VENTflash #170 January 08, 2014

Posted by Victor Emanuel

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Victor Emanuel

Victor Emanuel started birding in Texas 69 years ago at the age of eight. His travels have taken him to all the continents, with his areas of concentration being Texas, Ari...

Dear friends,

Warblers are my favorite birds, but in most parts of the country, few if any warbler species are found during the winter season. In their place appears another very interesting and diverse group of birds: sparrows. Unfortunately, sparrows are underappreciated by many birders since they are not colorful, can be hard to identify, and often are hard to see. However, what sparrows lack in colorful plumage is made up in lovely arrays of subtle buffs, browns, rusts, and grays. Moreover, these colors often appear in intricate, attractive patterns of spots, streaks, and stripes.

Le Conte's Sparrow

Le Conte’s Sparrow — Photo: Greg Lasley

The difficulty of identifying sparrows is simply part of the fun. If all birds were as easy to identify as a male Northern Cardinal, birding would not be as satisfying. The challenges of identification add zest to birding since learning to separate similar species requires careful study and close observation of details. The more you look at any bird, the more you will appreciate it for the wonderful creature it is.

Some sparrows can be hard to see, owing to their secretive nature, but with effort and patience most species will reveal themselves for good views. When you do get that long, close look at a LeConte’s Sparrow per se, it is all the more satisfying because of the effort you made to see this normally shy species. Looking for sparrows is also a useful learning tool in that it makes evident the importance of recognizing a bird’s preferred habitat. For example, you will learn not to seek Vesper Sparrows in the deep woods or White-throated Sparrows in open fields.

So please don’t shy away from sparrows! They are wonderful birds and almost as fascinating as warblers. Getting a good look at a beautiful sparrow, such as a bright Fox Sparrow or an attractively patterned White-crowned Sparrow, is one of the joys of winter birding.

In this issue:

2014 ALASKA TOUR DISCOUNTS: EARLY REGISTRATION OFFER EXTENDED!
SPRING TRAVEL OPPORTUNITIES IN THE U.S.
AMAZON RIVER IN MARCH: ONLY 4 CABINS AVAILABLE
TOURS WITH REMAINING SPACES
CLOSING THOUGHTS

2014 ALASKA TOUR DISCOUNTS: EARLY REGISTRATION OFFER EXTENDED!

Last month I announced a suite of early registration discounts off our 2014 Alaska tours. With the summer travel season on the horizon, we’ve decided to extend these special offers for an additional two weeks! Discounts of $500/person are available on registrations we receive by January 31, 2014 for our Grand Alaska Part I, Grand Alaska Part II, and Alaska Mainland tours, and a discount of $250/person is available for our Grand Alaska: Gambell/Nome Pre-trip.

Arctic Warbler, Alaska

Arctic Warbler — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

For anyone who loves birds, nature, and dramatic landscapes, a trip to Alaska truly is the trip of a lifetime. VENT has been offering tours to our 49th state for over 30 years. Our Alaska tour leaders, Kevin Zimmer, Barry Zimmer, David Wolf, and Brennan Mulrooney, are terrific guides who excel at showing participants Alaskan specialty birds in addition to many of the state’s other natural wonders. These leaders are among the best in the business at finding highly-sought birds such as Bristle-thighed Curlew, Northern Hawk-Owl, Spruce Grouse, Bluethroat, Arctic Warbler, and many other great birds. Over the years, our Alaska tours also have recorded an extraordinary list of Asian rarities including Little Curlew, Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Hawfinch, and others.

With good weather and outstanding birds, last year’s Alaska tours were some of the most successful we have ever offered. Please visit our website to view the tour reports and field lists for each of our 2013 tours. We have received a lot of interest in our 2014 tours, and I urge you to call soon to take advantage of this special opportunity to save on your trip to the north country!

In June 2014, VENT will operate five Alaska tours: 

The prime target of the day was the nearly mythical Bristle-thighed Curlew. We had four of these wonderful birds, including this one which allowed us to approach to within 30 feet!

Bristle-thighed Curlew — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Grand Alaska: Gambell/Nome Pre-trip, June 2-10, 2014 with Kevin Zimmer and David Wolf; $4,975 in double occupancy from Anchorage. Register by January 31 and pay $4,725. Combine this tour with Grand Alaska Part I for an additional discount of $500 in double occupancy or $750 in single occupancy.

Grand Alaska Part I: Nome & the Pribilofs, June 9-19, 2014 with Kevin Zimmer and David Wolf; $6,945 in double occupancy from Anchorage. Register by January 31 and pay $6,445. Combine this tour with the Gambell/Nome Pre-trip for an additional discount of $500 in double occupancy or $750 in single occupancy.

Grand Alaska Part II: Anchorage, Denali Highway & Kenai Peninsula, June 19-27, 2014 with Kevin Zimmer and David Wolf; $3,945 in double occupancy from Anchorage. Register by January 31 and pay $3,445.

Alaska Mainland, June 16-27, 2014 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $6,695 in double occupancy from Anchorage. Register by January 31 and pay $6,195.

Barrow Extension, June 27-29, 2014 with Barry Zimmer and Kevin Zimmer; $2,295 in double occupancy from Anchorage. This tour may be combined either with our Grand Alaska Part II or Alaska Mainland tours.

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SPRING TRAVEL OPPORTUNITIES IN THE U.S.

