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.