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bolivia trip report part 3: hey, who wants to be the bad guy and tell this big ole black-chested buzzard-eagle to take his action down the road?

2009-10-29 - 3:18 p.m.

© 2009 by elaine radford

one of the red rock mountains surrounding refugio los volcanes, bolivia -- don't worry, there are no volcanoes to go "boom" in the night

Peachfront's note: This is part 3 of my Raptor (Bird of Prey) research tour of Bolivia. To start with Part 1, please click right here. If you missed Part 2, click right here. A bird list will be coming along one of these fine days.

October 18

A misty, mystical sunrise, with the fog alternately concealing and revealing the red stone walls that circled the valley. I noticed a huge perched buteo in the forest, and I hurried closer for a better look. The guides were already on their way. Turned out to be an impressive Black-Chested Buzzard-Eagle, my first life raptor of the trip. We inspected it in glasses and scope, and then the Plush-Crested Jays began to gather.

Who will bell this troublesome cat? The first Plush-Crested Jay darted a tad close, over the bird's back. He was promptly ignored. The Jay perched and called for reinforcements. One, two, three more Jays approached and also perched. They discussed it amongst themselves, shifting around from foot to foot and each bird looking semi-hopefully for somebody else to get the job done. But nobody wanted to be the first to attack. Slowly, slowly, the branches of the tree collected Jays. Finally, when there were at least seven Jays ready with dark mutterings and the proverbial pitchforks, they had the courage to mob the much bigger bird. You could almost hear the sigh of exasperation as the Buzzard-Eagle finally be-stirred himself to fly onward.

In the morning, we relaxed in the valley to watch the skies. It wasn't long before the first Andean Condor, an enormous bird with 8 long "fingers" appeared within view. Other raptor species included Roadside Hawk, Double-Toothed Kite, Black Vulture, King Vulture, Swallowtail Kite, Plumbeous Kite. Some nice parrots included Mitred Parakeet, Military Macaw, Blue-Fronted (Amazon) Parrot, and the only Green-Cheeked Parakeets of the trip, a small but noisy flock which fortunately flew in close to a friendly tree where I could inspect them at my leisure. Oh, and some other good bird species: Masked Tityra, Sparking Violet Ear, Purplish Jay, and Maguari Stork. Plenty of Violet Ears and Purplish Jays, but only one each of the Tityra and the Stork.

After awhile we headed for the look-out, which seemed to be a nice passage between two valleys, so a logical place to seek any traveling raptors or other birds. We got our first Hook-Billed Kite with almost no waiting. But our excitement was quickly captured by the prize of the day, a handsome Black Solitary Eagle, which flew right overhead to give us great looks. (For extra bonus points, it -- or another -- came back again later for the instant replay.) There was lots of movements of flocks of Mitred Parakeets, all going in the same direction, perhaps a seasonal migration in search of food. Russet-Backed Oropendula. Crested Oropendula. American Kestrel. I almost fell out of my shoes when I realized that a Chestnut-Tipped Toucanet had sneaked right up behind us and was inspecting us from a bush almost within touching distance. Afraid to speak, I pointed, but everyone looked at the skies behind the bush, not expecting a bird so close. Finally, the bird crossed the valley, and at least S. saw it. Just beautiful, with its green velvet plumage and the deep red-black bill, which gleamed like shellac in the sunlight -- the internet pictures I've googled simply don't do it justice. Either the bird returned or its mate followed in its footsteps, because at some point in the proceedings, there it was again in almost exactly the same spot, and this time I believe that everyone had a chance to get a nice look. Simply glorious.

Oh, and we MAY have seen an Orange-Breasted Falcon, but we simply didn't have a good enough look. At the end of the tour, the guides planned to immediately return to Los Volcanes for further investigation, since S. said the place did look like prime Orange-Breasted Falcon territory. Maybe they've even found the bird by the time of this typing, but if so, I won't know about it for awhile.

Back at the lodge, we had some time to nap or stroll. I inspected their waterfall area, with their Black Phoebes. Checked out some forest edge -- many birds that might be Tropical Pewee. Hooded Siskin. Palm Tanager. Sayaca Tanager. Silver-Beaked Tanager. House Wren. A glorious sighting of a Channel-Billed Toucan flying with the red stone walls as a natural backdrop -- its bright white breast shining vividly for miles. Yes, this one was the white-breasted type. I struggled with the ID, but returned home to find that there has been some lumping of what was formerly three species of Ramphastos toucan, and even if it wasn't a Channel-Bill before, well, guess what, it is now.

S. and I went on a forest walk at dusk to try to call in forest falcons, but all we called in were highly indignant Plush-Crested Jays. Oopsy.

We're told the nearby village only got electricity four months ago. When the clouds suddenly vanished, the night sky was breath-taking. Jupiter and its moons were almost the first thing to emerge from the haze, but at some point after dinner, you could see every wisp and blink of the Milky Way. Lots of glowworms and lightning bugs too.

October 19

Around the lodge, I added Plumbeous Pigeon near the waterfall and inspected a pair of courting Purplish Jays. It wasn't such a hazy morning as it had been yesterday, and we headed up to the overlook for another try. A nearby Barred Forest-Falcon responded to our tape but played hide and seek in the bushes before it finally showed itself a couple of times by crossing the road and into the next valley and then back again. A second bird turned up at some point, and we could pretty much hear them call for hours, although despite all the cross-talk, they sometimes somehow managed to sneak across the road without actually being seen by anyone.

the waterfall behind the main building at los volcanes

What else was new? Hmm. Our first Yellow-Headed Caracara. Good looks at the white-naped subspecies of the Turkey Vulture, especially from overhead, as we looked down into the valley. Short-Tailed Hawk. A couple of confusing guys using a thermal that took them directly overhead. A pair? We were puzzled at first. Maybe the differences were sex or age-related? But the "big guns" came out, and a later inspection of the photos of the birds in question would prove that they were of two different species -- one a Double-Toothed Kite, one a Rufous-Thighed Kite. Whew. That's definitely a call I couldn't have made alone, because I had neither the expertise nor the right equipment. A second Rufous-Thighed Kite caught a large lepidoptera in front of us. I just scribbled down "butterfly" but they got a photo of that one too, good enough that they can find out later if it was in fact a daytime moth and maybe even what kind. Oh yeah, we're talking high-powered lenses here, y'all.

At some point, we had to hit the road. We had an interesting lunch spot on a sort of ridge where we could look down into a mixed use area, some trees maybe along a stream, some agriculture. The resident flock of Mitred Parakeets was in an uproar, and we soon saw why, as they worked at repeatedly flushing a magnificent Crested Caracara. The Caracara refused to go very far, however. I guess even the noisiest of noisy Aratingas just isn't that intimidating if you're Mr. Crested Caracara to You. However, finally, a pair of Purplish Jays joined the attack, and that's it. The Caracara had to move on, or it was hopeless to dream of a moment's peace.

We drove a long way through a variety of environments, including the rather cool and cloudy elfin forest. At some point we emerged from the cloud forest and into the highlands, where we could observe our first Variable Hawk. We soon found others of this controversial and, you got it, highly variable species. Suffice it to say, I wouldn't be expecting to get two different countable species out of this one any time soon -- or, indeed, any time not-so-soon either. The guys that think so apparently aren't so good at telling the variation that comes at different ages with this bird.

At some point, later than we'd imagined, we arrived in Cochabamba. M. and I had a huge suite, complete with a kitchen, but we were too tired to do anything except skip dinner and go directly to sleep. It had been a long drive and a longer day. We all decided that, considering the length of our trip and the conditions of the roads, we could not press all the way to Oruru. "Better to spend more time birding and less time on the road," was my vote. So we didn't have to worry about packing up and heading out again in the morning.

Saw the Christ statue at Cochabamba is apparently better and cooler in every way than that one in Rio, or at least it's at a higher elevation, so there, bucky, but we didn't have time to check it out in our frantic search for the birdies so i just grabbed a quickie snap from the street below the hotel.

Stay tuned. Part 4 of my raptor trip to Bolivia is coming soon.

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