VENTflash #192 October 13, 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,

Extraordinary. Riches upon riches. One of our best tours ever. These descriptions might sound extravagant in describing our first-ever Birds & Music tour to Hungary and the Czech Republic, from where I’ve recently returned, but they are not. Following two years of planning, this highly anticipated trip exceeded my expectations in almost every way. From the birdwalk around our hotel south of Budapest on the first afternoon to the walking tour of magical Prague on the group’s last day together, this tour enchanted us with a full spectrum of birding, historical, cultural, and sightseeing highlights.

Imperial Eagles reign supreme in the Bukk area, a stronghold for the species in Hungary.

Imperial Eagle, Hungary — Photo: Péter Csonka/Ecotours Wildlife Holidays

Reflecting on two full weeks of travel in these lovely Eastern European countries, it is a real challenge to pick a few favorite experiences because there were so many. On one morning in the Hungarian steppe-country we watched 15 glorious Red-footed Falcons hunting insects over a field. Not far away in another field, we were treated to the amazing fortune of simultaneous scope views of an adult Imperial Eagle and a Saker Falcon—two of the region’s most sought-after birds. In the northeast of Hungary we spent three nights amid the hills and woodlands of Bükk National Park. Our greatest experience here was at a gorgeous mountain meadow complex where we hoped to see another avian prize—Ural Owl. Late in the day, with the light just starting to fade, trip participants Warren and Marilyn Regelmann spotted a large bird flying low along the edge of a smaller meadow before disappearing into the forest. It had to have been the owl! Hopeful for another sighting, we sat in silence for the next 15 minutes. Then all of a sudden, what was clearly a huge Ural Owl emerged from the woods, flew across the small meadow, and perched in a bare tree! For the next 20 minutes we watched, mesmerized, as the beautiful predator hunted for its dinner. At one point it flew down and caught a mouse, then returned to its perch and swallowed it. The huge facial disks, size and shape, and method of hunting reminded us of a Great Gray Owl.

Later in the trip, in the Sumava Mountains of the Czech Republic, our birding activities concluded with a morning walk near our hotel in the quaint village of Zdikov. Just prior to departure, we discovered three Eurasian Bullfinches in a maple tree over the hotel entrance. The birds, two males and a female, were at mid-height in the tree, framed by leaves already turning golden and brown in autumn’s early days. For over 15 minutes we enjoyed repeated scope views of these gorgeous little finches as they plucked and chewed maple seeds from the surrounding seed clusters. We noted that the breast of the males was a color we had never seen on any bird—a pastel blend of orange and pink, almost like the color of the flesh of a very ripe cantaloupe!

Parliament Building, Budapest, Hungary

Parliament Building, Budapest, Hungary — Photo: Brian Gibbons

Complementing our birding endeavors, our city tours of Budapest and Prague were marvelous. In addition to seeing many of these capital cities’ historical and architectural highlights, our program included three classical music performances—one in Budapest and two in Prague. After a concert in Prague, one of our participants declared, “This evening makes everything else we have done on this trip even better.”

The tremendous success of this tour was due in large part to the efforts of Balázs Szigeti, our local operator who planned and set up this trip for VENT, and who co-led it with Barry Lyon and me. Balázs is terrific at finding birds and handling logistics. His enthusiasm, warm personality, and charm added to everyone’s enjoyment. What a fantastic tour!

Our next Hungary & The Czech Republic: Birds & Music from Budapest to Prague tour will operate September 10-25, 2016, and will be led by Rafael Galvez and Balázs Szigeti; fee to be announced (2015 fee was $6,195) in double occupancy from Budapest (ends in Prague). Note that this tour is already half full!

In this issue:



Sea Cloud

Sea Cloud — Photo: Courtesy Sea Cloud

Our Lesser Antilles Cruise aboard the Sea Cloud, February 16-25, 2016, is almost sold out. Only five cabins are still available.

For this departure, we have chartered the beautiful 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: GuadeloupeDominicaMartiniqueSt. Lucia, and St. Vincent.

February is an excellent time of the year to travel in the Caribbean. Nearly all of the birds we’ll seek are either locally or regionally endemic. Of these, the parrots and hummingbirds are supreme, 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.

Purple-throated Carib

Purple-throated Carib — Photo: Steve Gast

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

I will co-lead this trip with VENT colleagues Barry Lyon and David Ascanio, along with botanist extraordinaire, Peter Zika, and historian, John Harrison. I’m very pleased to announce that Pete Dunne and his wife Linda will join our trip as special guests. Pete is the former executive director of the Cape May Bird Observatory and an acclaimed writer and public speaker.

The Lesser Antilles aboard the Sea Cloud, February 10-18, 2016; cabins start at $8,795 in double occupancy from Barbados.

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Wattled Crane

Wattled Crane — Photo: Geoff Lockwood

For over 25 years, VENT has offered southern Africa tours that combine Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia in a single trip. With its seemingly limitless birding and wildlife viewing possibilities, this tour is one of the most exciting departures we offer. However, in response to a number of requests, we will also operate our first-ever Botswana-only tour next year, April 12-23, 2016.

