VENTflash #188 July 23, 2015

Posted by Victor Emanuel


Victor Emanuel

Victor Emanuel started birding in Texas 69 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,

Ten years ago VENT chartered the Sea Cloud for a marvelous Birds & History cruise from Athens to Istanbul. I am thrilled to report that we’ve recently completed a repeat of that epic trip, and that this one was just as wonderful. This departure, unique among our various cruise and tour repertoire, offers a wonderful combination of history, culture, birds, and other aspects of nature. This was our fifth Birds & History cruise to the eastern Mediterranean since 2005, and all have been terrific.

Black Stork

Black Stork — Photo: Dion Hobcroft

Among the highlights from the trip were visits to the Acropolis and ancient Agora in Athens. While at the Agora we found a shady spot to perform a reading of portions of Pericles’ funeral oration, a speech immortalized in Thucydides’ The Peloponnesian War. Rather dramatically, our reading was postponed briefly when a Little Owl flew out of the Temple of Hephaestus and perched in a nearby tree.  It is this combination of birds and history that makes trips like this such a delight. Other birding highlights included Eleonora’s Falcons, Long-legged Buzzards, and a stunning Black-headed Bunting on the island of Chios; superb views of Greater Flamingos, Black Storks, and a White Stork on a nest on Lesvos; and a gorgeous Masked Shrike amid the ruins of Troy. Dr. Paul Woodruff, one of my colleagues on the voyage, organized a reading of Sophocles’ famous play, Philoctetes, and gave a fascinating lecture on Homer. Another colleague, Peter Zika, delivered a lovely presentation on the flowers of the Mediterranean. The trip concluded in Istanbul, one of the most interesting cities in the world, featuring many layers of history. At no time was our trip affected by Greece’s economic troubles, yet we remain concerned about the future of this wonderful country and our friends who live there.

Great Gray Owl

Great Gray Owl — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

In addition to this Athens to Istanbul cruise, June was a stellar month for VENT with highly successful trips to North Carolina, Minnesota and North Dakota, Washington State, Colombia, Honduras, and Alaska. Despite an unusually warm and dry spring, all of our Alaska tours found great success. Prior to the start of our annual Gambell/Nome tour, persistent north winds at Gambell had produced poor birding, but on the day after our group arrived the winds shifted and our tour participants saw great birds including Dovekie, Common Ringed Plover, Terek and Wood sandpipers, and the 5th North American record of “Siberian” Chiffchaff. On our ensuing Grand Alaska tour, the group was treated to Northern Hawk Owl and Great Gray Owl on the same day!

It goes without saying that Alaska is one of the great birding areas in North America. VENT has been operating tours there for over 35 years. Our expertise in organizing these tours and the extraordinary skills of our leaders paid off once again.

In this issue:



Last month I announced that VENT will host an anniversary celebration to commemorate our 40 years in business. VENT’s 40th Anniversary Celebration will take place in Beaumont, Texas, April 17-22, 2016.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak — Photo: Brennan Mulrooney

This historic event promises to be one of the most exciting and enjoyable programs VENT has ever organized. In attendance will be a remarkable 17 VENT leaders in addition to some of the most prominent people in the North American birding community including Kenn Kaufman, Pete Dunne, and Dr. John Fitzpatrick of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The host site of the celebration will be Beaumont, on the Upper Texas Coast, one of the premier birding areas of North America. The Upper Texas Coast and the Big Thicket/Piney Woods of East Texas are the regions I birded in my younger years. In fact, the first major tour that VENT operated (April 1976) visited these areas. The opportunity to share this region that I love so much with a wonderful group of VENT participants will be very special for me. Among those who have already registered for the celebration are my dear friends Raul and Denise Arias, who have done so much for ecotourism and conservation in Panama.

The star of the show was this male Prothonotary Warbler that was just feet off the boardwalk for quite some time.

Prothonotary Warbler — Photo: Barry Zimmer

In addition to great birding, this event will enable participants to see friends with whom they have traveled on previous VENT tours, and to spend time with many VENT leaders. Together we will celebrate a major milestone in VENT’s history in one of the most exciting areas of the country for birding at the best time of the year. This is an event you will not want to miss.

We have received a terrific response to our 40th Anniversary Celebration. Since the initial announcement on June 9, 45 of the 112 spaces available have already been reserved. If you haven’t yet registered for this marvelous event, I hope you will do so soon!

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

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The rare New Zealand Storm-Petrel off Little Barrier Island.

New Zealand Storm-Petrel — Photo: Dion Hobcroft

Due to the decline in the value of the New Zealand Dollar, we have reduced 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 $6995. This tour will operate November 28-December 15, 2015 and will be co-led by Dion Hobcroft and a local leader.

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

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In March and April 2016, VENT will operate two birding and natural history cruises to South America in collaboration with Zegrahm Expeditions: Patagonia with the Falkland Islands & Cape Horn, March 10-27, 2016; and Chile & Peru: In the Wake of Humboldt & Darwin, March 25-April 11, 2016. Both of these departures have appeared on our website for the last month; however, we are very pleased to inform you that the original published prices for all cabin categories have been reduced by 20%. Additionally, all single supplements have been waived for all cabin categories except for suites.

Sea Adventurer

Sea Adventurer — Photo: Andrew Whittaker

These departures offer an opportunity to see the wildlife and birds of some of the most scenic areas of South America. Both trips will be aboard the 110-passenger Sea Adventurer, a superb oceangoing vessel featuring excellent accommodations, and will be led by VENT leader Rafael Galvez in addition to an outstanding Zegrahm staff. We can confirm that Rafael will accompany these trips regardless of registration levels. We hope you will take advantage of these terrific opportunities.

Patagonia with the Falkland Islands & Cape Horn, March 10-27, 2016; cabin prices originally started at $9,980 in double occupancy from Port Stanley, Falkland Islands (ends in Puerto Montt, Chile). With 20% price reduction, cabins begin at $7,980 per person in single or double occupancy.

Torres del Paine National Park

Torres del Paine National Park — Photo: David Ascanio

Magnificent scenery and wildlife are themes of this adventure cruise to far southern South America that visits the Falkland Islands, Cape Horn, Torres del Paine, and Patagonia. Among the many anticipated highlights are breathtaking Andean scenery, glaciers, deepwater fjords, and a marvelous palette of wildlife that includes marine mammals, penguins, albatrosses, and a host of other seabirds. We’ll visit spectacular Tierra del Fuego National Park, a wonderland of glacier-carved peaks, deep valleys, and cliff-lined coasts where birding opportunities include chances to see the impressive Magellanic Woodpecker and a host of waterfowl species; travel the extent of the Chilean Fjords and observe innumerable natural wonders including Garibaldi Fjord in majestic Glacier Alley; and travel to incomparable Torres del Paine National Park, home to glacier lakes, fjords, mammoth granite peaks, herds of Guanacos, and huge Andean Condors.

Chile & Peru: In the Wake of Humboldt & Darwin, March 25-April 11, 2016; cabin prices originally started at $13,980 in double occupancy from Puerto Montt, Chile (ends in Guayaquil, Ecuador). With 20% price reduction, cabins begin at $11,180 per person in single or double occupancy.

From the high Andes to the Atacama Desert, the west coast of South America boasts some of the planet’s most remarkable geographic diversity. For this departure, we’ll embark on a 2,500-mile journey along the coasts of Chile and Peru to discover the wealth of natural and cultural splendors that characterize western South America. At the heart of this voyage is the opportunity to visit Chiloe Island, with its scenic dunes and beech forests; cruise the wildlife-rich waters of the Humboldt Current; explore Lauca National Park, a wonderland of volcanoes and glacier lakes; and call at the coastal city of Arica, gateway to the unique Atacama Desert. In addition to great birding and natural history, this trip offers opportunities for sightseeing and cultural excursions.

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On the north shore of Oahu we had eight Bristle-thighed Curlews, including this one that flew in to greet our group upon arrival.

Bristle-thighed Curlew, Oahu — Photo: Barry Zimmer

With the final months of the year coming into focus, now is the time to consider autumn travel. One tour that I can’t recommend highly enough is our Fall Hawaii tour led by Bob Sundstrom. For many years, Bob has anchored our Hawaii program of tours. I was fortunate to lead a Hawaii tour with him several years ago and came to realize that very few people know the birds of the Hawaiian Islands, and where to find them, as well as Bob. Those who have traveled with Bob know him as an excellent teacher and traveling companion.

Central features of our Fall Hawaii tour are beautiful coastlines, towering volcanoes and rugged canyons, excellent accommodations and cuisine, and rare and endangered native birds. Traveling among three islands we’ll seek Bristle-thighed Curlews on Oahu; view the famed Na Pali Coast and Waimea Canyon on Kauai; and search for rare endemic birds on the slopes of Mauna Kea and visit the lunar-like landscape of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. Of course, a personal favorite of mine is incredible Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kauai, boasting a marvelous seabird spectacle.

I hope you will consider joining Bob for this fine tour.

Fall Hawaii, October 14-22, 2015 with Bob Sundstrom and Eric VanderWerf; $4,095 in double occupancy from Honolulu (ends in Hilo).

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Another excellent autumn travel opportunity is our Ecuador: The Northwestern Andean Slopes tour. For many years, this tour has stood as our flagship Ecuador tour and one that we encourage anyone with an interest in tropical birding to experience. Our next tour will operate this November and will be led by Paul Greenfield and David Wolf.

Velvet-purple Coronet

Velvet-purple Coronet — Photo: Paul J. Greenfield

Paul is the co-author of the The Birds of Ecuador (2001), while David is a veteran of decades of travel and birding in the Neotropics. Traveling with these accomplished men presents a rare privilege to be in the field with two of the most knowledgeable and experienced tour leaders anywhere.

On this tour, participants will spend time amid cool cloud forests, experiencing lovely mountain scenery, spectacular birds, and riveting bird spectacles. We anticipate 20 or more species of hummingbirds, leks of displaying Andean Cocks-of-the-rock, and an extraordinary collection of antpittas that must be seen to be believed. For added measure, we also expect to record fabulous birds such as Golden-headed Quetzal, Toucan Barbet, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Turquoise Jay, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, and an incredible assortment of jewel-like tanagers.

Ecuador: The Northwestern Andean Slopes, November 14-22, 2015 with Paul Greenfield and David Wolf; $2,995 in double occupancy from Quito.

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Next February VENT will return to the Caribbean for a birding and natural history cruise to the Lesser Antilles. For this departure, we have chartered the lovely Sea Cloud for a trip that explores the special birdlife, scenic wonders, and historical highlights of one of the world’s most beautiful regions. Our cruise route begins and ends in Barbados. In between we will explore the five islands that form the Caribbean’s eastern boundary: Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent.

Off the coast of Martinique

Off the Coast of Martinique — Photo: David Ascanio

February is an excellent time of the year to travel in the Caribbean, with dry weather and excellent birding expected. Nearly all of the birds we’ll seek are either locally or regionally endemic. Of these, the parrots and hummingbirds are tops, and our chances are good for finding Red-necked, Imperial, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent parrots; Blue-headed and Antillean-crested hummingbirds; and Green-throated and Purple-throated caribs, in addition to a range of doves, pigeons, thrashers, tremblers, thrushes, warblers, and tanagers. This trip is also a good option for those with non-birding spouses or companions, as our program includes an array of sightseeing and historical tours.

Enhancing this trip’s appeal is the opportunity to travel aboard Sea Cloud, a ship that many consider the world’s most beautiful sailing vessel. Underscoring the advantages of this style of trip is the fact that ship-based travel eliminates the need for frequent hotel changes, numerous inter-island flights, and the hassles of travel delays.

White-breasted Thrasher, Martinique

White-breasted Thrasher, Martinique — Photo: David Ascanio

Joining VENT leaders Victor Emanuel, Barry Lyon, and David Ascanio for this special departure are botanist extraordinaire, Peter Zika, and John Harrison, a historian and travel writer whose lectures on the region’s rich human history provide an added dimension to our trip.

The Caribbean is a marvelous destination, and this program’s multi-faceted approach makes it an ideal choice both for serious birders who seek as many specialty birds as possible, as well as for broader-focused travelers whose interests are more varied.

The Lesser Antilles aboard the Sea Cloud, February 10-18, 2016 with Victor Emanuel, Barry Lyon, David Ascanio, Peter Zika, and John Harrison; cabins start at $8,795 in double occupancy from Barbados.

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In the last third of the year VENT will operate tours to a diversity of destinations ranging from Australia to Texas to the Galapagos Islands. In case you are considering autumn travel, I thought I would tempt you with a suite of tours that still have spaces available. Each of these trips promises good birding with wonderful VENT tour leaders:

Autumn Grand Manan, August 31-September 6, 2015 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $3,495 in double occupancy from Bangor, Maine. 1 space available.

Double-banded Graytail, Tierra Nueva, Darien, Panama 1/24/14

Double-banded Graytail, Darien, Panama - Photo: Kevin Zimmer

Manaus, Brazil: Amazon Rainforest & River Islands, September 17-29, 2015 with Andrew Whittaker; $5,395 in double occupancy from Manaus. 1 space available.

Grand Australia Part I: New South Wales & the Northern Territory, October 1-17, 2015 with Dion Hobcroft; $7,395 in double occupancy from Sydney (ends in Ayers Rock). 1 space available.

Grand Australia Part II: Queensland, Victoria & Plains-wanderer, October 15-November 1, 2015 with Dion Hobcroft; $6,295 in double occupancy from Brisbane (ends in Melbourne). 1 space available.

Panama’s Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp, October 3-11, 2015 with Barry Zimmer and a local leader; $3,495 in double occupancy from Panama City. 4 spaces available.

Fall at Panama’s Canopy Tower, October 10-17, 2015 with Barry Zimmer and a local leader; $2,895 in double occupancy from Panama City. 3 spaces available.

marine iguana

Marine Iguana, Galapagos Islands — Photo: Michael O’Brien

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. 3 spaces available.

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. 1 cabin available.

Panama’s Canal Zone: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, November 8-14, 2015 with David Ascanio; $2,995 in double occupancy from Panama City. 1 space available.

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After several months of above average rainfall, central Texas has entered the warmest and driest period of the year. Thanks to abundant rain throughout the spring and early summer, the countryside is still green and peppered with wildflowers.

Even though spring migration ended only a month-and-a-half ago, the first “fall” migrants have already appeared including Least, Western, Semipalmated, Baird’s and Pectoral sandpipers, as well as a few Snowy Plovers, the latter a very uncommon bird in the Austin area where I live. Meanwhile, the Purple Martin roost in north Austin has relocated about a mile east of last summer’s location; over 100,000 martins come to roost there every evening. And just as the martins are coming to roost, over one million Mexican Free-tailed Bats are emerging from another site.

The abundance of life all around us is marvelous wherever we are. It is this abundance that makes VENT tours throughout the world so wonderful and satisfying. We are looking forward to more successful tours this summer and in the remainder of the year.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel