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bolivia trip report part 1: from airforce one to whacky cuckoos on a telephone wire

2009-10-17 - 8:57 a.m.

all photos � 2009 by elaine radford

phone booths are different in bolivia

I have a little unexpected time this morning because the rental car agency tried to palm a pickup truck off on us instead of an SUV. No, guys. Just, um, nooooo....

I�ll expand a little on yesterday�s quickie post. I have to admit it, I knew that Obama was landing in New Orleans on the same day that I was departing, but I didn�t know any details. I�m pretty sure that most people not involved in security didn�t know any details, such as the time he would land or what runway he would land on. Just by chance, I happened to be in that concourse C where I was sitting at the window to make use of the outlets on the wall under the window. Nothing more premeditated than that. So I had a clear view of the window all to myself. In fact, there weren�t that many people there at all. Then, all of a sudden, along lands this big airplane right in front of us that says THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. I mean right in front of me, so that I was just on the other side of the glass. I was so stunned, I�m thinking something idiotic like, Holy crap, is there an airline called THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA? You just can�t believe in a lucky sighting like that. Anyway, someone started to cheer, and then of course I knew consciously what I had just seen.

I didn�t see Obama himself, because the plane then pulled around and went to deplane somewhere quite a ways from the gate. The motorcade went by after awhile with 27 cars in the procession. Tres exciting.

After that, the long layover in MIA international concourse area was unexciting to say the least. It took me about ten minutes to inspect their arts program, and I was never able to find the rooftop restaurant. The restaurant I did find was one of those elbow to elbow deals that make you painfully conscious of just how high their rent is to be in MIA airport. And here�s a funny thing, my flight from New Orleans landed just across from the departing flight to Santa Cruz. That�s nice. They give me 7 hours to walk, like, three steps.

I met the other lady on the tour at the gate. She was in business class but, honestly, I don�t think it would have worked for me when I saw it. It was no more than a domestic first class type of arrangement. I feel like if I�m paying business class prices on a night flight, I need to have a lie flat bed.

Also, I had a major major MAJOR piece of luck. Way at the back of the bus, in the bowels of the 7th circle of hell, it turned out that the middle seat next to me had a broken tray table. On this almost full flight, the crew had to spend like 10 minutes reseating everyone around me. So I�m on the aisle with an empty seat next to me. Yay me! I did have to pay $6 for that goodnight airplane bottle of wine, but oh well. It beat paying a couple extra thousand for a business class ticket.

We had to stop in La Paz and deplane a bunch of passengers. Nice views of the Andes mountains breaking through the clouds. They had to do a security check and match everybody back to their bags before we could depart again. There was a huge bag in the bin over me, and they had to announce a description of the dude�s bag at least five times over ten minutes before he finally spoke up and remembered, oh yeah, that�s my bag stowed back there.

And so to Santa Cruz. It�s a hot, low-lying area, so I felt a little silly with my coat, but I�ll need it later. For now, we got some rest and some non-airplane food, and then it was off to the Santa Cruz botanical area, in the aforementioned pick em up truck, which didn�t have room for 5 adults, even if one of them does happen to be Peachfront. I noticed a large number of Toyota Corolla station wagons on the road, I mean, a really unusual number. The first one I noticed even had the luggage racks, just like mine. It was working as a cab. I have the only one in Mandeville and maybe the only one in the United States, but now I know that I don�t just happen to possess a rare limited edition antique. Oh well.

I can�t put my whole bird list, because it would take too much time, but let�s see if I can hit a few highlights. On the drive over to the botanical garden, I glanced over and saw a browny-type crested cuckoo on the wire -- Guira Cuckoo. Moments later, another flew right over the truck to give me a nice view. And then I would see other small family gatherings on the telephone wires. So cute.

Right at the entrance to the park, I saw a Rufous Hornero sitting in its oven, which it had built of red clay to make a nice round cave. Trouble is, it had built it right on the telephone pole, so it didn�t exactly blend in or anything. I would soon learn that this is a popular hobby of the Rufous Hornero.

The minute we walked over to the pond, we spotted three species of Woodpeckers. Alas, one of them got away before we had enough field marks. But the Yellow-Tufted Woodpeckers put on a nice show on the dead tree trunk right in front of us. We also had a very fine adult male Crimson-Crested Woodpecker on the dead tree right behind it. He put on an excellent show, displaying himself as he worked the trunk from every angle. I�m loving the proud red crest and the striking white V for victory on his back.

Later, we�d have an adorable Piculet, I�m forgetting the species now and will have to add it later, but this mini-woodpecker working furious away on his tiny branch was just precious, even when he was catching and eating a spider -- or was it the prey trapped in the spider�s web? It reminded me of watching a Downy Woodpecker work a trumpetcreeper vine, pounding it as furiously as any Pileated ever pounded a cypress trunk. Hey, they don�t think they�re small. They figure they�re life-size.

A special moment: A Blue-Fronted Motmot had perched on a limb over the trail. We stopped so as not to disturb the bird. A second bird joined him. Now the first bird solicitously leaned over and fed the second bird a long, slimy-looking worm. She loved it and held it up to inspect it for maybe a few seconds before she gulped it down. Just a classic food exchange.

We saw a two inch long metallic blue WASP. Wowsers. I hope those things don�t sting. It was actually walking on the ground, which surprised me. More like an ant than a wasp. But I wouldn�t care to meet it in a dark alley either way.

No rare hawks yet. So far, just the Roadside Hawk seen, wait for it, roadside. A Crested Caracara in the garden, which had to sit in a kind of green area of the tree, a futile attempt to conceal itself from the fury of Yellow-Chevroned Brotogeris Parakeet. A female Snail Kite circled the pond a few times, giving us a nice flight show, before she perched and started to preen for the photographer�s camera.

I keep thinking of more great sightings. How did I fail to mention actually seeing a Squirrel Cuckoo at eye level and out in plain view, instead of at the top of the canopy and behind the barn with only its tail hanging out?

Dinner with another Argentine biologist, this one in charge of the Blue-Throated Macaw recovery program. He has them using a number of good techniques for increasing the production of the birds, which would normally raise one young bird whenever the hell they feel like it. Whenever the hell they feel like it isn�t good enough when you can find only 72 birds left. The birds usually lay three eggs, so they�re giving supplemental feeding to the babies, so that everyone can thrive and there�s no Cain affect. We saw the first ever photo made of a family of five, with both proud parents and the three fledglings. Absolutely beautiful.

They will be receiving some captive-bred Blue-Throats to assist in the program, which it sounds like the captive breeders think can ultimately be released, but which he tends to suspect will be more useful for producing more eggs/babies which can then be slipped into the nests of those wild Blue-Throated Macaws which are known good parents. Blue-Throated Macaws can�t count, which will ultimately prove to be a good thing for the survival of the species.

Well, I�ve got to stop typing at some point. This long chewy chunk of a diary entry will have to hold you folks for awhile. This next lodge doesn�t even have telephones.

Bolivia butterflies

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