Bolivia provides one of the most memorable birding tours to South America, with its combination of high quality target species, including endemics, rarities, extremely localised species and all set amidst stunning Andean scenery. Bolivia is quite simply awesome!
Day 1 SANTA CRUZ
Following an overnight flight via Miami the group from the UK arrived in Santa Cruz an hour earlier than expected at 5:15am and met up with John and Josh from Canada and Miguel Castalino, our guide. We then spent the next few hours birding in the vicinity of Viru Viru Airport and pretty quickly racked up a decent list of birds. Sayaca Tanager was the first bird of the trip, and definitely wasn’t House Sparrow – I don’t care what anyone says! Around the car park we saw Southern Lapwings, Cattle Tyrant, Purplish Jay, Saffron Finch, Chopi Blackbird, numerous Burrowing Owls and a flyby Bare-faced Ibis. Driving out of the car park we were surrounded by grassland dotted with small bushes and almost immediately found a Red-winged Tinamou feeding underneath a billboard. In fact we found a further two birds and had excellent views from the bus.
We explored the nearby roads finding Fork-tailed Flycatcher, Grassland Sparrow, several Roadside Hawks, many Southern Crested Caracaras, a couple of Yellow-headed Caracaras, Harris’s Hawk, Guira Cuckoo, and a few Wedge-tailed Grass Finches. Scanning an open area with short grass produced a female Spectacled Tyrant, Buff-necked Ibis, Greater Rhea, a pair of Campo Flickers, a perched Aplomado Falcon, American Kestrel, with flocks of White-eyed Parakeets and Blue-fronted Parrots flying over. A perched Blue-winged Parrotlet was scoped in a nearby tree, whilst a group of Speckled Chachalacas disappeared quite quickly. Groups of low-flying White-collared Swifts put on a pretty good display of aerial manoeuvrability, and we also found Blue-black Grassquit, Great Kiskadee, Boat-billed Flycatcher, Picui Ground-Dove, Crested Oropendola, a calling Barred Antshrike, Scarlet Flycatcher (a recent split from Vermillion Flycatcher), Pale-breasted Spinetail and a few Crested Oropendolas.
We then headed towards a dry woodland on the edge of Santa Cruz, and along the way saw 4 Maguari Storks and a Savanna Hawk, before driving along a sandy track into the open forest where a Rufous Hornero patrolled a garden, our first Plush-crested Jaysappeared and a Chestnut-eared Aracari posed nicely at the top of a Cecropia tree. A pair of Moustached Wrens greeted our arrival in the forest and although fast moving and tricky to see most of the group had decent views. A pair of Rufous-tailed Jacamars then flew in, but the views of White-wedged Piculet blew everyone away. A Fawn-breasted Wren was particularly obliging, and we also saw Black-backed Grosbeak, a furtive Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher, Blue-tufted Starthroat, Plain-crested Tyrannulet, Suiriri Flycatcher, Southern Beardless Tyrannulet and a family of Tropical Parulas. A large tree held some Crested Oropendola nests, and a Giant Cowbird was seen inspecting one of the nests, but our eyes were drawn to the very confiding Crimson-crested Woodpecker that flew in right in front of us. By now it was 10.30am and getting very hot, so we headed to the very nice Hotel Cortez for lunch and a siesta.
We set out to Lomas de Arena in the late afternoon and encountered our first taste of chaotic Bolivian roadworks which delayed our arrival a little. But it was worth the wait as we turned up some real crackers beginning with a demure Tawny-crowned Pygmy-Tyrantthat skulked in the shadows but eventually gave surprisingly good views. The same spot also had an invisible Bolivian Slaty-Antshrike, a Great Antshrike, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper and some raucous Thrush-like Wrens. We walked along the sandy track to a clearing where a pair of Little Woodpeckers were displaying, a gang of noisy Smooth-billed Ani appeared, a pair of Red-crested Cardinals were feeding in the bushes, and best of all, a pair of Rufous-fronted Thornbills gave prolonged views. Further exploration revealed Creamy-bellied Thrush, Scaly-headed Parrot, a tiny White-bellied Tyrannulet, Chestnut-fronted Macaw, White-banded Mockingbird and a Yellow-tufted Woodpecker. It had been quite a day but with the light fading fast we returned to our great hotel for dinner and some much needed sleep.
Day 2 SANTA CRUZ BOTANICAL GARDENS - TRINIDAD
The Botanical Gardens in Santa Cruz are a well known birding hotspot, which I was looking forward to visiting once again. Within a few minutes of arriving we were watching Amazonian Motmot and Blue-crowned Trogon beside the car park. The lake was full of Western Cattle Egrets, along with Great Egret, Cocoi Heron, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Bare-faced Ibis, and we also saw Amazon and Ringed Kingfishers here as well. A Red-crested Finch also put in an appearance before we began our search of this wonderful habitat. Overhead, flocks of Red-shouldered Macaws were seen, whilst a few Dusky-headed Parakeets fed on a flowering tree beside the car park. We walked inside and found Buff-throated and Black-banded Woodcreepers, a brief Limpkin, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Green-cheeked Parakeet, Scaly-headed Parrot, Blue-winged Parrotlet, and best of all an extremely showy Bolivian Slaty Antshrike. We also saw Black-and-gold Howler Monkey, Black-tailed Marmoset, Brown Titi Monkey, Bolivian Squirrel, and 5 Three-toed Sloths. By the time we had returned to the car park it was 10.30am and getting rather hot, so we hung around in the shade for a little while and found a Southern Yellowthroat that proceeded to sing repeatedly from a few different exposed perched right in front of us. There was also our first Rusty-margined Flycatcher and Shiny Cowbirds here as well. Then we drove to a restaurant for an early lunch before heading back to the airport for our early afternoon flight to Trinidad.
After an hour’s flight we arrived to the sweltering conditions and quickly transferred to a lodge on the outskirts of the town. We had an hour to chill out in the air-conditioned rooms before venturing out into the gardens where Scarlet Flycatcher and Hudson’s Black Tyrant were personal favourites. Other birds seen here included Grey-crested Cachalote, Greyish Saltator, Orange-backed Troupial, Common Tody Flycatcher and a Gilded Sapphire. Driving out across the wide open space of the Llanos de Moxos gave us Black-collared Hawk, Southern Screamer, Snail Kite,Red-capped Cardinal, White-rumped Monjita, Yellow-chinned Spinetail, Black-throated Mango, Brown-chestedand Grey-breasted Martins, the soon-to-be-split Plain Softtail and Solitary Black Cacique. Rather frustratingly a Scissor-tailed Nightjar showed briefly as we drove back to the lodge, but we’d have to wait a bit longer for that one.
Day 3 TRINIDAD – EL CUTAL
This was the day of our much-anticipated search for the Critically Endangered Blue-throated Macaw. We left early doors and drove out into the Llanos de Moxos, an area that is pretty much an extension of the Brazilian Pantanal. The first bird of the day was a Scissor-tailed Nightjar perched on the road just before daybreak. It certainly looked exactly the same as the Pantanal and driving along in the early morning light we saw many Jabiru, lots of Rufescent Tiger-Herons, Whistling, Capped and Cocoi Herons, Roseate Spoonbills, Plumbeous Ibis, Black-collared and Savanna Hawks, Blue-and-yellow Macaw, Toco Toucan, Sunbittern and Black-backed Marsh-Tyrant. Other goodies seen included Plain-crowned Spinetail, Fuscous Flycatcher, Yellow-olive Flatbill, and Golden-green Woodpecker. Upon arrival at the first macaw site we quickly scoped a pair of Blue-throated Macaws, and lapped up the views. We then drove across the bumpy plains to another site where we found another group of macaws. Also here were Yellow-chevroned Parakeets, Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, Peach-fronted Parakeets, Short-crested, Streaked and Brown-crested Flycatchers, Silver-beaked Tanager, Greater Thornbird, Lineated and a superb White Woodpecker.
After lunch back at the lodge we set off into the Llanos de Moxos for some 3.5 hours to El Cutal Ranch. Along the way we saw many more of the typical Pantanal birds seen earlier in the day, as well as Green Kingfisher, Black-capped Donacobius, Unicoloured Blackbird, Crane Hawk, Large-billed Tern, Grey and White Monjitas, Lesser Yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpiper, Scarlet-headed Blackbird, and a pair of superb Red-and-green Macaws. We reached the lodge at El Cutal Ranch just before sunset.
Day 4 HABANA RANCH - EL CUTAL RANCH
Alarms rang at 4.30am for some of the group, whilst I eked out another 15 minutes in bed! Following breakfast we drove to El Habana and stopped along the way to see Rusty-collared Seedeater, Bay-winged Cowbird, Masked Gnatcatcher, Swallow-tailed Hummingbird, and White-rumped Monjita. Of course all the usual species were seen along the highway such as Jabiru, Rufescent Tiger-Heron, Whistling Heron, plus several Large-billed Terns. Upon arrival we had a little look around the open area and saw Black-billed Thrush, Palm Tanager, and Blue-headed Parrot flew by, before walking into the gallery forest. First birds seen were Ruddy Pigeon and Olivaceous Woodcreeper, before the first of many Black-tailed Trogons appeared. A male Band-tailed Manakin showed well, as did White-eyed Attila and Sulphur-bellied Tyrant-Manakin. A Hauxwell’s Thrush put in an appearance. High up in the canopy a pair of Guira Tanagers joined Plain Inezia, with Mouse-coloured Tyrannulet and Forest Elaenia, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper coming lower to check us out. A Blue-tailed Emerald was next up with first a female seen, shortly followed by a fine male, then a Streaked Xenops flew in. Upon reaching the lake, we saw our first Anhinga but apart from that it was really quiet, so we took a side trail and found Black-fronted Nunbird, more Black-tailed Trogons including a party of three birds, Blue-throated Piping-Guan and Little Cuckoo. Walking back up the trail Jules found a Rufous Casiornis, an awesome Pale-crested Woodpecker gave walk away views, and a surprise find in the form of Ash-coloured Cuckoo was much appreciated by all. Driving back to our ranch a White Monjita was spotted and our first Chalk-browed Mockingbird joined us for lunch.
After lunch we drove further into El Cutal ranch land seeing Great Pampa-Finch, Blue and Ruddy Ground Doves, White-tailed Hawk, and some more Jabiru. A small pool held White-backed Stilt, Greater Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper. We also saw Green Ibis, Pale-vented Pigeon, White-bellied Seedeater, and Nacunda Nighthawk. We arrived at a large lake where several Velvet-fronted Grackles were seen – this is soon to be split as Bolivian Grackle. At dusk we drove back to the lodge and the number of nightjars was phenomenal with Little and Scissor-tailed Nightjars and a Common Pauraque seen.
Day 5 EL CUTAL- TRINIDAD
We began the day with a Ferruginous Pygmy Owl in the spotlight prior to an early breakfast before saying our goodbyes to the amazing staff at the lodge. It had been basic, with 10 of us sharing 2 bathrooms, the hot conditions, but excellent food. Around the lodge we saw a flock of Dusky-headed Parakeets feeding on the grass, as well as a few White-eyed Parakeets and a pair of flyover Turquoise-fronted Amazons. Driving back to the main road a pair of Toco Toucans posed nicely on the top of a tree, a Swallow-tailed Hummingbird gave a great performance as it fed around a flowering bush and a pair of Blue-and-yellow Macaws flew low overhead.
Then we began the long drive back to Trinidad, stopping a few times to look at the amazing birdlife that the Llanos de Moxos provides. The first pond we stopped at held a group of feeding Large-billed Terns, as well as White-headed Marsh-Tyrant. Driving further along we called in a Striped Cuckoo that showed very well. The next pool was really productive with a group of Brazilian Teal and 2 Muscovy Ducks flying by, Yellow-bellied and Large Elaenia, a pair of cracking White Monjita, Ash-coloured Cuckoo, Green-barred Woodpecker, Campo Flicker, Yellow-browed Tyrant and another Swallow-tailed Hummingbird. The rest of the dusty drive gave us Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture, White-winged Swallow and Green Ibis.
After lunch back at the lodge near Trinidad we drove to a nice gallery forest just outside of Trinidad where we came a cross a Unicolored Thrush singing away from its perch. We also saw a pair of Band-tailed Antbirds, Streaked Flycatcher, Black-throated Mango, Buff-bellied Hermit, Grey-headed Tanager, Velvet-fronted Grackles, a couple of Night Monkeys and at the end of the day spotlighted a Tropical Screech-Owl. We also heard a distant Common Potoo and Common Pauraque as well.
Day 6 TRINIDAD – SANTA CRUZ
Headed back to the same gallery forest as last night for our last spot of birding around Trinidad. But not before getting views of Little and Scissor-tailed Nightjars and a sexy little Capped Heron along the way. Once at the forest we spent the next couple of hours following the trail into really good habitat. At the entrance a Pale-vented Pigeon was perched in a tall Cecropia, followed by Plain-crowned Spinetail, Straight-billed Woodcreeper and Glittering-throated Emerald, A few birds came into my owlet imitation including Streaked Xenops, Blue Dacnis, Common Tody-Flycatcher, Golden-crowned Warbler and a pair of owls as well. We had further views of Unicolored Thrush, albeit it not good views, but views nonetheless. Walking back to the cars a pair of Yellow Tyrannulets posed nicely. And that was our time up, so we headed to the airport for our flight back to Santa Cruz.
Back at the hotel in Santa Cruz we met up with Martin and Sue who had arrived from the UK earlier this morning, had lunch and then I took Martin and Sue to the Botanical Gardens whilst Miguel took the rest of the group back to the airport. In the gardens we truly nailed Bolivian Slaty Antshrike with a pair giving walk away views. We also had White-bellied Seedeater, Southern Yellowthroat, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Blue-crowned Trogon, Amazonian Motmot and Thrush-like Wren. We reached the lagoon at dusk and were amazed to see 1000+ Cattle Egrets rooting here, along with all the other usual suspects and 26 Snail Kites was a surprise. The rest of the group found a few Red-winged Tinamous around the airport.
Day 7 LOMAS DE ARENA – REFUGIO LOS VOLCANES
We endured the world famous Bolivian roadwork fiasco en-route to Lomas de Arena this morning, eventually arriving at a little after 7.30am. We didn’t actually get very far into the park at all but still picked up a variety of interesting species starting with Barred Antshrike, Green-barred Woodpecker, Blue-winged Parrotlet, Double-collared Seedeater and Red-crested Finch. As we were watching a pair of Chotoy Spinetails, Martin spotted a Chaco Puffbird, and the same spot also held Rufous Casiornis, Pearly-vented Tody-Tyrant, Blue-black Grassquit, and a pair of Rufous-fronted Thornbirds. We also saw a few close Fork-tailed Flycatchers, White-banded Mockingbird, Pale-breasted Spinetail, and a family group of 5 White Woodpeckers. Around a pool we saw a pair of Red-billed Scythebills, Buff-throated Woodcreeper, Yellow-tufted Woodpecker, Orange-backed Troupial and a Crowned Slaty Flycatcher.
We then drove to Los Volcanes, arriving in thick mist. With our bags being taken down in a couple of cars we saId our goodbyes to our driver Fernando and began walking the 4kms to the lodge. With poor visibility it was a little frustrating to only hear some good birds but the lower we walked the better things got for us. We had a couple sightings of Pale-legged Warbler, Streaked Xenops, a cracking Black-capped Antwren and Yellow-olive Flatbill. A small flock held Red-eyed Vireo, Tropical Parula, Olivaceous Woodcreeper, and a White-winged Tanager, but the sight of a majestic Andean Condor perched in a nearby tree was far more appealing! By now the mist had lifted and we could see the far side of the valley, and could also identify some of the numerous parrots wheeling across the canopy. Most were Mitred Parakeets, but there was also Turquoise-fronted Amazons, Blue-headed Parrots and some brief Military Macaws. We also saw Black-goggled Tanager and Ochre-cheeked Spinetail on the final stretch of the walk to the lodge.
Day 8 REFUGIO LOS VOLCANES
After some overnight rain it was pretty slow going for much of the day, yet we still pulled out some great birds. Scanning from the clearing around our rooms in the early morning gloom produced several Blue-throated Piping-Guans, Blue-headed Parrot, Plumbeous Pigeon, Plush-crested Jay, Rufous-bellied Thrush, Yellow-chevroned Parrot, Andean Condor sat on a ledge, Variable Oriole, and most frustratingly a Chestnut-tipped Toucanet I teed up in the scope didn’t remain on its perch long enough for everyone in the group to see it. After a great breakfast we walked along the jeep track where we immediately honed I on a calling Slaty Gnateater that gave brief views. Moving on we saw Pale-legged and Two-banded Warblers, Buff-fronted Foliage-Gleaner, Dusky-green Oropendola, Streaked Xenops, Green-cheeked Parakeet, Ochre-cheeked Spinetail, White-backed Fire-eye, flyby Military Macaws, Plumbeous Kite, Versicolored Barbet, Fork-tailed Woodnymph and Plain Antvireo. We did spend a long time trying to locate a calling Short-tailed Antthrush, which eventually Mavis spotted. The bird kept moving from perch to perch and never really gave great views, but most of us saw it. We also took a side trail where Slaty Gnateater proved far more sociable, and a Grey Tinamou was seen.
Lunch back at the lodge was another good meal and with a couple of hours ‘off’ over lunch, most of us spent the time watching up to 40 Military Macaws feeding raucously nearby. What an absolute pleasure it was to watch these stunning birds cavorting in the treetops and flying around constantly. There was also a distant flock of swifts that proved to be Sick’s Swifts, whilst the rapidly improving weather enticed numerous Andean Condors to take to the air, along with a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle. And a flock of Turquoise-fronted Amazons was also scoped. Once everyone was assembled we took to the trails behind the lodge, seeing Masked Tityra, Yungas Manakin and Black-goggled Tanager. Another quick sting along the jeep track was noteworthy only for the impressive spectacle of the raucous Mitred Parakeets constantly screaming overhead. Back at the lodge a Tschudi’s Woodcreeper gave point blank views. We then tried for Rufous Nightjar that only called once but had better luck after a protracted search for Rufescent Screech-Owl.
Day 9 LOS VOLCANES - COMARAPA
We left Los Volcanes this morning in a howling gale that destroyed our chances of seeing too many birds although a Blue-browed Tanager gave great views as we walked along the jeep track. We got that bird at the tail end of a small flock that included Marble-faced Bristle-Tyrant and Sepia-capped Flycatcher, Plain Antvireo, Yellow-olive Flatbill and Black-goggled Tanager. Apart from that it was pretty quiet, save for a quite remarkable find of a lek of Great-billed Hermit with at least 6 birds calling from the bushes beside the track and a flyby Yungas Dove for a few people.
Leaving here we drove to Laguna Los Volcanes where a few Common Gallinules, an Anhinga and at least 3 Least Grebes were present on the lake. Walking back downhill through some interesting forest and we came across a pair of Guira Tanagers in a flock of Blue Dacnis, Grey Elaenia, and a Buff-throated Saltator. Unfortunately a calling Bolivian Tapaculo failed to show, and just before reaching the bus a Golden-rumped Euphonia showed.
We then had quite a drive towards our next destination of Comarapa. We hit a purple patch as we drove past the Grande Vallee junction where the habitat of arid scrub & bush covered hillsides was alive with birds and after some of the group noticed a few Dusky-legged Guans beside the road we stopped and checked out the area. Our first Rufous-collared Sparrows of the trip were numerous here and we did our best to ignore them as there were far more interesting species to look at such as Saffron-billed Sparrow, Grey Crested Finches, Blue-crowned Parakeets, Purple-throated Euphonia, and a small group of cracking Black-capped Warbling-Finches. Overhead, a Bicolored Hawk soared across the valley, whilst our first White-winged Black-Tyrant was only a flyby. An Ultramarine Grosbeak eluded nearly everyone, but a perched Glittering-bellied Emerald posed nicely. Other birds seen here included Red-crested Finch, Bananaquit and Narrow-billed Woodcreeper. En-route to Comarapa we saw a Blue-and-yellow Tanager and Martin picked up a Blue-and-white Swallow.
Day 10 SAIPINA VALLEY
What a cracking morning this proved to be as we birded the Saipina Valley, home to the Critically Endangered Red-fronted Macaw. Our search didn’t bode too well initially as we only had a pair flying high overhead as we scanned the fields and bushes from our vantage point beside the road. But there were lots of new birds such as White-fronted Woodpecker, Golden-billed Saltator, Sooty-fronted Spinetail, and a stunning Black-and-rufous Warbling-Finch. There was also Glittering-bellied Emerald, Blue-tufted Starthroat, Blue-crowned Parakeets and White-bellied Tyrannulet. From here we drove further into the valley where below some cliffs we found White-winged Black-Tyrant, several of the endemic Cliff Parakeet, Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, Crowned Slaty Flycatcher, Masked Gnatcatcher, Ringed Warbling-Finch, and a White-bellied Hummer. All of a sudden we heard the distinctive sound of macaws from up the valley and there they were….. A pair flew right past us, circled around and came in to land more or less right beside us on some tall cacti where they called before flying to some bushes a little further away. The flight views in the morning sunshine were spectacular to say the least. Wow! We had some coffee here and then found a fine Ultramarine Grosbeak and both Grey-crested and Red-crested Finches appeared.
We left here and drove into another dry valley where a pair of White-tipped Plantcutters looked fantastic and were a good spot by Martin, whilst there were several more previously seen hummers to keep us entertained. Moving on we walked alongside a dry river valley where bird activity continued apace with Streak-fronted Thornbird and Southern Scrub Flycatcher appearing before a pair of awesome Cream-backed Woodpeckers were found. What a bird this is and a lifer for yours truly – a high five moment. We also saw Cliff Flycatcher, the endemic Bolivian Earthcreeper, Stripe-crowned Spinetail and a group of Dusky-legged Guans.
In the afternoon after a siesta we drove up into the hills above Comarapa and struggled to find any birds in the high winds. However, we did get a brief view of a skulking Spot-breasted Thornbird and whilst trying to catch a glimpse of this species a Pectoral Sparrow flew in. We also had a flyby Yungas Dove, Chiguanco Thrush and an attractive Brown-capped Whitestartentertained us for a while. So we decided to head back to the hotel earlier than usual as we had another early start to look forward to!
Day 11 SIBERIA CLOUD FOREST
Comarapa is excellently situated to visit Siberia cloud forest, just a short three-quarters of an hour drive from our hotel. So it was another early 4.30am breakfast and then we were off up into the hills where it was just about light enough upon arrival to see a calling White-throated Tyrannulet. This was one of the best days of the tour with so many new birds to keep us occupied throughout the day and pretty quickly we saw several of the distinctive local race of Common Bush Tanager, Mountain Wren, endemic Bolivian Brush-Finch, and an obliging Trilling Tapaculo. I just couldn’t believe that our first attempt at seeing the endemic Rufous-faced Antpitta resulted in almost everyone seeing it, as it hopped out onto a narrow path in front of us on three occasions! Wow! We followed this with Andean Slaty thrush, Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrant, and the first of many Tyrian Metaltails. Overhead we saw Andean Condor, Mountain Caracara, Swallow-tailed Kite, Short-tailed Hawk and Bicolored Hawk. Meanwhile a stunning Masked Trogon flew in and landed below us on a mossy branch, whilst White-crested Elaenia, Ochre-bellied Flycatcher, Pearled Treerunner, Bar-bellied Woodpecker and Glossy-black Thrush were all new additions to our ever growing list. Best of all, a pair of mighty Giant Antshrikes gave killer views as they fed just below the track and I’m still amazed how well they showed to the entire group.
By around 10am bird activity slowed down, but we kept picking up new birds regularly. A cute little White-bellied Woodstarperched on top of a tree showed well in the scope, and at the same spot Blue-winged and Chestnut-bellied Mountain Tanagersappeared, whilst a Lesser Violetear displaced the Woodstar from its lofty perch. Then a Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant was quickly followed by the much rarer Red-rumped Bush-Tyrant, before we continued walking along the track with Barred Becard, Blue-backed Conebill and Long-tailed Sylph seen just before we paused for our picnic lunch.
More walking down the track resulted in Blue-capped Puffleg, a few more sightings of Pearled Treerunner, White-eared Solitaire, Band-tailed Pigeon and Smoke-coloured Pewee. At 4pm we left and drove to a lower elevation where the dry scrub-covered hillside we visited yesterday was distinctly calmer but still resulted in poor views of Spot-breasted Thornbird. Compensation came in the shape of a Rufous-capped Antshrike that gave several fine views, a flock of Hooded Siskins, a female Red-tailed Comet (endemic), and finally an Ocellated Piculet. What a day!
Day 12 SIBERIA CLOUD FOREST - COCHABAMBA
Headed back up to the higher reaches of Siberia Cloud Forest after another 4.30am breakfast, arriving just after daybreak. The forest here is amazing with moss encrusted trees all around, but it was unfortunate that the infamous Bolivian roadworks have reached here and roadside birding was tricky. At our first stop a couple of Crimson-bellied Mountain-Tanagers tried their best to sneak by us as they fed in some low bushes. A Tyrian Metaltail was scoped, a Golden-headed Quetzal eluded almost everyone, a few Bolivian Brush-Finches appeared, Spectacled Whitestart posed at the top of a tree, as did a pair of Masked Flowerpiercers, Scaly-naped Parrot flew over and a White-browed Chat-Tyrant was also seen. Up at the pass a few Yellow-billed Teal, several Andean Lapwings and a Wilson’s Phalarope adorned the pool, but roadside birding again proved fruitless. However a Hellmayr’s Pipit was scoped, and as we drove a away a Red-crested Cotinga was spotted. A few kilometres downhill and we began walking along the road, which turned out to be fortuitous as a pair of Plushcaps were seen feeding in the bamboo here. Then we had a mad few minutes with a pair of Light-crowned Spinetailsshowing uncharacteristically well out in the open, Azara’s Spinetail, Sierran Elaenia, Rusty-browed Warbling-Finch, and a Buff-browed Foliage-Gleaner showed really well.
Moving on the scenery became much drier and arid with cactus dotting the hillsides. A Great Pampa-Finch seemed a little out of place at our next stop and was a different race to the ones seen in Trinidad. A Black-winged Ground-Dove was more expected, and a Green-barred Woodpecker was also found. A little further on we checked out some roadside scrubby areas and found a Wedge-tailed Hillstar, quite often a tricky species to find. Also here was a Band-tailed Seedeater, Andean Swift and a Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant. We had lunch here in the shade of some tall Eucalyptus trees.
Our last stop of the day at a side valley was mind-blowing! We began walking along a dirt road beside a stream and came across a Grey-bellied Flowerpiercer feeding beside the track, and as we watched this a Rock Earthcreeper began calling and we had great views. On the slope above us there was a lot of activity and after a little consternation we nailed a pair of Brown-capped Tit-Spinetails, one of which came right down to take a look at us. Then a Giant Hummingbird appeared, followed by a stunning Red-tailed Comet. A couple ofRufous-sided Warbling-Finches were then picked out above us and we also found a pair of nest-building Creamy-breasted Canasteros. We also had another pair of these beauties further along the valley which showed particularly well. Around the corner 3 Bare-faced Ground-Doves were feeding on the track in front of us, a Grass Wren sang its heart out, Miguel and Jules had a Rust-and-yellow Tanager, and a field was alive with Band-tailed Seedeaters and a few Plain-coloured Seedeaters. As we watched them a pair of Cochabamba Mountain-Finches appeared and gave absolutely awesome views. Then a Rufous-bellied Mountain-Tanager (Saltator) flew into a bush next to us, a Tufted Tit-Tyrant appeared, and a flock of Grey-hooded Parakeet flew over and landed in a tree. The weedy fields were alive with seedeaters, Hooded Siskins, Golden-billed Saltators and it was a real pleasure to have lots of birds all around us. A White-browed Chat-Tyrant was next up at the same spot, and we scoped the parakeets, whilst an Olive-crowned Crescentchest sang behind us and looked stunning in the scope. Overhead we picked out a few Brown-bellied Swallows amongst the Blue-and-white Swallows and we finished with more Great Pampa-Finches and a pair of Rufous-webbed Bush-Tyrants.
Day 13 CERRO TUNARI
Our day began after a later breakfast and a Sparkling Violetear feeding in a large flowering tree outside the front door of the hotel. Then we headed up into the high hills of Cerro Tunari where the first bird as we left the coach was a Bolivian Blackbird. Pretty soon after a Bolivian Warbling-Finch was teed up in the scope but it flew away before everyone in the group could lay eyeballs on it, and we were left with flocks of Rufous-sided Warbling-Finches to sift through to no avail. Overhead, we saw Andean Swifts, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle and a few Mountain Caracaras. Moving higher up we came across a Yungas Dovewalking along a channel below the road, Collared Warbling-Finch, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, Streak-throated Bush-Tyrant, White-winged Black-Tyrant, Peruvian Sierra-Finch, White-tipped Plantcutter and an Andean Hillstar. Around some bushes near a small settlement a Cochabamba Mountain-Finch showed well, as did Rufous-bellied Mountain-Tanager (Saltator), a pair of Streak-fronted Thornbirds gave good views. Our picnic spot beside a patch of Polylepsis forest turned out to be very good with a flock of Greenish Yellow-Finches, Tawny Tit-Spinetail and a Giant Conebill.
After lunch we drove to just over 4000m and into the puna zone where Taczanowski’s Ground Tyrant was seemingly common. There was a flock of Ash-breasted Sierra-Finches, several White-winged Diuca-Finches and Cream-winged Cinclodes to keep us entertained. Driving back down a random stop to look at some Bright-rumped Yellow-Finches produced walk-away scope views of a pair of stunning Ornate Tinamou feeding and walking across an open area opposite the road. Wow! We also saw Black-winged Ground-Dove, a Black Siskin in a flock of Hooded Siskins, and a Red-crested Cotinga. As we drove further downhill a flock of Mountain Parakeets flew across in front of the coach and landed nearby. When they flew off we got out of the coach to search for them and had good looks at Maquis Canastero and a huge surprise in the shape of a pair of Fulvous-headed Brush-Finches to round off another good day.
Day 14 TABLAS MONTES
Headed up to the humid Yungas forest of Tablas Montes this morning, stopping at San Isidro Lagoon where we saw White-tuftedand Silvery Grebes, Andean Coot, Yellow-billed Pintail, Yellow-billed Teal, Andean Duck and our first Andean Gulls on the way up. Once the road started to descend we took a side track into some great habitat but it was misty and raining heavily upon arrival. Thankfully within a few minutes the weather cleared and we enjoyed good weather all day. But in the mist to start with a Violet-throated Starfrontlet posed close by, quickly followed by the first of several Crimson-bellied Mountain-Tanager, Red-crested Cotinga, Azara’s Spinetail, Blue-backed Conebill, White-crested Elaenia, Spectacled Whitestart and some flyover Pale-footed Swallows. Walking slowly downhill we came upon a Blue-capped Tanager, followed by a Sierran Elaenia, Grey-breasted Wood-Wren, Bolivian Tyrannulet, Blue-black Tanager – another potential split, Rust-and-yellow Tanager and just before our coffee break a pair of Golden-browed Chat-Tyrants skulked in the shadows. The birding slowed by mid-morning but around a clearing we picked up a flock with several Tyrian Metaltails, Barred Becard, Highland Elaenia, Smoke-coloured Pewee, Masked Flowerpiercer, Grey-bellied Flowerpiercer, and a Long-tailed Sylph also appeared. Walking on we had Light-crowned Spinetail and a pair of White-browed Brush-Finches, Gould’s Inca and a showy Citrine Warbler before lunch. The afternoon was only really memorable for a couple of calling and non-responsive Blue-banded Toucanets. We did see a few previously seen species but it was really hard going and we left for the drive back to our hotel in Cochabamba at 4pm, hoping to avoid the rush hour traffic.
Day 15 TABLAS MONTES - MIGUELITO
Left at 4am and drove a couple of hours back up to Tablas Montes where we took a different side track and enjoyed another field breakfast. A calling Rufous-faced Antpitta was ‘encouraged’ to cross the track in front of us, whilst Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers fed around us. The key species here was the endemic Black-throated Thistletail and we nailed this sucker pretty quickly thanks to some good spotting by The Dungeonmaster! The open area held the rare Rufous-bellied Bush-Tyrant, as well as Sierran Elaenia, several Red-crested Cotingas, White-browed Brush-finch, Citrine Warbler, Masked Tityra, and Hooded Mountain Tanager.
Then we drove lower to about 1650m approx. and followed another side track that led us to many new species. First up was some Russet-backed Oropendolas nesting beside Dusky-green Oropendolas, a Grey-breasted Wood-Wren was watched building its nest and a Golden-crowned Flycatcher adorned a nearby treetop. Then a Slaty-capped Flycatcher flicked along the track in front of us and a singing Yungas Warbler was tracked down and showed very well. We followed this with decent views of Andean Solitaire and finally a Blue-banded Toucanet just wanted to be seen by our appreciative group! The forest opened out from here and became quite degraded but in one small pocket of habitat a Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher had taken up residence and was reasonably confiding. So we drove to the next patch of good forest where a flyover Plum-crowned Parrot was followed a little later by a Red-billed Parrot scoped at the top of a tree. A Crested Quetzal was called in and we had eye-level views of this stunning bird, and we followed this with a diminutive Hazel-fronted Pygmy-Tyrant flicking around a bank right in front of us.
Our great morning continued when we walked up a steep incline and could scan the treetops and found a Saffron-crowned Tanager, quickly followed by some treetop hugging and exceedingly rare Straw-backed (Green-throated) Tanagers – what a bird! Behind us a Versicolored Barbet came in to take a look at us, but it was just a shame the calling Bolivian Tapaculo wouldn’t play ball. However, we then had a close Deep-blue Flowerpiercer, followed by a pair of close Chestnut-tipped Toucanets, which was very pleasing considering the poor views we had at Los Volcanes some time ago.
Lunch was taken in the field where a calling Yungas Tody-tyrant called invisibly from a dense area of bushes and bamboo. So we drove out of here and birded the noisy main road back up to the pass, but Lady Luck was on our side today as we called in a rufous-morph Yungas Pygmy Owl that gave fine scope views. There was a distant calling Hooded Mountain Toucan that some of the group saw in flight, several Hooded and Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanagers around as well, and a flyby Southern Mountain Cacique to round off a great day. We headed back to the hotel at a little after 4pm for an early dinner.
DAY 16 TABLAS MONTES - MIGUELITO
We birded Tablas Montes again this morning, leaving the hotel early doors as usual but this time took a new side track that led us into some fantastic habitat. Our search for Hooded Mountain-Toucan had been frustrating to say the least and everyone scanned the hillsides intently for any signs. Walking along the track produced flyover Scaly-naped Parrots and 3 Barred Parakeets, this latter species very tricky to find anywhere. An Amethyst-throated Sunangel perched up nicely for us, and Black-throated Thistletail once again showed very well. We had our usual field breakfast before continuing walking further along the track and eventually we heard the distinctive sound of a Hooded Mountain-Toucan calling close by. Sure enough there it was, moving around a large tree behind us and we enjoyed fine views of a pair before they flew off downhill. We dallied a little while at the same spot, watching some Pale-footed Swallows flying around and perching on a tall snag above us before another Hooded Mountain-Toucan was spotted and this one gave even better views. Walking back to the coach a Maroon-belted Chat-Tyrant was only seen by me but an Orange-browed Hemispingus was seen by several of the group. And that was our cue to leave and head down to the Miguelito Track once again. We hadn’t walked very far when a pair of Andean Guans appeared beside the track. We then spent quite some time trying to obtain views of Bolivian Tapaculo, which never really showed satisfactorily but there were several glimpses of a constantly calling individual. A Yellow-whiskered Bush-Tanager was something of a surprise, as was a pair of Solitary Eagles. Lunch was enlivened by a few Greater Yellow-headed Vultures flying up through the valley and a Versicolored Barbet appeared close by.
From here we drove back up to the higher areas and almost immediately on leaving the coach nailed the endemic Black-hooded Sunbeam, which appeared three times giving great views. At the same spot a Great Sapphirewing fed around some flowers in front of us, Grey-bellied Flowerpiercers fed unobtrusively and a few other common species were seen.
DAY 17 LAGUNA ALALAY – LA PAZ
We visited Laguna Alalay this morning and spent a very pleasant couple of hours birding around this huge lake. At our first spot we saw several Rosy-billed Pochard, Red Shoveller, Puna Teal, Andean Duck, Yellow-billed Teal, Yellow-billed Pintail, White-cheeked Pintail, White-tufted and Silvery Grebes, Andean Coot, Spotted Sandpiper, several Wilson’s Phalaropes, Puna Ibis and in the sedges were quite a few Wren-like Rushbirds. A Giant Hummingbird hovered right in front of us and a couple white-morph Little Blue Herons were a surprise.
We drove up into the hills and saw Brown-backed Mockingbird, Glittering-bellied Emerald and a few Grey-crested Finches but it was pretty quiet, so we dropped back down to a different viewpoint at the lake. Here there were numerous White-backed Stilts, Pectoral Sandpipers, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Andean Lapwing and a Collared Plover. In the reeds a flock of Yellow-winged Blackbirds showed well, whilst a flock of Grassland Yellow-Finches were present. From our vantage point in the hills we also we scoped 3 Fulvous Whistling-Ducks – a scarce Bolivian bird. After lunch in a restaurant we drove to Cochabamba airport and took the short flight to La Paz where our bus met us, complete with luggage.
DAY 18 LA CUMBRE – COROICO ROAD
Headed up to La Cumbre at 4450m and made our first stop at a lake surrounded by some of the best scenery of the our to date complete with a flock of Andean Goose, Crested Ducks, and flocks of Baird’s Sandpipers. We drove along a side track and came across a Slender-billed Miner, followed by a pair of Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe that we watched feeding below us for quite some time. Amazingly a flock of Grey-breasted Seedsnipe were then found, followed by Puna Ground-Tyrant, and White-winged Diuca-Finch. We returned to the lake where a flock of Andean Gulls were in the parking area, and we also picked up a nest-building Giant Coot and a flock of Andean Swallows. Driving on we took another side track where a Streak-throated Canastero was found, along with Andean Ibis, Cinereous Ground-Tyrant, Black Siskin, Peruvian, Plumbeous and Ash-breasted Sierra-Finches. Next up was a bird I’ve dipped four times on - Scribble-tailed Canastero. But it’s a bogey bird no longer as we had great views of a singing bird in the high-altitude grassland today! Wow! A few Mourning Sierra-Finches at the same locality hardly got a look in! Moving on to the Pongo valley the rain came in making things tricky for us, but we had Cinereous Conebill, Black-throated Flowerpiercer and Spot-winged Pigeon.
Our picnic lunch was consumed on the bus as it was still raining and then we drove to another site where Diademed Tapaculowas well and truly nailed with views on the ground as expected followed by views of it in a bush overhead…! I know right…! A flock was then discovered with Citrine Warbler, Violet-throated Starfrontlet, Bolivian Brush-Finch, Moustached Flowerpiercerand a pair of Rufous-bellied Bush-tyrants. Eventually by early afternoon we arrived at the famous Coroico Road, also called more ominously ‘The Road of Death’. Well it was dead this afternoon, save for a splendid pair of Barred Fruiteaters and a confiding Yungas Pygmy Owl. So at 4pm we decided to head to the fantastic Rio Selva Resort way below us at 1140m. It took a while to get there but it was worth it, as Torrent Tyrannulet, Black Phoebe, Pale-breasted Thrush, Swallow Tanager, Mottle-backed Elaenia, and both Social and Dusky-capped Flycatchers were all new additions to our list.
DAY 19 OLD COROICO ROAD
Left the lodge at 5.45am and headed to the start of the Old Coroico road some 30 minutes away and began the ascent. It was an incredibly slow and quiet start enlivened only by a displaying Plumbeous Kite and a singing Southern Beardless Tyrannulet. A little higher up we found a Rusty Flowerpiercer and shortly afterwards a pair of Upland Antshrikes were called in to give great views. Nearby a Yungas Dove walked across a branch of a Cecropia tree and a Small-billed Elaenia appeared. We kept driving up a couple of hundred metres in elevation before walking a long transect and repeating the process over and over. In this way we covered a lot of ground quite quickly and easily and around our lunch stop we saw White-necked Thrush, a cracking Variable Antshrike that came in quite close and a pair of Spotted Tanagers showed well, along with Blue-and-black Tanager, Slate-throated Whitestart, and both Golden-rumped and Orange-bellied Euphonia. Walking on and Cinnamon Flycatcher became quite common, a few Andean Solitaires were seen, followed by Blue-banded Toucanet, Saffron-crowned Tanager, Golden-crowned and Streaked Flycatchers, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Mountain Wrenand Red-eyed (Chivi) Vireo. And then the forest became silent. We birded from 2500m up to the top at 3000m and it was dead. I mean dead. We saw a couple of Amethyst-throated Sunangels, a brief Streak-necked Flycatcher, Masked Flowerpiercer, a pair of Barred Fruiteaters, had decent looks at Slaty-backed (Maroon-belted) Chat-Tyrant, Gould’s Inca and that was it. So we cut our losses and headed back to La Paz, stopping ay Pongo where a pair of Plain-coloured Seedeaters were seen.
DAY 20 SORATA – LAKE TITICACA
Spent the morning at Sorata, just a 3 hour drive from La Paz and along the way we aw our first Cinereous Harrier of the trip. Upon arrival we quickly found our main target of the endemic Berlepsch’s Canastero with 3 birds feeding around a scrubby area below the road, along with a pair of Band-tailed Seedeaters. We then found another pair of canastero’s which showed quite a lot closer and the same area held a feeding Black-hooded Sunbeam. During our coffee break a pair of Andean Flickers flew in and landed on a bare tree right next to us and as we left the valley a Variable Hawk was spotted. A scan of a large lake revealed Andean Ibis feeding on the hillside, Giant Coots, Puna Ibis, Andean Goose and some previously seen waterfowl. From here we drove to Lake Titicaca where we had lunch beside the water and quickly notched several Titicaca Grebes, and one bird in particular showed well with a youngster on its back. There was also Black Siskin, Yellow-winged Blackbird and a nest-building Wren-like Rushbird. We then drove along the lakeshore and spotted some distant flamingo’s so drove closer and then walked across the fields where they proved to be Chilean Flamingo, and there were stacks of other birds including Baird’s Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, hundreds of Andean Gulls, Wilson’s Phalaropes and an Andean Negrito was our last new bird to round off a brilliant tour.
All that remained was to drive back to La Paz airport, say our goodbyes to John and catch the evening flight to Santa Cruz where we overnighted at an airport hotel before flying back to Canada and the UK the following day.
Many thanks to Miguel Castalino for such a great tour.