Cotapata Trail

by Lawrence Rubeyand A. Bennett Hennessey

After centuries of settlement, very few pristine examples of accessible upper Yungasforest remain in the department of La Paz or Cochabamba. Fortunately, the Cotapata and Integrated Management Area provide at least some nominal protection for upper Yungascloud habitats. The CoroicoRoad Although most of the area is far from pristine, the number of range-restricted species that have been recorded on the higher parts of the Cotapatatrail is impressive. A full list appears in the Appendix. The endemic Bolivian-diademed Tapaculowas first discovered here by Bret Whitney in 1992 and still appears to be quite common. You will undoubtedly hear it sing, although getting a good look is difficult. Rufous-faced Antpitta, another endemic is also often heard with a characteristic three-note song. The endemic Black-throated Thistletailis also readily found skulking in the understory. Sickle-winged Guan is only known in Bolivia from this site and the neighboringZongovalley. YungasPygmy-Owl is also often heard. Other restricted range species of importance recorded in Cotapatainclude: Stripe-faced Wood-Quail, Black-eared Parrot, Scaled Metaltail, Hooded Mountain-Toucan, Light-crowned Spinetail, Rufous-bellied Bush-Tyrant, Golden-collared Tanager, and Orange-browed Hemispingus. But don't expect to see all, or even most of these, in one trip; like many higher altitude sites, diversity and abundance are low and birding at Cotapatacan be highly variable. On cloudy, misty days, one can encounter one foraging flock after another, while on hot, sunny days, an hour can pass between birds and the only sounds are those of insects.

From the "parking area" at 3,200 meters After the first few hundred meters, the trail begins a series of steep switchbacks down into the valley. For a stretch, the vegetation is not nearly as attractive and the trail is somewhat more overgrown. But take advantage of the frequent overlooks to listen for the distant call of a Masked Trogon. After nine or so switchbacks, the trail reaches a T junction. A right turn leads to a river bed and, further on, a dilapidated gold mining camp. A left turn is probably the preferred option. Winding around a steep ravine, the path is cut into sheer vertical rock. Underneath the thick foundation of soil and vegetation on the path lies some interesting stonework. Some say the path dates back to the Inca period. White-crowned Tapaculoand Rufous-faced Antpittacan be found here. More interesting forest is soon encountered. Theoretically (that is if it is not too overgrown), one could follow the path into the Chairuvalley and hook up with the famous Chorotrail before the town of Chairo), a police checkpoint at 36.2 km, then pass the South Yungas turnoff (36.9 km). At 44.6 km