Botswana has become one of the top travel destinations in Africa due to its abundant wildlife and high quality lodges. It is also one of Africa’s most stable and well-run countries. Our Botswana tour will differ from our annual departure to Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia in that it will visit the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, in addition to the famed Okavango River Delta, staying at lodges not visited on the other tour. All of the lodges we have chosen are small, affording the intimate experience we like to offer.

An April tour coincides with the austral autumn migration of birds as some species head further north to winter in other parts of Africa while other species head to Europe to breed. It is a very dynamic time to be here. The temperatures in April are pleasantly cool. Among the birds you’ll seek are specialties such as Wattled Crane and Pel’s Fishing-Owl, and a host of colorful kingfishers, rollers, and bee-eaters. Game viewing will be excellent with chances to see Leopard, Lion, Cheetah, Elephant, Cape Buffalo, Hippopotamus, and the magnificent Sable Antelope, one of the most beautiful antelopes in the world.

Geoff Lockwood

Geoff Lockwood

This trip will be limited to eight participants and will be led by Geoff Lockwood, a resident of Johannesburg, South Africa. Geoff has anchored our Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia tour for many years. Following this year’s tour (August), participant Kim Hartquist wrote about Geoff, “There aren’t enough refreshing adjectives to say how fantastic this trip was with Geoff as a guide. Geoff was always on from the moment we got up until the last person hit the sack. His attention never falters, plus he has enough great stories to fill any pause in the action.”

I hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to visit one of the great countries of the world for birds and wildlife with a superb tour leader. Only four spaces remain available.

Botswana, April 12-23, 2016 with Geoff Lockwood; $10,795 in double occupancy from Maun, Botswana.

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Our annual Amazon River Cruise season is rapidly approaching. In 2016 VENT will again offer two marvelous departures: 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 three months until our first departure, I want to remind you that spaces are still available on each trip.

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

Amazon Sunset — Photo: Steve Hilty

If you’ve ever wanted to see the mighty Amazon and its attendant wildlife, I can’t recommend this trip highly enough. Beyond excellent birding, this trip offers an all-around natural history experience complete with primates, river dolphins, reptiles, and extraordinary botanical diversity. And while other travel companies offer trips on the Amazon River, taking an Amazon cruise accompanied by VENT leaders not only produces more birds and wildlife, but also more opportunities to learn more about what you’re seeing and about the ecosystem overall. All of our Amazon River Cruises feature outstanding guides with years of experience leading tours in Amazonia. I talk about our Amazon River Cruise in a video posted on our website.

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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For anyone who doesn’t mind, or even prefers, being away from home for the holidays, tiny Belize in northern Central America offers a marvelous getaway option. In particular, the jungle lodge at Chan Chich features all the ingredients for an ideal New Year getaway: expansive habitat, a gorgeous lodge, and tremendous birding.

Chan Chich Lodge

Chan Chich Lodge — Photo: Courtesy Chan Chich Lodge

My first trip to Chan Chich was over 20 years ago. Like anyone who loves birds and nature, I immediately fell in love with this incredible place. Many lodges are built on small parcels of land. Chan Chich was built on a huge tract of protected lowland forest. The birdlife that you see right around the lodge is fantastic: toucans, hummingbirds, trogons, aracaris, guans, and tanagers…the list goes on and on. Chan Chich also has excellent accommodations and food. In my opinion, there is no better and more delightful place to welcome the New Year.

This tour is limited to just eight participants and will be led by Brian Gibbons, a popular and veteran tour leader. Only two spaces are still available.

Belize: Chan Chich New Year, December 28, 2015–January 3, 2016 with Brian Gibbons; $3,595 in double occupancy from Belize City.

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A small part of over 5,000 Sandhill Cranes that were wintering at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge this year.

Sandhill Cranes, Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Every year VENT’s program of domestic tours kicks off with a suite of trips to the milder parts of the country. Starting in January, these departures offer a break from the doldrums of mid- and late-winter to destinations free of ice and snow, featuring exciting birding. Of equal attraction for many, these trips are short, no more than a week in length, allowing you to be away from home for a limited amount of time. Among the options are traditional-style birding tours to California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, while others, to Texas and Florida, are offered in the workshop format, where time in the field is supplemented by “classroom” style instruction. An exception is our Northern Minnesota Winter Weekend, a short trip designed to seek specialty birds at a time of year when the chances for success are highest.

If you haven’t yet planned your winter travel, I am confident you will enjoy any of these fine short trips:

Winter New Mexico, January 6-12, 2016 with Barry Zimmer and Erik Bruhnke; $1,995 in double occupancy from El Paso (ends in Albuquerque).

Altamira Oriole

Altamira Oriole, Texas — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Winter Rio Grande Valley, January 9-15, 2016 with David Wolf and a second leader to be announced; $1,995 in double occupancy from McAllen.

Winter Southern Arizona, January 18-24, 2016 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $2,095 in double occupancy from Tucson.

