VENTflash #187 June 09, 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,

The Biggest Week in American Birding has become one of the most significant and widely attended events on the North American birding scene. Held annually just east of Toledo, Ohio, The Biggest Week commemorates the spring passage of warblers and other Neotropical migrants. For a few precious weeks each May, woodlands along the south shore of Lake Erie teem with migrating birds that have paused during their northbound journeys prior to crossing the huge lake. The opportunity to see as many as 20 species of warblers a day at places like Magee Marsh and Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge is extraordinary, in addition to a range of flycatchers, thrushes, tanagers, buntings, grosbeaks and orioles.

The Biggest Week


This year, May 11-17, VENT was well-represented at The Biggest Week, with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis joining Barry Lyon and me giving talks, leading field trips, and staffing our information booth. Also present were newer VENT leaders Erik Bruhnke, Rafael Galvez, and Rick Wright. Besides birding, The Biggest Week is about people—reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances, making new friends, and promoting VENT to people who have never experienced one of our tours.

On one afternoon I delivered a keynote presentation, The Bird of My Life: The Eskimo Curlew, which recounted my experiences with the last known Eskimo Curlew, a bird that appeared on Galveston Island each spring for several years from 1959 to 1963. Meanwhile, on the day of my arrival, Erik Bruhnke became the center of attention following his electrifying discovery of a female Kirtland’s Warbler at Oak Openings Preserve southwest of Toledo. One of the event highlights is birding along the famous boardwalk at Magee Marsh, where, in addition to birds, I ran into many people who had been on VENT tours and who had enjoyed them immensely.

Success in Kirtland's Country!

Success in Kirtland’s Country!

The Biggest Week takes its name not only from the diversity of birds one may see here, but from the fact that the birds can be seen at very close range, which in turn serves as a draw for thousands of birders from all over the country. This event plays a huge role in connecting people to birds and nature since many of the attendees are new to birding. It is also gratifying to see many young people looking at birds. Kim and Kenn Kaufman have made a tremendous contribution to birding by organizing this remarkable event, now a tradition. Besides providing pleasure to thousands of people, the event carries economic and conservation impacts.

Following The Biggest Week, I traveled north to Grayling, Michigan seeking my life-bird Kirtland’s Warbler, the only United States breeding warbler that I had not seen previously. I participated on a Kirtland’s Warbler Tour organized by Michigan Audubon. Despite high winds, we got good looks at a singing male perched in a small leafless oak tree. Since warblers are my favorite birds, it was a great thrill to see my last American-breeding warbler.

The Biggest Week in American Birding will return May 6-15, 2016. I hope to see you there!

In this issue:



Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Texas — Photo: Brennan Mulrooney

It is with great excitement that I announce that VENT will turn 40 years old in 2016! To celebrate our anniversary, we are planning a big event in our home state of Texas, where it all began in 1976. The site we have chosen for this historic occasion is Beaumont, on the Upper Texas Coast, one of America’s greatest birding areas. Our 40th Anniversary Celebration will take place April 17-22, 2016 and will feature four days of field trips, 17 VENT leaders, and evening programs. The Celebration will be limited to 112 participants.

When I started Victor Emanuel Nature Tours four decades ago, I did so with a set of principles that would determine the company’s core values: 1) Provide our travelers with the highest quality experiences in nature; 2) Take care of our employees; and 3) Support conservation. Through the years VENT has been unwavering in its adherence to these principles; it is for these reasons that VENT is widely regarded as the world’s finest bird tour company, a distinction of which I am immensely proud.

Throughout the month of April, few other regions in the country offer such splendid birding opportunities combined with easy accessibility to a diversity of locations. We will have four fun-filled days to explore the varied regions of the Upper Coast including the piney-woods of East Texas; Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, the Bolivar Peninsula, and the famous coastal hotspots of Sabine Woods and Houston Audubon’s High Island sanctuaries.

A male Blue-winged Warbler was equally cooperative and perhaps even more stunning.

Blue-winged Warbler, Texas — Photo: Barry Zimmer

 Our 40th Anniversary Celebration is also a social event in which participants are treated to cocktail hours, an artist’s corner, dinners, and presentations by distinguished speakers. There will be numerous opportunities to interact with VENT tour leaders, special guests, and other celebration participants.

In attendance will be some of the most renowned tour leaders, birders, naturalists, bird and wildlife artists, nature writers, and guest speakers in North America including Victor Emanuel, Dr. John Fitzpatrick of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Kenn Kaufman, Pete Dunne, Denver Holt of the Owl Research Institute, Barry Lyon, David Wolf, Steve Hilty, Barry Zimmer, Kevin Zimmer, Michael O’Brien, Louise Zemaitis, Bob Sundstrom, Jeri Langham, Brian Gibbons, David Ascanio, Andrew Whittaker, Brennan Mulrooney, Erik Bruhnke, and Rafael Galvez.

This anniversary celebration is a major milestone for VENT, marking 40 years of worldwide nature tours and conservation. It is guaranteed to be an exciting and successful event. I hope you will join us in Beaumont next April and make new friends, renew old acquaintances, and help us celebrate our 40th year of business!

VENT’s 40th Anniversary Celebration, April 17-22, 2016; $2,895 in double occupancy from Beaumont, Texas. Limit 112.

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North Island Saddleback

“North Island” Saddleback, New Zealand — Photo: Ian Southey

Due to the decline in the value of the New Zealand Dollar we are able to reduce the price of our upcoming New Zealand Highlights tour by $500. The original published price was $7,495 per person in double occupancy. The reduced fee is $6,995. This tour will operate November 28-December 15, 2015 and will be co-led by Dion Hobcroft and Ian Southey.

New Zealand is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and this trip explores the best of the North and South islands with the aim of seeing all of the country’s special birds. Among the many anticipated highlights, we’ll visit island sanctuaries to see endemic birds such as Kea, Kokako, Tui, Saddleback, and Yellowhead; search for elusive kiwis at night; and experience incredible seabirding in the Hauraki Gulf.

As for scenic highlights, nowhere else will you find such diversity of natural features—the snow-capped peaks of the majestic Southern Alps, glacially carved fjords, tranquil lakes and bubbling mud pots, towering forests, and lovely beaches. New Zealand is also an extremely pleasant and immaculate country, with outstanding food, excellent accommodations, friendly people, and picturesque towns and countryside.

New Zealand Highlights, November 28-December 15, 2015 with Dion Hobcroft and Ian Southey; $6,995 (includes fee reduction and internal flight) in double occupancy from Auckland (ends in Invercargill). Only a few spaces remain available.

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With our 2016 schedule of tours now fully determined, I want to take this opportunity to introduce VENT’s newest leaders, Machiel Valkenburg and Rick Wright, who will begin leading tours in 2016. Both of these gentlemen bring special expertise to VENT and likely will anchor important tours (and programs) for years to come.

Machiel Valkenburg was introduced to VENT through his ownership of Rubythroat Birding Tours, the in-country operator for our Kazakhstan tours. Machiel is from the Netherlands, but has lived in Kazakhstan for the past 8 years. After co-leading our Kazakhstan tour with Dion Hobcroft, we felt that Machiel would be the person we’ve been seeking to complement Dion in the Asia region. Machiel will start with a handful of tours en route to building up an expertise on Asia, along with parts of Europe and Africa, and an eventual full-time schedule. Machiel is highly personable and a skilled leader, someone who meets the VENT standard for people skills, birding skills, and organizational skills. Here is Machiel’s biographical sketch and a listing of tours he will lead:

Machiel Valkenburg

Machiel Valkenburg

The Netherlands in Winter: Birds, Art & Dutch Culture, January 3-12, 2016 (co-leading with Mike Hirschler); $3,495 in double occupancy from Amsterdam. Limit 14.

The Best of Vietnam, January 17-February 4, 2016; $6,495 in double occupancy from Ho Chi Minh City. Limit 8.

Myanmar, February 6-21, 2016; $6,995 in double occupancy from Bangkok. Limit 8.

Cambodia, March 5-19, 2016; $5,195 in double occupancy from Siem Reap (ends in Phnom Penh). Limit 8.

Kazakhstan, May 15-29, 2016 (co-leading with Rafael Galvez); price to be announced in double occupancy from Astana (ends in Almaty) ($6,645 in 2014). Limit 10.

Kazakhstan: Uzbekistan Extension, May 29-June 5, 2016 (co-leading with Rafael Galvez); price to be announced in double occupancy from Tashkent ($3,045 in 2014). Limit 10.

Borneo, August 12-30, 2016; price to be announced in double occupancy from Kota Kinabalu ($8,995 in 2015). Limit 8.

Anyone who has been a birder in North America for any length of time likely will know the name Rick Wright. For many years, Rick has maintained high visibility in the North American birding community. He possesses years of tour leading experience, but perhaps is best known for his work with the American Birding Association where he has served in varying capacities as an editor, book reviewer, and author. Additionally, he is a highly prolific writer and public speaker. Rick brings to VENT a rock-solid academic background that makes him well-suited for overseeing a program of specialized European Birds & Art tours. A native of Nebraska, Rick will assume leadership of our Nebraska: Sandhill Cranes & Prairie Grouse tour, and will anchor five Birds & Art tours among France, Spain, Italy, and Germany. We welcome him to the VENT team. Here is Rick’s bio, and a listing of tours he will lead:

Rick Wright

Rick Wright

Nebraska: Sandhill Cranes & Prairie Grouse, March 19-26, 2016 (co-leading with a second leader to be announced); $2,295 in double occupancy from Omaha. Limit 12.

Spain: Birds & Art in Catalonia, April 14-22, 2016; $3,895 in double occupancy from Barcelona. Limit 8.

France: Birds & Art in Provence, April 24-May 2, 2016 (co-leading with Marco Valtriani); price to be announced in double occupancy from Arles, France. Limit 14.

France: Birds & Art in Burgundy, May 29-June 4, 2016; price to be announced in double occupancy from Lyon. Limit 8.

Germany: Birds & Art in Berlin & Brandenburg, September 30-October 8, 2016; price to be announced in double occupancy from Berlin. Limit 8.

Italy: Birds & Art in Venice and the Po Delta, October 24-November 1, 2016 (co-leading with Marco Valtriani); price to be announced in double occupancy from Venice. Limit 14.

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With our summer Galapagos Islands Cruise full, I want to remind you that one cabin is still available on our autumn departure, October 30-November 8, 2015.

Blue-footed Booby

Blue-footed Booby, Galapagos Islands — Photo: Michael O’Brien

For this trip we have taken a half charter of the 32-passenger M/V Evolution, one of the best ships that cruise these waters. Our itinerary visits a majority of the islands in the archipelago and seeks the many special birds and animals for which the Galapagos are so famous. Giant Tortoises, Marine Iguanas, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, Flightless Cormorants, Waved Albatrosses, and Galapagos Penguins are all to be expected, while the Galapagos finches and mockingbirds of Darwin fame will be sought after as well.

The Galapagos Islands feature an incredible biological heritage, of which birds are but one element. With so many attractions, we emphasize that our Galapagos cruises are birding trips as well as full natural history expeditions. With opportunities to engage in other activities such as snorkeling, kayaking, sightseeing, and more, this trip is well-suited for those whose interest is primarily birding, as well as those who travel with a non-birding spouse or companion. Moreover, this trip will be led by VENT leaders Paul Greenfield and David Wolf who together possess years of tour leading experience in the Galapagos and the American Tropics.

Velvet-purple Coronet

Velvet-purple Coronet, Ecuador — Photo: Paul J. Greenfield

Galapagos Islands Cruise aboard M/V Evolution, October 30-November 8, 2015 with Paul Greenfield and David Wolf; cabins start at $6,795 in double occupancy from Quito.

An optional two-day Tandayapa Pre-trip visits the upper-middle elevation Andes outside Quito, where you’ll experience mountains clad in cloud forest; an array of beautiful tanagers, trogons, and other tropical birds; and visit a private residence to witness one of the world’s greatest hummingbird shows.

Galapagos Cruise: Tandayapa Pre-trip, October 28-30, 2015 with Paul Greenfield and David Wolf; $895 in double occupancy from Quito.

Extend your trip on the back-end and join our Machu Picchu Extension, which visits the incomparable ancient capital of the Inca in addition to seeking many of the special birds of the Peruvian Andes in the regions of Cuzco and the Urubamba River Valley.

Galapagos Cruise: Machu Pichu Extension, November 7-13, 2015 with Doris Valencia and David Wolf; $3,695 in double occupancy from Quito (internal flights included).

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Although summer officially has yet to begin, I thought you might like to know that spaces are still available on a handful of late summer and early autumn tours. Many people require much advance planning before registering for a trip, but I think this offering of late August/September departures will appeal to those who can travel on shorter notice:

Many of the Great Shearwaters were so close you could almost touch them.

Great Shearwater, Grand Manan — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Brazil: Pantanal Safari (Birds & Jaguars) and Chapada dos Guimarães, August 15-27, 2015 with Kevin Zimmer and a local guide; $6,495 in double occupancy from Cuiaba. 4 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. 1 space available.

Autumn Grand Manan, August 31-September 6, 2015 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $3,495 in double occupancy from Bangor, Maine. 4 spaces available.

Cape May: A Birding Workshop, September 13-19, 2015 with Louise Zemaitis and Michael O’Brien; $2,050 in double occupancy from Philadelphia. 4 spaces available.

The Pacific Northwest: A September Migration Birding Workshop, September 16-24, 2015 with Bob Sundstrom and a second leader to be announced. $3,295 in double occupancy from Seattle. 2 spaces available.

Manaus, Brazil: Amazon Rainforest & River Islands, September 17-29, 2015 with Andrew Whittaker; $5,395 in double occupancy from Manaus. 3 spaces available.

Peru: Manu Biosphere Reserve, September 19-October 5, 2015 with Steve Hilty and David Wolf; $6,495 in double occupancy from Lima. 5 spaces available.

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Spring in Washington


Thanks to sustained rainfall the statewide drought in Texas has finally ended. As a result, participants on our four spring Texas tours enjoyed great birding and terrific wildflower shows. VENT leader Barry Zimmer was told by staff at Big Bend National Park that the wildflowers there this spring have been the best ever—so gratifying for all of us who love that beautiful place.

My spring was enhanced by rereading one of my favorite books, Spring in Washington (1947), by Louis Halle. A career employee with the United States State Department, Halle was well-versed in science and the observation of nature. In this beautiful book, he describes the unfolding of spring in the nation’s capital over a five-month period, his lyrical descriptions of birds and nature interwoven with introspection on man’s relationship to the natural world around him. This book is a “must read” for anyone who loves nature and for those with an appreciation for nature writing.

This month I will be leading a Birds & History cruise from Athens to Istanbul with Paul Woodruff, Peter Zika, and Barry Lyon. We will travel aboard the historic Sea Cloud on a program that combines two of my favorite things, birding and the study of Ancient Greece. I will return on July 2.

In the meantime, the start of summer is less than two weeks away. I hope the final days of spring are beautiful and filled with nature wherever you live.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel