Saturday, September 14, 2013

Birding Córdoba's Sierras Grandes.

As I mentioned elsewhere, I visited Córdoba (central Argentina) attending an academic event some days ago.  After the event, I had some spare time for birdwatching.  Previous to my trip, I tried to contact a birding pal or professional tour guide to maximize my time finding the key species of the region... the first one to answer my beg was Jorge Martín Spinuzza (of  Kindly, Jorge offered to take me along several different habitats in order to find as many species as possible in the limited amount of time available.  His plan was to visit Córdoba's Sierras Grandes, a mountain range running from north to south, older than the high Andes and with a distinct avifauna.  The road to the higher parts crossed several different habitats, giving me the chance to see many species.  I'll focus  on those species seen in the highest parts of the sierras, those seen at the extensive foothills (piedemonte) and in the high plateau known as the Pampa de Achala, above 1800 meters above sea level (masl).  From there, several peaks elevate reaching over 2200 masl, including Los Gigantes (2350 masl), pictured in the background of the first photo.
The foothills were impressive... hundreds of kilometers of unobstructed view of the horizon, covered in grass, shrubs and some scattered trees, most of them introduced, around the houses and the estancias.  It was pretty good for raptors, like American Kestrel, Chimango Caracara and Southern Caracaras.  The above individual seemed to be nesting in those trees.  Compared to our Crested Caracaras, these birds looked larger, with more evident barring in the underparts and back.  We also saw a Variable Hawk perched on a rock fence... what a bird!
Certainly, this species have the most variable plumage of all the hawks... this is, evidently, of the "red-backed" form, perhaps a female due to its hugeness.  With all those raptors around, it is no surprise why this Spotted Nothura was crossing the road at full speed.
In contrast to our tinamues, this species was quite easy to spot... at least for some seconds before disappearing into the grass.  In fact, due to the habitat, most of the birds were quite easy to see.  In a quick succession we saw Southern Lapwings, Hellmayr's Pipit, Grassland Yellow-Finches, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, among others.  However, the most striking so far were the Long-tailed Meadowlarks.
This species, locally known as Loica, is represented up there by the endemic subspecies obscura... the first of many endemic forms we were about to see restricted to this mountain range.  In general, the birds of the higher parts (Pampa de Achala) recall those found in the high Andes.  For example, you  know you're not anymore in Panamá when a young Andean Condor soars above you!
Or this Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant that allowed great photos in the highest part of the road (Cuchilla Nevada)... compare both species with my previous photos from Ecuador.
But there are BIG differences with the Andes.  The isolation of this range is the reason why there are so many distinct forms and even endemic species (more about them in my next post).  Take for example the sierra-finches (yes, if you are birding the sierra you expect sierra-finches).  The most common, sometimes in flocks of 15 - 20 birds, were the Ash-breasted Sierra-Finches.  Not an endemic species (I had seen this -and the next species- in the Andes of Perú and Ecuador), but represented there by the endemic subspecies naroskyi.  The same for the Plumbeous Sierra-Finch, represented in these sierras by the endemic subspecies cyaneus (compare with my previous photo from Ecuador).
I posted the photos of these two species next to each other so you can notice the faint facial marks and blurry streaks on the back of the Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch, and the more uniform bluish-gray color of the Plumbeous Sierra-Finch... field marks to ID correctly these guys.  But we saw another species of sierra-finch... not in the highest parts, but in the foothills.  Jorge was excited about the finch we were photographing.  Notice the lack of rufous or chestnut in the ear covers of the female and the extensive black underparts of the young male.
Carbonated Sierra-Finches!  This species is endemic of Argentina, and not that common for that place.  The field marks pointed above separate this species from the similar Mourning Sierra-Finch (that I saw in Perú many years ago).  The curious thing is that I just realized this bird is a national endemic... in the field it was just another lifer!  The Carbonated Sierra-Finch was the last endemic I saw that day... if you want to know the endemics we got earlier, don't miss my next post.

No comments:

Post a Comment