Lake Alalay

by Lawrence Rubey and Bennett Hennessey

On the southeastern edge of the city,Lake Alalay has emerged again as key site for visiting birders. For a time in the late 1990s, it appeared that the area was destined to choke slowly to death from neglect, pollution and litter. Efforts by the municipality have brought new life to this park-like area only a 20 minute walk from the central plaza. Many hotels have a brochure available that highlights Laguna Alalay, with photos of some of the over 135 species recorded at this significant site. When water levels are high, the laguna can cover over 200 hectares. The altitude is 2560 meters.Unfortunetly, with the cleaning of the lake, someone decided to introduce the Bolivian Andean lily like plant (Pistia striates) to the lake, and in the last few years this plant has dominated much of the waters surface reducing the number of birds in the area. You might want to also check the clearer Laguna Albarrancho during your visit.

For birders, the eastern shore is especially good with plenty of native vegetation. Towards the northeastern edge, there are plenty of reedbeds that harbor Many-colored Rush-Tyrant and Wren-like Rushbird. Great Pampa-Finch is also a good find. A few hours in the morning (avoid weekends when the area is a magnet for all types of recreation) can yield over 60 species. Common species include: Silvery Grebe, Puna Teal, Speckled Teal, Andean (Ruddy) Duck, Slate-colored Coot, Black-necked Stilt, Bare-faced Ground-Dove, Rufous Hornero, Bay-winged Cowbird and Creamy-breasted Thrush.

Fences around private property (soccer clubs and other sports clubs) make access a bit tricky on the east side, but a few trails exist to the lake edge across the street from the "Country Club Cochabamba" (also known as the golf course) main entrance. Rules are fairly loose so if there is a security guard or other authority, explain that you want to watch birds on the lake shore. ("Queremos ver las aves que estan allá"). Watch for White-tufted Grebe, Red Shoveler, White-cheeked Pintail, Puna Ibis, and Grassland Yellow-Finch on the southern shore. On migration, when water levels are right, a variety of shorebirds can be found including Collared Plover and Black-bellied Plover. Plumbeous Rail is sometimes seen.

The hillsides to the east of the laguna, just behind the Country Club, have quite a bit of indigenous vegetation and can also be worth exploring. A good strategy is to take the first road to the left after the Country Club as you head south from town. As the road starts to wind uphill, watch for small trails branching off from the road. The last time Bennett was there, someone from the Gold Course asked what we were doing, and then invited us to birdwatch within the gold course area. We did not have time to take him up on his offer, but you might want to ask at the gate in the future. This area is best explored in the early morning, as it can get quite hot by mid-morning. Species to look for include Giant Hummingbird, White-tipped Plantcutter, Greater Wagtail-Tyrant, and Gray-crested Finch.

The less crowded part of the laguna, on the road south of the golf course can be very good. One strategy is to take a taxi to the southeast corner of the golf course and down the road, along the shore, then cut across the soccer (football) fields and to loop around the lake. This course will keep the sun behind you in the early morning. Typical birds seen include Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle and White-tipped Plantcutter.

Logistics: Laguna Alalay is in the southeastern part of the city. Any taxi can take you there from anywhere in the city for less than $2. For the budget conscious, the number 27 bus will also get to the laguna for about 25 cents. The Christ statue, a Cochabamba landmark, a rising 33 feet plus, is nearby. In fact, Christ's left arm seems to point directly to the best birding area, the north-east side of the laguna. For the north-east side, the light is best in the morning.

Birds seen at Lago Alalay in the morning 31 Oct 2011 by Frank B. Rheindt

Rufous Hornero (common), Serpophaga spec. (2-3, prob). White-bellied, but I didn’t consider White-crested at the time and forgot to check belly color), Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant (1 at museum), White-winged Black Tyrant (common), Great Kiskadee, Tropical Kingbird, White-tipped Plantcutter, Brown-chested Martin, Bank Swallow (1), Blue-and-white Swallow, Southern House Wren, Swainson’s Thrush (1 at museum), Chiguanco Thrush (common; southern black ssp), Creamy-bellied Thrush (common), Red-eyed Vireo (1), Blue-and-yellow Tanager (common), Sayaca Tanager, Golden-billed Saltator (1), Band-tailed Seedeater (1), Ringed Warbling-Finch (c. 3), Saffron Finch (very common), House Sparrow, Rufous-collared Sparrow, Gray-crested Finch (2), Baywing (common), Shiny Cowbird (several), Hooded Siskin (common), Yellow-billed Pintail (c. 20), Puna Teal (c. 10), Cinnamon Teal (c. 5), Ruddy Duck (c. 20), Rosy-billed Pochard (c. 7), Silvery Grebe (c. 3), White-tufted Grebe (c. 10), Neotropic Cormorant (c. 50), Cocoi Heron (1), Cattle Egret, Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Puna Ibis, Roadside Hawk, Andean Coot (c. 1000), Common Moorhen, Black-necked Stilt, Lesser Yellowlegs (c. 5), Andean Gull, Bare-faced Ground-Dove, Eared Dove, Picui Ground-Dove, Glittering-bellied Hummingbird (2-3).