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Looking for Large Harpy Eagles in Panama’s Distant Darian Hole


    Looking for harpy eagles

    Panama ranks as top-of-the-line birdwatching spots on the earth and lots of uncommon species thrive on this tropical isthmus. However I used to be drawn to go to the slender strip of land linking South and Central America by one of many world’s largest and most luxurious birds of prey: the harpy eagle. 

    close up of harpy eagle in trees beak open as it calls

    Panama’s nationwide chicken

    The harpy eagle is the nationwide chicken of Panama and has been on my bucket listing for a while. Named after the harpies of Greek mythology, ugly girls 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 – larger 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 instructed that the guides there knew the place there was a nest with a harpy eagle chick on it.

    brightly coloured rufous-motmot bird perched on branch
    A vibrant rufous motmot chicken

    After my lengthy journey I used to be desirous to search for it immediately, however I couldn’t assist however be distracted by the thrill of wildlife within the camp. Kind the very high of the tree cover proper to the bottom, the place teemed with brightly colored birds and unique animals.

    Tourism is significant to Panama’s economic system and the homeowners of Cover Camp have been eager to indicate off the sheer number of wildlife this area has to supply. Hummingbirds flashed on chicken feeders neglected to draw them and troops of monkeys dashed about snatching up bananas from feeding stations. 

    I noticed a motion by way of the dense undergrowth and moments later a band of white-nosed coatis appeared, their stripey tails held aloft as they foraged.  

    white faced capuchin monkey chewing on stick
    White-faced capuchin monkey

    Then some white-faced capuchin monkeys got here to the feeding space. I watched one seize as many bananas because it may and scurry away with one in its mouth, one in its arms and one tucked below its armpit. 

    Additional up within the bushes on an extended horizontal department have 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 have been extra brightly colored birds than my mind may absorb.  

    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. mist hanging over jungle in darian gap panama

    The street additionally types Panama’s central freeway because it travels alongside the size of this slender nation. But it surely stops 97kms earlier than the Columbian border the place the Darian’s tight community of rivers, mountainous terrain and dense jungle vegetation is impenetrable.  

    Referred to as the Darién Hole, this area is likely one of the wildest locations on the earth and is just actually traversable by boat. On the Chucunaque River, Panama’s longest, we swapped our automotive for a dugout canoe and headed downstream. 

    a canoe with photographers filmin the darian jungle on the chucunaque river
    Canoeing on the Chucunaque River

    Traversing swamps on horseback

    After 35 minutes we arrived at a farm and lifted our heavy digital camera tools up a muddy financial institution earlier than treading haphazard board walks to satisfy Mariano, the pinnacle 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 have been very eager to take us to see them. 

    artist robert e fuller on horse back with farmhouse behind

    However the subsequent stage of our journey was probably the most troublesome. Enormous, darkish clouds have been gathering above us, threatening to flood the already water-logged floor and make it much more troublesome 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 received steadily wetter as I loaded my digital camera luggage 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.  

    But it surely quickly grew to become apparent why we would have liked horses. The mud reached as much as the animal’s knees and the lads recurrently misplaced their boots within the lavatory. 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 may have carried my heavy digital camera tools throughout this swampy land on foot.  

    First sighting of a harpy eagle

    After an hour, the moist pastures gave strategy to bushes and shortly we have 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 scorching 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 eagle with chick in nest

    Harpy eagles are revered all through the Americas

    Right here was the world’s strongest chicken 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 skilled 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 convey meals. After which a small white head appeared over the rim of the nest. A chick about one month outdated. 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 time and again for meals. Then she took flight, her enormous 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 may simply see her in a close-by tree. She was tussling with one thing which made me assume she was looking, 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 the nest for meals in useless. Males don’t convey meals on daily basis we have been starting to surrender hope on seeing her mate in any respect after we heard the male lastly return the feminine’s calls.  Then abruptly, the male flew into the nest carrying prey. It was onerous to see what he had introduced because it stuffed his talons, however we watched the feminine take it from him and start to feed it to the chick. 

    male harpy eagle perched in branch of tree

    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 wonderful 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 recurrently catch sloths and monkeys – their wingspan is considerably smaller than that of, say a sea eagle, which is sensible as a result of they reside in dense forest the place they want to have the ability to fly between bushes.  

    It was troublesome to tug myself away nevertheless it was time to go again and so we set off to comply with our journey in reverse: strolling by way of the forest, using on horseback throughout the swamp, canoeing down the river and at last again into the automotive.  

    As we re-joined the Pan-American Freeway a rainstorm burst over our heads. However I barely seen it as I believed in regards to 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 chicken.  


    Robert Fuller was a visitor of Cover Tower ( To expertise an identical wildlife watching journey to Panama, he has teamed up with UK-based tour operator Wildfoot Journey to create bespoke wildlife and chicken watching itineraries. For extra data comply with this hyperlink: