Titicaca lake: birdwatching between Copacabana and the Isla del Sol (Bolivia)

During my second trip to Bolivia, in October 2019, I went for the first time to visit the region of the Titicaca lake. Looking for informations about the birds potentially present in the area, I found really few. This post wants to provide some advises for people that will try to go birding there in the future.

As you will notice, unlike other posts, I really found difficult to identify everything that wasn’t birds: plants and insects seemed to be very poorly know, or at least there were no websites about the flora or the enthomofauna of Bolivia. Even on iNaturalist often I didn’t find people able to give a right identification. Therefore you might find wrong or inaccurate names and any help could be very welcome!

I went to the Titicaca with my patient girlfriend catching a bus to Copacabana at the rather “informal” terminal by the Cementerio General de La Paz (the “general cemetery” of the capital).

To reach the destination took about three hours and half, siding first the Cordillera Real with pretty snowy peaks, then the Lago Menor or lake Huiñamarca to the estrecho de Tiquina.

Lago menor or Huiñamarca

This strait, less than a kilometer wide, connects the Huiñamarca with the larger lake Chucuito: the two lakes, together, form the body of the Titicaca.

The seasoned bus had been embarked on a rather small wooden barge: from the watercraft, I had the first taste of the Titicaca bird fauna, observing the first Yellow-billed Teals, Slate-colored Coots, Andean Gulls and the endemic Titicaca Grebes (Rollandia microptera).

Ready for the barge…
On passage

Arrived in the evening at Copacabana, we were approached by a guy that offered us a room in a very nearby hotel. After a look, we evaluated the room pretty nice for the price, so we decided to spend the night at the Hostal Cali: the window faced directly into the courtyard of the main sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de Copacabana.

Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Copacabana in the morning

The day after we went early in the morning to the harbour to catch the ferry to the Isla del Sol. The light was incredibly bright and I spotted there, among the others: Titicaca Grebe, Puna Ibis, Yellow-billed Pintail, Puna Teal, Andean Duck, Blue-and-white Swallow, Black Siskin and Rufous-collared Sparrow.

Slate-colored Coot (Fulica ardesiaca)

The boat trip took about two hours, then we landed at the southern harbour of the Isla del Sol. From there a long stair, called Escalera del Inca, leaded from the lake level, at an altitude of 3,812 m, to the almost 4,000 m of the village of Yumani: it’s quite an effort carrying large rucksacks!

Escalera del Inca

To struggle to breathe is quite a shame, because the deep green gardens, full of flowers and large trees, that side the path are the richest place on the island in terms of flora and fauna! I could find only there (and in the surrounding of Yumani) birds like Black-throated Flowerpiercer, Plain-colored Seedeater and the stunning Peruvian Sierra-Finch.

Peruvian Sierra-Finch (Phrygilus punensis)
The pierid Tatochila mercedis among the White Clovers (Trifolium repens)
Black-throated Flowerpiercer (Diglossa brunneiventris)

The village of Yumani is not cheap, considering what the local accommodations and restaurants offer: not rarely the bathrooms of the hostels are shared, the rooms with no heating and the food rather poor.

On the other side, everything sounds particularly touristic, from the street shops of souvenirs to the amazing number of hotels, wandering tourists with their rucksacks, panoramic snack bars with nice tables and chairs, etc.

The good aspect is that most of this crowd stops at Yumani, without spread along the island and not struggling anymore after their effort along the Inca stairs: it means that most of the island keep safely its fascinating ancient and unspoiled appearance.

The Yumani school
An hesperid (Hylephila isonira)
Cream-winged Cinclodes (Cinclodes albiventris)
View to bahia Kona from the highest part of Yumani
Bare-faced Ground Dove (Metriopelia ceciliae)
Bahia Japapi

Our intention was instead to explore deeply the island, reaching the northern archaeological sites following the high path that connects the south with the north running along the chain of barren mountains of the western side of the island.

Hiking along this trail, we encountered just a single tourist, while all the other human beings were invariably indigenous inhabitants, working on the cultivated fields or taking care of small flocks of sheep, goats or donkeys.

Unknown member of Eupatorieae
Local technology…
Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch (Geospizopsis plebejus)
Little settlement
Peasants at work
Noticastrum sp.??
South western coast of Isla del Sol
Lupinus sp.
Slender-billed Miner (Geositta tenuirostris)
Our path crossing the chain of barren hills
Castilleja sp.
Andean Hillstar (Oreotrochilus estella)

After two hours of walk under the pitiless Andean sun, we decided that we were too late and too tired to get to the Chincana archaeological site, almost at the most northern point of the island, so we decided to descend to the village of Challapampa, looking for a break and a drink.

Surprisingly there, despite the number of beautiful white boats in the bay, there were no tourists, no bars and no touristic structures at all!

Talking with an old man that was surprised in see us there, we discovered that since the intermediate community of Challa, placed in between Yumani and Challapampa, had decided to not concede anymore to the tourists to cross its territory, the flux of foreigners in their village as well had been reduced to just a couple of boats in a week….

Therefore we enjoyed the unexpected peace of the village, having a look around: many donkeys, some women with kids, almost nobody along the streets of the center.

The Challapampa eastern bay
Puna Teal (Spatula puna)
Lady and the cactus
Donkeys
The “movida” road
Lady taking care of children

Without our coveted drink, we started to walk back to the south, taking this time the low path that connects the villages following the jagged eastern coast of the island.

Sacred Flower of the Incas (Cantua buxifolia)
Mountain Caracara (Phalcoboenus megalopterus)

At our arrival by the village of Challa, we were blocked by an elder that told us that was dangerous to continue: there was a group of local people that usually annoy the tourists that pass through the village. But having to go back to Yumani, the only alternative to cross the village was to take the way back to the mountains… not the easiest path now that we were truly tired and without any water left… I finally managed to convince the man that told us that the dangerous guys were far from the village at the moment, so we were allowed to pass as quick we could.

Little church of Challa

We noticed hostels and restaurants now deserted: the decision to finish with tourist had decreed their ruin.

We discovered later that the threat was real, because we read about a Korean woman raped, murdered and mutilated in that village in 2018…

It’s unbeliavable that nobody in the ferry or at Yumani had told us about the risk we took!

Luckily we didn’t meet many people and they were all friendly, so we managed to reach the path that climbed to Yumani in safety.

Old lady on the way back to the village
Lobelia sp.
Shepherds on the way back

To come back to the high Yumani village, in the warm evening light, was quite something, with just indigenous people around.

Lobivia maximiliana
Colletia sp.
Chinese Forget-Me-Not (Cynoglossum cfr. amabile)
Lady working with wooden tools
Member of the Solanaceae
Sunset
The amazing number of stars by night, with the lights of Peru in the distance
Large wolf spider as room-mate

The day after we walked from Yumani down almost to the Pilko Kaina archaeological site, were there was the so called Palacio del Inca.

Palacio del Inca
Hawker sp. (Rhionaeschna sp.)

I spent my last time on the island birding in Yumani first and by the harbour later, waiting the ferry to Copacabana.

Yumani
Rufous-collared Sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis)
Chiguanco Thrush (Turdus chiguanco)
Yumani church
Spot-winged Pigeon (Patagioenas maculosa)
Black Siskins (Spinus atratus)
Mourning Sierra-Finch (Rhopospina fruticeti)
Yellow-billed Teal (Anas flavirostris)
Andean Flicker (Colaptes rupicola)
Crepis sp. and Chinese Forget-Me-Not (Cynoglossum cfr. amabile)
Titicaca Grebe (Rollandia microptera)
Plain-colored Seedeater (Catamenia inornata)
d’Orbigny Chat-Tyrant (Ochthoeca oenanthoides)
Fascinating underwater plants like blond hars

Back to Copacabana, we visited the sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de Copacabana, particularly popular in Bolivia because of its Madonna (the Virgen de Copacabana) realized by a descendant of an Inca and considered miraculous.

Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Copacabana
The statue of Francisco Tito Yupanqui, the Madonna sculptor
The main altar of the basilica

Later, we walked to the bay north of Copacabana, where I noticed some wetlands on Googlemaps: the place wasn’t particularly attractive, but here were quite few birds and butterflies around.

Warty Toad (Rhinella spinulosa) roadkilled
Baird’s Sandpiper (Calidris bairdii)
Andean Buckeye (Junonia vestina)
Rufous-naped Ground-Tyrant (Muscisaxicola rufivertex)
Puna Clouded Sulphur (Colias cfr. euxanthe)
Puna Ibis (Plegadis ridgwayi)
Brazilian Lady (Vanessa braziliensis)

We finished our second day by the Titicaca lake observing and photographing the beautiful local people: especially the women were particularly attractive with their typical bright-colored dresses, the funny braids and bowler hats.

Carrying a baby in the colours
Little girls
Old lady
Hundred shades of brown
Colourful ladies

The only check-lists of the 2 days I can compile are bird and butterfly ones, because for other groups I could hardly arrive to a proper identification.

The names will be followed by “T” if they were seen in Tiquina, by “C” if in Copacabana or by “I” if in the Isla del Sol.

BIRD LIST:

  1. Titicaca Grebe (Rollandia microptera) – T, C, I
  2. Western Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) – T, C
  3. Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax hoactli) – T
  4. Puna Ibis (Plegadis ridgwayi) – T, C, I
  5. Yellow-billed Pintail (Anas georgica spinicauda) – C
  6. Yellow-billed Teal (Anas flavirostris oxyptera) – T, C, I
  7. Puna Teal (Spatula puna) – C, I
  8. Andean Duck (Oxyura ferruginea ferruginea) – C, I
  9. Mountain Caracara (Phalcoboenus megalopterus) – I
  10. American Kestrel (Falco sparverius cinnamominus) – T, I
  11. Aplomado Falcon (Falco femoralis pichinchae) – T, I
  12. Common Gallinule (Gallinula galeata garmani) – C
  13. Slate-colored Coot/Andean Coot (Fulica ardesiaca ardesiaca) – T, C, I
  14. Baird’s Sandpiper (Calidris bairdii) – C
  15. Andean Gull (Chroicocephalus serranus) – T, C, I
  16. Feral Pigeon (Columba livia var. domestica) – T, C
  17. Spot-winged Pigeon (Patagioenas maculosa albipennis) – T, C, I
  18. Bare-faced Ground Dove (Metriopelia ceciliae zimmeri) – I
  19. Andean Hillstar (Oreotrochilus estella estella) – I
  20. Andean Flicker (Colaptes rupicola rupicola) – C, I
  21. Slender-billed Miner (Geositta tenuirostris tenuirostris) – I
  22. Cream-winged Cinclodes (Cinclodes albiventris albiventris) – I
  23. Rufous-naped Ground-Tyrant (Muscisaxicola rufivertex occipitalis) – C
  24. Cinereous Ground-Tyrant (Muscisaxicola cinereus cinereus) – I
  25. d’Orbigny’s Chat-Tyrant (Ochthoeca oenanthoides oenanthoides) – C, I
  26. Blue-and-white Swallow (Notiochelidon cyanoleuca cyanoleuca) – C
  27. Andean Swallow (Haplochelidon andecola andecola) – I
  28. House Wren (Troglodytes aedon puna) – I
  29. Chiguanco Thrush (Turdus chiguanco chiguanco) – C, I
  30. Black-throated Flowerpiercer (Diglossa brunneiventris brunneiventris) – I
  31. Yellow-winged Blackbird (Agelasticus thilius alticola) – C
  32. Peruvian Sierra-Finch (Phrygilus punensis punensis) – I
  33. Mourning Sierra-Finch (Rhopospina fruticeti peruviana) – I
  34. Ash-breasted Sierra-Finch (Geospizopsis plebejus plebejus) – C, I
  35. Rufous-collared Sparrow (Zonotrichia capensis pulacayensis) – C, I
  36. Black Siskin (Spinus atratus) – C, I
  37. Plain-colored Seed-eater (Catamenia inornata inornata) – I

BUTTERFLY LIST:

  1. Tatochila mercedis – C, I
  2. Puna Clouded Sulphur (Colias cfr. euxanthe) – C, I
  3. Andean Silverspot (Dione glycera) – I
  4. Andean Buckeye (Junonia vestina) – C
  5. Brazilian Lady (Vanessa braziliensis) – C
  6. Hylephila cfr. isonira – I
Andean Buckeye (Junonia vestina)

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