WC had a second target bird for his recent Panama trip: the Crested Eagle. While not quite as large as a Harpy Eagle, it’s still a very large raptor with an impressive head crest and near-six foot wingspan.
As with the Harpy Eagle, these birds were at a nest, with a chick, and it was equally unusual to find the male in attendance; most of the time, the male is off hunting while the female shelters and guards the chick.
The effort to get to this nest was less epic than the Harpy Eagle, but still involved a trip to Yaviza, on the banks of the Chucunaque River, where we boarded dugout canoes for an even longer river trip. About an hour and a half along the Chucunaque, we clambered out up a primitive – and very slippery – ramp to a non-descript bit of riverbank. We then walk a long half hour to the Crested Eagle nest. The area was close enough to the Gulf of San Miguel that it was periodically flooded by high tides, but was fairly dry while we were there.
There was a young chick on the nest, but unfortunately the bird and the nest were against a bright sky. There’s a trick you can use to capture features on the bird despite the bright background, but it makes the background pretty unattractive and generates a halo as you see in this shot of the chick.
It was baking hot in the sun. Mom is a dark morph bird, and that bright sunlight was too much for her so she retreated to the shade of a nearby tree,always keeping a sharp eye on the nest and the chick.
The Crested Eagle, like its Harpy cousin, hunts monkeys and sloths in the forest canopy. But unlike the Harpy, the Crested is more of a generalist, also taking snakes, iguanas, rodents and birds. Perhaps the Crested’s chances of survival will be better as a result. But habitat loss and fragmentation, illegal hunting and very large range requirements mean this species, too, is in jeopardy.
Most of the time, birders’ “target birds” are wishful thinking. To get two rare birds like this in one trip is pretty amazing. To get two of the largest raptors in the Western Hemisphere is astonishing.