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part 2 of the great bolivian parrot tour: if you think a blockade is going to stop peachfront from getting 19 life birds, i snicker in your general direction

2011-04-26 - 7:50 a.m.

all photos this page copyright 2011 by elaine radford

Tuesday, April 12, Trinidad, Bolivia

Peachfront's Note: This is part 2 of the great Bolivian macaw and parakeet adventure. If you haven't yet read Part 1, wherein Peachfront adds the Peachfront to her life list, click here to start with Part 1. Go ahead, you know you want to.

I heard the Eagles playing on Bolivian TV in the hotel bar and restaurant as I descended the stairs at the appointed hour, a very dark hour, especially since Bolivian time seems to be the same as Eastern time, and I've been getting up these days more like Pacific time even though I'm no longer playing in Nevada. However, when there are birds to be found, I actually find it harder to sleep than to hop out of bed, so I was pretty much rarin' to go.

My guide was already there, and he looked rather grim. "Bolivia is very famous for our blockades," he said. "This is a unique form of protest where they block the roads." Oops. Actually, I already knew what a blockade was, and I knew that they'd had one the week before, but I had hoped that they'd gotten it out of their system.

Oh well. There was no reason to start at oh-dark-thirty, as we'd originally planned, since we couldn't take the long drive that S. in mind. On his recommend, I went back and put my feet up for an hour, and then we had breakfast. Of the Bolivian coffee, which is still Nescafe, I shudder to mention; apparently the good stuff continues to be sold as a cash crop for export. However, I stirred in more powder than they probably intended and added a sprinkle of chocolate, and, all the while, S. was watching scenes from all the cities in Bolivia that were blockaded, which soon proved to be all of the cities in Bolivia.

I tried to understand exactly what the issue was. My Spanish is worse than awful, and I had not reviewed it before this tour, so I was in a haze of misunderstanding, and I thought that they wanted a 10 percent raise. Well, I never heard of anyone in America, who stayed in same job, getting a 10 percent raise all at once, instead of in steps, have you? It seemed rather, "I want a pony" to me, and I timidly voiced my opinion, without using the phrase "I want a pony" to my guide.

"Ten percent!" he exclaimed. "Evo has already agreed to give them 10 percent. Now they want 15 percent!"

Well, I don't get involved in politics, especially if there are good birds in a country, and I might wish to return, but yikes. I just shrugged, figured they themselves knew that they were being silly, and took it as nothing to be much concerned about. "If they're blockading until they get a 15 percent raise, they'll be blockading for a long time," was my comment.

But it was easy for me to be all "no worries," because I'd already achieved the main objective. I had seen the Peachfront Conure. Everything else was gravy. My guide had bigger ambitions, as you will soon learn.

So...The city of Trinidad. Hmm. City seems too strong a word. Where Santa Cruz is a bustling metropolis, with scrappy Toyota Station wagons clogging every intersection and roundabout, Trinidad is a place where people mostly get around on motorcycle. And it wasn't particularly odd to see people on horses or donkeys. There were more than a few horse or donkey carts, and I don't mean for the tourists to catch a ride on, for there weren't any tourists, other than myself. These guys were transportation, not pets or entertainment. Oh and for the love of all the green fishes, don't write me a nasty email if they are mules instead of donkeys; I can no longer tell the difference, if I ever could. The hooved mammals are very nice folks, I'm sure, but they're not my thing.

Most motorcycles held two people. But I saw as many as four persons -- naturally, two of them tiny children, on one bike. One person wasn't rare, exactly, but two persons was the most likely sighting as long as you were actually within the town.

The rainy season goes into April, so, yes, against all the advice of God and the Lonely Planet, I had braved the Bolivian rainy season to see some birds. When he wasn't shaking his head over the blockaders, S. was shaking his head over the condition of the gray sky. Well, I'm from Louisiana. A little rain won't slow me down any. I slapped a dollar store rain jacket in my pocket, and I was ready to hit the open road. Or, tee hee, in this case, the not-so-open road.

First, the driver tried the road to Loreto, just in case the live broadcast was wrong, and it wasn't really blocked. It was blocked. We got out and milled around, but at a good distance from the blockade, mainly because of a good wetland there near a power (?) station. Here we got our first looks at such birds as Capped Heron and Unicolored Blackbird, both lifers for me. The Unicolored Blackbirds were a pair, which was nice for me, since the female doesn't look much like the male.

I soon learned that there is actually quite a lot of wetland within the confines of Trinidad. I guess they consider it the burbs, since it was within the blockade, but some of it seemed pretty rural and "birdy" to me. We headed to the plane crash site, where the plane was still stuck in the field, although S. assured me that everyone had walked away safely. I don't think he was saying that just to make me feel better, because the wrecked plane didn't even look that bad. You felt like it could be fixed up and fly away again at any moment. Be that as it may, here we had our first pair of Blue and Gold Macaws, a particularly fine life bird as far as I'm concerned, especially if first seen in flight on a mild gray day that really makes their colorful feathers stand out against the sky.

oopsy, plane went down in the wrong place, don't you hate when that happens?

Near the crashed plane was a guard shack with a guy with a rifle. He saw us birding from the road, came up, introduced himself, and invited us to bird on the property he was guarding. Really, everyone I met in Bolivia was friendly, but the folks of Beni were particularly sweet. They seemed eager to do whatever they could think of to make a tourist happy, and if they thought I was slightly cracked, they didn't giggle and point. They just went, Birds??? She came to see birds??? Well, it takes all kinds to make a world, and one thing we got plenty of is birds...

We didn't go too far back down this private road, although our new friend assured us that there were lots of birds there. We saw plenty just in a short stroll. I was first drawn by an area where Jabiru, Wood Stork, and Cocoi Heron grazed or hunted together, but the pride of the site was our first look at the beautifully marked Campo Flicker. Three of them visited a telephone pole right in front of us, and I could see that the golden markings on their face and chest really make them a stand-out among the flickers. A subtle twist on the theme of flickers, yet a most beautiful one.

At some point we drove around an area that seemed to be a vacation spot for Bolivians or maybe a hobby fishing spot or perhaps both. Yet, perhaps because it was not yet the tourist season, many if not all of the people visible this day were clearly poor and living close to the land (or, in this case, the water). We drove up just in time to see a freshly killed Capybara get dragged across the road. My unwished-for close-up look at the slash marks proved that it had been killed not with a gun, but with a knife or machete. It was one of the biggest Capybaras I've ever seen, and I shivered at the thought of hand-to-hand combat with such a beast.

"Was that a pest, or do they kill that to eat?" I asked.

"Oh, they're going to eat it," S. assured me.

Yum, yum.

We paused for the picnic sandwiches packed by the hotel. I just can't eat all this food any more, so I removed all of the tomatoes and half the chicken. I also ate only one piece of the bread. I dropped a piece of chicken, a small piece, by accident, and I suddenly had a new friend. After I was done eating, S. asked if I was going to eat any more, and I said I wasn't and he gave the rest of the sandwich to our new canine Best Friend Forever. Doggy actually tried to eat the tomatoes but thought better of it. The bread and chicken didn't hang around though. It had to be better than Capybara, right?

In the afternoon, we decided to try another road that the driver knew of. It was blockaded too, but not really. They just put a rope across it and parked one car there. Then, having thought it over, even as we were milling around birding, they came and decided that they needed the car, so they took it away and just left up the rope.

"That is not a very convincing barricade," I said. You could drive right over it, but even if you drove around it, then the puddle you'd be driving on would only be Costa Rica bad and not Kenya bad. However, the law-abiding Bolivians had no idea what I was even hinting at. I could see it was a case of, What did she just say? Nah, we must have heard it wrong.

By law-abiding, I mean that the driver didn't even bother to lock the doors before he wandered off to socialize with whatever random people he might meet. Why lock the doors? Nobody is going to take your stuff. It just isn't done. Back at the hotel, I'd already noticed the same thing. Nobody logs out of their email account. Why bother? Who would mess with your email? For that matter, I think this is the day where I returned from my bird walk to find my hotel key not at the desk but hanging out of my door. Why not? The key was just there to make the tourists happy, not because you really needed it to secure your dirty laundry.

Despite the overall atmosphere of peace and freedom from crime that I personally enjoyed in Bolivia, just few hours later, of course, we were to learn that the governor of Santa Cruz had been shot that morning -- he survived and was endlessly video'd on Bolivian TV being rolled about on a hospital gurney with tubes coming out of his nose while he gave some interview -- but I didn't figure this to be the kind of "crime" that would affect the ordinary person. Timing being what it is, I suspected that it was a political action. Of course, now that I'm back home, I see that it's being re-framed on the news as heroic governor gets shot chasing down some muggers who were trying to rob a lady. Well, I suppose it could be true. Or it could be that the governor has agreed not to make political hay out of the fact that the some young hotheads from the other side of the aisle just tried to assassinate him, and in return Evo has to put up with his political enemy being portrayed as the heroic protector of damsels in distress. Who the heck knows, I sure don't. In any case, I saw no evidence that anyone worries over-much about muggers in Santa Cruz, but I suppose that muggers exist even in London, where I've never seen the slightest evidence of their presence either. In any case, I worry about being mugged in Bolivia about as much I'd worry about being mugged in England which is to say, I don't.

Anyway, as we birded near the area I'll call Rue de "Comrades-Let's-Pretend-We-Participated-in-the-Blockade-But-I-Vote-We-Take-the Station-Wagon-to-the-Market," some folks came out and wanted to show us their pet anacondas. They weren't hustling for tips, they really just wanted to show us their rescue animals; it turned out that they had a hobby of caring for rescues, and I guess everybody brought the sick or hurt animals they found to them. For some reason, at this time of year, they gave me to understand that Anacondas sometimes came up and needed human assistance with their various Anaconda-ish illnesses. Mm-kay. They also had a pair of Blue-Crowned Parakeets/Conures -- the "Paulie" bird. One of them was a bit rough, with plenty of scanty grey feathers, but they were both confident and curious birds, so I guess their caretakers were doing something right. One of the anacondas fixed me with a rather hairy eyeball, though. I don't think she was much impressed with the need to put up with this lowly and poorly dressed tourist.

After we escaped from the kindly attentions of the rescue people, we went back to the birding, strolling some highly atmospheric wetlands with seeding grasses that attracted large flocks of Blue-Winged Parrotlet. What a sight it was to see when a large flock of these Forpus would suddenly all lift their wings, flashing you with a deep, deep blue among the green. Hard to put into words...maybe someday a film-maker will capture it.

Cute sight of the day: When it really started to rain, everywhere we went, we could see many and many Snail Kites standing out and bathing from the tops of trees. Just precious.

Mammal note: We saw Three-Toed Sloths (every sloth we checked had three toes), and we also finally saw a living Capybara, which jumped into the water and seemed to come right at us for a moment. Oopsy! A Capybara looks a lot bigger when you're on foot than when you're on a golf cart. Yeah, yeah, they're vegetarian, but I still jumped when I thought it was coming right at me. Oh, and we had great views in the scope of a troop of Red Howler Monkeys, including one big male and a couple of youngsters.

The List:

Lifers in bold. Yes, my 19 life birds -- NINETEEN! -- of the day are in bold. Don't hate me because I'm better and cooler in every way, I just can't help myself.

  1. Speckled Chachalaca
  2. Southern Screamer
  3. Black-Bellied Whistling-Duck
  4. Muscovy Duck
  5. Striated Heron
  6. Cattle Egret
  7. Cocoi Heron
  8. Great Egret
  9. Whistling Heron
  10. Buff-Necked Ibis
  11. Jabiru
  12. Wood Stork
  13. Limpkin
  14. Turkey Vulture
  15. Black Vulture
  16. Snail Kite
  17. Savanna Hawk
  18. Black-Collared Hawk
  19. Roadside Hawk
  20. Southern Crested Caracara
  21. American Kestrel
  22. Wattled Jacana
  23. Southern Lapwing
  24. Large-Billed Tern
  25. Picazuro Pigeon
  26. Rock Dove -- in town
  27. Ruddy Ground-Dove
  28. Picui Ground-Dove
  29. Gray-Fronted Dove
  30. Blue and Yellow Macaw (pet shop Blue & Gold) -- magnificent
  31. Golden-Collared Macaw
  32. Chestnut-Fronted Macaw
  33. White-Eyed Parakeet
  34. Dusky-Headed Parakeet
  35. Peach-Fronted Parakeet
  36. Blue-Winged Parrotlet
  37. Yellow-Chevroned Parakeet
  38. Cobalt-Winged Parakeet
  39. Greater Ani
  40. Smooth-Billed Ani
  41. Guira Cuckoo
  42. Ringed Kingfisher
  43. Amazon Kingfisher
  44. Yellow-Tufted Woodpecker
  45. Little WOodpecker
  46. Campo Flicker
  47. Rufous Hornero
  48. Chotoy Spinetail
  49. Yellow-Throated Spinetail
  50. Plain Softtail
  51. Greater Thornbird
  52. Rufous Cacholote
  53. Great Antshrike
  54. White-Bellied Tyrannulet
  55. Common Tody-Flycatcher
  56. Vermilion Flycatcher
  57. Black-Backed Water-Tyrant
  58. Cattle Tyrant
  59. Rusty-Margined Flycatcher
  60. Social Flycatcher
  61. Great Kiskadee
  62. Tropical Kingbird
  63. Dusty-Capped Flycatcher
  64. Red-Eyed Vireo
  65. Purplish Jay
  66. Plush-Crested Jay
  67. Brown-Chested Martin
  68. Southern Rough-Wing Swallow
  69. Masked Gnatcatcher
  70. Black-Billed Thrush
  71. Chalk-Browed Mockingbird
  72. Sayaca Tanager
  73. Purple-Throated Euphonia
  74. Saffron Finch
  75. White-Bellied Seedeater
  76. Dull-Colored Grassquit
  77. Red-Crested Cardinal
  78. Grayish Saltator
  79. Solitary Black Cacique
  80. Yellow-Rumped Cacique'
  81. Troupial
  82. Velvet-Fronted Grackle
  83. Chopi Blackbird
  84. Unicolored Blackbird
  85. Bay-Winged Cowbird
  86. Giant Cowbird
  87. Bobolink

The story continues in part 3 of the amazing Bolivian parrot adventure.

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