On October the 8th, also known as “The Big Day”, myself and five other eager (mainly) amateur birdwatchers put on our best hiking shoes and covered ourselves in mosquito repellent to tackle the jungle. That day we wandered the Aquicuana reserve to witness and identify as many birds as we possibly could. In a reserve such as Aquicuana, holding up to 302 identified bird species and many potential more to be added, this should not be too difficult. Thus, with the help of the field guide prepared by Sustainable Bolivia’s volunteers and the biologist Vincent Vos we managed to contribute a fair amount to Bolivia’s final number of birds documented on The Big Day.
Now, some might question what this so called “The Big Day” is. For all those reading which do not spend their weekends checking out their local birdwatching hotspot or do not have ‘birding’ as a hobby on their CV: “The Big Day” is a day organised by the The Cornell Lab and calls out for everyone – no matter if professional or amateur – to documents birds which have been seen that day.
Having spent the night in the reserve – a night filled with an innumerable amount of mosquitos and the exquisite smell of even more mosquito repellent, a lot of yucca and the excitement of witnessing a baby tarantula – we felt ready to confront the jungle. At 5.30 am, a time full of funky animal noises, we got up, packed up our beds, had breakfast and off we went. Sadly we had to leave the only professional biologist behind in Pisatahua, as he happened to be the victim of some cruel gringo illness.
We made our first round through the jungle, hiking the trail around Pisatahua, initially spending more time appreciating the nature than actually searching for birds. The difficulty of finding birds when walking through the jungle was higher than expected. One might hear a lot of animal sounds, however the ratio of animals heard and animals seen is quite uneven, especially in a place as species-rich as the jungle. Nevertheless, aside from a few birds that we did manage to inspect during this walk, we also got to see a group of monkeys chasing through the treetops.
After some hours we headed back to Pisatahua, said goodbye to our sick biologist and his companion and went down to the dock, to rest in the shadow of the late morning sun, document some birds and wait an incredibly long amount for the boatman to come over and pick us up. We spent a fair amount of exceptionally productive and exciting time down at the water, successfully documenting the majority of our birds. And so, while spending our time rummaging through bird books and clinging on to the previously established field guide trying to identify anything and everything we had just observed through the view of the binocular, we all turned into big birdwatching fans. It is simply a very underrated activity.
While waiting a good two hours might seem a little much for someone who is running late – don’t worry you will get used to Bolivian not-on-time-ness – this period was definitely well spent. While birdwatching took up the first half, a well-deserved nap took up the second half. Resting in the shadow to the sounds of jungle animals is definitely another underrated activity. However, after some good amount of time the boatman and his son made it over to the dock and brought us all the way to the other side of the lake. On our boat tour lake we managed to observe quite a lot more birds, finally coming closer to so many birds previously witnessed from afar. As we reached the other side of the lake, we were determined to master the new trail of the Tororoi. This apparent ‘one hour walk’ (quote the boatman), turned out to be more of a two to three our walk, although, one must mention that we did stop at any given opportunity to admire our surroundings. Nevertheless, it was definitely not a one hour walk and the final moments of our hike were quite adventurous. Once we made it to the final destination where the boatman and his son were waiting for us, it is safe to say that we were quite relieved.
Finally, we can proudly announce that, after a day of a lot of fun adventures, we documented 19 different bird species and, further, that Bolivia is number 4 on the world wide list of birds tracked on the big day, with a total of 855 birds.
After the Big Day, Sustainable Bolivia organized a press conference in its offices with Wendy Willis (American Bird Conservation), Sebastian Herzog (Armonia Bolivia) and Vincent Vos (CIPCA / local biologist) to announce that Aquicuana has 339 birds registered (full list here) and that they were really impressed by the presence of the Masked Anpitta, an endemic and endangered specie for Riberalta. They talked about the potential of Riberalta and specifically of Aquicuana for tourism and birding.