VENTflash #176 July 08, 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,

On the evening of Saturday, June 28th, I was in Morristown, New Jersey with colleagues Michael O’Brien, Louise Zemaitis, and Barry Lyon attending an honorary celebration of Pete Dunne who is retiring as Executive Director of New Jersey Audubon’s Cape May Bird Observatory. This event was wonderful in many ways, and was a proud homage to one of the true legends of North American birding. In attendance were a host of Pete’s colleagues from New Jersey Audubon, birding luminaries, and a multitude of friends and acquaintances. The renowned musician and composer Paul Winter set the tone for the evening with a saxophone rendition of the song of the Wood Thrush. Later, the festivities concluded with Paul’s performance of a haunting duet in which a recording of howling wolves was accompanied by his own saxophone howl. Emotional and historic, this event was the finest of its nature that I have ever attended.

Pete Dunne

Pete Dunne — Photo: Linda Dunne

Unequivocally, Pete is one of the giants of birding. Over a career spanning almost four decades, Pete, through his work at CMBO, his writings, his presence in the field, and his public speaking, has touched the lives of countless thousands of people. In his remarks, David Sibley said that the opportunities Pete gave him when he was a young man changed his life, while Kenn Kaufman declared Pete not only a great birder and a great representative of New Jersey and its birds, but a great man.

Pete was 25 when he came to Cape May in 1977 to conduct an autumn hawk watch for New Jersey Audubon, a position which led to his eventual ascent to the directorship of the Cape May Bird Observatory. Under his vision and leadership, Cape May became one of the country’s best known birding locations. Among his many achievements, the World Series of Birding remains a monumental contribution to birding and bird conservation. Over the course of the evening, several people spoke about Pete’s importance to the birding community. Sibley told the story of his first trip to Cape May and how Pete took him under his wing and offered him a job. David felt that without Pete’s help, he never would have achieved the success he gained later as a birder and as an artist. Kaufman felt that Pete’s greatest contribution has been as a writer whose books and articles have been read by thousands of birders.

I have known Pete a long time, and I have many fond memories of leading VENT trips with him and his wife Linda. On several occasions Pete and Linda joined me in supervising our summer youth camp, Camp Chiricahua, and they co-led trips with me to the Galapagos Islands, Antarctica, and Attu. They are valued friends who have helped VENT in many ways for many years.

As I have spent much of my own life connecting people to birds and nature, I have only the highest admiration and respect for Pete Dunne, not only for the enormous contributions he has made to birding and conservation, but for the incalculable influence he has had on the lives of so many others.

Pete will continue to serve New Jersey Audubon in his new position as Birding Ambassador-at-Large. We look forward to welcoming him as a leader on future VENT trips.

In this issue:



polar bear and cub

Polar Bear and Cub — Photo: Brian Gibbons

Churchill, Manitoba is North America’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.

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. We’ll spend four days in Churchill where at this time 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 specialties such 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 Bob Sundstrom; $5,995 in double occupancy from Winnipeg (fee includes internal air ticket). 5 spaces available.

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Red-breasted Sapsucker, Madera

Red-breasted Sapsucker — Photo: Brian Gibbons

Now that we’ve passed the halfway point of the year, this is a good time to consider autumn travel. Two of our fall destinations are Washington and Hawaii, both of which offer excellent birding and temperature relief after another long, hot summer. These tours are led by Bob Sundstrom, who, for many years, has anchored our program of tours in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaiian Islands. Those who have traveled with Bob know him as an excellent teacher and traveling companion. I hope you will consider joining him on one of these fine tours. 

The Pacific Northwest: A September Migration Birding Workshop, September 3-11, 2014 with Bob Sundstrom and a second leader to be announced; $2,795 in double occupancy from Seattle.

This workshop-style tour captures the spirit of autumn bird migration in the cool Pacific Northwest. A varied itinerary includes opportunities to learn the basics of birding and bird identification in a host of marvelous natural settings including the Puget Sound region around Seattle, Olympic National Park, and Vancouver Island. Some of the many birds expected are Pacific Coast specialties such as Buller’s Shearwater, Tufted Puffin, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Red-breasted Sapsucker, Varied Thrush, and many others.

Fall Hawaii, October 8-16, 2014 with Bob Sundstrom and Eric VanderWerf; $3,895 in double occupancy from Honolulu (ends in Hilo).

Central features of this tour are beautiful coastlines, towering volcanoes and rugged canyons, excellent accommodations and cuisine, and, of course, native forest birds. On the islands of Oahu, Kauai, and Hawaii, we’ll search for rare endemic birds on the slopes of Mauna Kea, visit the lunar-like landscape of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, seek Bristle-thighed Curlews on Oahu, and view the famed Na Pali Coast. Incredible Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge boasts a seabird spectacle second to none.

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On many occasions I have written about my love of Panama. Early in my career, Panama is where I “cut my teeth” learning Neotropical birds. Panama was also the site of many of VENT’s earliest tropical birding tours. From the time Robert Ridgely produced his landmark A Guide to the Birds of Panama in the 1970s to Raul Arias’s development of the “Canopy Family” of lodges starting in the late ‘90s, Panama has served as one of the world’s top birding destinations. I have been there so many times, for personal travel as well as for leading tours, that I have developed strong emotional ties to the country that I regard as my favorite tropical destination.

Violet-crowned Woodnymph

Violet-crowned Woodnymph — Photo: Barry Zimmer

This year we will operate four tours to Panama in the September–November period. Great venues and great birds are hallmarks of these fine autumn tours. I hope you will join us.

Fall at Panama’s Canopy Tower, October 11-18, 2014 with Barry Zimmer and a local leader; $2,895 in double occupancy from Panama City.

Join Barry on a weeklong stay at the incomparable Canopy Tower, situated in the heart of central Panama. Over 300 species of birds, unique accommodations, and the Panama Canal are all attractions of this tour.

Panama’s Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp, October 17-25, 2014 with Barry Zimmer and a local leader; $3,345 in double occupancy from Panama City.

The newest edition to the “Canopy Family” of lodges, the Canopy Camp offers an Africa-style tented camp experience in the heart of Panama’s Darien region. We’ll spend a week in these eastern lowlands enjoying superb accommodations and easy access to great birding. 


Honeycreeper, Canopy Lodge, El Valle, Panama, February 2013

Red-legged Honeycreeper, Canopy Lodge — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

Panama: Fall at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, November 1-8, 2014 with Barry Zimmer and a local leader; $2,595 in double occupancy from Panama City.

Join Barry for a full week at enchanting El Valle where you will see a marvelous assortment of tropical birds. Several seldom seen birds are best found here including Tody Motmot, Snowcap, and, with good fortune, Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo.

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

This addition to our Relaxed & Easy program offers a new twist on our Central Panama tours. We’ll see almost as many birds as on our main Canopy Tower trips, but with a less demanding schedule that includes lighter physical demands, shorter days in the field, and lodging at the Canopy B&B.

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Crimson Topaz — Photo: Andrew Whittaker

This fall we will operate our inaugural departure to the Manaus region of Brazil. Due to several recent cancellations, additional space has opened up on this tour.

Manaus is a bustling city nestled deep in the heart of the Amazon rainforest at the junction of the Amazon and Rio Negro rivers. We have designed this tour to sample the birds of regional centers of endemism, with exceptional opportunities to see some of South America’s most wanted birds such as Guianan Cock-of-the-rock, Crimson Topaz, Pompadour Cotinga, Guianan Red-Cotinga, countless parrots, several species of primates and much more. Other highlights include magnificent sunsets, starlit nights, Amazon boat trips, and a visit to the famous INPA canopy tower where colorful cotingas, macaws, parrots, toucans, tanagers, trogons, and primates are seen at eye level.

This tour will be led by Andrew Whittaker, an authority on Brazilian birds and a former resident of Manaus. If you are available to travel in the next couple of months, I hope you will consider this trip and the opportunity it presents to experience the most complex ecosystem on earth.

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

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I am delighted to announce that VENT recently pledged $2,500 in matching donations to Dorian Anderson’s Biking for Birds project.

Victor Emanuel and Dorian

Victor Emanuel and Dorian “Biking for Birds” Anderson

If you are not aware of this endeavor, Dorian, who lives in the Boston area, is spending 2014 on a cross-country bicycle trip attempting to see as many birds as possible in the calendar year. Making this effort unique is that his is a “Green Big Year” in that all of his transportation is self-propelled, either on foot or bicycle, forsaking the assistance of fossil fuels. In support, VENT donated $2,500 in matching funds to the money Dorian raised between June 23 and July 7. All donations go to the American Birding Association and the Conservation Fund, and specifically in support of conservation projects in Delaware, Florida, and Texas.

I have known Dorian for more than 20 years, since he attended a number of VENT youth birding camps in the early 90s. I am proud of him for his dedication to conservation and for the courage he has displayed in this remarkable undertaking. From bone-chilling cold in the Northeast to triple digit heat in the Southwest, he has persevered through all types of weather, numerous flat tires, difficult road conditions, and punishing high mountain ascents.

In April, Dorian stayed at my beach house on the upper Texas coast while he birded the High Island area. Presently he is in Colorado where he has been working his way through the Rocky Mountains and Pawnee Grasslands, successfully adding Mountain Plover, White-tailed Ptarmigan, Flammulated Owl, Brown-capped Rosy-Finch, and others to his growing list. With the addition of these prize birds, he is closing in on 500 species for the year. We salute Dorian for his determination and wish him safe travels for the remainder of his journey.

I hope you will familiarize yourself with Biking for Birds and consider a donation in support of this worthwhile effort.

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Chan Chich Lodge

Chan Chich Lodge — Photo: Courtesy Chan Chich Lodge

I can’t imagine a better late-winter getaway than our Best of Belize: Crooked Tree & Chan Chich Lodge tour. This trip, March 4-11, 2015, visits two of Belize’s best birding locations and includes a stay at the heavenly Chan Chich Lodge. Adding to the allure, I am excited to announce a $250 per person discount on registrations received by October 1, 2014.

Belize is one of the best countries in Central America for birds and wildlife. It is also a very safe, stable, and welcoming destination. Crooked Tree presents marvelous encounters with waterbirds including Jabiru, Agami Heron, and American Pygmy Kingfisher. At Chan Chich we’ll spend five nights at one of the world’s greatest jungle lodges featuring high quality accommodations, special ambience, and fantastic birding. Crested Guan, Great Curassow, Ocellated Turkey, all three species of hawk-eagle, and amazing mammal viewing opportunities are trip highlights.

This tour will be led by Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney, superb tour leaders with plenty of Belize experience.

Best of Belize: Crooked Tree & Chan Chich Lodge, March 4-11, 2015 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $4,795 in double occupancy from Belize City. Register by October 1 and pay $4,545.

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We generally have a stream of Great Shearwaters following the boat all day.

Great Shearwaters, Grand Manan — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Although the summer has just arrived, now is the perfect time to plan your autumn travel. We thought you’d like to know that spaces are still available on a number of fine tours departing in the September–November period. If you prefer a trip close to home, or perhaps a tropical escape, or even something further afield, VENT has a variety of domestic and international trips to satisfy your wanderlust!

Autumn Migration in Hungary, August 30-September 11, 2014 with Brian Gibbons and Attila Steiner; $3,995 in double occupancy from Budapest. 2 spaces available.

Autumn Grand Manan, September 1-7, 2014 with Barry Zimmer and Erik Bruhnke; $3,495 in double occupancy from Bangor. 2 spaces available.

The Pacific Northwest: A September Migration Birding Workshop, September 3-11, 2014 with Bob Sundstrom and a second leader to be announced; $2,795 in double occupancy from Seattle. 

Peru: Manu Biosphere Reserve: Cloud Forest, Foothills and Lowland Rainforest, September 9-23, 2014 with Steve Hilty and David Wolf; $5,645 in double occupancy from Lima. 2 spaces available.


Brazilian Mergansers, Minas Gerais

Brazilian Mergansers, Minas Gerais — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

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.

Kenya: Birds & Wildlife, October 31-November 17, 2014 with David Wolf and Brian Gibbons; $10,250 in double occupancy from Nairobi.

Madagascar Highlights, November 5-20, 2014 with Dion Hobcroft; $8,195 in double occupancy from Antananarivo. 1 space available (single occupancy or female request share).

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

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Victor and Felix Neck Staff

Victor and Felix Neck Staff

For most of the last week I have been on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts visiting my friend Rose Styron and other friends and participating in the 50th anniversary celebration of Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary’s Fern and Feather Day Camp. One morning I co-led a bird walk with some of the staff, and that night gave a talk on why people love birds and how birding changes lives (both events helped to raise money for the camp scholarship program). The highlights from our time in the field included sightings of American Oystercatchers, Eastern Kingbirds, Baltimore Orioles, and American Goldfinches. It is amazing to me to think that those kingbirds had flown over 3,000 miles to reach this island after having spent the winter in South America.

The Fern and Feather Day Camp is a series of weeklong summer day camps attended by over 300 children each summer. As described on the Felix Neck website, “(this) camp offers an exciting opportunity for (children) to experience the outdoors on a 350-acre wildlife sanctuary…We explore forest, field, marsh, fresh water pond, and salt water habitats to observe and investigate the natural world of animals, plants and geology. Our goal is to help (children) enjoy, understand, and appreciate the natural environment through hands-on, inquiry-based activities…”

I am a big believer in the importance of outdoor youth education, and this camp squares perfectly with this ethic. It has been a great pleasure being here.