BOLIVIA BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY
Bolivia: Day 1 Our Bolivia birding tour begins with a morning flight from the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra to the town of Trinidad, situated in the huge province of Beni, where we will stay for three nights. We will commence our exploration of the Trinidad area this afternoon.
[Santa Cruz de la Sierra is Bolivia’s commercial capital and has more direct international flight connections than La Paz, including flights direct from the United States, Brazil and Argentina.]
Bolivia: Days 2-3 Our prime reason for travelling to the wide watery plains of the Llanos de los Moxos in eastern Bolivia is our quest for the very rare and famous Blue-throated Macaw. Until 1992 this species was only known from museum specimens and from cage birds that occasionally turned up in the international pet trade, but nobody knew where these birds originated from. In 1992 Charles Munn, a scientist with the New York Zoological Society discovered its breeding haunts in the vast, virtually uninhabited palm savanna and gallery woodland mosaic in the centre of the department of Beni. The last census indicates there may be fewer than 100 pairs in the wild, but nobody knows. This species, which resembles the much more common and widespread Blue-and-yellow Macaw, seems to require the presence of the palm Attalea phalerata, which is locally abundant in this area. We can expect to get good views of this superb endemic macaw during our visit and we will be able to compare it to other beautiful members of its tribe, including Blue-and-yellow, Red-and-green, Golden-collared and Chestnut-fronted Macaws.
The grasslands and seasonally flooded woodlands of this region of Bolivia are reminiscent of the more open parts of the famous Brazilian Pantanal or the Venezuelan llanos and harbour the same rich and spectacular variety of birds. The open habitat makes for easy viewing and during our stay here we should amass a splendid list. Many of the birds of the marshes, oxbow lakes, open meadows and pastures are widespread in the Neotropics, but we will, of course, be concentrating on the local specialities, and in particular the increasingly rare and localized Orinoco Goose and the uncommon Hudson’s Black Tyrant (a migrant from central Argentina). There is even a chance for the rare Chaco (or Crowned Solitary) Eagle.
In the gallery woodlands bordering the rivers, we will go in search of four more major specialities; the localized but vocal Plain Softtail (here of the endemic nominate race), the near-endemic Fawn-breasted Wren, the endemic Unicoloured Thrush (uncommon everywhere in its limited range) and Velvet-fronted Grackle (here of the endemic form boliviensis). Another good bird in this habitat is Sulphur-bellied Tyrant-Manakin.
Other birds in the gallery woodland include Black-tailed Trogon, the incredible Toco Toucan (with its bright blue eye), the restricted-range White-wedged Piculet, the handsome Pale-crested and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, Red-billed Scythebill, Mato Grosso and Band-tailed Antbirds, Euler’s Flycatcher, White-eyed Attila, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Band-tailed Manakin, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Rufous-crowned Greenlet, Golden-crowned Warbler, Orange-headed and Grey-headed Tanagers, Chestnut-vented Conebill and Buff-throated Saltator.
The Pantanal-like nature of the Beni floodplain is soon apparent and some areas are very rich in waterbirds and wetland-dependent species. Among those we are likely to find are the remarkable Southern Screamer, the marvellous Sunbittern, the huge Jabiru and the swamp-loving Hoatzin, as well as Black-bellied and White-faced Whistling Ducks, Brazilian Teal, Muscovy Duck, Anhinga, Neotropic Cormorant, Cocoi, Whistling, Capped and Striated Herons, Black-crowned Night Heron, Rufescent Tiger Heron, Great, Western Cattle and Snowy Egrets, Bare-faced, Plumbeous, Buff-necked and Green Ibises, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood and Maguari Storks, Snail Kite, Limpkin, Grey-cowled Wood Rail, Wattled Jacana, Southern Lapwing, Pied Plover, Black-necked Stilt, Large-billed and Yellow-billed Terns, and Green, Amazon and Ringed Kingfishers. Western Osprey, Solitary Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs are present seasonally. More infrequent are Least Bittern, the skulking Ash-throated Crake, Purple Gallinule, Collared Plover and Black Skimmer and such migrant visitors as White-rumped, Pectoral and Spotted Sandpipers.
Among the numerous other species we are likely to see during our visit to this extraordinarily rich birding area are the stately Greater Rhea (often quietly feeding in extended family groups), Undulated Tinamou, Speckled Chachalaca (a species that produces an amazing dawn chorus), the retiring Razor-billed Curassow, Spix’s Guan, Blue-throated Piping Guan, Black, Turkey and Lesser Yellow-headed Vultures, the attractive Long-winged Harrier, Crane, Savanna, Roadside, White-tailed, Grey-lined, Black-collared and Great Black Hawks, Crested and Yellow-headed Caracaras, American Kestrel, Aplomado Falcon, Picazuro and Pale-vented Pigeons, White-tipped, Grey-fronted and Eared Doves, Ruddy and Picui Ground Doves, Yellow-chevroned, Peach-fronted, Dusky-headed and White-eyed Parakeets, Blue-winged Parrotlet, Smooth-billed Ani, the garrulous Guira Cuckoo, Striped, Little and Squirrel Cuckoos, Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, Nacunda Nighthawk, Pauraque, Little Nightjar, Blue-tailed Emerald, the marvellous Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, Black-throated Mango, Gilded Sapphire, Blue-crowned Trogon, Rufous-tailed Jacamar, Black-fronted Nunbird, the lovely White Woodpecker, Yellow-tufted, Little, Golden-green and Lineated Woodpeckers, and Campo Flicker.
Likely passerines include the spectacular Great Rufous Woodcreeper, Olivaceous, Buff-throated, Straight-billed and Narrow-billed Woodcreepers, the raucous Rufous Hornero, Chotoy, Yellow-chinned, Pale-breasted and Plain-crowned Spinetails, Greater Thornbird, the huge Grey-crested Cacholote, Great and Barred Antshrikes, the localized Rusty-backed Antwren, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Yellow-bellied Elaenia, Yellow-olive Flatbill, the diminutive Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher, Scarlet, Rusty-margined, Social, Boat-billed, Short-crested and Brown-crested Flycatchers, White-headed Marsh Tyrant, Black-backed Water Tyrant, Great Kiskadee, the wonderful Spectacled Tyrant, Yellow-browed and Cattle Tyrants, White, Grey and White-rumped Monjitas, Tropical Kingbird, Chivi Vireo, Grey-breasted and Brown-chested Martins, White-winged and White-rumped Swallows, Black-capped Donacobius, the enormous Thrush-like Wren, Masked Gnatcatcher, Creamy-bellied Thrush, Chalk-browed Mockingbird, Purplish and Plush-crested Jays, Crested Oropendola, Yellow-rumped Cacique, Orange-backed Troupial, Variable Oriole, Giant Cowbird, White-browed, Scarlet-headed, Chopi and Unicoloured Blackbirds, Greyish Baywing, Purple-throated Euphonia, Hooded, Silver-beaked, Sayaca and Palm Tanagers, Blue Dacnis, Saffron and Pampa Finches, Wedge-tailed Grass Finch, Long-tailed Reed Finch, Blue-black Grassquit, White-bellied Seedeater (the local form is often treated as a full species: Bicoloured Seedeater), Rusty-collared and Double-collared Seedeaters, Greyish Saltator, and Red-crested and Red-capped Cardinals.
More uncommon species include Rufous-thighed Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Scissor-tailed Nightjar, Buff-bellied Hermit, White-chinned Sapphire, White-tailed Goldenthroat, Blue Ground Dove and Subtropical Doradito. Sometimes Rufous-rumped, Dark-throated and Tawny-bellied Seedeaters are present.
For once, mammals are fairly obvious and Common Zorro (or Crab-eating Fox), Brown Brocket Deer and many Capybaras should be encountered.
Bolivia: Day 4 After some final birding in the Trinidad region, we will take a flight back to Santa Cruz de la Sierra for an overnight stay.
Despite being Bolivia’s fastest-growing town, Santa Cruz de la Sierra retains a pleasant, colonial-style centre. A curious mix of old and new, where horse-drawn carts are passed by innumerable Land Cruisers and Mercedes and Colonial red tile buildings stand side by side with glass and concrete designer outlets and futuristic skyscrapers. It lies at the great meeting point between the Amazonian rainforests to the north and the dry Chaco to the south, the Andes and semi-humid cloudforests to the west and open savannas to the east.
Bolivia: Day 5 Before leaving the Santa Cruz de la Sierra area, we will visit one or two areas of grassy savanna interspersed with areas of bushy scrub and trees and dotted with pools, reminiscent of Brazil’s cerrado.
Here, the rhythmic whistling of Red-winged Tinamous breaks the early morning silence. We shall diligently search weedy areas for the restricted-range White-bellied Nothura, which often explodes partridge-like from the grass at our feet. The second important target this morning is the near-endemic Bolivian Slaty Antshrike, a species that is not difficult to locate.
Other likely species around Santa Cruz include White-tailed and Plumbeous Kites, Burrowing Owl, Grey-rumped and Short-tailed Swifts, Chestnut-eared Aracari, Scaly-headed Parrot, Rusty-backed Spinetail, Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Streaked and Fork-tailed Flycatchers, House Wren, Shiny Cowbird, Southern Yellowthroat, Tropical Parula and Black-backed Grosbeak.
More uncommon or harder to see possibilities include Tataupa Tinamou, Red-legged Seriema, Green-barred Woodpecker and Grassland Sparrow.
Afterwards, we work our way up into the foothills for a three nights stay at Los Volcanes. We may arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Bolivia: Days 6-7 Los Volcanes is a truly magical location and probably one of the most spectacularly situated lodges anywhere in the world! Here, we will be birding in a forested basin beneath the sheer red sandstone cliffs of several immense sugarloaf domes that encircle the lodge. A constant lookout may well be rewarded with great views of the resident King Vultures or spectacular Andean Condors as they sail along the cliffs. We also have a good chance of seeing the increasingly rare Military Macaw. If we are really lucky we will see a Solitary Eagle.
At the base of the sheer cliffs, there are extensive semi-humid cloudforests through which pass several pleasant trails to which we shall devote some time as we search for a number of sought-after species. These include three near-endemics; the rare and strange-looking Bolivian Recurvebill, the rather shy Slaty Gnateater and the diminutive Bolivian (or Bolivian White-crowned) Tapaculo. Los Volcanes is the place to look for all three, but even so, there is a high chance of the recurvebill but not certainty! We shall also try to get a good look at the splendid, restricted-range Yungas Manakin which, although being quite common at Los Volcanes, can be tricky to see well.
We should also encounter one or more of the rarer species of interest such as the secretive Grey Tinamou, Rufous-breasted Wood Quail, Grey-throated Leaftosser and the rare Blue-browed Tanager.
Walking the trails, we should also see a good variety of commoner and more widespread species including the Brown Tinamou (this is a good place for seeing this shy bird, rather than only hearing it), Blue-headed and Red-billed Parrots, Turquoise-fronted Amazon, Chestnut-collared and White-collared Swifts, Green and Sparkling Violetears, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, the pretty White-eared Puffbird, Chestnut-tipped Toucanet, Channel-billed Toucan, Red-necked Woodpecker, Tschudi’s Woodcreeper, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Black-capped Antwren, Plain Antvireo, Chestnut-backed Antshrike, White-backed Fire-eye, Sclater’s Tyrannulet, Sepia-capped and Slaty-capped Flycatchers, Masked Tityra, Moustached Wren, the shy White-necked Thrush, Riverbank and Two-banded Warblers, and Red Pileated Finch. Mixed flocks may well produce Slate-throated Whitestart, Orange-headed, Guira, Black-goggled, White-winged, and Saffron-crowned Tanagers, and Thick-billed and Golden-rumped Euphonias.
More uncommon species include Golden-tailed Sapphire, Double-toothed Kite, Barred Forest Falcon, Bat Falcon and Streaked Xenops.
We shall also head out into the surrounding forests to do some night birding in search of Rufescent Screech Owl, the impressive Band-bellied Owl and also the more elusive Rufous Nightjar and Ocellated Poorwill. If we are very fortunate we will also find the rare, restricted-range Yungas Pygmy Owl or the more widespread but also rarely-seen Subtropical Pygmy Owl.
Bolivia: Day 8 Early this morning we will climb up to some higher elevation forests in search of the sometimes elusive Short-tailed Antthrush, devoting some time to obtaining good views of this beautifully marked species. Another special bird here is the restricted-range and rather shy Yungas Dove.
Afterwards, we will head for a beautiful crater lake, surrounded by dense reed beds, that usually holds one or two family parties of Masked Duck, as well as Least and Pied-billed Grebes.
We then continue on our way to the small town of Samaipata for an overnight stay.
Along our way, we will explore a picturesque valley, occupied by a typical Andean farming community that has created a mosaic of cultivated and fallow fields together with a mix of scrub and taller deciduous woodland. We are fortunate that a few good trails follow the contours through this woodland, enabling us to enter this very birdy area and find a variety of species of limited distribution. In the late morning, we should see the increasingly rare Mitred Parakeet heading off to the hills after raiding the cornfields. We shall also be on the lookout for Ocellated Piculet, Ochre-cheeked Spinetail and Black-and-chestnut Warbling Finch. Sometimes we come across Buff-necked Ibis in the valley and occasionally the restricted-range Slender-billed Woodstar.
Some of the more widespread species we may well encounter today include Short-tailed Hawk, Green-cheeked and Blue-crowned Parakeets, Great-billed Hermit, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Buff-browed Foliage-gleaner, Sooty-fronted Spinetail, the huge Giant Antshrike, Variable Antshrike, the Andean form of the Rufous-capped Antshrike (sometimes split as Marcapata Antshrike), Southern Beardless and White-bellied Tyrannulets, Highland Elaenia, Bran-coloured, Cliff, Euler’s, Variegated and Dusky-capped Flycatchers, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, the delightful Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, the lovely Rufous Casiornis, Blue-and-white Swallow, Rufous-bellied Thrush, Hooded Siskin, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Black-capped Warbling Finch, the ubiquitous Rufous-collared Sparrow, Saffron-billed Sparrow, Golden-billed Saltator and, if we are lucky, the uncommon Dull-coloured Grassquit.
As we continue towards Samaipata we cross a low pass where we have our first chance of seeing the near-endemic Yungas Guan.
Bolivia: Day 9 Departing early this morning, we cross a number of deeply incised valleys on our way to a remnant tract of Podocarpus forest. Our primary goal in this area is seeing both the Tucuman (or Alder) Amazon and the Red-faced Guan, both increasingly rare species found only here and in northwest Argentina. Exploring these forests and enjoying the splendid vistas over unending forests ridges stretching away to the south and east will make for a very enjoyable morning.
We have seen the lovely Straw-backed Tanager in this area and we shall certainly be on the lookout for this rather elusive, restricted-range speciality.
In addition to those species already mentioned, we shall also be hoping to see Masked Trogon, Golden-olive Woodpecker, the rare near-endemic Blue-capped Puffleg, the near-endemic Buff-banded Tyrannulet, Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulet, Sierran Elaenia, the localised Andean Tyrant, the shy Sclater’s Nightingale-Thrush, Andean Slaty Thrush, Blue-winged Mountain Tanager and the somewhat uncommon Golden-winged Cacique. More uncommon possibilities include Bicolored Hawk.
Afterwards, we will head for the broad floodplain of the Rio Misque where we will stay overnight in the Saipina area.
During the journey, we shall make an effort to find the uncommon and restricted-range Dot-fronted Woodpecker and we will also have another opportunity to see the formidable Giant Antshrike. In the open scrubby areas with rolling hills, we have our first opportunities to look for the confiding Olive-crowned Crescentchest, the near-endemic Bolivian Warbling Finch and the elusive Huayco Tinamou (we will count ourselves very lucky if we see the latter during the tour, but we often hear it). As we continue through the dry valleys, we will be keeping an eye on the skies as we often see good numbers of Andean Condors in this area.
Bolivia: Day 10 This tranquil valley is home to one of the most stunning parrots, the now rare Red-fronted Macaw. This large macaw, another Bolivian endemic, can be seen as it crosses the valley en route between its feeding and roosting areas. We will make a special effort to get good looks at this spectacular bird in one of its favoured feeding sites. Getting close to these spectacular creatures, only around 3000 of which remain in the wild, will be an undoubted highlight of the trip. The curious White-tipped Plantcutter is a taxonomic anomaly (and currently placed with the cotingas) and can be found here uttering its rasping call or using its serrated bill to dismember a flower.
Other species we are likely to encounter include the remarkable endemic Cliff Parakeet at its nesting site, the rather Budgerigar-like and restricted-range Grey-hooded Parakeet, White-bellied Hummingbird, the noisy Chaco Puffbird, White-fronted, Striped and Golden-breasted Woodpeckers, Stripe-crowned Spinetail, Streak-fronted Thornbird, Southern Scrub Flycatcher, the delicate but vociferous Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, Southern Martin, Chiguanco Thrush, Ultramarine Grosbeak, the localized Grey-crested Finch, Ringed Warbling Finch, Tooth-billed (or Highland Hepatic) Tanager, Rusty Flowerpiercer and Bay-winged Cowbird. More uncommon possibilities include the rare Cream-backed Woodpecker and the uncommon Suiriri Flycatcher.
After lunch, we will head for Comarapa for a two nights stay. This provincial town, nestled beneath the mighty Siberia massif, enjoys the balmy climate of the inter-montane valleys but is within easy reach of some of the finest cloudforests in Bolivia, protected within the famous Amboro National Park. We may arrive in time for some initial exploration.
Bolivia: Day 11 Comarapa and nearby Tambo are surrounded by semi-desert, with cultivation restricted to the flood plains of the rivers that descend from the surrounding high, forest-clad ridges. In the early morning and evening, these fields can be full of birds taking advantage of the comparatively easy pickings. Deep red and orange canyons bisect the surrounding cactus-covered hills. These are the home of the endemic Bolivian Earthcreeper which, as its name suggests, can be found hugging the canyon walls. In the evening we will go in search of one of South America’s most impressive nightbirds, the remarkable Scissor-tailed Nightjar, as well as the widespread Tropical Screech Owl.
During our stay in this area, we shall also visit the Siberia cloudforest, which lies on the high ridge which marks the boundary between the departments of Santa Cruz de la Sierra and Cochabamba. Here, in complete contrast to arid Comarapa and Tambo, tall, epiphyte-laden trees tower over a thick undergrowth of bamboo and flowering shrubs. Often clear in the mornings, when there are wonderful views over the surrounding hills, it is a rare day when swirling cloud does not envelop all by the afternoon, leaving us to chase disappearing flocks in the mist.
Here, the haunting whistles of the endemic Rufous-faced Antpitta and the endless trills of the mouse-like Trilling Tapaculo taunt us from the densest undergrowth (though with a bit of luck we will eventually encounter both). The flowering roadside bushes attract such evocatively named hummingbirds as Violet-throated Starfrontlet and Tyrian Metaltail. Perusing the denser foliage are Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Montane Woodcreeper, the near-endemic Light-crowned Spinetail (here of the buff-crowned race) and the beautiful Pearled Treerunner. More easily seen are the canopy and mid-level foragers such as the near-endemic Buff-banded Tyrannulet, Cinnamon Flycatcher, Common Bush Tanager, Blue-winged and Chestnut-bellied Mountain Tanagers, and Brown-capped and Spectacled Whitestarts. (The Common Bush Tanager complex is ripe for splitting and the distinctive local form argentinus will surely be at least part of one of those splits. Likewise, the local form flavinucha of the Blue-winged Mountain Tanager has a very different voice, so may merit specific status.)
Amongst the many other birds we may well find here is the endemic Bolivian Brushfinch, as well as Broad-winged and Variable Hawks, Mountain Caracara, Andean Guan, Azara’s Spinetail, the pretty Barred Becard, White-throated, Tawny-rumped and Mottle-cheeked Tyrannulets, Rufous-breasted and White-browed Chat-Tyrants, Smoke-coloured Peewee, Mountain Wren, Grey-breasted Wood Wren, Great Thrush, Fulvous-headed and White-browed Brushfinches, Blue-backed Conebill and Pale-legged Warbler.
On our descent, we shall search an area of low bushes for the endemic Grey-bellied Flowerpiercer. Here we should also encounter the fabulous Red-tailed Comet, Freckle-breasted Thornbird, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, the near-endemic Bolivian Warbling Finch, Rufous-sided Warbling Finch and Band-tailed Seedeater.
Bolivia: Day 12 Leaving early, we shall cross the Siberia watershed in the dark, entering a series of dry valleys on the road to Cochabamba. Here the true majesty of the Andes becomes apparent, as does the tranquil life of the Quechua-speaking Indians who have created a stunning landscape in this impressive environment. We shall have time to search several small gullies filled with Polylepis scrub as well as a larger cultivated valley.
Our main targets today are one little known Bolivian endemic and several near-endemics, and we shall make a concerted effort to locate all of these scarce birds. The superb endemic Black-hooded Sunbeam may not look much in the shadows, yet when the sun strikes its back it is transformed into one of the most beautiful of all hummingbirds, a kaleidoscope of iridescent turquoise and velvety black.
Several other species found only in the drier valleys of this region and just over the border in Argentina will also take up much of our time today. These include the stunning Wedge-tailed Hillstar, the pretty Citron-headed Yellow Finch and Rufous-bellied Mountain Tanager (formerly Rufous-bellied Saltator), and they can all be found here more easily than elsewhere.
Other species we may encounter today include Yellow-billed Teal, Cinereous Harrier, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, the handsome Tawny-throated Dotterel, Bare-faced Ground Dove, Giant Hummingbird, Slender-billed Miner, Cream-winged Cinclodes, Brown-capped Tit-Spinetail, Creamy-breasted Canastero, White-winged Black Tyrant, Tufted Tit-Tyrant, Rufous-webbed Bush Tyrant (with its unusual hovering feeding technique), Brown-bellied Swallow, Rusty-browed Warbling Finch and Greenish Yellow Finch.
After a long and rewarding day, the bright lights of Cochabamba beckon and a pleasant four nights stay awaits us. Cochabamba is one of Bolivia’s largest cities. Founded in 1574, it still retains many attractive historic buildings. The rich soil and pleasant climate of the surrounding valley allow the production of copious quantities of wheat and maize, which were used to feed the silver miners in their heyday.
Bolivia: Days 13-15 During our stay in the Cochabamba region, we will be concentrating on two main areas.
From the Cochabamba valley, situated at 2600m, we soon start to ascend the Quillacolla road. A series of hairpin bends along this rough track take us rapidly higher, from one breathtaking vista to another. Sheer cliffs tower above us, crowned by snow-capped peaks (including Cerro Tunari, at 5035m the highest peak in Bolivia east of the altiplano).
We shall make several stops along this road to acclimatize and also to search for some highly localized birds. Foremost amongst these is the attractive endemic Cochabamba Mountain Finch. We also have another opportunity to see the Wedge-tailed Hillstar, a species that was thought to be extinct until rediscovered here a few years ago. We shall also visit a stand of Polylepis trees, a high altitude species now rarely encountered as it has been frequently cut down for firewood throughout the Andes. Here we shall look for the beautiful Rufous-rumped Bush Tyrant, have another look for Rufous-bellied Mountain Tanager and hopefully see the nuthatch-like Giant Conebill, which specializes in finding insects amongst the flaky red bark which characterizes Polylepis.
Nearing the pass at 4000m, we shall search a roadside boulder field where we may well see Andean Flicker, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, Black-hooded, Mourning, Plumbeous and Ash-breasted Sierra Finches, and White-winged Diuca Finch. If we are in luck we will find the near-endemic Short-tailed (or Boulder) Finch. A search of the surrounding crags may reveal an Andean Condor drifting across the azure skies.
Other birds we will look for along the Quillacolla road include Darwin’s Nothura, Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, Black-winged Ground Dove, Andean Swift, Andean Hillstar, Mountain Parakeet, Rock Earthcreeper, Tawny Tit-Spinetail (another Polylepis specialist), the near-endemic Maquis (or Iquico) Canastero, Streak-throated Canastero, Puna Tapaculo, D’Orbigny’s Chat-Tyrant, Spot-billed, Puna, Taczanowski’s, Cinereous and Ochre-naped Ground Tyrants, Black-billed and possibly Grey-bellied Shrike-Tyrants, Plain-coloured Seedeater and Bright-rumped Yellow Finch. With a bit of luck we will come across the secretive Andean Tinamou and the feisty Torrent Duck.
In the late afternoon, we will visit a lake that should turn up White-tufted and Silvery Grebes, Fulvous Whistling Duck, Red Shoveler, Yellow-billed and White-cheeked Pintails, Puna and Cinnamon Teals, Rosy-billed Pochard, Andean Duck, Common Gallinule, Slate-coloured Coot, Andean Lapwing, White-backed Stilt, Greater Yellowlegs, Least, Baird’s, Pectoral and Stilt Sandpipers, Wilson’s Phalarope, American Golden Plover, Andean Gull, Wren-like Rushbird and Yellow-winged Blackbird. Peregrine Falcon is also a possibility.
The Chapare Road, where we will spend all or most of two full days, has few rivals in South America and is a must for the visiting birder. Climbing out of the Cochabamba valley, it soon reaches the puna zone, from where, in a comparatively short distance, it drops through virtually untouched elfin, temperate and subtropical forests on its way to the town of Villa Tunari and ultimately the distant Amazonian lowlands.
Several trails facilitate the exploration of these various forest types. We will explore the stunted mossy underworld of the elfin forest looking for the endemic Black-throated Thistletail, which creeps through the tangled vegetation like an arboreal mouse. Losing altitude, we shall search the bromeliad-encrusted temperate forest for the diminutive, restricted-range Bolivian Tyrannulet before entering the warm humid world of the subtropical forest with its silvery Cecropia trees and multicoloured mixed feeding flocks of birds.
Some very special Andean species occur along this road and we shall keep a sharp eye out for such highly-desired specialities as the near-endemic Scaled Metaltail, the restricted-range Black-winged Parrot (the only other population is in central Peru), the near-endemic Blue-banded Toucanet, the spectacular, near-endemic Hooded Mountain Toucan (with its amazing voice), the near-endemic Upland Antshrike, the endemic Bolivian Antpitta, the unobtrusive endemic Yungas Tody-Tyrant, the lovely Band-tailed Fruiteater, the gorgeous Chestnut-crested Cotinga, White-eared Solitaire, the restricted-range White-collared Jay, the near-endemic Yungas Warbler, the attractive near-endemic Orange-browed Hemispingus, the uncommon, restricted-range Straw-backed Tanager (a very uncommon species) and Pale-footed Swallow. What an extraordinary assemblage that is! If we are fortunate and the birds are singing, we shall also try to see the shy White-throated Antpitta at one of our sites.
Other species we may well encounter today include Fasciated Tiger Heron, Swallow-tailed Kite, Band-tailed and Plumbeous Pigeons, the shy White-throated Quail-Dove, Plum-crowned (or Speckle-faced) Parrot, Scaly-naped Amazon, Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Speckled Hummingbird, Gould’s Inca, Crested and Golden-headed Quetzals, the magnificent Versicoloured Barbet, Yellow-ridged Toucan, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Striped Treehunter, Torrent Tyrannulet, Smoke-coloured Pewee, Black Phoebe, White-crested Elaenia, Streak-necked Flycatcher, Marble-faced Bristle Tyrant, Streak-throated Bush Tyrant, the uncommon Rufous-bellied Bush Tyrant, Plumbeous Tyrant, Red-crested Cotinga, Barred Fruiteater, the strange but impressive Amazonian Umbrellabird, the spectacular Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, White-capped Dipper, Glossy-black Thrush, Orange-bellied Euphonia, Olivaceous Siskin, Dusky-green and Russet-backed Oropendolas, Southern Mountain Cacique, Citrine Warbler, Superciliaried and Black-eared Hemispinguses, Magpie, Rust-and-yellow, Blue-capped, Blue-necked and Blue-and-black Tanagers, Hooded and Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanagers, and Masked Flowerpiercer.
More uncommon possibilities include the extraordinary Sword-billed Hummingbird, Striped Treehunter and the exquisite Blue-naped Chlorophonia.
Bolivia: Day 16 Close to Cochabamba, Bolivian Blackbirds are usually to be found singing in introduced eucalyptus trees. These virtually all-black birds with a subtle flash of brown on the primaries are endemic to the Cochabamba valley and belong to a monotypic genus. We will also be on the lookout for the range-restricted Brown-backed Mockingbird.
Afterwards, we have a long drive to the Inquisivi area where we will stay overnight. We will pass through puna habitat for a time and here we will stop to look for Ornate Tinamou, White-winged Cinclodes, Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, Cordilleran Canastero and Puna Yellow Finch.
Bolivia: Day 17 The remote town of Inquisivi is one of only two known surviving sites for the Critically-Endangered endemic Bolivian Spinetail! Luckily the species is still quite easy to find in the dry forest near the town. Apart from the endemic spinetail, there is also a newly described form of the Green-cheeked Parakeet along with a good selection of dry country and woodland species. We also have another chance to see the fabulous Black-hooded Sunbeam should we have missed it earlier.
Afterwards, we will travel to La Paz for an overnight stay. We should have time for a few stops in puna habitat along the way, looking for anything we have not come across so far.
