DEFENSORS del CHACO NATIONAL PARK
ALTO PARAGUAY (Nc)
20o13’S60o27’W 780,000ha 530m flat high chaco
Protected/registered status National park
Best Time for visit (time visited)
Birding Site Guide
On a recent tour by Paul Smith, includes some species seen at Enciso National Park.
A last chance to pick up Chaco birds before heading off to eastern Paraguay. En route we were watching a flock of Golden-collared Macaws when they were suddenly scattered by a Bicoloured Hawk that remained perched for several minutes after failing to catch one of them. In an adjacent tree we were surprised to find a pair of Grey-headed Kite sitting quietly. Within the NPs we managed to find Chaco species that had previously evaded us such as Greater Wagtail-tyrant, Southern Scrub-flycatcher, Pale-crested Woodpecker, White-lored Spinetail, Stripe-crowned Spinetail, Short-billed Canastero, Bolivian Slaty Antshrike and Black-crested Finch. Highlights included Chaco Owl, a Zone-tailed Hawk eating a lizard in flight and a male White-winged Black-tyrant. Quebracho Crested-tinamou was heard but could not be found in the dense vegetation.
BSG September-November (May 2005)
This is a difficult and seemingly little visited area for birders. I was the first birder the park staff I spoke to had seen! The excellent and free visitor accommodation had been built 3 months, but we were the first people to use it. This national park is remote and you will need a 4 wheel drive and some emergency backup (a second vehicle, radios, satellite phone) to visit. You will also have to carry enough fuel to cover at least 750km. Most tour companies will not take you here, but try Paul Smith (see foot of this page) or Age Tour or DTP in Asunción, who might be able to tailor a tour for you (weather dependent). Even tailored tours are relatively cheap in Paraguay, for a small group expect to pay US$1-200 each. The other far more difficult option is to take a hire car and do your own planning, but if the weather turns wet you could end up in big trouble with no one able to reach you. There is an airstrip at the park administration, and if you have enough money you may be able to fly from Asunción.
I dropped lucky, as Age tour also service weather stations thru-out the country, and there is one close to the national park which they were servicing the next day. I paid US$120 for being taken to the head-quarters and birding a day and night, but note there was only room for the 2 technicians and me in the pickup, not a group. From Asunción go north on Route 9. Carry on past the turning for Filadelfia (450km) on the tarmac road for a further 218km until you reach a large army base (Fort Tte. 10 Espínola) on the left. Pull in at the guardhouse and inform the soldiers of your visit and duration and get directions and advice on the state of the road; they will probably want to see you passport too). If you do get into difficulties the army is your best option for help, virtually no-one travels these roads except the very occasional army vehicle between the army posts. The first turning onto dirt roads is across the road from the army base, the road is very dusty, or worse slippery sticky mud even after light rain, it is in parts very rough. Drive along this road for 100km to the first army post (Dest. de Trans. N02 Tte. 10 Américo Picco) you will see some derelict farm buildings and a house where one or a few soldiers will be. Again show your documents and ask for advice and directions. Continue thru here for another 80??km until you reach the second army post, repeat procedure and continue following their directions for around 80km. This last section is narrow rough and overgrown with 2 dangerous sleeper bridges concealed in the long grass which you will have to be guided across by someone, look for where channels reach both sides of the track. Follow the track to where there are some old buildings on the right at a junction of tracks, on the left is the fenced administration compound and building, with a large sign at the gate.
There is another route to the park along different dirt roads, though I do not know if these are any better or more travelled.
The accommodation is large free, modern, clean, with hot showers and air-conditioning (the electrics will not work if the diesel lorry for the generator cannot get thru due to bad weather, as when I was there). You must take all your food, and treat water. There are no cooking facilities except wood stoves, take a gas camping stove.
The national park is a long day or better 2 day drive from Asunción. If you have to stay overnight, you will be welcome at the army post (not sure about the main base) but it is advisable to provide the food (and beer!) for all, as the post only have very basic food (pasta, rice) which they supplement with bush-meat. Do not be surprised to be served armadillo (tastes like chicken leg, very nice), Brazilian Rabbit (good), Brazilian Tapir (declined) and Black-legged Seriema (declined) as we were!! The army guards are very friendly and glad of some company. It is also wise to be on good terms with them should you get into difficulties (they are good mechanics).
Birding is done around the manmade ponds at the administration compound and along the various dirt tracks. You can look onto the runway but it is fenced. The chaco woodland here is very dense and thorny and nigh on impenetrable. The approach track to the administration compound was good for night birds when we travelled it, with many Scissor-tailed and Little Nightjars, Tropical Screech- and probably Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls. Whether this was a temporary gathering due to maybe a termite flight, I do not know but there were a great many night-birds in just a few km stretch. The birding otherwise is generally good with many typical chaco species about.
We also saw 13 living Tapirs, most in daylight crossing the road. Also along the road Black-legged Seriemas are easily seen. No doubt a few days birding here could turn up a good list and maybe some suprises.
Birds seen by BSG
- Greater Rhea Rhea americana NT
- Spotted Nothura Nothura maculosa
- Whistling Heron Syrigma sibilatrix
- Great Egret Ardea alba
- Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
- Maguari Stork Ciconia maguari
- Plumbeous Ibis Theristicus caerulescens
- Black Vulture Coragyps atratus
- Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura
- Snail Kite Rostrhamus sociabilis
- Long-winged Harrier Circus buffoni
- Savanna Hawk Buteogallus meridionalis
- Roadside Hawk Buteo magnirostris
- Southern Caracara Caracara plancus
- Yellow-headed Caracara Milvago chimachima
- American Kestrel Falco sparverius
- Black-legged Seriema Chunga burmeisteri
- Wattled Jacana Jacana jacana
- Southern Lapwing Vanellus chilensis
- Picazuro Pigeon Patagioenas picazuro
- Picui Ground-Dove Columbina picui
- White-tipped Dove Leptotila verreauxi
- Monk Parakeet Myiopsitta monachus
- Guira Cuckoo Guira guira
- Tropical Screech-Owl Megascops choliba
- Little Nightjar Caprimulgus parvulus
- Scissor-tailed Nightjar Hydropsalis torquata
- Blue-tufted Starthroat Heliomaster furcifer
- White Woodpecker Melanerpes candidus
- Rufous Hornero Furnarius rufus
- Crested Hornero Furnarius cristatus
- Pale-breasted Spinetail Synallaxis albescens
- Narrow-billed Woodcreeper Lepidocolaptes angustirostris
- Vermilion Flycatcher Pyrocephalus rubinus
- Gray Monjita Xolmis cinereus
- White Monjita Xolmis irupero
- Cattle Tyrant Machetornis rixosa
- Great Kiskadee Pitangus sulphuratus
- Brown-chested Martin Progne tapera
- Creamy-bellied Thrush Turdus amaurochalinus
- Plush-crested Jay Cyanocorax chrysops
- House Sparrow Passer domesticus Intro
- Purple-throated Euphonia Euphonia chlorotica
- Red-crested Finch Coryphospingus cucullatus
- Grassland Yellow-Finch Sicalis luteola
- Red-crested Cardinal Paroaria coronata
- Epaulet Oriole Icterus cayanensis
- Chopi Blackbird Gnorimopsar chopi
- Bay-winged Cowbird Agelaioides badius
Relevant BENES list
CHACO BENES (Biome Endemics and Near-Endemics list)
Species of conservation concern are Greater Rhea (NT), Chilean Flamingo (NT), Bearded Tachuri (NT), Dinelli’s Doradito (NT).
Jaguar Panthera onca (NT) CITES Appendix I
Collared Peccary Pecari tajacu
Brazilian Tapir Tapirus terrestris (VU) CITES Appendix I
Crab-eating Raccoon Procyon cancrivorus
Giant Armadilo Priodontes maximus (EN)
and several other species of Armadillo
REQUEST information on alternative routes.
Author: BSG. Paul Smith