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Peru - Bolivia - Chile --- July 2015 (1 Viewer)


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I am about to finish a month-long trip through southern Peru, Bolivia, and very northern Chile, and since I had a morning free here in San Pedro de Atacama, I thought I'd get started on writing a little report.

Time: 28 Days, July 1-28.
Start: Cusco, Peru. End: Calama, Chile.

Short Itinerary:
July 1: Arrive in Cusco later than planned (flights cancelled).
July 2-5: Four day trip down the famous Manu Road with Wild Watch Peru. 191 species (plus or minus - haven't made an exact count yet).
July 6: Got sick! Missed some birding near Cusco.
July 7-10: Choquequirao Trek: neat birds and ruins!
July 11: Ampay Reserve and back to Cusco.
July 12: Pisac and Sacsayhuayman. Surprisingly few birds.
July 13: Flight to La Paz and Tiwanaku Ruins.
July 14-16: Trip to Yungas around Coroico (via "Death Road")
July 17: Fly to Cochabamba, rest in afternoon (again not feeling well)
July 18: Hiking/birding in Tunari NP highlands.
July 19: Birding cloud forest with local guide.
July 20: San Miguel polylepis forest (Cochabamba Mtn. Finch).
July 21: Travel day, to Uyuni.
July 22-24: Salar de Uyuni tour, end in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
July 25-26: Around San Pedro de Atacama (not many birds)
July 27: Birding Chaxa Lagoon near S.P., then drive to Calama.
July 28: Hopefully, a long layover in Santiago, birding at Metropolitan Park.

That's it for now; I'll start making more detailed entries soon.


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Notes on Birdbooks and Day One (Arrival in Cusco)

For this trip, we used two bird books, which cover most (but not all) of the area traveled. The first was Birds of Peru, the excellent book from Princeton Field Guides by Thomas Schulenberg et al.
Bolivia is more difficult birdbook-wise, because there's no book for the country (one is being written, however). One option is Birds of the High Andes, which we opted out of mostly because it costs 150 dollars on amazon! Instead, we brought Birds of Southern South America and Antarctica, by Martin R. de la Pena and Maurice Rumboll, which I thought from the amazon description would cover the whole country. However, it only covers the far south (not La Paz or Cochabamba), and lacks good descriptions or illustrations. Still, between this and the Peru book, we had all the species covered except the Bolivian endemics.

Day 1: On the 30th, we flew United, Boston to Newark and then Newark to Lima, spending the night at an airport hotel. Our plan for the 1st involved a 6 AM flight to Cusco, followed by the entire day open for hiking and birding near the city (perhaps the Tambomachay back to Cusco hike). Unfortunately, our flight flew all the way to Cusco, only to find a storm over the city, and we were forced to return to Lima! We were put on a flight at 4PM, and spent the day watching planes land (as well as the occasional Black Vulture).
Luckily, by being persistent, we managed to sneak onto an earlier 2:30 PM flight to Cusco, and got to our hotel with a tiny bit of the afternoon left. The hotel, the Corihuasi, had nice rooms, beautiful views of the city, and free coca tea in the lobby. It's also close to the Plaza de Armas, and close to the entrance to Sacsayhuayman (no idea how that's spelled).
We did a tiny bit of birding before night fell, walking up to the Sacsayhuayman entrance and seeing a few common species (Andean Flicker, Golden-billed Saltator). We also managed to meet with our guide from Wild Watch Peru; the Manu tour begins tomorrow!


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Day 2: Start of the Manu Trip:

For July 2 through 5, we had arranged a birding tour with Wild Watch Peru, a local company based in Cusco. We took their "Manu Cloud Forest and Foothills" tour, though the itinerary varied a bit from what's given on their website. Our guide was Luis Hebert Zuñiga, the company's founder.
Our first day we were picked up at 6 o'clock, and met our guide and driver, as well as the two Brits accompanying us on the tour. They were not birders, but luckily that wasn't a problem; we mostly shared transportation, and they had their own guide for general nature/mammal watching. Private tours are possible with WWP, but sharing reduced the cost for us.
We started out by heading to Huacarpay Lagoon, a lake 30 ish kilometers southeast of Cusco near the town of that name. This is a pretty well known site, and there's a fair amount of info out there about it, but I'll add a bit.
Before reaching the town we turned off to the right (I think there was a sign pointing out the lake). This road loops around the lake and passes Kanaracay, an Inca site on the other side. Not long after turning onto this road, we stopped at an observation tower overlooking the lake. There's a trail nearby that leads to a blind, but we didn't take it (too wet). From the observation tower, we saw our first birds of the day, including Andean Coots, White-tufted Grebe, and Puna Teal. There were also several wild guinea pigs visible along the trail to the blind.
After leaving the tower we drove around the lake, stopping at one point for a Plumbeous Rail. At Kanaracay, our fellow tourists toured the ruins while we headed off down a little road that leads to some marshy habitat to the east of the town of Lucre. Only about 500 feet along, we got views over the marsh, with a pair of Yellow-winged Blackbirds
After that we walked back up the road to the ruins, finding along the way one of the highlights of the day: a beautiful Bearded Mountaineer! This Peruvian endemic was a surprise for us; we had talked to Luis about it the previous night but he didn't seem to think it was very likely; their favorite flower, found along that stretch of the road, is mostly passed by July. At the ruins themselves we had a couple more birds, including Mountain Caracaras and Andean Lapwing. Then it was time for the drive uphill. It's a long drive through the Andes, over a high point of 3800 meters, then down through the town of Paucartambo and up a bit again to the Acjanaco Pass, the entrance to Manu and the cloud forest. Unfortunately our drive was made longer because of work on paving the Manu road; we were forced to take a bit of a detour, though it did mean we passed the Inca ruins of Watocto (Andean Swift and Spot-winged Pigeon)
At the Acjanaco Pass, we birded a bit and then ate lunch, running into a small mixed-species flock. The highlight was an endemic Creamy-crested Spinetail, along with a Pearled Treerunner.
From the pass we plunged into the cloud forest, driving along the beautiful Manu Road. Our first stop was at a waterfall, where we got out for a bit and Luis called in a beautiful male Golden-headed Quetzal. It was raining a bit here, but nothing too bad. We make several more stops on our descent; first for an Andean Potoo right along the road, and then for a Blue-banded Toucanet. Once we encounter a mixed flock of tanagers, including a Grass-green Tanager, Hooded Mountain-Tanager, and Capped Conebill.
We spend the night at Tambo Paititi, a lodge near the Manu Cloud Forest Lodge; it requires a 10-15 minute walk into the woods with our bags. Pretty neat place: open to the air (mosquito nets provided), no electricity, but tons of beautiful cloud forest moths coming to the candles set for dinner.

I'll add here a link to my flickr set for the trip, in case anyone's interested: https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/sets/72157656161638990
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Day 3: Cloud Forest to Amazonia:

Today started early (as many days did on this trip), with a 5:30 breakfast in order to be birding by 6. We headed back up the road, to a spot with some easily visible rapids that our guide said was a good spot for White-capped Dipper and Torrent Duck. Indeed it was, as we saw both those species, as well as another streamside specialty, the Torrent Tyrannulet, and a trio of Highland (Andean) Motmots.
From there we headed farther uphill, but encountered few to no birds, so we decided to turn around and do more birding along the road closer to the lodge.
There we had huge success - a short stop to watch a Black-faced Brush-Finch turned into a long stop when Golden, Blue-necked, Yellow-throated, Saffron-crowned, and several other species of Tanager arrived in a mixed species flock. We luckily managed to stick with this one as it moved along the edge of the road, seeing a ton of cool species. Highlights included a male Versicolored Barbet, a Spotted Barbtail, and several interesting flycatcher species. We returned for breakfast at the Tambo Paititi Lodge at around 8, counting the morning's birds (32 species), having breakfast, and watching a Squirrel Cuckoo.
After breakfast, it was time to leave the cloud forest. We returned to the van for the ~2 hour drive to the town of Atalaya, which lies on the Rio Alto Madre de Dios and is where we get a boat to the next lodge, 20 or so minutes downstream.
The highlight of the drive was certainly our second potoo species of the trip, a Great Potoo roosting high in a tree on the drive between Pilcopata and Atalaya.
In the town of Atalaya, we spent a bit of time getting our stuff organized for the trip to Amazonia Lodge before getting on the boat. In town, a big tree by the river contained a colony of Russet-backed Oropendolas and Yellow-rumped Caciques. On the boat, we headed up stream a short distance, eating lunch onboard with views of a young Fasciated Tiger-Heron and lots of White-banded Swallows skimming over the river.
On the 20 minute boat ride downstream to Amazonia Lodge, the best find was a group of 5 or 6 Southern Lapwing, a bird only recently reported from the area. Indeed, our bird book, published in 2009, mentions only one record from all of Madre de Dios district!
Arriving at the beautiful Amazonia Lodge, we had a couple hours to relax on the comfortable porch in front of their hummingbird and tanager feeders. Stunning Masked Crimson Tanagers joined more modestly-colored Yellow-browed Sparrows and a Buff-throated Saltator at the bananas, while Violet-headed Hummingbirds, Sapphire-spangled Emeralds, and Gray-breasted Sabrewings enjoyed the sugar water.
At 3:30 Luis came by and we spent until six walking around some of the trails on the lodge property. The first site visited, a little lake in the forest, had a flock of Hoatzin around it! A bird I've always dreamed of seeing, off the bucket list! Also nearby: a male Blue-crowned Trogon, and a Buff-throated Woodcreeper which took a bit of time to ID. A bit later, deeper in the forest, we heard macaws calling, and were surprised when both Chestnut-fronted and Red-and-Green Macaws flew overhead in the waning sunlight.
We hear lots of tinamous, but of course see none. One Gray-necked Wood-Rail runs across the trail, and our last bird of the day (number 70) is a Semicollared Puffbird.
Tons of awesome moths at the lights tonight. We take a night walk and see some frogs, whip scorpions and a baby caiman.


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Interesting report, came back from Peru a month ago and was also impressed with Manu Road (but only went as far down Pilcopata since we had had been in the AMazon for 2 weeks at other places). Looking forward to your posts on Choquequirao Trek and Tunari NP.


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Thanks Semiramis. The Bolivia part of the trip is probably more important to write about; there's already tons of info around about Manu Road.

Day 4: Amazonia back to the Foothills:

Today begins with a boat trip a ways down-river from Amazonia lodge, to a viewpoint on a clay lick, where we arrive about 6. This is a well-known place, and there's a whole set of bleachers set up on a sandbar out in the river, far enough from the lick that the parrots aren't scared.
When we arrive, there are a few parrots flying around, both in the trees near the lick and over the river, but none have started on the clay yet. We take a little walk around the sand bar and see a whole bunch of Sand-colored Nighthawks. The real thrill, however, comes a bit later, when a flock of 26 Blue-and-Yellow Macaws flies directly overhead! 26! Two women working at the clay lick tell us that that's more than have ever been reported before; we hadn't expected to see them at all. Despite that excitement, the parrot lick itself is rather disappointing. A few birds arrive, including Blue-headed and Yellow-crowned Parrots, along with the quite common Chestnut-fronted Macaws, but very few land on the clay. At 8ish we get back in the boat and head toward the lodge again, for our next stop, the oxbow lake.
The oxbow lake is a lake about a mile from the bank for the Alto Madre de Dios (in the direction of the buffer zone). At the lake there's a little place where you can get taken out for a loop in a raft to observe the birds and animals.
Along the walk in, it was sprinkling, but not enough to prevent us from seeing a Blue-throated Piping-Guan in the top of a tree and a female Goeldi's Antbird in the undergrowth. The best bird of the walk in, however, was a Sunbittern along the shore of a little lake. Stunning species, showed off its wing-patches beautifully. Our guide tried to call in a Solitary Cacique (oxbow lake specialist), but with no success. When we arrive at the lake and get on a raft, the weather lets up a bit. Right as we get going we see two fun birds: Hoatzins and a group of Horned Screamers. We're on the oxbow lake for 45 minutes or so, and see quite a few neat species. Highlights include a Blackish Rail, a nesting Lineated Woodpecker, and several Black-capped Donacobiuses.
Returning to the shore, we walk back out to the river, seeing a pair of White-lined Antbirds and a Chestnut-capped Puffbird. Then it's back to Amazonia Lodge for a bit of rest, lunch, and then off to Pilcopata.
Resting on the deck, we see a few nice birds, including an adult male Long-tailed Tyrant high in a bare tree right by the lodge. In the same tree, there's a small group of Little Woodpeckers. Luis sees a Paradise Tanager but it disappears before we can run over.
Little Blue Heron and Neotropic Cormorants along the river on the way out. At Atalaya, we meet our van again and head back uphill to the town of Pilcopata. Along the way there there's an animal-rehab center, where they take animals orphaned (presumably by the local people) and eventually release them back into the park. While our British companions visited that, we walked for a little ways along the road, seeing a Plumbeous Kite, a group of Olive Oropendolas, and finally the longed-for Paradise Tanager. Our driver appears at one point and tells us that he's been told there's a potoo in the tree right above our heads! Unfortunately, we can't locate the bird.
When the Brits return, we drive to our hotel for the night, which is right on the edge of Pilcopata. This place isn't very nice, unfortunately (though that's mainly because we've gotten used to beautiful eco-lodges). There are some neat moths that come to the lights, though, including one amazing leaf-mimic.


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Day 5: Back to Cusco:

July 5th, the final day of our Manu trip, began with a 6 o'clock trip from Pilcopata up into the hills, close to the park, where Wild Watch Peru is making a new eco-lodge. Unfortunately, it rains pretty much the whole time, so birding is hampered a bit. Nonetheless, we see some cool things. On the drive in we are forced to make a couple stops because the van can't get through dips in the road where streams come across. At one of these stops, we see a Swallow-wing.
We make a couple birding stops on the way out to the lodge, including one where Luis uses his playback to attract a male White-browed Antbird. When we get to the lodge itself, there are two Black-throated Antbirds singing in bushes in the yard. The lodge is almost complete; in fact, if we'd taken the tour just ten days later, we would have stayed here instead of the place back in Pilcopata. We spend a bit of time right around the building, but only see a couple things because of the bad weather. The best find is a White-throated Toucan.
Luis leads us up a little tiny road that heads uphill to a single tiny farm deep in the forest. The road is incredibly rutted and terrible, but apparently good enough for this family to take their tractor up it every week or so. The only reason we're walking along it is that it runs through bamboo forest, where we search unsuccessfully for bamboo specialty species. We get within earshot of a mixed flock, but see nothing.
Back nearer to the lodge, we do see a couple birds before leaving: a small group of Dot-winged Antwrens and a Yellow-breasted Warbling-Antbird. Just before we leave, we spot a female Plum-throated Cotinga high in a bare tree by the lodge; the stunning male, unfortunately, is nowhere to be seen.
At 9 we're back in Pilcopata, eating breakfast at a restaurant in town, and the rain has stopped! After eating, Luis and I take a walk up and down the street while the rest of the group continues to sit around the restaurant... their loss! We see several neat new birds, including an Orange-headed Tanager and a Bran-colored Flycatcher. Another walk through town after breakfast is even more productive; without even leaving the main street of town we see a male Vermillion Flycatcher, a Chestnut-eared Aracari, and then a group of 12 Swallow Tanagers in one tree! A massive flock of White-collared Swifts swoops around above us as we leave.
From there we pretty much have to drive the whole rest of the way back to Cusco, though we do make a few brief stops along the upper Manu Road (above the tunnels), an elevational range that we missed on the way down.
At one stop the highlight is a group of three Scarlet-bellied Mountain-Tanagers. At the next it's an Andean Pygmy-Owl in a bush by the roadside; unfortunately, we only have a couple minutes to watch this guy before a tour van comes roaring around the corner, honking its horn and scaring the bird off.
Our final stop is above treeline, where there's a very co-operative Sedge Wren in a nearby bush. Band-tailed Pigeons are common here, flying by in large flocks.
From there, we drive all the way back to Cusco, arriving after dark.

Day 6: Sick!:

Today, our original plan had us hiking from the ruins of Tambomachay (about 8 kilometers from Cusco), back into the city, passing through a couple of archeological sites along the way, including Sacsayhuaman. However, when we get out to the starting point, I quickly realize that the slight stomach ache I had in the morning will make that impossible. I do spot one life bird, a White-winged Cinclodes, however, before returning to the hotel to rest.
Luckily, I recover over night and am good to go for the Choquequirao trek, starting tomorrow.


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Day 7: Choquequirao Day 1:

I wake up feeling much better, which is good, because today is the first day of our 4-day trek to the ruins of Choquequirao, an Inca city considered the sister city of Machu Picchu.
Our driver, who we arranged through our hotel in Cachora, arrives at 6 for the 2 and a half hour drive to Cachora, the starting point for the trek. We arranged our trip to Choquequrao through the hotel, "Casa de Salkantay" for about half of what it would have cost in Cusco. For around $900, the three of us got two burros, an emergency horse, a (spanish speaking) burro-driver, a (spanish speaking) guide/cook, all our meals provided, and camping gear. We could put all our clothes on the burros, and hiked with just a day pack.
We hung around the hotel for a little while, and started off a bit late, at 10:30. The first day was relatively easy, which helped with my recovery.
The start of the hike was 11 kilometers gently uphill, from the town of Cachora to a viewpoint at the top of the Apurimac valley. This part of the trail has a lot of introduced eucalyptus forest along it. Because it was the middle of the day, we didn't see a ton, but we did see several male White-winged Black-Tyrants, a couple Creamy-crested Spinetails and lots of Sparkling Violetears.
At the viewpoint we have lunch, and then begin the three and a half hour descent to our first night's camping site, Playa Rosalina, which is right on the Apurimac River. We see few birds along this stretch, but when we arrive at the campsite, several White-bellied Hummingbirds are feeding in a nearby tree. We hear some parakeets, but don't see them.
More birds tomorrow, when we ascend to the ruins.
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Day 8: Up to Choquequirao:

We were up early (before dawn) on the second day of the Choquequirao trek, for the first of the two big climbs. Between 6ish and 9ish we climbed from the campsite, at ~1500 meters at the Apurimac River, to Marampata, a small village and camping area at about 3000 meters, just below the elevation of Choquequirao.
We had a few fun birds on the hike up (several flocks of Hooded Siskins, a lot of Black-backed Grosbeaks, and a Squirrel Cuckoo), but the best birds were to be found on the trail between Marampata and our campsite, which was just below the ruins. This was an hour and a half hike through habitat that was suddenly much moister than that seen lower in the Apurimac Valley.
The biggest highlight by far up here was an Apurimac Spinetail, a highly restricted-range Peruvian endemic. The bird was surprisingly cooperative, showing off its diagnostic black (not chestnut) tail well. Other birds included Rust-and-Yellow Tanagers, Band-tailed Pigeons, and, hopping in the trail as we approached our camping site, a beautiful Undulated Antpitta, a lucky find at any time but especially in the middle of the day!
At our campsite, we rested for a while, eating lunch with a beautiful view of the Apurimac Valley below us (as well as a passing Mountain Caracara. In the afternoon we headed up to the ruins themselves, just a short hike away. The ruins were of course amazing, especially given their surroundings. An adult Red-crested Cotinga was a fun find along the trail between the Usnu (a large, flat ceremonial ground at the top of a hill) and the city's Main Plaza. As we left, an immature Andean Condor flew overhead, giving good (but brief) views.


