Bolivia: The Peak of Diversity

29 August - 15 September 2010

Leader: Rich Hoyer. See Rich's blog

Narration by Martin Selzer
photos by Lynn Jackson & Rich Hoyer

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Bird List


Bolivia is equal in size to California and Texas combined. Brazil forms its eastern border while Peru and Chile are its neighbors on the north and west with Argentina and Paraguay to the south. The western region is enclosed by two chains of the Andes forming a great plateau—the Altiplano, with an average altitude of 12,000 ft (3,658 m). Almost half the population of Bolivia lives on this plateau. At an altitude of 11,910 ft (3,630 m), La Paz is the highest administrative capital city in the world. The Oriente, a lowland region ranging from rain forests to grasslands, comprises the northern and eastern two-thirds of the country.

With these high mountains and plains in the west, the Amazonian basin in the north, the Pantanal in the east, and the Chaco in the south, Bolivia contains more diverse biomes than any other country on the bird continent of South America. Some 1300 species of birds can be found within its land-locked borders as Bolivia supports more than forty percent of South America's bird diversity.

While its native woodlands and unique interior dry valleys contribute to a diverse avian mix, they harbor fewer than twenty true endemic species. However another 100-plus species are confined to a variety of limited ecosystems that barely overlap political boundaries with its neighbors and are not seen as easily anywhere else in South America. This vast array of habitats and their associated rich avian birdlife coupled with Rich Hoyer’s overall naturalist abilities that led me to take this tour.

The trip fell at the end of the dry season and a massive cold front hit the region a couple weeks before we arrived wiping out many of the flowering blossoms on the trees and plants. It was very dry and dusty in all the regions we visited and cooler than we had expected at the beginning of the trip. Temperatures ended up being in the low 40s to high 80sF for most of the tour.

We stayed in a variety of hotels and lodges throughout our visit. Many of our breakfasts and most lunches during the course of the tour were picnics to optimize our time in the field.

29-Aug-10 (Sunday) – The tour began this morning when we arrived in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. Our adventure began the day before when we left Philadelphia on an American Airlines flight to Miami at 13:30. This was followed by an overnight flight from Miami at 23:10 to Santa Cruz’s Viru Viru International Airport with a stopover in La Paz. We arrived in Viru Viru about an hour late at 9:10. We then went through customs, sorted out our visas (which basically entailed completing a form and paying the $135 fee). We then had to gather our luggage (get it hand inspected) and meet Rich so we could start our birding. All this took about an hour before we could head to our hotel and meet the half of the tour group that had arrived the day before. Two other participants were on our flight from Miami.

We arrived at the Hotel Sol y Arena around 11:20 and settled into our cabana. The group met for lunch at noon and then we birded the grounds and entrance road from 15:00-18:08. The importance of 18:08 was that it was the time to begin watching for Nacunda Nighthawks.

The group learned from the previous night that this was when they began foraging. Nacundas are large nighthawks with impressive white wing patches so we wanted to be sure to be back at our cabanas to view these birds as they came out at dusk, which happened to be around 18:08. The night before the group of nighthawks was about 6-10 birds; tonight we had almost twice that many.

Other really great birds observed to start our tour were a pair of Red-legged Seriema, Guira Cuckoos, Yellow-Collared Macaws, Red-winged Tinamou (We flushed one from the grasses as we walked across a field. Any tinamou seen is a good thing, usually these birds are heard calling off in the vegetation NEVER to be seen.), Picui Ground-Doves (we would end up seeing them just about every day of the trip but they were a new bird for me today), Straneck’s and White-bellied Tyrannulets, a couple Pearly-Vented Tody-Tyrants, a female Cinereous Tyrant, White-banded Mockingbird and a Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrant. Dinner was at 18:30. We spent the night in Santa Cruz at the Hotel Sol y Arena. Santa Cruz is the capital city of the department of Santa Cruz in eastern Bolivia. It is the largest city in Bolivia.

Red-legged Seriema strolling around the grounds of the hotel

30-Aug-10 (Monday)– Breakfast was at the hotel at 5:45 and we left our bags outside our cabanas so they could be shuttled out to our Toyota Coaster bus. The bus could not make it all the way to our cabanas because of the sandy nature of the road. No worries, this just meant we would be able to walk the road and bird the early morning on foot. It was very overcast and the morning sky had the look of rain. In fact when we finally drove through Santa Cruz, you could see that it had rained quite hard but we never had more than a few sprinkles and nothing that stopped us from birding or even required breaking out our umbrellas.

The day started with a visit from the resident Red-legged Seriemas and then I actually scared up a White-bellied Northura. Two members of the tinamou family in two days! It's enough to practically make one believe in the tooth-fairy. We then went to work on Chotoy Spinetail, Chopi Blackbirds, Grassland Sparrows and repeat looks on some of the birds from the day before. The grounds of the hotel also had multiple pairs of Burrowing Owls and several Southern Lapwings.

A short way down the road we came across a mixed flock of birds consisting of White-wedged Piculet, Sooty-fronted Spinetail, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, Suiriri Flycatchers (the Campo type), White-bellied and Straneck’s Tyrannulets, Black-backed and Ultramarine Grosbeaks, Tropical Parulas, and Streaked Flycatchers. Purplish and Plush-Crested Jays seemed to be everywhere this morning. We worked hard to coax a Fawn-breasted Wren out into view but Southern House Wren and Thrush-like Wrens were not as difficult to observe. Rufous-Fronted Thrornbirds also were rather cooperative at a nest site in one of the many pastures where we stopped to observe birds.

Around 9:00 we finally began our drive south to the town of Camiri which would be our “home” for the next two nights. It was slow going just getting out of Santa Cruz and around 11:00 we stopped at the railroad crossing just north of the town of Abapo. We were going to bird a bit and then use the side road here to set up our table and chairs for our picnic lunch. The clouds had broken and we had a sunny and warm day by now. We were greeted by a Roadside Hawk scolding us and noticed a Buff-necked Ibis soaring in amongst some Black Vultures. Probably the best bird from this stop was a pair of Bolivian Slaty-Antshrikes followed by Scaly-headed Parrots and Green-cheeked Parakeets. Thanks to the wonders of the SACC (South American Classification Committee), the Slaty-Antishrike was split into numerous species that look very, very similar, sound somewhat similar but are separated geographically. I’ve already noticed that the parrots in Bolivia are cooperative and actually roost where you can easily see them in trees and are not just flying overhead as parrots seem to always be doing on other tours (this would continue thankfully).

Our next stop would be at Lake Tatatendra where we picked up Black-back Water-Tyrant, White-Cheeked Pintail, and Least Grebe on the main body of water from our roadside viewing location. We then followed a trial around to the reedy shallows and saw Wilson’s Phalaropes, Solitary Sandpipers, Wattled Jacana, and a Rufous-Sided Crake. There were also Black-Capped Warbling-finches in the vegetation here.

Our last stop was a random roadside pit stop about 20km outside of town. In the weedy edge we had more Black-capped Warbling-finches along with Ringed Warbling-finches and then Lynn found the first of 3 Spot-backed Puffbirds sitting over a small creek. We arrived at our hotel a little before 18:00 and went to dinner in town at 19:00. We spent the night at Hotel Las Tinajitas in Camiri.

Black-backed Water-Tyrant

31-Aug-10 (Tuesday) - Bolivia shares with Paraguay and Argentina a mix of thorn forest and savanna habitat, part of a region known as The Chaco , which supports several endemic species. Today we would spend the day in this area. We departed the hotel at 5:00 for the town of Boyuibe and points 30km east from Camiri . We would have a picnic breakfast by a small pond after we drove about an hour and then bird this area for as long as it remained productive before working our way back to Camiri.

