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WINGS Birding Tours – Itinerary

Cruise: Santiago to Los Angeles

Friday 21 March to Tuesday 8 April 2025
Pre-tour extension to Santiago area from Tuesday 18 March
with Steve Howell and Fabrice Schmitt as leaders
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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 San Antonio and ending the trip at the same latitude but north, in Los Angeles! It includes nine full days of seabirding and eight 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 coastal shrubland in Ecuador. 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 Waved (Galapagos) 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, Orange-collared Manakin, and San Blas Jay.

Note: This cruise can be taken in conjunction with our Cape Horn (Buenos Aires to San Antonio, Chile) Cruise in 2025. Those doing both cruises will be unable to join the Santiago extension (see below).

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

Pre-cruise optional extension around Santiago, Chile.

The area around Santiago offers wonderful birding opportunities in amazingly varied habitats, from the wonderful scenery of the High Andes to the coastal wetlands and the dry scrublands in between. We will make a special effort for the Chilean endemics found around Santiago, and have a good chance of seeing seven of the 12 species: Chilean Tinamou, Dusky and White-throated Tapaculos, Moustached Turca, Crag Chilia, Dusky-tailed Canastero and Chilean Mockingbird.

Day 1: The pre-cruise extension begins this evening in Santiago. Night in Santiago.

Day 2: We’ll leave early for the ski resort of Farellones, stopping at different elevations, from the Mediterranean matorral shrublands to the alpine zone at 8250 feet. Our route is excellent for several Chilean endemics, including the cryptic and difficult-to-see Chilean Tinamou and the charismatic Moustached Turca. At high elevation we’ll almost certainly find Rufous-banded Miner, Black-winged Ground-Dove, Band-tailed Sierra-finch, and Greater Yellow-finch, but the Andean Condor will probably attract most of our attention—we have good chance of seeing a few of these giants during our picnic lunch near Farellones. Night in Santiago

Day 3: We’ll spend all day at high elevations (8000–9000 feet) in the Maipo and Yeso valleys, where the delicate Diademed Sandpiper Plover, one of the most beautiful shorebirds in the world, will be our main target. Other interesting species include Crag Chilia, a stunning ovenbird endemic to Chile. In the high-elevation bogs we should see Gray-breasted Seedsnipe, Greater Yellow-finch, Rufous-banded Miner, White-browed Ground-Tyrant, and perhaps the rare Creamy-rumped Miner. The scenery here is absolutely stunning and is as much of a reason to make the journey as the birds. Night in Santiago.

Day 4: We’ll leave early for the coast near Santiago, where we’ll visit several interesting wetlands and scrublands. A short trip to the Maipo River estuary will demonstrate just how important these coastal wetlands are for many migrant species—gulls, shorebirds, terns, and skimmers are usually found in great numbers. There are also several interesting resident species including Dusky Tapaculo, Austral Negrito, and Rufous-tailed Plantcutter.  At some nearby scrublands, we’ll have a chance to find Chilean Mockingbird, White-throated Tapaculo, or Dusky-tailed Canastero. We are planning to have lunch at a coastal restaurant, where from the terrace we may find a few Blackish Oystercatchers along with another of the possible endemics to be seen here, the Seaside Cinclodes. After lunch we’ll wend our way to the port of San Antonio and board our ship this afternoon. Night onboard the Sapphire Princess cruise ship.

Those not taking the pre-cruise extension will meet the group on the cruise ship at a time and place to be designated later.

Cruise Itinerary:

Day 1: We’ll meet onboard our ship this afternoon in San Antonio, Chile. 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 may 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, colorful Burrowing Parakeets, the elegant Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, and perhaps Seaside Cinclodes.

On the way back to our ship, we may also stop at the fishing harbor, where we could find 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 Chatham 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 Masatierra (De Filippi’s) Petrel, along with smaller numbers of Juan Fernandez and Kermadec Petrels. These two days should also provide our best chance to see the poorly known Ringed (Hornby’s) and Markham Storm-Petrels. 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 our first flying fish.

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.

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.

After scanning the mudflats for wintering shorebirds, Belcher’s Gull, Chilean Flamingos, and Royal and Elegant Terns, plus sometimes huge flocks of Black Skimmers, we’ll have lunch in Pisco—with a chance to try the eponymous pisco sours.. After lunch we’ll bird in a nearby wetland or in the agricultural fields, where we may find Chestnut-throated Seedeater, Long-tailed Mockingbird, Peruvian Meadowlark, and waterbirds such as White-cheeked Pintail and perhaps even Plumbeous Rail. 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 Great Grebe, Little Blue Heron, Puna Ibis, Slate-colored (Andean) Coot,  the stunning Many-colored Rush-Tyrant, and the cryptic Wrenlike Rushbird. With luck we may even find the secretive Least Bittern.

The agricultural fields are no less interesting, and we have a great chance of finding exciting species like Amazilia Hummingbird, Rufescent Flycatcher, Peruvian Pygmy-Owl, Long-tailed Mockingbird, Southern Beardless-Tyrannulet, and the local dark morph of Vermilion Flycatcher.

Day 7: After a night back on board in the Callao harbor we’ll leave early for the Lomas de Lachay National Reserve. Located in the extremely arid Atacama/Sechura Desert, one of the driest places in the world, the reserve features a unique mist-fed ecosystem. During the humid season (June to November) the dense clouds make moist contact with the peculiar geography of this area, and the resultant humidity gives life to more than 150 species of plants and 80 species of birds.

We’ll be there during the middle of the dry season, and even if less interesting from a botanical perspective, we’ll have good opportunities to find some of the exceptional birds of this remarkable area, including Burrowing Owl, Coastal Miner, Peruvian Thick-knee, and Least Seedsnipe. Nearby agricultural areas hold hummingbirds such as Peruvian Sheartail, plus Pacific Parrotlet, Cinereous Conebill, and perhaps the perky little Short-tailed Field-Tyrant. We’ll be back aboard in mid-afternoon in Callao, ready to continue our Pacific trip.

Days 8: We’ll have a full day at sea on the way to Manta (Ecuador). No fewer than nine species of storm-petrel are possible: Ringed (Hornby’s), Markham’s, White-bellied, White-faced, Elliot’s, Wedge-rumped, Least, Black, 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 likely will 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-billed Tropicbirds, plus Red-footed, Masked, and Nazca Boobies. 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 Dolphin and legendary Sperm Whale. There should also be some spectacular flying fish in these tropical blue waters.

Day 9: After our morning sailing towards Manta, we will have a few hours birding the dry coastal shrubland and patches of tropical forest of Ecuador. It will be the hottest hours of the day, so we are not expecting to do too much, but we will be looking for local goodies such as Collared Antshrike, Elegant Crescentchest, Rufous-headed Chachalaca, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Crimson-breasted Finch, the lovely Necklaced Spinetail, and Baird’s Flycatcher. We even have a chance to spot the rare Esmeraldas Woodstar!

Day 10: Between Ecuador and Costa Rica we can expect similar species to those on Day 8, with better chances for Tahiti Petrel, Galapagos Shearwater and Band-rumped Storm-Petrel (two different populations, likely full species). Good numbers of Nazca Boobies can ofte be seen this day, and some of them will probably fly with us at the bow of the ship, waiting for flying fishes!

Day 11: Upon disembarking 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 Great Tinamou, Scarlet Macaw, Orange-collared Manakin, Baird’s and Gartered Trogons, White-whiskered Puffbird, Rufous-breasted Wrens, Black-hooded Antshrike, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Hoffmann’s Woodpecker, and Northern Bentbill to name just a few! Back on board in the evening, we’ll head northward again.

Days 12–14: We’ll have three full days at sea, between Costa Rica 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 species on this stretch are Black and Least Storm-Petrels, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, and perhaps Cook’s Petrels that are migrating north from their breeding grounds in New Zealand. There should still be Red-footed and Nazca Boobies accompanying the ship, Red-billed 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 15: 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 16: We’ll have a morning exploring the desert and marshes near Cabo San Lucas. We should find some of the Baja endemics, including Gray Thrasher, the endangered and highly localized Belding’s Yellowthroat, and with luck the stunning Xantus’s Hummingbird. Others species here include Pyrrhuloxia, Gila Woodpecker, California Towhee, Verdin, Cactus Wren, and Ash-throated Flycatcher.

Days 17-18: This will be our last two full days 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-footed and Laysan Albatross, Black-vented Shearwater and with with luck the recently split Scripps’s and Guadalupe Murrelets.

Day 19: We’ll arrive at the port of Los Angeles in the early morning, disembarking in time to catch flights home.

Updated: 11 April 2024

Prices

  • 2025 Cruise Time and Land Excursions Price : $3,750
  • Pre-Cruise Santiago Extension : $1,250
  • Santiago Extension Single Supplement : $150

Notes

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Questions? Tour Manager: Matt Brooks. Call 1-866-547-9868 (US or Canada) or (01) 520-320-9868 or click here to email.

* 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 Princess cruise ship which must be booked directly with Princess Cruises. Details on booking space with both WINGS and Princess Cruises can be found here.

* Th optional pre-tour extension around Santiago will be run by a trusted local leader.

Maximum group size 14 plus 2 leaders.

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