VENTflash #193 November 11, 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,

With the second week of November comes the startling reminder of how fast time passes. It’s hard to believe we’ve already reached the mid-point of autumn. Looking back on the month that was, October was an enjoyable time for me here in Austin. The heat of the Texas summer finally abated and I was able to spend more time around my home and office following a lengthy trip to Eastern Europe in September. The highlight of the month was hosting VENT’s newest tour leader, Machiel Valkenburg, here in Texas for a week.

Victor Emanuel with Machiel Valkenburg

Victor Emanuel with Machiel Valkenburg

Only rarely are VENT’s foreign-based leaders able to visit our office, and because Machiel lives in Europe, I knew that opportunities for him to travel across the Atlantic would be rare in the coming years. So we brought him to Texas for the opportunity to spend a couple of days in Austin meeting our staff before he and Barry Lyon and I traveled to the coast for a couple of days of birding and new leader training.

I first learned about Machiel from longtime VENT leader Dion Hobcroft. Dion has co-led our tours to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in recent years, and Machiel had served as our local guide through his own company, Rubythroat Birding Tours. Dion spoke very highly of Machiel, reporting that he’s one of the best leaders Dion has worked with, recommending him as a new member of our team. After subsequent conversations with Machiel, I felt that he had all the qualities that VENT values in its leaders: great birding skills, people skills, and logistical skills. One of the things that Machiel said to me that revealed some insight into his character was that most participants are strangers at the outset of a trip, but that by the end of the tour they are his friends.

Machiel Valkenburg grew up in Holland where his father got him interested in birds at a young age. After traveling on his own for years, he later moved to Kazakhstan where he founded his company, and thus pioneered birding tourism in that huge, diverse, and amazing country. He and his wife, who is Kazakh, run Rubythroat, although they have since relocated to Valencia, Spain.

Machiel has developed a passion for the birds of Asia, and in the years ahead he will lead VENT tours throughout the Asian continent in addition to tours in Europe and Africa. Machiel will lead three tours in the first few months of 2016:

The Netherlands in Winter: Birds, Art & Dutch Culture, January 3-12, 2016; $3,495 in double occupancy from Amsterdam. 2 spaces available.

Waterfowl, raptors, and Dutch culture are highlights of this first-ever VENT tour to Machiel’s native land.

The Best of Vietnam, January 17-February 4, 2016; $6,495 in double occupancy from Ho Chi Minh City (ends in Hanoi). Limit 8. 2 spaces available.

Bar-bellied Pitta

Bar-bellied Pitta — Photo: Emin Yogurtcuoglu

Machiel told me that he loves birding Vietnam because of the great birding, friendly people, wonderful culture, and food. His favorite bird family is the pittas, an Old World family found mostly in Asia. Pittas are some of the most colorful and strikingly patterned birds in the world. They are also some of the most difficult to see. Birding Vietnam with Machiel brings the possibility of seeing several species of these marvelous birds as well as many others.

Cambodia, March 5-19, 2016; $5,195 in double occupancy from Siem Reap (ends in Phnom Penh). Receive a $500 discount if registered by January 15.

Exciting birding and fascinating historical sites are themes of this Southeast Asia tour.

Visit our website to learn more about Machiel Valkenburg.

Finally, on October 24th I celebrated my 75th birthday at my beach house on the Bolivar Peninsula where I awoke to a panorama of birds in a salt marsh with the Gulf of Mexico beyond. Next spring VENT will celebrate its 40th Anniversary Celebration in this same bird-rich region. I hope you will join me and sixteen other VENT leaders for this wonderful event.

In this issue:



Willow Ptarmigan, Nome, Alaska, June 2013

Willow Ptarmigan, Nome — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

A couple of months ago I announced a suite of early registration discounts on our 2016 Alaska tours. The response to this offer has been strong, but I’ll remind you that the clock is ticking down to the expiration deadline of December 1.

Register by December 1 and receive discounts of $500/person for our Grand Alaska: Gambell/Nome, Grand Alaska Part I, Grand Alaska Part II, and Alaska Highlights tours, and $250/person for our Barrow Extension tour.

In June 2016, VENT will again operate five Alaska tours. These trips cover the full gamut of Alaska’s best birding and wildlife areas.

Grand Alaska: Gambell/Nome, June 2-10, 2016 with Kevin Zimmer and Brian Gibbons; $5,295 in double occupancy from Anchorage (internal flights included). Register by December 1 and pay $4,795. Combine this tour with Grand Alaska Part I for an additional discount of $500 in double occupancy or $750 in single occupancy. 

