Saturday 17 February 2024


The main purpose of my visit to Patagonia in southern Argentina was to see Hooded Grebe. The medium to long-term picture for this species is bleak and that's why you simply have to see it soon.

Hooded Grebe - Strobel Plateau, 12th February 2024

It is classified as Critically Endangered by BirdLife International. And I quote: "This species's population size has declined rapidly over the past three generations and it therefore qualifies as Critically Endangered. It appears from recent counts that the population is now stable, probably as a result of extensive conservation actions. If evidence continues to show that the population remains stable, the species may be downlisted to a lower category of threat in the future."

It is an endemic breeding species to Argentina with an estimated population size of 650 - 800 mature individuals. Again I quote from BirdLife International:  "This species breeds on a few basaltic lakes in the interior of Santa Cruz, extreme south-west Argentina. The only known wintering grounds are located at the estuaries of río Coyle, río Gallegos and río Chico on the Atlantic coast of Santa Cruz (Johnson and Serret 1994, Imberti et al. 2004, Roesler et al. 2011b). It is apparently a summer visitor in the Torres del Paine National Park in Magallanes, southern Chile, but there are no confirmed breeding records for the country (Roesler et al. 2011b, S. Saiter and F. Schmitt in litt. 2013, Donoso et al. 2015, Roesler 2015)."

Now consider this......For this breeding season 2023-24 there are no confirmed successful breeding pairs! The previous season only 1 chick survived and according to the volunteers of the Hooded Grebe Project severe stormy weather destroyed the remaining nests on the Strobel Plateau. In the 2021 - 2022 breeding season only 4 chicks survived and none in 2020 - 2021 & 2019 - 2020. And only 1 chick survived in 2018 - 2019. Isn't that unbelievable?

For the full lowdown from BirdLife International follow this link: Hooded Grebe Info


There's also a very interesting article by BirdLife International and again follow this link to read in full:  Hooded Grebe - Dancing on the Edge

When you consider the species was only discovered on a lake near El Calafate in 1974 and there's been an 80% reduction in their numbers since then, you have to ask if there's any hope for the species. But the Hooded Grebe Project volunteers have been doing a stirling effort to help by introducing breeding platforms, guarding nests and trying to do something about the introduced Salmon, Trout and American Mink that are their main predators, along with Kelp Gulls now expanding their range. And of course the elephant in the room of climate change resulting in hotter, drier summers with more wind resulting in many favoured breeding lagoons drying out.

Everything points to the species heading to extinction but the volunteers remain committed to their cause. With the climate change threat creating drier conditions year upon year, the subsequent demise of their favoured plant to build their nests and find their favourite food within (aquatic invertebrates) is going to be the biggest challenge I think. 

So I had to go. or at least try to see them and figure out a way to help and bring more tourists/birders here and raise awareness of the species' plight. Well, it's an epic journey just to reach El Calafate, followed by a straight 6 or 7 hour drive to one of the estancias to stay overnight. Followed by a rough 2 hour drive to meet the land owner who takes you on a bone-jarring 2 hour drive over one of the roughest, rockiest roads you've ever been on to reach the lake. And then the whole journey back to El Calafate. Throw in birding stops etc and it's one hell of a ride! But absolutely worth it.

We saw 9 Hooded Grebes here....

We were lucky to see 9 Hooded Grebes amongst a flock of approximately 70 Silvery Grebes here. We were due to visit another lake but had information a few days before getting here that only two had been present and they had suddenly disappeared. So we managed to get access with a different landowner as volunteers from the Hooded Grebe Project had told the owners of the estancia about the presence of the grebes here. 

Upon arrival I wasn't optimistic about seeing them but with scopes set up from the top of the escarpment above managed t quite quickly spot one. They are bigger and much heavier than Silvery Grebes and glow really white from a distance....

Hopefully the above photos give you some idea of how much the Hoodies stand out from the Silveries...

So walking down to the lake we spotted a few more Hooded Grebes. Setting our backpacks down amongst some rocks we walked slowly closer and each time the closest pair of Hoodies dived underwater we walked quickly closer and froze when they resurfaced. By doing this we got close to the water's edge opposite where they were present and had amazing scope views. Getting decent photos was tricky with some haze, a little wind and general adrenalin pumping through my body from the excitement. Phonescoping was much more effective and I even managed to film a pair displaying...... Wow!!

And here's a few more photos...

So i'm hoping to run a trip to see them in December this year and 2025. Will post details as soon as i'm back from our Epic Cape Horn Cruise next month. 

Thanks for reading. Let's go birding!

Thursday 15 February 2024

Heading 'Up North'

Woke up sunburnt and feeling like I’d been staked out on a sunbed in Benidorm for 2 weeks!

It’s a loooooong days drive from El Calafate to the estancia where we were staying tonight, with numerous roadside stops along the way. After dropping the rental car at the tiny airport, our guide, Alejandro picked us up in his 4WD and we headed north. Our pilgrimage to see one of the Holy Grail birds was now gathering pace.... 

At our first stop along the Santa Cruz River gave us Patagonian Yellow Finch and a flock of Least Seedsnipe flew past and landed nearby. 

Patagonian Yellow-Finch

Further stops en-route yielded Cinnamon-bellied Ground-Tyrant, Variable Hawk, Common Miner, Sharp-billed Canastero and Common Diuca Finch

Common Miner

Plus 2 more lifers: Grey-bellied Shrike-Tyrant and Band-tailed Earthcreeper

Band-tailed Earthcreeper

There’s a 70kms stretch of road that isn’t paved and it really slows you down, as well as being a little rough on your back. All the while we were scanning for Patagonian Tinamou but didn’t have a sniff of that today despite oceans of suitable habitat. It’s literally a needle in a haystack. 


We eventually arrived at the famous La Angostura around 7pm, just in time for dinner, which we shared with some Argentinian, Dutch and French tourists, who were very nice people indeed. Copious amounts of wine and beer washed down a heavenly meal before the 3 of us tried Austral Rail, again without a murmur from the enigmatic beastie. An albino Chilean Swallow flew around us and looked stunning in the last of the evening suns rays, plus Silver Teal was a trip tick. We had a late evening walk looking for Lesser Horned Owl, which turned out blank although I did make friends with the lodge's dogs, cat and horse! 

Pretty sure I’m not going to sleep well tonight (just for a change) as I’m really too excited with the prospect of what tomorrow could well bring….

Wednesday 14 February 2024

Ice, Ice Baby!

So i'm days behind in posts. Lots of birding, lots of driving and kilometres covered, but definitely worth it. The whole purpose of coming here is to see a long held dream become a reality - the Critically Endangered (According to BirdLife International) Hooded Grebe. But we've a spare day before hitching up with our guide, so headed into Los Glaciers National Park about an hour from the town where we are staying of El Calafate. A little pre-breakfast jaunt down to the lake gave us close Magellanic Snipe, Lesser Yellowlegs, a family of Flying Steamer-Ducks and Dark-bellied Cinclodes amongst others. 

Dark-bellied Cinclodes

Magellanic Snipe

Flying Streamer-Duck

There's fantastic scenery for sure in the National Park, and it attracts a lot of visitors and I mean A LOT! I found it very frustrating that there were very few parking places and the ones available are usually full of people. But it was the weekend and I wondered if that just increased the volume of traffic and people? 

However, as I say there was spectacular scenery....

Los Glaciers National Park

Perito Moreno Glacier

Got great views of a pair of Austral Pygmy Owls... They really annoyed the local Chilean Elaenias and Thorn-tailed Rayadito's.

Austral Pygmy Owl

Highlight of my day was this immature Magellanic Tapaculo that was so bold and kept on following us as we walked down the road a little way.... And a lifer as well..!!!

Magellanic Tapaculo

And a few Austral Parakeets flying over were a lifer too! We ended the day at another area outside the park, which was pretty bridles but did find our first Ashy-headed Geese amongst a bunch of Upland Geese, before heading back to the hotel for an early shower!

Ashy-headed & Upland Geese

Saturday 10 February 2024

Patagonia at Last!

 Oh boy we made it! After an overnight stop in Madrid and another in Buenos Aires we touched down in El Calafate in southern Argentina at 8am local time. I'm not going to dwell on sleeping through my alarm this morning and literally having 10 minutes to pack as the cab was waiting to take us to Jorge Newbery Airport. Think i've only ever done that once whilst overseas birding and certainly not done that leading a Zoothera Birding trip! So I slept the whole 3 hour flight this morning as the plane left at 5am and I was still reeling from oversleeping - but literally only had 2 hours sleep last night anyway. 

But isn't it funny, no matter how little or disrupted your sleep is, that when you're heading to a birding trip you find yourself full of beans and raring to go no matter what. And around 9.15am Pete and I were in the rental car and off towards the town. The road skirted the massive Lago Argentina and we pulled up to an overlook next to Reserva Laguna Numez. And there were birds. Lots of them. The sky was blue, temperature was a little cool and there wasn't any wind that Patagonia is so infamous for! 

Laguna Nimez Reserve is a fantastic place

A Cinereous Harrier gave ridiculously good views as it hunted right in front of us and I was mesmerised watching it, practically ignoring a male Spectacled Tyrant tarting itself beside our car. Out on the lagoon it was fun using my new Swarovski ATX 95 scope and getting eye-scorching looks at (yes Roberta that one is for you!) Red-fronted and White-winged Coots. Plenty of common wildfowl were around and it was kind of nice to familiarise myself with Red Shoveler, Yellow-billed Pintail, Yellow-billed Teal, Chiloe Wigeon, Lake Ducks, Upland Geese and some Coscoroba Swans

Spectacled Tyrant

Cinereous Harrier

A short distance along the road was the Visitor Centre and we duly paid our ten dollars and spent the next few hours doing a circuit of the reserve. At the back of my mind I had grand ideas of finding Austral Rail but the day warmed up very quickly and a surprising number of visitors were strolling along the trails, making it quite futile spending any time searching for anything remotely skulking. Saying that we did see 2 Plumbeous Rails and a Wren-like Rushbird

It's a great reserve with some superb scenery too

I love the goofy look on a Red Shoveler

Everything else was repeats of earlier but also included a flotilla of Black-necked Swans, Chimango Caracara, White-winged Coots, Black-chinned Siskin, Long-tailed Meadowlark and a couple Mourning Sierra-Finches. There were some other common species but i'm not going to bore you with them! I did like very close views of Chilean Swallows and certainly enjoyed being perturbed for a few minutes by those pesky female Spectacled Tyrants!

Looking back down the road towards Lago Argentina

So with cheese and ham bagels at the ready we set off to check a few rail spots. But that was a bust as the habitat didn't look right so ended up driving out of town some 15kms to Hoya del Chingue to see if there were any Cinnamon-bellied Ground-Tyrants around - a lifer for both of us. The road soon became a rocky sort of bumpy track and after 10kms we turned off for another 5kms and went uphill to the old ski resort. It was a tricky drive in our little Fiat but we made it and duly scored the ground-tyrant after numerous stops and false alarms. A family of Spot-billed Ground-Tyrants were nice and many Scale-throated Earthcreepers were around but apart from masses of Rufous-collared Sparrows not a lot else. I still want to get Austral Canastero, Short-billed Miner and Band-tailed Earthcreeper (all lifers) but they might have to wait as we are heading into the National Park tomorrow...

As we'd returned to the hotel around 5pm and with sunset not until 9.20pm we decided to have an hour off at the hotel and go out again in the evening. The wind had built up unfortunately and there was no sign of Magellanic Plover, but we did get White-tufted Grebe, 4 Lesser Yellowlegs and Magellanic Snipe in the glorious evening light. Then we returned to the hotel for a few beers (of course) and a great meal. And that was our day....

Wednesday 7 February 2024

Packing, Queuing & Perusing!

Well i'm finally on my way to South America! Packing last night was not a joy and I realised at 10pm that i'd left it all a bit late really, so my usually/sometimes laid back, haphazard way of doing things had Mrs B's eyes rolling. Trying to cram in the last 4 episodes of a series on tv we'd been binge-watching in between folding clothes and wondering where all the toiletries had disappeared to delayed things considerably. Apparently Mrs B had 'tidied up' and was none-too-impressed when I asked her where she'd moved them to...! 

