VENTflash #185 March 18, 2015

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,

Two weeks ago, Barry Lyon and I represented VENT at the San Diego Birding Festival, presented by San Diego Audubon Society. Situated on Mission Bay just north of downtown San Diego, this was a wonderful event with great weather, terrific birding, and an opportunity to touch base with old friends and acquaintances, including many VENT travelers.

We ended the day with 20 or so Tricolored Blackbirds (a species just listed as endangered) coming in to seed we had put out.

Tricolored Blackbird — Photo: Barry Zimmer

We had the privilege of co-leading two field trips. The first was an offshore boat trip that yielded great views of Brown Booby, Black-vented Shearwater, many Scripps’s Murrelets, and other seabirds. Possibly the biggest highlight was seeing a pod of four Gray Whales right next to the boat. The following day we led a wide-ranging all-day field trip across San Diego County. My personal highlights from the day were the great views we had of Lawrence’s Goldfinches and Tricolored Blackbirds, two species I have previously seen only a few times in my life. San Diego Audubon is one of the most dynamic Audubon chapters in the country. We were happy to be a part of their festival and to support this fine organization.

In this issue:



Galapagos Land Iguana and Galapagos Mockingbird

Galapagos Land Iguana and Galapagos Mockingbird — Photo: Michael O’Brien

Due to some very recent cancellations, I thought you should know that two cabins have become available on our next Galapagos Islands Cruise, July 10-19, 2015. Because those who cancelled incurred penalties, we can offer the following special rate for these newly available cabins: two berths for the price of one-and-a-half in the available C & D category cabins. Our published price for these cabins is $6,795 in double occupancy. With this opportunity, one person will pay the full fee and the second person will pay only half, or $3,397! This means the fee for reserving a full cabin will be $10,193. This offer represents a savings of $3,397 off the published fee of $13,590 for a cabin for two persons. For an added enticement, we are also offering the opportunity to spread the payments out, with one-half of the fee due upon registration, and the other half due six months after the cruise ends.

M/V Evolution

M/V Evolution — Photo: International Expeditions

For this departure we have chartered the 32-passenger M/V Evolution, one of the best ships for cruising the Galapagos. Not too large and not too small, this vessel offers comfort and stability while preserving the intimacy of a small-group experience. Our itinerary enables participants to visit almost all the major islands while offering the chance to see most of the special birds including Waved Albatross, Galapagos Penguin, Flightless Cormorant, Galapagos finches, Galapagos mockingbirds, and much more, in addition to the islands’ other signature wildlife such as Marine Iguana, Land Iguana, Galapagos Tortoise, and Galapagos Fur Seal.

Leading this cruise are VENT leaders Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis, a husband and wife team with plenty of Galapagos experience. Traveling with them, you will quickly appreciate their knowledge of the islands and find their enthusiasm infectious.

These two cabins will be available on a first come basis. We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity. 

Waved Albatross

Waved Albatross — Photo: Michael O’Brien

Galapagos Islands Cruise, July 10-19, 2015 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; cabins start at $6,795 in double occupancy from Quito. Two cabins available in the $6,795 category; when the first person pays the full fee, the second person pays one-half, or $3,397.

Space is also available on our Tandayapa Pre-trip, which visits the northwestern slopes of the Andes in the Mindo area below Quito where you will see almost 20 species of hummingbirds in addition to a host of colorful tanagers and other tropical birds.

Galapagos Islands Cruise: Tandayapa Pre-trip, July 8-10, 2015, with Paul Greenfield and Tony Nunnery; $895 in double occupancy from Quito.

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In early February I co-led a private trip for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to the Circle Z Ranch in Patagonia, Arizona. It was a marvelous experience in that we visited some of the famous places of Arizona birding lore while based in a scenic and most convenient setting.

A short distance downhill, we stumbled onto a pair of the very rare and localized Black-capped Gnatcatchers right next to the road. They came to within ten feet of our group.

Female Black-capped Gnatcatcher, Arizona — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Adjoining The Nature Conservancy’s famous Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, the Circle Z Ranch is a delightful place to stay, offering lovely surroundings, comfortable accommodations, good food, and close proximity to many productive birding areas. Trails on the property provide access to several miles of Sonoita Creek, which flows through the property en route to Lake Patagonia. Among the many birding highlights was finding a pair of Black-capped Gnatcatchers; seeing several species of western Empidonax flycatchers, including Hammond’s, Dusky, and Gray flycatchers; and lots of other great western birds such as wintering Red-naped Sapsuckers, Mexican Jays, Hutton’s and Cassin’s vireos, Black-throated Gray and Townsend’s warblers, and a host of sparrows. Perhaps best of all, the ranch owners are true stewards of the land, having placed the majority of the property’s 5,000 acres under conservation easement.

Cornell Lab logo


The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is one of the world’s top institutions for the study of bird science and bird conservation. What many people don’t realize is that the Lab relies almost entirely on private funding to maintain its operations and programs, and this trip brought together some of the Lab’s strongest and longest-term supporters. VENT has organized such trips for the Lab for the last 20 years, and I am very proud of our relationship with this outstanding organization, and for the opportunity to support birds and the Lab’s efforts to secure their future.

If you are not already a member of the Lab, I encourage you to join soon and learn about its many exciting programs, activities, and citizen science projects.

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We have had a tremendous response to our tour offerings over the first half of 2015. Many of our spring and early summer tours are full or almost full. If you have not yet made your spring or summer travel plans, I thought you would like to know that a few spaces are still available on the following tours. I hope you will join us on one of them.

Boreal Owl

Boreal Owl, Montana — Photo: Steve Hendricks

Spring in South Texas, April 3-12, 2015 with Barry Zimmer and Erik Bruhnke; $3,295 in double occupancy from Corpus Christi (ends in Laredo). 2 spaces available.

Traditionally, this is one of our most popular Texas tours. Good winter rains in the Rio Grande Valley portend a beautiful tour filled with birds and wildflowers.

Montana Owl Workshop, April 23-28, 2015 with Denver Holt, Matt Larson, and Matthew Young; $1,895 in double occupancy from Missoula. 2 spaces available.

Denver is an international owl expert and a terrific leader. Some of our longtime travelers have rated this tour the best they have ever taken.

South Florida & The Keys, April 23-29, 2015 with Rafael Galvez and Brad Schram; $2,350 in double occupancy from Key West. 2 spaces available.

South Florida is one of the great birding areas of North America, with many species of birds, plants, and habitats found nowhere else in the country. 

Booted Eagle

Booted Eagle, Spain — Photo: Brian Gibbons

Dry Tortugas, April 29-May 2, 2015 with Rafael Galvez; $1,695 from Key West. 2 spaces available.

The Tortugas offers one of the greatest bird spectacles in North America with colonies of nesting Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies in addition to Masked and Brown boobies and plenty of Neotropical migrants.

Spring Birding In Spain, April 23-May 10, 2015, with Santiago Villa and Brian Gibbons; $6,095 in double occupancy from Sevilla. (ends in Madrid). 1 space available.

Spain has one of the highest avian diversities in Europe in addition to marvelous culture, history, and scenery.

California Specialties, April 24-May 3, 2015, with Jeri Langham; $3,395 in double occupancy from San Diego (ends in Santa Barbara). 2 spaces available.

A terrific opportunity to spend time in one of the best birding areas in the country with one of California’s top birders. California specialty birds are this tour’s primary focus.

Scotland in Style: Birds & History, May 7-16, 2015 with Andrew Whittaker and Phil Jones; $3,595 in double occupancy from Inverness. 4 spaces available.
A wonderful combination of birding, history and scenery. 

A spectacular male Allen's Hummingbird stole the show at this location. The species has recently increased in the San Diego area.

Allen’s Hummingbird, California — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Spring Grand Arizona, May 10-20, 2015 with Barry Zimmer; $2,995 in double occupancy from Tucson; single supplement is $545. 1 space available.

There is not a better tour leader with whom to bird this special part of the country than Barry Zimmer, whose knowledge and enthusiasm for the birds and all aspects of the natural world of southeast Arizona are superb.

The Nature of Honduras: The Lodge at Pico Bonito, June 16-22, 2015 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; $2,795 in double occupancy from San Pedro Sula. 4 spaces available.

An outstanding all-around birding and natural history to one of Central America’s most beautiful lodges.

Grand Alaska: Gambell/Nome, June 2-10, 2015 with Kevin Zimmer and David Wolf; $5,195 from Anchorage. 2 spaces available.

Visit two of the most exciting birding areas in North America with two fantastic leaders.

Grand Alaska Part I: Nome and the Pribilofs, June 9-20, 2015 with Kevin Zimmer and David Wolf; $7,495 from Anchorage. 2 spaces available.

A premier springtime tour to two Alaskan outposts promises specialty birds and Asian vagrants. 

Keel-billed Motmot, Rio Santiago Reserve, Honduras, February 2013

Keel-billed Motmot, Honduras - Photo: Kevin Zimmer

Alaska Highlights, June 16-27, 2015 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $6,695 in double occupancy from Anchorage. 4 spaces available.

This tour visits Alaska’s best known birding and natural history locations. Barry and Brennan make a terrific team.

Grand Alaska Part II: Anchorage, Denali Highway, and Kenai Peninsula, June 19-27, 2015 with Kevin Zimmer and Rafael Galvez; $3,945 in double occupancy from Anchorage. 3 spaces available.

Great birds and exceptional scenery are hallmarks of this tour.

Alaska: Barrow Extension, June 27-29, 2015, with Kevin Zimmer and Barry Zimmer; $2,395 in double occupancy from Anchorage. 2 spaces available.

An incredible opportunity to bird North America’s only region of the true High Arctic; Snowy Owls, four species of eiders, and lots of breeding waterfowl, shorebirds, and jeagers are featured attractions.

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Brand New Baby Brinn Stiefvater!

Brand New Baby Brinn Stiefvater!— Photo: Kevin Zimmer

Yesterday we received word from VENT leader Kevin Zimmer that he and his wife Susan have become the proud grandparents of a brand new baby girl! Brinn Stiefvater, daughter of Marina and Ryan Stiefvater, came into the world on March 6, 2015 and weighed 6 lbs. 6 oz. at birth.

Kevin is a longtime VENT leader who for years has anchored our programs of tours to Alaska, Brazil, Panama, and, most recently, Tanzania, among many other destinations. Many of you have known Kevin for years, back even to when his daughter Marina was a baby. Now she has a family of her own.

This is a happy time at the Zimmer and Stiefvater households, and, from all of us at VENT, we send our congratulations to Kevin and Susan and their growing family!


After a colder than normal winter in much of the country, including right here in Austin, Texas, I know we all are looking forward to the arrival of spring. Of course, anticipating spring is a waiting game, with the southern tier of the country the first to emerge from winter’s grip. As evidence, this past week has seen the arrival on the Texas coast of some of the season’s traditionally earliest returning birds such as American Golden-Plover, Swallow-tailed Kite, a host of swallows, and Black-and-white Warbler, in addition to the expected northward push of waterfowl, Sandhill Cranes, and shorebirds. At present, metaphorically we are on the cusp of the “spring flood,” when birders across the country from north to south and from east to west are, or soon will be, celebrating their “first of season” arrivals at this, the most special time of the year.

Finally, you’ll be happy to know that we are hard at work designing our annual catalog of tours for the 2016 tour year. Although the catalog is still a couple of months from going to the printer, most of our 2016 offerings are now listed on our website.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel