VENTflash #189 August 06, 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,

VENT is fortunate in having a superb team of tour leaders. Many of our leaders have been with us for over 20 years, and some even more than 30 years. In the last year, our staff was further bolstered by the addition of four terrific new leaders: Erik Bruhnke, Rafael Galvez, Machiel Valkenburg, and Rick Wright.

Barry Zimmer

Barry Zimmer

Anyone who has taken a VENT tour knows how skilled our tour leaders are. I take great pleasure in reading the comments on the tour evaluation forms we receive following a tour, such as this comment about longtime VENT leader Barry Zimmer: “You bring such extraordinary knowledge and skills along with an unwavering commitment to giving us all the richest experience of the natural wonders of this area.” What many people don’t realize is that many of our leaders are also excellent writers. I encourage you to take the time to read the tour reports our leaders submit following a tour. Tour reports can be accessed in a number of ways on our website, including under News & Field Reports on the homepage; under News and Tour Reports on the tool bar; or on specific tour description pages within the website.

Kevin Zimmer

Kevin Zimmer

This May and June, VENT operated 33 tours to locales as diverse as Alaska, Arizona, China, Mongolia, Oregon, Spain, and other destinations around the world. If you read the tour reports from some of these trips, you will experience the world vicariously through the senses and emotions of our tour leaders and participants. You might want to start with the tour reports from our recent Alaska tours. These reports were written by Kevin Zimmer and his brother Barry. In these narratives, their enthusiasm for this great land is evident. VENT has been taking birders to the Yup’ik village of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea for over 30 years. Kevin Zimmer has led these tours for VENT almost every year. Through the years, he has discovered birds new for Alaska, such as Little Curlew, and for North America, in addition to a great many other rarities. You may never have been to Gambell, but if you take a few minutes and read Kevin’s report from this year’s tour, you will quickly gain a feeling for the exciting events that occur at this fascinating outpost. Our Gambell tour is one of five that we operate annually in Alaska; we are very proud of our Alaska program of tours and the people who lead them. I hope you will come on a VENT Alaska tour in 2016.

In this issue:



The Estrella Amazonica, our cruise ship on the Amazon and Ucayali rivers.

La Estrella Amazonica — Photo: Steve Hilty

This winter VENT will operate two marvelous Amazon River Cruises, January 21-31, 2016, and February 18-28, 2016. Both trips will be aboard La Estrella Amazonica, a 28-passenger riverboat offering high quality accommodations and meals, and will visit a wilder section of the Amazon River, above the city of Iquitos, Peru. With only five months until our first departure, I want you to know that spaces are still available on each trip.

I will never forget my first trip to Amazonia in August 1978. I was co-leading a trip to Southeastern Peru with the great tropical ornithologist, Ted Parker. After traveling for much of the first couple of days, we arrived at the old Explorers Inn on the Tambopata River in the late afternoon. Right before evening, we walked out from the lodge on the main trail, and suddenly I was surrounded by the most species-diverse forest I had ever seen. The evening chorus was superb with the calls of toucans, parrots, antbirds, and many other species. Over the next few days we saw over 200 species of birds. Like many naturalists before me, I fell in love with Amazonia.

The Explorers Inn was one of the first lodges in Amazonia, but it lacked creature comforts such as hot water, air-conditioning, and good food that we wanted for our participants. Over the past 25 years, a number of much better lodges have been built in Amazonia. VENT operates tours to some of these places such as the Napo Wildlife Center in Ecuador and the Manu Wildlife Center in Peru.

Cream-colored Woodpecker

Cream-colored Woodpecker — Photo: David Ascanio

Having returned to Amazonia many times since that first trip, I can say unequivocally that the most comfortable and enjoyable way to experience the Amazon region is on an Amazon River Cruise. VENT has organized Amazon River Cruises for many years; our trips are designed with equal attention to comfort and wildlife viewing potential.

Once you board the riverboat, you settle into a cabin that becomes your home for the duration of your visit. No continual packing and unpacking. You’ll quickly discover that the cabins are spacious and air-conditioned and the food excellent. The days’ activities typically begin with a morning excursion aboard comfortable motorized skiffs, exploring side streams off the main river channel. In the morning hours the action is constant. Every few minutes a new species of bird appears—a woodpecker, a parrot, a flycatcher, a tanager, and so on. Since a lot of the tributary streams are so narrow, many of the birds and other wildlife are seen in close proximity. Traveling up these streams is delightful and exciting. You never know what marvelous creature will appear next: a Red-capped Cardinal, a Cream-colored Woodpecker, a Red Howler Monkey, a Blue-and-yellow Macaw. After a couple of hours, you return to the ship for a rest, and then have the opportunity to board the skiffs again for more exploration. Just before noon you come back to the riverboat for an excellent lunch. From the glassed-in dining room, the jungle is seen sliding by as the ship moves to a new location. After lunch you’ll have the option of a siesta in your air-conditioned room, or you may choose to lounge under the shaded deck and take in the breadth of the mighty river. Exciting birds are often seen from the top decks as the ship travels the main river channel. On some days there may be a natural history presentation in the mid-afternoon. Later, you will have the opportunity to experience another outing away from the ship, exploring tributaries, back channels, and forest lakes, each of which may produce a different mix of birds and mammals. It is like this every day. Beyond wildlife, the richness of Amazonia is demonstrated through its wonderful sunrises, glowing sunsets, and star-dappled skies when the night comes.

