Saturday, 19 May 2012

Masked Antpitta - a mega endemic in Bolivia

Leaving Trinidad, our Flight to Riberalta (in the Amazonian northern border with Brazil) was delayed by several hours. Finally arriving at Riberalta airport it was 5.30 pm.

Flying up to Riberalta was really only for one bird, Masked Antpitta. It is a Bolivian endemic and only found near this remote town. Very few foreign birders have travelled to see this bird and most have used Louis, our driver to take them to the sites.

Louis picked us up in an ancient 2-door saloon car, so squeezing in with our bags took a few minutes. We asked to be taken straight to the site, but were told that although it was only a fifteen minute drive, it was a 400m walk to see the bird. It was touch and go with light, but decided to go for it. As we rushed along the path through the forest in quickly dimming light, this really did feel like a twitch. It was not to be and we did not even hear a bird before it was too dark within the forest. On top of this, the mosquitoes were vicious, biting through two layers of clothing and ignoring all repellents.

As we walked back in almost darkness, Birdgirl walked ahead with Sandro our indigenous guide. Suddenly they stopped. There on the path was a Coral Snake, a deadly poisonous snake. We all admired the snake before it slowly moved away. Birdgirl said that she had not seen the snake at all and were she walking ahead, she would have stepped on it thinking it was a stick. She was going to take more care when walking at night through the forest!

Our hotel was a beautiful old hacienda, dating back 100 years and full of antique furniture. Birdgirl had a hammock in our room to sleep in. As common in all the Amazon towns, there were hardly any cars but huge numbers of motorbikes. The evening entertainment was for everyone, young and old, to slowly ride their motorbikes around the town square. It was most amusing to watch.

The next day we had great views of the Masked Antpitta, after a couple of hours of trying. It was a big relief. This time we had taken extreme precautions against the mosquitoes, which seemed to do the trick.

The original plan had been to travel an hour and a half south to an area of grassland and trees called Cerrado. We had to restrict this to the afternoon but first had to go to Louis’ house to swap the car for a very old and battered 4x4 pick-up. Half an hour into the journey and there was a problem. Louis went to inspect and came back to say there was a problem with the back axel and we had to return to get it fixed. Whilst the pick-up was being fixed, Louis and Sandro tried to find another 4x4 to take us, but to no avail. This was not a town with vehicles. We finally left in the now fixed pick-up at 3.30pm, arriving after a very fast journey along slippery, muddy roads. We only saw a few birds in our hour of birding but were plagued by swarms of tiny sweat flies. We had to find hats to cover our ears and even Chris wore a head net. This was not fun birding.

Overnight, I was up with a bad stomach and took the morning off whilst Chris and Birdgirl returned to the Cerrado, with bandana’s around their faces and hats pulled down, just with their eyes showing. They saw a few more birds, which made up for the birds. I only missed 3 lifers and so don’t feel so bad about being ill.
Also, we have just heard from Bennett Hennessey at Bird Bolivia to say that the endemic Unicoloured Thrush that we saw in Trinidad was extremely rare and difficult to see and that we were amongst only a few foreign birders to have seen it. That makes it an even more special bird.

In the afternoon we returned to Santa Cruz, flying via Trinidad for the third time. The first time, security took a great interest in our bag of optics, carefully examining each one. The second time, they took them out, but quite quickly. The third time, they unzipped the bag, recognised the contents and us and closed it back up.

It is sad to leave the Amazon but has been great being back in Santa Cruz and having a couple of nights in a lovely hotel, with air conditioning, wifi and no bugs. Bliss. Tomorrow we head south to lowlands close to the Paraguayan border, so making the most of the selection of restaurants.

Birdgirl has been catching up with e-mails from her friends and enjoying the contact. It has been good to have a quick look at Facebook and BBC News, catching up with everyone else and the world.

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