Northwest Argentina: Jujuy birding route and Salta’s Monte Desert Tour Overview
14 Day Argentina Birding Tour. This tour takes you to the Jujuy birding route and Salta’s Monte Desert with birding opportunities in diverse habitats. Not only will we experience great birds but this is also home to some diverse fauna and flora with an abundance of unique mammals and butterflies
Full Itinerary – Argentina Birding Tour (Northwest Argentina: Jujuy birding route and Salta’s Monte Desert Tour)
Start of tour in Jujuy, birding in and around Ecoportal
Welcome to Argentina! Your tour starts with a 2 hour+ flight connection to Jujuy airport from Buenos Aires will take us to this exciting and extremely diverse region of Argentina. After meeting with the tour leader and local guide, we will travel northwards to our first birding destination: Eco-portal de Piedra. This nice accommodation with its own private reserve is located at the foothill of the Sierra de Santa Bárbara, a small mountain where two types of forest can be found at their best: Sierran Chaco Forest (semi-humid forest) and Tucumano-Boliviano Forest (locally called “Yungas”), a subtropical humid forest which is one of the most bio-diverse habitats in Argentina.
The bird fauna of this place, off the beaten path, is very diverse and the first chances of seeing Andean Condors in this tour are right here, as well as another remarkable “new world’s” vulture: the King Vulture. This is one of the best places for watching both species, which can be seen together at times, soaring over the subtropical forest.
An interesting mix of Chaco related species (such as Chaco Puffbird and Chaco Chachalaca) with Yungas species (such as Tucuman Parrot, Large-tailed Dove, Golden-olive Woodpecker and Yungas Guan), as well as the beautiful landscape, are some of the main attractions of the area. At least two Argentine endemic birds are found in this private reserve: Yellow-striped Brush-Finch and the skulking White-browed Tapaculo, from the “santabarbaerae” subspecies (which is only found in this mountain). Many species of scarce raptors are often seen here, such as the White-rumped Hawk, Zone-tailed Hawk, Rufous-thighed Kite, and Collared Forest-Falcon, although the rare Black-and-chestnut Eagle and Orange-breasted Falcon are the reserve’s highlights, with breeding pairs living within it.
Other attractive species in the area include Red-tailed Comet, Toco Toucan, Cream-backed Woodpecker and Yellow-collared Macaw. In the evening, we will try to spot some of the many interesting nocturnal species that live in the reserve, such as Black-banded Owl, Spectacled Owl, Buff-fronted Owl and Montane Forest Screech-Owl.
From the Eco-portal area we will make a full day trip to visit the Dry Chaco Forest of La Unión, in the province of Salta, in order to have good chances of seeing some of the specialties of that habitat, such as Black-legged Seriema, Many-colored Chaco-Finch, Crested Hornero and the rare Quebracho Crested-Tinamou; and a half day trip to El Fuerte area (in the heart of the Sierra de Santa Bárbara) to look for Huayco Tinamou, Olive-crowned Crescentchest and the stunning Red-legged Seriema.
From Ecoportal to Calilegua National Park
After Ecoportal de Piedra we will travel westwards, making a few birding stops along the way, to finally get to one of the best-preserved protected areas in northwest Argentina: Calilegua National Park. Calilegua is a great natural area with different layers of Tucumano-Boliviano Forest. There we will be looking for more specialties of this habitat, such as the White-throated Antpitta (another skulking target of the trip) and the scarce Yungas Pygmy-Owl, or the more common Fulvous-headed Brush-Finch, Spot-breasted Thornbird and a recently found species for Argentina: Yungas Manakin (far easier to hear than to spot, but we will do our best to increase our chances).
Other attractive birds to look for include Solitary Eagle, Amazonian Motmot, Blue-crowned Trogon, Speckled Hummingbird, Slender-tailed Woodstar, and the “cinerea” subspecies of Giant Antshrike. Recent records of Harpy Eagle make the experience of birding in Calilegua National Park even more exciting.
From Calilegua National Park to Potrero de Yala Provincial Park
Our following destination is Potrero de Yala Provincial Park. This strategic birding area will give us the best chances of finding some of the most attractive birds of the region: Torrent Duck, Red-faced Guan, Rufous-throated Dipper and Lyre-tailed Nightjar, as well as the Black-and-chestnut Eagle, which is often seen soaring in the area.
Other attractive birds to look for in this reserve include Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, Highland Elaenia and Zimmer’s Tapaculo, among many others.
From Potrero de Yala Provincial Park to Quebrada de Humahuaca valley
We will now start climbing up the Andes to a higher elevation, with our first birding stop in the surroundings of Volcan, a town located at the beginning of the Quebrada de Humahuaca (UNESCO World Heritage site). Here we will be looking for Yungas Sparrow and we will have our first chances for Subtropical Doradito (during Austral summer) and Patagonian Mockingbird. A bit higher in elevation we will start getting into the Pre-Puna Desert ecoregion, where we will look for the endemic Bare-eyed (or Moreno’s) Ground Dove, and other special birds such as the White-tipped Plantcutter, Gray-hooded Parakeet, Creamy-breasted Canastero, Brown-backed Mockingbird, Black-hooded Sierra-Finch, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant and (especially when the cacti are blooming) the world’s largest hummer: Giant Hummingbird.
From Quebrada de Humahuaca valley to La Quiaca
Continuing our way north and climbing up the Andes we will see the scrubland turn into a vast steppe, as we enter the Puna ecoregion. The Puna has many bird specialties, and its dry plains have scattered lagoons and marshes where plenty of aquatic birds are found, including three species of flamingos: Chilean, Andean and James’s. This is a land with lots of “puna” and “andean” birds, such as the Puna Rhea (recent split from Lesser Rhea), Puna Tinamou, Andean Tinamou, Puna Ibis, Puna Teal, Andean Goose, Andean Coot, Andean Avocet, Andean Lapwing, Puna Plover, Andean Gull, Andean Swift, Andean Hillstar, Andean Flicker, Puna Miner, Puna Canastero, Andean Negrito and more, that will be our target species while we delight our eyes with some of the most incredible landscapes.
The South American high altitude wetlands host one of the most diverse waterfowl repertoires of the continent, and we will be looking for them including Crested Ducks, Yellow-billed Pintails and Teals, plus other species such as the Andean (Silvery) Grebe.
Among the most remarkable birds in this area are the Giant and Horned Coots, two species of large and (the second one) scarce species only found in this part of South America. Visiting the Natural Monument “Laguna de los Pozuelos” we will increase our chances of finding all these species, although the abundance of aquatic birds will very much depend on the time of the year (and the amount of rain during the rainy season).
The Puna is also surprisingly diverse in some groups of birds such as the yellow-finches: Olive Yellow-Finch, Puna Yellow-Finch and Bright-rumped Yellow-Finch can be common in some areas and even towns. The rocky valleys host many interesting species such as Rock and Straight-billed Earthcreepers, and the flat plains are especially good to look for Least Seedsnipe, Golden-spotted Ground Dove, Ornate Tinamou and the regionally very scarce Darwin’s Nothura.
Further north, we will visit the small village of Yavi. This beautiful place is in a narrow valley that comes down from Bolivia (which is only a few kilometers away) and host species that are only found in this remote part of the Country. These include the Wedge-tailed Hillstar, Citron-headed Yellow-Finch and Bare-faced Ground-Dove. Other attractive birds to look for in Yavi surroundings are the White-winged Cinclodes, Streak-fronted Thornbird and the rare Tawny Tit-Spinetail.
From the small village Yavi to Salta city
Finally, we will go across the heights of Abra del Lizoite (located at 4600 metres above sea level) in the High Andes ecoregion, looking for some very rewarding specialties such as the Red-backed Sierra-Finch and the very scarce Diademed Sandpiper-plover, as well as many other species such as Slender-billed Miner, Puna Tinamou, Puna Ground-Tyrant, Puna Canastero and more. This is the furthest north spot visited in this itinerary, and from this place we will start traveling southwards to Salta city, making a few stops along the way to have a second chance with possible missing targets.
Salta City to Cafayate
Cafayate is known for the quality of its wines, that have been produced locally for hundreds of years. The most local varietal of the Calchaqui Valleys is the Torrontes (a white wine distinguished by its intense aroma and fruity flavor), but other kinds cultivated in the area include Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and Tannat. During this extension we have the optional opportunity of visiting some of the most traditional vineyards (or even stay in one) and tasting their world-famous wines to slow down the birding pace and enjoy a bit of quality lifestyle celebrating our successful tour.
From Cafayate to Salta City
On the way back to Salta city we will make a detour to visit Cuesta del Obispo, a road that climbs up the mountain going across different gradients of vegetation. This will allow us to have one last chance for some species that can be tricky, such as Tucuman Mountain-Finch and Olive-backed Crescentchest.
Salta airport for departure flight
During the last morning in Salta city, it is advisable to make an optional short visit to the Archaeological Museum of High Mountain. Despite its small size, its impressively well-preserved collection (and the way it is displayed) makes it one of the most attractive archaeological museums in South America.
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