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Day 9: Choquequirao Day 3:

Today we spent until about 8:30 or 9 o'clock looking for birds in the area of the ruins and the campsite, but had surprisingly little luck. Some Brown-bellied Swallows over the valley and Sparkling Violetears in the trees were about all. Our hunt for the Undulated Antpitta was unsuccessful.
We had better luck on the way back, near the Marampata viewpoint. Near there we ran into a mixed flock, containing Rust-and-Yellow Tanagers, Spectacled Redstarts, three Creamy-crested Spinetails, and, most excitingly, a pair of Apurimac Brush-Finches, another restricted-range endemic.
At the Marampata viewpoint itself, we saw a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle soaring overhead before beginning our descent to the river.
Along the way, we got back into the drier habitat of the upper Apurimac valley, and saw fewer birds. Late in the afternoon, however, we did see an Andean Condor (an adult this time) in the valley, as well as an American Kestrel perched on the cliffside.
Late in the afternoon, we headed uphill a bit, reaching a campsite about 40 minutes up the slope from the river (which reduced our climb the next morning).


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Day 10: Choquequirao Day 4:

On the last day of the Choquequirao Trek, we hiked back up the valley and back to Cachora. There weren't very many birds the last day, but there were a couple fun finds.
The best was a female Golden-rumped Euphonia we saw very early in the morning; this was a puzzling find at first because our bird book didn't show it as being found in the area. However, there are some other observations on eBird from the Choquequirao area.
At the viewpoint above the valley, before the 11 kilometer hike back to Cachora, we stopped for a while and ate lunch, watching Sparkling Violetears in the nearby flowers and a group of Variable Hawks flying by the cliffs.
We see a couple more common species on the road back to Cachora, and are a bit delayed getting back to the hotel because we get off the trail somehow and wander along some side-roads into the village. Luckily, we see our burro-driver up ahead and can follow him back to the Casa de Salkantay.
We relax there for the afternoon; we see a trainbearer of some kind, but can't tell which.
We also arrange our driver for tomorrow's trip to Ampay National Reserve through the hotel.


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Day 11: No Success at Ampay:

We started our day with high hopes, leaving Cachora at 7:20, and arriving in Abancay, the capital of Apurimac District, a bit before nine. Our driver knew a shortcut through town to get to the road up to the reserve, which made our trip a bit shorter. The road up to the reserve is signed, but very bumpy. The road ends at a little visitor's center, where there are some interesting maps and posters about the local birdlife, which includes some very unique species. We buy our tickets and get going just after 9.
Unfortunately, we have terrible luck with birding. We take the trail to Laguna Angasqopcha, passing through tons of beautiful cloud forest habitat along the way, all of it totally silent and seemingly birdless. It takes about an hour and a half to get to the lake (going relatively slowly), and we arrive there having seen nothing but a couple Sparkling Violetears. After sitting around at the lake for a while, watching some cows come out of the forest and drink from it, we head back down to the car.
Our luck improves a little on the way down. We two Red-crested Cotingas, an immature and an adult, and then a bit later we encounter a couple Rufous-breasted Chat-Tyrants, which at least means we've seen a new bird today. We see more Rust-and-Yellow Tanagers (a common species lately) lower down, as well as a small flock of Hooded Siskins near the bottom.
The visitor's center is closed when we get back, but there are some interesting moths on the windows. A couple Variable Hawks fly overhead. At 12:30 or so we get going for the long drive back to Cusco, arriving at 4:15 or so.


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Day 12: Pisac and Sacsayhuayman:

We get a late start today, but it's not a big deal as it isn't really a birding day. Midmorning we get a taxi from Cusco to the town of Pisac, where we wander through the market and buy some food for lunch. We get another taxi from the town up to the Pisac Ruins, where we eat lunch. Lunch time is a good time to arrive, because all the massive tour buses are leaving. When we arrive, the place is incredibly crowded, but it clears a bit.
We tour the ruins and then take the trail from the ruins down into town, which passes by some lower ruin complexes and terracing. There are hardly any birds, however; just a couple Sparkling Violetears and a Spot-winged Pigeon.
Back in Pisac, we catch a taxi to Sacsayhuayman (there are lots of taxis right around the main bridge across the Urubamba), which is jam packed with people in the late afternoon. Here at least we see a couple birds, though today becomes the first life-birdless day of the trip.Andean Flickers and Lapwings are feeding in the grassy area by the ruins; we watch the trees but see nothing other than Rufous-collared Sparrows.
From the ruins it's just a few minutes walk back to our hotel, which is the Wara Wara, right nearby the Corihuasi but with an even better view of the city.


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Day 13: To La Paz and Tiwanaku:

We get up very early and head to the airport for our 8:00 flight to La Paz on LAN. It's a short flight, only about an hour, and we get there in time to meet our tour guide to Tiwanaku.
Before leaving for Tiwanaku, however, we decide to go to the Amaszonas desk to make sure we're all set for our flight to Cochabamba on the 17th. It turns out it's lucky we do, because we're told that the flight we booked no longer exists! Fortunately, we are put on an earlier flight with Boliviana de Aviación, but it delays our trip to the ruins by a bit.
We leave at 10:30 ish for the 1 and a half hour drive to the ruins of Tiwanaku. Along the way we pass a lot of construction along the highway, and some wet spots along the road where Puna Ibis and Andean Gulls are feeding.
At Tiwanaku, we eat a bit of lunch and then walk around the ruins; obviously, this isn't a very bird-oriented outing. There are some relatively tame Andean Lapwings that make good photo subjects, though, and a surprise Turkey Vulture flies over a bit later.
We head back to La Paz at 3 o'clock or so, after a bit of time in the museum. It takes us two hours to reach our hotel; we pass lots of "Welcome Pope Francis" signs on the way in. He was in La Paz on the 8th.
Tomorrow, we head to Coroico, along the "World's Most Dangerous Road" and get back to birding.


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Day 14: The Drive to Coroico:

We are up early, in time to meet our driver to Coroico at 7 am. We have arranged a spanish-speaking driver through "Zig-Zag Bolivia" to take us to Coroico along the famous "Death Road", and to stop for a while at a couple birding sites.
Site 1: La Cumbre:
Our first stop is La Cumbre, the high pass (4700m) between La Paz and the Yungas. We get here just before 8 o'clock --- it took nearly an hour to get out of the city! This isn't a long stop, but we see some neat birds. Our driver parks us at the highest point, where we have a beautiful view down the valley toward the yungas. There are a couple White-winged Diuca-Finches feeding here as well. We walk from the high point down to the big reservoir right below the pass, and scan the water. Andean Gulls are everywhere. We get distant views of a couple Ruddy Ducks (sometimes split as "Andean Duck"), and closer views of several Crested Ducks. There are a lot of birds far away, on the other end of the lake, which appear to be Yellow-billed Teal.

Site 2: Failure at Pongo:
The second stop is near the town of Pongo, ~14 kilometers down the valley. On the left there's supposed to be a valley with a remnant Polylepis forest, a good spot for some high-altitude specialties. Unfortunately, we can't figure out which one it is, and hike a little ways up the wrong valley, seeing only Cream-winged Cinclodes and a Peruvian Sierra-Finch. With a GPS we could have easily found it; the coordinates of the site are given here.

Site 3: Cotapata Track:
The third and final birding site is the Cotapata Track, a trail that begins behind the Cotapata gas station and winds downhill through some beautiful (though disturbed) cloud forest in the so-called Cotapata National Park.
Luckily, this site is very easy to find because our driver knows exactly where it is; Cotapata is the only gas station on the whole road! The track starts right behind the station, passing a farm field and then heading uphill. Very shortly, it reaches the top of the ridge and starts switchbacking downhill. We take the trail a little ways down, but can't go all the way because of time limitations (we have to be in Coroico by 1 PM).
That's not a big deal after all because our best birding is all right near the top anyway. Almost as soon as we get on the trail, we see a D'Orbigny's Chat-Tyrant and a beautiful Masked Flowerpiercer. Near the top of the ridge we run into a mixed-species flock, which contains a small group of Three-striped Hemispingus, a lovely Chestnut-bellied Mountain-Tanager, and a Citrine Warbler, among others. I get a tantalizing glimpse of a bird with a long, thin tail, perhaps the endemic spinetail, but it disappears.
We don't see much on the rest of the walk down the slope, but we do have two quality sightings. The first is a surprise Band-winged Nightjar which flies off a cliff face on the side of the trail. We scare it up again on the way up. The other fun find is a very cooperative Amethyst-throated Sunangel which perches quite close in plain view.

Views are lovely on the "death road", though we can't stop for birds much. It's the middle of the day anyway, and all that's obvious are some Black Vultures soaring overhead.
We get to the Hotel Gloria in Coroico just in time, and relax there for the afternoon. It's a pretty nice place, with a neat balcony that we bird from the next morning. However, they're quite liberal about spraying pesticides; there are dead and dying moths all over the floors and windows.
Lots of gorgeous (living) moths on the outsides of the windows, though.


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Day 15: Hike to the Coroico River:

This morning we take advantage of the balcony right by our room, which gives us good views into the trees right by the hotel. We spend from ~7:30 to 8 on the balcony before breakfast, watching some neat birds. We see several Purple Honeycreepers, both males and females, as well as a Chestnut-crowned Becard. Red-eyed Vireos are common, as are Blue-gray Tanagers. We're surprised to see several Purplish Jays, a species we saw in Manu but didn't expect to see at this high of elevation (1700m). A flock of Speckle-faced Parrots fly by as well, a neat lifer.
Over breakfast, we watch Crested Oropendolas gather nesting material from some palm trees by the window, and see a Great Egret flying over the valley.
At 9:30 we start on our hike, which starts on the road right outside the hotel. We head downhill, following the road but occasionally cutting across the switchbacks. In a flowering tree right outside the hotel, we see a male Rusty Flowerpiercer. We watch birds the whole way down the road; the habitat here is mostly disturbed forest with frequent fields or houses, but occasionally there are patches of more untouched forest.
After following the road for a while (and seeing a flock of Scaly-naped Parrots), we are surprised when the road dead ends at a building, with no obvious sign as to where we should go. We end up taking a trail that starts right behind the building and heads into the woods, passing an under construction house before popping out of the trees underneath a set of powerlines. Under the powerlines there's a really old little chapel, which we were told about at the hotel, so we know we're on the right track.
We have very good luck while we're in the woods, finding a diverse mixed-species flock. Highlights include a female Blue Dacnis and a male Green Honeycreeper, as well as a stunning Versicolored Barbet and four Spotted Tanagers. A Slaty-capped Flycatcher lands on a branch very close to me and allows good views. A bit lower down, right before the power lines, we hear (and eventually see) a Long-tailed Hermit chipping in the bushes.
From the chapel it's not a very long hike down to the Coroico River. The trail ends at a bridge across the river right near the little town of Yolosita, where we buy some chocolate and consider our next move. We eat a bit of food on the bridge, with huge trucks roaring by every few seconds and a flock of Rose-fronted Parakeets nearby. We consider hiking to Yolosa, a bigger town a few kilometers away, but we're tired and hear some thunder, so instead we get a taxi back to Coroico. It's a good decision, because it starts pouring the moment we get back. We eat lunch in the hotel, and then again spend the afternoon relaxing.
It clears up again late in the afternoon and I spend some time on the deck again. A Lineated Woodpecker spends a while hammering on a wooden pole holding up a clothesline. The biggest surprise, however, is a White-bellied Hummingbird that's building a nest in a potted plant on the deck; hopefully they don't decide to move the plant somewhere else.

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