VENTflash #210; Extraordinary Harpy Eagle Opportunity! November 22, 2016

Posted by Victor Emanuel


Victor Emanuel

Victor Emanuel started birding in Texas 70 years ago at the age of eight. His travels have taken him to all the continents, with his areas of concentration being Texas, Ari...

Dear friends,

From Panama, via my close friend, Raúl Arias de Para, comes the electrifying news of the discovery of a Harpy Eagle nest in close proximity to the Canopy Camp in the Darien lowlands of eastern Panama. Equally thrilling, I recently heard from VENT leader Barry Zimmer who reported that his tour to the Canopy Camp last month enjoyed amazing, close views of an adult bird at the nest!

Harpy Eagle; Darien, Panama; October 2016

Harpy Eagle; Darien, Panama; October 2016 — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Throughout the history of our company, nothing like this has ever previously occurred, in which a nest of a Harpy Eagle was so readily available. I feel that this opportunity to see a Harpy Eagle, one of the most enigmatic birds of the American Tropics, is so extraordinary that we have just added a brand new departure to Panama’s Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp, January 7-15, 2017. This trip will be led by Tony Nunnery and is limited to 10 participants. Additionally, two spaces are newly available on our already-scheduled departure, January 14-22, 2017, with Kevin Zimmer.

Harpy Eagles require about six months for a chick to fledge from the time an egg is laid. The female bird will incubate the egg for about 55 days. Once the chick hatches, she will be around the nest almost continuously for the ensuing four months, tending to the needs of her nestling. It is thought that the eagles will be around the nest site predictably into March or April, which means that the chances of seeing the birds on our January tours are high!

Canopy Camp Tent #2

Canopy Camp Tent — Photo: Alex Alba Photo

If you’ve ever wanted to see a Harpy Eagle, and if you are able to travel on short notice, I strongly encourage you to reserve your space now. It is not an exaggeration to say that this situation could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Unlike Amazonia in distant South America, where most sightings of Harpy Eagle occur (and with great luck even then), Panama is an easy three-hour flight from the United States. Moreover, you’ll stay at the Canopy Camp, a luxurious Africa-style tented camp in the heart of the Darien lowlands, a wild region home to a collection of birds not found on any of our other Panama tours.

To convey the enormity of this development, I’ve included (below) Barry Zimmer’s gripping first-hand report of his group’s encounter with the Harpy Eagle on our October trip.

Panama’s Canopy Camp: Darien Lowlands, January 7-15, 2017 with Tony Nunnery; $3,695 per person in double occupancy from Panama City. Limit 10. New departure!

Panama’s Canopy Camp: Darien Lowlands, January 14-22, 2017 with Kevin Zimmer; $3,695 per person in double occupancy from Panama City. 2 spaces available.

Your Harpy Eagle experience at the Canopy Camp can be enhanced with a trip to El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, either as an extension to the recently added departure or as a stand-alone trip that can be combined with our already-scheduled trip. Situated in the cool middle elevation foothills of west-central Panama, El Valle features a beautiful lodge set amid verdant gardens. A stay at El Valle is truly an enchanting experience where excellent accommodations and cuisine are complemented by non-stop parades of colorful tropical birds.

Panama: El Valle’s Canopy Lodge Extension, January 14-19, 2017; $2,095 in double occupancy from Panama City. Limit 10. New departure! Combine this tour with Panama’s Canopy Camp: Darien Lowlands and receive a discount of $75 in double occupancy or $150 in single occupancy.

Panama: El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, January 21-28, 2017 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $2,695 in double occupancy from Panama City. 1 space available.

In this issue:



The biggest adventure of our tour came on the fifth day when we boarded dugout canoes to head up the Chucunaque and Membrillo rivers in search of the nearly mythical Harpy Eagle.

Heading up the Chucunaque and Membrillo rivers in search of the nearly mythical Harpy Eagle.— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Arriving at Puerto Limón at the crack of dawn, we boarded cayucas (long, narrow dugout wooden boats) and began our journey up the Rio Chucunaque. Birds and monkeys were much in evidence along the way. A Green Ibis posed nicely on a bare branch and was followed in short order by a Gray-headed Kite. Kingfishers flushed from the banks in impressive numbers with Ringed and Amazon being the most numerous. Troops of Mantled Howler Monkeys voiced their displeasure at our presence with loud, somewhat terrifying roars as we glided by. A stunning male Blue Cotinga sat up in the morning sun, but we pressed onward. Within an hour, we had arrived at the junction of the Rio Chucunaque and the Rio Membrillo. Veering right up the Membrillo, we sensed that we were venturing into true wilderness. No houses could be seen on the riverbanks, no sign of human habitation or disturbance. A pair of Red-throated Caracaras sat up nicely over the river in a bare snag. Greater Anis dripped from the dense brush along the river’s edge. There was much to look at along the way, but little time to linger. After two hours and forty-five minutes, we reached our destination. Anticipation was so high among the group that it was palpable. Quietly, we ventured along the trail through some pristine forest, pausing only briefly for a perched Double-toothed Kite right over the trail and for scope views of a male Golden-headed Manakin.

We enjoyed over 40 minutes of spectacular viewing of this magnificent bird. The Harpy was a lifer for everyone in the group, including me!

We enjoyed over 40 minutes of spectacular viewing of this magnificent bird. The Harpy was a lifer for everyone in the group, including me!— Photo: Barry Zimmer

After twenty minutes or so of walking, we arrived at the nest site. Two areas had been partly cleared (and some benches made) to allow viewing. We were quite close to the nest and could almost immediately see the head of an adult just peeking over the front rim. Everyone enjoyed lengthy scope studies of this magnificent bird with its massive bill and double-pointed crest. No one said a word, but the smiles on all of our faces spoke volumes. After about ten minutes or so, the Harpy sat up and moved to the edge of the nest in full view! It posed for over twenty minutes in this manner, at times rearranging sticks in the nest, at other times just looking at us. This was something that none of us will ever forget. It was a religious experience with this near-mythical bird of the Tropics. After a quick group photo, we headed back to the boats. High-fives all around. Success was ours. It will go down as one of the most memorable moments in my 30 years of birding the Neotropics!

Afterwards, we headed upriver another twenty minutes to the Embera-Wounaan village of Sinai. Here we enjoyed our picnic lunch, followed by a dancing performance from some of the tribe members. Beautifully handcrafted baskets and wood carvings were available for purchase. At 3:00 p.m. we got back on the cayucas and headed downstream to Puerto Limón. With the current at our back, we made better time. Migrating Broad-winged Hawks cruised overhead. A pair of White-necked Puffbirds sat up in the afternoon sun. We arrived back at our vans by dusk and back at the Canopy Camp just in time for our 7:00 p.m. dinner. This was a long, but incredibly satisfying day. The national bird of Panama, the king of the rainforest, the Harpy Eagle was ours!

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Harpy Eagle

Juvenile Harpy Eagle, Venezuela — Photo: David Ascanio

I am occasionally asked if there is a bird out there that I haven’t seen but that would be my “most-wanted” to see. After 40 years of worldwide birding, my answer now is always “no.” Although there are still a great many birds out there that I haven’t seen, but that I would enjoy seeing, no one bird stands out. However, that wasn’t always the case.

There was a time in my life when, for many years, my answer to the question of “most-wanted” unequivocally was Harpy Eagle, the ultimate avian predator of the American Tropics. About 20 years ago, my desire to see this majestic bird was achieved when I finally saw my lifer Harpy Eagle with my colleague David Wolf in eastern Venezuela. In advance of our sighting, we visited a nest site where a young bird had recently fledged. As people familiar with the species know, Harpy Eagles will often linger in the general vicinity of the nest even after the young have fledged. We waited at the site for an hour hoping the adult or the juvenile bird would make an appearance. All of a sudden, we heard a loud piercing scream, followed by the incredible sight of an adult Harpy flying to the nest and depositing a large piece of meat. The young bird followed immediately and proceeded to tear off pieces of meat and swallow them.

As I reflect on a lifetime of travel, and look back on that experience, I consider seeing those Harpy Eagles as one of the greatest thrills of my life.

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Throughout my life I have always had a special fondness for Thanksgiving. A time for friends and a time for family, it is a pleasing time when we can focus on things that matter most. As I think about the year to date, and about our company, I wish to express how thankful I am for the things that enrich my life—good friends, caring employees and co-workers, the time I’ve spent outdoors in nature, and, of course, you, the people who choose to travel with VENT.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Best wishes

Victor Emanuel