COCHABAMBA & THE MOUNTAINS TO THE WEST: Polylepis Woodlands & Rare Birds
Cochabamba is Bolivia's third largest city, with a population over 300,000. It was founded in 1571, has a delightful climate and is in one of the richest agricultural regions in the country. Numerous churches and buildings dating back to the 16th century set the atmosphere, along with the colorful dress of the Incan descendants and the lively artesian markets.
Birders and nature enthusiasts will want to take at least one day to explore the mountains to the east of Cochabamba. Slopes covered with the increasingly rare, gnarled red-bark Polylepis trees, which grow at higher altitudes in Bolivia than any other tree species, dominate a habitat that hosts a number of other life forms. The endemic Bolivian Warbling-finch is here, along with dazzling hummingbirds including the Giant, Red-tailed Comet, and Sparkling Violet-ear. Grey-hooded Parakeets leave their roosts squawking loudly as they race to the lower forests.
Continuing on to a treeline forest with rushing mountain streams, one can often see Torrent Ducks feed next to White-capped Dippers. Also occurring are Tufted and Yellow-bellied Tit-tyrants, White-winged Black-Tyrant, Giant Conebill, Tawny Tit-Spinetail, Puna Hawk, Bare-faced and Black-winged Ground-Doves, Rock Earthcreeper, Andean Hillstar, Olive-crowned Crescent-chest and White-browed Chat-Tyrant. Other birds we may see here and in a rocky canyon are Andean Swallow, Andean Flicker, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, White-winged Cinclodes, Streak-throated Canestero, White-fronted, Cinereous and Puna ground-tyrants, Greenish and Bright-rumped Yellow-Finches, Rufous-bellied Saltator, Fulvous-headed Brush-Finch, Plumbeous Sierra-Finch and White-winged Duica-Finch.
When with birders, we make a special effort for one of the Bolivian endemics with the most restricted ranges: the Cochabamba Mountain-Finch. All tourists will be thrilled with the spectacular scenery above the treeline, and interaction with the people who live there. In many ways, it is like stepping back into the Middle Ages. I will also help condition those who will be going up in altitude later in their trip. Two or three days are adequate to see the sights in the city and get in some great birding and sightseeing.