25 September 2017

Hail Harpy! (Ecuador): 17 Sept 2017

There are some bird species that seem to come from a higher plane of existence to all others around them; these absorb bird people in some way that often borders on the obsessive. These superior species are perhaps comparable to pieces of plumed art, which all agree are unique and special, and open to no objections to their senior status. These are nature’s avian icons. This can often be a very subjective choice, but with the Harpy Eagle, the word “iconic”, I am sure, would not be disputed by anyone with an interest in the feathered form. It is not just that it literally stands tall as disputably the largest eagle on Earth, it is also that it lives in remote regions of the mighty, and imposing Amazon jungle, where it’s range seems to stretch far and wide, but yet they still remain rarely seen, and always just out of reach. Unless there is a known nest at play
In my personal opinion, staked-out nests seem to be at an all-time low, due to politics (Venezuela), and abandonment (some of the recent Brazilian nests, for example). It is probably a fair reflection also that this lover of remote areas, away from the prying eyes of people, are finding a smaller world in which to live too. And so, demand for the eagle with the talons of a bear has risen exponentially in recent times. It was to this icon that we returned on this day…We had the nest, we just did not have the adult in our sights, just yet…
Following an enjoyable day in the company of a buffy juvenile Harpy Eagle, being the greedy birders that we are, we could not resist returning for another throw of the dice at finding the striking form of an adult Harpy. We awoke to a lack of rain, a good start, and enhanced our mood as we faced what we had by then nicknamed “Mount Gareno”, once more, (the steep hike to the secluded nest of the eagle). We set off as light quickly arose around us, and stopped little getting to the nest, with the local knowledge in hand that the female was said to remain roosting in the nesting tree only up until around 8-9am. 
We arrived at 8am, and after a quick scan were clear that on this day, she had not decided to remain until 9am after all; we could only see the hidden buffy form of the youngster sitting low in the nest, and not begging for food, indicating that perhaps the chance of an adult was rather unlikely in a while. And, to be clear, a while in “eagle land” may not be minutes, or even hours, but a day or more! Our mood sunk a little as we theorised this in our minds and spoke about it out loud. 
Then, out of the corner of our eyes a massive shape emerged silently from the forest canopy and glided effortlessly down on to the nest. Literally, The Eagle had Landed. This beautiful adult specimen stood in profile on the nest, and flew off soon after, when we realised the juvenile was ripping at a carcass in the nest, Which the adult must have dropped in with, but did so, so swiftly, we had missed this in the considerable adrenalin rush of being in the presence of one of the World’s most impressive avian predators. It took off sooner than we hoped, but then returned again, and sat on a branch alongside the nest calling enthusiastically, as we watched enthralled. Then it lifted off silently and vanished back into the forest, and the lair of its prey, monkeys and sloths.
However, the arrival of another birding group with Marcelo Andy perked us up, until American politics came up in conversation. However, an extremely cooperative Pavonine Quetzal soon drew us out of the political world and back into the natural world, as this scarlet and emerald gem sat above us calling. Then the high whistles of a Lanceolated Monklet, from the cute end of the puffbird family, peaked our interest, and we were soon watching one of a pair in full view of the juvenile Harpy Eagle. Life was not so bad after all…
The chick was transformed from its previous lethargic self, and vigorously attacked at the prey that had been left for it, while we desperately tried to identify it, but most of the time it was out of sight below the rim of the massive stick nest (the consensus seemed to veer towards squirrel monkey in the end). As it struggled with its fleshy meal it constantly called for help, but the adult showed no further sign of assistance, leaving its offspring to learn how to do this for itself. It may have laboured at this, but bits and pieces of monkey were digested over time. Once the monkey was mostly consumed, and activity died, we set off back for the lodge, with a spring in our step. I have seen Harpy on a number of occasions, but only once so well, and so splendidly, ironically at this very same site some 11 years previously.  
Our walk back was more than just filled with pleasant satisfaction at the eagle sighting, as we also saw a handsome Banded Antbird whistling to us from a fallen log, while just across the trail a Rusty-belted Tapaculo wandered within spitting distance (we did not spit at it though, to be clear!) Better still came with another Amazon Avian Classic: White-plumed Antbird, a species that seems to be better designed for cartoons than the rainforest, with its bizarre, immaculately trimmed ermine-toned plume. A few further Yellow-browed Antbirds were no less appreciated than they were the day before, and we also caught sight of a lekking Great-billed Hermit, by picking up the constant bobbing of the tail in timer with its incessant call. Once back at the lodge, we checked in on the Fiery Topazes in the lodge garden, which had returned for another afternoon performance, just before the curtain closed on an amazing day in the Amazon…
One more insane day followed, when we birded from 
Amazon to High Andes…

eBird List from this day

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