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Harpy Diaries: The Story of Setting up the HarpyCam in Tambopata

Daniel Couceiro

Once you try the waters of Tambopata, you always come back!

Back in 2015, I had just wrapped up the project I was working on and I remember swimming in the Tambopata River. Gazing up at the canopy of dense trees, full of amazing animals species, and one of my friends told me: “Dani, keep in mind, once you try the waters of the Tambopata you will always come back!” At the time, I just laughed.

It turns out, my friends was right.

Six months later, and I was back at Refugio Amazonas, with a new job: manager of Wired Amazon project, the citizen science component of Rainforest Expeditions.

The Wired Amazon Launches Three Projects in One Year

It’s been more than a year, and I’m proud that our team of researchers now has three incredible projects up and running as part of Wired Amazon:

  • Discover a New Species: where we have been collecting specimens of five different families of insects to discover new species, with great success.
  • AmazonCam: Where we use remote camera traps to study the populations of key mammals, sith a strong focus on jaguar ecology
  • Aerobotany: Where we are building a database about some of the most important trees in this part of the Amazon rainforest, and monitoring the population of Brazil nut trees within the concession where Refugio Amazonas sits.

In each of these projects, our goal is for our guests, as well as citizen scientists, from around the world, to get inspired into doing science and contributing to the projects and the knowledge of our rich ecosystem, while raising awareness of its fragility.

But Something is Missing for Me....

I have been happy conducting all these wonderful projects, making science happen every single day, but personally, I felt that I was missing something. I was missing the connection to the “flying dinosaurs” that brought me to this place and originally gave me the chance to fulfill my dream of becoming a conservation biologist in the heart of the Amazon rainforest.

So, since the beginning of the Wired Amazon, Mark Bowler (the lead researcher of AmazonCam) and I had talked about the possibility of surveying the couple of harpy eagles that we have near Refugio Amazonas. We knew that their frequent presence near the lodge meant we had an incredible opportunity to study one of the most elusive raptors in the world. We agreed that the right moment would be when they were breeding again.

The HarpyCam Idea is Born - and we work fast to get it off the ground (wayyyy off the ground)

That happened in mid-May. In that moment, we had to act fast. We had to get all the surveillance equipment, climb the tree and set it up before the egg hatched – and we had no idea when that date might be. Remember, this nest is in the middle of the Amazon, so one of our first concerns was power. It took solar panels, batteries, wires, a lot of sweat and an incredible team of biologists who love to climb trees (these are my colleagues: Juan Diego & Diego Balbuena). The team completed the incredible feat of getting a working camera trap, poised to capture the Harpy Couple, all at 30 meters high (about 90 feet).

Because of this work, AmazonCam is providing the opportunity to conduct in-depth study about the diet, and, the reproductive and social behaviors of the top aerial predator in the Amazonian rainforest. No secrets about the harpy eagle’s life anymore!

The Footage of Harpy Eagles So Far has been Incredible

Here is one of the most incredible videos that I have had the great pleasure to analyze. It shows how the male harpy, Baawajaa , brings home dinner for the family. Take a look:



This is one of a few records ever made of a male harpy eagle bringing a prey to the female while she is taking care of the chick in the nest. It also shows us how both behave before and after the food deliver. Note how dominant Kee Wai, the female, is, over the male Baawaja.

You can imagine how I felt when I saw this. During my first field experience in the Amazon, while I was studying a reproductive pair, it was very difficult to have the chance of seeing just a glimpse of a moment like that! I had to spend hours and hours observing through binoculars or a telescope, to sometimes just catch a glimpse of some feathers. Somtiemes during crucial moments – when either of the parents were bringing a prey I would blink and I lose the moment – very frustrating indeed!

Now, I have a computer to go back and forth through hours of harpy’s life. I have to say, I enjoy both methods of observation. There is nothing like the sensation of being in the field, in the very moment when the action is happening. But I also like to be able to check out even the smallest detail of every movement that the family members make, which prey Baawaja and Kee Wai bring to the nest, how careful they are when taking care of their chick, how the little one grows and interacts with the parents, and I can’t wait to see its first flight!

We are incredibly lucky to be able to share this unique experience, getting so close to this magnificent raptor, with Refugio Amazonas guests. And the best thing is that because of the HarpyCam , it is possible for people around the world to get access to these images through their own computer screens – many miles away from the Amazon rainforest.

For the moment, I leave you this link so you can see the first steps of the chick.

Feeling like the luckiest amazon researcher in the world

I am grateful for the opportunity to connect with the original motive that brought me to the Amazon. I’m ready to know more and continue to research and share about the most powerful eagle in the world, one of the top predators and symbols of the Amazon rainforest. Next month, I will get deeper on the behavior, diet and other aspects of this wonderful creature!

In the meantime, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to comment below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. 

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