VENTflash #178 September 04, 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,

There are places in the world whose wildlife concentrations defy description, where even photos are inadequate in conveying the sense of spectacle. I have just returned from such a place: Etosha National Park in northern Namibia. Most people have never heard of Etosha, but it happens to be one of the greatest wildlife viewing areas of Africa. I first went to Etosha in August 1982 when I co-led a VENT tour with David Wolf. Our local guide was an expatriate Dutchman named Jan van de Reep. I first learned of Jan from Freddy Gamble, a VENT client who had been to Namibia. It was Freddy who had urged me to contact Jan and to offer a tour to Etosha. Jan proved such a wonderful guide that we have worked with him and his wife Suzi on every VENT tour to Namibia since. They know and love Etosha like no one else.

zebras and gnus at Klein Okevi

Zebras, Wildebeest & Springbok, Etosha, Namibia — Photo: Suzi van de Reep

This August, 32 years later, I was back in Etosha leading a private tour and found it as marvelous as ever. At 22,000 square kilometers, Etosha is one of the largest parks in the world. During the dry season, its numerous waterholes attract incredible assemblages of mammals and birds. My favorite waterhole was at the camp at Okaukuejo where we could walk from our rooms to a viewing area and observe an ever-changing parade of animals.

On a memorable morning at Okaukuejo, dawn found the waterhole absent of many animals save for some doves and sandgrouse, a few Black-backed Jackals, and a lone Southern Oryx. By 8:00 a.m., however, there were a hundred Common Zebra, 50 Impala, and 60 Springbok. Later, 20 Oryx and another 50 Impala arrived along with a few Greater Kudu. At about 10:00 a.m. a herd of African Elephants appeared. Soon they were in the waterhole, drinking and bathing. Then Giraffes showed up, and among them a lone Roan antelope. At another waterhole we saw Lions, Ostriches, and a Black Rhino. Each waterhole presented a different scene and attracted a different mixture of wildlife.

Every camp has a lighted waterhole at night. The blackness at the limit of the light is like the curtain of a stage. You never know what creature will emerge from the darkness next. At the camp at Halali, some of us spent three hours at the waterhole where different animals appeared seemingly every 15 minutes including a Black Rhino, a bull elephant, and a Lion.

Victoria Falls, Zambia

Victoria Falls, Zambia — Photo: Barry Lyon

Among the amazing highlights of our time in Etosha was a family of Cheetahs returning from a morning hunt; 55 elephants in the late afternoon at a waterhole; grasslands with zebra, Springbok, and Giraffes scattered as far as the eye could see; and tiny Dik-Diks only a few yards from our vehicle. Birds were also numerous including a wonderful array of hornbills, bee-eaters, rollers, raptors, and the bizarre Secretary-bird. Most amazing of all was the Crimson-breasted Shrike, black above with a white wing bar and the most intensely red underparts I have ever seen on a bird.

Following our time in Namibia, we spent a week in Botswana in the Okavango River Delta where we explored papyrus swamps and floodplain and woodland habitats. There, we encountered an almost entirely different array of birds and mammals including the endangered African Wild Dog. Our trip had a perfect ending at Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River. The falls themselves are truly awesome and beautiful. Amid the thundering water and vaulting mist, a rainbow arched from the bottom of the falls into the sky. The next day, while on a boat trip on the Zambezi, we saw Hippos, Nile Crocodiles, several kingfisher species, African Finfoots, and lovely White-crowned Lapwings.

Our Namibia, Botswana, & Zambia tour is one of the finest and most popular trips we offer. It is limited to only eight participants and is led by Geoff Lockwood, a wonderful naturalist-guide and birder from South Africa. This tour will next operate August 15-31, 2015. Early registrations are strongly recommended as this trip will sell out quickly.

In this issue:



Sea Cloud

Sea Cloud — Photo: Courtesy Sea Cloud Cruises

I am very excited about VENT’s return to the Eastern Mediterranean next year for a Birds & History cruise from Athens to Istanbul, June 18-29, 2015. For this special departure, we have once again chartered the Sea Cloud for a trip that combines the rich history of Greece and Western Turkey with emphasis on finding some of the special birds of southern Europe and the Aegean Sea region.

The first time VENT visited Greece was in 2005 when we operated a similar Athens to Istanbul program. That trip was so wonderful and so successful that we have been trying ever since to repeat the adventure. Never could I have predicted that it would take ten years for this dream to become reality.

I have always been fascinated by the ancient Greeks, and, of course, I love birding and natural history. This trip combines strong elements of both pursuits in one of the world’s most beautiful and historic settings. Our cruise route begins in Athens and ends a week later in Istanbul. A rich itinerary includes two days in Athens; sailing the Aegean Sea; visits to the islands of Chios and Lesbos; and exploration of Western Turkey and the famed archaeological sites of Pergamon, Troy, and Assos. Our voyage culminates in Istanbul, one of the world’s most historically rich and exotic cities (Trip Advisor has rated Istanbul the #1 city to visit in your lifetime). A bonus activity is a cruise of the Dardanelles Strait on the 100th anniversary of the World War I battle of Gallipoli.

Enhancing the trip’s allure is the opportunity to travel aboard Sea Cloud, a ship many consider the world’s most beautiful sailing vessel.

Pergamon Amphitheater

Pergamon Amphitheater, Turkey — Photo: Brad Schram

In our travels we’re sure to cross paths with a variety of regional specialty birds and more widespread resident species. Among the possibilities are Levantine Shearwater, Short-toed Eagle, Long-legged Buzzard, Pallid Swift, European Bee-eater, Blue Rock-Thrush, Sardinian Warbler, Rock Nuthatch, Woodchat Shrike, Black-headed Bunting, and many others.

Joining me and Barry Lyon on the staff for this special departure are Dr. Paul Woodruff, a professor of philosophy and classics at the University of Texas, and Peter Zika, a field biologist and botanist at the herbarium of the University of Washington. Paul is well-versed in the history and culture of ancient Greece and will present several lectures that incorporate the dominant themes of ancient Greek civilization, namely history, philosophy, and theater. Peter has done field work in different parts of the United States and traveled with tour groups around the world. He is a superb presenter, and will deliver lectures on the botany of the Aegean Sea region and botanical interpretation on our excursions.

I hope you will join us on what promises to be an unforgettable Greece & Turkey cruise.

Greece & Turkey: From Athens to Istanbul Aboard the Sea Cloud, June 18-29, 2015 with Victor Emanuel, Barry Lyon, Dr. Paul Woodruff, and Peter Zika. Cabins start at $8,895 per person in double occupancy from Athens (ends in Istanbul).

Istanbul Post-trip, June 29-30 with Victor Emanuel, Barry Lyon, Dr. Paul Woodruff, and Peter Zika. $595 in double occupancy from Istanbul.

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Our tradition of cruises for birders and natural history enthusiasts continues in 2015 with two Amazon River Cruises: January 8-18 and February 19-March 1.

The Estrella Amazonica, our cruise ship on the Amazon and Ucayali rivers.

La Estrella Amazonica — Photo: Steve Hilty

VENT’s small-boat Amazon River Cruise is among our most popular trips. Unlike many companies, we operate on one of the wildest stretches of the river, upstream from the Peruvian city of Iquitos. Our itineraries include plenty of time on the main river in addition to exploration of its two principal tributaries: the Ucayali and Marañon rivers. Our trips are scheduled for the high water season, when we can explore smaller tributaries in comfortable and stable flat-bottom skiffs. Every outing away from the ship offers unique and delightful experiences with Amazonian wildlife, from parrots perched in riverside trees, to massive Horned Screamers standing watch over flooded lagoons, and to huge macaws winging across a brilliant Amazonian sunset, in addition to a pageant of hawks, herons, kingfishers, trogons, monkeys, crocodiles, and more.

Capped Heron

Capped Heron— Photo: Andrew Whittaker

I doubt there is another trip in our repertoire of tours where one can enjoy as complete a natural history experience in as relaxed a setting as on our Amazon River Cruise. Upon embarkation the ship becomes your home for the next week, precluding the hassles of packing and unpacking and continually changing accommodations. Contrary to popular misperceptions, there are not hordes of biting insects in Amazonia and it is not terribly hot. During the warmest time of the day we will be on our air-conditioned ship. Our vessel, La Estrella Amazonica, features an environmentally friendly design and spacious rooms with private viewing decks. It is one of the most comfortable river boats available for an Amazon River Cruise.

If you’ve still not made your winter travel plans, I strongly encourage you to consider this marvelous opportunity to explore one of the great ecosystems of the world. Cabins are still available on both our January and February departures.

Amazon River Cruise: Birding and Natural History Odyssey Aboard La Estrella Amazonica
* January 8-18, 2015 with Steve Hilty and David Ascanio; $6,295 in double occupancy from Quito. 3 cabins available.

* February 19-March 1, 2015 with David Ascanio and Andrew Whittaker; $6,295 in double occupancy from Quito. 6 cabins available.

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Many of you will be interested to know that Victor Emanuel will be in Washington, D.C. on October 16 as the guest speaker of The Smithsonian Associates. Victor’s talk, Birds and Humans: Exploring a Timeless Connection, will take place at the S. Dillon Ripley Center from 6:45-8:45 p.m. This location is adjacent to the Smithsonian Castle on the Mall. Click here for more information and tickets.

The largest museum-based educational program in the world, The Smithsonian Associates annually offers more than 750 seminars, performances, lectures, studio art classes, and local and regional study tours.

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Black-crowned Antpitta, Altos del Maria, Panama

Black-crowned Antpitta, Panama— Photo: Kevin Zimmer

With the arrival of September our thoughts turn to the autumn and the ensuing holiday season. If you are considering being away for the holidays, I’ll remind you that VENT offers an array of exciting year-end travel options. During the Christmas and New Year period, we will operate trips to Panama, Venezuela, Belize, and Colombia, each of which promises warm weather and outstanding birding at a festive time of the year. Please note the newly available discount of $250 per person on our New Year in Colombia tour.

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. 4 spaces available.

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. 

White-tailed Starfrontlet

White-tailed Starfrontlet, Colombia — Photo: Andrew Whittaker

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. Limit 8.

Belize: Chan Chich New Year, December 28, 2014-January 3, 2015 with Bob Sundstrom; $3,595 in double occupancy from Belize City. Limit 8.

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. Register by October 15 and receive a $250 discount per person; fee is $3,045 with discount.

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This year VENT is a proud sponsor of Dorian Anderson’s Biking for Birds project in which Dorian 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 are: 1) his “Big Year” 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; and 2) this is a fund-raising effort for conservation. All money raised by Dorian is donated to the American Birding Association and The Conservation Fund in support of conservation projects in Delaware, Florida, and Texas.

Update: Dorian started the final third of the year on the Oregon coast where in recent days he added Tufted Puffin, Sooty Grouse, and Hermit Warbler to his ever-growing list. This brings his total to a remarkable 545 species of birds seen in 2014. Additionally, he has now visited 27 states, biked over 11,600 miles, and raised almost $25,500 for conservation!

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

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I’iwi, Hawaii — Photo: Brian Gibbons

The official start of autumn is now only a couple of weeks away. If you are able to travel on short notice or with relatively little lead time, I thought you would like to know that spaces are still available on a range of tours departing in the October-November period.

Fall Hawaii, October 8-16, 2014 with Bob Sundstrom and Eric VanderWerf; $3,895 in double occupancy from Honolulu (ends in Hilo). 2 spaces available.

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.

Panama’s Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp, October 17-25, 2104 with Barry Zimmer and a local leader; $3,345 in double occupancy from Panama City.

Kenya: Birds & Wildlife, October 31-November 17, 2014 with David Wolf ; $10,250 in double occupancy from Nairobi. 2 spaces available. 

Polar Bears of Churchill, November 1-7, 2014 with Bob Sundstrom; $5,995 in double occupancy from Winnipeg. 4 spaces available. 

Polar Bears

Polar Bears — Photo: Brian Gibbons

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.

Madagascar Highlights, November 5-20, 2014 with Dion Hobcroft; $8,195 in double occupancy from Antananarivo. 1 space available.

Southern Argentina: Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego, November 9-23, 2014 with Hector Slongo and a local leader; $5,995 in double occupancy from Buenos Aires. 4 spaces available.

Ecuador: The Northwestern Andean Slopes, November 15-23, 2014 with Paul Greenfield and Steve Hilty; $2,895 in double occupancy from Quito. Combine with the Tinalandia Pre-trip and receive a combined tour discount of $75 in double occupancy and $150 in single occupancy.

Ecuador: Tinalandia Pre-trip, November 11-16, 2014 with Paul Greenfield and Steve Hilty; $1,995 in double occupancy from Quito. Combine with The Northwestern Andean Slopes and receive a combined tour discount of $75 in double occupancy and $150 in single occupancy.

Short-tailed Alabatross, Bering Sea

Short-tailed Alabatross, Bering Sea — Photo: Brian Gibbons

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In addition to amazing encounters with birds and wildlife, VENT tours attract many wonderful and interesting people. One such person is David Wingate from Bermuda.

David Wingate is a hero of conservation as he played a huge role in bringing the Bermuda Petrel back from the brink of extinction. Years ago, he and his wife went on a trip that I co-led to Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falkland Islands. During the tour he gave a fascinating talk on the Bermuda Petrel project. As a high school student he was with the famed seabird expert Robert Cushman Murphy when they saw the first Bermuda Petrel chick seen in over 200 years! This July, the Wingates traveled with VENT leader Brian Gibbons on our very successful Wild Alaska cruise on which many albatross were seen, including a gorgeous adult Short-tailed Albatross.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel