VENTflash #180 November 03, 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,

I’ve always enjoyed October because it is one of the best months of the year for birding, the weather is beautiful just about everywhere, and the autumn foliage—particularly in the East—is at its peak. This October was especially memorable.

Main lodge, Little St. Simons Island

Main lodge, Little St. Simons Island — Photo: LSSI

I began the month by co-leading a Birding Workshop with David Wolf and Barry Lyon at Little St. Simons Island on the Georgia coast. This ten-thousand acre barrier island is an unspoiled haven containing miles of empty, litter-free beaches and a magnificent maritime forest filled with ancient live oaks and pines. Just seeing such remarkable beauty is alone worth the trip, but the birding is also wonderful. In particular, Sancho Panza Beach at the north end of the island is the top birding site. Here, the broad beach borders the estuary of the Altamaha River and, depending on tidal conditions, hosts fantastic concentrations of shorebirds, gulls, terns, and skimmers.

Inland, the landbirding can be quite good. On one day, the wind shifted to the northwest, bringing waves of warblers and other migrants. Seventeen species of warblers were seen during our three-day visit including beauties such as male Black-throated Blue and Magnolia warblers. On the last afternoon, the lodge staff arranged for hors d’oeuvres and cocktails back at Sancho Panza, where we enjoyed superb views of Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons, and shorebirds. As the tide came in, 65 American Oystercatchers settled onto the sand across from us; then, 500 Black Skimmers alighted behind the oystercatchers! It was a perfect finale to our time here.

American Oystercatchers

American Oystercatchers — Photo: Michael O’Brien

Meanwhile, I finished the month having just returned from Cape May, New Jersey where, along with Barry Lyon, Michael O’Brien, and Louise Zemaitis, I represented VENT at the 68th annual Cape May Autumn Birding Festival. In some important ways, Cape May is an epicenter of the North American birding landscape. It is not only an incredible birding destination, but also home to a thriving and engaged naturalist and birding community. Prior to this trip, I had not been to Cape May in many years, and the opportunity to spend a long weekend in such a legendary birding location as this was special.

This birding festival is run by New Jersey Audubon, a wonderful organization that ranks among the top Audubon state chapters in terms of outreach, environmental education, and advocacy for environmental protection. It was great to be in the company of such a talented and committed group of people, including David La Puma, the new director of Cape May Bird Observatory, and my old friend Pete Dunne.

In this issue:



With our first Amazon River Cruise of 2015 (January 8-18) set to depart in a little over two months, I thought you might like to know about an incredible opportunity to join this trip at a significant discount. This week, we received notice of cancellation by a couple who had been registered on this trip. Since they were assessed cancellation penalties, we can offer this one cabin at a discount of $1,000 per person off the double occupancy rate. We expect this cabin to go quickly, and it will be sold on a first-come basis.

La Estrella Amazonica

La Estrella Amazonica — Photo: International Expeditions

We regard our Amazon River Cruise as among the most delightful trips we offer. The ship we have chartered for this wonderful voyage is La Estrella Amazonica, a lovely 28-passenger riverboat. Almost all the birding is enjoyed from comfortable and stable skiffs that we use for exploring back channels and side streams. You can look forward to excellent views of many spectacular birds including Horned Screamers, Hoatzins, macaws and other parrots, woodpeckers, kingfishers, tanagers, and many other birds. You will also see eight or more species of primates, both Pink and Gray river dolphins, and a lot of other wildlife.

We hope you will be able to take advantage of this rare opportunity to spend time in one of the world’s richest ecosystems.

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 Lima. Take advantage of this special opportunity and pay $5,295 in double occupancy.

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Several years ago I devised the idea of the “Birding Workshop” to provide our travelers with tour options designed especially for improving birding skills and for simply learning more about birds.

Matt Larson and Victor Emanuel with a Long-eared Owl during VENT's 2012 Montana Owl Workshop.


If you are not familiar with this program of tours, our Birding Workshops are appropriate for both beginners and advanced birders alike. The emphasis of each workshop is not on accumulating a long species list per se, but rather on gaining quality experiences with birds, with more time spent studying field marks, shape, posture, flight patterns, and behavior. Time in the field is supplemented by evening presentations to reinforce what we learn during the day. Our workshops are led by VENT leaders who possess excellent field skills and who have an ability to teach and communicate effectively.  These leaders are eager to share knowledge acquired from years of birding, much of which information is not available elsewhere.

We are proud to have as partners in our Birding Workshop program The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Kaufman Field Guides. Further enhancing this program, each trip is accompanied by a staff person from The Cornell Lab, the country’s preeminent institution for bird study and research.

This year we operated five Birding Workshops, all of which attracted wonderful groups of participants. Our leaders reported that enthusiasm was high on each of these trips and that everyone had a great time and learned a lot. In 2015, VENT will offer seven Birding Workshops. We hope you will join us for one or more of these unique trips: 

Rough-legged Hawk

Rough-legged Hawk— Photo: Greg W. Lasley

Montana Winter Raptor Workshop, January 9-13, 2015 with Denver Holt and Matt Larson; $1,295 in double occupancy from Missoula.

This highly scenic and educational tour emphasizes identification, biology, and habitats of diurnal birds of prey, with chances for many species including accipiters, both eagles, Rough-legged Hawk, a range of Red-tailed morphs, and Gyrfalcon.

Winter Florida Birding Workshop, January 26-31, 2015 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; $2,095 in double occupancy from Orlando.

Florida in the winter is a birder’s dream, featuring large numbers of waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, gulls, and terns. Join Michael and Louise for several fun-filled days of birding, learning, and fun in the Sunshine State.

Rockport, Texas: A Birding Workshop, February 15-19, 2015 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; $1,695 in double occupancy from Corpus Christi.

This trip to a scenic and birdy section of the Texas coast promises numerous opportunities for viewing a high diversity of waterbirds and landbirds, crowned with a boat trip specifically to view Whooping Cranes.

Montana Owl Workshop, April 23-28, 2015 with Denver Holt and Matt Larson; $1,895 in double occupancy from Missoula.

Always a favorite, this fascinating tour emphasizes identification, biology, and habitats of owls, with good chances for seeing many species including Long-eared, Northern Pygmy, and Boreal. Spectacular scenery is a bonus! 

Black-footed Albatross

Black-footed Albatross, Washington — Photo: Barry Zimmer

The Pacific Northwest: A September Migration Birding Workshop, September 16-24, 2015 with Bob Sundstrom and a second leader to be announced; fee to be announced in double occupancy from Seattle (2014 fee was $2,795).

This tour promises exposure to the wealth of seabirds, shorebirds, and songbirds of autumn migration in the Pacific Northwest. Field sessions focus on aspects of migration as well as honing birding skills through direct experience with different families of birds—especially shorebirds and seabirds.

Cape May: A Birding Workshop, September 20-26, 2015 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; fee to be announced in double occupancy from Philadelphia (2014 fee was $1,895).

This birding workshop operates entirely in Cape May, one of the country’s most productive and famous fall migration hotspots. We’ll emphasize the dynamics of migration and the identification of various challenging species groups.

Ornithology 101 in South Texas: A Learn-About-Birds Workshop, October 30-November 4, 2015 with Denver Holt and a second leader to be announced; fee to be announced in double occupancy from Harlingen.

With this new trip comes the marvelous opportunity to learn the science of birds while engaging in active field observation in the bird-rich Lower Rio Grande Valley.

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I am very pleased to announce that VENT will operate two cruises in the Galapagos Islands in 2015. For these departures, we have chartered the M/V Evolution for a summer trip, July 10-19, 2015, and a fall trip, October 30–November 8, 2015. I have been to the Galapagos Islands many times, and at different times of the year, and feel that both of these trips offer a superb opportunity to visit one of the world’s great wildlife viewing destinations.

M/V Evolution

M/V Evolution — Photo: International Expeditions

VENT Galapagos cruises are the best way to experience the famous archipelago for the following reasons:

1) While all Galapagos cruises are accompanied by excellent local guides (Galapageños), our trips also feature VENT leaders who are especially skilled at finding the special endemic birds of the islands. VENT leaders have years of experience working in the Galapagos and are eager to share their knowledge and bird identification skills.

2) With a maximum capacity of 32 passengers, the Evolution is the perfect size vessel for a Galapagos cruise. Smaller ships can be very unstable when encountering rough seas during inter-island crossings. Larger ships can take too long unloading and loading passengers. A mid-size vessel like the Evolution offers comfort and stability while preserving an intimate smaller group experience.

3) Our itineraries include visits to many of the most important islands including Española (Hood), the only island where the magnificent Waved Albatross breeds.

Blue-footed Booby

Blue-footed Booby — Photo: Greg Lasley

4) All of our Galapagos cruises include optional pre- and post-trip extensions. Our two-day Tandayapa Pre-trip visits cloud forest habitats on the western slope of the Andes where you will experience the world’s greatest hummingbird show and see a host of other colorful birds, including a marvelous array of tanagers. Our post-trip to incomparable Machu Picchu in Peru includes a full day at the archaeological site, birding amid the high Andes, and an unforgettable train ride along the Urubamba River.

VENT has been operating trips in the Galapagos for over 30 years. I am confident that you will be delighted with either of these exceptional trips:

Galapagos Islands Cruise aboard M/V Evolution:

* July 10-19, 2015 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; $6,795 in double occupancy from Quito.
* October 30-November 8, 2015 with Paul Greenfield and a second leader to be announced; $6,795 in double occupancy from Quito.

Tandayapa Pre-trip:

* July 8-10, 2015 with Paul Greenfield and Tony Nunnery; $895 in double occupancy from Quito.
* October 28-30, 2015 with Paul Greenfield and Tony Nunnery; $895 in double occupancy from Quito.

Machu Picchu Post-trip:

* July 18-24, 2015 with Doris Valencia; $3,695 in double occupancy from Lima.
* November 7-13, 2015 with Doris Valencia; $3,695 in double occupancy from Lima.

