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Chasing an Eagle in the Amazon

David Klinghoffer
Credit: All photos by Jonny.

A friend, Jonny, visiting Suriname discovered birdwatching and shared some photos and accompanying text about a madcap chase through the Amazon.

This ridiculous bird-related moment on our first hike was one of the highlights of my whole trip.

First big tour of the trip was to FRED MOUNTAIN! Suriname doesn’t have a ton of tourism infrastructure, especially for English speakers. So I didn’t know much about what this was, only that apparently some guy named Fred had “discovered” a mountain in the Amazon, built a lodge there, and turned it into a top tourist spot in the country.

To get there, we drove about 3 hours from the capital, then switched cars because we needed 4-wheel drive to make it through the next leg: 40 miles of super muddy, super bumpy bauxite road.

What happened at the beginning of the first hike could not have been a better introduction to both the Amazon in general and birdwatching (something I was completely ignorant about despite being on a 3 day tour centered around it).

Literally 2 minutes into the hike, our guide Calvin stops and squints up at a tree, then walks off the trail. We asked him what happened and he said he thought he saw some kind of hawk, but he wasn’t sure. We followed him and were trying to get a good view of it, but no one was really sure of what we were looking at.

We spent a good 5 minutes trying to get a better view. Something really interesting was up there for sure. Then we heard voices from the trail we’d left. It was a bigger group of bird watchers asking what we were looking at. They joined us. One of them had a telescope on a tripod and set it up.

Everyone was quiet as this birding guide looked through the telescope. Then it was like his body had been shocked him with a taser, and as he spoke his voice shook, “IT’S A HARPY EAGLE…!!” The bird flew away, the man snatched up his tripod, and thus began the most impressive nature-related feat I’ve ever seen a human do.

The guide sprinted off into the jungle, his head angled upwards, in hot pursuit of this harpy eagle (apparently one of the most famous and beloved birds among bird watchers). Not expecting this guy to literally chase an eagle through the Amazon, we all scrambled after him as he somehow was able to keep up with this bird as it flew from branch to branch, 50 feet up, obscured by the thick Amazonian canopy. This chase lasted a full FIFTEEN MINUTES. Everyone else had long lost sight of the eagle, no one knew how this one guy was keeping up with this bird (not even our own guide Calvin). 

Around this time, I started hearing whispers among the other birders “Of course, Fred will know…” “Fred will find it…” Apparently this crazy guide running at top speed through the underbrush, hauling his giant telescope and tripod after him, was THE Fred, i.e., the owner and discoverer of Fred Mountain, and a famous birder in his own right.

Finally, head still angled upward, Fred skidded to a halt and slammed his tripod down on a pile of dead leaves. He’d found it. He’d SOMEHOW tracked the thing like a quarter mile through the Amazon until it landed. Now it was time to look… (That’s Fred in the picture above btw.)

It got even more interesting once we looked through Fred’s telescope (although apparently the jury is still out on this). It turned out not to be a harpy eagle at all, but a crested eagle. Not as famous, but much rarer, to the point that this photo Fred took with my phone may have been one of the first ever photographs of the bird in Suriname. (According to Dovid, at the time we saw this, there were no photos of crested eagles taken in Suriname on eBird, the be-all-end-all gigantic online birding database.)

Definitely the most thrilling introduction to birding I could possibly have imagined. And absolutely insane seeing the work of a birding master like Fred, who had grown up in the jungle and could simply do things we couldn’t.

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.

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Amazonbauxite roadsbirdingbirdsbirdwatchingcrested eagleeagleseBirdFred Mountainharpy eaglehawksphotographySurinametelescopetourismtouristsTravel