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Looking for a Flower “Nepono”
José de Jesús Vargas González — in Harpy Eagle Conservation and Research    ShareIn a shack immersed in the middle of the forest, the sound of a bird, a monkey howl, and the lovely call of a small girl wakes me up this morning. The little girl calls me “Embera Torro,” which means “white Embera.”

Landscape in the study area
Landscape in the study area
Meanwhile, while I am mentally planning the day’s activities, I hear someone calling me: “Harpy Eagle, the coffee is ready,” and then I stand up to meet with the Embera family to have a breakfast. It is around 4:30 am. After a cold shower, each member of the Harpy Eagle team is ready to look for “Nepono,” the female Harpy Eagle that was hatched in captivity, and that is now part of an experimental study aimed at gaining a better understanding of the ecology of this bird of prey. The name “Nepono” means flower in the Embera dialect. This name comes from a young child from La Marea community, who identified our bird with this nickname.

We start to walk following an acute sound of “bid… bid… bid…” coming from a radio that receives its signal from a VHF transmitter located on the back of the Harpy Eagle Nepono. On our way to the eagle, we see and hear troops of Howler Monkeys, White-faced and Geoffroy’s Tamarin, as well as macaws, toucans, and other bird species (Great Curassow, Crested Guan, Gray-Headed Chachalaca). All these species coexist in this ecosystem, which is now the new home of our captive-bred Harpy Eagle.

The high humidity and temperature of the Neotropic forest force us to take a break… we stop beside a small stream to drink water and rest. During this break we appreciate and talk about the biodiversity of this microhabitat; we observed four species of amphibians, several species of hummingbirds, insects that camouflage with the vegetation, lizards, and other small animals such as spiders and river crabs. We exchange ideas about the relationship between these species as prey for other animals, or their role as predator in this ecosystem. We also talk about the traditional Embera knowledge of some of these species. At the end of this quick conversation, Liofano, one of our local volunteers commented “…few minutes and great learning.”

We start to walk again, and now we get immersed in a very dense understory and an extremely hard to climb hill. In this moment, Rutilio (technician with a lot expertise and knowledge of the forest) said “…for the Harpy Eagles to move into the canopy of the forest is easy, they just need to fly between emergent trees, but for us to move in the same area requires a big effort because of the horizontal composition and structure of the forest, which blocks our walk, as well for the irregular terrain where the eagles like to be. But, it is fine because we like to learn more about the forest, the eagle, and the technique used to locate the bird.”

Biodiversity in a small stream.
Biodiversity in a small stream.
After a long ascending walk, we get to the top of the hill, where we appreciate an amazing landscape of continuous forest, valleys and mountains. Because of the dry season in the Neotropics, the vegetation has a wide variety of colors. In this landscape, the Cuipo trees stand out above other trees. This species of tree is enormous and impressive. As the Harpy Eagle, this emergent tree is majestic in the forest of Darien. Cuipo trees have strong and huge branches located very high; normally the branches have a radial distribution which is ideal and secure to build big nests, such as those used by Harpy Eagles, Crested Eagles, Black and White Hawk Eagles, Ornate Hawk Eagles and other species.

However, in this region not all the landscape observed offers natural and beautiful sceneries. As is normal in the dry season in Panama and other countries in the Mesoamerican regions, the locals cut and burn large tracts of primary and secondary forests to cultivate rice and corn, among other crops. This practice is really damaging for the ecosystem, and we have no choice but to observe in silence their actions, while we look for the Nepono. Fortunately Nepono doesn’t like to move in this type of land. Over generations this farming practice has been used in the region, with no other solutions or alternative being offered to avoid the destruction of the remaining forest and their associated and dependent species. We feel sad to see that our fellow humans don’t appreciate all the resources that earth offers us, for free.

Technicians Rutilio Calderón and <br />Darisnel Carpio collecting data.
Technicians Rutilio Calderón and
Darisnel Carpio collecting data.
We continue looking for our eagle and after two hours searching we found Nepono in a primary forest perched at 22 meters high in an Espave tree. The area around looks safe for her, with many different prey species and an ideal forest to inhabit. At this point, we begin to collect data on the behavior of the bird and her use of the habitat, to add to our knowledge and understanding about the ecology of this bird of prey, as well as to obtain new ideas and consolidate our conservation mission.

We collect data for around five hours in the area; Nepono only moves three times, and invests more time perched, looking the surrounding area and resting in the canopy of the forest. Around 05:00 pm, we start to walk back to our base, the house of Mr. Clemente and Mrs. Columna. We accomplished the goals of the day, found Nepono, collected good data of this exceptional bird of prey and learned more about the forest of Darien.

Nepono, our study bird.
Nepono, our study bird.

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