We visited the southern part of Chile, notably Chiloe Island and Puerto Montt, for seven days on our way back to Australia from Brazil. We had previously birded northern and central Chile as far south as Talca, so we were missing a number of species found further south. Unfortunately time precluded going further south. Inspired largely by Ian Merrills’s excellent 2011 trip report, we decided to concentrate largely on Chiloe Island where most of our target species could be found. We saw 14 new species, most of our targets.
For forward planning and help during the trip the most useful trip report was Ian Merrill (2011) – and the most detailed. 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. In addition we used a GPS system.
We flew into Santiago, Chile from Rio de Janeiro, arriving at 1930 hrs, connecting with a domestic flight to Puerto Montt arriving at 2230. We had pre-booked a car from Avis which we collected at the airport without any problems. The vehicle was a two-wheel drive Citroen which was adequate for all the roads we travelled although was not a good performer on rough dirt roads! We stayed the first night in Puerto Montt. Following the advice in Ian Merrill’s trip report, we had pre-booked the Hostal Lluhay in Ancud on Chiloe Island, for the remainder of the trip. People everywhere were very helpful and pleasant and Tessa’s fluency in Spanish was a definite asset in all aspects of the trip.
20 February 2015 Puerto Montt Airport to Puerto Montt
Clear of airport by about 2300 – The Avis representative kindly drove ahead of us to show us the way to central Puerto Montt. Unwisely – it was a holiday period - we had not booked ahead and starting with the Holiday Inn we spent an hour checking for a room until we found the reasonable Hotel Torremolinos which had a room available.
21 February 2015 Puerto Montt to Ancud
After an early breakfast, a straightforward drive down the highway to Pargua where the roll-on-roll-off ferries depart for Chiloe Island. These seem to operate almost continuously. The crossing took about 30 minutes and the sea at this time was very calm. Although there was no sign of the storm petrel we did record two new species: South American Tern and Imperial Cormorant. Other notable species were Red-legged Cormorant, Peruvian Pelican and large flocks of Sooty Shearwaters. The ferry arrives at Chacao from where it was an easy 30 minute drive to Ancud. After some asking of directions, we arrived at Hostal Lluhay (highly recommended) at about 10 am and received a very warm welcome from the proprietors and a late breakfast. After settling into our room with views over the bay, we headed west for the Punihuil penguin colony. This was easy to find – the road ended at a sandy beach along which it was possible to drive and park in front of the restaurant and tour kiosks. At this time of year the local fishermen run boat trips around the penguin colonies. This was highly organised and it was not long before we were in a boat getting very close to both Magellanic (one of our targets) and Humboldt Penguins. We were also treated to close up views of two more target species: Kelp Goose and Flightless Steamer Ducks. Other species noted: Dark-bellied Cinclodes and Black-faced Ibis, as well as Marine Otters. After a great seafood lunch in the restaurant overlooking the bay, we returned to Ancud via Chepu, This loop road was a bit rough, but Snowy-crowned Terns had been seen in a freshwater area near the coast here (Merrill, 2011). We could not find any terns, but logged two more of our targets: Patagonian Sierra Finch and Slender-billed Parakeets. The parakeets were abundant and in large noisy flocks.
After returning to Hostal Lluhay we spent some time scanning the rocky beach in front of the hostal and old fort and picked up Rock Cormorant and Magellanic Oystercatcher. Other species seen here included Blackish Oystercatcher and Yellow-billed Pintail. Following in the steps of other birders we had dinner at the excellent “La Picoya” restaurant. At this time of year it was light until quite late and we recorded Black-crowned Night-Heron (very dark coloured), Plumbeous Rail, Whimbrel and Ruddy Turnstone on the beach in front of the restaurant.
22 February 2015 Castro and Cucao road
Took the man Route 5 down to Castro. First stop was at the estuary east of the road going into Castro. Large numbers of Hudsonian Godwit (target species) were scoped on the mudflats along with a smattering of Lesser Yellowlegs. After a fruitless search for an open coffee shop – it was a Sunday, we set off west down the road to Cucao. This passes through patches of remnant natural forest interspersed with farmland and small settlements. Stopping at what seemed the best patch, about two thirds of the way to Cucau, we turned on the ipod and soon had a Des Murs’ Wiretail (target species) up close – a real treat. Eventually discovered a ‘path’ going into old growth forest and the tape again came up trumps giving us short views of another target – Black-throated Huet-Huet. The call of this species also attracted Chucao Tapaculo, which we had seen further north on a previous trip at Altos de Lircay. These birds were so attracted by the Huet-Huet call that they were virtually crawling and jumping over our feet. Magellanic Tapaculos also joined in. Other species common along the roadside in this area were Patagonian Sierra Finch and Green-backed Firecrown. We drove down to Cucao, but as there was an indigenous festival in progress and many people, we only stopped for refreshment at a café before returning to Ancud.
