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Adventure with a Harpy Eagle in Alvarado Stream
José de Jesús Vargas González — in Harpy Eagle Conservation and Research    Share

Adventure with a Harpy Eagle in Alvarado Stream

Sunrise at Cemaco community… children running and screaming to go swimming in the river, women preparing breakfast and men were ready with tools in hand to go to the farming areas, while we were preparing for a new adventure: “capturing a wild juvenile Harpy Eagle.” That morning, Jean Carlos an eight year old boy from the village asked timidly: Where are you going? I said, I would go to the forest close to Alvarado Stream to capture and to mark with a radio-transmitter a Harpy Eagle. I explained that this radio-transmitter will allow us to know more about this species, to continue teaching them about the importance of their natural resources. These were my words translated in simple language which he clearly understood. Jean Carlos just smiled and said: “I would love to see pictures of the eagle that you catch.”

After breakfast, a group of four technicians, five porters and I penetrated slowly into the dense jungle of Cemaco community. The first kilometers were areas of agricultural use of the inhabitants of the community, but in about an hour, all the surrounding vegetation was mature forest. The heat waves in the shrub land vegetations became fresh once we got into the forest. We walked slowly to our destination, the area of Alvarado stream where a couple of Harpy Eagle incubated in December of 2010 an egg, and at present there is a juvenile of about eighteen months. Since its birth, to date this juvenile has been observed and monitored quarterly to keep records of its growth.

A small example of the scenary around Alvarado Stream

On the way to the Alvarado area, we find beautiful scenery, where the special touch was provided by the songs of birds, the howling of primates, and colorful tropical birds, butterflies and flowers. Scenarios were unique, with an extraordinary diversity of animals that ensured that seven hours of walking were made shorter. At four o'clock we reached the Harpy Eagle nest in the stream Alvarado. Exhausted by the long journey, but encouraged by having reached our destination, we started a brief search of the juvenile Harpy Eagle in the vicinity of the nest. After 30 minutes of searching was not possible to locate the young, so we decided to find a place to set up a campsite. The area where the tree-nest has a relatively irregular topography (slopes and hills), so finding a suitable campsite took some time.

Approximately 20 minutes from the nest, we located an ideal site for camping on the edge of the river of Alvarado. The only drawback of the site was that it rained very strong, and the excessive rain could increase the river level and cause flooding in our camp. However, it was the best place in a two-kilometer area around the worksite. Located the place to camp, we fit it, and began preparing the dinner. While preparing dinner, we started planning for the capture of juvenile Harpy Eagle. We also organize the equipment, and verified the capture procedure and data collection to avoid disappointment. So time went on, and it was time to get the dinner, and also time for the daily late-night talks with local people about the mysteries and dangers that hides the forest Darien.

Camping and cooking area in Alvarado Stream

It is amazing how many anecdotes come in a trip with the Embera and Wounaan people. Mr. Calixto and Mr. Arilio are expert storytellers. This evening, at about nine o'clock, everyone proceeded to sleep to be rested for the next capture’s day. That night at two o'clock, I heard steps on the river, but I did not pay much attention, and I continue sleeping. At five o'clock, the atmosphere of the camp was filled with the delicious aroma of coffee, saying it is time to get up for work ... I got up, took a shower and approached the kitchen area, at that time the technician Arilio Ismare had prepared a tasty coffee, and he had just finished cooking the breakfast. To my surprise, this morning we had for breakfast shrimp and fish from fresh water. I asked where they came, and Mr. Ismare told me that he had hunted at night, while everyone was asleep. In this moment, I remembered the steps that I had heard in the early morning. After a delicious breakfast, we proceeded to go to the nest area, with the main idea to locate and capture the juvenile Harpy Eagle from Alvarado stream. By having one and a half year old, this juvenile is flying in an area no larger than 2 km around the nest. When we reached the area of the nest, we emitted sounds similar to a Harpy Eagle with the intention of attracting the juvenile, and then, we look at all large trees, and after five hours of searching, the juvenile appeared on a Cuipo tree where previously we had searched without success. This juvenile is a very elegant and imposing female Harpy Eagle.

After locating the juvenile, we immediately proceeded to identify an ideal site to situate the trap. In about an hour we had the trap set. The juvenile felt much interest when we were getting on the trap in a nearby tree branch. As has happened with other juveniles of this species, the juvenile stayed perched for hours watching the trap, showing no intention of approaching it. At three in the afternoon, the juvenile flew to another nearby tree, but with more foliage, since there was still looking at the trap. At four o'clock, we decided to remove the trap and retreat to the camp. We decided that because our capture protocol says so, because there would be enough time to place and collect the information required in case of capture.

Adult female HarpyEagle with prey (Two-Toed Sloth)

That night, we talked about what happened, and how terrible it would be if one of the adults brings a prey the next day. So time went on, until we all decided to rest. The next morning, the howling of the monkeys, the sound creates for the running water, and the classic sounds of birds, indicated that a new day began, and it was time to go to the field to try to capture the juvenile. We had breakfast and we went immediately to the area where we had left this eaglet. When we arrived, the juvenile was vocalizing, and immediately we thought “one adult is nearby.” Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for the juvenile, the adult female had arrived with a prey and was perched in a near tree near to the nest-tree. The female had brought a Two-toed Sloth. This fact caused that we had no success this day. By the way, we took this opportunity to observe the interaction between the juvenile and the adult.

When the female noted that the juvenile flew to the nest tree, she landed at the same site, and the juvenile opened his wings, vocalized in a very particular way, and then the female released the prey and walked away to a nearby branch. At that time, the juvenile immediately seized the prey. With eighteen months age, this juvenile is fed alone with preys that adults bring. The juvenile fed on this prey for two days. With a full crop, the young was not interested in our bait and we could not capture it. We had to be patient, and a day after she completed feeding the sloth, we begun to set the trap again. During the first days the juvenile did not show interest in the trap, because she was still satisfied with the prey brought by her mother.

Juvenile HarpyEagle from Alvarado Stream

On the fifth day of our arrival at the Alvarado area, the juvenile presented attention again to the trap, and on the seventh day, we captured it. That day we thought we would not succeed, but suddenly she landed on the trap, and immediately, we activated the trap, and we successfully captured this juvenile. We were really happy to have succeeded. Without delay, we collect qualitative and quantitative information of the bird, and we proceeded to mark it with a radio-PTT-100 and with a metal band LD-Blue on its leg. This procedure took approximately two hours. After that, we released the juvenile, and proceeded to monitor to assess its behavior to make sure that everything was fine... Our capture procedure protocol indicates that after tagging an eagle with a radio transmitter, we should monitor it for 10 days to make sure that the transmitter does not interfere with the behavior and cause damage to the eagle. For that reason, even now there are people watching this juvenile in the field.

Technicians collecting morphological data from the juvenile HarpyEagle of Alvarado Stream

The night of capture, we were all so happy, we spent hours telling all the adventure, all the problems, and giving to each other thanks for the effort and teamwork that we had. Mission accomplished was the last expression that Mr. Arilio Ismare said. After the catch, I spent several days observing and I did not notice negative effects of the transmitter on the eagle’s behavior. One day after we marked this juvenile, the adult male brought a new prey; on this occasion was a juvenile Three-toed Sloth.

Juvenile Harpy Eagle from Alvarado Stream & Children (Angela and Jean Carlos)
from Cémaco Community

When I returned to the community of Cémaco, the first thing I did was look for Jean Carlos to show him the photos of the juvenile Harpy Eagle that we captured in the territory of his community, and to comply with his request. Jean Carlos was really happy looking at the pictures, to the point that said he wanted to work with our project when he is an adult. With these words I ended my field trip in the area of Cémaco community. The day of my departure, children and adults asked again: When will you return? This is the question that is always asked, even when they know that I can return in a few days...

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