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Grayson Johnson Gibbons

Grayson Johnson Gibbons — Photo: Brian Gibbons

Earlier this month, we received word from VENT leader Brian Gibbons that he had become the proud father of a brand new baby boy! His son, Grayson Johnson Gibbons, was born on October 8, 2014 and weighed 6 lbs. 14 oz. at birth. Perhaps mystically marking the occasion, Grayson came into the world following a full lunar eclipse.

At last check, Brian reports that mother, Lacrecia Johnson, and son are doing fine!

These are happy days at the Gibbons household, and, from all of us at VENT, we send our congratulations to Brian and his growing family!

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Next June, for the first time in a number of years, we are operating a trip to Mongolia. Our Wild Mongolia: Gobi Desert, Steppe Grasslands & The Land Of The Khans tour promises a special way to experience this dynamic but poorly known country. While birding will be of primary interest, the trip will also emphasize Mongolia’s scenic highlights and exotic culture.

Altai Iris, Mongolia

Altai Iris, Mongolia — Photo: Christopher Leahy

Amid steppe grassland, the high Altai Mountains, taiga forests, and huge freshwater wetlands, Mongolia in the spring is tremendous. Everything is vibrant, and birds are resplendent in breeding plumage while migrants are still passing through on their way north. Among the rewards of our trip will be flocks of Demoiselle Cranes, Relict Gulls, Oriental Plovers, the strange Henderson’s Ground-Jay, Altai Snowcock, Kozlov’s Accentor, and a range of mammals. Much of the time we will camp in very comfortable gers (yurts), allowing us to experience this fabulous country and its wildlife in a truly authentic fashion.

This trip will be led by Brian Gibbons, a superb leader whom many of you know from tours with him to Honduras, Spain, Hungary, the United States, and other destinations. Please note we will not offer this destination again for at least two years. I hope you will consider joining us on what promises to be an unforgettable adventure!

Mongolia, May 24-June 8, 2015 with Brian Gibbons and a local leader; $7,995 in double occupancy from Ulaanbaatar. Limit: 8.

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January is a busy time at VENT. With the year-end holidays in the rearview mirror, our winter travel season kicks into full swing. If you have not yet decided on your winter travel plans, I thought you might like to know that spaces are still available on a number of VENT tours departing in the first month of the year. From the United States to Panama and to Ecuador, we will operate a number of tours that will satisfy the birding and natural history needs of anyone who simply craves a winter getaway. 

Napo Wildlife Center, Ecuador

Napo Wildlife Center at sunset, Ecuador — Photo: Peter English

Winter New Mexico, January 7-13, 2015 with Barry Zimmer and Erik Bruhnke; $1,995 in double occupancy from El Paso (ends in Albuquerque). 7 spaces available.

Ecuador: Amazonia at Napo Wildlife Center, January 8-17, 2015 with David Wolf; $3,695 in double occupancy from Quito. 3 spaces available.

Montana Winter Raptor Workshop, January 9-13, 2014 with Denver Holt and Matt Larson; $1,295 in double occupancy from Missoula.

Ecuador: Eastern Slope of the Andes, January 15-25, 2015 with David Wolf; $2,995 in double occupancy from Quito. 4 spaces available.

Panama’s Darien Lowlands; Canopy Camp, January 17-25, 2015 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $3,845 in double occupancy from Panama City. 2 spaces available.

Winter Southern Arizona, January 19-25, 2015 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $1,995 in double occupancy from Tucson. 5 spaces available. 

California Thrasher

California Thrasher — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

Winter Southern California, January 25-31, 2015 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $1,995 in double occupancy from San Diego. 7 spaces available.

Panama’s Canopy Tower, January 25-February 1, 2015 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $2,995 in double occupancy from Panama City. 6 spaces available.

Winter Florida Birding Workshop, January 26-31, 2015 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; $2,095 in double occupancy from Orlando.

Panama: El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, February 1-6, 2015 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $2,095 in double occupancy from Panama City.

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Bookended by my trips to Georgia and New Jersey was a short trip to Washington, D.C. to speak at The Smithsonian Associates. My talk, Birds and Humans: Exploring a Timeless Connection, was well-attended and included a number of people who have been on VENT tours. I was introduced by my old friend, Dr. Michael Braun, whom I have known for over forty years. Mike works on DNA at the Smithsonian and is the principal investigator of the relationships and evolution of bird families. He is also working to try to save the Red Siskin, an endangered bird found only in Venezuela and Guyana.

My presentation, in part, communicated what I feel is a need for birders to spend more time studying common birds—noticing more detail and observing behavior. The day after I returned from Washington, I had the opportunity to practice what I had preached. On a morning birding outing I spotted two Northern Flickers perched atop a tree on a bare limb. Over the next fifteen minutes, the birds spread their tails and rocked from side to side. I wasn’t certain of the birds’ purpose, but I had never seen this behavior before.

VENT leaders Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis will represent VENT at the Rio Grande Birding Festival in Harlingen, Texas, November 5-9, 2015. If you are planning to attend, I hope you will stop by our booth and say hello to Michael and Louise!

I hope you are having a fine autumn wherever you live, filled with opportunities to spend time in nature.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel