Laguna ChaxaWe were totally exhausted after our long day in the mountains, so we asked Claudio to come at noon on Sunday, and just take us one place. Meanwhile, in the morning we thought we’d drive to Chuquicamata, where Robin was born, for a quick look. We knew that the town had been closed down and everyone moved to Calama, and that much of it was now buried under mine tailings. But at least we thought we could look at what’s left. Not actually, it turns out.  There’s a big arch with Chuquicamata on it, then a gate manned by a cop who told us that you can only enter on a tour, and they only have them on weekdays.   Apparently the place is a toxic waste site because of the heavy metals, and you can’t go in unsupervised.  Chuquicamata sign

So we drove back to Calama.     When Claudio came, we had one goal in mind: flamingos.  And he took us to the best spot, Laguna Chaxa.  It’s a salt lake in the middle of the Salar de Atacama, about 1200 square miles of salt flat, high in various minerals including lithium.   The salt water supports a population of brine shrimp, and flamingos eat them.   Laguna ChaxaThere are also Puna Plover and Andean Avocets (one of those in the pic above).  But the flamingos are the big draw.  The place is run as a national park, and there’s a fee to enter.  Well worth it, as the birds are almost entirely unafraid of humans, and you get excellent views of them.   We immediately saw Chilean Flamingos, and then even more Andean Flamingos.  We were missing the James’s (=Andean) Flamingo.  I set up my scope and started scanning the more distant birds.  The absolute furthest visible bird, even through some heated-air ripples, appeared to have all pink legs.  That’s one field mark for James’s.   I waited for it to pull its head up — they spend most of their time sweeping their bills through the water — and when it did, the bill showed only a small black area on the tip.  I called Claudio, who confirmed that it was indeed a James’s Flamingo, and we had al three species in one spot.  That’s half the world’s flamingo species, for those keeping score.   Chilean Flamingo
Chilean Flamingo

We happily headed back to San Pedro, where we paid Claudio his guide fee and said our goodbyes.


Leave a Reply