Birds photos from Darien, Panama (pt. 3 - Harpy Eagles and a series of unexpected events)
This was our third and last day in Darien with Advantage Tours Panama (http://advantagepanama.com). We started our day in the Rancho Frío station's orchard, here I had trouble photographing the birds because they were high in the canopy, I prefer not to share these pictures and only leave the crème de la crème for the day.
In the orchard we saw One-colored Becard, Cinnamon Becard, Ruddy Pigeon, Scaled Pigeon, Roadside Hawk, Black-headed Tody-Flycatcher, Gray Elaenia, the usual Squirrel Cuco (I think he follows me wherever I go), and a male Black-tipped Cotinga, among others. After birding the place we returned to the station where the horses were waiting to take us out the Park.
The first unexpected event
While I was walking to the station I noticed a kingfisher perched over the stream that runs besides the house. It was a Green-and-rufous Kingfisher, I walked to try to catch him on camera but he flushed. Then, something unexpected occurred, I scared a large dark bird that flew from the river to a perch in the shades by the other side of the stream, where she remained inconspicuously.
As soon as I saw her I knew what it was: a Fasciated Tiger Heron, a species I was willing to find but haven't had the time to look for on its habitats. I immediately forgot about the kingfisher and made this subject a photo session. I have to admit that the heron was really cooperative and I was able to make great shots of her on her perch. A very different take to photos that are made of this species over river rocks. I was excited because this species was one of the few in the herons and egrets family that was missing in my gallery.
The Fasciated Tiger Heron's (Tigrisoma fasciatum) range extends from Costa Rica through northwestern Argentina and southeastern Brazil, including Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela, and present as a vagrant in Nicaragua. Although it occurs from sea level, it is generally found at higher elevations than the rufescent tiger heron where the two species occur together but fasciated is typically found in different habitat than rufescent. The fasciated tiger heron is typically solitary, though multiple birds may gather at intervals of several hundred yards (meters) in favored fishing areas. It hunts along rivers, standing on the shore or on rocks in the watercourse with its neck partly extended. Its prey is primarily fish, which it catches by stabbing with its beak, though it also takes large insects. Indeed this was a good fishing area as I could prove the day before when I bathed on the river, I saw a lot of fish. Unfortunately, the estimates of its population are quite low. In Panama it's of rare abundance and occurs on entire Caribbean slope and on Pacific slope from eastern Panamá Province eastward; mainly in foothills but ocassionaly in lowlands, along forested streams, usually rapidly flowing ones.
Then I tried to capture the kingfisher but he kept flying away along the river so I gave up because people were waiting for me. I neither was able to get more pictures of the heron since we couldn't wait until she decided to drop off the tree. After all, our main target was waiting for us in the trail on our way out: a Harpy Eagle's nest with an adult female and a nestling. This nest is publicly known and is accesible if you already get to El Real since its on the trail to the Rancho Frío station. We actually saw it on our first day.
Harpy Eagle's nestsWe heard and saw some other birds on our way out like Ringed Kingfisher, Common Black-hawk, Black Oropendola, and Streaked Xenops, but we practically kept our pace until we reached the nest.
Focused on my shot
Female Harpy Eagle and nestling
But the story does not end here, we had a second nest to visit at an undisclosed location...
4:30 pm, traveling the Chucunaque River in search of the second nest
We met a family that have an eagle's nest in their property. They could be considered poor by most socio-economic criteria except that they own a diamond in the rust, a habitat suitable for harpy eagles' nesting. The bad news are that they, as much others in Darien, are used to slash and burn the forest to make farmland or pastureland; what we call in Spanish "tala y quema". The good news are that the member of the family that was taking us to the place was sufficiently aware to stop the madness and avoid a disaster just when they were about to burn the area where the nest is located.
This "colonos" family (farmers displaced from other regions of the country) was really nice, they got us a couple of horses, and the gentleman and two of his children walked with us to the place where they will show us the alleged harpy eagles.
In this part of our travel deforestation and disturbance was evident, and the thicket was still smoky.
Disregarding this, lowland forests with tall trees like the Cuipo are suitable habitats for harpy eagles.
We got to the second nest to find only a nestling, which was larger/older than the one we saw previously. He was flaping on the wind, and then we confirmed it was a harpy eagle when he poked his head. An all white head and black bill was noticeable while the colono told us that they use to see the adult bird, referred as "la pájara", in the mornings but not later in the day.
Very hard to see due to height and angle
The second unexpected event:
Then, the second unexpected event of the day occurred: a White-headed Wren was singing close to ground level, completely exposed. I ran to make pictures of him and suddenly they were two.. three... four... five wrens... singing, dancing and dust-bathing. I was able to get this amazing series of shots:
This is what I call the "inverse Michael Jackson treatment": they were white and now are nutella.
The White-headed Wren (Campylorhynchus albobrunneus) is a species in the Troglodytidae family. It is only found in Colombia and Panama. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and heavily degraded former forest. It used to be the largest wren in Panama, a place now occupied by the Bicolored Wren (see part 1 of this series). In Panama it's uncommon on Caribbean slope from northern Coclé eastward, and on Pacific slope from eastern Panamá Province eastward. What's really amazing, and shows that nothing compares to being in the right place at the right moment, is that this species is found in forest canopy. In addition to "being lucky", I needed proper tecnique and patience. The wrens were moving fast and I had to dedicate some time to get the best shots.
The third unexpected event:
The sunlight was fading and we had no sign of adult eagles, after making (bad) shots of a Sirystes we decided to call it quits and travel to Yaviza and then to Panama. I was packing when the girl spotted the eagle incomming. We all got excited due to this majestic presence and finally did the shots I was dreaming about until that day, the sun was rapidly hiding behind the eagle's back and even though she was not well lit, a notch of dramatism was incoporated by the golden hour tones.
Children watching the eagle
The Harpy Eagle (Harpia harpyja) is the largest and most powerful raptor found in the Americas, and among the largest extant species of eagles in the world. It usually inhabits tropical lowland rainforests in the upper (emergent) canopy layer. Destruction of its natural habitat has seen it vanish from many parts of its former range, and it is nearly extirpated in Central America. In Brazil, the harpy eagle is also known as gavião-real.
Rare throughout its range, the harpy eagle is found from Mexico (almost extinct), through Central America and into South America to as far south as Argentina. The eagle is most common in Brazil, where it is found across the entire national territory. With the exception of some areas of Panama, the species is almost extinct in Central America, subsequent to the logging of much of the rainforest there. The harpy eagle inhabits tropical lowland rainforests and may occur within such areas from the canopy to the emergent vegetation. They typically occur below an elevation of 900 m (3,000 ft) but have been recorded at elevations of up to 2,000 m (6,600 ft). Within the rainforest, they hunt in the canopy or sometimes on the ground, and perch on emergent trees looking for prey. They do not generally occur in disturbed areas but will regularly visit semi-open forest/pasture mosaic, mainly in hunting forays. Harpies, however, can be found flying over forest borders in a variety of habitats. They have been found in areas where high-grade forestry is practiced.
The Harpy Eagle is the national bird of Panama, and in this country it occurs on entire Caribbean slope and on Pacific slope from eastern Panamá Province eastward, in lowlands and foothills. Despite its size, its rather difficult to observe as it does not soar and spends much ot its time in the forest canopy.
Going back home
It was dusk when we took our horses back, we heard Marbled Wood-quails, Tinamous, Common Potoo, Common Pauraque, Tropical Sreech-Owls. By night we were on a boat to Yaviza and then started our return to Panama City, we had to stop in Metetí to buy some food which we eat on the road. And to wrap it up, I arrived home at 1:00 am.
I woke my wife and we talked over an hour about the adventures. This was a great life experience and I recommend anyone to do it. It was shocking seeing so much green and wilderness, as well as negatively shocking to see the devastation. On our way home we discussed the posibilites to help the colonos family to take advantage (pun intended) of the situation. Instead of destroying the habitat they could preserve it and find a profit in the way. Hopefully, something positive will come out of this.