I know we're here for birds, but some quick thoughts on the waterfall are in order. In reality, Iguazu is a sprawling complex of more than 100 individual cascades. Extensive networks of boardwalks on both Argentinian and Brazilian sides give visitors terrifyingly close views of so many gushing torrents. So much water vapor hangs in the air that every view is inevitably embellished by a perfect rainbow adding to the overall sense of magic to the place.
|It's hard to do this place justice with photos, but here's a small part of Iguazu Falls|
|Eared Pygmy-Tyrant, Iguazu Falls|
|Plush-crested Jays are trash birds at Iguazu. Literally. They stand on the railings hoping the tourists will feed them trash.|
|Guy, his doggie, us and his unreliable van|
|Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, the coolest and rarest of the eight regular hummers present at Jardin de Los Picaflores in winter|
|This Rusty-breasted Nunlet tried to keep us entertained by sitting completely still (as nun/puff-things are want to do)|
|This Streaked Xenops was a bit livelier, giving us some nest excavation action.|
We weren’t well-prepared for camping in near-freezing conditions and so had a rough night huddled together under filthy blankets in the back of Guy’s van (he stayed in a tent). This was after an uninspired dinner of canned sardines. Guy’s a far better birder than he is a chef. Thankfully Natalia had anticipated this problem and bought some crackers and soup earlier (she hates canned fish).
At Bio Reserva Karadya the manager and resident birder, Julian, rolled out the red carpet for us. He served us a delicious lunch and then showed us to our tower room, which has a roof deck serving as a canopy tower. The moment we arrived, a mixed species flock happened to be working the area.
|The VIP canopy tower penthouse at Karadya. Highly recommended.|
|Instead of American Robins there are Rufous-bellied Thrushes in Misiones.|
|We didn't score a ton of specialist/target birds at Karadya for whatever reason, but the food was so good we didn't care. This Variable Antshrike put in a special effort to make us happy and that can go a long way.|
It turns out Julian is an ornithologist himself, and in between serving up insanely delicious meals would lead us to spots for tricky target species, like Planalto Tapaculo or White-shouldered Fire-eye. While we ate he would tell us about the Harpy Eagle nest he used to monitor—the last known breeding record for Argentina. Sadly the nesting site has since been abandoned. He also showed us a frozen carcass of a Violacious Quail-Dove, which crashed into one of the lodge’s windows. Once accepted by the authorities it will be Argentina’s first official record of the species.
|Argentina's first record of Violacious Quail-Dove. More proof that inanimate objects are better field biologists that people.|
We would have gladly stayed several days with Julian, but we had other sites to see, so no time to delay. Luckily we found our top target in the gardens behind the lodge at the last minute: a flock of Saffron Toucanets.
|This Saffron Toucanet showed up with a flock in the gardens at Karadya, the only ones we saw on the tour.|
|On the road to Surucua there were some fruiting trees loaded with Toco Toucans (at least 20), so we stopped for the obligatory picture of this common but iconic bird.|
|The male Surucua Trogon for which Surucua Lodge is named.|
|Female Surucua. Trogons are just as easy to photograph in Argentina as they are in the rest of the Americas.|
This lodge is gorgeous and boasts an extensive network of trails through pristine forest abutting the Iguazu River as the trogon flies, not too far upstream from Iguazu Falls. The food was exquisite, rivaling that of Karadya and the couple who own/manage the place bent over backwards to make sure our every need was met. Laura did the cooking and Adrian came out with us birding. It always helps to have a local birder on hand to help with targeting and we knocked off many of the species that had eluded us in previous days.
|Bertoni's Antbirds never stop moving, so it took a good bit of effort to catch one in frame without stick-face|
|This Gray-hooded Flycatcher decided to come sit on a branch within 5 meters of us, so I was able to catch a decent shot despite the poor light.|
|Band-tailed Manakin is arguably one of Misiones' prettiest birds. Thankfully, they're fairly common.|
|A puddle next to the Surucua Lodge has an attendant Rufescent Tiger-Heron (juvie)|
|Large-headed Flatbill... maybe it's the angle of the photo, but the head didn't seem to be especially large. One of those names an uninspired taxonomist with calipers came up with.|
Best of all was the Spot-billed Toucanet, which I finally managed to spot in the canopy after we had been frantically trying to locate an unseen calling bird overhead.
|Spot-billed Toucanet way up in the canopy at Surucua|
The reward for enduring a stay at Guy’s place is that his backyard is, literally the entrance to Parque Provincial Araucaria, one of the few remnant patches of Dr. Suess-like Araucaria trees. Long favored by loggers for their tall, straight and branchless trunks, these trees have been all but driven to extinction (97% loss). A few obligate bird species cling to existence in the remnants, such as the Vinaceous-breasted Parrot, an endangered bird that exists almost exclusively behind Guy’s house.
|Araucaria angustifolia or 'Candalabra Pine,' a critically endangered tree|
|Red-breasted Toucan were flocking to the planted fruit trees near Guy's house|
|Our third Rusty-breasted Nunlet of the trip. We couldn't seem to avoid these things.|
Here we had the most special of specialists, the Araucaria Tit-Spinetail.
|Araucaria Tit-Spinetail is completely dependent on the critically endangered Candalabra Pine, and yet the bird is only listed as Near-threatened... c;mon IUCN; what the hell.|
|Singing Pavonine Cuckoo through the tangle|
After one more swing through the Araucaria our tour with Guy ended, inconveniently enough with us stranded in San Pedro. Guy was nice enough to give us a small refund for the delay on the first morning, which ended up being just enough to buy us a taxi ride part way back north toward Puerto Iguazu. We had an extra day to bird, so we stopped at San Sebastian de la Selva, the across the street competition to Karadya.
|Blue-and-yellow Tanager, a feeder bird at San Sebastian|
|Chalk-browed Mockingbird, another feeder bird|
|Green-headed Tanager, gem of the San Sebastian feeders|
Generally, the experience one has staying at San Sebastian is one of irrelevance. Nene and his wife seemed completely ambivalent about our presence or happiness. I guess that's what happens when the owners of a place are absentee and leave others behind to manage. The price certainly doesn't reflect that this place is several notches below the other local lodges. Nevertheless, we still picked up six lifers here in 24 hours after five days of birding the region and it's got the best feeder setup.
This concludes our post-graduation tour of South America. I hope you've enjoyed the arm chair ride!