving back, we went past a wire fence 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, I noticed quite a large grey bird flattening itself against the bare soil. 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 merge with it. It was a Nacunda Nighthawk, one of the largest of its family. Quite a sight as later, after sunset, while travelling through the open fields, in the dim 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 a few miles I saw a large Red-winged Tinamou crossing the road. I was very lucky as I stopped the car right at the place the Red-winged Tinamou stood as if waiting for us. Then the Tinamou decided to take off and flew over a wire fence landing in 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 tailless body with outstanding red primaries on the wings. A great sighting indeed! I have made a birds list for just this estancia which has over 100 different birds species.

  • Sergio Corbet


Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 476

    (As at May 2019)

Abbreviations Key

  • NP Chaco National Park

    InformationSatellite View
    This park is a protected area for the quebracho trees. Forests of quebracho colorado chaqueño (Schinopsis balansae) were once located in the north of Santa Fe and the western half of Chaco, and had entered the northeast region of the province of Corrientes. Its strong wood and its abundant tannin caused it to be over-exploited for a century….
  • NP WII Río Pilcomayo National Park

    InformationSatellite View
    Established to protect the natural features (grasslands, marshes, creeks, lakes and forests), typical of the Humid Chaco ecoregion, the park is included in the Ramsar Convention's list of wetlands of international importance. Aquatic environments are inhabited by storks, herons, roseate spoonbills and ducks. There are two caiman species: the broad-snouted caiman and the yacare caiman.
  • NR Reserva Natural Estricta Colonia Benítez

    WebpageSatellite View
    The Colonia Benítez Educational Natural Reserve is located in the southeast of the province of Chaco. It has an area of 8 hectares in which a representative portion of the Chaco Humo ecoregion is protected.
Guides & Tour Operators
  • Trogon Tours

    Tour Operator
    Trogon Tours is the official nature travel company of Birding Argentina, the leading birding and nature specialists for southern South America since 2001
Trip Reports
  • 2015 [11 November] - Andrés Vásquez - Northwest Argentina

    PDF Report
    ...This trip combines a large amount of quite contrasting environments and ecosystems, from the lush humid Yungas cloud forest to dry high Altiplano and Puna, stopping at various lakes and wetlands on various altitudes and ending on the drier upper Chaco forest...

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