Friday, March 13, 2009

Harpy Quest

Would we, could we, did we see the Harpy Eagle?
It's the bird that inspired me to take this trip, the Harpy Eagle. I always said that if I could see a wild Harpy, the world's largest eagle, found only in lowland tropical rainforest, I would die a happy woman. I had been warned that it might be a challenge to find the bird. So, being of a cautious nature, I snapped a photo of this painting in the Puerto Ordaz hotel.
Photo by Mark Watson.
This was our earliest departure, by far, of the whole trip. Promptly at 5 a.m. we assembled near our bus, only to learn that our tranportation of the day was none other than an old, beater 4WD truck with a handmade, black metal canopy with boards running along each side. Those at the far back end, had to hang on tight to ensure that they were not tipped out. Jerry T and I are full of enthusiasm as we depart, destination unknown, time of drive unknown, condition of roads unknown, but full of trust.
Mark W. and Jerry O. were similarly enthusiastic as we departed. However, our enthusiasm was rather short-lived when we realized the truck belched exhaust into the compartment in the back, burning our eyes and making it hard to breathe.
The monstrous truck that was our avenue to the Harpy Eagle site.
An indigenous family lived near the nest and the woman made coffee for us while we waited for the rain to end. Would it end? Would we have to hike in the rain? Would the rain ruin our chances of seeing the eagle?
Our Venezuelan guides: Javier is the smaller man, and he drove the equally dilapidated blue jeep. After the rain stopped, the whole group trooped off through the muck. Within about 1/4 mile, we came to a clearing in the jungle where the family was growing their vegetable garden. Looking to the west, a large bird was perched atop a leafless tree.

Photo by Mark Watson.
It was the immature Harpy, waiting for a food delivery. The not-so-little fellow or gal seemed oblivious to our presence, almost as if it saw groups of people often. It was about 18 months old, already flighted, and just learning about hunting. It would not be independent of its parents for another six months.
While we watched, the adult male flew over likely checking on the well-being of his offspring. The youngster sat patiently for what seemed like a long time before disappearing into the forest. Later, on the way out, we also observed the adult female perched about a mile from the nest. While it was a thrill to see the largest eagle in the world, I had expected it to be harder, to be a slog through the mud with voracious insects nipping at any exposed skin, something akin to the African Queen. In reality, it was more like going to visit your cousin who lives in the country, and then walking to the back of his property to see the hawks that nested there -- almost as if we didn't work hard enough to earn the experience.

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