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AFC Flag Expedition #1:
Observing & Portraying the Endangered Harpy Eagle & its Habitat
Expedition Artist: David N. Kitler
Purpose: To conduct most comprehensive artistic study to date of the Harpy Eagle in support of conservation efforts currently underway to restore the species to its historical ranges.
Location: Panama, Central America
Scheduled For: December 2005
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About David
About the Harpy Eagle
About Panama
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Artist Acknowledgments
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Harpy Eagle painting used to support conservation education in Panama
Monday, April 26, 2010
David's Harpy Eagle images continue to be used to support education and conservation efforts in Panama, fulfilling the objectives of his AFC Flag Expedition.  The Audubon Society of Panama, in conjunction with the Patronato Amigos del Águila Harpía (Harpy Eagle Friends Foundation) have produced 5,000 bookmarks of David's "Harpy Eagle - Portraits."  The Harpy Eagle is Panama's national bird, and the bookmarks are designed to promote its appreciation and conservation.  In March 2010, the Audubon Society started its school program, Aulas Verdes (Green Classrooms), and recently visited one of the schools involved in the program.  National Harpy Eagle Day is May 10, and they delivered the bookmarks to the students as a reminder that this day was approaching.  Bookmarks were also sent to another school that is involved in the program and is located in San Carlos, close to El Valle de Antón.
  • Panamanian school children with Harpy Eagle bookmark
David Returns to Panama
Thursday, March 26, 2009
David has returned from another trip to the remote Embera village of Llano Bonito, which hosted the Kitlers during their Flag Expedition to Panama in 2005.  This time David lead a group of 10 people who, besides delivering school and personal care supplies, spent over a week working side by side with the natives to build much needed sanitation facilities, as the village only had two outhouses to serve the 80+ people who live there.
The pour-flush water seal latrines installed make use of low cost technology, with easy and simple maintenance, which help to prevent diseases that are caused by the improper disposal of human waste.  It also eliminates the chance of insect breeding or infiltration by other species - a need that became very real when a pit latrine was used by the group at another location.  The surprise of having a bat flying out of the pit while one is concentrating on other affairs could not be adequately described here!
The group left extra building materials, tools, and directions, which will allow the natives to build a few more of these latrines on their own.
The needs in that part of the world are great and, if you can help in any way, please check out the Get Involved section of David's website (  With your help and generosity we can continue to make a real difference to the people and to wildlife conservation in that part of the world.

  • Working Side by Side
  • The Team
  • Supplies
Another Successful Delivery
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Because of the support that so many of you have given this project, the lives of the people at the small Embera village of Llano Bonito continue to be positively affected.  The baskets that the Kitlers brought from the village in early 2007 were sold at a small silent auction in Calgary, and the funds raised have already been put to use.  In April 2008, once again with the logistical support of Guido Berguido and Advantage Tours (, another delivery of supplies was made to the village.  This time it was a lawn mower (to help keep the area around the huts and school clear of the tall grasses that can hide snakes), paint for the school, and brand new school uniforms.
If you can help in any way and would like to be a part of this ongoing project, please check out the Get Invovled section of David's website (  We know that we cannot save the world but, with your help and generosity, we hope to continue to make a difference to the people and to conservation in that little corner of the world.

  • Thank you from Llano Bonito
Harpy Eagle Update
Sunday, February 25, 2007
We wanted to take advantage of the visit to Llano Bonito to visit the Harpy Eagle nesting site where we had spent so much time 14 months ago. The then-chick should be around 18 months old and, although it would still be dependent on its parents for food, those feeding visits would likely be a week or more apart. We were not holding any hope of actually seeing the birds.
The visit to the nest provided more information about the Harpy Eagle's diet, in the form of bone fragments, claws, and bits of fur that were found at the base of the nest tree. The tree itself looks quite different, as the nest is now gone. According to our native guide, strong winds recently toppled several of the smaller trees in the area, and also blew away all of the nesting material from the tree. We took a moment to photograph and document the current state of the area.
We were already half-way down the hill, heading towards the trail that would take us out of the jungle, when we heard the familiar call. It was hard to believe, but the juvenile Harpy Eagle was back! He had flown in, landing on a nearby tree, and was calling to be fed. After moving around with some difficulty in the dense jungle floor, we were able to find a good vantage point from which to photograph the handsome juvenile "our" little chick had turned into. The Harpy Eagle will not get its final colouring until it is about 5 years old, so you might be able to notice the much lighter grays of the juvenile's plumage.
What a treat! And how hard it was to turn away and leave... If reality was not calling for us to get back home, we would have loved to spend another month in that spot...

  • Harpy Eagle Juvenile
Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
  • Harpy Eagle Juvenile (2,012 KB)
The Expedition's Impact Continues
Thursday, February 22, 2007
The impact of the first-ever AFC (formerly WNAG) Flag Expedition continues.  In a remote village in the Panamanian Darien jungle, a few lucky kids will be starting the school year with brand new backpacks, notebooks, pens, pencils, etc.
We have just returned from Llano Bonito, where we handed the villagers hundreds of pounds of school supplies and baseball equipment, as well as other donated items, including fabric, toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc. It took five horses (and a 3-hour hike) to get all of the supplies from the closest town to the village.
Thanks to all who donated, and the generous logistical support of Advantage Tours (, there were a lot of happy faces. The natives were simply overwhelmed by the fact that so many people, from so far away, had cared so much as to try to help their children and their community.  If you are have been a part of this effort, take a minute to pat yourself on the back. The community of Llano Bonito thanks you. Your kindness and generosity has made a real difference in their lives.

  • Llano Bonito 2007
Exhausted But Full of Memories
Monday, January 2, 2006
No worries about being late for the flight: I was up at 3am.
Arrived in Calgary at 9:30am, and at the house at around 11, my 57-hour return trip finally over.
Was in my own bed (for a much needed nap) at noon, exhausted but full of memories (and insect bites), as well as ideas for future paintings.

  • David Upon Return to Calgary, Canada
The Detour Home
Sunday, January 1, 2006
Managed to get on the first flight out of San Jose (9am), and arrived in Atlanta at 2pm.
Just like Ly, found out all the flights out of Atlanta were overbooked, however the "detours" were not looking any better. Also told I would not be allowed to travel the next day (Jan 2), so would either have to find another way home or wait until at least Jan 3.
Stumbled on the option of flying into Vancouver, BC instead of Calgary. Took it, but didn't arrive in Vancouver until 11pm. My luggage never did...  Bought a ticket to Calgary on yet another airline for the next morning.
Spent a cozy night wedged into a bank of seats at the airport, tethered to the only bag I had (my carry-on), waiting for a 7am flight to Calgary

New Year's Eve in Costa Rica
Saturday, December 31, 2005

Up at 4am, trying to get on the one flight out of Panama to Atlanta.

Found out five seats available, but 25 people showed up for them. I was not one of those who boarded. Was told that all flights were overbooked until January 19!

Back to the Field Station to figure out my options. Ended up buying a separate ticked to San Jose, Costa Rica leaving tonight; from there there are 2 flights a day into Atlanta and they looked a little more promising.

For the second year in a row spent New Year's Eve (asleep) in Costa Rica, but this time I was all alone...


A Final Day of Reference Gathering
Friday, December 30, 2005

Great reference gathering day: birds, anteater, spectacled owl, toad, etc.

Finished packing for hopefully my early departure from Panama tomorrow morning.

  • More Birdlife, Panama
  • Anteater, Soberania National Park
Ly's Long Ride Home
Thursday, December 29, 2005

Found out this morning that Ly spent the night at the airport in Boston??? Turns out that flights out of Atlanta were overbooked, and she had to take a "detour". Ly arrived home later in the afternoon, after 40 or so hours in transit.

Visited the Ammo Dump (Soberania National Park) and the Harpy Eagle Exhibit at Summitt.

Looked after some business with our guide (payments, receipts, etc.

    • Field Station, Soberania National Park
    • At Work at Field Station, Soberania National Park
    Cerro Azul
    Wednesday, December 28, 2005
    Ly starts journey home (Panama - Atlanta - Salt Lake City - Calgary).
    Traveled to Cerro Azul, a 950m peak just south of Chagres National Park. The area is known for its bird watching opportunities. Was not disappointed.

    • Birdlife in Cerro Azul, Panama Province
    Ly's Last Day
    Tuesday, December 27, 2005
    Ly's last day in Panama, so we took a day off at the beach (Santa Clara)
    A Sign From Above
    Monday, December 26, 2005
    A sign from above: although this is supposed to be the beginning of the dry season, last night it rained; no, it deluged (is that a word?)
    The weather for the next few days is not looking too promising, so Ly decided to fly back home a little sooner. I can still use the last few days for more reference gathering.


    Happy Birthday, Jesus!
    Sunday, December 25, 2005

    Happy Birthday, Jesus!

    Day was overcast, so just hung out at the Field Station, working on the Journal (sketching, writing, etc.)

    Had sort of a traditional Christmas dinner (roasted turkey pieces, boiled potatoes, corn, and to top it off, cranberry juice). But no snow.

    • Geoffroys Tamarin
    • David at Field Station, Christmas Day
    Adorable Baby Sloths
    Saturday, December 24, 2005

    Had the opportunity to get up close and personal with some orphaned baby sloths at the Parque Natural Metropolitano. Great reference gathering of one of the Harpy's preferred prey. Had sloths clinging to every part of us, sometimes two at a time. They may not be what is traditionally thought of as "cute", but they were adorable!

    Amazing variety of birds in the park.

    • Birdlife, Panama
    • David with Sloth, Parque Natural Metropolitano
    • Orphaned Sloths (Close-up)
    • David with Sloth, Parque Natural Metropolitano
    • Birdlife in Panama
    • More Birdlife in Panama
    • David in Parque Metropolitano
    Stopped by Police
    Friday, December 23, 2005

    Stopped by police and then set free... Actually, it was just a check stop.

    Another visit to the Aviary to confirm details of the wild birds with these more accessible captive ones

    • Soberania National Park
    Still No Sign
    Thursday, December 22, 2005

    Up at first light; still no sign of the eagles.

    Camped so close to the nest tree that if it had fallen over, it would have landed on us at its midpoint.

    By 11am, had given up waiting and decided to return to La Bonga.

    Lunch in La Bonga; ate the fish, left the head and tail.

    Arrived back at the Field Station by 5pm.

    • Campsite Near Chagres Harpy Nest
    • River Near the Nest Site, Chagres National Park
    • Returning from Chagres
    Native Village of La Bonga
    Wednesday, December 21, 2005

    Traveled by van to the village of Nuevo Vigia, at the shore of Lake Alajuela.

    Boarded a motorized log, I mean, dug out canoe for the 2-hour trip to the native village of La Bonga in Chagres National Park.

    After a very brief stop-over at the village, hiked 2.5 hours to the closer of the two nest sites in the area, arriving at around 1:30pm.

    After eating and setting up camp (i.e. hammock), settled down to wait for a possible visit by the eaglet or its parents.

    The eaglet in this area is a sub-adult, and will return to the nest only sporadically to be fed.

    No sighting of the eaglet by nightfall

    • Lake Alajuela, Chagres National Park, Panama Province
    • David in La Bonga, Chagres National Park
    • David at Harpy Eagle Nest Site near La Bonga, Chagres National Park
    • David Working at Nest Site, Chagres National Park
    Preparing for Chagres
    Tuesday, December 20, 2005

    Bought supplies for balance of stay at the Field Station.

    First home cooked meal in a while (at Field Station). Laundry to get rid of the mud (did we mention there was mud?)

    Received news about getting First Place in Creative Catalyst Production's Fall Art Show with "Lemur Miniature" piece.

    Spent a lot of time sorting through pictures to send to WNAG Expedition site. Packed for trip to Chagres National Park in search of another Harpy Eagle nest.


    Leaving La Palma
    Monday, December 19, 2005

    Spent Sunday, Dec. 18 in La Palma, resting and catching up on phone calls.  Monday morning caught our flight from La Palma for Panama City. Flight was overbooked, so part of our luggage is still in La Palma.

    Back at the Field Station in Gamboa at around 4pm.  Backed up photos, which appear to have turned out all right.


    Last visit to nest site #1
    Saturday, December 17, 2005
    Yesterday, Dec. 16, woke up after a noisy night in the jungle.  Ly, a native guide and breakfast arrived early in the morning and we spent another day observing the Harpy in nest #1.
    Today was my last chance to visit to nest, as we plan on leaving after lunch.  Worked on the last sketches and photos of this particular site.

    Back to the village by lunch time.  After another presentation by the villagers, who were all dressed up in their finest traditional clothes, it was time to leave.  We were leaving via another route, which was supposedly shorter/easier.

    Turned out to be a muddy (REALLY muddy), narrow and steep trail, and the horses could not handle a rider plus packs. Ended up walking at least half of the way, and saw every type of mud ever created.  Last part of the trail was done in the dark, while our horses squeezed our legs against tree trunks we could not see (and therefore avoid) in the dark.

    Arrived back in La Palma (civilization, so to speak) around 8:30pm, just in time to watch the full moon rise over the ocean.  Ly's legs are bruised and cut, and I'm not sure she'll ever forgive me for this...

    • Emberá Girl, Llano Bonito, Darien Province
    • Emberá Boy, Llano Bonito, Darien Province
    • Farewell to Villagers, Llano Bonito, Panama
    • Bruised and Battered
    After the Rain
    Thursday, December 15, 2005
    It rained all day yesterday, Dec. 14, so there was little to do but hang around the village.  Any time I sit down to write or draw, there is always a crowd of curious people around me.  They also wanted to give us a presentation of their traditional dances, which are re-enactments of animal behaviours they witness in the jungle.
    The rain stopped today, Dec. 15 and, instead of wasting 6 hours hiking to and from nest #2, I decided to return to nest #1.  What could beat having both an adult Harpy and a chick to observe for hours on end?  This time I had my hammock with me, so I could spend the night and not to miss a single minute of daylight.
    When we arrived at the site, mom was feeding the chick and stayed around all day.  At the end of the day, Ly returned to sleep at the hut, and Guido and I stayed in our hammocks.  After the tree my hammock was tied to fell (no one got hurt), I had to relocate it in the dark and rain - the number of bugs that show up the second the sun is down...

    • Nest Site #1 - Female Harpy and Eaglet
    • Nest Site #1 - Mantling Female Harpy with Eaglet
    • Camping in the Jungle Near Harpy Nest
    • Insect Bites from Camping in the Jungle
    • Working at Harpy Eagle Nest Site #1
    • Harpy Eaglet Resting at Nest Site #1
    Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
    • Native Girls Dancing (1,972 KB)
    • Feeding the Chick (2,966 KB)
    Back to Nest #1
    Tuesday, December 13, 2005
    On Dec. 11, returned to nest #1 with another native guide - Ly decided to stay at the village and recover from the past few days.  This time, our guide found us a better vantage point:  by climbing further up the hill we were at eye level with the nest, although farther away.  Spent the day drawing (while observing through Guido's scope) and photographing mother Harpy and her chick.  Finally some time to draw!
    The next day, Dec. 12, our guide left to check on a different way out of Llano Bonito, and stayed at the village, which gave us an opportunity to spend time with the villagers.  They are subsistence farmers, who live as their ancestors did for hundreds of years.  They get no government assistance and, because of how isolated they are, have no access to tourists, to whom they could sell their crafts.  Spent time with the village teacher, who wrote a letter requesting help with getting school supplies for the children, so that they can continue to get an education.  We promised we would try to help.
    Dec. 13, our anniversary, was spent at nest #1 trying to get as much photographing done as possible before the approaching rain gets here.

    • Nest Site #1 - Eaglet
    Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
    • Harpy Eagle Nest (2,966 KB)
    Stair Master in the Sauna
    Saturday, December 10, 2005
    Natives told us about another nest site, which they thought was under construction.  This was was about "1 hour" away.  More like a gruelling 3-hour uphill hike.  Think stair master in the sauna, while fully dressed and carrying a backpack.  Add some boot-sucking mud, and you get the idea...
    Soon after we arrived, a Harpy flew away, only to return a little while later with dinner.  Spent several hours photographing, but had to leave in the early afternoon because of the long hike back to the village.  Next time, we'll come prepared to stay the night...
    On the return hike we were at least going downhill - which was not great either.  Due to the extremelly wet conditions, we mostly slipped and slid our way back, with many falls in between.  The thorny trees and branches don't make for a good way to steady oneself.
    The things we'll do to spend time with these amazing creatures...

    • Nest Site #2 - Female Harpy Eagle
    • David at Nest Site #2
    First Wild Harpy
    Friday, December 9, 2005
    Natives confirmed presence of an active nest "15 minutes" away on foot - 30 minutes for us.  We quickly learned to double or triple the time estimates given to us by the natives...
    We arrived at the nest tree in time to see the mother bringing in some prey.  Could just see the baby Harpy peaking over the nest.  Spent a few hours at that spot.  What a thrill!

    • Home Base in the Jungle, Llano Bonito, Darien Province
    • 'Trail' to Nest Site #1, near Llano Bonito, Darien Province
    • Nest Site #1 - Harpy Female with Prey
    • David at Nest Site #1
    By Boat to Mogue
    Thursday, December 8, 2005
    Depended on the high tide to leave La Palma in order to get to the Mogue River.  Left La Palma by boat at around 9am.  Arrived in the native village of Mogue about 1 hour later. Hiked the last part of the trail, while our supplies and luggage were brought closer to the village in a dugout canoe.  Waited until 2pm for horses to be brought back from the field.
    Out means of transportation got progressively more basic (20-seater plane to La Palma, motor boat partway to Mogue, dugout canoe, horses, walking...)

    Rode/hiked about 5 hours to our final destination, the native village of Llano (pronounced ´jano´) Bonito, arriving just after sunset - muddy, insect bitten, branch whipped and bruised, soaked with rain and sweat...

    Were given a hut that became our home for the next 9 days. Set up our hammocks, got rid of the first tick, went to sleep.

    Found out we were the first ever outsiders to visit/stay at the village, which turned out to create a lot of curiosity. For the duration of our stay we were followed, watched, giggled at, questioned about everything, but well taken care of. We also found out that privacy is a foreign concept among them.

    • Departing La Palma for the village of Mogue, Darien Province
    • Arriving at the 'Port of Mogue', Darien Province
    • Leaving Mogue by horse
    Videos, PDFs & Other Downloadable Files
    • Muddy Trail (2,056 KB)
    Arrival in La Palma
    Wednesday, December 7, 2005

    Finally the day arrived for our trip to the Darien.  Were met at the airport by the president of the Audubon Society of Panama. She wants to explore the possibility of working together to maximize the impact of the WNAG Flag Expedition.

    This time, we managed to get on the plane to La Palma, but the flight was about 2 hours late; we left when we should have been arriving...

    Once in La Palma, went out to buy the supplies we would need for our stay in the jungle (water, food, etc.)

    • Flying over the Darien
    • Arriving in La Palma, Darien Province
    The Miraflores Locks
    Tuesday, December 6, 2005

    Visited the Miraflores Locks and the exhibit on the construction and operation of the Panama Canal, which is a source of pride to Panamenians.

    Checked on the feasibility of climbing a tree in the jungle. After discussions with a botanist (who climbs as part of his job), decided against it.

    • Field Station, Soberania National Park
    • Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal, Panama
    Flying to La Palma
    Monday, December 5, 2005
    Were supposed to leave for La Palma in the Darien in search of our first Harpy in the wild. We heard of another nest that sounds promising.
    Turned out that the flight was full, so we'll have to wait a couple of days (there aren't flights every day) and try again.
    Instead, visited the Peregrine Fund office and their male Harpy.  At the end of the day, took a boat tour of the backwaters of the Panama Canal.  Well worth it for the amount of wildlife we were able to see.

    • Howler Monkey, Panama Canal
    • Kite, Panama Canal
    • Capuchin Monkey, Panama Canal
    Soberania National Park
    Sunday, December 4, 2005
    Exploration of Soberania National Park's Pipeline Road, famous for its bird watching opportunities. Saw lots... Visited the Harpy Eagle aviary (nice exhibit with lots of information (background, skeleton, nesting, prey, etc.) and a late-day chance to photograph their resident Harpy Eagle pair.
    • Birdlife, Soberania National Park
    • Harpy Eagle in Aviary at Summit Botanical Gardens
    • Harpy Eagle in Aviary (Close-up)
    • Coati at the Field Station, Soberania National Park
    Birthday of Discovery
    Saturday, December 3, 2005
    Today (David's birthday!) was spent discovering more about Panama's culture and history (old Panama City, French Quarter, pirates, spanish occupation, etc.) Stopped by the Peregrine Fund's office and saw our first Harpy (captive-bred, kept for educational purposes), however could not set up appointment to tour facilities.
    • David in Panama
    • David at the Panama Canal
    • Agouti at the Field Station, Soberania National Park
    Arrival in Panama
    Friday, December 2, 2005
    Arrived in Panama Dec 2 at 10:25pm. WNAG Flag stamped at Panama immigration at 11pm. Met by Guido Berguido, our local specialist (guide). Taken to Field Station next to Soberania National Park and Panama Canal (lots of wildlife!) that will serve as home base during the Expedition.
    • Arriving in Panama
    CBC Calgary Interview
    Thursday, December 1, 2005

    CBC Calgary interview on Dec. 1, 2005 at 6:23am (for about 5 minutes). All last minute set-up, did not get a chance to record it, etc.  Program Officer's note:  Bill Whiting, Managing Director of the WNAG, was interviewed on CBC Radio Ottawa at prime-time 7:45am to discuss David's trip and the Flag Program.

    Delay in Calgary Airport meant spending the night of Dec 1 in Atlanta.

    • Interview with CBC Radio

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