by Lawrence Rubey and A. Bennett Hennessey
Copacabana, nestled between two hills, on the shores of Lake Titicaca and only a few kilometers from the Peruvian border, is not an especially exciting birding destination. Although it does have many of the species typical of the High Andes (the altitude is just over 3800 meters) and a variety of waterbirds, it is included here because it happens to be a major tourist destination on the "gringo trail." Many young backpackers working their way through Peru and Bolivia stop for a couple days because of the fantastic scenery and incredible collection of Inca ruins on nearby Isla de Sol.
With an hour or two to spare for birding, walk from the center of town back along the road toward La Paz. Pass a gas station on the left, then a cemetery on the right where the birding begins. Soon after there is a police checkpoint for vehicles entering the town. Some of the fields to the right are worth exploring, but stick to the paths and avoid trampling on crops. This walk is likely to turn up a number of common Andean species found near rural settlements, including: Rufous-collared Sparrow, Peruvian Sierra-Finch, Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch, Mourning Sierra-Finch, Andean Flicker, Andean Lapwing, Chinguanco Thrush, Black Siskin, Bare-faced Ground-Dove, Eared Dove, Bar-winged Cinclodes, and Sparkling Violetear.
The best reason for heading to Copacabana, besides the cultural attractions, is a very good chance at seeing the flightless Short-winged Grebe. From Copacabana, drive out along the Yampupata peninsula, a finger of land jutting into the lake. At various points where the road makes a close approach to the lake and there appear to be sufficient reedbeds, scan for the Short-winged Grebe.
Logistics: Copacabana is 156 kilometers from the city of La Paz. It is a popular local tourist attraction and is easy to get to via public transportation. Avoid the first week of February, Easter weekend and Independence Day (August 6) as it can be hard to get hotel reservations during holidays. The ferry crossing at Tiquina is a unique experience.