Birding in Tierra del Fuego

We had first visited Argentina in 2016, with a week or so based out of Buneos Aires. There is plenty of great birding within a few hours of the capital, but after finishing that trip we wanted to return and find the austral specialties of the southern cone. Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia were names that always loomed large in our imaginations. Eventually we realized that if we did go that far south, we’d regret not using it to get to a certain nearby, cold continent as well. So we worked this in with a cruise to Antarctica and a trip to northern Argentina became part of a big plan for December 2022 that would end with a leg in Colombia as we headed home.

Sites we birded in Tierra del Fuego

We had a great guide for our four days in the area: Federico Moyano from Birding Ushuaia. This is a local birding company that was a pleasure to work with — be sure to contact them if you going to spend any time here. Our first day centered around the port town of Ushuaia, where we were staying — it is the furthest south city in the world, as far down under as you can go by road.

Dolphin Gull in Ushuaia

Ushuaia sits on the northern side of the Beagle Channel, a place teeming with exotic bird species, such as Flying and Flightless Steamer Ducks, Kelp Goose, and Chilean Skua. A huge surprise was seeing Andean Condors flying over it.

Crested Duck ducklings in Ushuaia
Dark-bellied Cinclodes in Ushuaia
Ashy-headed Geese in Ushuaia

Just to the west of the city is Tierra del Fuego National Park, which holds lots of good birds and great scenery.

Looking west into the mountains of Chile in Tierra del Fuego National Park

A prime target in the park is the Magellenic Woodpecker. After a fruitless morning of searching for one, we sat down to lunch near a visitor center and there was a female, inspecting some snags in front of the building.

Female Magellenic Woodpecker
Male Upland Goose in the national park

On our second day we headed north of town to Paso Girabaldi, where a hidden “trail” provided steep access to the rocky, snowy fields above treeline. Here we had just four target species (and we got them all), including White-bellied Seedsnipe.

Above treeline at Paso Girabaldi

The area reminded us of paramo, but here the vegetation is very sponge-like and full of water. After ten minutes my allegedly waterproof shoes were full of liquid.

White-bellied Seedsnipe at Paso Girabaldi

Speaking of treeline, the forests here are otherwordly gorgeous, and remarkably consist of only three types of beech tree.

The trees at the End of the World

For days three and four, the plan was to drive several hours up north and be based out of the town of Rio Grande, which sits on the Atlantic coast, with Patagonian steppe at its back. The bird life here is totally different from that near Ushuaia.

West of Rio Grande

What we were not expecting was the extreme wind. I later learned that this is one of the windiest places on the planet, with a constant current of air running down from the Andes, west to east. It was the kind of wind that you had to incline yourself at an angle in order to walk into it. It was a unique and difficult birding environment due to such relentless air movement, wind noise, and birds disinclined to fly about very much.

Least Seedsnipe, near Rio Grande

Two days of searching here eventually turned up the difficult Magellenic Plover. Tawny-throated Dotterel was another nice find.

Magallenic Plover, a near-threatened species
Tawny-throated Dotterel, near Rio Grande

After heading back to Ushuaia we started studying up on seabirds, because it would soon be time to cross the Drake Passage and go to Antarctica.

We are very glad we took the time to bird here and wished we had another few days to explore the channel in a small boat, since Blackish Cinclodes and King Penguins can be found out there. Our final tally for the area was 72 species and 40 lifers over four days: eBird trip report.

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