VENTflash #175 June 10, 2014

Posted by Victor Emanuel


Victor Emanuel

Victor Emanuel started birding in Texas 70 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,

After spending most of the month of May on the road, I am happy to be back in Austin for the final weeks of spring and the onset of summer. As I catch up on things at the office, I am delighted to report that VENT has enjoyed another outstanding spring travel season.

I’ve received reports from tour leaders and tour participants alike on the success of VENT tours at home and abroad. On the domestic front, our tours to Colorado, Texas, Florida, Arizona, New Jersey, and Washington all experienced good weather and excellent birding. For the first time ever, VENT operated two departures in the same year of our unique Birding Across America by Train tour, one of which I co-led. Farther afield, we operated very successful trips to Cuba, Bhutan, China, Spain, Scotland, and England while our inaugural Southern Portugal: Birds & History tour received high marks as well.

Biggest Week Colleagues: Kenn & Kim Kaufman, V. Emanuel, B. Lyon, L. Zemaitis, and M. O'Brien

Biggest Week Colleagues: Kenn & Kim Kaufman, V. Emanuel, B. Lyon, L. Zemaitis, and M. O’Brien

In the first part of May, I traveled to Maumee Bay, Ohio along with tour leaders Michael O’Brien, Louise Zemaitis, and Barry Lyon to represent VENT at The Biggest Week in American Birding. Held on the south shore of Lake Erie, just east of Toledo, this event celebrates the annual return of Neotropical migrants for the breeding season. Warblers are always the top attraction, and birders “flock” to the famous boardwalk at Magee Marsh where warblers may be seen in great variety and numbers. More than 30 species of warblers are recorded here each spring, all in gorgeous breeding plumage. The four of us led bird walks daily and I delivered a keynote presentation one evening entitled “Why People Love Birds.” Also in attendance was Erik Lindqvist, one of VENT’s Operations Managers. For several days Erik staffed our booths in the vendor areas meeting new people and getting the word out about VENT.

The Biggest Week in American Birding takes its name from the fact that it is the longest in duration of any birding and nature festival in the country, and because it draws more people than any event of a similar nature. In the last five years, this event has become the country’s most popularly attended birding and nature festival. VENT will return for next year’s festival, May 8-17, 2015.

Attending this event was very special to me for a number of reasons, not least of which is that it was started and promoted by my close friends Kenn and Kim Kaufman, who have done so much for North American birding, youth birding, and for VENT.

In this issue:



I will never forget my first morning in Papua New Guinea, now more than 20 years ago. I had heard about the birds-of-paradise ever since I became interested in birds, and now I was about to begin a trip where I would see almost 20 species! The sights and sounds from that first morning in the field were magical, and that was only the beginning of what would turn out to be one of the best trips of my life. My favorite place was Ambua Lodge in the western highlands. I saw several species of birds-of-paradise right on the lodge grounds, and still others nearby. I rate Ambua as one of the top 10 lodges in the world. Significantly, VENT’s annual PNG tour spends three nights at Ambua while some of our competitors either don’t stay there at all or stay for fewer nights.

Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise at Varirata National Park, August 2013

Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise, Varirata National Park, PNG — Photo: Dion Hobcroft

If you’ve ever considered a trip to Papua New Guinea, I’m happy to share the reasons why I think the VENT trip is the best option. In addition to a stay at the world-famous Ambua Lodge, VENT charters many of our in-country flights, as opposed to taking commercial flights or subjecting participants to lengthy drives. Commercial flights are often overbooked and subject to considerable delays, while long road trips are tiring and potentially hazardous. Moreover, the VENT trip is limited to only eight participants and is led by Dion Hobcroft, one of the best tour leaders you could ever travel with.

Hosting more than 700 species of birds, New Guinea is home to the world’s richest island avifauna, nearly half of which is found nowhere else on earth. While the extraordinary birds-of-paradise are the finest jewels in New Guinea’s ornithological crown, there is so much else to attract the birdwatcher—huge, flightless cassowaries; strange mound builders; a gorgeous array of doves, parrots, and kingfishers; exquisite fairywrens; and fascinating bowerbirds. Interesting mammals include numerous little-known marsupials, in addition to some striking reptiles and amphibians, and a wondrous plethora of butterflies, including the spectacular birdwings.

Papua New Guinea Highlights, September 1-14, 2014 with Dion Hobcroft; $12,495 in double occupancy from Brisbane. Limit 8; 3 spaces available. Combine this tour with our West New Britain tour and receive a discount of $600 per person in double occupancy and $825 in single occupancy.

Papua New Guinea: West New Britain, August 27-September 4, 2014 with Dion Hobcroft; $3,895 in double occupancy from Brisbane. Limit 8; 4 spaces available.

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The next day we scoured the forests for migrant passerines. In all we tallied 22 species of warblers for the tour with Northern Parula being our third most common species.

Northern Parulas, Grand Manan — Photo: Barry Zimmer

I can’t imagine a better ending to summer than a trip to Grand Manan Island off the coast of New Brunswick in the Canadian Maritime. Grand Manan is a “back in time” sort of place that resembles what Maine might have been like 60 years ago with very little traffic, quaint towns, and a lovely coastline. Making Grand Manan even more special is the opportunity to observe wonderful assortments of seabirds, warblers, and whales in a relatively compact area.

The trip begins with a night in Bangor followed by a drive to Black’s Harbor in New Brunswick and a ferry ride to Grand Manan. Once on the island you will settle into the Marathon Inn, your home for four nights. This old inn is the perfect place from which to explore the island. The food is excellent, especially the freshly caught lobster and wonderful blueberry pie. Driving back roads, you will seek warblers and other southbound migrant landbirds. You may see as many as 20 species of warblers. At Castalia Marsh you may be treated to Nelson’s Sparrows and a few southbound shorebirds. A full-day boat trip will be one of the highlights. Four species of whales are possible including the Northern Right Whale, one of the rarest whales in the world. Hundreds of Great Shearwaters may be seen around the boat, as well as Wilson’s Storm-Petrels, Atlantic Puffins, Northern Gannets, Great Cormorants, Razorbills, Black Guillemots, and other seabirds.

Another Humpback Whale right next to the boat (with a couple of shearwaters passing by as well).

Humpback Whale, Grand Manan — Photo: Barry Zimmer

This trip will be led by Barry Zimmer, who has led this tour for many years, and Erik Bruhnke, one of VENT’s new leaders.

Once you have spent time on Grand Manan you will understand why the author Willa Cather spent her summers here in a cottage she owned in Whale Cove. It is truly an idyllic place.

Autumn Grand Manan, September 1-7, 2014 with Barry Zimmer and Erik Bruhnke; $3,495 in double occupancy from Bangor. Limit 12; 3 spaces available.

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Churchill, Manitoba is widely recognized as the world’s premier site for observing and photographing Polar Bears. This fall, VENT will return to the shores of Hudson Bay for another Polar Bears of Churchill tour, November 1-7, 2014 with Bob Sundstrom.

Polar Bears

Polar Bears, Churchill — Photo: Doug Hanna

For most of the last 30 years, VENT has taken people to Churchill to witness the seasonal gathering of Polar Bears along southwest Hudson Bay, an event that is one of nature’s greatest spectacles. We’ll spend four days in Churchill where, for several weeks each fall, there are more Polar Bears than any other place in the world. Traveling aboard Tundra Buggies, we will see numbers of these magnificent creatures at very close range, including mothers with cubs and enormous males. The diversity of birds is light, but the species that remain are among the far north’s most alluring inhabitants, including such beauties as Common Eider, Gyrfalcon, Willow and Rock ptarmigan, Purple Sandpiper, Snowy Owl, and Snow Bunting.

Among the reasons to consider the VENT tour to Churchill:
* Our tour fee includes internal round-trip airfare from Winnipeg to Churchill
* The tour is less expensive than what is offered by any other operator
* VENT charters the Tundra Buggy so that we have the entire vehicle for our group only
* Our trip is timed for the prime time to see bears—as many as 20–30 per day!

Polar Bears of Churchill, November 1-7, 2014 with Brian Gibbons; $5,995 in double occupancy from Winnipeg (fee includes internal air ticket). 5 spaces available.

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Over the years, word of mouth has been the most important source of VENT’s growth. To reward such referrals, we operate a New Customer Referral program for VENT travelers who bring us new participants (excluding spouses and children). If based upon your referral, someone who has never traveled with us before registers for and takes their first VENT tour, you will receive a voucher for $500 which may be used on any future VENT tour, cruise, or special departure!

To demonstrate the program’s potential, some of our travelers have earned multiple discounts on future VENT tours when they encouraged several people who had never traveled with us before to take their first VENT tours.

Some restrictions do apply, and I encourage you to check the VENT website for a more detailed explanation of our New Customer Referral program.

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Red-and-green Macaws at Clay Lick - Manu, Peru

Red-and-green Macaws at Clay Lick, Manu, Peru — Photo: Pamela Higginbotham

In 1983 tropical ecologist and conservationist Charlie Munn invited me to accompany him on a trip to the Manu region of southeastern Peru. Charlie had spent several years in Manu gathering information on mixed species flocks for his doctoral dissertation at Princeton and he was hoping ecotourism would help protect Manu from development. At that point in time, few birders had ever been there. I had heard stories about Manu from Ted Parker, the great tropical ornithologist who had gone there a few years earlier and had rediscovered an antbird species known only from one specimen. I had also read John Terborgh’s statement that once he went to Manu he realized that the other areas he had visited in Amazonia were much less pristine. On that scouting trip we camped because there were no lodges in those days. I returned from that trip feeling as Parker and Terborgh had felt: Manu was the ultimate Amazonia experience.

Steve Hilty

Steve Hilty

Following that initial trip, Charlie Munn and I co-led the first VENT tour to Manu, a trip that no other company had ever offered. It was entirely a camping trip. Over the years, Manu’s fame has increased. Lodges have been built outside the park in superb habitat. VENT has been a pioneer in birding and nature tourism to the Manu region and has operated more trips there than any other bird tour company. Our trip is co-led by Steve Hilty and David Wolf, who have led many birding trips to Manu and possess decades of experience traveling and birding in the American Tropics. They are great at finding birds including many shy and seldom seen species. In addition, they are delightful travel companions and great teachers who eagerly share their wealth of knowledge.

Our Manu trips operate in September because there are far fewer chances of encountering a strong austral cold front (a friaje) than in August, and there are fewer tourists at that time. This is significant because a strong cold front pushing up from the south can suppress bird activity for several days. Meanwhile, fewer tourists mean less crowded sites. If you want to experience the best of Amazonia, I hope you will reserve one of the few remaining spaces on our upcoming tour to Peru: Manu Biosphere Reserve, September 9-23, 2014.

Peru: Manu Biosphere Reserve, September 9-23, 2014 with Steve Hilty and David Wolf; $5,645 in double occupancy from Lima. 3 spaces available.

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I consider East Africa the world’s premier wildlife viewing destination. I am especially fond of Kenya, with its varied habitats, excellent national parks and reserves, good infrastructure, and marvelous diversity of birds and mammals. For these reasons, I believe that our Kenya tour is one of our most exciting departures.

Elephants at Samburu, Kenya

Elephants at Samburu, Kenya — Photo: Victor Emanuel

Our next Kenya Birds & Wildlife tour will operate October 31-November 17, 2014. This tour will be led by David Wolf, one of the top experts on the birds and wildlife of Kenya. Of all the places David leads tours, his great love is Kenya, where he spent a year shortly after graduating from college. I don’t know of anyone who knows Kenya better than David. I can’t imagine a better person with whom to travel in that country. His knowledge of the birds, mammals, and culture of Kenya is truly awesome.

Our Kenya tour visits some of the country’s top parks and reserves, including Samburu/Buffalo Springs Reserves; Nairobi, Lake Nakuru, and Hell’s Gate National Parks; Lakes Baringo, Nakuru, and Naivasha; and the Kakamega Reserve. Our optional extension to the Masai Mara Reserve rivals a trip to the famed Serengeti for its richness of birds and animals.

Birding in Kenya is a delight. From flamingos and weavers to ostriches and turacos, the birds are often surprisingly abundant. Such striking birds as guineafowl, kingfishers, rollers, bee-eaters, hornbills, barbets, bushshrikes, starlings, sunbirds, and finches are common. Our Kenya tours typically record over 500 species. Of course, game-watching is of paramount interest, and this tour, along with the extension, offers the opportunity to see almost all of the large mammals of East Africa including big cats, elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus, giraffe, zebra, and a great variety of antelope.

Kenya Birds and Wildlife, October 31-November 17, 2014 with David Wolf; $10,250 in double occupancy from Nairobi. Limit 6. Include the Masai Mara Extension and receive a $400 combined tour discount.

Masai Mara Extension, November 16-21, 2014 with David Wolf; $4,495 in double occupancy from Nairobi.

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As the start of summer approaches, I am thrilled to report that VENT is in the midst of another outstanding year. Looking ahead to the next six months, many VENT tours are full or almost full. In case you’ve not yet made your 2014 travel plans, I thought you would like to know that a handful of spaces are still available on a slate of tours departing in the July-November period. Each of these departures assures great birding in a marvelous destination. I hope you’ll consider reserving your space on one of these fine trips: 

Guianan Red Cotinga, Manaus

Guianan Red Cotinga, Manaus— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

Grand Costa Rica, July 7-21, 2014 with Jeri Langham; $5,395 in double occupancy from San José. 1 space available.

The Pacific Northwest: An Introductory Birding Tour, July 23-27, 2014 with Bob Sundstrom; $1,695 in double occupancy from Seattle. 4 spaces available.

Panama’s Canopy Tower: Birds & Butterflies, August 16-23, 2014 with Michael O’Brien and a local leader; $2,595 in double occupancy from Panama City. 4 spaces available.

Manaus, Brazil: Amazon Rainforest & River Islands, September 19-30, 2014 with Andrew Whittaker; $4,895 in double occupancy from Manaus. 4 spaces available.

Galapagos Islands Cruise aboard the M/V Evolution, October 31-November 9, 2014 with Paul Greenfield and Tony Nunnery; cabins start at $6,595 in double occupancy from Quito. 1 cabin available.

Madagascar Highlights, November 5-20, 2014 with Dion Hobcroft; $8,195 in double occupancy from Antananarivo. 2 spaces available.

Panama’s Canal Zone: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, November 7-13, 2014 with David Ascanio; $2,995 in double occupancy from Panama City. 2 spaces available.

Minas Gerais: Endemic Birds & Special Mammals of Central Brazil, November 8-20, 2014 with Kevin Zimmer and Andrew Whittaker; $4,395 in double occupancy from Belo Horizonte. 4 spaces available.

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Last month, while at the Biggest Week in American Birding, I led a field trip for young birders. I have always believed in the importance of connecting children with nature, and my time with the Ohio kids brought to mind another experience I had earlier this year where I thought I could help make a difference in introducing children to the joys of the natural world.

Following our February Birds & History cruise of the Lesser Antilles, I co-led an extension to the world-famous Asa Wright Nature Centre on the island of Trinidad. It had been many years since I first visited this historic location, and I was again enthralled by the enchanting setting and the marvelous birding right around the lodge. I was reminded why VENT has long considered Asa Wright an essential destination for anyone interested in tropical birds. During my stay I was happy to learn that 5,000 school children visit Asa Wright every year, but I became concerned when I found that only a few of the children had binoculars.

Upon my return to Austin I contacted our friends at Eagle Optics who agreed to contribute half the cost of 20 pairs of binoculars, to be used by children that visit Asa Wright. Pam Moes, a participant on our March Rockport, Texas Birding Workshop, and VENT, will contribute the other half. Soon the new binoculars will be on their way to Asa Wright where they will enable many children to enjoy the beautiful birds that form part of their island’s unique natural heritage.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel