Looking for harpy eagles
Panama ranks as probably the greatest birdwatching spots on this planet and plenty of uncommon species thrive on this tropical isthmus. However I used to be drawn to go to the slim strip of land linking South and Central America by one of many world’s largest and most opulent birds of prey: the harpy eagle.
Panama’s nationwide hen
The harpy eagle is the nationwide hen of Panama and has been on my bucket listing for a while. Named after the harpies of Greek mythology, grotesque ladies with the our bodies of birds, this gigantic eagle is probably the most highly effective raptor on earth and its rear talons can measure 5 inches – greater than the claws of a grizzly bear.
A protracted journey to seek for harpy eagles
To see it, I travelled from the UK to the Darién rainforest the place I used to be a visitor of Cover Camp. This eco-lodge is positioned on the fringe of this dense jungle and I had had been informed that the guides there knew the place there was a nest with a harpy eagle chick on it.
After my lengthy journey I used to be wanting to search for it immediately, however I couldn’t assist however be distracted by the excitement of wildlife within the camp. Type the very high of the tree cover proper to the bottom, the place teemed with brightly colored birds and unique animals.
Tourism is important to Panama’s economic system and the homeowners of Cover Camp had been eager to indicate off the sheer number of wildlife this area has to supply. Hummingbirds flashed on hen feeders disregarded to draw them and troops of monkeys dashed about snatching up bananas from feeding stations.
I noticed a motion by the dense undergrowth and moments later a band of white-nosed coatis appeared, their stripey tails held aloft as they foraged.
Then some white-faced capuchin monkeys got here to the feeding space. I watched one seize as many bananas because it might and scurry away with one in its mouth, one in its arms and one tucked beneath its armpit.
Additional up within the bushes on an extended horizontal department had been a gaggle of Geoffroy’s tamarins. Their high-pitched calls gave their location away they groomed each other in flip. In the meantime all about had been extra brightly colored birds than my mind might soak up.
Journeying to the Darian Hole
On my second day we got down to attempt to see the harpy eagle. We had a 40-minute drive down the Pan American Freeway. This 30,000 km community of roads take you proper throughout the Americas, from the very high of Alaska to Tierra del Fuego on the very tip of Argentina.
The street additionally varieties Panama’s central freeway because it travels alongside the size of this slim nation. However it stops 97kms earlier than the Columbian border the place the Darian’s tight community of rivers, mountainous terrain and dense jungle vegetation is impenetrable.
Often called the Darién Hole, this area is likely one of the wildest locations on this planet and is barely actually traversable by boat. On the Chucunaque River, Panama’s longest, we swapped our automobile for a dugout canoe and headed downstream.
Traversing swamps on horseback
After 35 minutes we arrived at a farm and lifted our heavy digicam tools up a muddy financial institution earlier than treading haphazard board walks to satisfy Mariano, the top of the González household who personal La Escondida farm. Chickens and muscovy geese ran at our toes and herds of cattle grazed the swampy land. There have been no farm buildings, only a breezeblock home with a tin roof the place the household lived.
On the home we discovered a row of horses ready for us. Mariano and his household are enormously happy with the truth that they’ve harpy eagles nesting on their land and had been very eager to take us to see them.
However the subsequent stage of our journey was probably the most tough. Enormous, darkish clouds had been gathering above us, threatening to flood the already water-logged floor and make it much more tough to traverse. However at this level in my journey nothing was going to cease me attending to the harpy eagle nest.
Dripping in sweat from the humidity, I obtained steadily wetter as I loaded my digicam baggage onto the ready horses. I hadn’t been on a horse since I used to be a younger boy, and I started to really feel equally childish when considered one of Mariano’s sons reached lead me and horse throughout the panorama.
However it quickly grew to become apparent why we would have liked horses. The mud reached as much as the animal’s knees and the lads often misplaced their boots within the bathroom. Not solely had I not too long ago torn a ligament in my knee, however even when I hadn’t there was no means I might have carried my heavy digicam tools throughout this swampy land on foot.
First sighting of a harpy eagle
After an hour, the moist pastures gave technique to bushes and shortly we had been again within the forest. Right here the forest was too dense for horses and so we continued on foot. I used to be getting sizzling and feeling saddle-sore by the point our information, Eliecer, ultimately pointed a finger to a small hole excessive within the tree cover.
And there it was. An enormous nest, resting within the fork of a cuipo tree. Cuipo bushes are the biggest bushes of this area and measure as much as 200ft excessive, towering excessive of the remainder of the cover. The whole lot on this forest appeared super-sized, and so once I noticed a feminine harpy eagle sitting contained in the nest, it felt so surreal. Like coming throughout a legendary large in an outsized land.
Harpy eagles are revered all through the Americas
Right here was the world’s strongest hen of prey, simply 60m away. As I scrambled to get my cameras, I couldn’t fairly imagine my eyes. The harpy eagle is so spectacular it’s revered throughout Central and South America. As I educated my lens on it, it referred to as out, an extended whistle that rang out throughout the forest.
Eliecer stated the sound meant she was hungry and was calling for the male to deliver meals. After which a small white head appeared over the rim of the nest. A chick about one month previous. The feminine leaned over it, her solely chick, and for a second she appeared fiercely protecting.
Mesmerised, we watched her and her chick for a complete of six hours, ignoring the humidity. All through, the feminine referred to as many times for meals. Then she took flight, her big two-metre wings at full unfold as she headed off into the forest.
Ready for a male harpy eagle
However she didn’t go far, and I might simply see her in a close-by tree. She was tussling with one thing which made me suppose she was searching, however then she arrived again with a department and it appeared that she was simply refreshing the nest with some greenery.
She did, nevertheless, appear hungry and saved looking out the nest for meals in useless. Males don’t deliver meals day-after-day we had been starting to surrender hope on seeing her mate in any respect after we heard the male lastly return the feminine’s calls. Then hastily, the male flew into the nest carrying prey. It was onerous to see what he had introduced because it crammed his talons, however we watched the feminine take it from him and start to feed it to the chick.
The male was smaller than the feminine. We watched him look across the nest earlier than flying as much as the department above. He was there lengthy sufficient for me to get some superb footage of him after which he took flight, melting again into the forest.
Harpy eagle has virtually legendary standing
Though harpy eagles are extremely strong- they often catch sloths and monkeys – their wingspan is considerably smaller than that of, say a sea eagle, which is smart as a result of they dwell in dense forest the place they want to have the ability to fly between bushes.
It was tough to pull myself away but it surely was time to move again and so we set off to observe our journey in reverse: strolling by the forest, using on horseback throughout the swamp, canoeing down the river and at last again into the automobile.
As we re-joined the Pan-American Freeway a rainstorm burst over our heads. However I barely seen it as I assumed concerning the unimaginable day I had had. Harpy eagles are so uncommon and elusive, I felt I had entered a fabled world and watched a mythological hen.
Robert Fuller was a visitor of Cover Tower (https://canopytower.com/). To expertise an analogous wildlife watching journey to Panama, he has teamed up with UK-based tour operator Wildfoot Journey to create bespoke wildlife and hen watching itineraries. For extra data observe this hyperlink: https://www.robertefuller.com/journey/