Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Palkachupa Cotinga, Bolivia

We had come all the way to Apolo to try and see the critically endangered, endemic Palkachupa Cotinga. It was re-found here 14 years ago, after being thought to be extinct for 98 years. There are thought to be only 120 pairs. Few birders had travelled to see the birds, but things were improving and last year 3 small groups visited.

We headed for the community of Aten, the area where you can find the Cotinga. Armonia have been working with the community to conserve the limited and rare habitat and have built a school. The community are now keen to build a lodge, if they can get funding, and birders start coming in larger numbers. The chances of this will improve when the new airport opens in August. Sandro had spent 2 months in the area 10 years ago, trying to find out where the birds were and how many there were, after their initial rediscovery. Normally the birds sit on the top of the canopy, fly-catching however William explained that the breeding season had ended in March and the birds were not doing this at the moment. He had seen the birds flying in groups two weeks ago, but not since. We spent two days searching for the birds with William and Sandro’s maximum effort, with no success and very few new birds to divert our disappointment, except a Brown Tinamou which was great. We did manage to hear a bird a couple of times on the first day, but could not find it.
To add to our difficulties, the petrol station closed at 5.30pm and due to problems with fuel smuggling to Peru, we could not buy fuel from canisters. We used the last of our fuel canisters on the second day and so had to leave our birding site at 3.30pm, to get back to Apolo by 5.30pm to buy fuel, or wouldn’t be going anywhere the next day. At the petrol station, our registration number was taken and, despite Herman’s sweet talking, the lady would not fill the canisters. This was due to a strict law to prevent smuggling. This meant that we would have to stop birding at 3.30pm again the next day, so that we could fill up our tank, in readiness for our long drive to La Paz the next day. We would have to drive 9 hours before we could buy any fuel, even from roadside canisters.
Our third day of birding near Apolo, we have up on the Cotinga and instead headed for middle yungas forest. We had a good morning birding which put us in better spirits. We would just have to return to Apolo at some point for the Palkachupa. It was just a shame to end the tour like this, when we had been so successful up to now. Over these days we saw Chestnut-Backed Antshrike, Small-Billed and Greenish Elaenia, Brown Tinamou, White-Tipped Swift, Short-Billed Pipit, White-Bearded Hermit, Greater Thornbird, Yungas Tody-Tyrant and Manakin, Slate-Coloured and Double-Collared Seedeater and Long-Tailed Tyrant. We also had lovely views of a Tiyra, a medium sized black mammal.
The next morning we left early, for our 16 hour trip back to La Paz. Birdgirl and I, being used to being passengers for our UK twitching didn’t find this too much of a problem. It seemed long to Chris, who I pointed out was used to being the driver and not passenger. Sandwiched between her parents, Birdgirl had no option but to put down her Kindle and catch up with some home-education (which of course she loves!).
Popcorn anyone?

The first half of the journey went well, but then we got a puncture in Chuzani, fortunately outside a tyre place but unfortunately was shut. Herman did a quick tyre change and we were on our way, hoping that we didn’t get another puncture. After about an hour, we got to a village with a tyre place, where our puncture was repaired, whilst we had a quick camp lunch. The repaired tyre was then put back on the vehicle and we headed off. Half an hour down the road, Herman stopped suddenly on a sharp bend with a sheer drop. This was either an emergency toilet stop or something was wrong! We all piled out of the 4x4 to discover that Herman had felt the wheel wobbling and had found that all but one of the bolts holding the wheel on had fallen off. Clearly the tyre man had forgotten to tighten the bolts and we were close to the wheel dropping off. On one of these bends that could have been fatal. We all stood silently contemplating our yet another stroke of good fortune whilst Herman took a bolt of each of the remaining wheels and fixed them to the missing gaps. After this, we were well on our way with just a few stops to check that the bolts we still in place. The only outstanding bird of the day was fantastic views of another Black-Faced Ibis, just before the wheel was going to fall off. We were back in La Paz in time for a pizza and a good night’s sleep before leaving to catch our morning flight home, via Lima and Madrid.

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