Palkachupa Cotinga – a lovely Bolivian endemic Photo: David Fisher
This is a special fund-raising tour for the Neotropical Bird Club (the UK charity that works to conserve Neotropical birds), designed with the assistance and support Barry Walker of South American tour operator Manu Expeditions Birding Tours.
Bolivia, officially known as the Plurinational State of Bolivia, is a landlocked country located in central South America. It is bordered by Brazil to the north and east, Paraguay and Argentina to the south, Chile to the southwest, and Peru to the west. The geographic location of the country comprises a great variety of terrains and climates. Bolivia has a huge degree of biodiversity, considered one of the greatest in the world; It stretches across the widest part of the Andean mountain chain and is one of the poorest, highest and most isolated of Latin American republics with the biggest indigenous Amerindian population. The country is as varied as its people and ranges from steaming Amazonian rainforest, high saline lakes and high steppe desert, rolling tropical savannah to snow-covered peaks and glaciers of the High Andes. This varied topography makes for many habitat types and consequently one of the largest bird lists for a landlocked country in the world. Assisted by the recent publication of a superb national field guide (in English), the birding world is starting to appreciate what they have been missing for years! While we will not neglect the quantity of birds, our trip will target the endemic and range restricted birds. In particular, we will search for two endemic macaws (Bolivia is indeed a land of parrots), a spectacular endemic cotinga, a range-restricted and potentially endemic antpitta which may be split in the near future and so much more. Reasonable roads, good hotels throughout (some simple but all clean) and the added advantage of our field chef Aurelio preparing field breakfasts and lunches in shady spots with great birds from the dining table, will make for a comfortable and birdy trip – all in aid of Neotropical bird conservation.
Possible birds include Huayco Tinamou, Darwin’s and White-bellied Nothuras, Orinoco Goose, Bare-faced Curassow, Rufous-breasted Wood Quail, Titicaca Grebe, Plumbeous Ibis, Black-and-chestnut Eagle, Chaco Eagle, Ocellated Crake, Horned Coot, Andean Avocet, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, Yungas Pygmy Owl, Black-hooded Sunbeam (E), Horned Sungem, Sword-billed Hummingbird, Red-tailed Comet, Scaled Metaltail, Hooded Mountain Toucan, Ocellated Piculet, Pale-crested Woodpecker, Grey-hooded and Cliff Parakeets (E), Blue-throated (E) and Red-fronted Macaws (E), Bolivian Earthcreeper, Brown-capped and Tawny Tit-Spinetails, Black-throated Thistletail (E), Maquis, Berlepsch’s (E), and Scribble-tailed Canasteros, Light-crowned and Bolivian Spinetails (E), Plain (Beni) Softtail, Spot-breasted Thornbird, Great Rufous Woodcreeper, Upland and Bolivian Slaty Antshrikes, Mato Grosso Antbird, Short-tailed Antthrush, Masked (E) and Rufous-faced Antpittas, Diademed Tapaculo, Olive-crowned Crescentchest, Rufous-sided Pygmy Tyrant, Bolivian Tyrannulet, Yungas Tody-Tyrant, Hudson’s Black and Plumbeous Tyrants, Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Band-tailed Fruiteater, Scimitar-winged Piha, Sulphur-bellied Tyrant-Manakin, White-eared Solitaire, Andean Slaty and the elusive Unicolored Thrush (E), (Bolivian) Citrine, Pale-legged and Yungas Warblers, Southern Mountain Cacique, Velvet-fronted (Beni) Grackle, Bolivian Blackbird (E), Bolivian (E) and Fulvous-headed Brushfinches, Orange-browed and Three-striped Hemispingus, Rufous-bellied and Chestnut-bellied Mountain Tanagers, Straw-backed Tanager, Giant Conebill, Grey-bellied Flowerpiercer (E), Grey-crested Finch, Long-tailed Reed Finch, Bolivian Warbling Finch, Cochabamba Mountain Finch (E) and Rufous-rumped and Dark-throated Seedeaters. Some potential interesting mammals include Azara’s Night Monkey, White-eared Titi Monkey, Culpeo Fox and Southern Tamandua.
Pre-tour extension: (3-6 September)
A three-day extension in pursuit of a rare antpitta, a number of exciting antbirds and tropical savanna rarities.
Day 1: The tour starts in Santa Cruz where we will assemble at the group hotel. (Airport transfers and accommodation only provided).
Day 2: This morning we’ll transfer to the airport and fly to Riberalta. On arrival, we’ll drop our bags at the hotel and head just outside town in a low-lying area called Hamburgo. This is a hot tropical location. Our target bird will be the endemic Masked Antpitta. Other possibilities include White-browed Hawk, Purus Jacamar, Riparian Antbird, Amazonian Tyrannulet (formerly Pale-tipped Tyrannulet), Johannes’s and Spotted Tody-Tyrants, Rufous-tailed Flatbill, Sulphur-bellied Tyrant-Manakin, Ashy-headed Greenlet, Lesser Kiskadee. Leaden and Streaked Antwrens, and Black-billed Seed-Finch. Night in Hotel Colonial.
Day 3: Today we’ll drive some distance down dusty roads to the northernmost mature savanna in South America. We’ll be looking for White-rumped Tanager, White-bellied Parrot, Horned Sungem, the local Rufous-sided Pygmy Tyrant, Rusty-backed Antwren and Small-billed Elaenia. Later in heavy forest we may see Amazonian Antshrike, Natterer’s Slaty Antshrike (a reasonably common bird in this area). The endangered Chaco Eagle is also here and a nest has been found nearby. Other antbird species are also well-represented by White-shouldered Antshrike, Amazonian Streaked and White-flanked Antwrens, Spot-backed and Silvered Antbirds and Black-spotted Bare-eye. Night in Hotel Colonial.
Day 4: After some early morning birding we’ll drive to the airport and fly to Trinidad for an overnight stay and meet up for lunch with folks coming in for the main tour only. We should have time for some local birding in the afternoon. Night at a country hotel on the shores of Laguna Suarez.
Main tour (5-28 September)
Day 1: Those not participating in the pre-tour extension need to arrive in Santa Cruz today where they’ll spend the night. Accommodation and dinner is included. You will be escorted throughout. (Note if your flight arrives early in the morning you may fly in on 6 September and meet the group that day in Trinidad).
Day 2: You’ll be escorted to the airport in time to catch a morning flight to Trinidad where you will be met by one of the group leaders and join the rest of the group for lunch. The bustling tropical town of Trinidad is located in the Department of Beni on the Moxos savannahs. We’ll spend three nights in our comfortable hotel commuting to the birds each day; this habitat is a mix of dry woodlands, riparian gallery forest, grasslands, and palm savannahs. It is seasonally flooded, and our visit is timed at the height of the dry season. It is in the palm savannah that the endemic and critically endangered Blue-throated Macaw is to be found (total population estimated to number about 350 birds). For many years this spectacular macaw was known only from specimens and live birds in the possession of parrot collectors. Night at the Hotel Tapacare.
Day 3: We’ll leave early and breakfast on the road to the macaws and other birds of the savannahs near Loreto. We’ll concentrate on open flooded fields and scrubby pasture. The bird list here is amazingly long. There are several species restricted to the Beni savannas known as “Beni endemics (BE)” which are slated for species rank in the future. Some of our target birds besides the fabulous Blue-throated Macaw, are Chaco Eagle, Plain (Beni) Softtail, Cinereous-breasted Spinetail, Sulphur-bellied Tyrant-Manakin and the endemic boliviensis race of the Beni Velvet-fronted Grackle. Other birds might include Plumbeous, Green, Buff-necked, Plumbeous and Bare-faced Ibis, Comb Duck, Roseate Spoonbill, Maguari Stork, Jabiru, Southern Screamer, Muscovy Duck, Scarlet-hooded and Unicolored Blackbirds, Greater Thornbird, three species of Monjita, Bicolored Seedeater, Toco Toucan, Great Rufous and Narrow-billed Woodcreepers, Rusty-margined Flycatcher, various whistling-ducks, Little Cuckoo, Orange-winged Parrot, Azure Gallinule, Slender-billed Kite, Black-collared Hawk, Rusty-fronted Tody-Flycatcher, Chotoy, Cinereous-breasted, Plain-crowned and Yellow-chinned Spinetails, Rufous Chachalote and Fawn-breasted Wren. Night at the Hotel Tapacare.
Day 4: We’ll make another early start and take breakfast on the road La Habana. Today we are heading for some gallery forest to look for Unicolored Thrush (tough to find so we need luck on our side). Birding here is dynamite with Greater Rhea, Pale-crested Woodpecker, Grey-lined Hawk, Hoatzin, Turquoise-fronted Parrot, Gilded and Swallow-tailed Hummingbirds, Green-barred and Spot-breasted Woodpeckers and much, much more. The grasslands and seasonally flooded woodlands are reminiscent of the more open parts of the famous Brazilian Pantanal or of the Venezuelan llanos and harbour the same rich and spectacular variety of birds. The open habitat makes for easy viewing and during our day here we should amass a splendid list. Many of the birds of the marshes, oxbow lakes, open meadows and pastures are widespread in the Neotropics, but we will of course be concentrating on the local specialties, and in particular the rare Orinoco Goose (here to be seen in flocks!), the rare Hudson’s Black -Tyrant (a migrant from central Argentina) and Dark-throated Seedeater. Additional species we may well see include Undulated Tinamou, Anhinga and Cocoi, Whistling, Capped and Striated Herons. The gallery forest should hold, as well as Black-tailed Trogon, the incredible Toco Toucan (with its bright blue eyes), White-wedged Piculet, handsome Pale-crested and Crimson-crested Woodpeckers, Red-billed Scythebill, Mato Grosso Antbird, Euler’s Flycatcher, White-eyed Attila, Bare-necked Fruitcrow, Rufous-browed Peppershrike, Rufous-crowned Greenlet, Orange-headed and Grey-headed Tanagers, Chestnut-vented Conebill and Golden-crowned Warbler. Night at the Hotel Tapacare.
Day 5: Today we’ll fly from Trinidad to Santa Cruz and drive on to Samaipata (the drive is about two hours) but we should have time to stop for some birding along the way in the afternoon. Night Quinta Piuray.
Day 6: We’ll make an early start and take a field breakfast. We’ll head to a locality for Alder Parrot. The scarce and hard-to-see Red-faced Guan has been seen here on occasion. The rest of the morning may produce Spot-backed Puffbird, Glittering-bellied Emerald, Red-crested Finch, Black-capped Warbling Finch, Sooty-fronted and Stripe-crowned Spinetails, Ochre-faced Tody-Flycatcher, Giant Antshrike, White-barred Piculet and Dot-fronted Woodpecker. We’ll move on a little-known birding road to Vallegrande stopping and birding at suitable habitat along the way. Birds we may encounter include Spot-breasted Thornbird and Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet. The rare Chaco Eagle is possible along this stretch. In the late afternoon, we’ll arrive in Tambo for the night. Night at the Hotel Monte Blanco.
Day 7: We’ll spend the morning around the cultivated fields between Tambo and Saipina. Dawn will see us waiting for the dawn flyover of the rare and endemic Red-fronted Macaw. Regular birds to be seen include the near-endemic Bolivian Earthcreeper, White-bellied Hummingbird, Stripe-crowned Spinetail, White-fronted Woodpecker, Chaco Suiriri Flycatcher, Sooty-fronted Spinetail, Cream-backed Woodpecker, Streak-fronted Thornbird, Rufous-capped Antshrike, White-bellied Tyrannulet, Narrow-billed Woodcreeper, Bay-winged Cowbird, Ringed Warbling Finch, Grey-crested Finch, Rusty-browed Warbling Finch and Saffron-billed Sparrow. In the afternoon, we’ll head to Saipina and some agricultural areas along the Rio Misque – here Red-fronted Macaws, Blue-crowned Parakeets and Turquoise-fronted Amazons often raid the crops. We could see Black-and-rufous Warbling Finches here as well. We’ll make a special effort for the endemic Cliff Parakeet. Night at the Hotel Monte Blanco.
Day 8: We’ll make an early start and drive to the humid temperate forest at Siberia. We’ll spend all day with a picnic lunch exploring side roads and trails. This will be our first introduction to cloud forest birding with lots more to come further north. Birds we are hoping to see here include Giant Antshrike (largest of all the antbirds) and the shy Rufous-faced Antpitta only found outside Bolivia in a remote area of Peru. The local cochabambae race of Rufous Antpitta is here too and if split would become a Bolivian endemic, Andean Guan, Violet-throated Starfrontlet, Red-crested Cotinga, Tawny-rumped Tyrannulet, White-browed Conebill, Pale-footed Swallow, Pale-legged Warbler, Crested Quetzal and Blue-winged and Chestnut-bellied Mountain Tanagers. We’ll look for Great Pampa-Finch and Red-tailed Comet on the way back to Comarapa. We may want to spend the afternoon in some dry semi-deciduous habitat looking for Bolivian (endemic) and Rufous-sided Warbling Finches, Speckle-breasted Thornbird and Olive-crowned Crescentchest. Night at the Hotel Monte Blanco.
