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Interview with Filmmaker Fergus Beeley

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How and when did your interest in birds of prey first develop? What is it about these species of bird that you’re particularly drawn to? How are harpy eagles different from other birds of prey?

I discovered that a pair of kestrels was nesting within a short walk from our house when Iwas about seven years old. I spent many hours watching them. I would collect their regurgitated pellets at the base of the tree in which they were nesting and take them home to boil them up in the kitchen to see what they had been eating. The pellets would break down while boiling and I would be able to separate bone items. I noticed the prey species was changing as the summer progressed. My mother was exceptionally patient with me as I must have made the kitchen a terrible mess. I watched the young kestrels leave the nest, hopping up the nearby branches and finally taking their first flights. I remember the thrill of watching them for hours and hours after school in the summer when I should have been doing my homework. When I saw the wild Harpy eagles for the first time in South America I had that ‘thrill’ come back to me – here was a massive hunting machine that was living successfully in the forest. It staggered me that such a massive and refined hunting creature could survive in this strange place.

Compared to other wild birds of prey, relatively little is known about harpy eagle. What was your experience with harpy eagles prior to making this film?

Prior to making the film my experience of harpy eagles was very limited – but I went out to Venezuela on a recce and became confident that I had found a region where they were not impossible to find. I had a brilliant bird guide who was able to show me a few areas where there was evidence of the eagles. I found cleanly picked monkey skulls at the base of trees where the guide said they had been frequenting. It was just like picking up the pellets under the tree where I used to watch the kestrels as a boy. The guide was aware of the fact that the eagles were choosing massive Ceiba trees to nest in – that was very useful to know. It was also a big worry, as working at great heights in the rainforest has its own complications – whatever you are filming. But my gut feeling was that this was a great opportunity to make a film.

Harpy eagles are notoriously aggressive. How did you prepare for a shoot that demanded you and the crew share such close quarters with the birds?

I would re-phrase that and say that perhaps harpy eagles are notoriously fearless, rather than particularly aggressive. All birds of prey, including very small ones, will quite rightly be aggressive if they sense their nest is being attacked, so we knew that the scenario of placing the remote camera into the nest was going to be tricky. Other than that very brief moment, we never wanted to get any closer to them than we would need with the long lens. We would always want to be a distance from them where they would behave as if they were not aware or bothered that we were there.

Finding a harpy eagle nest in the Orinoco rainforest seems a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. How did you and the crew initially locate the harpy family and their nest?

When making wildlife films we always work with experts in the field as well as making our own decisions. It was with the help of local bird watchers that we were able to recce the area and make a plan with regard to the best area to focus on and where we would build platforms and make a camp in the jungle. So, I would say that yes, it was a haystack, but local information was indicating that needles had been sighted regularly in one corner!

Why and how did the idea for the “nest cam” develop? Was this the first time you used a method like this to capture footage of animals in the wild?

Putting cameras into nests of birds of prey to study them has been done before by both filmmakers and scientists. It is a valuable technique for gathering data which can help us learn how often and what they feed their young, as well as better understand the behavior of the young. As the cameras trigger through all daylight hours it is effectively a way of leaving a pair of eyes in the jungle 24/7 through rain, mosquitoes, no food or water for weeks at a time. It makes a lot of practical and financial sense. There are, however, a few critical minutes when you install the camera that the parent birds of prey will wish to defend their nest. I had used these cameras successfully on many other birds of prey and knew that it could provide valuable footage.

Did the eagles have any issues with the camera being so close to them? And, if so, how long did it take for them to become comfortable with it being there?

I don’t think the eagles had any problems at all with the camera being in the nest, as it never moved or made a noise. I think that if it had it would have been a different matter.

Jungle Eagle will most likely be many people’s first introduction to the harpy eagle. How do you hope this film will shape our understanding of birds of prey?

I hope that the film will make people realize that harpy eagles are astonishing as they are evidence that this world still has special creatures in special places. Vast tracts of forest are extraordinarily special places. Today, they still contain fabulous creatures like the harpy eagle. But smaller jungles cannot hold them. The eagles disappear very quickly if the forest is fragmented. They NEED vast forests to survive. Therefore we should treasure the chance for Harpy eagles to continue to thrive, as they must be one of nature’s greatest treats. The tragedy with Harpy eagles is that it is difficult to know just how many there might be left in the wild. I saw them. We filmed them. But there are hundreds of miles of jungle in South America where we have little idea if they exist.

If you had this film to do all over again, what would you do differently?

I’m not sure that I would do anything differently, but if I had the chance or the money I would have tried to stay out there for longer to see how our youngster would further develop. All these films can only ever have a finite amount of time and money. The skill is knowing how to spend it so that we end up with an interesting film. But when you start, when you finish and how long you spend in the jungle in between is a really hard call when you don’t know what will happen next. No one can tell you. It is only with hindsight that you realize maybe those weeks in November were slightly wasted and we should have used them in February. You are watching a youngster growing up and plan to be there for the key moments. With the Harpy eagle, no one was able to give us key dates: they just weren’t known. Moreover, pairs of birds are often different in their likes, hunting habits, and diet. The books would say that Harpies like to eat howler monkeys, as those in Panama did. But not ours. Other pairs would favour sloths above all. But not ours. So, you have to go with the flow and watch your own birds and make decisions as to when to leave and when to return when you are out there. This is not an easy way to make a film. Wiser filmmakers would choose subjects which are better studied. I get a thrill from knowing that what we are observing is what we should film, and what we have recorded is their behavior – which is new to science. So, it’s a great feeling that the film has hopefully recorded something which is valuable to us: understanding the harpy better and thus better able to look after them and the forests.

Fergus Beeley has been making Award winning wildlife films for the last twenty years. He also produced PBS Nature‘s White Falcon, White Wolf. He has simultaneously held directorships in new media companies, such as Interactive Frontiers, Inc, Creature Channel Ltd and Bristol Interactive Cluster. He is Director of FLB Fergus Beeley.

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Man: THESE FORESTS ARE THE STRONGHOLD OF A SECRETIVE, POORLY UNDERSTOOD BIRD OF PREY.

AS A WILDLIFE FILMMAKER, A HARPY EAGLE WILL PROBABLY BE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF MY CAREER.

MY AIM WAS TO GET CLOSE TO THESE BIRDS, WHICH SNATCH LARGE MONKEYS FROM TREETOPS, AND NEED TO BE VERY CAREFUL SHE ISN'T GOING TO HURT US.

AND YOU REALLY THINK SHE WOULD ACTUALLY ATTACK US?

I DO.

SERIOUSLY?

THIS LOOKS LIKE SUCH OVERKILL.

IF YOU GET A REAR TALON IN THE BACK OF THE NECK, IT'LL CUT YOU OPEN.

GRAHAM, HE IS GETTING RIDICULOUSLY CLOSE TO YOU NOW.

IT'S AT MOMENTS LIKE THIS THAT I CATCH HIS EYE, I'M NOT SURE IF I'M LOOKING AT SOMETHING VERY FRIENDLY OR VERY EVIL.

IT'S QUITE UNNERVING.

Man: THE ORINOCO RIVER BASIN IN VENEZUELA IS A STRANGELY EERIE PLACE.

IT'S A LOST WORLD, WITH SOME OF THE LARGEST AREAS OF PRISTINE JUNGLE LEFT IN SOUTH AMERICA.

THESE FORESTS ARE THE STRONGHOLD OF A SECRETIVE, POORLY UNDERSTOOD BIRD OF PREY... THE HARPY EAGLE.

THEY'RE MASSIVE BIRDS WHICH SNATCH LARGE MONKEYS FROM TREETOPS.

I'M HERE TO TRY AND UNDERSTAND THEM.

IT'S GOING TO BE HARD.

THEY'RE ONE OF THE MOST ELUSIVE OF ALL THE EAGLES.

MY AIM WAS TO GET CLOSE TO THESE BIRDS AND FOLLOW A CHICK BEING RAISED IN THE DEPTHS OF THIS FOREST -- BUT I'D NO IDEA JUST HOW CLOSE OUR ENCOUNTERS WOULD BE.

AAH!

THIS IS THE EAGLE OF ALL EAGLES.

MY NAME IS FERGUS BEELEY, AND I'VE ALWAYS HAD A HUGE INTEREST IN BIRDS OF PREY.

I'VE FLOWN MANY OF THEM AS FALCONRY BIRDS, AND TRAVELED ACROSS THE WORLD TO SEE THEM.

AS A WILDLIFE FILMMAKER, A HARPY EAGLE WILL PROBABLY BE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE OF MY CAREER.

I MIGHT HAVE FILMED DOZENS OF BIRDS OF PREY OVER THE LAST 20 YEARS OF MAKING WILDLIFE FILMS, BUT NEVER IN MY LIFE HAVE I HAD THE EXCITEMENT OF FILMING THE HARPY EAGLE, WHICH IS UNDOUBTEDLY THE MOST ELUSIVE, THE MOST SECRETIVE, THE LEAST KNOWN, THEM MOST DIFFICULT -- AND THIS IS A VERY, VERY SPECIAL OPPORTUNITY.

[ BIRD CALLING ] MOST BIRD LOVERS WOULD GIVE THEIR EYE TEETH TO SEE THIS BIRD.

THEY'RE SO DIFFICULT TO SEE IN THE WILD, BECAUSE THEY STAY HIDDEN IN VAST AREAS OF JUNGLE.

IT'S AT THE TOP OF A MASSIVE CEIBA TREE THAT WE FIND A NEST.

THIS IS ONE OF THE BIGGEST TREES IN THE FOREST.

THE NEST WILL BE A WINDOW INTO THE EAGLE'S WORLD.

BUT IS THERE A CHICK?

THE ONLY WAY WE'LL FIND OUT IS TO GET UP INTO THE CANOPY.

WE FOUND A TREE THAT HAS A GOOD VIEW OVER TO THE NEST.

I'VE NEVER HAD TO DO THIS FOR A BIRD OF PREY BEFORE -- GET 40 METERS OFF THE GROUND TO HAVE A GOOD LOOK AT IT.

NORMALLY, EAGLES NEST IN PLACES WHERE YOU CAN SEE THEM FROM THE GROUND FAIRLY EASILY.

IT'S A LONG WAY TO GO UP, BUT IT'S THE ONLY WAY WE'RE GOING TO GET A VIEW OF THE AREA AND ALL THE ANIMALS.

THE... UNDER THE EYES OF THE HARPY.

I'M OVERWHELMED BY THE SENSATION OF HEIGHT AND SPACE UP HERE.

LIKE A DIVE DOWN ONTO A REEF, A WHOLE NEW WORLD STARTS TO APPEAR.

THIS IS THE PART OF THE FOREST THAT RECEIVES ALL THE SUNSHINE.

IT'S WHERE THE FLOWERING AND FRUITING HAPPENS, AND THIS ATTRACTS A HUGE RANGE OF BIRDS AND OTHER ANIMALS.

UP HERE, I'M OUT OF MY NATURAL ELEMENT.

IT'S MESMERIZING.

OVER THERE IS THE ENORMOUS CEIBA TREE, A STRANGE FORCE COMPLETELY DOMINATING THIS PART OF THE FOREST.

THIS IS EXACTLY THE KIND OF PLACE I'D IMAGINED THESE MAGNIFICENT EAGLES MIGHT CHOOSE TO BUILD A NEST.

THERE'S THE FEMALE -- AND I'M SURE THE NEST IS ACTIVE.

ARE THERE ANY CHICKS?

THERE'S ONE, AND ONLY RECENTLY HATCHED.

IT'S TINY.

THIS IS WHAT I'VE BEEN REALLY HOPING FOR, BECAUSE NOW, FOR THE NEXT YEAR OR MORE, THE ADULTS WILL FOCUS ALL THEIR ENERGIES INTO RAISING THIS CHICK RIGHT HERE IN FRONT OF US.

THEY'LL BE TIED TO THAT NEST, AND WE'LL BE WATCHING THEIR EVERY MOVE.

WE'RE IN A UNIQUE POSITION NOW TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THESE MYSTERIOUS EAGLES.

WE'VE GOT A PAIR OF EAGLES WITH A CHICK, BUT WHAT ARE THEY EATING?

THEY'RE ARGUABLY THE MOST POWERFUL EAGLE IN THE WORLD, BUILT TO KILL HUGE ANIMALS.

I'M SURPRISED TO SEE THESE RED HOWLER MONKEYS AROUND HERE.

THEY'VE BEEN WELL RECORDED AS PREY FOR HARPY EAGLES.

SURELY, THIS TROOP IS PUSHING ITS LUCK HANGING AROUND HERE, NOW THERE'S A NEST OF EAGLES?

THIS IS A THREE-TOED SLOTH.

HE MUST BE AN EASY MEAL.

I'M SURPRISED TO FIND A FAMILY OF ARACARIS RIGHT BETWEEN US AND THE EAGLES.

THEY'RE A TYPE OF TOUCAN.

LIKE ALL BIRDS, I'D EXPECT THEM TO BE TOO FAST TO BE CAUGHT BY THE BIG EAGLES.

TO HAVE SUCH STRIKINGLY BEAUTIFUL, GREGARIOUS BIRDS RIGHT BESIDE US UP HERE IN THE CANOPY IS A STROKE OF GOOD LUCK.

I SUSPECT THEY'RE NESTING IN THE HOLE IN THE TREE.

THERE'S ANOTHER TYPE OF MONKEY THAT'S SURPRISINGLY VISIBLE AROUND HERE -- WEDGE-CAPPED CAPUCHINS.

THEY'RE SMALLER THAN THE HOWLER MONKEYS -- FAST AND AGILE, MAYBE TOO NIMBLE FOR THE EAGLES.

YOU HEAR THEM CRASHING THROUGH THE BRANCHES FAR MORE OFTEN THAN YOU SEE THEM.

I'M NOT EXPECTING TO SEE A HUNT -- THE JUNGLE IS SO VAST AND THICK, WE'D NEVER SEE IT.

MY AIM IS DIFFERENT.

BY BEING AT THE NEST, I'LL SEE BOTH THE CHICK AND EVERYTHING THAT GETS BROUGHT IN.

THE FEMALE EAGLE'S HUNGRY -- I CAN TELL BECAUSE SHE'S CALLING.

[ CALLING ] HERE COMES HER MATE, AND HE'S CARRYING SOMETHING.

IT'S A CAPUCHIN MONKEY.

THIS IS AMAZING.

I REMEMBER READING ABOUT THESE VERY MYSTERIOUS, DINOSAUR-LIKE EAGLES OF THE FOREST WHEN I WAS YOUNG, BUT I NEVER DREAMT THAT ONE DAY I WOULD SEE ONE RETURNING WITH A MONKEY... AND IN THIS PLACE, WHICH IS LIKE A REAL 'JURASSIC PARK.'

IT'S QUITE SOMETHING.

IT'S JUST FRUSTRATING FOR US HAVING SUCH A NARROW WINDOW OF VIEW INTO THE NEST -- ONLY ABLE TO SEE WHAT'S HAPPENING BETWEEN TWO BRANCHES.

WE'LL NEED A BETTER VIEW THAN THIS.

WE CAN'T BUILD A HIDE IN THE CEIBA TREE ITSELF -- HARPY EAGLES ARE NOTORIOUSLY AGGRESSIVE.

BUT A REMOTE CAMERA COULD WORK, IF WE CAN SAFELY GET UP AND INSTALL ONE INTO THE NEST.

Man: WHAT'S THIS?

Beeley: IT'S KEVLAR PADDING.

THE TEAM GOING UP TO INSTALL THE CAMERA PUT ON POLICE RIOT GEAR.

THESE EAGLES SPECIALIZE IN KILLING PRIMATES.

WE'LL NEED TO BE VERY CAREFUL IF SHE ISN'T GOING TO HURT US WITH THOSE LETHAL WEAPONS ON HER FEET.

IN TERMS OF WEIGHING UP WHAT'S SAFE AND WHAT ISN'T, WE GOT A BALANCING ACT GOING.

OBVIOUSLY, THAT'S PRETTY FAR FROM IDEAL WHEN YOU'RE IN 30° HEAT AND 90% HUMIDITY, HOWEVER, IT'S THE LESSER OF TWO EVILS.

Beeley: HE'S GOT TO HAVE THAT, JAMES, HE'S GOT TO HAVE THAT.

James: HE HAS TO HAVE THAT.

FERGUS, SERIOUSLY, THIS LOOKS LIKE SUCH OVERKILL.

ARE YOU SERIOUS -- ARE YOU SERIOUS?

WELL, I AM, YEAH, BECAUSE IF YOU GET A REAR TALON IN THE BACK OF THE NECK.

AND HOW BIG'S THAT REAR TALON?

IT'S GOING TO KILL YOU.

IT'S BIGGER THAN MY THUMB, SO IF THAT GOES INTO THE BACK OF YOUR NECK IT'LL CUT YOU OPEN.

AND YOU REALLY THINK SHE WOULD ACTUALLY ATTACK US.

I DO, YEAH -- AND IF SHE DOES STRIKE IT'LL BE A HECK OF A BLOW.

YOU KNOW I'VE BEEN HIT BY A SNOWY OWL AND I WAS COMPLETELY DECKED AND THERE WAS AN EXPLOSION OF DOWN FROM THE JACKET -- AND YOU WON'T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED, IT COULD EVEN KNOCK YOU OUT.

IT MAKES SENSE TO CLIMB THE TREE IN THE COOL OF THE EARLY MORNING, SO THE TECHNICAL TEAM WON'T COOK IN ALL THEIR HEAVY GEAR.

THEIR TIME UP THERE HAS TO BE KEPT TO A MINIMUM.

WE WANT TO MAKE THE LEAST DISTURBANCE.

I DON'T KNOW HOW THESE PARTICULAR EAGLES WILL REACT.

I DO KNOW FROM OTHER BIRDS OF PREY THAT LEVELS OF AGGRESSION CAN VARY WIDELY BETWEEN INDIVIDUALS.

WE'VE REHEARSED INSTALLING THE CAMERAS ON THE GROUND, SO ONCE THEY'RE UP THE TREE, THERE'S NO MUCKING ABOUT.

IT'LL FUNCTION AS A SURVEILLANCE CAMERA, REMAINING ON MUCH OF THE TIME AND HELPING US GET A COMPLETE PICTURE OF THE EAGLE'S LIFE.

WE'LL BE PASSING ON THESE NEST CAM PICTURES TO SCIENTISTS.

IT'LL BE RECORDING COMPLETELY NEW BEHAVIOR.

THE NEST CAM WILL TAKE QUITE A BASHING WITH RAIN AND HUMIDITY, BUT IT'S BUILT TO LAST.

PICTURE QUALITY IS A SECOND PRIORITY.

JAMES STARTS HIS ABSEIL DOWN.

WE WANT THE FEMALE TO RETURN TO HER CHICK.

ADRIAN IS OUT NOW.

SUDDENLY, THE FEMALE SWOOPS FEET AWAY FROM HIM.

IT'S A WARNING.

HE MUST GET DOWN QUICKLY NOW.

SHE'S GOT A FISTFUL OF KNIVES SHE CAN USE NEXT TIME.

SHE SWOOPS AGAIN, CLOSER THIS TIME.

[ INAUDIBLE RADIO CONVERSATION ] THANKFULLY, SHE LEAVES HIM ALONE AND RETURNS TO THE CHICK.

NO ONE WANTS TO DO THAT AGAIN IN A HURRY.

STRAIGHT AWAY WE'RE GETTING A VIEW OF THE WHOLE NEST AREA.

IT'S AS BIG AS A DOUBLE BED.

WE CAN SEE MUM AND CHICK, NOW RELAXED.

THE MALE EAGLE ARRIVES, AND HE'S CARRYING SOMETHING.

IT LOOKS TO ME LIKE ANOTHER CAPUCHIN MONKEY.

THE NEST CAM CONFIRMS MY SUSPICION THAT THE FEMALE NEVER LEAVES THE CHICK.

IT'S ONLY THE MALE THAT'S HUNTING, AT THE MOMENT.

IT'S STRANGE FOR ME TO SEE THIS TINY, VULNERABLE CHICK AND IMAGINE IT AS BIG AND POWERFUL AS ITS MOTHER ONE DAY.

IF THE MOTHER WASN'T HERE, EVEN A CAPUCHIN MIGHT TAKE IT.

OUR OWN CAPUCHIN TROOP IS BECOMING INCREASINGLY FAMILIAR TO US.

THEIR HABITS ARE VERY REGULAR.

THEY'RE LIKE A BAND OF PICKPOCKETS.

CAPUCHINS ARE WELL KNOWN THIEVES OF EGGS AND CHICKS.

THEY WON'T TAKE THE EAGLE CHICK WHILST ITS MOTHER IS IN ATTENDANCE.

BUT, THINKING ABOUT IT, WE NEVER SEE ANY MONKEYS VERY CLOSE TO THE CEIBA TREE -- IT'S AS IF THERE'S AN EXCLUSION ZONE AROUND IT.

WITH THE EAGLES UP THERE, THE CAPUCHIN WOULD BE CRAZY TO GET TOO CLOSE.

MIND YOU, THE ARACARIS DON'T SEEM TO MIND AT ALL.

THEY COULDN'T REALLY BE CLOSER.

THEIR OWN TREE IS ONLY METERS AWAY FROM THE CEIBA TREE.

NOW THAT WE'VE BEEN HERE IN THE TREES FOR OVER A WEEK, WE'RE BEGINNING TO SEE PATTERNS -- THE ARACARIS HAVE PROBABLY CHOSEN THIS NESTING TREE FOR A VERY GOOD REASON.

THE BRANCH JUST ABOVE THEM IS OFTEN USED BY THE MALE HARPY AS A RESTING POST BETWEEN HUNTING.

WHAT MORE COULD THEY ASK?

NO CAPUCHIN IN ITS RIGHT MIND WOULD TRY AND RAID EGGS OR CHICKS FROM THIS ARACARI NEST.

BACK ON THE NEST, DAY 10, AND THERE'S MORE FOR US TO WORRY ABOUT.

A YELLOW-HEADED VULTURE IS CIRCLING THE CEIBA TREE.

IT'S PROBABLY BEEN ATTRACTED BY THE STENCH OF OLD CARCASSES EMANATING FROM THE HARPY NEST.

THE VULTURE COULD EAT THE CHICK.

I REALIZE NOW WHY MUM CAN'T EVER LEAVE THE NEST -- AS LONG AS THE CHICK IS SMALL, IT'S VERY VULNERABLE.

SOME DAYS, NOTHING HAPPENS.

BUT OTHER DAYS, WE'RE WORRIED WE COULD LOSE THE CHICK.

JUST IN OUR SECOND WEEK, AND TO OUR COMPLETE HORROR, WE FIND A SCOUTING COLUMN OF ARMY ANTS ASCENDING THE BASE OF THE CEIBA TREE.

BATS THAT ROOST IN THE BUTTRESSES ARE FRIGHTENED OFF.

BEHIND THEM, MOVING ALONG THE FOREST FLOOR, IS A COLUMN ONE MILLION STRONG, ALL ON THE MARCH FOR FOOD.

ARMY ANTS CAN OVERWHELM AND KILL LARGE CREATURES THAT CAN'T GET OUT OF THEIR WAY.

BIRDS FOLLOW THE ANTS AND JUMP ON BUGS TRYING TO ESCAPE THE FRENZY OF THE ADVANCING LINE.

BUT THE CEIBA TREE IS FAR TOO HIGH.

WE'RE RELIEVED THAT THE MAIN COLUMN STICKS TO THE FOREST FLOOR.

BUT THEY'RE NOT ENTIRELY OUT OF TROUBLE'S REACH.

[ INSECTS BUZZING ] MOTHER AND CHICK ARE GETTING BOTHERED BY FLIES.

SHE'S RIGHT TO BE CONCERNED -- THESE CAN BE DEADLY.

BOTFLIES ARE COMMON HERE.

THEY LAY EGGS ON SKIN OR FEATHER AND WHEN THE LARVAE HATCH, THEY BURY QUICKLY INTO FLESH.

ONE MAY NOT BE A PROBLEM, BUT AN INFESTATION CAN KILL.

WE'VE FOUND CHICKS DEAD -- I DON'T WANT MY EAGLE TO GO THAT WAY.

I'VE SEEN NATURE TAKE ITS COURSE WITH EAGLES OF THIS AGE BEFORE, BUT NOT THIS ONE, PLEASE.

THE FEMALE IS ACTING STRANGELY -- IS SHE RESPONDING TO THE THREAT OF THESE FLIES?

SHE SEEKS OUT BRANCHES LADEN WITH GREEN LEAVES, AND BREAKS THEM OFF.

SHE TAKES THEM BACK TO THE NEST.

OTHER, BETTER-STUDIED EAGLES HAVE ALSO BEEN RECORDED DOING THIS.

INTRIGUINGLY, THE FOLIAGE THEY CHOOSE MAY CONTAIN A NATURAL INSECTICIDE.

THE NEST CAM REVEALS THAT SHE DOES THIS JUST UNDER 40 TIMES IN THREE WEEKS.

I CAN SEE THE POWER IN THIS EAGLE NOW -- IT'S THE ENORMOUS STRENGTH IN THAT BEAK AND HER FEET.

AND I CAN SEE NOW HOW, WHEN SHE'S HUNTING, SHE MUST USE THOSE DEEP, BROAD WINGS TO HELP HER PULL AWAY MONKEYS OR SLOTHS THAT HAVE ENOUGH LIFE REMAINING IN THEM TO CLING TO THE TREES.

MY GUESS IS THAT THE GREEN FOLIAGE HAS SEVERAL OTHER BENEFITS, AS WELL -- LIKE BURYING OLD CARCASSES IN THE NEST, AND EVEN SHADING THE CHICK FROM THE BLISTERINGLY HOT SUN.

THERE'S REALLY HIGH ULTRAVIOLET UP HERE AT 30 METERS ON THE TOP OF THE CANOPY.

IT COOKS EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE.

THE HIGH HUMIDITY HERE IS EQUALLY UNPLEASANT.

IT STAYS DAY AND NIGHT, AND MAKES ME PERMANENTLY WET WITH SWEAT.

BUT IT'S RAIN THAT'S THE REAL KILLER.

YOU KNOW A STORM IS ON THE WAY BECAUSE OF SUDDEN GUSTS OF WIND.

THESE SQUALLS MAKE THE TREE YOU'RE IN SWAY LIKE A SHIP IN HEAVY SEA.

TODAY, I'M REALLY WORRIED -- THERE'S A STORM ON THE WAY.

TO MAKE MATTERS WORSE, IT'S BEEN TWO DAYS NOW SINCE THE MALE EAGLE LAST RETURNED WITH FOOD, AND THERE'S STILL NO SIGN OF HIM.

AS EAGLES CAN'T HUNT EASILY IN BAD WEATHER, THE LAST THING SHE NOW NEEDS IS RAIN.

[ THUNDER ROLLING IN DISTANCE ] IF THIS ONCOMING STORM LASTS LONG, MY CHICK COULD DIE OF HUNGER, OR EXPOSURE, OR BOTH.

I'VE SEEN IT HAPPEN BEFORE WITH OTHER EAGLE CHICKS, BUT I CAN'T BEAR THE THOUGHT OF LOSING THIS ONE.

[ THUNDER ROLLS AND CRASHES ] SHE'S COMMITTED TO BROODING HER CHICK THROUGH THIS RAIN.

I HOPE IT'LL SAVE ITS LIFE.

ENDLESS HEAVY RAIN LIKE THIS MAKES STAYING DRY IMPOSSIBLE.

THREE DAYS LATER, THE RAIN FINALLY STOPS.

I HAVE NO WAY OF KNOWING IF THE CHICK IS STILL ALIVE.

[ HARPY CALLING ] MUM'S CLEARLY VERY HUNGRY AND CALLING HARD.

BUT THE CHICK?

WELL, IT'S ALIVE -- JUST.

A PREY DELIVERY BY THE MALE IS NOW CRUCIAL.

SHE LOOKS AROUND, DESPERATE TO FIND HIM.

HERE HE COMES -- AND HE'S CARRYING SOMETHING.

I THINK IT'S A SLOTH.

IN SEEMING DISGUST AT THE DELAY, THE MOTHER SENDS THE MALE STRAIGHT BACK TO HUNTING FOR MORE.

STANDING OVER THAT SLOTH, WHICH IS ABOUT THE SIZE OF A DOMESTIC CAT, YOU CAN APPRECIATE JUST HOW BIG SHE IS.

THE CHICK IS ACCEPTING FOOD, THAT'S THE MAIN THING.

TINY MORSELS ARE OFFERED SO THE CHICK WON'T CHOKE.

I'M SURE IT'LL SOON GATHER ITS STRENGTH BACK.

SO FAR, ALL THE FILMING HAS GONE TO PLAN.

WHEN A FILM DEPENDS ON THE SURVIVAL OF ONE CHICK, IT CAN BE A NIGHTMARE IF IT DIES.

THIS WAS THE ONLY ACTIVE NEST I FOUND IN THE FOREST.

WHAT I'M LOOKING FORWARD TO NOW IS THE NEXT PHASE OF ITS LIFE, WHEN IT'LL BE GROWING AND CONSUMING MORE FOOD THAN EVER -- AND THAT BIG FEMALE WILL JOIN THE MALE IN THE HUNT.

EIGHT WEEKS LATER, WE WALK THE ROUTE TOWARD THE CEIBA TREE AGAIN.

ALL I CAN THINK ABOUT IS THE EAGLE CHICK.

THE GROUND HAS CHANGED.

THE DRY RIVERBED, WHICH WAS A USEFUL PATH THROUGH THE FOREST, HAS BECOME A STREAM.

I'M APPREHENSIVE NOW.

PERHAPS WE SHOULDN'T HAVE LEFT THE EAGLES' NEST FOR SO LONG.

I WASN'T EXPECTING IT TO HAVE RAINED SO MUCH WHILE WE WERE AWAY.

I SPOT AN ADULT, WHICH IS ENCOURAGING.

BUT THE CHICK?

I'M IN DISBELIEF -- IT'S GROWN BEYOND ALL RECOGNITION.

BUT HE'S LOOKING WELL.

WHEN HE WAS TINY, I COULDN'T SAY THAT I COULD SENSE A CHARACTER, BUT I CAN SEE IT IN HIM NOW.

I SAY 'HIM,' BECAUSE I THINK FROM HIS SMALLER SIZE THAT HE'S A MALE.

THE WHOLE CANOPY AROUND HERE HAS TRANSFORMED, TOO.

IT'S ALIVE WITH RICH, VIBRANT COLOR.

FORKS IN THE HIGH TREES MAKE BIRD BATHS.

AND HERE ARE MY OLD FRIENDS, THE ARACARIS.

I NEVER EXPECTED TO SEE THESE BIRDS AGAIN.

THEY MAKE ME SMILE.

LIKE SO MANY CREATURES IN THE FOREST, THESE ARACARIS ARE SUCH A STRANGE SIGHT, BUT THEY'RE NOTHING COMPARED TO SOME OF THE NOISES.

WHAT I FIND REALLY STRANGE ABOUT BEING IN THE FOREST IS THE ACOUSTICS, AND EVERY NOISE IS AMPLIFIED AND IT ECHOES A BIT, AND IT TRAVELS A LONG WAY AND SOMETIMES YOU HEAR THESE CALLS AND YOU THINK THEY'RE RIGHT BY YOU, BUT, IN FACT, THEY'RE A LONG, LONG WAY AWAY.

IT'S JUST LIKE SITTING IN A CATHEDRAL WHERE YOU HEAR VERY DISTANT VOICES AND YOU CAN'T QUITE UNDERSTAND WHERE THEY'RE COMING FROM.

I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE IMAGINE THAT A RAINFOREST IS A MENACING PLACE.

THE TRUTH IS, IT'S A VERY, VERY BEAUTIFUL PLACE.

THE COLORS ARE ONES THAT YOU'LL NEVER SEE ANYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD.

I SUSPECT THIS PEACE WILL SOON BE SHATTERED.

A VAST PAIR OF WINGS IS ABOUT TO SHADOW THE JUNGLE.

THE FEMALE IS GOING TO START HUNTING.

SHE'S A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH, WE KNOW THAT.

SHE'S A THIRD BIGGER THAN HIM.

I'M GUESSING OUR HOWLER MONKEYS WILL BE ON THE MENU NOW.

THEY EVEN HAVE YOUNG -- THAT'S GOOD TIMING BY HER.

BUT I CAN'T BE SURE WHAT SHE'LL CATCH.

IT'LL BE THE NEST CAM THAT'LL SHOW US.

BUT THERE'S A PROBLEM... FRUSTRATINGLY, IT'S FOGGED UP.

IT'S JUST A BLUR OF THE WHOLE NEST AREA.

WE KNOW THE VALUE OF THE DATA THE NEST CAM WAS RECORDING, BUT GIVEN HOW AGGRESSIVE THE FEMALE WAS ON THE LAST ASCENT, THE TECHNICAL TEAM ARE UNDERSTANDABLY NOT THAT KEEN ABOUT GOING BACK UP.

THEY COVER THEIR LEGS AND LOWER BACKS WITH TOUGH RAWHIDE STRIPS TO COVER THE PARTS NOT PROTECTED BY THEIR STAB JACKETS AND KEVLAR GEAR.

JAMES GOES UP FIRST.

James: STILL NO SIGN OF HER.

OH, HERE SHE COMES.

STRAIGHT FOR MY FACE.

Beeley: THE EAGLE WAITS UNTIL HIS BACK IS TURNED.

HE'S BEEN HIT AGAIN.

James: RIGHT... SO, SHE'S NOW BEHIND ME.

I'VE GOT HER.

OW!

Beeley: THIS STRIKE DISLODGED JAMES' MICROPHONE, AND HIT HIS HEAD SO HARD HE WAS LEFT STUNNED.

HE'S STUCK NOW.

IT'S A STALEMATE.

HE CAN'T AFFORD TO DESCEND IN CASE HE LOSES SIGHT OF HER, EVEN FOR A SECOND.

THE HARPY'S JUST A FEW YARDS AWAY WAITING FOR ANOTHER CHANCE TO ATTACK.

GRAHAM HAS TO GO UP AND COVER JAMES' BACK, AND IT PAYS OFF.

AFTER THIS SWOOP, THE HARPY DOESN'T ATTACK AGAIN.

TOGETHER, THEY CAN WATCH OUT FOR EACH OTHER AND MAKE THE REPAIRS WHILST THE EAGLE GETS BACK TO THE NEST.

WE'RE NOW IN AWE AT THE POWER IN THESE EAGLES.

WHATEVER HAPPENS, NO ONE WANTS TO DO THAT AGAIN.

IT WAS A CLOSE SHAVE, BUT NOW, WE'RE BACK IN ACTION.

SHE'S SETTLED... AND READY TO HUNT.

HAVING SEEN HER TAKE OUT JAMES, I WOULDN'T WANT TO BE A MONKEY LIVING IN THIS JUNGLE NOW.

THE TEENAGER IS ON HIS OWN.

HE'S GLARING AT US.

IT'S AT MOMENTS LIKE THIS THAT I CATCH HIS EYE, AND I'M NOT SURE IF I'M LOOKING AT SOMETHING VERY FRIENDLY OR VERY EVIL.

HE'S POISED LIKE A DINOSAUR.

HE MUST HAVE SEEN ME MOVING.

IT'S QUITE UNNERVING.

THE FEMALE RETURNS.

SHE'S BROUGHT A CAPUCHIN.

I'M QUITE SURPRISED -- I THOUGHT SHE'D BE CATCHING HOWLER MONKEYS.

WHERE ARE ALL THESE CAPUCHINS COMING FROM?

THEY'RE NOT FROM THE LOCAL TROOP.

COULD I FIND OUT?

MOVING VERY SLOWLY AND QUIETLY ALLOWS ME TO USE MY HEARING, AS WELL AS NOT BE HEARD.

BETWEEN THE MORE FAMILIAR FOREST SOUNDS, THERE'S ONE THAT'S NEW TO ME.

[ BANGING ] THE CAPUCHINS ARE GORGING ON FRUIT.

I GUESS THAT THIS FRUIT HAS COME OUT SINCE THE RAINS.

REMEMBERING HOW JAMES WAS ATTACKED WITH NO WARNING FROM BEHIND, I LOOK AT THESE MONKEYS AND CAN IMAGINE THEIR QUICK FATE.

THE MONKEYS MUST DREAD THOSE EAGLES, BUT THE CHANCE TO FEAST MUST BE OVERWHELMING.

I WONDER, HAVE THE EAGLES TIMED IT ALL DELIBERATELY TO COINCIDE THEIR BREEDING CYCLE WITH THIS OPPORTUNITY TO EXPLOIT THE CAPUCHIN?

BUT WHY STILL NO HOWLER MONKEYS?

IN OTHER PLACES, I'VE READ THAT THEY FEED ON THEM A LOT.

WHY DON'T MY EAGLES CATCH THEM?

OUR OWN TROOP OF HOWLERS HAS ALWAYS BEEN IN THE SAME TREES CLOSE TO THE HARPY NEST.

WHAT I DO NOTICE IS THAT THEY'RE USUALLY IN THE VERY TOP BRANCHES.

EXPOSED ABOVE THE FOREST LIKE THIS, THE EAGLE MUST STRUGGLE TO SURPRISE THEM.

LOOK AT THEM STAY IN THIS TIGHT GROUP.

WITHOUT SURPRISE, I GUESS THE EAGLE MAY NOT RISK AN ATTACK, EITHER.

I BET THOSE HOWLERS COULD FIGHT BACK IF THEY WEREN'T DISPATCHED QUICKLY WITH A SURPRISE DAGGER IN THE BACK.

IT'S AN UGLY SCENE IN MY HEAD, BUT IT REMINDS ME AGAIN OF HER STRIKE ON JAMES.

SHE KNEW WHAT SHE WAS DOING.

SHE WAITED UNTIL HE COULDN'T SEE HER.

AND THINKING ABOUT IT, WE RARELY SEE THE HOWLERS OUT OF THIS STRANGE FORMATION, LIKE A PROTECTIVE SQUARE, EVEN WHEN THEY'RE JUST LOUNGING AROUND.

IT'S SEPTEMBER NOW, FIVE MONTHS SINCE HE HATCHED.

HIS FLIGHT FEATHERS HAVE GROWN DOWN, AND BY HIS EXCITED LOOK I THINK HE CAN FEEL THEM IN HIS WING BEATS.

I THINK HE'S KEENER TO LEAVE THE NEST THAN I AM TO SEE HIM GO.

JUST HAVING A BIG WING STRETCH, THAT'S BEAUTIFUL.

THE HARPY CHICK HAS NOW REACHED AN AGE WHEN IT'S CLEARLY BEGINNING TO MOVE AROUND THE BRANCHES, AND I'M SORTING OF EXPECTING IT TO FLY QUITE SOON.

IT'S NOT, PROBABLY, GOING TO FLY IN THE NEXT WEEK, BUT SOONER OR LATER IT'LL BE AIRBORNE.

AND THAT'S QUITE A CONCERN TO ME, BECAUSE THERE'S A POINT AT WHICH THE WHOLE FOCUS OF THE FILM HAS BEEN POSSIBLE BECAUSE OF THE NEST.

THE MOMENT OF FLEDGING IS HARD TO PREDICT, AND WE'VE LEARNT AS MUCH AS WE'RE GOING TO UNTIL HE'S A BIT OLDER.

WE'RE PLANNING TO COME AGAIN IN FOUR MONTHS' TIME.

WHAT WE WEREN'T TO KNOW WAS THAT IT WOULD ACTUALLY BE THE MOST EXCITING PHASE OF ALL.

FOUR MONTHS LATER, WE'RE BACK IN THE FOREST.

I'M STAGGERED TO FIND MY BIRD STILL IN THE CEIBA TREE.

THIS TIME, AS WELL, HE'S BARELY RECOGNIZABLE -- HE'S A YOUNG ADULT NOW.

HE'S DISTINCTLY PALE COMPARED TO THE ADULTS.

HE'S IN VERY GOOD CONDITION.

HE CAN FLY WELL, BUT WHY'S HE IN THE CEIBA TREE AND NOT OUT IN THE FOREST?

HE SEEMS HUNGRY.

THE FEMALE FLIES IN WITH PREY.

EVEN THOUGH HE CAN FLY, IT LOOKS LIKE THE ADULTS ARE STILL SUPPORTING HIM.

HE'S PROBABLY STRUGGLING TO KILL REGULARLY ENOUGH TO SURVIVE, BUT HE'S NEARLY A YEAR OLD.

TO STILL BE DEPENDENT ON THE ADULTS AT THIS AGE IS VERY UNUSUAL FOR AN EAGLE.

BUT THEN, I GUESS NOT ALL EAGLES SURVIVE ON CATCHING MONKEYS.

HE'S SURROUNDED BY BIRDS THAT HAVE TAKEN UP RESIDENCE IN THE CEIBA TREE WHILST WE'VE BEEN AWAY.

THESE BIRDS ARE RED-RUMPED CACIQUES.

WITH NESTS RIGHT OUT ON THE TIPS OF BRANCHES, THEY SHOULD BE SAFE FROM PREDATORS LIKE CAPUCHIN.

LIKE THE ARACARI, THEY BENEFIT FROM THE PROTECTION OF THE EAGLES.

INTERESTINGLY, CACIQUES HAVE BEEN WELL STUDIED GAINING PROTECTION FROM HORNETS, BUT NEVER EAGLES.

THE NEXT MORNING, THE CEIBA TREE IS EMPTY.

HE'S GONE.

WHERE?

WE SPOT HIM IN THE DISTANCE.

THIS WAS SCARING ME -- HOW WILL WE BE ABLE TO FOLLOW HIM NOW?

HE'S STRONG ON THE WING.

I SUDDENLY THINK THIS COULD BE THE LAST TIME I'D SEE HIM, MAYBE FOR WEEKS.

AND THEN THERE IS THE MOST EXTRAORDINARY SURPRISE.

LOOK, LOOK, LOOK! SHE'S JUST COME INTO LAND!

THE CHICK, THE MALE, CAN YOU SEE HIM, JUST COME IN ON THAT BRANCH, COME TO LOOK AT HER.

THAT IS ABSOLUTELY -- I WONDER IF SHE'LL STAY THERE WHILE WE CLIMB.

HE'S UP THERE, THE MALE HAS TAKEN OFF.

JUST ON THE RIGHT BRANCH.

IT'S THE WEIRDEST THING, GRAHAM'S ABOUT TO GO UP AND DO SOME FILMING, AND TO OUR AMAZEMENT, THE MALE CHICK HAS JUST COME IN AND LANDED ABOUT TWO OR THREE METERS FROM HIS HIDE.

EVEN AS WE'RE LOOKING AT HIM, HE'S BOBBING HIS HEAD AND LOOKING AT US.

HE'S JUST NOT BOTHERED.

I THINK, ACTUALLY, HE MIGHT EVEN STAY THERE WHEN YOU GO UP THE ROPES.

HIS MUM, OF COURSE, WE KNOW VERY WELL.

SHE'S GOT VERY BAD MANNERS.

I DON'T THINK HE'S GOT ANY REAL REASON TO ATTACK US, THAT'S WHAT I HOPE.

Beeley: WHEN I LOOK AT HIM THROUGH THE BINOCULARS, HIS SIGHT IS SO GOOD HE'S PICKING SOMETHING UP, A REFLECTION IN THE LENS, AND HE'S LOOKING RIGHT DOWN THE BARRELS AT ME.

IT'S QUITE ALARMING.

I'M GLAD I'M NOT A CAPUCHIN.

BUT HE IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BIRD, ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL.

HE'S SO CURIOUS.

WHAT DOES HE WANT?

IT'S COMPELLING.

EACH MORNING, AS I LOOK FOR HIM, I SUSPECT HE'S LOOKING FOR ME.

HE APPEARS FROM NOWHERE.

HE'S TAKING EVERYTHING IN, EVERY SIGHT AND SOUND -- THE CAPUCHINS, AS WELL, THEIR MOVEMENTS AND TIMINGS.

I'M GUESSING HE'LL NEED TO GATHER THIS INTELLIGENCE QUICKLY TO OUTWIT THE MONKEYS.

THESE EAGLES ARE SO CALCULATING, MORE THAN ANY OTHER BIRD OF PREY I'VE EVER WORKED WITH.

IT'S PROBABLY WHY BIRD BOOKS MENTION THAT YOUNG HARPY EAGLES CAN STILL BE FOUND IN THE NEST AREA FOR UP TO A YEAR AFTER THEY FLEDGE.

THEY NEED EVERY BIT OF THAT TIME TO MASTER THE ART OF CATCHING CLEVER MONKEYS, WHILE THEIR PARENTS STILL SUPPORT THEM.

AND SOMETHING ELSE CROSSES MY MIND, DIFFICULT TO PROVE BUT I THINK HIGHLY LIKELY, AND THAT IS THAT HIS PARENTS HAVE QUITE DELIBERATELY LEFT THE MONKEYS AROUND THE CEIBA TREE ALONE, UNTOUCHED.

THEY'VE BEEN LEFT FOR THE CHICK.

THIS WILL BE HIS TRAINING GROUND.

THESE EAGLES ARE EXCEEDING ALL MY EXPECTATIONS, YET OUR FILMING HAS TO DRAW TO A CLOSE.

WE CAN'T STAY IN THE FOREST WITH THIS BIRD FOREVER.

ON OUR LAST DAY, WE START TO GET OUR GEAR OUT OF THE TREE... AND HE'S DRAWN IN TO WATCH US -- THIS TIME, CLOSER THAN EVER BEFORE.

IT'S AN EXTRAORDINARY MOMENT FOR ME, AS BOTH A FILMMAKER AND SOMEONE WHO LOVES BIRDS OF PREY.

HERE WE ARE, JUST STARING EACH OTHER OUT IN A WAY THAT I'VE NEVER CONNECTED WITH A WILD EAGLE BEFORE.

GRAHAM, HE IS GETTING RIDICULOUSLY CLOSE TO YOU NOW, OVER.

YOU COULD PROBABLY PUT YOUR HAND OUT AND TOUCH THOSE TALONS.

OVER.

Beeley: IT'S EXTRAORDINARY.

A HUGE WILD EAGLE JUST FIVE METERS AWAY FROM THE CAMERAMAN, EYEBALLING US BOTH, CURIOUS TO KNOW WHAT WE'RE DOING, STUDYING US.

IN FACT, HE'S BOBBING AT ME RIGHT NOW.

[ LAUGHS ] I WOULD NEVER HAVE DREAMT THAT I'D CONNECT IN THIS WAY WITH A WILD FOREST EAGLE.

FROM THE DAY WE FIRST SAW HIM... OUR CLOSE ENCOUNTERS WITH HIS FIERCELY PROTECTIVE AND LOYAL MOTHER... TO THIS YOUNG ADULT, NOW FREE IN THE FOREST.

WHEN WE FILM BIRDS OF PREY, WE TEND TO GET CLOSE-UPS OF THE YOUNG WHEN THEY'RE TINY.

AND WHEN THEY FLY, WE SEE THEM LESS AND LESS.

NOW, THIS YOUNG EAGLE, WELL, IT'S BEEN THE OTHER WAY ROUND.

OVER THE YEAR THAT WE'VE BEEN HERE, I'VE JUST GOT CLOSER AND CLOSER TO HIM.

I'VE GOT SO MUCH RESPECT FOR THESE EXTRAORDINARY EAGLES, REALIZING NOW, AS I DO, WHAT THEY MUST ENDURE TO SURVIVE AND RAISE YOUNG.

ON MY LAST DAY, I WAS SO SORRY TO KNOW THAT I WOULDN'T SEE HIM AGAIN.

MY LAST SIGHT OF HIM WAS AS HE FLEW AWAY, VERY MAJESTICALLY, INTO THE GREAT WILD FOREST OF THE ORINOCO.

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