Bolivia: Off the Beaten Track - Birding Tour
Among birders, South America reigns supreme. Nowhere else has the moniker “The Bird Continent” after all! But most of those same birders tend to devote their efforts to the same countries – Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Colombia – and not realize that the continent has a lot to offer off the beaten track. Bolivia is just such a place. While its list may not be quite as sky-high as the countries to the north, it does have the most birds of any landlocked country in the world. And when adding that to good number of endemic and spectacular species, some of the best Andean scenery available, a vibrant local culture, and beautiful habitats, you have to wonder why more people aren’t flocking here! This trip will cover the best of Bolivia, from the sprawling lowlands of the Beni to the highest elevations of the Andes to the famous Yungas forests of Coroico and Chapare, targeting almost all of the available endemics on tap in the country, and some of the rarest birds on the continent. All that combined, Bolivia offers an unforgettable experience!
Main Tour: 28 September - 13 October (Price: TBA)
Extension: 25 - 28 September (Price: TBA)
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Other Tour Details:
Length: 16 Days (19 Days w/ Ext.)
Starting City: Santa Cruz
Ending City: La Paz
Physical Difficulty: Moderate
Max group size: 8 + 1 leader
Day 1: Arrival in Santa Cruz
Your flights arrive to day in Santa Cruz, and you will transferred to a nice hotel in the city.
Day 2: Santa Cruz Botanical Gardens and Lomas de Arena
Despite being one of the largest cities in Bolivia, Santa Cruz offers some excellent birding right at the edges of town. Our first stop will be the large and surprisingly wild Santa Cruz Botanical Gardens, where remnants of the dry woodland that once covered the area can be found. We’ll search for the near-endemic Bolivian Slaty-Antshrike, unique Stripe-backed Antbird, newly described Straneck’s Tyrannulet, and a host of others. Later on we’ll cross the city and visit a more open woodland and sand dunes area, where the likes of White-bellied Nothura, Ringed Teal, and Whistling Heron can be found. Night in Santa Cruz.
Day 3: Santa Cruz to Refugio Los Volcanes
An early morning departure from Santa Cruz will allow us to beat the traffic, and we’ll start towards Refugio Los Volcanes, located in the foothills not far to the west of the city. We may have time to bird the entrance road a bit, where species such as Chaco Suiriri, White-eared Puffbird, Chopi Blackbird, and Green-cheeked Parakeet might be found. We’ll then switch to the Refugio’s 4×4 vehicles and descend into a magical valley surrounded by stunning hills and cliffs. The afternoon will be spent birding the surrounding forest, where we stand a good chance at seeing the shy Slaty Gnateater and Short-tailed Antthrush, flocks may give us Blue-browed Tanagers and a host of tyrannulets, and noisy Military Macaws sometimes fly overhead. Night at Refugio Los Volcanes.
Day 4: Refugio Los Volcanes
Set in the middle of one of the most scenic valleys in all of the Andes, Los Volcanes looks like something out of a fairytale. And the birding isn’t half bad either! We’ll bird both along the entrance road and some trails that ascend into thick forest, in places choked with bamboo. Here we’ll keep a sharp eye out for the rarest and most local of the specialties, Bolivian Recurvebil – this is the best location in the world for this species. Gray-throated Leaftosser is wonderfully common here as well, along with Andean (Plumbeous) Tyrant, Gray and Brown Tinamous, Ocellated (Tshudi’s) Woodcreeper, and many others. A decent variety of hummingbirds visit flowers here, with the gaudy Red-tailed Comet being perhaps the most striking. A small river along the entrance road will give us our only shot at Riverbank Warbler on the tour, and night birding could produce Rufescent Screech-Owl, Band-bellied Owl, or, with a good deal of luck, Subtropical Pygmy-Owl. Night at Refugio Los Volcanes.
Day 5: Los Volcanes to Comarapa
We’ll have a bit of time for some last birding around Volcanes before heading west, where the habitat becomes progressively drier. Before lunch we’ll search for the enormous Giant Antshrike at a few different roadside draws. Afterwards we’ll be on the lookout for endemics such as Gray-crested Finch, and more common species in the form of Black-capped and Ringed Warbling-Finches, Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, the dark form of Masked Gnatcatcher, and White-fronted Woodpecker. If we’re lucky we may see our first Red-fronted Macaws during the drive, or find the rare Cream-backed Woodpecker. The next few nights will be spent in Comarapa in a rather basic hotel (but the best available in this remote town). Night Comarapa.
Day 6: Rio Mizque Valley
We’ll spend the entire day in the dry, dusty, but scenic Mizque Valley. Our main target will be the endangered and gorgeous Red-fronted Macaw, which typically flies down the valley in the mid-morning. We’ll also search out the distinctive “Cliff” form of Monk Parakeet, a likely future split and Bolivian endemic. Also in the endemic department, Bolivian Blackbirds can be quite common. Bolivian Earthcreeper, another of our goal species, often requires more work, but we should also see Chaco Puffbird, a distinctive form of Striped Woodpecker, and various warbling-finches while searching! Other dry-country possibilities include Ultramarine Grosbeak, Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, the golden-breasted form of Green-barred Woodpecker, and more. Night Comarapa.