Day 9: We’ll make a very early start and take a picnic breakfast. We’ll stop for some early morning birding at Siberia looking for any species we may have missed. Continuing on we’ll pass some remnant scrub Polylepis woodland - here possibilities include Giant Conebill, Grey-hooded Parakeet, Rock Earthcreeper, Andean Swift, Grey-bellied Flowerpiercer (endemic), Rufous-bellied Mountain Tanager (near endemic), Wedge-tailed Hillstar (near endemic), and Rufous-sided and Rufous-browed Warbling Finches. We’ll stop on the high grasslands to search for Puna Canastero and a variety of miners. Continuing on we’ll spend the afternoon birding a cultivated stream area where we hope to see Citron-headed Yellow-Finch (near endemic), Red-tailed Comet, Giant Hummingbird, Golden-breasted Flicker, Brown-capped Tit-Spinetail, Black-hooded Sierra Finch, Fulvous-headed Brushfinch and Rusty-vented Canastero. Finally, we’ll descend into the fertile Cochabamba valley. Night in Cochabamba.
Day 10: We’ll make an early start to visit the temperate forest of the Yungas (cloud forest) of Chapare. We’ll start at treeline and hope to see some of the following: Undulated Antpitta, Andean Tapaculo, Great Sapphirewing, Cochabamba Thistletail (endemic), Black-winged Parrot, Hooded Mountain Toucan, Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Light-crowned Spinetail and Crowned Chat-Tyrant. We’ll spend the afternoon in the lower cloud forest looking specifically for Straw-backed Tanager and maybe Upland Antshrike, and bird our way back to our hotel in Cochabamba.
Day 11: As a complete contrast to the previous day we’ll visit a dry Andean valley above Quillacolla where stands of mature Polylepis woodland still exist. This should be an exciting day’s birding. Endemic or near-endemic species are the order of the day here and we will pay special attention to Cochabamba Mountain Finch (endemic), Wedge-tailed Hillstar (near endemic), Bolivian Blackbird (endemic) and Bolivian Warbling Finch (near endemic). Other possibilities here include Black-winged Ground Dove, Andean Hillstar, White-winged Black-Tyrant, Tufted and Tawny Tit-Tyrants, Andean Swallow, Rufous-bellied Saltator and Cinereous and Giant Conebills. We’ll head up to the high puna grasslands for the local Short-tailed Finch, Streak-throated Canastero, White-winged Diuca Finch, Brown-backed Mockingbird and a variety of ground tyrants and sierra finches. We’ll return to Cochabamba for the night.
Day 12: We’ll spend the day birding our way to Oruro. Our first stop will be for Bolivian Blackbird in the arid canyons west of Cochabamba should we have missed it up until now. Brown-backed Mockingbird is here too. The rest of the day’s journey is through high puna grasslands and we’ll bird particular areas for high altitude species such as Puna Hawk, Andean Flicker, Bright-rumped Yellow Finch, Cordilleran and Puna Canasteros, Slender-billed and Common Miners, Mountain Parakeet and Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail. We may be lucky and see an Ornate Tinamou or a Golden-spotted Ground Dove. In the afternoon we drive to Oruro for the night. We hope to have time to visit the nearby lake for three species of flamingos, Andean Avocet, Puna Plover and more. Night Oruro.
Day 13: Today we may do some birding around Oruro if we are missing any important birds or we may start our drive to Quime on the road to Iquisivi and do some afternoon birding below Quime. Night in Quime.
Day 14: Our breakfast stop will be in a bushy canyon where we’ll look for the endemic Black-hooded Sunbeam. Puna Tapaculo and D’Orbigny’s Chat-Tyrant are here too as well as the near-endemic Maquis Canstero. Moving on we’ll drive beyond Inquisivi and look for the endemic and recently described Bolivian Spinetail – which is the reason why we are making this complex detour. Continuing on, it’s a long drive to the town of Chullumani (about seven hours) and our rustic but comfortable hotel. Night in Chulumani.
Day 15: Dawn will see us in a very pretty patch of cloud forest close to the Apa Apa private reserve. Our main target will be the little-known Scimitar-winged Piha, but the birding is good here and Chestnut-crested Cotinga, Crested Quetzal, Hazel-fronted Pygmy Tyrant, White-eared Solitaire and Yungas Warbler are all possible. We’ll spend the morning here with a picnic lunch. In the afternoon, we’ll head for Coroico, where we’ll spend the night in a comfortable hotel.
Day 16: A full, flexible, day’s birding in the lower cloud forest. First, we will go to El Chairo and the Cotapata National Park. Here we may see Cabanis’s Spinetail, Upland Antshrike, the unobtrusive, near-endemic Yungas Tody-Tyrant, Bolivian Tapaculo and the pretty little White-bellied Pygmy Tyrant. There is likely to be a substantial supporting cast in this life zone, including Dusky-green and Crested Oropendolas. We’ll drive a long transect, birding middle elevations looking for many of the birds mentioned for tomorrow. Night in Coroico.
Day 17: We’ll spend the day along the old road to La Paz. This track is spectacular and good for birds. We’ll concentrate on the upper temperate forest in the morning. As we explore trails and sideroads we expect to see some of the following: Golden-collared Tanager, Citrine Warbler, Three-striped Hemispingus, Ochraceous-breasted Flycatcher, Black-throated Thistletail (endemic), Yungas Manakin, Black-hooded Sunbeam (endemic), Moustached Flowerpiercer, Three-striped and Supercilliaried Hemispingus, Plushcap, Orange-browed Hemispingus, Hooded and Scarlet-bellied Mountain Tanagers, Rufous-faced Antpitta and Sword-billed Hummingbird. Night in Coroico
Day 18: We’ll bird the middle elevations again along the old road to La Paz. We’ll concentrate on the upper temperate forest in the morning. In the afternoon, we’ll bird the higher elevations of the Coroico road. On our way to Lake Titicaca we should have time to visit some upper temperate forest and the La Cumbre area for some high-altitude species such as Short-tailed Finch, Andean Tapaculo and Scribble-tailed Canastero as well as a variety of sierra finches. We’ll visit a variety of locales ranging from high puna bogs to altiplano to high Andean cloud forest. The road that takes us over the pass at La Cumbre and to Lake Titicaca, is a narrow, winding road, affording breath-taking vistas of distant ridges and steep-walled valleys shrouded in clouds at every turn. We’ll by-pass La Paz and drive to our hotel on Lake Titicaca.
Day 19: Today we will depart early from the Lago Titicaca hotel for our long, full-day journey to the small town of Atén in the Apolo valley. This is essentially a travel day, requiring us to cover about 340 kilometres (roughly 210 miles). A stop at Cerro Asunta Pata may produce the rare Yungas Tyrannulet, a recently described tyrannid considered rare and very local in the foothills and adjacent lowlands. Night at the Monasterio de nuestra señora de Nazareth.
Day 20: The Apolo region lies in the heart of the isolated Bolivian Andean ‘cerrado’. We will begin our exploration of this dry and rather unique area located along the otherwise humid eastern flank of the Andes searching the drier forest-edge habitats. This relict area of ‘cerrado’ has evolved in splendid isolation in a single rain shadow catchment and is, as a consequence, very limited in extent. In itself this poses an immediate problem for the endemic fauna and flora found here as the habitat has been largely cleared for farming and cattle ranching. However, as we work the fragments of woodland and scrub with our local guide we should be able to encounter the lovely Palkachupa Cotinga. Also present in the dry scrubby habitat is the rare Green-capped Tanager, a species previously only known from Sandia in the department of Puno in neighbouring Peru. In the afternoon we may explore the upper part of the Machariapo Valley to make a start on the birds mentioned for tomorrow or we may continue our quest for the rare Green-capped Tanager should we not have seen it so far. Night at the Monasterio de nuestra señora de Nazareth.
Day 21: Today we’ll also explore more humid Yungas forests in the Machariapo valley. This area gives us the opportunity to hunt for the rarely seen Rufous-vented Ground Cuckoo and Yungas Antwren plus the very local Rough-legged Tyrannulet at a site where they seem to be more regular than elsewhere. This remote area is also very good for the increasingly rare Military Macaw, the localized White-browed Hermit and a new taxon within the Fuscous Flycatcher complex. We’ll also look for a yet to be described (but it might be by 2020) tanager that will probably be given its own genus. It is thought to be a migrant to this area, but no-one knows for sure the time it first arrives in Bolivia. If we are lucky enough to find it we will be adding to knowledge about the species! Night at the Monasterio de nuestra señora de Nazareth.
Day 22: Today we head back to Lake Titicaca and the Lago Titicaca lakeside hotel perhaps making some stops along the way.
Day 23: Today we undertake a journey to seek the endemic Berlepch’s Canstero. We’ll also look for other high-altitude species including the enormous Giant Coot and return in time to look for the flightless Titicaca Grebe. Night at Lago Titicaca.
Day 24: This morning we’ll transfer to El Alto (La Paz) Airport for international flights home.
Updated: 16 January 2020