Birding the Ibera Marshes in northeast Argentina

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The endangered Yellow Cardinal is one top the top birds in the Ibera Marshes area Photo Stephan Lorenz

The Ibera Marshes (Esteros del Iberá) in the Corrientes Province in Argentina are one of the largest wetlands on the South American continent. The vast wetlands, swamps, grasslands, and islands of woodland form a wilderness area that harbors several threatened and endangered birds, especially grassland seedeaters and rare tyrant flycatchers, plus huge numbers of waterbirds. It is relatively easy to visit, but even though popular with birders I found little specific information on logistics and birding sites. Here, I provide some basic background from what we learned and a daily account.

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The massive Giant Wood-Rail is abundant Photo Stephan Lorenz

The marshes and large protected area can be accessed from various points, but the small village of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini provides the best access and base. The village sits in the heart of the wetlands, amidst huge pastures, a lake, and some woodland with close access to various habitats. A variety of hostels, hotels, and campgrounds are available and we stayed at Posada Rancho Jabiru which at 400 pesos per night for a double room was very good. The super friendly family also has a restaurant in the neighboring house and cooked cheap, delicious meals. It would be easy to just show up and book into something with camping of course the most affordable option.

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Easily the “best” bird here, good numbers of the odd Strange-tailed Tyrant Photo Stephan Lorenz

It is also possible to organize boat trips from the village, but in order to see the best birds of the area it is not necessary to go out in a boat, unless birders are seeking some of the more widespread waterbirds. Kayaking is also an option with rentals available.

Getting There

The village of Carlos Pellegrini is best accessed via the town of Mercedes (which has supermarkets and gas stations). It takes about 3 hours via a straight dirt road, although much longer if stopping to bird, to reach Pellegrini. After heavy rains the road can become impassable to regular cars and it is best to ask in Mercedes or at a police checkpoint about the current road conditions. It had rained right before we arrived and although the road was very muddy we had no problems in our small rental car (the washboard road dislodged the trunk lock which we had to fix in the village). It is also possible to reach the village via bus or hired taxi/4WD.

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The Mercedes road at the Rincon del Socorro turn-off, the 120 kms are doable in a regular car if it has not rained recently Photo Stephan Lorenz

Birding Sites

The 120 kms entrance road provides some of the best birding in the area, especially the final 30 kms (between the Rincon del Socorro turn-off and Carlos Pellegrini). It is worthwhile to drive slowly along the road and walk sections of it wherever there is lots of bird activity. The variety of habitats is large and the open views of the grasslands and marshes excellent, a full day here almost netted us 100 species. We found most of the seedeaters here with especially large numbers of Marsh Seedeaters (50 per day, which according to other reports may be unusual). The seedeaters are not always easy to identify, but many were singing and males often sat up on fences or stalks of grass. Tawny-bellied Seedeater (uncommon), Marsh Seedeater (common), Rufous-rumped Seedeater (uncommon), Chestnut Seedeater (uncommon), Double-collared Seedeater (abundant), Rusty-collared Seedeater (abundant) were all seen alongside the road with birds often concentrating is areas of seeding grass or roosting in dense brush where they could be studied at length. The other star birds of the area could also be found along the road, especially the threatened Strange-tailed Tyrant (which has to be seen to be believed). We regularly saw males in display flight and more secretive females alongside the road (with 2-4 birds per day). A surprise bird in the form of a Crested Doradito popped for one second.

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Roadsides and upland grasslands with shorter vegetation offer chances of seeing Red-winged Tinamou Photo Stephan Lorenz

Of course waterbirds are common along the entire stretch of road, concentrating in the marshes with Southern Screamers, Maguari and Wood storks, Bare-faced Ibis, all the common egrets and herons present in good numbers. Muscovy Ducks and Brazilian Teal were found among the numerous White-faced and Black-bellied whistling-ducks. Drier uplands of the area held Greater Rhea and towards the east of the village a few Plumbeous Ibis. Snail Kites, Long-winged and Cinereous (migrants?) harriers hunted above the marshes, with Savannah, Roadside, and White-tailed hawks perched in trees and on fence posts.

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Greater Rheas are fairly common Photo Stephan Lorenz

The beautiful Brown-and Yellow and Yellow-rumped marshbirds were also common.

One the best and surprising birds was found during the early hours of our first morning when we chanced upon a pair of Spotted Rails standing by the roadside. The birds ducked in and out of cover allowing excellent views. This was a welcomed lifer after having looked for it in at least 5 different countries. Ash-throated Crakes were common by voice, but too far into the marshes for a chance of a sighting.

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Seedeaters are one of the main attractions here with up to eight breeding species, here the distinct Chestnut Photo Stephan Lorenz

It is worth driving the road slowly at dusk to chance upon a Red-winged Tinamou and not to worry about Giant Wood-Rail, they are abundant here and all over the village.

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One of the more sought after species, the Marsh Seedeater was abundant during our visit Photo Stephan Lorenz

Reserve Headquarters, Woodland Trails, and Boardwalk

Before reaching the village of Carlos Pellegrini (and the bridge) the reserve headquarters are found on the left. There are toilets, information, and I believe it is possible to organize boats here, the friendly staff may also have some information on the birds (a checklist is available).

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The boardwalk at the visitor center Photo Stephan Lorenz

Various trails start here and we walked the short nature trail, beginning across the road from the main building a few times. It added excellent variety with many common and widespread woodland birds plus sightings of howler monkeys. Some species we only saw in the woodland and trees around the headquarters included White-barred Piculet, Little Woodpecker, Red-billed Scythebill (a surprise find), Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Golden-winged Cacique, Orange-headed Tanager, White-browed Warbler, and Red-eyed Vireo. The remainder of the trails were flooded due to the resent rains, but its worth an afternoon of exploration to observe birds not found in other habitats.

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Red-crested Cardinals are common Photo Stephan Lorenz

Near the headquarters is a short boardwalk at the edge of the lake that goes into the reedy edge with views of the open water. We had fantastic views of a Rufous-sided Crake here plus an approachable pair of Southern Screamers. Some of the better birds in the marsh included Scarlet-headed Blackbirds (male sitting up), Sooty Tyrannulet, Warbling Doradito, and White-headed Marsh-Tyrant. The boardwalk is a beautiful spot and worth spending some to see what else lurks in the dense reeds. Where the woodland edge bordered the marsh I had a male Ultramarine Grosbeak.

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Campo Flickers are also common Photo Stephan Lorenz

At dusk at the base of the bridge (southwest end) a pair of Geoffroy’s Cats would come out and hunt along the shoreline, a regular and black phase animal, and the cats seemed to be habituated to people.

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Geoffroy’s Cats Photo Stephan Lorenz

Carlos Pelelgrini Village

The road towards Posadas starts on the far eastern corner of the village and is easy to find (see map). This road is in much worse conditions than the road towards Mercedes and in fact I could only drive about a kilometer or two before a flooded section stopped me, but minor tracks here and roadside woodlands offer excellent birding. About 2-3 kms from the village, passing two houses on the left, an open section of woodland held several good birds (see map). Its not more than a few scattered tree, but I still found a male Yellow Cardinal carrying nesting material here!

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A pair of the unmistakable Scimiter-billed Woodcreepers Photo Stephan Lorenz

Apparently the stakeout for the species is further along the road (ask at the visitor center). I spent a morning here birding the woodland and found Scimitar-billed Woodcreepers (a pair rummaging on the ground like hoopoes), a White-fronted Woodpecker, many open country flycatchers, and of course the endangered cardinal. Dirt tracks lead to the right, offering access into direr habitats and could be explored for a long way. A Dark-billed Cuckoo showed along the main road here, offering atypical excellent views.

Carlos Pellegrini Posada Road

The gardens and plantings in the village also offer great birding and its worth hanging around the accommodations for some common species. A Blue-tufted Starthroat made a brief appearance on some flowers and one evening I heard Little Nightjar calling outside our room. I walked down the sandy street and found it perched on a fence post, easy. We did not explore for other night birds, mainly because we were a bit lazy, but Tropical Screech-Owl should be possible.

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Crowned Slaty Flycatchers common on their breeding grounds here Photo Stephan Lorenz

Entrance road to Rincon del Socorro

This estancia offers accommodations and guided tours and is the place where tour companies stay. We birded the easily accessible entrance road all the way to the lodge grounds. The habitat here is drier with more scrub and woodland and we found several species not seen elsewhere in the Ibera area. While driving we had the best views of Red-winged Tinamou and on the mowed lawn by the lodge we had Spotted Nothura sitting out in the open. In the scrubby habitat along the main entrance road we found Lark-like Bushrunner, Black-capped warbling Finch, and responsive Southern Scrub-Flycatcher. Swainson’s Flycatcher was easily seen along with the always common Crowned Slaty Flycatcher. I saw a possible juvenile Crowned eagle and it is important to keep this rare species in the back of one’s mind as they apparently nest locally. The entrance road would be worth a full morning of birding.

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Southern Scrub-Flycatcher along the Rincon road Photo Stephan Lorenz

Other wildlife is abundant in the Ibera Marshes with Red Brocket, Marsh and Pampas (rare) deer present, loads of Capybaras, Black-and-gold Howler Monkeys, Geoffry’s Cats, the bizarre Plains “Pampas” Viscacha, Neotropical River Otter plus chances for something rarer.

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The weird Plains Viscacha with a pair of Burrowing Owls Photo Stephan Lorenz

November 18th, 2015

driving from Mercedes to Carlos Pellegrini, stopping en route for some birds List:

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Dark-billed Cuckoo Photo Stephan Lorenz

November 19th, 2015

birding in the morning and evening along the Mercedes road and afternoon around the visitor center and woodland trails, some rain List:

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Spotted Nothura Photo Stephan Lorenz

November 20th, 2015

birding along the road to Posadas about 3 kms from the village, in the evening birded all the way to the Rincon Del Socorro turn-off List:

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Marsh Deer Photo Stephan Lorenz

November 21st, 2015

drive back towards Mercedes with stops en route and birding along the Rincon del Socorro entrance road List:

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Local gaucho Photo Stephan Lorenz




One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Orion Weldon on January 4, 2016 at 9:29 pm

    This looked like a pretty awesome trip, man! Well done!



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