La Paz lies at an altitude of approximately 3600m (11800ft) and is the highest capital city on earth. As we enter La Paz, the suburbs initially conceal the huge natural amphitheatre nearly five kilometres wide and up to 400 metres deep in which the main city lies. Above it all rises the impressive, snow-clad peak of Mount Illimani.
Bolivia: Day 18 Today we will work our way down through the verdant cloudforests to the Coroico area for an overnight stay. Few roads bisect the impressive mountains that divide La Paz from the lowlands, but surely the most remarkable is the famous Coroico Road, often described as the most spectacular highway in South America: in a short distance, it drops from a high puna pass at 4600m through rich cloudforest and into verdant subtropical forest, reaching an elevation of only 500m in under 80 kilometres (50 miles)!
Interesting birds to be found at the higher elevations along the road include Great Sapphirewing, Buff-thighed Puffleg, Blue-mantled Thornbill, Slender-billed Miner, Scribble-tailed Canastero, Puna Tapaculo, Puna, White-browed and White-fronted Ground Tyrants, Brown-backed Chat-Tyrant, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Black Siskin, the restricted-range Peruvian Sierra Finch, Black-throated Flowerpiercer and White-browed Conebill. We also have another chance for the rare Short-tailed (or Boulder) Finch.
Amongst the bogs and stony slopes near the La Cumbre pass at an altitude of 4700m (15420 ft), our main target will be the attractive Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, which can often be found foraging in a sheltered spot in this seemingly inhospitable environment.
We will spend some of our time today and tomorrow exploring middle elevation Yungas forest along the Coroico Road, where we will be looking in particular for the restricted-range Diademed Tapaculo (found only in Bolivia and southeast Peru) and the uncommon, near-endemic Scimitar-winged Piha. The latter species was thought to be endemic to Bolivia until discovered in extreme southeast Peru, but we will need a bit of luck to find this shy denizen of the subtropics as we do not see it on every tour. (Sadly the Apa Apa reserve, where it was a bit more reliable, is now defunct.) The little-known Diademed Tapaculo is a distinctive member of this secretive family which was only discovered as late as 1992.
If we are very lucky we will encounter the rare Hazel-fronted Pygmy Tyrant, another species restricted to Bolivia and southeast Peru or the rare, restricted-range Olive Tufted Flycatcher. We will also hope for a lucky break that allows us to see as well as hear the secretive but vocal Hooded Tinamou, a species that occurs here in good numbers.
If we have not already seen them along the Chapare Road during our stay at Cochabamba, we will have further chances in this area for Upland Antshrike and Yungas Tody-Tyrant.
Amongst the other birds that we may well encounter along the Coroico Road are White-tipped Swift, Long-tailed Sylph, White-banded Tyrannulet, Andean Solitaire, Plushcap (or Plush-capped Finch), Three-striped Hemispingus, Swallow Tanager and Bananaquit.
More uncommon possibilities include the restricted-range Ochraceous-breasted Flycatcher and Fulvous Wren, as well as Rufous-crested Coquette, Ochre-naped Ground Tyrant, Yellow-bellied Siskin, Rusty and Moustached Flowerpiercers and the amazing Golden-collared Tanager.
Bolivia: Day 19 We will spend much of the day birding along the Coroico Road and then return to La Paz and continue to the town of Sorata for an overnight stay.
Bolivia: Day 20 Early this morning we will drive along the base of the imposing Illampa mountains to a lovely Andean village. In the dry valley surrounding this little haven the highly localized, endemic Berlepsch’s Canastero can be found. Its huge stick nests are built in the taller eucalypts and we should be able to study this interesting endemic in detail. Other birds likely in this area include Spot-winged Pigeon, Green-tailed Trainbearer, Andean Swallow and Cinereous Conebill. We will also visit a high altitude lake that usually holds a small colony of the bizarre Giant Coot, along with numerous pairs of Silvery Grebes.
Afterwards, we shall visit the famous Lake Titicaca. This deep turquoise lake, which straddles the Peruvian border, lies in the heart of the altiplano. When we see its still waters and the distant ring of snow-capped peaks it is easy to understand how the first people to inhabit its shores believed that Titicaca was the mother of all creation.
The most important bird we shall be targeting here is the localized Titicaca (or Short-winged) Grebe. We should find several of these attractive chestnut-and-white waterbirds swimming quietly along a reed-edge or showing off their spectacular display. In addition, we should also see Andean Goose, Crested Duck, Plumbeous Rail, Puna Miner, the striking Many-coloured Rush Tyrant, Short-billed Pipit, Band-tailed Sierra Finch and Grassland Yellow Finch. If we are fortunate we will find the uncommon Puna Snipe.
Our tour ends late this afternoon at La Paz airport.
[International flight connections out of La Paz are quite limited, mostly departing between the evening and the morning. If your flight is not until the following day, we can arrange hotel accommodation for you in La Paz on request.]
APOLO & PALKACHUPA COTINGA EXTENSION
Apolo & Palkachupa Cotinga: Day 1 From Lake Titicaca, we will drive northwards to the town of Charazani for an overnight stay.
Apolo & Palkachupa Cotinga: Day 2 Today we will depart early and drive to the small town of Atén in the Apolo valley, where we will stay for three nights.
We will make some birding stops along the way. In particular, we will take a look at some cloudforest where our main target will be the near-endemic Puno Antpitta. We will also have another chance for the stunning but uncommon Hooded Mountain Toucan.
Apolo & Palkachupa Cotinga: Days 3-4 The Apolo region of Bolivia lies in the heart of the isolated Bolivian Andean cerrado. We will begin our exploration of this dry and rather unique area located along the otherwise humid eastern flank of the Andes searching the drier forest-edge habitats. This relict area of ’cerrado’ has evolved in splendid isolation in a single rain shadow catchment and is, as a consequence, very limited in extent. In itself, this poses an immediate problem for the endemic fauna and flora found here, as the habitat has been largely cleared for farming and cattle ranching.
As we work the remaining fragments of dry woodland and scrub we can expect to encounter the star attraction of the area, the lovely endemic Palkachupa Cotinga. Also present in the dry scrubby habitat is the rare, near-endemic Green-capped Tanager, a species that also occurs in extreme southeast Peru but which seems easier to find in this area.
We shall also explore more humid Yungas forests in the Machariapo valley on the edge of the vast Madidi National Park. This area allows us an opportunity to find the endemic Yungas Antwren and the very localized Rough-legged Tyrannulet at a site where they seem to be more regular than elsewhere. There is even a real but very slim chance of an encounter with the rarely seen Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo.
At Cerro Asunta Pata we have a fair chance to find the near-endemic Yungas Tyrannulet, a recently described tyrannid considered rare and very local in the Andean foothills and adjacent lowlands of this part of Bolivia and adjacent Peru. This remote area also provides chances for the localized White-browed Hermit and a new taxon within the Fuscous Flycatcher complex.
This splendid area also provides us with further chances for such Bolivian mega-specialities as Bolivian Recurvebill, Upland Antshrike, Bolivian (or Bolivian White-crowned) Tapaculo, Yungas Tody-Tyrant, Yungas Manakin and the rare Straw-backed Tanager. We should also encounter the as-yet-undescribed, near-endemic ‘Inambari-Tambopata Antwren’.
As this is a very poorly known part of Bolivia, we could make an interesting discovery or two. There is even a real chance of encountering the very poorly known, highly distinctive (bright yellow!) and yet still undescribed endemic ‘San Pedro Tanager’!
In addition, we may find some special birds of wider distribution, with possibilities including the shy Rufous-breasted Wood Quail, Solitary and Black-and-chestnut Eagles, the localized White-throated Hawk, Striped Owl, Scissor-tailed and Rufous Nightjars, Plum-crowned Parrot, Rufous-crested Coquette, Western Striolated Puffbird, the uncommon Tyrannine Woodcreeper, Black-bellied Antwren and White-bellied Pygmy Tyrant.
We could also find one or two of the more uncommon specialities, such as the thinly-distributed Orange-breasted Falcon, the rare Peruvian Treehunter, White-throated Antpitta, Hazel-fronted Pygmy Tyrant and the stunning Chestnut-crested Cotinga.
More widespread species we may record in the Apolo region, or during our travels to and from Atén, include Black-capped Tinamou (more easily heard than seen), Many-spotted Hummingbird, Black-bellied Cuckoo, Hook-billed Kite, the superb White Hawk, Andean Motmot, Gilded Barbet, Cabanis’s and Cinereous-breasted Spinetails, Stripe-chested Antwren, Wing-barred Piprites, Forest, Grey and Greenish Elaenias, Mouse-colored Tyrannulet, McConnell’s Flycatcher, Long-tailed Tyrant, White-rumped Sirystes, Round-tailed and Fiery-capped Manakins, Brown-capped Vireo, White-lored Euphonia, Black-faced, Fawn-breasted, Golden, Yellow-bellied, Spotted and Bay-headed Tanagers, Black-faced Dacnis, Purple and Green Honeycreepers, Black-throated Saltator and Chestnut-bellied Seed Finch. Seasonally present are Eastern and Western Wood Pewees, Olive-sided Flycatcher and American Cliff Swallow.
More uncommon but widespread possibilities include Rufous-sided Crake, Golden-tailed Sapphire, Lanceolated Monklet, Barred Forest Falcon, Brown-winged Schiffornis and Blue-naped Chlorophonia.
Apolo & Palkachupa Cotinga: Day 5 After some final birding in the Apolo region we will drive back to Charazani for an overnight stay.
Apolo & Palkachupa Cotinga: Day 6 We will enjoy some final birding early this morning near Charazani. After a chance to wash and change at our hotel we will head for La Paz airport, where our tour ends in the late afternoon.
[International flight connections out of La Paz are quite limited, mostly departing between the evening and the morning. If your flight is not until the following day, we can arrange hotel accommodation for you in La Paz on request.]