Dramatic skies are more the rule than the exception in the Amazon.

Sunset on the Amazon — Photo: Steve Hilty

I can’t recommend our Amazon River Cruises highly enough. Other travel companies offer trips on the Amazon River, but by taking an Amazon cruise accompanied by VENT leaders, you will not only see more birds but learn more about them and about the entire ecosystem. All of our Amazon River Cruises feature outstanding guides with years of experience leading tours in Amazonia.

Two final points I want to emphasize: First, there are not hordes of biting insects in Amazonia. Second, it will not be terribly hot. During the warmest time of the day you will be on the ship where you can be in an air-conditioned room or sit in the shade and enjoy a refreshing breeze.

I hope you will decide to join one of our Amazon River Cruises. I assure you it will be one of the most enjoyable trips you’ve ever made.

Amazon River Cruise: Birding and Natural History Odyssey aboard La Estrella Amazonica, January 21-31, 2016 with Steve Hilty and David Ascanio; $6,495 in double occupancy from Lima (includes internal flights).

Amazon River Cruise: Birding and Natural History Odyssey aboard La Estrella Amazonica, February 18-28, 2016 with David Ascanio and Paul Greenfield; $6,495 in double occupancy from Lima (includes internal flights).

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As I have been telling everyone lately, our upcoming 40th Anniversary Celebration is a very big deal for VENT and cause for great anticipation.

Red-cockaded Woodpecker

Red-cockaded Woodpecker — Photo: Greg Lasley

I am thrilled that our 40th Anniversary Celebration, April 17-22, 2016, will take place on the Upper Texas Coast, the area where I started birding when I was eight years old. This historic event will take place about six months after my 75th birthday.

The Upper Texas Coast, or UTC for short, is my favorite area of the world. I have so many wonderful memories from the times I’ve spent birding and traveling through the region. I sincerely feel that there is no better place in the world to be in late April. Even if you have been to the UTC before, it is always worth a second or third visit. So many distinct habitats are found here, each containing a different mix of birds, plants, and wildlife. One of these habitats is the “piney woods” of East Texas, just north of Beaumont where the event will be held. A portion of this region has been set aside as the Big Thicket National Preserve, a marvelous southern ecosystem rich in birds and plant life including several species of birds that are found nowhere outside of the Southeastern United States. Among these are two very special birds: Red-cockaded Woodpecker and Bachman’s Sparrow. The Red-cockaded Woodpecker is one of the rarest of the world’s 216 woodpecker species. Its estimated population is less than 10,000 individuals. The bird is unique in that it nests only in living pine trees afflicted with red heart disease. The Bachman’s Sparrow inhabits the same ecosystem as the Red-cockaded Woodpecker. It has one of the most beautiful songs of any North American bird. Participants on our 40th Anniversary Celebration will look for both of these species. These are just two of almost 200 species of birds we hope to see at this event.

Our 40th Anniversary Celebration will be a historic event featuring 17 VENT leaders, 112 participants, field trips, social hours, evening presentations, and more…and all at the most rewarding time of the year for birding. If you have not already registered for our 40th Anniversary Celebration, I hope you will do so soon.

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

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In the early days of birding-based tourism, most domestic tour companies offered trips only to North America and Central America. These areas were close to home and held plenty of enticing birds, which served as a sort of proving ground for tour leaders intent on building their skills. This was certainly the case in the early days of VENT, when some of our first international trips were to Mexico and Panama. However, VENT soon expanded into South America and Africa before finally engaging in Asia.

Machiel Valkenburg

Machiel Valkenburg

The first Asian country to which we offered a tour was India. Over the last 20 years we have greatly expanded our Asia tour offerings and, in fact, VENT will offer 14 tours to Asia in 2016. In each country we visit, we work with excellent local operators, while all of our tours are led by experienced tour leaders including Dion Hobcroft, Bob Sundstrom, Kaz Shinoda, or Machiel Valkenburg. Machiel is the newest member of the VENT team and was “discovered” by Dion who co-led tours with him to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. We are thrilled to welcome Machiel to our staff. I thought I’d share with you a comment I received from Dion Hobcroft: “I have been lucky to co-lead two tours with Machiel to Kazakhstan, a wonderful birding destination in its own right. Machiel impressed me with his hands-on logistics, birding skills, good sense of humor, and sharp eyes. I think he will be an asset to the VENT team with his experience in Central and Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa.”

Asia is home to a marvelous array of birdlife including spectacular species such as hornbills, minivets, broadbills, and laughingthrushes, and it has more species of cranes and storks than any other continent. Asia also has a wonderful assortment of mammals including tigers, langurs, gibbons, Gaurs, and Asian Elephants. Most of the countries we visit are rich in history and culture. The Taj Mahal in India and Angkor Wat in Cambodia—two of the most beautiful and remarkable historical attractions in the world—are prime examples of the historic and cultural offerings available on our tours to Asia.

We are proud of our Asia tour program and hope you will decide to join one of these great trips in 2016:

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal, India — Photo: Steve Hilty

The Best of Vietnam, January 17-February 4, 2016 with Machiel Valkenburg; $6,495 in double occupancy from Ho Chi Minh City (ends in Hanoi). Limit 8.

Japan in Winter, January 23-February 4, 2016 with Bob Sundstrom and Kaz Shinoda; $6,995 in double occupancy from Tokyo. Limit 9; 1 space available.

Southern India, January 30-February 20, 2016 with Dion Hobcroft; $9,195 in double occupancy from Bangalore (ends in Kochi). Limit 8; 4 spaces available.

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

Easy Philippines, February 24-March 9, 2016 with Dion Hobcroft; $5,995 in double occupancy from Manila. Limit 8.

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

Thailand Highlights, March 12-31, 2016 with Dion Hobcroft; $7,295 in double occupancy from Bangkok. Limit 8; 1 space available.

Bhutan, April 9-May 1, 2016 with Dion Hobcroft and Ansar Khan; $10,595 in double occupancy from New Delhi. Limit 10; 5 spaces available.

Cambodian Tailorbird

Cambodian Tailorbird — Photo: Dion Hobcroft

Classic China: Beijing & Sichuan, May 10-31, 2016 with Dion Hobcroft; price to be announced in double occupancy from Beijing ($10,495 in 2013).

Kazakhstan, May 15-29, 2016 with Rafael Galvez and Machiel Valkenburg; $6,995 in double occupancy from Astana (ends in Almaty). Limit 10.

Kazakhstan: Uzbekistan Extension, May 29-June 5, 2016 with Rafael Galvez and Machiel Valkenburg; $3,495 in double occupancy from Almaty (ends in Tashkent). Limit 10.

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

Indonesia Highlights: Sulawesi, Java & Komodo, August 25-September 10, 2016 with Dion Hobcroft; price to be announced in double occupancy from Manado (ends in Denpasar). Limit 8; 2 spaces available.

Indonesia Highlights: Bali Extension, September 9-16, 2016 with Dion Hobcroft; price to be announced in double occupancy from Denpasar. Limit 8; 1 space available.

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Flightless Cormorant, Galapagos Islands

Flightless Cormorant, Galapagos Islands — Photo: Michael O’Brien

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

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.

This trip will be led by Paul Greenfield who possesses years of tour leading experience in the Galapagos Islands.

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

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Hard to forget about the ever-present Great Shearwaters.

Great Shearwater, Grand Manan — Photo: Erik Bruhnke

Due to a late cancellation, one single accommodation space has become available on our upcoming Autumn Grand Manan tour, August 31-September 6, 2015. Because of cancellation penalties incurred, we will waive the single supplement for anyone who reserves the last space!

This end-of-summer tour is one of our most popular departures, featuring a wonderful combination of seabirds, warblers, and other land birds. Highlights include a stay at a historic lodge, a boat trip on the Bay of Fundy, and a charming Canadian Maritime setting with the ambience of Maine of 60 years ago.

Autumn Grand Manan, August 31-September 6, 2015 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $3,495 in double occupancy from Bangor ($2,995 with discount). Limit 12; 1 space available.

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If you still haven’t made your autumn travel plans, I thought you might like to know about a wonderful group of tours that still have spaces available. Each of these trips promises good birding in remarkable destinations.

Brassy-breasted Tanager, Intervales State Park, Sao Paulo, Brazil, October 2013

Brassy-breasted Tanager, Brazil — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

Southeastern Brazil Part I: Atlantic Forest Endemics & Southern Grassland Specialties, October 2-14, 2105 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $4,895 in double occupancy from Curitiba (ends in Porto Alegre).

Southeastern Brazil Part II: Best of the Atlantic Forest, October 12-26, 2015 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $5,695 in double occupancy from Sao Paulo (ends in Rio de Janeiro).

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.

Once the tray feeders were stocked with bananas, the birds appeared quickly. This incredible male Crimson-backed Tanager was a crowd pleaser.

Crimson-backed Tanager, Panama — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Fall Hawaii, October 14-22, 2015 with Bob Sundstrom and Eric VanderWerf; $4,095 in double occupancy from Honolulu (ends in Hilo). 2 spaces available.

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.

Panama: Fall at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, November 1-8, 2015 with Barry Zimmer and a local leader; $2,695 in double occupancy from Panama City. 2 spaces 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.

Ecuador: The Northwestern Andean Slopes, November 14-22, 2015 with Paul Greenfield and David Wolf; $2,995 in double occupancy from Quito. 3 spaces available.

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My thoughts filled with anticipation of our 40th Anniversary Celebration, I’m again reminded that VENT started as a business based on shared engagement with nature. With wonderful tour leaders and wonderful clients, VENT is a community. As we celebrate our 40th anniversary, we remember the great times and the difficult times and extend our thanks to everyone who made our success and longevity possible. We look forward to the next 40 years and beyond.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel