Beni Biological Station
by Jon Hornbuckle, Lawrence Rubey and Bennett Hennessey

White-winged NightjarEl Porvenir is the entrance and lodging for the Beni Biological Station, some 50 km east of San Borja (now, more diverse savanna habitat is better protected at Barba Azul Nature Reserve- Bennett). At the lodge one has easy access to pampas, wetland, forest islands and one trail into the main forest, which is really fairly far from the main lodge and not easily visited without camping.  A visit of 2‑3 days would be sufficient to see most of the main specialties in the pampas and wetlands. To do justice to the forest birds, an additional 2‑3 days minimum is needed to walk and camp in the forest.  A local guide can be arranged at El Porvenir and is almost essential in the forest as the trail is not well marked. The major part of the reserve is inaccessible except by chartered boat down the Manique River.  Unfortunately, this is the only way to see one of the reserve's star birds, the endemic and poorly‑known Unicoloured Thrush ‑ only found in the North‑eastern extremity of the reserve, well down the river (Note- Ross Macloed reviewed these specimens and thinks the thrush appears to be a darker Hauxwell's Thrush- to date, there is no known site for the Unicolored Thrush. Ross suspects the species might not even exist- just a rare hybrid).

The Beni Biological Station is the one in four sites in the world known for the White-winged Nightjar (2 in Paraguay, 1 in Brazil, and 1 in Bolivia). The species has been seen at night on termite mounds near the lodge.

A major macaw roost is located in the palm trees at El Porvenir ‑ mainly of Chestnut‑fronted but with a few Golden‑collared. Other birds to look out for around the headquarters are Dark‑throated and Grey‑and‑chestnut Seedeaters, White‑rumped Monjita and White‑eared Puffbird, while at dusk Nacunda Nighthawk, Parauque and Scissor‑tailed Nighjar are active. The adjacent pampas holds Small‑billed and Red‑winged Tinamous and Black‑masked Finch, amongst the commoner pampas species, and where there are scattered trees, Hudson's Black‑Tyrant, Streamer‑tailed Tyrant and White Woodpecker and Toco Toucan. Other scarce birds to look for in this habitat are Long‑winged Harrier, Ocellated Crake, Aplomado Falcon, Tawny‑headed Swallow and Sharp‑tailed Tyrant.

The margins of the larger forest islands are the best localities for White‑wedged Piculet, Rufous‑breasted Hermit and flycatchers such as Swainson's and Short‑crested, Large, Small‑billed, Lesser and Yellow‑bellied Elaenias and Plain and Grey‑crowned / White‑crested (ref) Tyrannulets, and the skulking spinetails ‑ Pale‑breasted and Cinereous‑breasted. The larger islands hold Tropical Screech‑Owl, Plush‑crested Jay and Epaulet Oriole.

Early morning at Laguna Normandia, a 3 km walk from El Porvenir, should be rewarded by a variety of water birds including storks, ibises and Rufous‑sided and Ash‑throated Crakes, while Yellow‑chinned Spinetail, Unicoloured and Scarlet‑headed Blackbirds, White‑bellied Seedeater and Crested Doradito are amongst the inhabitants of the swampy vegetation. The rare Black Caiman has been introduced and thrives in the laguna, as do Pirhana ‑  good reasons for not taking a swim! A couple of hours or more on the boardwalk should produce species such as Striped Cuckoo, White‑tailed Goldenthroat, White‑headed Marsh‑ and Yellow‑browed Tyrants and possibly Long‑tailed Reed‑Finch and Tawny‑bellied Seedeater, or even a rarity such as Least Bittern or Black / Great‑billed Seed‑Finch.

From here one can head south along the fringe of the laguna to the scrubby edge of the large forest fragment, Florida. This is also a good locality for flycatchers and seedeaters, and the only regular site for Thick‑billed Euphonia. It is easy to get lost in Florida, as there are no trails, so be sure to take a compass. The forest is badly degraded, mainly by cattle but the damp western end holds a surprising number of birds, eg Slate‑coloured Hawk, Sunbittern, Green‑and‑rufous and Pygmy Kingfishers, Lettered Aracari, Black‑ fronted Nunbird, White‑throated and Cream‑coloured Woodpeckers, Bolivian Slaty Antshrike, Band‑tailed Manakin, Rusty‑fronted Tody‑Flycatcher and even Boat‑billed Heron.

A visit to the laguna in late afternoon can also be worthwhile, as many birds fly past to roost. Spot‑tailed Nightjars start hunting as the last light fades. The first Rufous‑faced Crake for Bolivia was caught here but sightings have only come from a marshy area to the northeast, where Bolivia's first Speckled Crake was also flushed.

To reach continuous forest it is necessary to walk 7 km to Trapiche where there is a good camp‑site just inside the riverine (seasonally inundated) forest, dominated by palms. The route passes through chaco‑like habitat where birds such as Narrow‑billed Woodcreeper, Pearly‑vented Tody‑Tyrant, White‑bellied Tyrannulet, Red‑crested Finch and even Xenopsaris have been seen, while at night both Grey and Great Potoos and Little and Scissor‑tailed Nightjars can be spot‑lighted. From Trapiche you can walk further in to the terra firme forest and on to Pascana camp‑site, either as a day trip or to camp there. Both Sunbittern and the rarer Sungrebe should be looked for at the river crossing. Pascana is the end of the easy trail but several days could be profitably spent here exploring the higher and denser, swamp‑forest surrounding the black water lagoon. If time is short, the walk back to the lodge can be accomplished in a day.

Note from Bennett: The Beni Biological Station receives few guests presently. We do not know how prepared they are to receive tourists. We don't recommend just showing up there, but we also can't find contact information. Send a note to Bird Bolivia ( if you would like more information.


Access and accommodation

As of April 2010, we are unfamiliar with the present state of the Station- and whether in fact it is open. We don't have contact information here, sorry. We suggest reviewing protected savannas (without cattle or burning) at the Barba Azul Nature Reserve. El Porvenir is some two hours from San Borja.  There are presently changing a weekly flight to San Borja from La Paz and Trinidad.  There are also buses from La Paz, Trinidad and Rurrenabaque.  Good meals and accommodation are available at El Porvenir, at a cost of $25‑30? a day full board.

GPS reading at EBB: S 14 52.219  W 66 19.558