Nov. 7 to 9, 2018
Parque Nacional La Campana lies just east of Valparaíso by about an hour, and northwest of Santiago by about the same. It is 80 square kilometers (30 sq miles) of beautiful natural beech forests in the valleys and semi-desert scrub and cactus hillsides. The last natural stand of Chilean Palms can be found in the park as well; surviving just barely after the palm oil rush destroyed just about every last palm tree in Chile.
The National Park is a great place for locals in the city to get out and stretch their legs, and for travelers to unpack those hiking boots. After 4 days of walking the city streets in Valparaíso, we were craving some time out in the wild.
The bird I wanted to see the most while in La Campana was the Rufous-legged Owl. A weird and beautiful Strix species that is only found in central and southern Chile and along the Andes just across the border into Agrentina. Being a Strix, it’s “song” is just as strange as the Barred Owl back home. Check it out on xeno-canto here.
We wanted to visit the Granizo sector of the park, but it was closed for maintenance and improvements (according to the CONAF website). Turns out, you can’t camp in that sector anyway, so our only option was the Cajón Grande sector.
Getting to La Campana National Park from Valparaíso on public transport is made quite painless by the metro that runs from Muelle Pratt in Valparaíso to Limache, a town just 15 kilometers from the park. The metro ride is about an hour, which is quite comfortable with the large seats and relatively normal amounts of people. From Limache, a bus runs from right outside the metro station to Cajon Grande. From there, it’s a winding 1 kilometer walk along a narrow and sleepy road. The whole trip on public transport takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Walking from the bus stop at Cajón Grande (which is nothing more than a dirt turn-around along the road) to the park was hot and tiring but made better by the two American travelers also going to camp and the first life bird of the day, a pair of Rufous-tailed Plantcutters! I hope we get to spend some more time with these colorful and strange birds! A quick look while carrying heavy packs was not enough!
Our new friends, Matt from Minnesota and Alex from Colorado, offered to share a campsite to save some pesos and we soon found the right site big enough for 2 tents.
After setting up camp, Stephanie and I wandered up the trail looking for birds and other wonders of natural Chile. Almost right away, we had a Green-backed Firecrown land just for a second above us! Our first hummingbird on the South American continent! One that I already can’t wait to see more of.
The trail moves through the beech forests along the slow stream with the cacti hillsides just above it. The meeting of the two habitats made for a decently productive evening walk. Moustached Turca, White-throated Tapaculos, and Dusky-tailed Canasteros singing from the scrubby hillside. I’m glad I got to see them earlier, because trying to chase those elusive birds up a steep and spiny hillside then would have been just terrible. I was trying for a photo of some Tufted Tit-Tyrants when I heard a siskin flying in. A Black-chinned Siskin made an all-to-fast appearance and vanished. Lifer #3 for La Campana!
As night fell, we geared up to go owling. Austral Pygmy-Owls and a Great Horned Owl called as the last light was fading from the sky. The Pygmy-Owls would be new, but I have a personal rule that I have to see the bird for me to count it as a lifer.
Before we left the campsite, two Rufous-legged Owls started hooting and squawking back and forth! Stephanie and I located where they were, but it was across the creekbed, and we were already on edge from the huge tarantula we saw right by camp. Picking our way closer, as carefully as we can, the owls seemed to be moving farther away. That’s when we tried to bushwack up the side of the hill. Right then, a giant Tarantula appeared out of nowhere and scrambled towards me! I backpeddled to get out of its way and yelled some expletives. We looked closer and saw that there were spiders and tarantulas everywhere! For some godawful reason, there is a huge amount of arachnid life in this park. The ground had a tarantula every 10 feet and a whole assortment of other spiders doing whatever nocturnal spiders do. This was too much for Stephanie and I, and we had to call it a night. No owls seen. Maybe the next night we will have better luck; and less spiders.
We rose the following morning slowly, enjoying finally being in nature and surrounded by life. Coffee, loaded oatmeal, and a hard-boiled egg for breakfast and we headed out for a little birding.
Cow trails crisscross the forest, and make for convenient birding trails. We found one that leads up the hill opposite the streambed from camp and almost right away spotted our first lifer of the morning, a pair of Thorn-tailed Rayaditos! Those birds have some of the coolest patterns, and that tail! I didn’t anticipate I would just totally fall for them as much as I did. We followed them through the trees for 15 minutes, just watching and enjoying such a different bird from what we are used to back home.
Our next 2 lifers came back to back. We found a little overlook on the cow trail that has open views to the streambed and a good vantage point for forest birding. A Fire-eyed Diucon made a quick appearance, and we got our first looks at a Giant Hummingbird! The hummingbird is so big, it flies much more like a mix of a swift and a Cedar Waxwing than a hummingbird. I mean, the thing is as big as a thrush! A close look at a Gray-hooded Sierra-Finch in the streambed was a nice surprise and the last lifer of the mornings birdwalk.
For the rest of the day, we hiked up the Sendero Ocoa, to the ridgeline and separation between the two sectors of the park (Granizo and Cajón Grande sectors)
On the way up, we saw more White-crested Elaenias than we have this whole trip so far combined! Lots of Rufous-collared Sparrows and House Wrens and a few more Thorn-tailed Rayaditos. At one spot, we found an overlook of the stream valley. While soaking in the view, a Giant Hummingbird flew right up to us, hovered a bird, and flew away to land on top of a tree in the small valley. How awesome to have such a close to look at this crazy big hummingbird!
Chile is awesome!
From the top, you can see down into the other valley, which has more of the Chilean Palms that makes this park a UNESCO Bioreserve. It was tough 4.2 mile hike, the last 1.5 miles seemed to be straight up through rutted trails, but it was worth it. Great views and the feeling of accomplishment. Even a couple good birds, a close Green-backed Firecrown and Black-chinned Siskin flyby. One the way down, we lucked into an adult Bicolored Hawk! A small Accipiter that has a distinct Chilean subspecies that is sometimes considered separate as Chilean Hawk. Either way, a rad bird and the 5th lifer of the day.
Night 2, and I was more prepared for the creepy-crawlies this time. Starting a little earlier, I got into position and called for the Austral Pygmy-Owl while there was still a little light in the sky. A bird promptly came in and I was able to get some decent looks and even a crummy photo! It felt great to finally get eyes on one of the owls here.
Now to go after those Rufous-legs.
They seemed to get shy and quiet when I got near, so I took my time and picked my route. Luckily, they seemed to be right above the cow trail that we used that morning. Knowing my way and sticking to a trail, I ran into many less tarantulas. Only about 3, and just one big one. I stood quiet, waiting for a call from the owls, but nothing. I was right below them, but without a hoot, there would be no way to locate them in the dense forest canopy. 20 minutes without any calls, and I had to make the decision to move on. Until next time, owls.
Back in our tent, settling in for bed, they Rufous-legged Owls called again. It seemed like they were only 50 feet away, laughing at me.
The next morning, we ate a great breakfast and packed up camp to head back to Valparaíso.
eBird list for the morning: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S49814374
eBird list for the hike: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S49814388
eBird list for the night: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S49814401
Cost and Logistics
Metro card and credit for the metro to Limache and back cost us $5,600 CLP ($8.20 USD) total for us two. The bus to Cajón Grande comes by the metro station in Limache about every 10 minutes. Just ask or look for the one with it on the signs in the front window. There are some good empanadas just outside the station there too, if you need some food for the road.
CONAF is the Chilean national parks service
Info about La Campana here
Expenses are listed as total for 2 people
Metro card+rides to and from $5,600 CLP | $8.20 USD
Bus to La Campana x2 $1,100 CLP | $1.60 USD
Bus to metro from La Campana x2 $1,100 CLP | $1.60 USD
National Park fees
– entrance x2 $8,000 CLP | $11.70 USD
– camping for 1 night $6,000 CLP | $8.76 USD
Total spent not including food: $21,800 CLP | $31.85 USD