Friday, September 17, 2010

Second Half of Bolivia - The Peak of Diversity

The latter half of the Peak of Diversity Bolivia tour took in the Villa Tunari area, the Chapare Road, and the area around Cochabamba. The lower elevations were surprisingly devoid of mixed flocks, but we still managed to see some good birds. Oilbird, Amazonian Umbrellabird, White-shouldered Antshrike, and Short-tailed Pygmy-Tyrant were some of the highlights. The forest here was gorgeous.

On one afternoon we went a little higher up the highway (to 2700 feet) where we found Upland Antshrike and White-bellied Pygmy-Tyrant, but not much else. We made a quick stop to look at some parrots that landed in trees and took the opportunity to ask the locals what in the world they were drying on the roadside. Turned out to be turmeric. It's a root from a plant in the ginger family, and it's used here in making mustard (presumably only as a colorant).

Not far from here was this gorgeous orchid Bletia catenulata growing on the shoulders of the highway. Thanks to Roberto Vásquez for the ID.

This easily recognized bess beetle, family Passalidae, was crawling across the road the next day at our birding stop at 5600 feet. Bugguide says there are about 500 species worldwide, but I don't know if anyone has looked at the Bolivia species.

I've always been fascinated by milkweed vines, and the twisted petals of this one were particularly attractive. Genus Matalea?

My friend Michael Harvey was able to identify quickly my photos of this Opipeuter xestus, which appeared to be common around 6500 meters elevation, such as where we had lunch at a trout farm. It's the only species in the genus, family Gymnophthalmidae.

On our last morning on the humid slope of the Andes we had a picnic breakfast under beautiful skies at 10,000 feet at the upper end of the Chapare cloudforest. Birds were really good here, and at this spot we watched two dueling Black-hooded Sunbeams, an endemic hummingbird.

This large Senecio sp. bush had a foul smell. In the close-up you can see the single series of even-length, dark-tipped phyllaries (the bracts under the flower head) that are characteristic of this huge genus.

This looks like a giant, lustrous ladybug and is probably in the same family, Chrysomelidae.

We made a short stop on the way back to Cochabamba to look for an Andean Swallow near Colomi.

Our last days were spent up the Cerro Tunari road, where we made it as high as 14,860 feet.

There is one village up here, apparently called Mis Llamas. And there are indeed many llamas here.

Some of us took a hike to look for Short-tailed Finch, which has an easily identified habitat, even if the birds aren't so easy to find.

And here's another shot of the Diademed Sandpiper-Plover (left of center) in the rocky, wet outwash I found it in.

The lower parts of the road have some nice brushy areas where we saw some great birds, such as Wedge-tailed Hillstar, Bolivian Warbling-Finch, and this endemic Cochabamba Mountain-Finch.

The botanizing here is also fun. This is Alonsoa acutfolia, Scrophulariaceae.

We spent our last morning at Laguna Alalay right in the city, where a vagrant Sick's Swift (perhaps a first record for the department of Cochabamba), and my lifer Puna Snipe were the best finds. But the excellent views of a Many-colored Rush-Tyrant and the good diversity of water birds made it a great stop.

After flying back to Santa Cruz (perhaps the quickest, most hassle-free flight any of us have ever had), we had time to drive north of our hotel and bird some open country. This Campo Flicker was right next to a busy road.

A Red-crested Cardinal on a Jacaranda tree.

This one last photo wasn't on our drive, but it was in the same region, on our first day of the tour. The fruit itself is interesting enough, a wild relative of the chirimoya and guanabana, family Annonaceae. But fascinating was that about half of the fruits on the tree were being guarded by these broad-headed ants that didn't seem to be doing anything on them. I think of my friend Lloyd Davis every time I see an interesting ant. These moved about aggressively when I touched the fruit, but they otherwise were sitting motionless and weren't anywhere else on the tree. Feel free to post a comment if you know what these are.

Monday, September 13, 2010

My Most-wanted Bird in Bolivia – Diademed Sandpiper-Plover

Back to Cerro Tunari above Cochabamba, today was our last full day of birding in Bolivia. Tomorrow we have a half-day before flying back to Santa Cruz for our farewell dinner.

About half of our group did the somewhat difficult walk to the boulder field to look for Short-tailed Finch at the base of a boulder field at about 13,500 feet elevation. We missed the Short-tailed Finch, alas, but did get a couple other new birds, such as a male Black Siskin and a Plain-breasted Earthcreeper.
We also enjoyed these clumps of blooming cactus, perhaps a species of Lobivia.

Martin and I walked back and as we started traversing a wet area, I started to mention that there was a record of Diademed Sandpiper-Plover from somewhere in these mountains, but it wasn't recent, the date, exact location, and observer not well known. In other words, it's not a bird one could actually expect to find here. Just a few seconds later, I looked up to see three birds scamper in front of us – two Cream-winged (Bar-winged) Cinclodes and this Diademed Sandpiper-Plover! This was my most wanted bird in Bolivia, but I had long since resigned to having to look for it in Peru or Chile where everyone else sees them. It would just have wait until I had a chance to get there. Wow, what a thrill.

We also did really well with other birds, finding Rusty-browed and Bolivian Warbling-Finches (completing the genus Poospiza in Bolivia), Torrent Duck, and getting much better views of Giant Hummingbird and Red-tailed Comet. The weather was nicer today, with the wind from yesterday abating by about 10:30 and making for a very pleasant picnic lunch and afternoon. The haze and smoke had cleared, and we had a nice view of Cochabamba in the valley below.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Black-capped Donacobius

I shot this through my Zeiss spotting scope at a stop along the main highway between Santa Cruz and Villa Tunari, Bolivia. This monotypic family has variously been considered to be related to wrens and thrashers. This behavior and song (and check out those inflatable orange throat pouches) suggest that it does belong in a family of its own.

Monday, September 6, 2010

First Half of Bolivia - The Peak of Diversity

We're about halfway through my tour of Bolivia titled Peak of Diversity. With no internet at our first four hotels, I've been kept away from my blogging duties. So here's some catch-up.

What makes this particular tour itinerary special is that we visit the three major South American ecoregions that straddle across Bolivia's borders – the Chaco, the Amazon Basin, and the Andes Mountains.

Day three saw us having breakfast in the Chaco of southern Bolivia.

It was a fun, birdy morning, and after having seen Red-legged Seriema yesterday morning near Santa Cruz, we cleaned up the family and order with the Black-legged Seriema. This species eludes many birders looking for it in Argentina, but few have looked in Bolivia. It's actually quite common in this area, and we heard several pairs with one running across the road in front of the bus at one point. We then got glimpses of it with its mate as they began singing up the hill from the road, and I got this recording of their duet.

I didn't get a photo of this this time, so I'll insert one that I got a year ago while birding south of here with my friends Keith Kamper and Dylan Radin.

Another one of the great birds we had this morning was Great Rufous Woodcreeper.

On our way back north we made a detour through the Lagunillas area. I had hoped to spot a Southern Screamer in the marshes here, but they were all dry until we got to what had been a large lake when I was last here in April 2007. It's been a very dry winter in Bolivia, and only a few shallow pools remained. But in these pools and in the moist field nearby were about 260 Southern Screamers, a sight I had never seen before.

Our next three nights were spent at the idyllic Refugio Los Volcanes in the foothills of the Andes with an interesting mix of birds from wet Amazonian forests and drier southern forests. We saw Chestnut-tipped Toucanet and Plush-crested Jay, for example. Or Ochre-cheeked Spinetail and Sclater's Tyrannulet for another.

White the birding was fun here (and seeing the Bolivian Recurvebill will surely be one of the avian highlights from the tour), we took time to casually wade down the small river here one afternoon. There were few orchids blooming this time of year, but we found one flower among the many plants of this lady's slipper, Phragmipedium caricinum.

We've now just come from the part of Bolivia's Andes to the west of Refugio Los Volcanes. Two days ago we worked our way from there up valleys in the rainshadow of higher ridges to the the north and east.

It required a very early start to get to the Rio Mizque valley for yesterday's birding, but it was worth it. Our primary target, because it's endemic to this river system of central Bolivia, because it's endangered, and because it's simply quite fabulous is the Red-fronted Macaw. We visited the Red-fronted Macaw lodge, supported by Armonía, to have views directly below their nesting cliffs.

We also saw a few from a distance from the roadside a few miles away, probably from the same breeding population.

Also endemic to the same areas is what the South American Classification Committee still currently considers a subspecies of the Monk Parakeet, Myiopsitta monachus luchsi. But it's really distinctive enough, being paler, less blue in the wings, and with a higher voice. They both come quite close to each other southeast of here with no chance for them to interbreed. So it's only a matter of time before they are split and recognized as the Cliff Parakeet.

Interestingly, the Blue-crowned Parakeet subspecies in the Valle Zone is also endemic here, and it may also be splittable. We saw lots of the Chaco birds earlier in the tour.

Our picnic lunch was in a birdy little valley where two pairs of Andean Tinamous were being strangely confiding. I managed to get a digiscoped image of just one, still a very lucky shot, despite the sticks.

We finished this day with Bolivian Earthcreeper, our fifth species with "Bolivian" in the name. (There are eight total: the others we've seen are Slaty-Antshrike, Tapaculo, Blackbird, and Recurvebill. We won't have a chance for the Spinetail, but we still have a chance for the Tyrannulet and the Warbling-Finch). Tomorrow we're headed for the Amazonian region near Villa Tunari, followed by some birding in a very wet area of the Andes, the Chapare Road.