Bolivia Saga Part II – May 6-10 2015

Picking up where I left off (Click here to read about our first week) …

We arrived in Cochabamba early evening and were very fortunate to flag down a taxi driver who was willing to pick us up at 5:30AM. The next day Ever, our taxi driver, picked us up and we headed about an hour west of Cochabamba to San Miguel, an area most known for its easy access to a relatively intact Polylepis forest. We arrived right at dawn as the world was waking up around us and had early morning views of dozens of hummingbirds zipping around the many flowers. Giant Hummingbird, Andean Hillstar, Red-tailed Comet, and Sparkling Violetear were all seen in abundance. We were also fortunate enough to see a pair of the uncommon endemic Wedge-tailed Hillstar.

Giant Hummingbird

Giant Hummingbird

After our rendez-vous with the hummers we worked our way up the old cobblestone road of San Miguel searching out some other target birds. We caught sight of Rock Earthcreeper on the mountainside, a bird we hadn’t seen until now. Ever picked us up and we continued working our way up the somewhat steep road. Unfortunately, his old Toyota Corrolla didn’t enjoy the hills much and he nearly couldn’t make it up the steep road but with some perseverance (and Ross jumping out to place rocks behind his tires so we wouldn’t roll backwards) we arrived at the Polylepsis forest ready to scout for some Bolivian Endemics. The Polylepsis trees making up the forest were so neat to see! The many layers of bark of the Polylepsis trees were the consistency of tissue paper that one would put in a gift box! Unfortunately these trees are very endangered, which is quite sad because several species require this exact habitat to survive. We spent two and a half hours meandering through the forest and stumbled upon Rufous-bellied Saltator, Giant Conebill, Tawny-tit Spinetail, Marquis Canastero and the extremely range-restricted Cochabama Mountain Finch.

Polylepis Tree

Polylepis Tree

View overlooking the valley

View overlooking the valley

We left the area having seen all of our targets and headed up to 4200m in elevation to search for the Andean Boulder Finch. For the next two hours, we (but mostly Ross) walked down the rocky road looking for our target bird while the taxi followed behind. Along the way we had a few flocks of Ash-breasted Sierra Finch and Plumbeous Sierra Finch but the rocky hillsides failed to produce any Andean Boulder Finches. Having reached the end of the “good” habitat, we realized our chances of finding our target bird was slim and decided to instead walk a nearby trail for another of our target species. Soon after starting the trail, a flock of grey finches flushed from in front of us. We thought we had finally lucked into our initial target of Andean Boulder Finch, but sadly it was just another group of the very similar-looking Plumbeous Search-Finch. We once again started walking but not a minute later, another grey bird flushed in front of us. This time, luck was on our side as a single Andean Boulder Finch perched quietly on a nearby branch, offering great views of this very uncommon high Andean species.

Andean Boulder Finch

Andean Boulder Finch

View from the top

View from the top

The road down the mountain. Somewhere in there we found the Andean Boulder Finch!

The road down the mountain. Somewhere in there we found the Andean Boulder Finch!

We had Ever make a few more stops on our way back down, but never really saw anything else of interest and we never found the Olive-crowned Crescentchest that we were looking for. We were dropped off at our hostel and Ever, our gracious taxi driver, agreed to pick us up the following morning at 5:00 AM.

Early the next morning we headed nearly one and a half hours north of Cochabamba to the Chapare road to areas known by birders as Corani Reservoir, Tablas Monte Road, Miguelito, and the San Jose Substation Road. We started the morning searching for two endemics, Black-hooded Sunbeam and Black-throated Thistle-tail. A known spot just north of Corani Reservoir along the very busy road produced both of our targets! Off to a great start we continued to Tablas Monte Road where we walked for several kilometers searching through small flocks of birds. Unfortunately the birding was pretty slow so we decided to head down to Miguelito. We found the somewhat overgrown and very muddy “Stony Trail” mentioned in a trip report and continued to bird there for the middle part of the day. Highlights included good looks at Bolivian White-crowned Tapaculo, Montane Foliage-gleaner, Orange-bellied Euphonia, and Saffron-crowned Tananger.

Photo of part of the San Hose Electricity Substation's patch of Bolivian Jungle

Photo of part of the San Hose Electricity Substation’s patch of Bolivian Jungle

It wasn’t until we made it to the San Jose Electricity Substation and found the substation road that the good birding began. That afternoon, I had my first experience with a large cloudforest feeding flock comprised of dozens of birds of numerous species moving all around in a chaotic manner. Ross warned me of this exact scenario — we would be walking and the forest would be silent until all of a sudden a flock appears, you scramble to see as much as possible and before you know it’s gone just as fast as it appeared. Fortunately for us the large feeding flock went through, but circled back around us and we saw about twenty species in that one encounter! Highlights included Versicolored Barbet, Olive-backed Treecreeper, Montane Treecreeper, Green-olive Woodpecker, Bolivian Tyrannulet, Orange-eared Tananger, Blue-naped Chlorophonia, Blue-and-Black Tananger, and over a dozen Saffron-crowned Tanangers. Also in the area we saw White-throated Toucan, Band-tailed Fruiteater and Black-winged Parrot.

White-throated Toucan

White-throated Toucan

Band-tailed Fruiteater

Band-tailed Fruiteater

Although Ever had driven us the day before, it was a full 12 hours out and about by the time he dropped us off at our hostel in Cochabamba. We weren’t too sure he would agree to accompany us for yet another day, given the long hours but he did and what’s most surprising is that even after a long day he agreed to pick us up at 4:30 AM the following morning!

Us with Ever!

Selfie with Ever, the best taxi driver!

So, for the third straight day, Ross and I woke up well before dawn and went birding. (Yes, he talked me into waking up at 0430!) We decided to do the same route as yesterday only in reverse order. This time we started on the substation road and worked our way backwards. We saw many of the same birds as yesterday but some new highlights included Masked Trogan, Yungas Tody-flycatcher, Deep-blue Flowerpiecer, Slender-tailed Woodstar, Booted Racquet-tail, White-eared Solitaire, Giant Cowbird and finally I have a half-decent life bird on Ross in the form of Spotted Nightingale-thrush! We ended the day with 69 species including a handful of Bolivian endemics which worked out well as May 9 was deemed “International Big Day” by eBird, a day dedicated to seeing how many species could be recorded in a single day by all birders worldwide. We successfully did our part in the event, having seen FOUR species that no one else in the world had that day.

Masked Trogan

Masked Trogan

Black-chinned Thistletail

Black-chinned Thistletail

We have been busy nearly every minute of the last three days. Our daily routine has consisted of waking up super early, spending the entire day out and about in the field, coming back to the hostel after dark, grabbing a quick dinner, running to the night market to buy food for breakfast and lunch, documenting our sightings in eBird, researching for the following day, and finally, SLEEPING! We hardly have time for a shower and no time to spend just lounging around! Needless to say surfing the internet hasn’t even been on the radar (not to mention the internet around here is rather slow!) I’m not sure whether it’s good or bad that we have NO CLUE what is going on in the world outside of our immediate surroundings, but I do know that spending the days out in the woods is therapeutic and extremely enjoyable! Real life can wait!

Selfie break on "International Big Day"

Selfie break on “International Big Day” while in the middle of the jungle

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