On the pond were Ringed Teal and feeding on its edge were Chaco Chachalaca, Great and Snowy Egrets and Wattled Jacana. We had 3 hummingbirds feeding in the flowering trees around the pond: Blue-tufted Starthroat, Glittering-bellied Emerald, and Gilded Hummingbirds. In the scrub forest we found White-barred Piculet, Checkered and Green-barred Woodpeckers, Narrow-billed and Great Rufous Woodcreepers, Crested Hornero, Stripe-crowned Spinetail, Short-billed Canestero, Chaco Earthcreeper, Rufous-fronted Thornbird, Lark-like Brushrunner, Red-Crested Cardinal, Variable Antshrike (which was a surprise for the area and probably here because of the massive cold from weeks earlier), Suiriri Flycatcher (The Chaco form, this one has the white belly; only the day before we had the Campo form with a yellow belly) and Greater Wagtail Tyrant. Soaring overhead we had Turkey, Black and King Vulture and an Andean Condor. Although we were not in the mountains, we were not far as the “condor flies” from cliffs where they nest. This would be the first of several consecutive days of condor sightings.

The region is as reliable for Black-legged Seriema as a region can be for this species and we slowly drove the road searching for them. We hoped to find them as they crossed the roads or wandered about in one of the pastures. At the very least if we heard them calling in the scrub we would try to call them in. Well, we heard them calling just off the road and were able to keep the pair close and see them briefly before they scampered over the hillside. By trying to lure them into the open we were able to call several other seriemas into a discussion across a pasture although we could never see them. It was very dry and dusty and by lunch time (12:15) the wind started to kick up and make the conditions difficult.

After a picnic lunch we headed back to Camiri. We arrived there around 15:00 and met up again around 17:00 to bird around the hotel and the area around the river before heading to dinner again in town. Although the hotel has a kitchen and dining area, they don’t serve hot meals, just a Continental Breakfast. We birded from 17:00-18:00 around the hotel area and the river finding: Cocoi and Whistling Herons, Creamy-bellied and Rufous-Bellied Thrush, Flavescent Warbler, Tropical Parula and Variable Orioles. We spent the night at Hotel Las Tinajitas in Camiri.

Hotel Las Tinajitas

01-Sep-10 (Wednesday) – Breakfast was at 06:00 at the hotel and we loaded up the bus and began our drive back north around 06:45. We quickly made a road side stop around 07:30 to study a group of “blackbirds” that included Baywinged Cowbirds, Chopi Blackbirds and a Shiny Cowbirds. There were a few other birds working the hedgerow including Blue and Yellow and Sayaca Tanagers and Red-Crested Cardinals but we only stayed here until 08:20 as the plan was to bird some woodland foothills early, then check out a series of wetlands along the La Gunillas Loop as Rich called it (provided there was water there given the prolonged lack of rain the region was experiencing this year) as we headed to our home for the next three nights the lodge at Refugio Los Volcanes and we had a lot of ground to cover. The lodge is located a few kilometers outside the town of Bermejo in an isolated valley on the edge of Amboró National Park. Once our bus gets us to the trail head we would have to be shuttled to the lodge itself by jeep or hike in.

Our next stop was about twenty minutes further along the route, it was off of the main road and we had a nice mix of birds including Black-backed and Ultramarine Grosbeaks, Two-banded Warblers, Grayish and Golden-billed Saltators. Since this stretch of road was quiet we took the opportunity to walk a short ways and here we found a VERY cooperative Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher. Because we were overlooking a hillside, we were able to look down on this guy and he was quite the fan favorite.

Continuing along the road we came upon another Spot-backed Puffbird, the trip’s only White Monjita thanks to some good spotting by Linda, a couple Dusky-legged Guans as they flew across the roads, some Screaming Cowbirds and several hundred Southern Screamers in the remaining wet areas of the marsh. The drought had really taken its toll here and our hopes for waterbirds with it. Besides the screamers we had a few Ringed Teal, Jacana, Gallinule and some White-Faced Ibis but that was it. Scampering across the dried up marsh, we had a quick look at a Tyra, a large member of the weasel family as it prowled the edges for a meal. Scanning the cliffs for soaring raptors rewarded us with a few more Andean Condors and two Solitary Eagles (a really good find) as well as Roadside Hawks, Southern Caracaras, Turkey and Black Vultures.

flock of Southern Screamers

Our lunch stop from 11:45 to 12:45 was at a very interesting cliff face that had a massive wasp hive covering much of its face. We initially weren’t 100% sure what this structure was but close inspection through the telescopes revealed wasps coming in/out some of the hives. We had set up our picnic near a watering hole and besides 100s of Mitred Parakeets roosting in the trees we had a Two-banded Warbler coming in for a drink and a group of about a dozen horses wanting a drink. As we were leaving, the parakeets were buzzed by two different falcons. The first falcon was probably an Alpomado Falcon based on its jizz and the second bird was unquestionable a Peregrine Falcon that made an unsuccessful dive through the parakeet flock.

Daniel and "friends" enjoy lunch ~ photo by Martin Selzer

We had such good birding before lunch and made such "average time" on the roads of Bolivia (the concept of making “way good time” did not really exist on this tour but we did end up seeing WAY good birds and that is what it was really all about) that we got to the trail head of Refugio Los Volcanes about 18:15. The manager had expected us about 2 hours previously and therefore had gone back to the lodge with the jeep. Several of us began to walk to the lodge. Rich began to run to the lodge to get the manager to drive back up to ferry our luggage and those of us unable to walk all the way down in the dark.

It is about 2 ½ miles, mostly downhill, although there is a significant uphill portion near the end and we began this little adventure at dusk. Oh, yes the road we were on was not lit and was so dry that the dirt and gravel was especially loose underfoot. Perhaps that was the effect of walking in the beam of my flashlight, to a place that I had no idea at the time where it was other than at the end of the road I was on. About 2/3rd of the way there, the jeep passed us going up the hill to get our luggage and a short time later it returned and we thought we were almost at the lodge. Then the jeep just disappeared into the forest without a sound and we hit the uphill portion of our hike! We had been walking steadily for about 75 minutes now and were beginning to wonder if we ever were going to get there. Then suddenly we saw lights through the trees, and then a clearing and then the lodge and we were there. It had taken us 90 minutes. Dinner was waiting for us inside the dining hall and it was 19:45.

view of the road for those walking in

By the time dinner was over, our bags were waiting for us on the porch of the lodge and it was time for a shower. Oh wait the fun wasn’t over. The light in our bathroom didn’t work. Well, there were candles in the room to use and a flashlight to use to remove my contact lenses (been there, done that before even at home when the power has gone out). Ok time for a nice hot shower. OH S@#&, there isn’t any hot water. ARGH now what? Turns out the gas hot water heater on our side of the lodge wasn’t set properly when they replaced the gas canister last time. It would be set properly tomorrow and we’d get a new bulb for the bathroom tomorrow to resolve everything but what a night? When Lynn, Charlie and I started walking it seemed like we would have a good adventure. When we hit the uphill portion of the road we were slightly less enthused however by the time a day or two passed we were back to thinking it was a good adventure. We spent the night in Refugio Los Volcanes.
02-Sep-10 (Thursday) – Prior to breakfast we met at 06:15 and birded the clearing around the lodge. One of the first birds I found was a flycatcher that I thought was a Cliff Flycatcher. We watched this flycatcher until it disappeared into another part of the clearing. Lynn and I then found a couple Double-collared Seedeaters, Hooded Siskins, Tropical Parulas, and Two-banded Warblers before the group got together and we all began birding. Several hummingbirds were feeding in one of the flowering Inga trees on the edge of the clearing. These included Golden-tailed Sapphire, White-bellied Hummingbirds, White-bellied Woodstars, Fork-tailed Woodnymphs, Sparkling Violetear and White-vented Violetear. The group also tracked down the flycatcher which turned out to be a Streaked-throated Bush-Tyrant. This was somewhat out of range but the recent cold fronts must have pushed it down to the valley. It would be with us for our entire stay. In addition, we heard Barred Forest-Falcon and Rufous-breasted Wood-quail calling from the forest and we found Brown Capuchin monkeys feeding in the forest canopy. The resident Crested and Dusky-Green Oropendola were also busy gathering their morning meal. Breakfast was at 07:00 and then we went birding along the entrance road from 07:40 until 12:30 when we had lunch.

Refugio Los Volcanes in the early morning rain

Our morning walk revealed that the entrance road might not have been as treacherous as it seemed last night. Maybe the overnight rain eliminated some of the loose gravel and daylight clearly made a significant difference. We found Blue-headed Parrots, Slaty Gnateaters (I really like the gnateater family), Black-goggled, Sayaca, Palm and White-winged Tanagers this morning along the road. We also had a Blue-crowned Trogon, Golden-olive Woodpecker, Buff-fronted Foliage-gleaner, Olivaceous and Ocellated (tschudi) Woodcreepers, Black-capped Antwrens, Sepia-Capped Flycatcher, a pair of Red-necked Woodpeckers, Ochre-cheeked Spinetail and Planalto Hermit. Not a bad little walk plus there were Purplish and Plush-crested Jays everywhere.

After lunch we birded the Orchid Trail from 14:15 until 17:45. In years past Rich had found several small mixed flocks of birds at Refugio Los Volcanes but the weather this year had changed things up and the birds had formed one large mixed flock. We came across it once today but only briefly and not really where we had an opportunity to get a clear view of it. Therefore we couldn’t do much with it and other than a Blue-naped Chlorophonia and a Thick-billed Euphonia I didn’t have any luck pulling any new birds out of the flock. We would walk the trails for the remainder of our stay in hopes of rediscovering the flock but we never would. This afternoon as we wandered about we found a Rusty Flowerpiercer, Common Bush-tanagers, Plain Antvireo, Bolivian Tapaculo, Moustached Wrens and Yungas Manakins.

When we got back from the afternoon walk we went about taking care of our lighting situation. Since our hosts weren’t sure which size fluorescent light we had in the bathroom we were given a couple of bulbs to try and I replaced the burned out bulb before dinner. We had a working bathroom light and hot water tonight. A vast improvement over the situation 24 hours previously! At 18:30 we made an attempt for owls without much luck. Dinner was at 19:00. As we left dinner we noticed an animal scurry up one of the trees. It was a Murine Mouse Opossum, a rather cute little guy. We spent the night in Refugio Los Volcanes.

photo by Martin Selzer

03-Sep-10 (Friday)- Prior to breakfast we met at 06:15 and birded the clearing and entrance road to the lodge. Today the Rufous-breasted Wood-quail were calling vociferously so we made a serious attempt for them prior to breakfast and we didn’t spend as much time on the other birds in the clearing. We walked up the entrance road and up the first side trail where we heard a pair of wood-quail dueting. It took a bit of persistency trying to lure them out of the cover of the underbrush before they came down the hillside and crossed the path in front of us. They were so close I didn’t even bother with or really need my binoculars. It was quite a nice early morning treat.

Breakfast was at 07:00 and then we went birding along the Main and Condor Trail from 07:45 to 11:45. The White-bellied Woodstar and Fork-tailed Woodnymph were still at the Inga tree as were the other hummingbirds but today I didn’t seem to pay as close attention to them as I did yesterday. Along the trail today we picked up a Blue-crowned Motmot (which I believe would be the Amazonian Motmot according to the SACC 5 way split of Blue-crowned Motmot), Ocellated Piculet, Golden-olive Woodpecker and a couple Chestnut-tipped Toucanets. We also picked up some more Bolivian Tapaculos, Black-capped Antwrens, Ochre-cheeked Spinetails, and Slaty Gnateaters and the same tyrannulets and tanagers from yesterdays walk.

looking down on the cabin from the hills above

Our loop took us up and over the Condor trail which brought us to an overlook above the valley that afforded us a spectacular view of the lodge. We then birded around the clearing until lunch at 12:45. The oropendola and jays were ever present along with the Hooded Siskins. Foraging at the edge of the clearing were a Lineated Woodpecker and a Squirrel Cuckoo.

Martin and Rich go birding

After lunch we birded from 14:00 to 18:00 along the Water Tank Trail and then we went for our Creek walk from the 3rd crossing to the main crossing near the dining hall. The hope was that we would come across a Sunbittern in the creek or gain a unique vantage point of the birds we had been seeing from being in the creek.

Morpho sp. probably helennor

Well it was fun and brought back memories of my youth of playing in a creek but we really didn’t come across too many birds and certainly not many new birds. We did get a good look at a Blue-crowned Trogon and some Masked Tityra from standing in the creek but it wasn’t the success from a birding standpoint that I think we had hoped. Dinner was at 19:00. We spent the night in Refugio Los Volcanes.
04-Sep-10 (Saturday) - Prior to breakfast we met at 05:15 and birded the trail leading to the water holding tank hoping for Buff-banded Owl. When the lodge here first opened people originally thought the resident owl was a Crested Owl because the calls are similar and can be easily confused. Then as more people visited and actually observed the birds, it was realized that the “common” owl was Buff-banded although Crested can also be found. We definitely had a Buff-banded Owl respond to Rich’s tape and it was very close and agitated but it was located in a dense patch of vegetation so we never saw it. As we were trying to lure the owl into the open a Barred Forrest-falcon started to call near us and we turned our attention to it. We were successful in finding it perched near-by and got really nice looks at this bird before it did what all forest-falcons do, disappeared back into the forest. Breakfast was at 07:00 and then we went birding along the entrance road on foot at 07:45 as we would be leaving Los Volcanes and heading for two full days in the Valle Zone.

We would all end up getting a ride from the bridge near the researcher’s cabin but not before everyone except Linda and John had gotten to see a Bolivian Recurvebill. This is a very habitat specific endemic bird and Refugio Los Volcanes is one of the more reliable places to find them. They prefer bamboo covered hillsides and we had heard one calling on the other side of the hill from the road we were walking. Rich gave the tape a try and sure enough the bird came across the 150 yards to investigate. None of us had given it a chance but then we all figured “it surely wasn’t going to happen if you didn’t try at all”. What the heck and this was just as the jeeps were coming to pick us up. We waved them on and got the bird. Because this is such a localized species and so few groups visit here, Rich figures very few birders have ever seen this bird. Linda and John didn’t see it because they had walked ahead and we were unable to contact them.

Anyway at this point we did get our ride to the top of the trail, found Iver,our driver, and the bus, loaded up and drove to the Laguna Vulcan Eco Resort a short distance away where we birded before having a sit down lunch. At the resort we had another great view of several Rufous-sided Crakes, Least and Pied-Billed Grebes, Cocoi and Whistling Herons, and Masked Ducks. It was cold and overcast as we sat outside eating our lunch.

very brief looks at calling Rufous-sided Crakes

A couple of roadside stops produced Gray-crested and Red-crested Finch, Ringed and Black-capped Warbling-finch, Green-wing Saltator, Black-backed and Ultramarine Grosbeaks, Tropical Parula and Two-banded Warbler. We also got another look at a Moustached Wren and the usual selection of common raptors and waders thanks to the agricultural fields we were passing through. No matter how much we tried to make good time we just couldn’t. We ended up arriving in Comarapa around 17:45 and had dinner around 19:00 in the restaurant associated with our hotel. We spent the night at the Hotel El Paraiso in Comarapa.
05-Sep-10 (Sunday) – We departed at 04:00 to be sure we were beyond any potential road closures due to road constructions as we were head into the Rio Mizque Valley for Red-Fronted Macaws. This is one of two valleys in which these endangered macaws nest. We would have our picnic breakfast in the field. Once we were safely clear of the construction szone but long before we were near the macaw viewing site we began to find some of the target birds for the valley. The first of these was Bolivian Blackbirds. These are a dull, not glossy blackbird with a brownish wing and a shortish bill. They also are found in these central valleys where the macaws nest. We finally set up our breakfast gear on a gravel bar in the river and birded as we ate. It was one of our nicer birding/dining spots. Along the creek we found White-tipped Plantcutter, Striped and White-fronted Woodpeckers, Chiguanco Thrush, Tawny-headed Swallow, Brown-headed Redstart and Cliff Flycatcher. A herd of goats came to the river to drink while we ate breakfast.

We also had distant and fly-by views of the star attractions for the day the Red-fronted Macaws. There were also Yellow-chevroned Parakeets, Ringed Kingfisher and Green Kingfishers at this location. Also a Collared Plover or two on the gravel bars. Breakfast was from 07:00 to 08:20 because the birding was so good.

We finally had to tear ourselves away from here and go to the nesting cliffs to see the macaws up close. En route we did find some Cliff Parakeets feeding in the trees and several macaws too but Rich really wanted to show us these birds in their nest sites. This would also serve to reinforce the value of protecting these cliffs to the local community which is actively involved in the conservation of these birds. The community is working with a non-profit group in this effort. A small lodge is being built near the nesting cliffs and we made a small contribution to hike the trail here. It is a small but concerted effort to preserve a critically endangered macaw.

Red-fronted Macaws

The Macaw is another Bolivian endemic species and one of only a handful of nesting sites. While this site is considered secure, we later learned that within the last year or so almost 50 of these Red-Fronted Macaws were taken from the wild for the caged-bird trade and at most there might be 500 pairs left in the wild.

The Cliff Parakeets are currently considered conspecific with Monk Parakeets however; they are slightly paler than Monks, nest in cliffs found only in this valley, sound slightly different, do not interbred nor overlap in range and probably will someday be considered separate species once again. Another possible split is the subspecies of Blue-crowned Parrots we encountered here.

By the time we drove out of the valley and found a side road to set up lunch it was 12:30. Here we found Saffron-billed Sparrow, Masked Gnatcatcher, Golden-billed Saltators, and several Andean Tinamous. Now the tinamous played cat and mouse with us but we finally found them hunkered down pretending that we couldn’t see them. At 13:30 we continued to make progress back to Comarapa while looking for Bolivian Earthcreeper. It was getting hot and windy but we did manage to succeed in this quest before finally calling it a day.

We were back at the hotel at 16:30 and had dinner at 18:00. And wouldn’t you know it the bathroom light bulb went. Fortunately, all the staff was still in the restaurant and quickly the manager came to replace it along with one of the waitresses, someone’s little kid and a dog but the manager was too short to reach the fixture so they disappeared. In a few minutes, she had sent the waitress back with a handyman and a ladder, two slightly older kids but no dog. The light bulb was changed and the excitement for the night was over. We spent the night at the Hotel El Paraiso in Comarapa.
06-Sep-10 (Monday)- Breakfast was at 05:15. Today we headed straight for the cloud forests of Serranía de Siberia. Unfortunately, this morning was our only chance to visit to this area before we turned eastward to our next hotel. This was our first birding at a significantly higher elevation being as we would be at approximately 9000’. We did quite well even though we had an overcast/foggy morning.

We made our first stop at 06:30. In 45 minutes we quickly had a bunch of new birds for the trip: Mountain Wren, Pearled Treerunner, Light-crowned Spinetail (the race with the buffy crown are here), White-throated Tyrannulet, Rufous-naped Brush-finch, Pale-legged Warbler, Montane Woodcreeper, and Trilling Tapaculo. We tried a couple spots for Rufous-faced Antpitta with limited success and then had breakfast from 08:00-08:30.

We then started back down the road and made a stop for Olive-crowned Crescentchest. YES, success this was probably my most wanted single species on the entire trip list!! Some additional roadside birding yielded Great Pampa-finch and Tufted Tit-tyrant. We then were just above town when we ran into a mixed flock of birds in the brush on a hillside below us that included three species of brush-finch: Rufous-naped, Fulvous-headed and Stripe-headed, three species of warbling-finch: Rufous-sided, Ringed, and Black and Rufous, Black-backed Grosbeaks and the ubiquitous Rufous-collared Sparrow. All in all, it was a really good morning and only made me wish we could have moved a little more quickly the day before and gotten here yesterday afternoon too.

We had an early picnic lunch from 11:45-12:45 because we came to a good spot to stop and Rich was concerned we wouldn’t come to another spot with a place to pull over for a long time. We broke up the drive with pit stops and some roadside birding however, it was a long travel day to make the loop back around Amboro National Park to our next hotel. One of the highlights was that as we swung by Viru Viru Airport I spotted a Greater Rhea feeding in the grassland. Fortunately there are shoulders on this stretch of road so we could pull over and get everyone on this bird. We arrived at 18:00 and had dinner at 19:00. We spent the night at Rio Selva Eco Resort in Warnes.

07-Sep-10 (Tuesday) – At 06:15 a couple of us met for a pre-breakfast birding walk on the Rio Selva Resort’s grounds. While waiting for Rich we had 4 Chestnut-fronted Macaw’s in the trees by the restaurant and a Chestnut-eared Aracari. Once Rich had joined us, we had a Green Ibis, which seemed oddly out of place here at a resort, Yellow-tufted and Little Woodpeckers in the trees right around the rooms where we were staying. We also found Yellow-rumped Caciques and Ruddy Ground-doves.

We walked outside the main gate and found our way to a side trail where we were able to get to a more undisturbed wooded area. One of the “best bird” finds here was a group of Black-tailed Silvery Marmosets moving through the trees. We did find some birds here too. We found the tour’s only Golden-crowned Warbler plus House, Thrush-like and Fawn-breasted Wrens.

Shortly after finding the marmosets we found a pair of Chestnut-backed Antshrikes along with a non-cooperative Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher. We then had to head back for breakfast which was at scheduled for 07:30. We also needed to coordinate getting our bags loaded up and getting checked out. Rich finally sorted out the bill and we were on our way at 08:40. Leaving the resort we observed Burrowing Owls, Campo Flickers and Southern Lapwings in the fields surrounding the resort.

Snail Kite

We would make a few stops on the drive along the highway before making one important stop at a small marsh, Laguna Curichi on the outskirts of Buena Vista. One of our first stops was at a bridge over a decent river crossing (not sure of the river’s name). Here we had a good mix of shorebirds: Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral, Baird’s and Stilt Sandpipers, Wattled Jacana and Wilson’s Phalaropes; long-legged waders: Bare-faced Ibis, Roseate Spoonbill, Wood Stork, Great and Snowy Egrets and waterfowl: Ringed and Brazilian Teal.

In one of the many farm ponds we passed we found a Limpkin and we noticed several Snail Kites and Savanna Hawks perched above the roadside drainages and on the fence posts along the highway.

Mid-morning we came to Buena Vista and shortly then arrived at Laguna Curichi. Two of the first birds we observed on arriving in Buena Vista were Tropical Kingbirds and Swallowtails Kites. Some of the first birds at the marsh were Hoatzins, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Great Kiskadee and Black-throated Mangos. A walk along the road that cut through Laguna Curichi brought us to an open waterway and a flock of Velvet-fronted Grackle, a couple Orange-backed Troupials and a Solitary Black Cacique. It was getting near lunch time and Iver recommended a restaurant in town so we ate at a place on the town square that was quite nice.

We then continued on our way to Ville Tunari. We made one seriously birdy pit stop where we cleaned up on flycatchers. As had become our practice, we inevitably turned a 5-minute stop into a 30-minute birding adventure as we found Plain Tyrannulets, Southern Scrub-flycatchers, Rusty-margined, and Social Flycatchers, Tropical Parulas and Tropical Kingbirds. We arrived at our hotel at 17:00 and had dinner at 19:00. We spent the night at Hotel El Puente in Villa Tunari.
08-Sep-10 (Wednesday) - Breakfast was at 6:00 at the hotel before we took the short drive to Carrasco National Park. Our primary target in the morning would be the Oilbird Cave or “Guacharos Cueva”. The plan was to walk the road leading up to the ranger station in hopes of finding a mixed flock and then we would have to be transported across the Rio Espiritu Santo via bowswains chair by a park ranger in groups of 4. We then would have a short walk to the cave and again hope for a mixed flock. We walked up the hill leading to the ranger station about ¾ of a mile birding and butterflying. It was quiet but the river gorge was quite beautiful. We did find a couple Magpie Tanagers, Squirrel Cuckoos; a pair of White-winged Antshrikes that had us stymied on their identification initially, Yellow-browed Tody-flycatcher and Flammulated Pygmy-tyrant.

photo by Martin Selzer

To get to the Oilbird Cave you have to be ferried across the Rio Espiritu Santo in a bowswains chair but first the park ranger has to go across the cable by a rope/hook and hand. Once the chair was retrieved, the ranger took us across in groups of 4, brought the chair back across and repeated the process. The river is no more than a couple 100 yards wide. We then had a mile or so walk through the forest to the cave. The trail paralleled the river for a good way and crossed a couple small creeks and also went by one small bat cave before reaching the Oilbird Cave. Along the route to the cave we had a crummy look at a female or young male Round-tail Manakin, and Tawny-capped Greenlet (one of the greenlets that are an understory forager).

Mayhem at Oilbird cave.

photo by Martin Selzer

We heard the Oilbirds long before we arrived at the cave. The cave was very similar to the one I visited at Asa Wright in Trinidad. It is a narrow, tall opening with a small stream running through the bottom. The tall sides afford numerous ledges for the birds to nest and the stream probably flushes the droppings of the 1800 birds that were counted at the last census 3 years ago.

Unlike the colony at Asa Wright many years ago this colony was very active and provided great viewing and listening. I don’t know if the time of year or the weather accounts for the differences.

After about 20 minutes of viewing we completed the loop back to the bowswains chair and set up our picnic lunch at the ranger station from 12:30-13:30.

We then headed back to the hotel where we took a siesta from 14:00-16:15. Guess what, the bathroom bulb went again but that wasn’t very surprising. Every time you took a shower the lights dimmed here. The showers have those instant hot water heater units in the showerheads and you could tell when anyone was taking a shower because the lights dimmed. We told the manager as we were about to take the afternoon walk and the light was replaced by the time we were back for dinner. A pattern was beginning to emerge in case you had not noticed. Thank goodness for candles and flashlights!

We birded along the entrance road to the hotel from 16:15 to 18:00. We still didn’t find a mixed flock of birds but we did find a Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Greater Yellow-headed Vulture, Cobalt-winged Parrot, Social Flycatcher, Short-tailed Pygmy-tyrant and Plumbeous Kite. All day we had been hearing Undulated Tinamou calling from the forest behind our cabanas. As we walked along the road, a Black-capped Tinamou called from the hillside. Rich commented that he had NEVER seen this species and that they love steep, densely wooded hillsides. The bird calling now was on exactly this type of location. Even though we had had fleeting looks at a Red-winged Tinamou and White-bellied Northura and great views at Andean Tinamou earlier in the tour; this is how I am used to “seeing” tinamous. They are a frustrating family of birds if you want to actually see the blasted things!

After crossing a powerline clearing, we came to a local farmer’s patch of sugarcane, yucca and coca. Here we had Yellow-browed Sparrows, White-bellied Tyrannulets, Cattle Tyrants, and Masked Yellowthroat. We continued along the path and called in a pair of Broad-billed Motmots. We then made our way back to the lodge and sat on the veranda of the dining hall until it was dark enough to go owling. We called in the local Tawny-bellied Screech-owl before sitting down for dinner. After dinner we tried to call in a Great Potoo. We had heard one calling this morning before dawn but we didn’t have any luck. We spent the night at Hotel El Puente in Villa Tunari.

09-Sep-10 (Thursday) - Breakfast was at 5:15. Today we would go back to Carrasco National Park road and go to up the road to slightly higher elevations where we hoped to see Amazonian Umbrellabird and activity at an Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek.

Since the bus could not go on this stretch of road we would be taking two taxis, Toyota Corolla Wagons. Even though I have driven Toyota Camrys for over 10 years, I have a new found respect for Toyotas after watching them drive over the roads of Bolivia during the course of this tour. We met our guide and the taxis at 6:15 and they skillful maneuvered the 12km up the road. It took about 45 minutes to reach the 12km point and from there we got out and walked.

While we walked the road we came across several Chestnut-tailed Antbirds, Carmiol’s (Olive) Tanagers, a Buff-throated Tyrannulet that was subject to intense scrutiny and discussion to ensure its proper identification although not everyone was able to get satisfactory views of this bird. We also had several Riverbank Warblers, a pair of Purple Honeycreepers, Amazonian Umbrellabird, and lots of Dusky-green Oropendola.

At the Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek the best we could do was get two fleeting views of female birds flying across the river. It was hardly satisfactory and compared to the wonderful experience the day before at the Oilbird Cave it was somewhat of a letdown. Fortunately for everyone on the tour, we have all seen these striking birds before. It was noon by the time we walked back down the road and connected back with our taxis.

Forest Giant-Owl
Caligo eurilochus

Tarrantula caught by the cold front

Today we had lunch at a restaurant in Villa Tunari from 12:45 to 13:30. We then took a short break from 14:00-14:45 before we headed out west along the Chapare Highway. The plan was to try to get to about 1200-1500 meters elevation but as they say, “the best laid plans of mice and men”. We had not gotten very far out of town when we ran into a traffic jam and all traffic came to a standstill. At the time we were not sure if it was construction or a protest road block but it didn’t really matter. So we turned around and were searching for a spot to bird when Rich spotted a trail leading up a hillside. After getting permission to bird along the trail from a local whose home was at the base of the trail up we went. It was pretty quiet but we did manage Upland Antshrike which came quietly into view and then we worked several in the area until just about everyone got a view. Then while working the antshrike we stumbled upon a White-bellied Pygmy-tyrant. The important thing about the Pygmy-tyrant is that it cleaned up an identification question from the day before when we had the Short-tailed Pygmy-tyrant. We were going to discuss it at dinner but when the bird presented itself in the field it made for a much better learning experience. We were back at the hotel at 18:15 with dinner at 19:15. We spent the night at Hotel El Puente in Villa Tunari.

10-Sep-10 (Friday) - Breakfast was at 5:00 with bags packed and ready to go for a 5:45 departure since we would be heading west to Cochabamba today. We would be birding along the cloud forests of the Chapare Road today. We would make a couple of minor stops in the morning at 1000-1700 meters depending on traffic since we had a long way to travel and we had to be sure not to get bogged down. Then we would spend a good portion of the day birding along the Miguelito-Substation Road before lunch and making the final push to Cochabamba and our lodge in Tiquipaya. The Chapare Road is amazingly diverse and it must be remembered that this two-lane road is the main highway between Santa Cruz-Cochabamba-La Paz.

Our first stop was at 6:30 and lasted about an hour and in spite of constant traffic rolling by was highly productive. We found Blue-necked, Silver-beaked, and Blue-gray Tanagers, a Blue Dacnis, Green Violetear, Yellow-browed Tyrant, and Golden-olive Woodpecker. We walked down a short trail only about 50’ to get away from the traffic and here found Slate-throated Redstart and White-necked Thrush. We then finally moved up the road to search a spot good for Fulvous-breast Flatbill and only came up with a great look at a Montane Foliage-Gleaner.

We then drove straight to the Miguelito-Substation Road and birded there from 8:30 to 12:15. Although we never ran into any mixed flocks here either, we did run into 2 or 3 of the best birds of the tour as we walked along this side road. I came on the tour just wanting to see Bolivia and lots of birds and so far we were seeing lots of birds and some spectacular country and the Andes were still ahead of us.

On this side road, we found a pair of Crested Quetzals and anytime you get a good look at a quetzal you are having a good day birding. We had a great display from a White-eared Solitaire and this is a handsome solitaire with its chestnut and black body and white flight feathers. I am partial to solitaires so I was really hoping to see this bird even if its “call” turned out to be very un-solitaire and even unbird-like. The 3rd star of the morning as far as colorful birds goes was a Versicolored Barbet. Barbets are another of those families of birds that have character. We also had several Yungas Tody-Tyrants, Bolivian Tyrannulets and Three-striped Warblers.