Winter Southern California, January 24-30, 2016 with Brennan Mulrooney and Erik Bruhnke; $2,095 in double occupancy from San Diego.

Winter Florida Birding Workshop, January 25-30, 2016 with Louise Zemaitis and a second leader to be announced; $1,995 in double occupancy from Orlando.

Northern Minnesota Winter Weekend, January 28-February 1, 2016 with Brian Gibbons and Rafael Galvez; $1,595 in double occupancy from Duluth. 5 spaces still available.

Winter Rio Grande Valley: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, February 15-21, 2016 with Erik Bruhnke and Rafael Galvez; $1,995 in double occupancy from McAllen.

Rockport, Texas: A Birding Workshop, February 21-25, 2016 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; $1,495 in double occupancy from Corpus Christi.

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In the event that you’ve not yet made your winter travel plans, I thought you might like to know that 4 spaces are still available on our upcoming Best of Vietnam tour, January 17-February 4, 2016.

Bar-bellied Pitta

Bar-bellied Pitta — Photo: Emin Yogurtcuoglu

Although not as well-known for birds and wildlife as nearby Thailand, Vietnam is one of the top natural history destinations in Southeast Asia. On this superb tour we offer a highlights-type expedition, journeying across the country from south to north experiencing Vietnam’s fascinating natural history, visiting an array of national parks, and traveling to some important cultural sites. Some of the birds we hope to see include the Siamese Fireback, Germain’s Peacock-Pheasant, Bar-bellied Pitta, Black-and Red Broadbill, Gray Laughingthrush, and Sultan Tit among many others. Accommodations are very good, the food is excellent, and walking conditions are moderate.

This tour will be led by Machiel Valkenburg, one of the newest members of our team. Machiel has co-led VENT’s Kazakhstan tours with Dion Hobcroft. He has received excellent reviews from participants on those tours, and Dion regards him as one of the best leaders he has worked with.

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). 4 spaces available.

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Special Offers


I encourage you to regularly check the Special Offers page of our website for notice of discounts and early registration offers on a selection of VENT tours. This feature, accessed from our homepage, is a convenient means for our travelers to view all current special offers on VENT tours. We are presently advertising early registration discounts on 2016 tours to Alaska, Panama, and Peru; discounts, with no single supplements, on birding and natural history cruises to southern South America; and a permanent offer for New Client Referrals.

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Snowcap, Altos del Maria, Panama, November 4, 2014

Snowcap, Altos del Maria, Panama — Photo: Barry Zimmer

The next three months will be a busy time at VENT, with the completion of our fall tour season, the year-end holidays, and the onset of the winter travel period all on tap. Many people prefer to make travel plans long in advance while others are more inclined to book late. If you are someone who can travel at the last minute or at least with several months notice, I thought you might be interested in some upcoming tours that still have 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. 2 spaces available.

New Zealand Highlights, November 28-December 15, 2015 with Dion Hobcroft and a local leader; $6,995 in double occupancy from Auckland. 2 spaces available.

Napo Wildlife Center

Napo Wildlife Center — Photo: Peter English

Panama: Christmas at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, December 22-27, 2015 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $2095 in double occupancy from Panama City. 6 spaces available.

New Year at Panama’s Canopy Tower, December 27, 2015-January 3, 2016 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $3,095 in double occupancy from Panama City. 2 spaces available.

The Netherlands in Winter: Birds, Art & Dutch Culture, January 3-12, 2016 with Machiel Valkenburg and Mike Hirschler; $3,495 in double occupancy from Amsterdam. 4 spaces available.

Panama’s Canopy Tower & El Valle, January 5-17, 2016 with Jeri Langham and a local leader; $5,395 in double occupancy from Panama City. 7 spaces available.

Ecuador: Amazonia at Napo Wildlife Center, January 7-16, 2016 with Paul Greenfield; $3,695 in double occupancy from Quito. 1 space available.

Venezuela: Casa Maria & Hato Piñero: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, January 9-17, 2016 with David Ascanio; $3,295 in double occupancy from Caracas. 3 spaces available.

Panama’s Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp, January 16-24, 2016 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $3,995 in double occupancy from Panama City. 6 spaces available.

Catalog cover 2016

Catalog Cover 2016

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On October 1, VENT began its 40th year in business. Our first year was 1976, when we offered only a few tours in the U.S. and Mexico. How the business has grown! In 2016 we will offer about 160 tours to destinations representing all seven continents. On any day there are several VENT tour groups in the field. For instance, on one day last month we had groups simultaneously in West New Britain (Papua New Guinea), Grand Manan (Canada), Falsterbo (Sweden), the Pantanal (Brazil), Turkey, and Zambia! On that day, participants collectively saw Jaguars, White Rhinos, Hippos, Humpback Whales, Giant Otters, Great Skuas, Razorbills, Black-eared Wheatears, Eurasian Honey-buzzards, and much more. Such a diversity of destinations and wildlife sightings as this provides a clear reminder of what a remarkable 39 years it has been. We look forward to offering many more great tours in the year ahead and hope you will be on one or more of them.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel