Bolivia: Endemic Macaws & More Part II Oct 13—23, 2016
Posted by Andrew Whittaker
Bolivia’s natural riches were showcased again during Part II of our 2016 Bolivia tour, with wondrous untouched habitats, from the towering snow-capped Andes; the crystal-clear air of the vast Altiplano and its magical brackish lakes filled with gorgeous flamingoes; famous Lake Titicaca (and its flightless grebe); to avian-rich cloud forest stretching as far as the eye could see. All of this combined with an overdose of scenery to die for and exploration of all the exciting different micro habitats with fantastic birding rewarded us with a fabulous total of 275 bird species! Combining our two exciting new Bolivia tours gave us an incredible grand total of 635 different bird species and 15 mammals!
We got off to a flying start birding in spectacular cloud forest outside of Cochabamba where the Yungas forest was literally dripping with exotic colorful bromeliads, orchids, and moss of many kinds, presenting us with a host of avian beauties.
At our first stop we were spinning around with so much to see, including the much sought after Hooded Mountain-Toucan, an incredibly confiding Barred Fruiteater, White-collared Jay, Bar-bellied Woodpecker, Yungas Pygmy-Owl, Sword-billed Hummingbird, displaying Chestnut-crested Cotinga, endemic Black-throated Thistletail, and Rufous-bellied Bush-Tyrant.
Not to forget the incredible kaleidoscope of colors in the mixed species tanager flocks with the likes of Chestnut-bellied, Scarlet-bellied, Hooded, and Blue-winged mountain-tanagers, Brown-capped Whitestart, and Orange-browed Hemispingus.
Snow-capped Cerro Tunari dominated the magnificent scenery as we drove for another super day of birding in rich agricultural valleys and threatened highland Polylepis forests for a hoard of cool endemics, etc. Hector produced with stellar views of the highly wanted Giant Conebill, the cool-looking endemic Cochabamba Mountain-Finch, and the near-endemic Rufous-bellied (Saltator) Mountain-Tanager.
Andean Tinamou, Gray-bellied Seedsnipe, Fulvous-headed Brush-Finch, and White-capped Dipper were noteworthy. Hummers dazzled us with the breathtaking Red-tailed Comet and near-endemic Wedge-tailed Hillstar.
Leaving the bustling city of Cochabamba, we traveled up and through mile after mile of breathtaking scenery of vivid high grass plains of the Altiplano with a backdrop of snow-capped Sajama Volcano at a staggering 21,463 ft (6,542 m) in the distance, birding en route to Oruro. Highlights today included endemic Gray-crested Finch and endemic Bolivian Blackbird, Ornate Tinamou, Mountain Parakeet, and D’Orbigny’s Chat-Tyrant. Lovely evening sun birding at Lake Uru Uru was a treat with huge numbers of flamingos, Andean Geese, other waterfowl, herons, and shorebirds putting on a great display. Our night was in a comfortable hotel in front of the historic town square.
This morning we had a wonderful time enjoying the vibrant pinks of thousands of flamingos— Chilean, Andean, and James’s stretched as far as the eye could see. We also ticked off the localized and neat Puna Plover, splendid Andean Avocet, Andean Lapwing, masses of migrant Baird’s Sandipers, Puna and Cinnamon teal, and Crested Duck. Not to forget the passerines, with the neat Andean Negrito, endemic Brown-backed Mockingbird, stunning male Andean Hillstar, and a very cute Mountain Viscacha. In late afternoon we arrived at our lovely lakeside hotel on famous Lake Titicaca.
The next morning before breakfast we all had simply stunning views of the near-endemic Titicaca Grebe (flightless) off the pier. Some of us were even lucky enough to watch them diving under water and splashing along the water either in territorial dispute or feeding young, and showing off their odd looking stumpy rudimentary wings. After a great breakfast we drove past the towering snow-capped Illampu Mountain peaking at 20,892 ft. (6,368 m) on our way to bird near Sorata.
My socks were knocked off by the beauty of the endemic Black-hooded Sunbeam, which simply must be one of the most spectacular of all hummers! We enjoyed tremendous studies of this crippler and the rare endemic Berlepsch’s Canastero, along with the cool-looking Slender-billed Miner, Mountain Caracara, and Andean Flicker. Another highlight was the odd, enormous Giant Coot, which was breeding. This afternoon we enjoyed birding around the hotel along the magnificent lake with terrific studies of White-tufted Grebe, Puna Teal, Andean (Ruddy) Duck, Andean Coot, Wren-like Rushbird, Black-throated Flowerpiercer, striking Black Siskin, and magnificent Many-colored Rush Tyrant.
Sadly, the next day, due to a general strike, after some early birding and observing the Aymara Indians and photographing their famous reed boats, we were forced to drive straight on to La Paz to try to get through the many peasant road blocks. On the way a smart Short-eared Owl and a super male Cinereous Harrier brightened up the interesting trip. We managed to get in very late to our lovely forested hotel in Coroico (no thanks to a very, too happy partying town!). A lovely Black-throated Toucanet on the edge of town did grace our arrival, though.
Due to the complete town being in a state of hangover and roads blocked by an amazing number of cars, buses, etc., we decided to bird around the hotel in its rich forested grounds and along some nearby forested roads. Birding was productive with showy Versicolored Barbet, Red-billed Parrot, Green-cheeked Parakeet, Upland Antshrike, Cabanis’s Spinetail, Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, Two-banded Warbler, Yungas Manakin, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Black-backed Grosbeak, and Purplish Jay.
Our last day was a true blast with non-stop action as we climbed higher from 3,000–6,500 feet for what seemed like forever, with mile after mile of stunning untouched Yungas cloud forest with birds galore and way too many highlights to cover here. The deserted road, except for the odd bikers, made for ideal birding, from Golden-headed Quetzal; sought after Black-winged Parrot (alas, heard only); Blue-banded Toucanet; White-rumped Hawk; Amethyst-throated Sunangel; Violet-throated Starfrontlet; Great Sapphirewing; dazzling Crimson-mantled Woodpecker; Bolivian Tyrannulet; White-eared Solitaire (displaying); Swallow, Fawn-breasted, and Blue-and-yellow tanagers; Bolivian Brushfinch; and Bolivian Tyrannulet. The stunted forest higher up was a blaze of color with stunning orchids and neat bamboos, but no responsive Diademed Tapaculo, sadly. After a great meal of fresh trout, we attacked the high puna grasslands crossing over the high pass leading into La Paz.
Here we marveled over many truly high elevation species including Black-faced Ibis (rare) and my favorite, the fearless Scribble-tailed Canastero (running around at our feet), Streak-throated Canastero, and Cream-winged Cinclodes. We enjoyed studying ground–tyrants to separate Puna, White-fronted, and Taczanowski’s; however, sadly, despite a lot of effort from the two of us almost running around searching, no Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe at the high elevation.
Back in La Paz, at our farewell meal we toasted to yet another fantastic Bolivia trip with great birding companions who had shared a fantastic list of superb birds, superlative scenery, and so many vivid landscapes and memories. How I love this country. I just cannot wait to get back. Happy birding to you all! I hope our paths cross again on some exciting birding trip.