Continued from: Calilegua National Park Birding Trip Report

We started our drive towards J.V Gonzales and decided to follow the locals advice and took the shorter route going through secondary roads.  We used our GPS to guide us towards J.V Gonzales and had a nice but bumpy ride.

This road trip took us south-east moving away form the mountains and to lower flat land which had been converted to farmland.  This is a very hot and dry region known as El Chaco where many interesting bird species can be found.  This land has gone through extensive ecosystem destruction from farming cattle and soybeans.  The closer we got to J.V. Gonzales the greater the size of soybean farming fields and our expectations to see birds on this road trip had quickly died and turned into a boring flat-land ride.

Suddenly in the middle of the soybean fields there was a group of Lesser Rheas Greater Rheas (thanks Ian) that were approaching the road.  We stopped and observed this first group of adult Rheas that seemed quite comfortable with us and the road traffic.  I got a couple of nice pictures of these huge birds in the middle of the soybean fields.

Lesser Rhea Lesser Rheas Greater Rheas (thanks Ian)

Lesser Rhea Adult

Moments later we spotted a second group of 20 adult and young Rheas running across the field.  This was an exciting moment that we had not expected in this long and boring stretch of farming roads.  In this area we also found Black-capped Warbling Finch, White-tailed Hawk, Savana Hawk, and masked Gnatcacher that had moved-in for a closer look at all the excitement.

Black-capped Warbling-FinchBlack-capped Warbling Finch

We arrived to our final destination and spent some time looking for a place to stay since most of the hotels where filled up!  We arrived at the beginning of soybean harvesting season and this draws many people to this area.  As soon as we had our sleeping arrangements we drove north-east on the very dusty farming road 41.

This dirt road was the soybean truck-nightmare; about every 10 minutes we had large double-trailer trucks filled with soybeans drive very fast and raise a huge dust cloud that took another 5 minutes to settle.  These were less than ideal bird-watching conditions so we drove up the road and got out of the car when the dust settled.

The soybean fields were crawling with large farming machinery which also raised a lot of dust so we spent a lot of time getting in and out of the car and raising and lowering our windows to try to see the new birds.  We managed to get a few new birds as the truck traffic slowed down and the sun started to set in the horizon.  The first views of a Brown Cachalote made up for all of the dust sucking experience.

Brown CachaloteBrown Cachalote

We finished our first day of Chaco birding experience full of dust and with a short new list of birds including Brown-crested Flycatcher, Chaco Chachalaca, Creamy-belly Thrush, Great Pampa Finch, Many-colored Chaco Finch, Monk Parakeet, Red-crested Finch, Saffron Yellow-Finch, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Vermillion flycatcher, White-banded mockingbird, and White Monjita!

White-banded MockingbirdWhite-banded Mockingbird

White MonjitaWhite Monjita

Red-crested FinchRed-crested Finch

Chaco ChachalacaChaco Chachalaca

After a good shower we headed for the local diner where all of the rich soybean farmers gathered to eat, drink, and tell stories about their big profits, and soybean crops.  Believe it or not this local diner was in the local gas station which had a large kitchen attached.  The food was good and we even had wifi internet service.

Next morning arrived and we decided to avoid this dusty road at all cost!  It had already cost me too much since a small pebble hit the windshield and cracked it!  So we looked for smaller dirt roads around the town and found a little back-road that headed east though some farms.  It was not a good road but we managed to explore some of the local small farms that were not into the huge soybean market.

My first heat thumping experience came when I saw the Crested Hornero. This Chaco ecosystem has very bushy and thorny trees and seem like many of the birds here have grown these crests to better blend in with the surrounding thorny vegetation. I was looking forward to seeing these birds and the previous day we saw the Brown Cachalote which also had a crest.  Now the plain colored Hornero with a crest was a lot prettier than any of the previous Horneros I had seen.

Crested HorneroCrested Hornero

Crested Hornero

Got my second thumping experience with the first views of the Lark-like Bushrunner! Another crested bird adding to my collection.  To top it all a cute couple posed for the photo shoot!

Lark-like BushrunnerLark-like Bushrunner

Lark-like BushrunnerThe cute couple!

My third crested bird-thumping experience was the Red-crested Cardinal. Wow!  It is always good to see the bird in the first page of the book that you are using.  His red crest made huge impression in my mind and created great contrast with everything around us which was mostly brown and dusty.

Red-crested CardinalRed-crested Cardinal

The back-road trip was good and much more peaceful. We added a few more new birds to the list which included: Aplomado Falcon, Black-crowned Monjita, Epaule Oriole, Gian Antrshrike, Great-black Hawk, Green-barred Woodpecker, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Picazuro Pigeon, Rufous Capped Spinetail Rufous-fronted Thornbird (thanks Ian), Pearly-vented Toddy Tyrant, Saffron Yellow Finch, Screaming Cowbird, Turquoise-fronted Parrot, Whistling heron, White-banded Mockingbird, and again the White Monjita.

Black-crowned MonjitaBlack-crowned Monjita

Great-black HawkGreat-black Hawk

Pearly-vented Tody-TyrantPearly-vented Tody Tyrant

Rufous-capped SpinetailRufous-capped spinetail Rufoud-fronted Thornbird (Thanks Ian)

Unfortunately we had a long drive to Tucuman Airport so we had to cut-short our dusty birding experience to begin our last road trip for a flight to Buenos Aires. . The drive back to Tucuman was uneventful and thanks to our trusty GPS we were never lost for very long.

We had been birding the north-west side of Argentina for 7 days and drove more than 3,000 km.  This was the first part of our birding trip to Argentina and it was coming to an end.  We have great memories of this trip and for those who want to jump back in time here is a link to all the previous Trip Reports as a SUMMARY:

* This  is how this trip was planned

* We started with a cheap flight to Santiago de Chile and birding around Farellones:

* Enjoyed the birding around Santiago de Chile for a couple of days including La Campana National Park, Montemar Reñaca, and birding the Rio Maipo river mouth:

* Then we took the night bus to Mendoza and visited a local winery and birded in the mountains, then we took another night bus to Tucuman and birded Tafil del Valle.

* We drove north crossing the Calchaqui Valleys:

* We drove north reaching the wine production area of Cafayete, crossing the beautiful Quebrada de las Flechas and reaching the remote and rustic town of Cachi:

* Further north crossing Los Cardones national park and driving past Salta to Yala:

* Spent the whole day at Potreros de Yala and drove north:

* A lot of driving north past the beautiful Humauaca Valley to reach the northern Argentina highlands of Abra Pampa:

* Spent a day driving at or above 4000 masl around Laguna de los Pozuelos National Park and then heading south to Calilegua.

Two days of birding in the yungas forest of Calilegua National Park

And finally heading south east for a little Chaco ecosystem birding… This post!

Next adventure a little R&R and birding in Buenos Aires….

Written by Renato
Renato was born in Quito, Ecuador and quickly flew to the USA to learn all about engineering and climbing company ladders. After getting his engineering degree from the University of Minnesota he worked in the Standard-American-Rat-Race-Company for fifteen years. After climbing the ladder to where he could no longer see the ground, he decided to jump off the ladder and migrate south like all normal birds do. To his surprise home did not look like it did when he left as a young fledgling; the towns were bigger, most of his friends had nests of their own, and the countryside was changed. Shocked by all the change he searched for a new life and a new wife. He stumbled across a vivacious young chick who would accompany him inside a volcanic crater to set up a love nest. So, after eight years of nesting inside the crater a new love for nature and birds has sprung a career in environmental conservation and birding tours. Finally this bird has come home to roost!