Somehow managed to fit this all in one case....

And I wasn't the most popular person in the room when I woke her at 5.15am to take me to Manchester Airport for the first of 4 flights it's taking to get to El Calafate in Southern Argentina. The BA check-in person was obviously having a bad day and after unsuccessfully trying to get me to join the huge check-in queue for economy, finally accepted that I was allowed in the business lane for check-in. Apparently being dressed like a birder doesn't win you any friends here! And no she couldn't check-in my optics bag, but eventually got one over me by charging £65 for being 2kgs overweight. My luggage that is - not me (would definitely had been more in that case).

So here I am, in Heathrow Airport kicking my heels with a coffee, waiting for the Madrid flight later this afternoon. And it's nice to have a bit of time to peruse the fantastic Natural History Book Society website and see what new bird books I need for the coming year..... Sorry Mrs B!

Going to need this one for May....

In the meantime i'm glad to say that the AirTag I put in my case works and i'm wondering why i've never used this before? If, like me, you're a bit OCD about your luggage going missing it's a great thing to have as you can track your luggage's location via smartphone/iPhone etc. Sad I know!

Monday 5 February 2024

Bumps, Lumps & Mrs Google

Today has been a voyage of discovery before the actual junket begins...Having found a protruding hard lump on the back of my heel, my personal physician of the Google era has diagnosed me as having a high instep and casually enlightened me with the information after a swift 'tinternet' search that I do in fact walk funny!....Which fits spiffingly with her diagnosis of my foot ailment! What did we do before Google eh?

The excitement of my travels has not been dampened by Mrs B's summary diagnosis and on a lighter note I only have one remaining space on my new Tanzania tour and my bag is almost full for Argentina. 

My guide has been in touch again today and the news remains positive on the Hooded Grebe, and I am sincerely hoping that my walking funny will not detract from my views of this amazing bird..!

Just thought i'd post a random photo of this pair of Cape Rockjumpers from a previous visit to South Africa as i'm arranging a full-on birding tour there for 2025!


Had a day of preparation today and it feels like a big deal with the first trip of 2024 looming on the horizon. Actually it's huge as there's a Hooded Grebe with my name on it waiting for me.  I'm not sure the anticipation of seeing this particular bird will let me sleep between now and my arrival in Argentina on Thursday. I am in regular contact with my guide and he has been keeping me updated on where these very rare birds are being seen and we've had to change our plans recently as the pair we were targeting have become elusive and disappeared. It transpires there's another lake on a different ranch, but the owners want $600 to let us have access.........

So i'm leaving the UK on Wednesday for the first of many flights (all worth it of course) to have a crack at seeing this beauty. This recce is the start of a whole month away, with a few days birding around Santiago, Chile before two weeks on our Cape Horn Cruise. We end up in Buenos Aires with a few days at a fabulous place called Ceibas, a couple of hours away from the city.

I have started my packing and unlike last year when I was packing my dinner jacket and bow tie, this year I'm taking a less formal approach to cruising. I've packed an extra 3 books instead! Last year I had my right hand woman with me, but this year she is still convalescing after an operation, so the minutae is all mine to cope with... Washing 'pods' and instant coffee sachets are being thrust at me in recyclable bags and paracetamol and flu tablets added to my hand luggage. It's not detracting from my excitement though ......I don't think anything could. When new birds no longer command this level of enthusiasm it might be time to hang up my bins! But that's not going to happen EVER!!!

Thursday 1 February 2024


Been pondering my next Saudi Arabia tour in April and why I enjoy birding in the Middle East so much. I even counted up my Oman list recently, which has reached a respectable 283 species and i'm definitely itching to get back there in March - but that's another story. So back to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia...... 

It's variety of habitats was something of a surprise when I first went there in January 2023 for a recce. But in April the Sarawak Mountains & Asir highlands come alive and the wadis have lush green vegetation full of Arabian Waxbills, Yemen Linnets, Yemen Blackbirds and Yemen Warbler. In one particular secluded area covered in Juniper trees, Arabian Grosbeak's play hide-and-seek.

One of my favourite spots to sit and scan. Always lots of activity here...

This area was good for Philly's Partridge

I don't really 'do' culture but the draw of Thee Ain Ancient Village is the surrounding area, which has a good draw for passing migrants, Bruce's Green-Pigeon, African Grey Hornbill, bucketloads of Black Bush-Robins, Arabian & Nile Valley Sunbirds, and even a roost of Arabian Straw-coloured Fruit Bats.

Thee Ain Ancient Village

So in the mountains you'll get most of the key species: Philly's Partridge, Arabian Woodpecker, Yemen Warbler, Yemen Thrush, Arabian Waxbill, Arabian Serin and Yemen Linnet. There's also a few birds that I see in Oman - Arabian Partridge, Arabian Scops-Owl, Arabian Eagle Owl, Arabian Wheatear, Arabian Sunbird, Yemen Serin and Arabian Golden-winged Grosbeak (but you have to know the exact location to see the grosbeak in Saudi and I do!). Add to this lot the very local Rufous-capped Lark, Gambaga Flycatcher and Buff-breasted Wheatear. Oh and the only Saudi endemic is around Tanomah - Asir Magpie.

I've heard Desert Owl here but it's also a good raptor viewpoint in Spring

Yemen Serins along the clifftops and Rufous-capped Larks nearby...

A good spot for Philly's Partridge

Plenty of places to explore in the highlands

I particularly like the Tanomah area, not just because of the endemic Asir Magpie, but it's also good for African Pipit, Shikra, Arabian Eagle Owl, Arabian Scops-Owl, Eurasian Griffon and both Yemen & Arabian Serins.

Worth exploring the fields for African Pipit here....

The temperature in the mountains is just perfect

Whilst in the mountains and you're staying at Abha, then the reservoir is worth a quick look for Red-knobbed Coot....

Abha Reservoir

And once you're done up here, it's time to head down to the coast. Last April I did a bit of a mad twitch for Arabian Golden Sparrow, leaving the highlands at Tanomah and swinging down to the coast north of Al Birk to get the sparrow before heading back up the escarpment to Abha. It was a nuts journey but we came across a nice lake with a huge colony of breeding Squacco Herons. No biggie but in Saudi birding terms was probably the largest colony ever found in The Kingdom.

Lots of birds here and not a known birding site..

Species change considerably once you're along the coast and especially in peak migration time it feels you could get anything..

Seawatching at Jazan was productive with Sooty Shearwater, Common Noddy & many White-cheeked Terns

We were scoping some distant Broad-billed Sandpipers 

You have to visit the south of the country and search the mangroves for the local avicceniae  race of European Reed Warbler that some people call Mangrove Reed Warbler and Mangrove White-eye. Both are mooted to be split but I don't hold out much hope. Also, beware Clamorous Reed Warblers here!

Out in those mangroves is where to go for the local race of European (MangroveReed Warbler and Mangrove White-eye everyone gets jumpy about

Sunset at the Al Birk Mangroves

And you just have to visit Jazan Dam Lake. Great for all sorts of shorebirds, Little Bittern, Helmeted Guineafowl, White-browed Coucal, White-throated Bee-eater....

Just look at the habitat..  great birding at Jazan Dam Lake 

Jazan Dám Lake - even saw African Openbill here, a real Saudi mega!

Inland from Jazan is Abu Arish and a variety of pivot fields.  The large grassy agricultural areas are a great spot to look for Harlequin Quail, migrants, and I had Black-headed Heron flying over last year. Whilst pivot fields like the one below are worth checking.

The pivot fields have roosting Hypocolius in winter.

So that's a brief overlook on the side of Saudi Arabia most people don't expect. Such a wide variety of habitats and i've not even covered the vast mudflats along the coast and lagoons that are great for migrating shorebirds and even White-eyed Gull at one particular area. 

I hope it's given you some idea of what to expect if you are considering a birding trip to The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.