VENTflash #186 May 12, 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,

For the last month, spring has been in full swing in many areas of the country. Here in Texas, shorebirds and songbirds have been pouring through the region en masse as the migration period reached its peak. Birders from near and far have scoured all of the traditional sites along the Texas coast witnessing the northbound push of waterbirds and Neotropical migrant songbirds.

American Avocets

American Avocets — Photo: Michael O’Brien

I dearly love April because this is the month when the weather and birding are at their best in Texas. Looking back, the last month was a busy one both for VENT and for me. Our Spring in South Texas, Hill Country Extension, and High Island tours enjoyed great birding with many species of warblers headlining trip lists that included lots of egrets, herons, hawks, shorebirds, gulls, warblers, and other songbirds. Farther afield, our spring tours in Florida, California, and Colorado met with equal success.

For several weeks last month I was able to spend time at “Warbler’s Roost,” my beach house on the Bolivar Peninsula on the upper Texas coast. My close friends Bob and Birgit Bateman and their daughter Sarah joined me for a short stay at the beginning of the month. As always, the view from my deck of the salt marsh beyond was as marvelous as ever. Thousands of waterbirds were visible at all times; of course, the spectacle of thousands of American Avocets feeding in synchrony was the number one highlight.

Bob and Birgit had been to my beach house on two other occasions. Three years ago we were joined by our late friend, the author Peter Matthiessen. Remarkably, this year’s visit coincided with the one-year anniversary of Peter’s passing. On that day we stood on the deck looking out at the marsh and tidal flats while I read the last paragraph from The Wind Birds (1973), which is my favorite passage he ever wrote. Years ago I bestowed Peter with a bird name: “Curlew.” After the reading and a toast to The Curlew, we spotted a Whimbrel and remembered this wonderful friend and great man.

With decent winter rains, wildflowers were prevalent in some areas, such as these Bluebonnets at the Goose Island entrance.

Texas Bluebonnets — Photo: Barry Zimmer

For years I have been urging my dear friend and Oregon resident Robert Fleming to come to Texas to see our great spring wildflower spectacle. With the central part of our state having received ample rain this past winter and early spring, I told him this spring would be one of the best in recent years to see a pageant of wildflowers. He finally took me up on my invitation, and for three days in the latter part of the month we explored the Austin area observing great fields of wildflowers including Bluebonnets, Indian Paintbrush, Firewheel, Winecups, Prairie Verbena, Evening Primrose, Coreopsis, and many others.

Bob and I have co-led six VENT trips to India, Nepal, and Bhutan. Working with people like him has contributed so much to VENT’s success. Having Bob come to my home territory was a special treat, one that we will both always remember.

In this issue:



With the start of the summer travel season only weeks away, I am pleased to announce discount opportunities for new registrations on two of our upcoming Brazil tours. Register for our Alta Floresta’s Cristalino Jungle Lodge (July 26-August 6) and/or Pantanal Safari and Chapada dos Guimaraes (August 4-16) tours by June 12 and receive a discount of $500 per person off the published price of each trip.

Despite the apparent closeness of this cat, we keep a safe enough distance so as not to disrupt its normal behavior. This Jaguar was photographed just before entering the river. The sunlight on the spotted coat is magnificent.

Jaguar on the Cuiaba River, Pantanal — Photo: Andrew Whittaker

In the last five years, the Pantanal region of southern Brazil has emerged as one of the world’s top wildlife viewing destinations. Here, in the heart of one of the world’s largest seasonal wetlands, visitors are treated to wildlife spectacles reminiscent of scenes from Africa. Amid expansive savannas and marshlands, isolated waterholes attract wildlife from miles around. It is a common sight to view a single waterhole ringed by a hundred or more caimans and dozens of Capybaras while hordes of herons, egrets, ibises, and storks fill the shallow waters. Of even greater appeal is the opportunity to observe some of South America’s most spectacular wildlife at close range. Giant Otters, tapirs, Greater Rheas, and Hyacinth Macaws are all seen with regularity on our trips, while South America’s greatest predator, the mighty Jaguar, is now being seen on almost every departure!

North of the Pantanal, Alta Floresta offers a gorgeous jungle lodge amid primary forest on the southern end of the Amazon Basin. An extensive trail system reaches deep into the forest while two observation towers provide unparalleled views of the forest canopy for miles around. Access to the lodge and much of the surrounding forest is via the Rio Cristalino, a beautiful jungle river that teems with wildlife. One of this trip’s many joys is the opportunity to travel different sections of the river.

Hyacinth Macaws at nest, August 2012, Porto Jofre

Hyacinth Macaws at nest, Pantanal — Photo: Kevin J. Zimmer

VENT has been traveling to the Pantanal and Alta Floresta regions for many years. These trips will be led by Andrew Whittaker, one of South America’s preeminent experts on tropical birds.

Brazil: Alta Floresta’s Cristalino Jungle Lodge, July 26-August 6, 2015 with Andrew Whittaker and a local leader; $5,495 in double occupancy from Cuiaba. Discounted fee is $4,995.

Brazil: Pantanal Safari (Birds & Jaguars) and Chapada dos Guimaraes, August 4-16, 2015 with Andrew Whittaker and a local leader; $6,495 in double occupancy from Cuiaba. Discounted fee is $5,995.

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Recently we received two cancellations from our Northern Peru’s Cloud Forest Endemics tour, July 5-16, 2015. We are able to offer these newly available spaces at a discount of $500 per person. These spaces are the final two spaces on a trip that has otherwise been full for months.

This trip is one of the best in our repertoire for seeing Andean cloud forest species including as many as 30 species of colorful tanagers and as many as 40 species of hummingbirds. The remarkable Marvelous Spatuletail hummingbird is always a trip highlight, while most trips enjoy success in finding the poorly-known and endemic Long-whiskered Owlet.

Northern Peru’s Cloud Forest Endemics, July 5-16, 2015 with Andrew Whittaker: $4,745 in double occupancy from Lima. Discounted fee is $4,245.

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Denver Holt

Denver Holt & Snowy Owl Chick, Barrow

The spring issue of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Living Bird magazine is now available and contains a feature piece on acclaimed owl researcher and VENT leader Denver Holt. The article, At Home with the Snowy Owls, focuses on the arctic community of Barrow, Alaska as the only Snowy Owl nesting site in the United States. With author Pat Leonard, Denver discusses a range of topics related to his Snowy Owl research (now in its 23rd year), especially the importance of long-term field studies—a relative rarity in today’s scientific arena, in drawing conclusions about Snowy Owls, as well as its prey base, the Brown Lemming.

Denver Holt is the Executive Director of the Owl Research Institute in Charlo, Montana as well as a part-time tour leader for VENT. His Montana Owl Workshop ranks among our most unique and popular tours.

Our next Montana Owl Workshop will operate April 26-May 1, 2016; price to be announced in double occupancy from Missoula ($1,895 in 2015).

Other tours that Denver will lead include:

Ornithology 101 in South Texas: A-Learn-About-Birds Workshop, October 30-November 4, 2015; $1,795 in double occupancy from McAllen.

Spitsbergen: Land of the Ice Bears, June 4-14, 2016; cabins start at $9,830 in double occupancy from Oslo.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is one of the world’s preeminent organizations for the study of birds and bird conservation. Living Bird is the Lab’s quarterly publication. I encourage you to join that fine organization if you are not already a member.

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For many the summer is a time to travel, a time to get away from the long hot days that typify the months of June, July, and August. If you have not yet made your summer travel plans, I thought you’d like to know that spaces are still available on a fine variety of tours departing in this period. Tours to Honduras and Borneo feature outstanding scenery and a chance to stay at fabulous jungle lodges; our Avian Jewels of Arizona tour features southwestern specialty birds at a peak time of the year while our tours to Brazil’s Pantanal and Namibia, Botswana & Zambia offer megafauna in addition to great birding. Finally, our inaugural Falsterbo, Sweden tour promises southbound migration in one of Europe’s best known migration hotspots. 

Overlooking the grounds of The Lodge at Pico Bonito

The Lodge at Pico Bonito — Photo: Courtesy The Lodge at Pico Bonito

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. 2 spaces available.

Avian Jewels of Arizona, July 19-26, 2015 with Barry Zimmer and Erik Bruhnke; $2,195 in double occupancy from Tucson. 4 spaces available.

Borneo, August 1-19, 2015 with David Wolf and a local leader; $8,995 in double occupancy from Kota Kinabalu. 1 space available.

Brazil: Pantanal Safari (Birds & Jaguars) & Chapada dos Guimaraes, August 15-27, 2015 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $6,495 in double occupancy from Cuiaba. 5 spaces available.

Namibia, Botswana & Zambia, August 15-31, 2015 with Geoff Lockwood; $13,995 in double occupancy from Windhoek (ends in Livingstone). 3 spaces available.

Western Turkey: Birds & History, August 23-September 6, 2015 with Bob Sundstrom; $6,595 in double occupancy from Izmir (ends in Istanbul). 5 spaces available.

Falsterbo, Sweden: A Migration Spectacle, August 27-September 5, 2015 with Michael O’Brien and Anders Faugstad Maeland; $3,495 in double occupancy from Copenhagen. 4 spaces available.

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The height of our spring tour season very much includes the month of May. Currently operating, or soon to depart, is a fine suite of domestic and international departures. On the home front, May is the traditional time for our Spring Grand Arizona, Rivers and Mountains of Oregon and Washington, Cape May, and North Carolina tours, while exciting international tours include Scotland in Style, Southern Britain: Birds & History, and Mongolia.

Looking ahead, we’ll operate a number of terrific trips to kick-off the end-of-spring/summer period. All of our Alaska tours are full or almost full, and a full birds and history cruise to Greece and a birding and natural history cruise to the Galapagos Islands are waiting in the wings.

Last year was the best year in VENT’s history, and this year is turning out to be even better. Presently, we are at work on our 2016 catalog of tours which we expect to be mailed in July. Toward the end of summer we will be planning our 2017 tour schedule. VENT’s continued success is a result of the support of all the wonderful people who join our tours, a superb corps of tour leaders, and an excellent office staff.

On Wednesday I will travel to Maumee Bay, Ohio to represent VENT at the Biggest Week in American Birding and to experience the height of spring migration at a more northerly location.

In the meantime, I hope the spring has been equally good and bird-filled for you.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel