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It's hard to believe that just over two weeks ago I was standing in primary Peruvian rainforest looking up at a harpy eagle! It's rare to see one, but here was this two-year-old juvenile, calling for his mother, and bobbing his head and crest to look down on us. I also saw the blur of his mama, but Brian saw her crashing through the trees, all six-foot wingspan. We were up in the hide opposite the mammal clay lick at the time, and our guide Berli was elsewhere, we later discovered he was harpy eagle hunting, calling until he got a reply. We stood there under the tree watching the juvenile for maybe an hour. Brian took these photos.
It's hard to believe what's happened since in Britain, but I'm clinging to this image of a young harpy watching us – humans from another continent, strangers in his home. What does he make of us? We wound our long way back to the boat, but before we left his haunt, Berli showed us the emergent ceiba tree where the huge nest was hidden behind a philodendron right at the top. We passed a large burrow and Berli said it belonged to an armadillo but it was empty. This made him rush back to the juvenile to check – that tail hanging below it was not tail-plumes but the armadillo's tail.
Further down the track we almost stepped on fresh jaguar marks, and next to them, older ones. The pawprints were as big as my hand. Perhaps the jaguar was watching us? The harpy is also known as the jaguar-of-the-skies, being one of the apex predators of Amazonia, and the most powerful eagle in the world. Their main prey is howler monkeys and sloths, though they are not the eagles with the widest wingspan, that's the Philippine eagle, but they are the most powerful, with the larger female's wings reaching only six or seven feet across (shorter than the Philippine eagle's, so that it can swoop among branches of the canopy rather than soar). Its talons are six inches long and its grip can crush any skull.
How elated I was then, and how crushed now, not by a harpy eagle's claws, but a predator I don't understand, a dangerous power crashing through the canopies of Europe and America, not beautiful like the eagle, but ugly, skull-crushingly ugly.