Lunch was at a restaurant/trout hachery from 13:00-14:00 and besides a nice change of menu fish not chicken/pork we had a pair of Blue-banded Toucanets fly into the trees above one of the trout ponds while we were waiting to be served.

From lunch we should have had a 2 hour drive up and over the mountains if our Toyota Coaster bus had any type of acceleration. However, it did not have much of an engine and we puttered along the highway passing only the very slowest of the trucks and getting passed ourselves sometimes two and three abreast making for an interesting and SLOW trip to Cochabamba. We stopped along the road for a break around 9000’ when Rich noticed some flowers that might be good for hummingbirds. Here we had Spectacled Redstart, Rufous-naped Brush-finch, Glossy Black Thrush, Amethyst-throated Sunangel, Slaty-backed Chat-Tyrant and Blue-winged Mountain-tanager. We finally arrived at the lodge around 17:45 and had dinner at 19:00. We spent the night at Cabanas Tolavi just outside of Cochabamba.

11-Sep-10 (Saturday) - Cochabamba, one of Bolivia’s population centers, is at the nexus of three habitats: the dry interior valleys reach their highest elevations here, merging with the open, highest elevations of the Andes, while feeling the influence of the wet cloud forests of the Amazonian slope. These three days will bring a definite change in habitat and birdlife as we explore these higher and drier woodlands, semi humid scrub, and tundra-like habitat.

Today we hit the road at 05:00 to bird the Corani-Dam Forest Road. This would get us to 10,000’ and slightly above. We would be taking a picnic breakfast and lunch and spend most of the day in the field. It took us about 2 hours to get from the lodge, through town and up the Chapare Road to our turn off for the forest road. We did have a short 15 minute stop to chase a couple Andean Tinamous that were along the highway. We probably could have either slept later or gotten to our breakfast spot earlier and tried for owls or nightjars if our Coaster bus had any acceleration but that’s water long over the dam and I am sure Rich was as frustrated about it as we were.

It was 07:30 breakfast was being served and Scarlet-belled Mountain-tanagers were foraging in the hillside below us. While we ate I noticed a White-browed Conebill and a Puna Tapaculo put on a fantastic display on the hillside above us. Even the tapaculos were being cooperative this tour. While finishing up our last sips of coffee, Brown-backed Chat-tyrants, Rufous-breasted Chat-tyrants, Brown-bellied Swallows, Tyrian Metaltails and Great Sapphirewings were all active and reminding us why we were here. The altitude was 10,760’.

Cloud-forest Firetips

We then began to walk up the road looking for the star of the area, the endemic Black-hooded Sunbeam. In the meantime we were pleasantly occupied with birds like Gray-bellied Flowerpiercers, Black-throated Thistletails, Cream-winged Cinclodes (one of the 3-way splits from Bar-winged Cinclodes, thank you SACC), Violet-Throated Starfrontlet (wow, what a hummingbird) and after much searching and distant, less than soul-satisfying views, up-close and breath-taking views of several Black-hooded Sunbeams. There were also numerous Variable Hawks, Mountain Caracaras and one Andean Condor soaring overhead.

At 10:30 we turned around and headed back to the bus. Near where the bus was parked we found a Chestnut-bellied Mountain-tanager and heard Stripe-faced Wood-quail calling on the near-by hillside. So we walked over, found a good viewing spot and tried to call in the wood-quail. Well the initial attempt was so successful, that the bugger walked right under our noses and we didn’t even see it. Now this is a large pheasant-sized bird so how 8 people missed it as it called and walked under our noses (you could hear it walking on the dried leaves) we don’t know but we kept trying for 30 minutes and sure enough it came back about 15 feet down below us and we all finally got to see it as it strolled back away.

It was now noon and time for lunch so we set up lunch right where we had had breakfast. We then drove back out to the Chapare Road and drove down to the 9000’ to a side road that Rich called the Tablas-Monte Ridge Road. Here and at a couple of other stops en route we tried unsuccessfully for Yungas Screech-owl but the owl call always pulled something in like Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet or Spectacled Redstart. When we actually took a short walk along the Tablas-Monte Ridge Road we did encounter a small flock of birds consisting of Blue-winged and Scarlet-bellied Mountain-tanagers, a Grass-green Tanager, a Blue-capped Tanager, and Masked Flowerpiercers. Chiguanco Thrushes were common along the way as were Tyrian Metailtails. As we headed back to the bus we stumbled across a Rufous-faced Antpitta that not everyone had been able to see the other day at Serrania de Siberia.

As we came back over the mountains we stopped at two overlooks for the Corani Reservoir and found Yellow-billed Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, Ruddy Ducks, White-cheeked Grebes, Andean Gulls, Andean Lapwings, Puna Ibis, and Greater Yellowlegs. We then made a couple stops in town for essentials (post cards, rum and chicha, the fermented corn beverage that is not nearly as delicious as it sounds).

The stop for rum produced a Bare-face Ground-dove feeding in a weedy field opposite the liquor store. We arrived back at the lodge at 18:00 and dinner was at 19:00. But get this, we has another bathroom light bulb burn out today. However, we had two ceiling fixtures in the bedroom so we sacrificed one of the light bulbs from one of them and replaced the burned out bulb in the bathroom. There were several wall fixtures that worked so we could live with only one ceiling light, but we absolutely needed a light in the bathroom. So 5 lodges/hotels and 4 different bathroom light bulbs burned out. All this does make one suspect that the concept of ground-fault outlets and wiring hasn’t reached the standard Bolivian building code just yet. Still everywhere we stayed we had functioning plumbing, clean rooms and good food so what’s a burned out light bulb or four? We spent the night at Cabanas Tolavi in Cochabamba.

12-Sep-10 (Sunday) - Breakfast was at 06:30 and we departed at 07:00 to go up Cerro Tunari Road. We would see how far we would get before the conditions deteriorated. The big question was how far up the road would we get before the wind kicks up. If it was before we reached the 14,000+ region, we would head straight there tomorrow morning.

The first birds we found today when we made our first stop at 07:45 were in the shrubby forests. At this stop we found Creamy-breasted Canesteros, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrants, more Golden-billed Saltators, Eared Doves, Ringed and Rufous-sided Warbling-Finches. We then continued up the road a few more minutes and began to walk a bit. We were at 11,000’ and in an area good for Red-tailed Comet. This is another of the endemic hummingbirds of Bolivia. We got a couple fleeting looks at a comet but could never get a perched bird or find one feeding or defending a nectar source. Next we found a pair of White-browed Chat-Tyrants and a Band-tailed Seedeater. We also started to get some more of the birds of this region including Brown-capped Tit-spinetail, Maquis Canestero, Gray-hooded Parakeets, Wedge-tailed Hillstar, and Rock Earthcreeper. Along the mountain top was a group of 25+ Mountain Caracaras “streaming by”. Surprisingly we did not see any Andean Condors up here.

As we moved up higher and higher we came upon a group of Greenish Yellowfinches (who comes up with these names?) and Baywinged Cowbirds feeding is a small pasture. As we were checking them out Rich decided to try playing Cochabamba Mountain Finch for the heck of it and don’t you just know it one pops up. Wow is that a nice bird. If we did a Top Ten Species and not a Top Three Species at the end of the trip I’m pretty sure it would have made the Top Ten cut. We then came up to a side road that vehicles can no longer travel on, just people and llamas. We walked up this road as it contained a nice stand of Polylepis trees. We quickly found a Tawny Tit-spinetail and a Cinereous Conebill and sure enough found a Giant Conebill.

Every tour brochure to the Andes mentions that you will seek out stands of Polylepis trees and spend time looking for Giant Conebills because these birds are so dependent on these trees and accessible health stands of the trees are difficult to find. The Andes used to be covered with Polylepis but man has cut them down for firewood and therefore the birds dependent on them are more difficult to find and the Giant Conebill is the birding tour brochure poster child.


