In the spring of 2012, I went to the rain forest of the Darien Gap in Panama to photograph harpy eagles for National Geographic TV. I was a member of a team that included cinematographers Neil Rettig and Skip Hobbie, producer John Collum and Laura Johnson, a veterinarian and cinematographer assistant.
A female harpy eagle approaches its nest with a killed sloth to feed her hungry chick
Our trip lasted more than a month, filming and photographing a couple of harpy eagles adults with a female chick. We built several platforms on emergent Cuipo trees close to the nest. The platforms, as high as 35 meters above the ground, provided us with direct view of the nest and the canopy surrounding it, allowing us to see the parents approaching the nest with a fresh kill to feed a huge fledging chick.
Cinematographer Neil Rettig at work on one of the three platforms we set up on Cuipo trees next to the nest
Considered the most powerful bird of prey, the harpy eagle lives in the tropical Americas and has a distribution that extends from southern Mexico to northern Argentina. The eagle usually inhabits pristine forests, nesting on emergent trees like the Ceiba or Cuipos and feeding on a large variety of animals, from armadillos to howler monkeys to sloths. Harpies have the largest talon among birds, comparable in size to the claws of grizzly bears.
I have contributed in projects involving this elusive bird since the early nineties, before I decided to focus my photography on people and social issues. My first encounter with this mystical bird was in Darien in the early nineties. After that, I collaborated with a conservation program led by Dr. Eduardo Alvarez Cordero, photographing their conservation efforts on the neotropical raptor in the Sierra de Imataca in Venezuela and in Panama’s Darien. Back in the day, the Earth Almanac section of National Geographic Magazine published a few of my photos about this project.
On a picture taken in the early ’90s, Dr. Eduardo Alvarez reaches a nest with a chick in the Sierra de Imataca, Venezuela. At the time, Dr. Alvarez was working as a researcher for the Peregrine Fund.