Quest for the Harpy Eagle

An entry to our 2019 Writing Competition, William Plumb travelled on our 'Panama – Harpy Eagle Special' tour.

Four a.m. Breakfast. It was two hours before dawn when the chorus of the Howler monkeys would be echoing around the forest surrounding the camp. There were just three of us on a Naturetrek tour to Panama staying in the delightful Canopy Camp in the heart of the Darien. A Harpy Eagle’s nest had been located containing a well grown youngster. An early start was essential as it would be quite a trek to get to the nest site.

After breakfast we drove for an hour along the Pan American Highway until it ended at the town of Yaviza where the Darien gap begins. There we boarded a motorized dug-out canoe and began a 2-hour journey to the village of Bijivasal. The outboard motors were fired up and we sped along the muddy river. There was much to see along the river banks. Herons of six species included the stunning Cocoi and there were groups of Wood Storks and a Roseate Spoonbill. Raptors included Common Black Hawks, Black-collared Hawks and Swallow-tailed Kites. An occasional caiman slid into the water.

At Bijivasal we transferred to the back of a truck which took us on an hour’s journey along a forest track into the Darien National Park. On disembarking the truck an hour and a half trek through the forest awaited us. The pace was fairly brisk and we stopped for nothing so as to maximize time at the eagle’s nest site. The observation point for the nest had a small screen and seating area and looked out through a gap in the forest canopy to a massive tree in the forked boughs of which was the huge stick nest of the Harpy Eagle. The well grown juvenile eagle loafed on the nest, occasionally moving about, and sometimes leaping into the air and testing its wings. Once a huge shadow moved swiftly over the area and we thought an adult was  arriving. No such luck! The guides did a recce and did spot an adult in flight but this bird didn’t visit the nest.

We waited, expecting any minute, that an adult would visit the young eagle. While waiting there were other things to see. A pair of Great Green Macaws, squawking loudly, flew around the site, while White-ringed Flycatchers flitted after insects below the eagle’s nest. Calls from the nearby forest attracted our attention to a Black-capped Antpitta which, after some patient stalking, gave some nice views.

We didn’t get a visit from an adult Harpy and all too soon we had to leave the site and make the trek back to where the trucks awaited us. We had a fine picnic lunch in the forest before returning to Bijivasal. On the way back we had time to stop if we saw anything of interest and the guides pointed out a roosting Common Potoo. The return boat trip and journey to the camp were uneventful. It had been a long and exciting day and we returned elated that we had spent time with the young Harpy on its nest in the heart of the Darien. Certainly a day worth celebrating with a few beers back at camp.

Read more about our 'Panama – Harpy Eagle Special' holiday.

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