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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Cruise: Santiago to Los Angeles

Wednesday 14 March to Friday 30 March 2018
with Fabrice Schmitt and Steve Howell as leaders

Price: $3,000*

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Among numerous storm-petrels possible on this cruise are the fancy Hornby’s (aka Ringed). Photo: Steve N.G. Howell

This repositioning cruise offers an amazing opportunity to bird the eastern Pacific, beginning at latitude 33° south in Santiago, Chile, and ending the trip at the same latitude but north, in Los Angeles, California! It includes nine full days of seabirding and seven days on land. During the landings we’ll bird such diverse habitats as Chilean matorral scrub, the Sechura Desert in Peru, tropical forest in Costa Rica, and dry forest in Nicaragua. At least 10 species of storm-petrel are possible along our route, including some that are very difficult to see on coastal pelagic trips, such as Hornby’s, Markham’s, and White-bellied. Possible gadfly petrels include Juan Fernandez, De Filippi’s, Kermadec, and Tahiti Petrels, along with Galapagos (Waved) Albatross, Parkinson’s Petrel, Peruvian Diving-Petrel, Swallow-tailed Gull, and who knows what else. With luck we may even encounter the critically endangered Townsend’s Shearwater!

Our days on land will focus on the best local specialties and birding areas. Among the many landbirds we expect are such diverse species as Moustached Turca, White-throated Tapaculo, Peruvian Thick-knee, Amazilia Hummingbird, Black-headed Trogon, Turquoise-browed Motmot, and San Blas Jay.

Note: This cruise can be taken in conjunction with our Buenos Aires - Santiago cruise in 2018.

Details on booking space with both WINGS and Princess Cruises can be found here.

Day 1: We’ll meet onboard our ship this afternoon in San Antonio, Chile, a port town near Santiago. As our ship departs in the evening, our birding experience will begin: we’ll have our first opportunity to see Inca Tern, Humboldt Penguin, Guanay Cormorant, Peruvian Booby, and Peruvian Diving-Petrel. Very soon we’ll find our first albatrosses; Salvin’s is usually the commonest species here, along with various shearwaters and petrels.

Day 2: We’ll leave the ship as soon as it arrives in the harbor of Coquimbo, Chile, to visit some semiarid scrubland, where many of the Chilean endemics are quite common, including Moustached Turca, White-throated Tapaculo, Chilean Mockingbird, and Dusky-tailed Canastero. Beside these endemics we’ll have great chances to find the superb Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Burrowing Owl, the elegant Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, and flocks of Common Diuca-Finch. Even the rare Great Shrike-tyrant can be found here!

On the way back to our ship, we will also do a stop at the fishing harbor, where we should have great views on Inca Terns, Peruvian Pelicans, Peruvian Boobies and plenty of South American Sea Lions.

Our ship departs in the afternoon for Pisco, Peru.

Days 3–4: We’ll have two full days at sea, from Coquimbo to Pisco, Peru.  During these two days of seabirding we may see Salvin’s, Black-browed, and Buller’s Albatrosses, together with the more common Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters. March is also a very good time to find Buller’s Shearwater in this part of the Pacific.

On this stretch of the trip we should find our first Pterodroma petrels, and we can expect good numbers of De Filippi’s (Masatierra) Petrel, along with smaller numbers of Juan Fernandez Petrel. These two days should also provide our best chance to see the poorly known Hornby’s (Ringed) and Markham Storm-Petrels. Markham’s has recently been found breeding in the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, but the breeding grounds of Ringed Storm-Petrel remain a mystery. Both species are difficult to see during pelagic trips that stay close to the coast, and our cruise is probably one of the best ways to see them both. Beside the tubenoses we may find our first Swallow-tailed Gulls, wintering jaegers (all three species), and Chilean Skuas.

March is also a good time to find several species of whales migrating north from the feeding grounds to the breeding grounds. The most common species here are Fin, Humpback, and Blue Whales, and far from the coast we may also get the chance to see pods of Southern Right-whale Dolphins, one of the most beautiful creatures on earth.

Day 5: Today we’ll be birding around Pisco, Peru, a place mostly known for the eponymous Peruvian national drink, pisco, a grape brandy produced in the area. The morning will be spent at the Ballestas Islands, which were formerly colonized by hundreds of thousands of Peruvian Boobies, Peruvian Pelicans, and Guanay Cormorants, and covered by several meters of guano. In the 1840s the guano came to be prized as a source of saltpeter for gunpowder, as well as for agricultural fertilizer, and Spain even fought a war with Peru and Chile for that precious resource.

Nowadays, even though the populations of these birds have declined, it is still possible to see thousands of boobies, pelicans, and cormorants during a visit to these islands. We also have a good chance of finding a few Humboldt Penguins, as well as the beautiful Inca Tern and Red-legged Cormorant. South American Sea Lions form big colonies on the beaches of the islands, and with some luck we may even find a group of Bottlenose Dolphins.

We’ll have a picnic lunch on the coast between Paracas and Pisco, scanning the mudflats for wintering shorebirds, Belcher’s Gull, Chilean Flamingoes, and Royal and Elegant Terns. After lunch we’ll spend a couple of hours in the agricultural fields near Pisco, where we’ll search for Chestnut-throated Seedeater, Long-tailed Mockingbird, Peruvian Meadowlark, and Peruvian Thick-knee. Back on board we’ll continue our cruise north toward Callao, the Lima harbor.

Day 6: Arriving in Callao, Peru, we’ll drive south to visit some coastal wetlands and agricultural fields full of new species. The diversity and abundance of waterbirds here is amazing, and species include White-cheeked Pintail, Great Grebe, Little Blue Heron, Puna Ibis, Slate-colored Coot, Plumbeous Rail, the stunning Many-colored Rush-tyrant, and the cryptic Wren-like Rushbird. With luck we may even find the secretive Least Bittern and the vocally distinct southern population of Black Rail, a species yet to be split.

The agricultural fields are no less interesting, and we have a great chance of finding exciting species like Amazilia Hummingbird, Bran-colored Flycatcher (of the coastal rufescens race), Peruvian Elaenia (a forthcoming split of White-crested Elaenia), Long-tailed Mockingbird, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, and the local dark morph of Vermilion Flycatcher.

We’ll be back aboard in late afternoon in Callao, ready to continue our Pacific trip.

Days 7–9: We’ll have three full days at sea on the way to Puntarenas, Costa Rica. No fewer than eight species of storm-petrel are possible: Hornby’s, Markham’s, White-bellied, White-faced, Elliot’s, Band-rumped (two different populations, likely full species), Wedge-rumped, and Leach’s. Since we’ll be sailing east of the Galapagos Islands, we can expect to see a few seabird species that breed there, such as Swallow-tailed Gull, Waved Albatross, Galapagos Petrel, and perhaps even Galapagos Shearwater. The White-chinned and Westland Petrels that we will likely have seen in cooler waters farther south should be replaced here by the warmer-water Parkinson’s Petrel. We’ll also have a good chance of finding Red-tailed and Red-billed Tropicbirds, Red-footed, Masked, and Nazca Boobies, and gadfly petrels including Juan Fernandez, Kermadec, Black-winged, and Tahiti. Few birders have visited this part of the Pacific Ocean, and we could make some interesting discoveries. The numerous marine mammal species in this area include the handsome Striped and Fraser’s Dolphins and the legendary Sperm Whale. There should also be some spectacular flyingfish in these tropical blue waters.

Day 10: After arrival in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, we’ll drive toward Carara National Park to enjoy some tropical forest birding, quite a contrast after three days at sea. Birds we’ll be seeking here include Scarlet Macaw, Orange-collared Manakin, Baird’s and Black-headed Trogons, Black-bellied and Rufous-breasted Wrens, Black-hooded Antshrike, Fiery-billed Aracari, Cherrie’s Tanager, Golden-naped Woodpecker, Royal Flycatcher, Black-throated Trogon, Costa Rican Swift, and Chestnut-mandibled Toucan, to name just a few! Back on board in the evening, we’ll head northward again.

Day 11: After arriving at San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, we’ll visit the tropical dry forest near Granada. Among many new species possible here we’ll be looking for Plain Chachalaca, Stripe-throated Hermit, Cinnamon Hummingbird, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Hoffmann’s Woodpecker, and the handsome Long-tailed Manakin.

Days 12–13: We’ll have two full days at sea, between Nicaragua and Puerto Vallarta,, Mexico.. As with other waters we’ve traveled through, very few birders have explored this part of the Pacific, so the potential for surprises is pretty high! Among the expected new species on this stretch are Black and Least Storm-Petrels, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, and Cook’s Petrels that are migrating north from their breeding grounds in New Zealand. There should still be Red-footed and Masked Boobies accompanying the ship, Red-tailed Tropicbirds coming in to check us out, and perhaps Tahiti Petrels or even Christmas Shearwaters, both of which migrate through these waters at this season. Of course, Townsend’s Shearwater will be in our dreams, and with luck we may come across this rare and critically endangered species!

Day 14: Today we’ll have some time ashore around Puerto Vallarta, and an opportunity to dip our toes into the avian riches of West Mexico, at a season when migrants will be pouring through to supplement the local avifauna. We’ll look for the endemic Golden-cheeked Woodpecker, Happy Wren, and San Blas Jay, along with other species such as Thick-billed Kingbird, Painted Bunting, and Yellow-winged (or Mexican) Cacique.

Day 15-16: This will be our last two full day at sea, sailing north toward Los Angeles, California. New pelagic species we may add during this last stretch of our remarkable pelagic transit include Black-vented Shearwater, the recently split Scripps’s and Guadalupe Murrelets, Cassin’s Auklet, and even Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses.

Day 17: We’ll arrive at the port of Los Angeles in the early morning, disembarking in time to catch flights home.

Updated: 26 September 2017

Prices

  • 2018 Tour Price : $3,000
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Notes

* Tour invoices paid by check carry a 4% discount. Details here.

* The price noted above covers only the seven land excursions during the cruise plus the leader’s time on board the ship.  It does not include your berth on the Emerald Princess which must be booked directly with Princess Cruises. Details on booking space with both WINGS and Princess Cruises can be found here.

* For details on an optional pre-tour extension around Santiago with a trusted local leader see here for details.

** In 2018 another cruise directly before this one will begin in Buenos Aires, round Cape Horn, and end in San Antonio (Santiago), Chile. See details here.

Maximum group size 14 plus leaders.