It wasn’t so much the fact that we saw this bird. Nor the fact that we got two of them, unbelievable as this sounds. No, what makes the observation so special and forever printed in my mind, was the fact that we went to Yelapa with the exact same purpose: To find the Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle that had been roaming the wild hills of Cabo Corrientes during the last months. And especially around Yelapa. But elusive and unpredictable as the bird is, there didn’t seem to be any way to deliberately try to get this magnificent bird into view. Still, the idea of visiting the Yelapa High Point patiently overlooking the village below had come into my mind as the most likely way to have success with the species.
Birds in general are very important to me, and this bird in particular, but it was still for another and more important reason, I had gone to Rancho Primavera south of Puerto Vallarta: I had fallen in love with Nancy C. Holland!
I had met her a few weeks earlier on the ranch, and afterward I had miraculously achieved to convince her, that we should meet to get to know each other better. And that meeting should take place on the ranch. And so, Nancy also being a birder, nothing would be more natural than to have some of our shared moments directed toward birds, and the hawk-eagle being new to both of us, she happily said yes to join me on my eagle quest.
Not without a good amount of skepticism on her part, though. Honestly, I think she thought I was crazy, thinking it would be possible to find the bird from this point high above the village, because most observations had been done from the village itself, and far from daily. It was a long shot, and I’m sure she will tell you that she mostly agreed to join me just for the trip itself and the general birding.
I, on the other hand, was much more hopeful. The main goal was to just get a good enough look of the bird to identify it, and add it as a new species. If it was near or far didn’t matter. And from the High Point you have an unobstructed view of the village and the river valley below, and if you are focused, you are able to spot all birds flying into the open air. You just have to be patient. But my hope was more solidly founded than that. Earlier I had seen Black Hawk-Eagle, Short-tailed Hawks, Bat Falcon and both the large swifts from this point, and all had been soaring high, above or at eye level, why I was certain the flying conditions would be attractive to a Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle as well.
I wanted to leave the ranch at around 8 am. The drive to the High Point is some 40 minutes, and leaving at this hour would give us good time to also bird for other species on the way, and arrive at the lookout in the late morning when the raptors are known to be most active.
But of course we didn’t get away as planned because there are universal laws that apply under certain circumstances, and one of them is called: Bonnie + Nancy = Endless Female Chitchat. I know, I could have interrupted them, but being invited and still far from having convinced Nancy that I was the one she should grow old with, I thought it wiser not to do so, letting a patient smile on my face be the only visible reaction.
So when we finally left the ranch I seriously thought we would be too late for a good chance in the morning. But still we left in perfect harmony, because we would have the whole day to our disposal, and knowing that the soaring birds also could be active in the afternoon, we would just have to wait...and hope a little harder.
After a single stop to look for a noisy Crested Guan and some less noisy Green Jays, we arrived at the High Point (officially called Yelapa Tapa) around 10:30 am. It was late but fortunately not critically late for morning raptors, even though there were no soaring birds other than the notorious frigatebirds and a few Black Vultures to be seen at the moment.
So we started to unpack in a relaxed manner determined to give it a try for at least a while. And while doing so, it happened that an unfamiliar raptor suddenly flew by below us, and the bird looking very similar to an Osprey without being an Osprey, I ran back to the car to get my camera, and shouted to Nancy that a strange raptor had just sailed by. She had been busy preparing Azul to allow for Sophie to feel like a princess in her shady backseat.
The bird had disappeared along the slope below us, and we were soon scouting high and low in hope of another glimpse of it. None of us had the characteristics of the upper side of the Hawk-Eagle sharply present in mind why we only knew that we were looking for something different, that at least I hadn’t seen before.
And then it happened that a pale raptor suddenly showed up overhead, and being more familiar with the underside and the face markings of this bird, it was obvious, that we were now looking at our first Black-and-white Hawk-Eagle soaring 30 meters above us!
Only that single observation would have made the trip a success, and it was therefore unbelievable and beyond our imagination when a second bird shortly after showed up and the two birds circled and interacted for a short while. Our cameras were firing away, and I got lucky with a few usable images of the birds together. Black-and-white Hawk-Eagles (Plural Tense!!)
Needless to say that I was proud of myself. An educated guess that came true in the most spectacular way. And later a Great Black Hawk showed up in the same overhead trail consolidating the fact that this spot is a serious raptor lookout.
As a birder I could not have been more thrilled than I was in that moment, but still the most thrilling sensation of the day I had, when I shortly after the birds had left us, got the impulsive idea to pull Nancy close to me and give her the first real kiss between us, using the excuse that such an extraordinary observation had to be celebrated in an appropriate manner. And failing to disagree, she responded in an equal manner, leaving me off with the eagles...