While the Tropics are a favored destination during the winter months, the arrival of spring portends the height of our domestic travel season. With thoughts of freshly plumaged songbirds, wildflowers, and warm days to come, most birders prefer keeping closer to home in the spring to experience the joys and freshness of the season. From February through May this year, VENT will operate more than a dozen tours to a range of exciting domestic destinations including Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, New Jersey, Missouri, and Texas. Each of these departures promises great birding at the loveliest time of year: 

Altamira Oriole

Altamira Oriole, South Texas — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Spring Hawaii, February 16-24, 2014 with Bob Sundstrom and Dion Hobcroft; $3,895 in double occupancy from Honolulu (ends in Hilo). 3 spaces available.

Rockport, Texas: A Birding Workshop with Victor Emanuel and Kenn Kaufman, March 19-23, 2014 with Victor Emanuel, Kenn Kaufman, Barry Lyon, and Kim Kaufman; $1,395 in double occupancy from Corpus Christi. 6 spaces available.

Spring in South Texas, April 3-12, 2014 with Barry Zimmer and a second leader to be announced; $3,295 in double occupancy from Corpus Christi (ends in Laredo). 8 spaces available.

Spring in South Texas: Hill Country Extension, April 12-16, 2014 with Barry Zimmer and a second leader to be announced; $1,395 in double occupancy from Laredo (ends in San Antonio). 7 spaces available. Combine with Spring in South Texas and receive a $155 discount.

Colorado Grouse, April 10-19, 2014 with Brian Gibbons and Brad Schram; Limit 14; $2,695 in double occupancy from Gunnison (ends in Denver). 4 spaces available.

High Island, Texas: An Introductory Birding Tour, April 12-16, 2014 with Bob Sundstrom; $1,395 in double occupancy from Houston. 3 spaces available.

High Island Migration, April 17-23, 2014 with Bob Sundstrom; $1,995 in double occupancy from Houston. 2 spaces available. 

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park

Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas National Park — Photo: Brennan Mulrooney

Dry Tortugas, April 21-24, 2014 with Michael O’Brien; $1,695 from Key West. 3 spaces available.

South Florida & The Keys, April 24-30, 2014 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; $2,395 in double occupancy from Key West. 5 spaces available.

Big Bend National Park and the Texas Hill Country, April 25-May 4, 2014 with Barry Zimmer and Kevin Zimmer; $2,895 in double occupancy from San Antonio (ends in El Paso). 6 spaces available.

Missouri and Arkansas: Ozarks and Tallgrass Prairies, May 2-11, 2014 with Steve Hilty; $2,595 in double occupancy from Springfield, MO. 3 spaces available.

Spring Grand Arizona, May 10-20, 2014 with Barry Zimmer and Kevin Zimmer; $2,995 in double occupancy from Tucson. 6 spaces available.

Spring in Cape May: A Relaxed and Easy Tour, May 11-16, 2014 with Louise Zemaitis and Michael O’Brien; $1,595 in double occupancy from Philadelphia. 9 spaces available.

Birding Across America by Train, May 18-31, 2014 with Victor Emanuel and Barry Lyon; $7,295 in double occupancy from Albany (ends in Seattle). 6 spaces available. Due to demand, we have added a second departure. Our first scheduled departure, May 25-June 7, is sold out.

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AMAZON RIVER IN MARCH: ONLY 4 CABINS AVAILABLE!

La Estrella Amazonica

La Estrella Amazonica — Photo: International Expeditions

This March we will operate our second and final Amazon River Cruise of 2014. The Amazon River is one of the great destinations of world, and only by ship can you experience such a broad swath of the mighty river and its ecosystems while traveling in total comfort. Our trips visit the Peruvian Amazon out of the city of Iquitos, where outstanding birding is one element of a complete natural history experience. Only four cabins are still available on this fine trip.

Amazon River Cruise: Birding and Natural History Odyssey Aboard La Estrella Amazonica, March 20-30, 2014 with Steve Hilty and Paul Greenfield; $5,995 in double occupancy from Quito. 4 cabins available.

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TOURS WITH REMAINING SPACES

If you are sick and tired of the cold, snowy winter weather that has descended on parts of the country recently, I thought you would be interested to know that spaces are still available on a selection of upcoming tropical tours, where wonderful birds and warm weather reign:

Honduras: The Lodge at Pico Bonito, February 8-15, 2014 with Brian Gibbons and a local leader; $3,495 in double occupancy from San Pedro Sula. 7 spaces available. 

Fiery-throated Hummingbird

Fiery-throated Hummingbird, Costa Rica — Photo: Brian Gibbons

Short Costa Rica: Toucans to Quetzals, March 1-9, 2014 with David Wolf and Mimi Wolf; $3,295 in double occupancy from San José. 6 spaces available.

Cambodia, March 2-16, 2014 with Dion Hobcroft; $5,495 in double occupancy from Siem Reap (ends in Phnom Penh). 2 spaces available.

Jamaica, March 5-12, 2014 with Brian Gibbons and Brandon Hay; $3,345 in double occupancy from Montego Bay (ends in Kingston). 7 spaces available.

Eastern Venezuela: Tepui Endemics and the Orinoco River Delta, March 6-17, 2014 with David Ascanio; $3,795 in double occupancy from Caracas. 4 spaces available.

Best of Costa Rica, March 29-April 10, 2014 with David Wolf and Mimi Wolf; $4,495 in double occupancy from San José.

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CLOSING THOUGHTS

With the winter solstice behind us, the daylight hours have begun to lengthen. By the end of January, Austin, Texas, will see 30 minutes more daylight than on Christmas Day, and a full hour more by mid-February. During the winter we look forward to the arrival of spring, but the winter season brings its own special birds and landscapes. In some parts of the country, wintering birds do not arrive until mid-December, and some are already starting their northward migration by late February. All the seasons are dynamic and filled with change. Being out in nature is an excellent way to be attuned to a world continually in flux.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel