VENTflash #177 July 22, 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,

One of the many reasons I enjoy living in Austin, Texas is the opportunity to enjoy our city’s unique urban wildlife spectacles. For instance, every evening in July we are treated to an incredible show where Purple Martins form a massive pre-migration roost in a stand of live oaks in the parking lot of a Central Austin shopping mall. First noticed about five years ago, this phenomenon has proven an annual event, garnering increasing attention year after year. Last year, the great gathering was publicized in the local newspaper and on television. This summer there have been even more martins than in previous years. I have been to see them four times so far this year.

Purple Martin

Purple Martin — Photo: Greg Lasley

As if a well-rehearsed performance, the nightly show starts on queue at 8:30 p.m. when the first few dozen birds appear. Within a matter of minutes the group becomes a cloud of several thousand circling overhead. By 8:55 the flock has swollen to hundreds of thousands. At its peak, some observers estimated this year’s flock at 500,000 martins! Just before 9:00 they begin diving out of the sky to roost on the branches of the oak trees. By 9:15 the majority of the birds are at roost, and in such numbers that some of the branches break off! So dramatic is this event that not a night goes by anymore without dozens, sometimes hundreds of people on hand watching the scene unfold.

Volunteers from Travis Audubon Society staff an information booth with a map that shows the breeding and winter ranges of the Purple Martin as well as other information about the birds. By early August most will have departed for their wintering grounds in South America—some will go as far as southern Brazil—not to return until early in the following year. The first returning birds will arrive in Austin by early February, with numbers quickly building thereafter. The martins will form breeding colonies, raise young throughout the spring, and gather once again in July as the cycle continues.

Annual events such as these are one of the many aspects of nature that add so much to our lives.

In this issue:



As we’ve reached the height of summer, now is an excellent time to consider year-end travel plans. For a variety of reasons, many people prefer to be away from home for the Christmas and New Year holidays. If you are someone who doesn’t mind being away at this time, you might be intrigued by VENT’s holiday tour offerings. This year we will operate trips to Panama, Venezuela, Belize, and Colombia, each of which promises warm weather and outstanding birding. I want to emphasize that now is a very good time to make year-end travel plans as airfares will only become more expensive. 


again back at the tower we delighted in such gems as this brilliant male Green Honeycreeper.

Green Honeycreeper, Canopy Tower, Panama — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Panama: Christmas at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, December 22-27, 2014 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader: $1,995 in double occupancy from Panama City. Limit 14.

Nestled in the cool middle elevation El Valle region, Panama’s Canopy Lodge offers great birding and luxury accommodations. Cloud-misted peaks loom over the lodge while the verdant grounds teem with a parade of colorful motmots, hummingbirds, tanagers, and more.

New Year at Panama’s Canopy Tower, December 27, 2014-January 3, 2015 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $2,895 in double occupancy from Panama City. Limit 14.

The famous Canopy Tower has garnered international attention for its remarkable design, close proximity to an amazing diversity of wildlife, and attention to high quality service. In a week’s time you’ll see approximately 300 species of birds and an array of mammals, experience a dynamic slice of central Panama, and visit the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal.

Venezuela: New Year in the Llanos, December 26, 2014-January 4, 2015 with Jeri Langham and David Ascanio; $3,945 in double occupancy from Caracas.

White-tailed Starfrontlet

White-tailed Starfrontlet, Colombia — Photo: Andrew Whittaker

This tour explores the llanos (grasslands) of Venezuela and includes visits to the famed ranches of Hato Piñero and Hato El Cedral. Combined, the two locations offer an unparalleled blend of waterbird spectacles and woodland and grassland birding, with Jabirú, seven species of ibis, Scarlet Macaw, Horned Screamer, and Yellow-knobbed Curassow among the highlights. Boat trips at Hato El Cedral reveal dozens of other water-loving species including the bizarre Hoatzin and five kingfisher species.

Venezuela has been in the news for some time because of the high crime rate in Caracas. I want to reaffirm that safety is our highest priority. The airport is near the coast and is a considerable distance from the city. The first and last nights of the trip are spent in a lovely seaside hotel, and at no time do we go into Caracas.

Belize: Chan Chich New Year, December 28, 2014-January 3, 2015 with Bob Sundstrom; $3,595 in double occupancy from Belize City.

Chan Chich Lodge is the premier destination in the lovely country of Belize. On this one-week tour we’ll stay at this, one of the world’s top jungle lodges, and seek a bounty of tropical birds and mammals amid vast expanses of protected forest. High quality accommodations and food complement marvelous birding opportunities.

New Year in Colombia: The Santa Marta Getaway, December 29, 2014-January 5, 2015 with Steve Hilty; $3,295 in double occupancy from Santa Marta or Barranquilla. Limit 8.

One of the most endemic-rich sites in Colombia is the Santa Marta region in the country’s far north. The lofty, pyramid-shaped Santa Marta range springs up from the shores of the Caribbean to well above treeline, and it is a birder’s dream. Join Steve Hilty, author of the landmark Guide to the Birds of Colombia, on this New Year tour for an introduction to the birds and natural history of northern Colombia. Flamingos, flycatchers, lots of hummingbirds, colorful tanagers, and antpittas are among the expected species.

I hope you will join us on one of these fine tours.

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Panama's Canopy Tower

Panama’s Canopy Tower — Photo: Courtesy of Canopy Tower

I am pleased to announce a discount of $500 per person for registrations we receive by August 15 for our Fall at Panama’s Canopy Tower tour, October 11-18, 2014.

For many years, this tour has been one of my favorites. Timed for the peak of the southbound raptor migration, no other tour in our repertoire offers such a spectacle in combination with a palette of wonderful tropical birds.

Last fall I co-led this trip with Barry Zimmer. We had an outstanding tour, with sightings of colorful motmots, trogons, hummingbirds, tanagers, and oropendolas, while on the last day of the tour we witnessed an incredible flight of over 200,000 hawks and vultures migrating through the Canal Zone.

This tour is led by popular leader Barry Zimmer, with all nights spent at the renowned Canopy Tower.I hope you will take advantage of this terrific opportunity.

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. $2,395 with discount.

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In a few days I will travel to southern Africa to co-lead a tour group to Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia. I first went to Botswana in August 1977 and to Namibia in l981. From the outset I became very fond of both regions. Together they offer some of the greatest wildlife spectacles in the world, as well as marvelous birding. VENT offers a Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia trip every August. It is one of our finest and most popular trips. I am looking forward to returning to this great region.

I hope you are having a good summer.