SANTA CRUZ (SW)
50o20´S/72o15´W ha Patagonian mountainous step with lakes and in higher mountains glaciers. 300-4929msl
Austral summer (January)
Birding Site Guide
There are several ways to reach this remote tourist town, the best way is probably to fly in and then take a minibus taxi 18km into town. It is also easy to access by road, long haul luxury buses are a cheap option.
In town there are a great many places to stay including many hostels, however these vary in quality and price and some are not located close to the main street. Check on the internet in advance and also book well in advance if you plan to visit during the peak season of the austral summer. There is internet access and several cash machines.
There are many excellent places to bird even in town and the ticks should soon start coming. A particularly good place to start is a round the main lagoon, Lago Argentino, on the edge of town, which is the largest lake in Argentina and third largest in South America. It has a surface area of around 600 square miles, it is 37 miles long and up to 12 miles wide. It's 300m above sea level and it's between 30 and 1,000m deep.
Here large numbers of water birds including Chilean Flamingo can be found, and the grass margins at the edges should be checked for Ground-Tyrants and Austral Negrito etc. The road out of town towards the Los Glaciers National Park is very productive too, and a whole day could be spent, with the use of a car, birding from town towards the mountains. The roadside scrub can produce such species as Patagonian Mockingbird and Austral Thrush. Look for Cinereous Harrier anywhere along the way, they are fairly common but often stay very low to the ground so can be difficult to pick out against the background. Approaching the mountains as the day warms up is a good place to catch a rising Andean Condor.
At the Los Glaciers NP as well as seeing the awesome Perito Moreno Glacier there is a great variety of birdlife, although not always abundant, patience should produce a good species list in a day. This is an excellent place to see the spectacular Magellanic Woodpecker, Austral Pygmy Owls are fairly common, and Fire-eyed Duicon can be found in scrubbier areas. Rufous-tailed Plantcutter can be found along the roadside, as can Mourning Sierra-Finch and Yellow-bridled Finch. Along the lake shore look for water birds such as Chileo Wigeon, Spectacled Duck, Upland Goose, Black-necked Swan, Red Shoveler and Coscoroba Swan.
Hooded Grebe is obviously a sought after species in this area, though finding a reliable site is not easy unless you are prepared to pay quite a lot of money for a specialist guide and vehicle. There are some sites on the Strobel Plataeu and others elsewhere, the key feature being ponds with dominant areas of Red Milfoil pond weed, which these birds favour. One area that is easy to find and accessible without the need for a guide is Lagunas de los Escarchados, where the species was first discovered in the '70s. The lake is 62km to the S of town and is reached after the road has climbed a massive 500m escarpment. At the top of the escarpment just before the road turns onto the plateaux, there is a viewing area, after the bend a small lake is visible, but you need to drive a little further to the second lake that is visible (2-3km from bend) which is partly obscured by hills. Park as near opposite to the lake as possible and be prepared for a round trip walk of at least 6km, distance is deceptive here (GPS recommended), but so is the habitat. There are many sought after species concealed in the grass and along the lake shore, not least Magellanic Plover. Common Miner is readily found and with a bit of luck, Chocolate-vented and Cinnamon-bellied Ground-Tyrants should be found. Grey-breasted and Least Seedsnipe are readily found in their slightly different habitats. Lesser Rhea is about in small numbers, however most of the brown grey forms seen moving in the distance will be Guanacos. Unfortunately the grebes are erratic in occurrence and can be at one site one year but not the next, depending on the extent the lake margin where the weed they favour grows has dried up. On my visit there were none and it was blowing such a gale it was difficult to stand up but I only had these few hours of chance to look for the grebe.
PATAGONIA BENES (Biome Endemics and Near-Endemics list) and SOUTHERN ANDES BENES (Biome Endemics and Near-Endemics list)