We continued our ascent and passed through a small town on the road and in a driveway that had a small drainage running down it we found our first Black-hooded Sierra-finch and two Rufous-bellied Saltators. We now were at 12,226’ and the day was mostly sunny and calm. A few more switch-back turns in the road and we stopped and called up a Puna Canestero. We stopped and had lunch at a wide switch-back turn in the road from 12:15-13:00. The elevation here was 13,169’ and we were in the land of knee high grasses with only a few short shrubs. Next on the canestero hit parade was a Scribble-tailed Canestero. Because it was on the hillside above us and the wind was finally starting to pick up it was the least cooperative bird of the day so far.

We continued our march up the mountain and by now reached 14,300’ and a small sheep herding village. The village was rather interesting. The buildings seemed to be constructed out of sod and built as one would expect of materials at hand and of traditional design, yet there were at least a half-dozen modern street lights outside the dozen buildings. Feeding amongst the sheep and llamas we found Plumbeous Sierra-finches, Ash-breasted Sierra-finches, White-winged Diuca-finches, Creamy-winged Cinclodes, and Bright-rumped Yellowfinches.

We continued up a bit further and came upon a flock of ground-tyrants which is what we had hoped for. Rich, Lynn, Charlie, Daniel and I set out across the puna grassland to see what we could find. It was somewhat windy on this exposed plateau but we managed to find Orche-naped, Cinereous, White-fronted and Cinnamon-bellied Ground-tyrants. Since the wind wasn’t really all that bad we continued on and figured we would make it all the way to the highest valley today and topped out at 14,860’. The scenery up here was wonderful. The higher peaks still had some snow, the sky was clear and the clouds were big and puffy.

photo by Martin Selzer

At 14,860 we were at another meadow and a lake. Jeanne, walked the road to the lake, and Rich, Lynn, Charlie and Daniel and I set out across the meadow to search for Taczanowski’s Ground-tyrant which is known to nest around here. Sure enough we found a pair making it a 5 ground-tyrant day. It was now 15:30 and we had accomplished a whole lot more than I think Rich had thought we would. Tomorrow we would come back up Cerro Tunari Road and try again for the Red-tailed Comet and then make a concerted effort for Short-tailed Finch.

We were back at the hotel by 17:00 no need for stops today. We met for the checklist at 18:30 and dinner was at 19:00. We spent the night at Cabanas Tolavi in Cochabamba.

13-Sep-10 (Monday) - Breakfast was 30 minutes earlier today at 06:00 so we could leave at 06:30 since it was Monday and town would be alive with activity and it would therefore take us longer to get out and onto the Cerro Tunari Road. We had the option today of either going back to the cloud forest or back up to Cerro Tunari. Rich opted for Cerro Tunari because he felt we had a better chance to find the birds we missed up there compared to finding the birds we missed in the cloud forest. Our luck finding those mixed flock of birds this tour had been rather bleak.

One of the first birds we found on Cerro Tunari was a nice male White-winged Black-tyrant hawking insects from the power lines. We waited for it to make a couple forays so that we could all see its white wing patch and also notice it black tipped blue bill. Around 07:30 we took a 30 minute walk down the side road with the well-established Eucalyptus stand that Rich had been 4 for 7 and now soon would be 4 for 8 for finding Andean Parakeets in this hillside valley. In spite of this disappointing miss, we had some nice birds including the trips first and only Rusty-browed Warbling-Finch, male and female Red-tailed Comets (cleaning up that species from the “better view desired” category), Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrants, White-browed Chat-tyrants, Chiguanco Thrush, Great Thrush, Brown-capped Tit-spinetail, Baywinged Cowbirds, Black-backed Grosbeaks, and Giant Hummingbird (also cleaning up that species from the “better view desired” category).

By 08:15 we were finally all back on the bus and moving up the road and around 08:45 it was time for a pit stop. Either it was all the water we were all drinking to stay hydrated as a precaution against altitude sickness or it was the medicine half the group was taking to prevent altitude sickness but we were taking a lot of pit stops. Fortunately, every time we stopped we found birds to look at so we put the time to good use. Before anyone had time to wander off and find a bush, Rich noticed a group of warbling-finches including our 5th one of the tour. We had finally found a Bolivian Warbling-finch. He was able to call it down into a flowering shrub right by the roadside, so we could see all its field marks (rusty-flanks and breast band, clean white throat). To help with the identification a couple of Rufous-sided Warbling-finches where traveling in its company (rusty-flanks, no breast band, dingy throat and belly). We also had more Brown-capped Tit-spinetails, Cochabamba Mountain Finches and Creamy-breasted Canesteros in this same cluster of vegetation.

Having gotten the Red-tailed Comet and the two warbling-finches, we moved up the road as the next major target was going to be searching the large scree field for Short-tailed Finch. Just past the town we stopped at one of the more prominent drainage overlooks to check for dipper, Torrent Ducks and cinclodes and came away with Tufted Tit-Tyrant and Tawny Tit-spinetail. By 10:00 we were back at the sheep herding village and unlike the day before it was very windy.

Up on the slopes above the village we found a couple Andean Flickers, a Cordillerian Canestero and numerous Plumbeous Sierra-finches and Ash-breasted Sierra-finches. We continued to check every Cream-winged Cinclodes we saw to make sure none of them were a White-winged Cinclodes. That meant we looked at a lot of cinclodes but none of them were White-winged. There were also White-winged Diuca-finch and Plain-breasted Seedeaters here.

At 10:45 we made it to the large scree field. The altitude was 13,700’. Rich, Lynn, Charlie and I were going to walk the rocky, wet, grassy area here on the “Great Short-tailed Finch Hunt” while the rest of the group would take the bus back up to the pass for the scenery and to take pictures. Not everyone was able to make this walk and some people wanted to take more pictures today or hadn’t brought their cameras with them yesterday. This seemed like an acceptable compromise.

We started off the walk by going through a small group of llamas grazing and then we encountered a huge flock of Bright-rumped Yellow-finches. We continued to check all the cinclodes for a white-winged. As we walked across the rocky terrain we found a couple Cinereous Ground-tyrants (they have a habit of bobbing their tails when they land) and a Plain-breasted Earthcreeper (this was the 4th earthcreeper for the tour). That alone made the walk worthwhile. Plus it was simply gorgeous. We then started to climb over some larger boulders. Rich was focused on finding the finch and seemed to forget he could cover ground much more easily than any of us at 6’3” and almost a decade younger than me (and counting for the others). The strange thing was none of us felt the altitude at all.

We never found the Short-tailed Finch and since a pair most likely inhabits this scree field we hypothesized that it was mixed in with the 250-300 of Bright-rumped Yellow-finches. While we were rock hoping Lynn and I saw a Southern Mountain Viscocha. This is a mammal related to a Chinchilla that fits into the niche that a Pika does in the Rockies in North America. Shortly after spotting the Viscocha, a Black Siskin flew over our heads and landed on top of a nearby boulder. It stayed long enough for all of us to twist around and see it without falling or doing serious bodily harm.

cactus in flower

Diademed Sandpiper-plover YIP! YIP! YIP!
photo by Rich Hoyer

We came to the end of the boulder field and began walking back the marshy gravel grass plain to where we were dropped off and would meet the bus. As Rich and I were walking, he commented how somewhere, sometime ago, someone had once reported finding a Diademed Sandpiper-plover in this valley. It was one of those throwaway comments. Well, not 5 seconds after the words had come out of his mouth, not 100 yards in front of us did we have 3 birds: two Cream-winged Cinclodes and one breeding plumage Diademed Sandpiper-plover! To say we were excited would be an understatement. It was one of those serendipitous moments that makes birding so special. Lynn and Charlie were a 100-150 yards behind us and we waved to them to hurry up because we had something special.

We then had to wait for the bus to return and struggled to get them to see what we had been enjoying for at least 5 minutes. It was the surprise of the trip and EASILY the bird of the trip!

Lunch was from 13:00 to 13:30 down at the concrete bridge. We then started to walk down the road doing some leisurely birding. We had our best looks at Giant Hummingbird, Black-hooded Sierra-finch, and Andean Swift and, after checking out every mountain stream we had passed for the past several days, we finally found a pair of Torrent Ducks. At 14:45 we realized there wasn’t really much bird activity and we headed back to the lodge arriving there around 16:00. We met to complete our checklist at 18:30 and sat down to dinner at 19:00. We spent the night at Cabanas Tolavi in Cochabamba

14-Sep-10 (Tuesday) - Breakfast was at 06:30 and we departed at 07:15 for Laguna Alalay for a couple hours of birding before making the 45-minute flight back to Santa Cruz. As we left breakfast we found a Rusty Flowerpiecer feeding in one of the arbors and then a pair of Green-barred Woodpeckers flew into the poles above the gates to the driveway. The gardens of the Cabanas Tolavi were always active with Rufous Hornero, Creamy-bellied Thrush, Glittering-bellied Hummingbirds, Sparkling Violetear, Sayaca Tanagers, Rufous-collared Sparrows and Black-backed Grosbeaks.

As it was Cochabamba Day, marking the 200th Anniversary of the founding of the city, a lot of people were out and about beginning their celebrations. It took us a little over 30 minutes to get to Laguna Alalay and our first stop. Without setting up a telescope you could see lots of birds on the lake and on closer inspection you could see that most of them were Slate-colored Coots, followed by numerous Rosy-billed Pochards and Common Gallinules. There were a few Silvery Grebes here and some Ruddy Ducks. In the reeds along the along the edges we found a White-tipped Plantcutter and Wren-like Rushbird and Many-colored Rush-tyrant. The Rush-tyrant was spectacular and in perfect light. Along with the Crescentchest, the Rush-tyrant was one of my most wanted birds and we not only saw them both but saw them both really, really well!

There were also Blue and White Swallows hawking insects. Suddenly we noticed a Chaetura type swift flying around. Given the time of year and location, this presented a very interesting possibility so we carefully observed this swift looking at its pale throat and uniform pale contrasting rump and tail. The swift made several passes in front of us so we were able to get good looks at it and conclude that it was a Sick’s Swift. Sick’s Swift at times has been considered conspecific with Ashy-tailed Swift, which at times has been considered conspecific with Chimney Swift (ya gotta love taxonomy, at one point we discussed whether species lumps/splits were full PhD worthy thesis papers or Master’s thesis works when discussing species relationship earlier in the tour, this one is PhD worthy). At this point it was about 8:30 and time to move to our next viewing point. Later Rich confirmed that this would be one of the highest (elevation) reported sightings for a Sick’s Swift.

The lake is a community park with a running/walking path along its outer loop and a baseball park and several football (soccer) fields along its perimeter. At our 2nd stop we found some shorebirds as there were some mudflats and edges for them to feed. This included Andean Lapwing (remember we were still in Cochabamba at 8250’), Black-necked Stilts, Pectoral Sandpipers, Collared Plovers and then I found a Spotted Sandpiper. A couple new ducks for the tour were Andean Teal and Cinnamon Teal. There was also a close-up Puna Ibis here and then a real surprise; a pair of Puna Snipe. These guys were going in and out of the reed edges but by moving so that we could look into the cove where they were feed in, we had a better look at them. These were also lifers for Rich. This would be at the extreme lower limit of their range. These are found at 2600 meters and above. Laguna Alalay is found at just about 2600 meters.

After about 30 minutes we made a move to our 3rd and final spot around the lake near the Catholic High School. There was a lot of activity here as a parade was forming. We parked the bus and walked to a nice viewing area where we had a nice mix of shorebirds and ducks. Besides all the waterfowl we had already observed on the lake we added a single Ringed Teal and a couple Puna Teal. New shorebirds for the day were Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Baird’s Sandpipers and Wilson’s Phalaropes. Although Rich had heard Plumbeous Rail at the last stop, I don’t think he expected one to stroll out on the mud and feed out in the open for 5-10 minutes for the group like the one did for us at this stop. We then walked along the lake edge a couple hundred yards and scanned the far edge where we found Fulvous Whistling-duck, Cocoi Heron, Great Egret, Snowy Egret and Yellow-billed Pintail. It was now almost 10:00 and we needed to head back to the lodge to finish up packing. We arrived back at Cabanas Tolavi at 10:30 and were headed to the airport a little after 11:00.

Rich checked the group in for our flight back to Santa Cruz. We then had lunch as at coffee/sandwich shop at the airport. As I have only experienced in Latin America, the plane boarded and took off EARLY. Everyone was checked in and at the gate area for the flight ahead of time so rather than wait until the scheduled 14:05 departure, we took off 15 minutes early. What are the chances of that happening in the USA? Well first off, you know not everyone will be at the gate ready to board and then there is no way you would be able to taxi and take off right away. We were the only flight boarding and taking off that afternoon. By 14:40 we had landed, gotten our bags and were on our new bus heading back to the Rio Selva Resort. On the way, Rich asked if anyone wanted to go birding rather than just sit in their rooms and if so he’d hire the bus and driver to take us somewhere. We checked in at 15:10 and were back birding by 15:30.

We headed for the agricultural fields along Okinawa Road west of Montero. By 16:15 we had passed through Montero and begun searching the fields for seedeaters and the wet areas for Maguari Stork. En route we did find a couple Snail Kites, a young Yellow-headed Caracara, a Solitary Sandpiper, two Campo Flickers feeding on a termite mound. We then found a Greater Thornbird, Great Kiskadee and Double-collared Seedeater. We were checking all the Turkey Vultures carefully because this habitat is suitable for Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture. You need to look for the whiter outer primary feathers and flatter flight profile. It took a couple near misses but we finally found a Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, making it a sweep of the vultures for the tour. We also found lots of egrets feeding in the ponds and flushed a White-bellied Northura from the roadside.

By 17:00 we had reached Puente Las Maras and it was time to turn around. Here we had a few Chestnut-fronted Macaws, Yellow-chevroned Parakeets, Red-crested Cardinals, Straight-billed Woodcreeper and thrush-like Wren. On the ride back, we found a Capped Heron in one of the small ponds that we had not observed on the way out and two Greater Rheas in the fields plus a couple Savanna Hawks on the fences.

We were back at the hotel by 18:10. Dinner was at 19:00. We spent the night at Rio Selva Eco Resort in Warnes.

15-Sep-10 (Wednesday) - We headed to Santa Cruz’s Viru Viru International Airport at 6:30 to begin the trip home. After checking in with American Airlines and paying our departure tax, the group met Rich by the small café for breakfast. We all sat around chatting and filling out our immigration forms until about 8:00 when it was time to start through customs and security. By 8:15 we were at the gate waiting for Flight AA922 to arrive from La Paz on its way back to Miami. It was scheduled to depart at 9:30 but didn’t get to the gate until closer to 8:40 so we didn’t actually take off until about 10:00. But since we had a 21:30 flight home to Philadelphia out of Miami we had plenty of time.

The customs line in Miami was one of the shortest I ever can remember so either we timed it just right or mid-week in September is a good time to have to clear customs. We easily gathered and transferred our luggage, walked briefly around the terminal and made our way back to the Top of the Flight restaurant to wait in peace and solitude for out flight. When we arrived there we meet Daniel who was having a meal before his flight to the UK, so we joined him for a snack and chatted. He left to catch his flight to London’s Heathrow which was scheduled to depart about an hour earlier than our flight. Ultimately, our flight was delayed until about 22:00 and we arrived in Philadelphia about 00:30 on the 16th. The plane was maybe 1/3rd full so we had plenty of room to stretch out. We quickly gathered our bags, called Pacfico and were picked up in less than 15 minutes. I dropped Lynn at her home and was in my home by 1:30.