23 February 2015 Senda Darwin Biological Station, Caulin beach & Ancud
Following the advice in Ian Merrill’s trip report we headed for the Senda Darwin Biological Station located about halfway between Ancud and Chacao. The station is well sign-posted, but there was nobody in residence in the office. We eventually located the entrance road to the visitor car-park just on the Ancud side of the office complex. From the car-park a trail leads across a small wetland and up through a patch of forest to a grassland area. There is a small museum at the top of the path up the slope, but we could find no-one to check in with. Following the trail past the museum and paddock with sheep you come to the visitor quarters. Again no sign of life! We followed a well-marked trail into the forest, this turned out to be a loop. Birding was quite good and we recorded Magellanic Tapaculo, Chucao Tapaculo, Thorntail Rayadito, Patagonian Sierra Finch, White-crested Elaenia, Austral Thrush and Austral Blackbird. No sign of our target – Ochre-flanked Tapaculo. Leaving the Station we headed north to Caulin Beach. Many birds on the mudflats, most of the common ducks and gulls as well as Black Skimmer and Hudsonian Godwits. Mid-afternoon and we returned to Hostal Lluhay. The proprietor suggested we visit a wetland just south of Ancud. This is located to the left off the southbound Route 5, before leaving the built-up area. A dirt road leads down to the coast and meanders southwards. It crosses a bund with a wetland on one side. A good selection of birds were present including Cocoi Heron, Chiloe Wigeon, Yellow-billed Pintail, White-tufted Grebe, Hudsonian Godwit, Lesser Yellowlegs, Rufous Plantcutter, Greenback Firecrown, White-crested Elaenia and Grassland Yellowfinch.
24 February 2015 Caulin beach and bay & Senda Darwin
We returned to the Ancud wetland first thing and added Red Shoveller, South American Snipe, Greater Yellowlegs, Ringed Kingfisher and White-cheeked Pintail to the list. From here we returned to Senda Darwin for another attempt for the Ochre-flanked Tapaculo. Finally we got glimpses of the target Ochre-flanked Tapaculo on the forest loop-trail, but it was hard work! In the afternoon another visit to Caulin Bay where American Pied Oystercatcher, Franklins Gull and Black-necked Stilt were added to the list. There were also flocks of many hundreds of Black Skimmers.
After returning to Hostal Lluhay, while scoping the sea from our bedroom window, located a Chilean Skua (target species) flying past, before heading for “La Pincoya” and much needed Cristals.
25 February 2015 Ferry crossing, Calbuco & Puerto Varas
Using the resources of the internet it was evident that recent sightings of Snowy-crowned Tern were all on the mainland, so we reluctantly decided to cut short the trip on Chiloe and return to the Puerto Montt area. The ferry crossing was uneventful and with few birds. We drove down to Calbuco and searched the estuary and adjacent coats for this elusive tern, but to no avail! We did add Burrowing Parrot to the list in this area. After a pleasant seafood lunch in Calbuco, we headed for Puerto Varas. This turned out to be a rather crowded resort town with a magnificent backdrop of snow-capped peaks. Stayed the night at xxxxxx and booked ahead by telephone for the next night at the Hostal Pacifico in Puerto Montt.
26 February 2015 Puerto Montt area
Drove to Puerto Montt and checked into the Hostal Pacifico – highly recommended. Spent the rest of the morning searching the rocky shores in front of and east of Puerto Montt. A road runs along the coast, eventually deteriorating into a track and finally re-joining Route 7. We were elated to find a group of five Rufous-chested Dotterels, another of our target species, foraging among the rocks close to the tide line. Magellanic Oystercatchers were common in this area. Shortly after joining the main road (Route 7) we found a small restaurant with excellent empanadas for lunch!
27 February 2015 Puerto Montt and departure
Drove to the airport and caught domestic flight to Santiago and thence on to Australia.
Chiloe Island proved to be excellent and productive stop-over. Our next visit to Chile will be to the far south!