The Peregrine Fund Home
Sign In
The Peregrine Fund Notes From The Field
November 2001
José de Jesús Vargas González — in Harpy Eagle Conservation and Research    Share
We left Panama City, heading to the Darien which is an hour away by plane. The Darien Region is one of the richest ecosystems of the country, and is the habitat of the Harpy Eagle, Orange Breasted Falcon, and many other raptors. At the town of LaPalma, a member of an indigenous community would guide us to Manene, a small village located a day's worth of travel by dug-out canoe upstream of the River Balsa. Travel by canoe is quite an adventure; one can observe Osprey, perching Bat Falcons, egrets feeding, and many other birds. Admiring the fauna and vast colors of the surrounding trees and scenery along the river, we finally reach our destination.

The next morning we arrange to meet with the traditional and elected leaders of the Emberá-Wounaan Region. We need the consent of both groups of indigenous leaders and community members in order to continue our trip. The hierarchical system of the Emberá-Wounaan is quite strict, and without their approval it is difficult to access these areas and further our expedition. Dedicating many hours and omitting little detail, we explain our plans and objectives to the leaders, and, after answering all questions, we are finally granted permission to continue our journey.

The renewed hum of the river, chants of wild birds, and awakening cries and laughter of children indicate the birth of a new day in the Darien. Together with Embera-Wounaan guides, we prepare for work. We gather all the equipment we will need to go to the area where a Harpy Eagle nest has been reported by several community members. Though referred to as an “eaglet” and described in many different ways, we are certain it is a Harpy Eagle.

We arrive at the nest site, and, atop a 50 m tall Cuipo tree, towering above the forest’s canopy, we spot the construction of marvelous design. Covering branches of various diameters, consisting of a variety of leaves solidly arranged, is a nest on which a small Harpy juvenile rests. Its plumage is almost white. It sees us, and begins to call for his parents who are to provide him with food and safety. Surrounding the Cuipo tree, a witness to the births of other Harpy Eagles, we find the remains of the many animals they have generously fed upon. After we gather all the necessary information that will give us a better understanding of the ecology and habitat preferences of this bird, which will later help establish protection and conservancy measures, we leave the nest site and withdraw from the area.

The following morning, children from the indigenous communities head to the small school located at the center of the village. Some wear uniforms, others work clothes, many barefooted, yet all smiling. We request from the school teachers an hour to talk to the children about the Harpy Eagle. During a short presentation, we have the opportunity to also learn about local customs of the Emberá-Wounaan. Body painting using the extracts of the fruit of the Jagua tree is one of their most fascinating customs. Weddings and anniversaries are some of the occasions in which the Embera-Wounaan make full display of their body painting abilities. The Jagua extract also protects their skin from the sun while keeping insects away. Every painting is uniquely different and not one pattern is like the next.

We depart in the early hours of the following morning, on our way to LaPalma from where we will take a plane back to Panama City. Flying over the Darien, I revel in the idea of returning again to these communities and waking to the sights of children smiling, sounds of the forest, of a child crying as a mother leaves in early dawn to prepare a humble breakfast, and begin yet another day in a forgotten paradise.

Find more articles about Harpy Eagle, Orange-breasted Falcon, Neotropics

Most Recent Entries Atom feedshow-hide

Our Authorsshow-hide

Our Conservation Projectsshow-hide

Species we work withshow-hide

Where we workshow-hide

Unknown column 'Hits' in 'field list'
Support our work - Donate