Friday, 17 November 2017

BOLIVIA 2017: Trinidad and Los Volcanes (12-17 November)

This is the second of several blogs giving my perspective of a birding trip to Bolivia. Our guide Richard Amable, Marc Brew, Duncan Brooks, Mike Catsis, Brian Foster, Paul Noakes, Barry Walker and I had flown from Riberalta to Trinidad where we met Malcolm Oxlade at the Hotel Tapacare.

12 November 2017. Hotel Tapacare provided a very basic breakfast for us at 04:00 but we didn’t get away until 04:55, almost half an hour later than planned due to the non-arrival until then of one of our 4WDs. We were heading for the Espenacita Ranch about two hours away. The road was good for most of the way although a lot of standing water caused us some concern as to whether we would be able to reach the ranch. Our concerns grew when we turned off the main road onto a very muddy track and immediately started slipping around although being told it was only 3 kms and so walkable if necessary was quite a relief. More so as one of our drivers wasn’t used to the conditions and soon became stuck. We piled into the two remaining vehicles, hoping that the more experienced drivers could make it. They did and we arrived at a large clearing near the ranch where there was lots of macaw activity. Most were the spectacular Blue & Yellow but we soon found a pair of Blue-throated, looking slightly artificial sat on a nest box. We spent several hours in the area seeing at least 6 Blue-throated Macaws, 20 Blue & Yellows, a pair of Red & Green and silhouette views (for me at least) of Golden-collared. We were very grateful that we had been allowed access to the private ranch and that the owners valued their macaws. Also in the area was Blue-crowned Trogon, White Woodpecker, Great Rufous and Narrow-billed Woodcreepers, Red-billed Scythebill, White-rumped Monjita and Fawn-breasted Wren but disappointingly the hoped for Pale-crested Woodpecker failed to show. We slithered our way back to the main road and the third vehicle was winched up onto it. We drove to some more forested areas birding off-road there before returning to Loreto for a long lunch. We drove slowly back to Trinidad making a few stops on the way. The best was by some grassland near the hotel where we saw Greater Rhea, Great-billed Seed Finch and White-bellied and Lesson’s Seedeaters. We continued to Loredo Dolphin Water Park, stopping first to successfully find Plain Softtail. The Colorado Lake Trail there was a site for Unicoloured Thrush. We heard a couple, not that I could differentiate them from Hauxwell’s, but only Mike glimpsed one. The track being popular with youths on motorbikes did not help, but was probably to be expected on a Sunday, although particularly vicious mosquitoes were more of a problem, my repellent having no apparent impact at all. We also encountered a family on the trail in a jeep but were not convinced they'd get very far, we discovered how far the next morning. Back at the Hotel Tapacare no one was inspired by their cuisine to have more than a plate of chips for dinner.

Blue and Yellow Macaws

inquisitive Blue and Yellow Macaws
Blue-throated Macaw

Chestnut-fronted Macaw
Thrush-like Wrens
Plain Softtail
Golden-crowned Warbler
Chotoy Spinetail
Rufous-tailed Jacamar

Rufous-throated Sapphire
Southern Screamers
Buff-necked Ibis
Plumbeous Ibis
13 November 2017. After a not quite so early breakfast we returned to the Loredo Dolphin Water Park and spent most of the morning on the Colorado Lake Trail. After an early success with Mato Grosso Antbird it became a somewhat frustrating and uncomfortable affair especially as it soon became very hot and the mossies were if anything even worse. I’d added gloves and a second shirt to my layers of protection but they seemed to make little difference, just making me hotter. Unicoloured and Hauxwell’s Thrushes were heard and some gave fleeting views. I saw what was presumably Hauxwell’s fly across the trail at head height (it had been singing on one side and immediately started again on the other). We had a Flamulated Bamboo-Tyrant pointed out to us although it didn’t conform to our expectations of a drab species, its apparent wing bars leaving us rather puzzled. A Sulphur-bellied Tyrant Manakin was new but not overly exciting, we saw pairs of Chestnut-backed and Bolivian Slaty Antshrikes and a White-backed Fire-eye but failed to find Pale-crested Woodpecker here either. We had a basic meal overlooking the river before driving back around town and to a large river. This was a good place to see Orinoco Goose, in fact the only site Jose knew, but the water level was too high due to the recent rains and they’d moved elsewhere. Another big disappointment as it was something I had been expecting to see. We stopped by some more grasslands near the hotel and saw Rusty-collared Seedeater and Great Pampa Finch while a farm track nearby produced Buff-breasted and Solitary Sandpiper, Large Elaenia and good views of a pair of Golden-collared Macaws flying almost directly overhead. While birding a bus drew up alongside us, it was Pepe our driver for most of the trip just arrived from Santa Cruz.
Mato Grosso Antbird
Bolivian Slaty Antshrike

the jeep we'd seen the previous evening hadn't made it much further down the track
Crimson-crested Woodpecker
Chestnut-fronted Macaw
Chestnut-backed Antshrike
Grey-headed Tanager
Three-toed Sloth

White-backed Fire-eye

Roadside Hawk
Black-billed Thrush
Southern Screamer
knees almost as thick as its neck!
Great White Egret on a floating island
Rufescent Tiger Heron
Guira Cuckoo
14 November 2017. We were up at 03:10 and departed at 03:30 for the long drive to Trinidad. We had packed breakfasts to eat in the bus, they didn’t last long. We had a brief roadside stop to look at some Greater Rheas but ten made good progress arriving in Santa Cruz early afternoon. We diverted to a hotel for Barry who was returning to Cuzco and would join us in La Paz for the final section of the trip. We’d miss his expertise, although didn’t yet realise by how much. A brief stop for an ATM and chemist became a supermarket lunch stop before we continued to Los Volcanes where we were spending three nights inside the crater of a large extinct volcano. We turned off on a very steep dirt road up to the rim of the crater. Here a 4WD was waiting for us, the bus not being able to descend on the even steeper, narrower track to the bottom. The 4WD took our bags and we walked down the very steep track through good forest. We had almost reached the bottom when the 4WD passed us to collect those who had lagged behind. It was a 10-15 minute walk from the river at the bottom to our accommodation, unexpectedly steep in places. We arrived just as it was getting dark, dumped our bags in very pleasant accommodation and enjoyed a pleasant meal. It was a really nice set-up, reminiscent in some ways of El Triunfo but without having to walk all the way (see
Greater Rhea
Los Volcanes, view from one rim to the other
Green-cheeked Parakeets
Los Volcanes

15 November 2017. A full day at Los Volcanes, we were out at dawn and soon walking a trail for Bolivian Recurvebill, one of the sites main targets. It soon became apparent that we would struggle as all the bamboo we came across was dead, a mass die back, and it was the recurvebill’s favoured habitat. We saw little else of note other than a Fork-tailed Woodnymph on an empty nest. Birding a narrow forest trail in a group of eight was hardly ideal. A calling Short-tailed Antthrush tantalised most of us while remaining out of sight and a Bolivian Tapaculo looked set to do the same until giving a few brief but good views. I even saw its white crown spot.  The others headed back for lunch but I decided to stay out and sat watching a section of trail hoping the antthrush might appear. No success, not helped by not being sure where its calls were coming from, in fact the day was to become successively worse for me. I returned to the clearing after lunch to find the lodge’s 4WD about to set off for the rim, already full. Brian, Duncan and I birded around the clearing for 45 minutes before it returned for us. When we rejoined the others walking down the road we discovered most of them had seen a Razor-billed Currasow cross the road as they drove up. They’d also seen and lost interest in an Ochre-cheeked Spintail 50m further up the road but fortunately I managed to tape it in. We set off back down the road not seeing a great deal until I hung back to try a speculative blast of Slaty Gnateater at the entrance to a likely looking gully. No immediate response and with the others going ahead I gave up, catching up with them to find they’d seen a Grey Tinamou walking by the road in front of them. Any change I might have had of seeing it had been blocked by a wall of seven bodies. At the time I misheard it as Great Tinamou which I’d seen and so wouldn’t have been quite so bad. As we neared the clearing a Grey Tinamou was calling very intermittently but I stayed until dusk and it was not responsive. Paul was out late too and had untickable views of two Slaty Gnateaters 100m behind me flying across the track by the start of trail we’d first been on. Probably my most wanted bird but at least there were some here, unlike we suspected the recurvebill. We had a good meal and it was a nice evening although I nearly didn’t bother going owling convinced I wasn’t going to see anything. We soon heard a Rufescent Scops Owl and followed it for some time before it settled in some trees up a bank. It wasn’t moving so we climbed up to the area it was in but the four of us remaining couldn’t pick it or any eye shine out with our torches. That is until I noticed a funny shaped ‘branch’ high up in a gap in one of the trees. Through binoculars it was the bird giving us all decent views and rather salvaged my day.
the accommodation block at Los Volcanes,a very nice place to stay
Owl or Night Monkeys
forest at Los Volcanes, the birds there were rather secretive

nice forest but dead bamboo in the foreground (and everywhere else we looked)
looking down to the clearing
the accommodation block is to the right, kitchen etc to the left
more forest
Chestnut-eared Aracari
showing its chestnut quite well

Purplish Jay, duller than one might expect from its name
Plush-crested Jay
an altogether smarter bird

one of the more spectacular rock formations at Los Volcanes, at times it seemed to be looking at me
16 November 2017. Our last day at Los Volcanes and I felt a lot of pressure to see Slaty Gnateater. Breakfast was at 05:00 and I left at 05:10 having had some fruit and a cup of tea. I headed for the original trail as it was getting light and was soon joined by the others. A brief call from below us about 100m in raised hopes but it would not respond. We continued for 3-400m before returning to the area. Still nothing. The others headed for a trail the other side of the clearing but I decided to sit it out. Eight on a trail was too many for me and I knew there was a gnateater in this area. I sat quietly in several places, intermittently playing quiet recordings. I was in the area for over seven hours and had one very poor view of what might possibly have been it, but probably wasn’t. I headed back to the clearing just after 13:00 to find the others were just finishing lunch and had seen a Slaty Gnateater several times on another trail! It somehow seemed typical although at least there was (or had been) a responsive Slaty Gnateater to try for. Paul quickly finished his lunch and kindly took me to the spot. I was decidedly tense but it soon responded. After an anxious 10-15 minutes during which I had a couple of very poor flight views it landed on a stump 15-20m away and watched me watching it for 2-3 minutes. Brilliant. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to catch up with a few other things I’d missed, briefly seeing Short-tailed Antthrush but only hearing Yungus Manakin. I returned to the clearing for the last hour of light hoping for a fly over from the pair of Military Macaws that had been seen the previous evenings, but only badly by me. No such luck but while waiting Marc and I started looking at the swifts flying over. One particularly caught my attention, not as big as White-collared which it appeared not to have. Not easy to be sure against the sky but it made a low pass in front of one of the cliff faces and was entirely uniform brownish, almost certainly Rothschild’s.
butterflies were easier to see and photograph than birds
I spent over 7 hours on this section of trail looking for Slaty Gnateater with no success
it took nearer 7 minutes to see one here thanks to Paul

17 November 2017. Breakfast at 05:00, the first group with our bags departed at 05:30 leaving Richard, Paul and I to start walking. It was downhill to the bridge and just as we were deciding whether to start uphill or wait the vehicle returned to pick us up. No curassows from the car for anyone today. We were all at the rim by 06:30 and Pepe arrived in the bus a few minutes early at 06:55. We had a long drive to Valle Grande ahead of us but we had time for a few planned and unplanned stops along the way. An obese roadside King Vulture was hardly able to fly but still managed not to behave for the camera. We then stopped along a section of the road where Spot-breasted Thornbird had been seen. No response at our first stop but a little further on a pair soon performed, nice. Further on we took a dirt road towards Laguna Esperansa. We were looking for Tucuman Amazon and found a viewpoint near some cliffs where we hoped they might be. A White-throated Antpitta calling from within a heavily fenced private wood appeared to be just too far away to try for. The only one I’d encountered before had been in NW Argentina and calling from an inaccessible gulley. Hopefully it’ll be third time lucky if I have another chance. We heard some distant parrots calling from near where we were sure the lake was and drove around. We walked part-way around the lake edge and played a tape and almost immediately two Tucuman Parrots flew in and landed in the large tree above us. They were soon followed by several small flocks and we counted a total of 29. We continued to Valle Grande arriving after dark.
last view of Los Volcanes, it had been a great place to stay even if I had found the birds a real struggle
Dusky-green Oropendola
with what looked like a large cricket
King Vulture with a very full crop
either that of the first recorded pregnancy

hard to say if a closer view is better with this species

roadside birding: Paul, Richard, Marc, Brian, Malcolm and Duncan
the road to Laguna Esperansa, or it would be soon
Tucuman Amazon at Laguna Esperansa
when not preening they were feeding on the bases of the red flowers
rather messily as it happened
Glittering-bellied Emerald
Valle Grande

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