Day 7: Siberia Cloudforest
Comarapa is located in one of those areas that demonstrate the magic of the Andes: drive a short distance one direction, and you have a certain habitat with certain birds, but drive the same distance the other direction and everything is different. In this case we’ll be experiencing that wonderful diversity in the form of ascending into cool, much wetter cloudforest only a short distance above the dry, dusty foothills we’d been birding the past couple of days. Here we’ll scan the flocks for birds like Buff-banded Tyrannulet, Light-crowned Spinetail (the southern, buffy-crowned subspecies), Bolivian Brush-Finch, Bar-bellied Woodpecker, and Band-tailed Fruiteater. Siberia has its fair share of skulkers, too, from the endemic Rufous-faced Antpitta to mouse-like Trilling Tapaculo to easily heard but almost impossible to see Brown Tinamou. And we’ll be sure to keep an eye to the sky for the rare Black-winged Parrot, in addition to the more common Scaly-naped Amazon and Red-billed Parrots. Night Comarapa.
Day 8: Comarapa to Cochabamba
We’ll have all day to travel to the highland city of Cochabamba, and where we stop will depend on what we still need. The dry slopes above Comarapa are a good place to look for Spot-breasted Thornbird should we still need it, while it will be easy to stop in at Siberia again if we’ve missed anything important. As the road continues to ascend to treeline and beyond, we’ll stop at some elfin forest patches to look for the southern race of the endemic Black-throated Thistletail, and if we’re lucky we may stumble on another endemic, the stunning Black-hooded Sunbeam in the same area. As the habitat dries out a bit on the high-Andean plateau we could see a different variety of warbling-finches, including Rusty-browed and the rare Black-and-chestnut. Our first shot at the local Citron-headed Yellowfinch will also come on this drive, and we should find White-tipped Plantcutter and Pampa Finch before making it to Cochabamba. In the city itself, should we arrive early enough, we can check out a productive lake that in recent years has held a small population of Red-fronted Coot in addition to the usual assortment of highland duck species. Night Cochabamba.
Day 9: Upper Chapare Road
The drive from Cochabamba up and over the eastern slope of the Andes is one of South America’s great descents. Starting in the barren, dry inter-andean slopes, the road traverses puna grassland, elfin forest, a wide elevational band of Yungas, and finally foothill and lowland forest. While much of the habitat along the road here has been cut, there are still some good patches and a dizzying variety of birds.
We have two days to birds the different habitats along the road, so today we’ll first concentrate on the higher elevations just over the crest out of Cochabamba. Here a side road goes through some nice upper-elevation Yungas. Many of the birds are similar to Siberia, but here we have a shot at some rarities like Hooded Mountain-Toucan, and maybe even Yellow-rumped Antwren. Stripe-faced Wood-Quail can be common by voice, and with a good deal of luck we may even get a visual. Easier to see are the many White-browed Brush-Finches and Rufous-faced Antpittas that call around here. We have another shot at Black-winged Parrot zooming overhead, and the usually rare Pale-footed Swallow can be surprisingly common. After finishing in the forest patch we’ll head back uphill a short ways and check some brushy hillsides just below treeline. Here we’ll have our best shot at the incomparable Black-hooded Sunbeam. We’ll also hope for a visual of Huayco Tinamou (usually easy to hear), though as in any tinamou hope may not be enough! With one last upper-elevation stop for Scribble-tailed Canastero we’ll return to Cochabamba for the night.
Day 10: Lower Chapare Road
An early start will bring us down to much lower elevation along the Chapare Road, along with an entirely different suite of species. The lower elevation Yungas are pretty cutover, but still productive. A good side-road off the highway goes through patches of bamboo-choked forest and open pastures, and we’ll spend a few hours scouring the flocks for goodies like Green-throated (Straw-backed) Tanager (this is the best place in the world for this rare bird), a distinctive race of Black-eared Hemispingus, and Unadorned Flycatcher among a host of others. As always, the shy and skulky contingent is well represented, and we’ll put some effort into actually seeing the many calling Yungas Tody-Tyrants while also searching hard for the much less common Upland Antshrike. After the activity dies down (or we get all the targets!) we’ll work our way back towards Cochabamba. Where specifically we stop will depend on what we are still looking for. We’ll spend one more night in Cochabamba.
Day 11: Cerro Tunari to Oruro
Located just to the west of Cochabamba, the various dry habitats on Cerro Tunari are a plethora of local specialties that we’ll likely see nowhere else on the tour! We’ll start the morning at some brushy draws that, while they don’t look very enticing, can be absolutely pumping. Among the most hoped for birds here will be the rare Wedge-tailed Hillstar, a species found only at a few locations in Bolivia and northernmost Argentina. The same areas are also our best bet at the endemic Bolivian Warbling-Finch, and we’ll search carefully through the more common Rufous-sided Warbling-Finches to make sure we see it. As we ascend we’ll pass through small country farms and small patches of habitat (sometimes a good area to find another local rarity, Rufous-bellied Saltator) before reaching the famed San Miguel Polylepis stand. Bird diversity is low at this elevation, but quality certainly isn’t! The endemic Cochabamba Mountain-Finch is typically easily found in this area, and well have another shot at the saltator if we hadn’t seen it yet. San Miguel will also be our best shot at a couple of Furnariid species, such as Maquis Canastero and Rock Earthcreeper, and we should see plenty of the gorgeous Black-hooded Sierra-Finch. From here we’ll ascend even higher, onto the stark but stunning rocky puna grasslands at the highest elevations reachable by road in the area. On the rockiest slopes we’ll have our best shot at Short-tailed Finch, a local species throughout its range. Grassier areas could hold Puna Canastero and a variety of Ground-Tyrant species. After getting our fill of the high mountains we’ll descend back towards Cochabamba, and then drive about five hours to Oruro, where we spend the night.
Day 12: Lago Uru Uru to La Paz
The large, shallow highland lake of Uru Uru has more than just a unique name – it is home to one of the great avian spectacles on the continent! Thousands upon untold thousands of Flamingos, typically of three species, congregate here, offering a sight that must be seen to be believed. Typically Chilean and Puna (James’) Flamingoes are the more common, but some careful searching should reveal a few Andean Flamingoes in the mix. A multitude of other waterbirds also inhabit the lake, including large numbers of the normally uncommon Andean Avocet, along with Puna and Yellow-billed Teals, Puna Plover, “White-backed” Black-necked Stilts, and many more. Delightful little Andean Negritos play around at the edges of the water, while marshy areas hold the incomparable Many-colored Rush-Tyrant and shy Wren-like Rushbird. After having our fill of the lake we’ll begin the long drive to La Paz, the capital city of Bolivia. We may have a chance to stop at some puna grasslands along the way, searching for the likes of Puna Miner and Puna Yellowfinch. We’ll aim to arrive around nightfall, and spend four nights there.
Day 13: Sorata and Lake Titicaca
Our morning excursion will take us back into the high-elevation puna grasslands so abundant in Bolivia. Our eventual goal is the long valley descending into the trekking town of Sorata, but on the way we’ll make a few stops for species such as Giant Coot and Black-faced Ibis. Once we reach the slopes above Sorata we’ll look for two of the most local of all Bolivian endemics. One, Berlepsch’s Canastero, is found nowhere else on earth! Luckily, despite the mostly trashed habitat, the bird is still fairly common. The other species, Bolivian Spinetail, has only recently been found and is much more difficult, but we’ll still spend some effort on the search. We’ll also have another shot at Black-hooded Sunbeam should we still need it. We’ll also spend some time birding at Lake Titicaca, where we’ll be sure to get some good views of the flightless Titicaca Grebe, along with a good variety of other waterbirds. We return to La Paz in the afternoon.
Day 14: Upper Coroico Road
Our first birding stop will be at the height of the famous Coroico Road. Hidden among the open, barren puna grassland here is a beautiful high-elevation cushion plant bog, home to the much sought after Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe. In addition to this ptarmigan-mimic we’ll also look for its smaller cousin Gray-breasted Seedsnipe, as well as White-fronted Ground-Tyrant, White-winged Diuca-Finch, and Slender-billed Miner. Further down we’ll enter some of the most dramatic scenery in South America as we descend the Coroico Road, justly famous as one of the premier birding sites on the continent. We’ll have our first chance to bird the pristine Yungas forests that blanket the slopes of the Andes here before returning to La Paz in the afternoon.
Day 15: Lower Coroico Road
We return today to the Coroico Road, picking up where we left off yesterday, looking for our last few remaining targets for the trip. These could include birds like Hooded Mountain-Toucan, the stunning Orange-browed Hemispingus, shy Rufous-bellied Bush-Tyrant, or Yungas Dove. The northern, white-crowned form of Light-crowned Spinetail is found in this area, and flocks, in general, have an excellent variety of tanagers and flycatchers to sort through. Bamboo stands here, in addition to being good for the hemispingus, give us our best shot at Diademed Tapaculo. We’ll return to La Paz in the afternoon for one final night.
Day 16: Departure from La Paz
The tour ends this morning with transfers to the airport.
Day 1: Arrival in Santa Cruz
Your flights arrive to day in Santa Cruz, and you will transferred to a nice hotel in the city.
Day 2: Santa Cruz to Trinidad
We’ll take a morning flight to the lowland town of Trinidad, set right in the middle of the Llanos de Moxos. With some time to bird around town, we’ll search out the rare (and endemic) Unicolored Thrush, and a vocally distinct race of Plain Softtail, before transferring to a Estancia set in the remote Beni north of Trinidad. Our main target here will be the critically endangered Blue-throated Macaw, but there are a variety of other local and rare grassland species on tap.
Day 3: Llanos de Moxos
The better part of the morning will be devoted to searching out our target macaw. But we’ll also be sure to search out some of the other high-value species present in the area – Great-billed Seed-Finch, Dark-throated Seedeater, Sharp-tailed Tyrant, and whatever else we can find!
Day 4: Trinidad to Santa Cruz
After some final birding north of Trinidad, we’ll fly back to Santa Cruz, where we’ll spend the night. This is the same day as Day 1 of the main tour.
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