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The Andes, Fauna and Nature  

Part 6. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Walking across Salar de Uyuni. Lower right corner.....

Animals, birds and flowers on this page:

Chilean Flamingo,
Phoenicopterus chilensis.
Mountain Viscacha, Lagidum viscacha
Lots of Cacti....
Sierra-finches, Phrygilus.....
lots of them...
Southern Viscacha, Lagidium viscacia  

Vicuña, Vicugna vicugna

From a rearranged translation of Vladimir Dinets original pages to norwegian, with supplements.
Klikk på flagg for norsk versjon

Pages for Latin America

 Peru  Scotia-Sea - Overview
 Chile  Scotia-Sea - more Penguins
 Patagonia  Scotia-Sea - Other Seabirds
 Tierra del Fuego  Scotia-Sea - Even more Seabirds
 Argentina  Scotia-Sea - The big marine Mammals
 Salar del Uyuni, Bolivia .
 Tiahuanaco, Bolivia
 Bolivia with 'Road of Death'  Birding in Sangay Natonal Park
 Fascinating Ecuador  Wildlife in Sangay Natonal Park

Salar de Uyuni

The Bolivian Altiplano has a lot of beautiful lakes - some fresh, some saline and very colorful, some dry.
The collection includes the largest salt flat in the world - Salar de Uyuni, an expanse of white salt 10,582 sq. km in size.
It is dry for most of the year, but is covered by a this layer of water during the rainy season (usually November-March).

The salar is located at 3653 m above the sea level, and is estimated to contain 10 billion tons of salt. It takes a few hours to
drive across Salar de Uyuni (or Salar de Tunupa) is the world's largest salt flat at 10,582 square kilometers.
It is located in the Potosí and Oruro departments in southwest Bolivia, near the crest of the Andes, and is elevated 3,656 meters above the mean sea level. The Salar was formed as a result of transformations between several prehistoric lakes.

It is covered by a few meters of salt crust, which has an extraordinary flatness with the average altitude variations within
one meter over the entire area of the Salar. The crust serves as a source of salt and covers a pool of brine, which is
exceptionally rich in lithium. It contains 50 to 70% of the world's lithium reserves, which is in the process of being extracted.


View from Isla de Los Pescadores.


The large area, clear skies and exceptional surface flatness make the Salar an ideal object for calibrating the altimeters of the Earth observation satellites. The Salar serves as the major transport route across the Bolivian Altiplano and is a major breeding
ground for several species of pink flamingos.

Salar de Uyuni is also a climatological transitional zone, for towering tropical cumulus congestus and cumulus incus clouds that form in the eastern part of the massive salt flat during summer, cannot permeate beyond the salt flat's considerably more arid
western edges, near the Chilean border and the Atacama Desert.

Incahuasi Island in the center of the Salar

Lithium is a soft, silver-white metal that belongs to the alkali metal group of chemical elements. It is represented by the symbol
Li, and it has the atomic number 3. Under standard conditions it is the lightest metal and the least dense solid element.
Like all alkali metals, lithium is highly reactive and flammable. For this reason, it is typically stored in mineral oil.
When cut open, lithium exhibits a metallic luster, but contact with moist air corrodes the surface quickly to a dull silvery gray,
then black tarnish. Because of its high reactivity, lithium never occurs freely in nature, and instead, only appears in compounds,
which are usually ionic.

Lithium occurs in a number of pegmatitic minerals, but due to its solubility as an ion is present in ocean water and is commonly
obtained from brines and clays. On a commercial scale, lithium is isolated electrolytically from a mixture of lithium chloride and
potassium chloride.

Lithium and its compounds have several industrial applications, including heat-resistant glass and ceramics, high strength-to-
weight alloys used in aircraft, lithium batteries and lithium-ion batteries. These uses consume more than half of lithium production.
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lithium

There are islands on the salar, isolated mountains sticking out through salt, like nunataks in the middle of a glacier.
The most scenic (and sometimes too touristy) island has a strange name Isla de Los Pescadores (Fishermen's Island)!

Cacti, Isla de Los Pescadores.

Rock crevasse, Isla de Los Pescadores.


Volcan Tunupa (5400 m) forms a peninsula
on the northern side of the salar.

Rock bridge, Isla de Los Pescadores.

The island is famous for groves of giant cacti, rock formations, and stunning views.
Nights are freezing here, but afternoons are often warm enough to drive out into the salar.

Cactus forest, Isla de Los Pescadores.

Cactus forest, Isla de Los Pescadores.

Acanthocalicium spiniflorum, Salar de Uyuni.

Baby Echinopsis atacamensis pasacana, Salar de Uyuni.

Some cacti are over 9 m tall and might be hundreds of years old.
The most common is Echinopsis atacamensis pasacana.
(the incorrect name "Trichoreus" from Lonely Planet's guides has spread all over the Internet).

Echinopsis atacamensis pasacana,
Isla de Los Pescadores.
Oreocereus celsianus, Isla de Los Pescadores.

Soehrensia nivalis, I. de Los Pescadores.

Oreocereus celsianus,
I. de Los Pescadores.

Sh. senile, I. de Los Pescadores.

When the salar is covered with water, three species of flamingo use it for nesting.
The most common is Chilean flamingo, found here in flocks of thousands.
The birds feed on single-cell algae that grow rapidly






Chilean Flamingo,
Phoenicopterus chilensis.
When the salar is dry, the flamingo flocks move elsewhere, but flocks of varying size can usually be found at smaller lakes nearby, especially at Salar de Coipasa to the north, a huge salt flat that always has water in the center.

Chilean Flamingo, Laguna Coipasa.

It is unusual to see any other wildlife on the salar itself , but the shores and islands are full of interesting animals,
from tiny lizards to vicunas. Isla de Los Pescadores is inhabited by lots of viscachas

Northern Viscacha, Lagidium peruanum

Common species of Salar de Uyuni shores:
Mountain Viscacha, Lagidum viscacha

Lagidium is a genus of rodent in the family Chinchillidae. It contains the following species:
Northern Viscacha, Lagidium peruanum
Southern Viscacha, Lagidium viscacia
Wolffsohn's Viscacha, Lagidium wolffsohni
Lagidium ahuacaense - a new species from Ecuador described in June 2009.

Members of this species are medium to large-sized rodents which also looks remarkably like a long-tailed rabbit.
Soft dense fur covers its body, from the tips of its elongate fur covered ears, edged with a fringe of white fur to the end of its long,
curled tail. Their tails are bushy and can range up to about 1/3 of the length of its body. The forelimbs are relatively short, while the
contrastingly long and muscular hind-limbs enable it to run and jump with ease. However, the number of digits on the hind feet is
reduced to 4 (apparent in Chinchillas as well). The color of its fur varies seasonally and with age, but generally the upper parts are
grey to brown, with tints of cream and black, while the under-parts are pale yellow or tan. However, contrary to the former
statement, it has been stated elsewhere that they have pale yellow or grey upper parts, and a black tail tip. They weigh up to 3 kg
and have fairly delicate incisors in which the enamal of the incisors are not colored.

The Northern Viscacha, Lagidium peruanum, occurs in the central and south Peru, and northern Chile. The distribution is
shown to be the Andes mountain in Peru at elevations ranging between 3,000 to 5,000 m Lagidium peruanum naturally occurs
in Chile and Peru.

Lagidium peruanum prefers dry, rocky, habitats between the timber line and snow line of the Andes mountains with sparse vegetation and coarse grasses. It is an herbivorous species and is found near water that offers better vegetation than the drier regions within their habitats.

Lagidium peruanum are diurnal species that are active throughout the year. They leap among rocks and performs a series of
whistles and trills associated with warning. Colonial structures are composed of small family units of two to five individuals in a
subdivided colony that can be as large as 75 animals.

Southern Viscacha, Lagidium viscacia

ARKive video - Southern viscacha - overview
Southern viscacha, Lagidium viscacia, - Overview
BBC Natural History Unit

The Southern Viscacha, Lagidium viscacia, occurs in southern Peru, southern and western Bolivia, northern Chile and western
Argentina. They occur between 2,500 m to 5,100 m above sea level.

Lagodium viscacia inhabits rocky mountain areas as well as rock outcrops in steppe habitat. They are restricted to sparsely vegetated,
rocky habitats from 2,500 to 5,100 m above sea level. This herbivorous species is specialized and restricted to rocky habitats
where it colonizes rock crevices and also associate themselves with available habitat that is patchy.

In large, steeper portions of the cliffs were more heavily used than less steep portions. Habitat use both on and away from the cliffs appears to be driven by predator avoidance. They can probably more easily escape terrestrial predators on a steep slope. They rarely venture away from rocks which provide a means for escape from both aerial and terrestrial predators.

Lagodium viscacia are also diurnal and are most active near sunrise and sunset. They spend the day on perches, grooming and summing themselves. They are adept at moving over rocky surfaces and do not hibernate (unknown found information as to why).

Little data has been found about Lagidium wolffsohni.

Mountain viscacha, Isla de Los Pescadores.

Mountain viscacha, Salar de Uyuni.

Vicuña, Vicugna vicugna

A vicuña, Vicugna vicugna, grazing near Arequipa, Peru
Photo: Alexandre Buisse

The Vicuña, Vicugna vicugna, or vicugna is one of two wild South American camelids, along with the guanaco, which live in the
high alpine areas of the Andes. It is a relative of the llama, and is now believed to share a wild ancestor with domesticated alpacas,
which are raised for their fibre. Vicuñas produce small amounts of extremely fine wool, which is very expensive because the animal
can only be shorn every 3 years. When knitted together, the product of the vicuña's fur is very soft and warm. It is understood that
the Inca valued vicuñas for their wool, and that it was against the law for any but royalty to wear vicuña garments.

ARKive video - Vicuna - overview   ARKive video - Newborn vicuna's first steps
Vicuña, Vicugna vicugna - Overview - and The First Steps
Granada Wild, London -  Light & Shadow GmbH, Tyskland

Both under the rule of the Inca and today, vicuñas have been protected by law. Before being declared endangered in 1974, only
about 6,000 animals were left. Today, the vicuña population has recovered to about 350,000, and while conservation
organizations have reduced its level of threat, they still call for active conservation programs to protect population levels from
poaching, habitat loss, and other threats.

The vicuña is the national animal of Peru; its emblem is used on the Peruvian coat of arms representing the animal kingdom.

Just couldn't help it, you have to see this video also...

ARKive video - Vicuna with young; suckling, crossing fast-flowing streams, falling asleep and in frosty habitat

Vicuna with young; suckling, crossing fast-flowing streams,
falling asleep and in frosty habitat

Granada Wild, London


The Vicuña is considered more delicate and graceful than the Guanaco, and smaller. Its long, woolly coat is tawny brown on the
back while the hair on the throat and chest is white and quite long. The head is slightly shorter than the guanaco's and the ears are
slightly longer. The length of head and body ranges from 1.45-1.60m; shoulder height from 75 to 85 cm; weight from 35 to 65 kg

To prevent poaching, there is a round up every year, and all vicuñas with fur longer than 2.5 cm are shorn.

Common species of Salar de Uyuni shores:
Vicunja, Vicugna vicugna

Sierra-finches, Phrygilus.....

Common specimen along
Salar de Uyuni's coasts:

Black-hooded Sierra-finch, Phrygilus atriceps.

Phrygilus is a genus of mainly Andean seed-eating tanagers commonly known as sierra-finches. Phrygilos means finch in
Ancient Greek. Sometimes classified in the bunting and American sparrow family Emberizidae, more recent studies have shown them to belong in the Thraupidae. The genus appears to be polyphyletic consisting of at least three distinct lineages which in future
may need to be split into separate genera.

Group 1 - The "Hooded" group. Related to yellow-finches Sicalis

Black-hooded Sierra-finch
Peruvian Sierra-finch
© Peter de Haas
Grey-hooded Sierra-finch
Patagonian Sierra-finch

*The Black-hooded Sierra-finch, Phrygilus atriceps, It is found in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru.
     Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist montanes and subtropical or tropical high-altitude shrubland.
*The Peruvian Sierra-finch, Phrygilus punensis. It is found in Bolivia and Peru.
     Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical high-altitude shrubland.
*The Grey-hooded Sierra-finch, Phrygilus gayi.
     It is found in Argentina and Chile. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry shrubland and subtropical or tropical
      high-altitude shrubland.
*The Patagonian Sierra-finch, Phrygilus patagonicus, or Grey-hooded Sierra-finch.
     It is found in Argentina and Chile. Its natural habitats are temperate forests, subtropical or tropical dry shrubland,
     and temperate grassland. Its diet consists mainly of seeds, flower parts, nectar, fruit, and insects, but it has also been seen
     to forage on human refuse.

Group 2 - Upperparts mostly grey, underparts white. Sexes similar. Related to a clade containing both the "hooded" group and Sicalis olivascens

Red-backed Sierra-finch
© pablo_caceres_c

White-throated Sierra-finch

* The Red-backed Sierra-finch, Phrygilus dorsalis, is a species of bird in the Thraupidae family. It is found in Argentina, Bolivia,     and Chile. Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical high-altitude grassland.
*The White-throated Sierra-finch, Phrygilus erythronotus. It is found in Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. Its natural habitat is
     subtropical or tropical high-altitude grassland.

Group 3 - male plumage grey or dull brown, females streaky. Related to Haplospiza

Plumbeous Sierra-finch

Ash-breasted Sierra-finch

* The Plumbeous Sierra-finch, Phrygilus unicolor.
    It is found in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela. Its natural habitats are subtropical or
     tropical high-altitude grassland and pastureland.
* The Ash-breasted Sierra-finch, Phrygilus plebejus.
    It is found in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry shrubland,
     subtropical or tropical high-altitude shrubland, and subtropical or tropical high-altitude grassland.

Group 4 - Yellow bill with grey/black underparts.
Band-tailed Sierra-finch
Photo: © Robert Scanlon
Carbonated Sierra-finch
Mourning Sierra-finch

* The Band-tailed Sierra-finch, Phrygilus alaudinus.
     It is found in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry shrubland
      and subtropical or tropical high-altitude shrubland.
* The Carbonated Sierra-finch, Phrygilus carbonarius.
     It is endemic to Argentina. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry shrubland and temperate grassland.
* The Mourning Sierra-finch, Phrygilus fruticeti.
     It is found in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru. It is a vagrant to the Falkland Islands and Brazil. Its natural habitats are
      subtropical or tropical dry shrubland and subtropical or tropical high-altitude shrubland.
(In a way I am happy I am not a scientist, one whom is expected to figure out those diversities.)
Source: Wikipedia
All pictures of finches above except Phrygilus punensis, Phrygilus dorsalis, Phrygilus carbonarius and Phrygilus alaudinus
© www.arthurgrosset.com/

Finally, a little more about SALT
There are a few springs breaking through the salt. Called "eyes" (ojos del salar),
they are a major driving hazard during the rainy season.

Spring, Salar de Uyuni.

Salt works, Salar de Uyuni

Salt, Salar de Uyuni.

Salt, Salar de Uyuni.

People have been mining salt from the salar for centuries,
and 25,000 tons are now extracted annually. Piles of drying salt are a common sight on the eastern side.
There are a few very old villages along the shores.

Donkey Salar de Uyuni.

Part 7. Tiahuanaco

Back to Part 5

All pictures, unless otherwise stated, Copyright © Vladimir Dinets

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