A Report of Mammals and Birds recorded in Noel Kempff Mercado National Park, Bolivia, October - December 2002

Published by Surfbirds Admin (surfbirds AT surfbirds.com)

Participants: Joe Tobias and Nat Seddon, 131 Catharine Street, Cambridge CB1 3AP, UK



Bus from Santa Cruz to La Mechita: 24-25 October
La Florida: briefly on 26 October and 29 November.
Los Fierros: 27-29 October; 03-05 November; 19-24 November.
El Encanto: 30 October-02 November; 25-28 November.
Huanchaca II: 06-17 November.
La Laja: 18 November; 21 November
Piso Firme: 30 November-02 December
River trip between Piso Firme and Flor de Oro: 03 December
Flor de Oro: 04-07 December
Lago Caiman: 08-15 December
Transit by air to Santa Cruz: 16 December

Notes on Sites

La Mechita: a few roadside shacks between San Ignacio and Piso Firme, surrounded by partially logged forest. This is where people travelling by bus from Santa Cruz need to disembark and await pick-up by the park vehicle from La Florida. There are cheap rooms for rent here if you have plenty of time and want to bird the area for a morning or two

La Florida: about one and a half hour's drive from La Mechita, this is a small village on the banks of the Río Paragua near which the administrative buildings for the southern sector of Parque Nacional Noel Kempff Mercado (PNNKM) are situated. There are cheap rustic lodgings in the village for travellers and it is possible to spend a couple of days in the area birding along the river and nearby roads. This is certainly a cheaper alternative to Los Fierros and most species will be shared between the sites. Los Fierros (and beyond) is of course much better for mammals as the people of La Florida are avid hunters. If you are visiting Los Fierros, El Encanto, Huanchaca II etc., it is necessary to pick up a guide from La Florida who you must feed throughout and pay 10 dollars daily. The guides are pretty good, although know little about birds and speak no English. We can recommend Juan (older and genteel, with a hunter's knowledge of animals) and Leon (younger and fitter), both very helpful.

Los Fierros: This is the main base for visitors to the southern sector of the park. Several rooms with showers go for between 20 and 40 dollars a night. Because of this price many people camp, or at least try to until they realise the severity of the insect problem (various ants and termites are a nuisance to tents, mosquitoes and bees are quite common seasonally). Management here is a bit slack and campers are regularly allowed into some of the more shabby rooms for free. If travelling independently, you need to bring all your food; there is a well equipped if slightly grubby kitchen.

At Los Fierros there are only limited options: the road that returns to La Florida, the road to the pampa, and two short trails. The best of these is a loop that begins directly opposite the wecome-to-Los Fierros sign, over on the other side of the airstrip (we call this the airstrip trail). Another leads to the right c.700 m along the road to the pampa. This road leads through 3 km of forest before reaching the pampa, and is good for birds along its length. After 10 km of pampa, the road forks into two. The right-hand fork leads to El Encanto, the left to La Laja.

El Encanto: The impressive waterfall called El Encanto lies c.45 km drom Los Fierros, but the track ceases to be driveable c.5 km before the falls. At this point there is a stream with drinkable water and two open sided "cabañas", one for tents and another designed for cooking over wood fires: ideal for camping. The forest between this camp and the waterfall is mostly quite degraded (the camp was established for loggers), and becomes increasingly deciduous towards the base of the meseta. Back towards Los Fierros there is continuous semi-evergreen forest of varying quality: the first 2-3 kilimetres are again quite degraded, but after this there are some bands of high quality forest. The patchier forest was excellent for watching canopy flocks, and whole area seemed very rich in mammals. A total of seven hours night-walking or driving produced three tapirs, a great long-nosed armadillo and a margay, while daytimes produced sightings of both puma and jaguar.

La Laja: After the road forks left on the Los Fierros pampa, it first travels through high quality tall cerrado with scattered trees 2-3 kms, then it runs through a couple of bands of Heliconia-dominated semi-deciduous woodland, before the vegetation becomes taller and more humid. The road terminates after passing through c.4 kms of high quality evergreen forest, and a narrow path continues to the base of the meseta. Forest along this path is relatively degraded, becoming more deciduous as the slopes of the meseta are reached (a distance of c.4 km). A short way uphill there is an official campsite called La Laja (which means The Slab of Stone, an apt description of the place). There are no facilities here except for clean running water year-round in a small stream, and a flat space for tents. The term La Laja as used in text below refers to the c.10 km wide band of forest from the Heliconia-dominated habitat adjoining the Los Fierros pampa, to the deciduous forest around the La Laja campsite, and including the band of drier cerrado on slopes immediately above this campsite. I've subsequently learnt that the stretch of road and trail below La Laja is sometimes known as Los Españoles.

Huanchaca II: Continuing up from the La Laja campsite, the walls of the meseta can be scaled in less than an hour. From the summit, it is another c.2 hour walk across open campo (short grassland) to the forest fragment called Huanchaca II. Here, at the edge of forest, by a clearwater stream, there is a camp consisting of rustic tables and poles for running tarpaulin over, with flat ground beneath to camp on. There is also a covered area for fires and store-boxes. One trail leads to the "piscina", across a variety of high quality campo habitats, and another trail runs through the woodland. In text below, the term Huanchaca II refers to any location between the edge of the meseta and the forest fragment itself.

Piso Firme: This village stands on the banks of the lower Río Paragua and is reached by taking a narrow dirt track from La Florida. This track runs through the sticks. It holds its course for seven hours between two walls of trees with only one turn-off and a wooden shack called Pension Picaflor to break the monotony. If you haven't brought a 4-wheel drive vehicle from Santa Cruz or San Ignacio, it is possible to make this journey by renting out a park vehicle at Los Fierros/La Florida, or catching the once-weekly bus that runs through La Mechita north to Piso Firme, or hitch-hiking on a passing truck. The guards at Los Fierros can help work out your passage north.

Piso Firme itself is a tranquil place full of fishermen and washerwomen, with clean rooms for rent by the river (US$3/person/night for luxury version with showers; cheaper for the local version) and a PNNKM guard-station. It is a classic Amazonian village with the advantages of electricity and a rustic restaurant that will cook you delicious fresh river-fish any way you want it. It is possible to hire a boat for the c.5-hour journey to Flor de Oro (c.US$200, thus only viable for groups). Alternatively, Flor de Oro could be reached by waiting for the park supply boat to leave (much cheaper, but infrequent), or to wait for other river traffic heading that way (also infrequent, but lots of fun). There are trails in forest nearby if required, and boats or canoes can be rented for river exploration around Piso Firme. Ask at the restaurant or guard-station.

Flor de Oro: A luxury camp mostly visited by tour-groups. Rooms are US$40-80. It is possible to pick up your own food from the nearby town of Pimenteiras in Brazil, cook for yourself and camp, but this takes a bit of persuasion. Camino Norte (or the Swamp Loop) runs through a patch of seasonally flooded forest, and back through bushy cerrado. Camino Sur runs through riverine habitats and then enters a strip of reasonably tall forest adjacent to a bahia (oxbow lake). The third and final option is the trail that starts across the airstrip and runs through seasonally flooded cerrado to another small forest fragment (Isla de la Orquidea). The Bellavista and Paucerna guardposts are downriver on the Río Iténez, towards Piso Firme.

Lago Caiman (sometimes e.g. on Sjoerd Mayer's CD-ROM known as Andrew's Camp): During the wet season (usually Dec-March) or the early part of the dry season (April-August) this camp is fairly easy to reach by boat, being half an hour upstream of Flor de Oro to the lake entrance and then 15 minutes along the lake itself. During our visit, at the end of a long dry season, we needed to carry the boats across a 50 m desiccated section separating the lake from the main river, and then navigate through stretches of clogged water-hyacinth, making the journey 2 hours long and quite exhausting. Once at the camp there is a trail that returns to Flor de Oro (something like 12 km through forest, then 12 km through pampa, an 8-hour walk). There is also a trail that goes to the Mirador de los Monos, although this trail had fallen into disuse before our visit and was impassable (they open it at tour-group's request). There was once a house inhabited by researchers at Lago Caiman, but this has fallen down, and the camp is mostly defunct. The other way of reaching the Lago Caiman forests is to take the tractor from Flor de Oro across 12 km of pampa, and then walk towards Lago Caiman; this is the option taken by several tours lately. Immediately downstream of the point at which Lago Caiman debouches into the Río Iténez there is a short trail or two through seasonally flooded forest with open understorey. This looked a dead-ringer for Rusty-necked Piculet and we found it there with little trouble.


Best of the birds were Grey-bellied Hawk, Lined Forest-falcon of the soon-to-be-split southern form, Dark-winged Trumpeter, Red-throated Piping-guan, Crimson-bellied Parakeet, Cinnamon-throated Hermit, Horned Sungem, Spotted Puffbird, Black-girdled Barbet, Red-necked Aracari, Gould's Toucanet, Rusty-necked Piculet, Uniform Woodcreeper, Dot-backed Antbird, Chapada Flycatcher, Helmeted Manakin, Flame-crested Manakin, Snow-capped Manakin, Tooth-billed Wren, Black-and-tawny Seedeater and Rose-breasted Chat.

Mammals were especially good with four sightings of Jaguar, one of Puma, one of Margay, one of Jaguarundi, three sightings of Tapir, one of Great long-nosed Armadillo, several encounters with tame groups of Giant Otters, and great views of both Pampas Deer and pink river dolphins (Botu).

A full species list covering 452 birds and 43 mammals recorded within or very close to the park boundaries is available by e-mailing me. My time in the field was heavily weighted towards tall forest with relatively little time being spent in open/cerrado habitats (only two early mornings during the whole visit). For mammals, nomenclature and systematics follows Emmons and Feer (1997), while the bird list is based (with amendations) on the original Conservation International RAP list for the park (Bates et al. 1996).

e-mail me at joetobias22@hotmail.com