On our hike to look for Bristle-thighed Curlew, we were greeted by this spectacular and territorial American Golden-Plover.

American Golden-Plover, Alaska — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Grand Alaska Part I: Nome & the Pribilofs, June 9-18, 2016 with Kevin Zimmer and Brian Gibbons; $6,995 in double occupancy from Anchorage (internal flights included). Register by December 1 and pay $6,495. Combine this tour with Gambell/Nome for an additional discount of $500 in double occupancy or $750 in single occupancy. 4 spaces available.

Grand Alaska Part II: Anchorage, Denali Highway & Kenai Peninsula, June 18-26, 2016 with Kevin Zimmer and Brian Gibbons; $4,095 in double occupancy from Anchorage. Register by December 1 and pay $3,595.

Alaska Highlights, June 15-26, 2016 with Barry Zimmer and a second leader to be announced; $6,895 in double occupancy from Anchorage (internal flights included). Register by December 1 and pay $6,395.

Alaska: Barrow Extension, June 26-28, 2016 with Kevin Zimmer and Barry Zimmer; $2,395 in double occupancy from Anchorage (internal flights included). Register by December 1 and pay $2,145.

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Our Lesser Antilles Cruise aboard the Sea Cloud, February 10-18, 2016, is almost sold out. We are down to our last two cabins.

Sea Cloud

Sea Cloud — Photo: Courtesy Sea Cloud

This departure promises a multi-themed birding and natural history adventure to the Caribbean, 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 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.

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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A few cabins remain available on our upcoming Amazon River Cruises, January 21-31, 2016 and February 18-28, 2016.

Returning to the Estrella Amazonica at dusk.

Returning to La Estrella Amazonica at Dusk — Photo: Steve Hilty

If you’ve ever wanted to see the mighty Amazon and its plentiful wildlife, I can’t recommend our Amazon River Cruise highly enough. In addition to marvelous birding, this trip is an all-around natural history experience complete with primates, river dolphins, reptiles, and unparalleled 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 about what you’re seeing and about the ecosystem overall. Each day on the river will be filled with the sights and sounds of Amazonia, which is biologically the richest area in the world. At the end of a truly marvelous week, you will be astounded by how much you have seen: wonderful tropical birds and other wildlife, butterflies, magnificent trees, superb sunsets, and much more.

Both trips will be aboard La Estrella Amazonica, a 31-passenger riverboat offering high quality accommodations and meals, and will visit a wilder section of the Amazon River, upriver of the city of Iquitos, Peru. An added bonus is a first full day on the Peruvian coast outside Lima where we’ll seek Pacific Coast specialty birds such as Humboldt Penguin, Peruvian Pelican, gorgeous Red-legged Cormorants, and Inca Terns, possibly the world’s most beautiful tern species.

Blue-and-yellow Macaws

Blue-and-yellow Macaws, Amazonia — Photo: Andrew Whittaker

I talk about our Amazon River Cruise in a video posted on our website.

With a little over two months until our first departure, I want to let you know that a few cabins are still available for each departure. I hope you will decide to join one of our Amazon River Cruises in 2016. I am certain it will be one of the most enjoyable trips you’ve ever taken.

Amazon River Cruise aboard La Estrella Amazonica, January 21-31, 2016 with Steve Hilty and David Ascanio; $6,495 in double occupancy from Lima.

Amazon River Cruise aboard La Estrella Amazonica, February 18-28, 2016 with David Ascanio and Paul Greenfield; $6,495 in double occupancy from Lima.

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For most of my life, my interest in birds has extended beyond simply finding and identifying birds to the research and conservation ensuring that birds will always have a future in our world. To that end, no institution has done more for birds than the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Because conservation is one of the core values of VENT, I have, for many years, identified with the Lab’s work. I was a member of the Lab’s board of directors for a number of years, and for the last 20 years, VENT has operated trips for the Lab’s Chairman’s Council. Receiving the Lab’s prestigious Arthur Allen award in 2004 was one of the proudest moments of my life.

The Living Bird

The Living Bird

In 2015 the Cornell Lab of Ornithology turns 100. In celebration of the centennial, the Lab has created a special edition book, The Living Bird, that commemorates one hundred years of bird study, research, and conservation, and the promotion of birds as the best means for connecting people to the natural world.

The Living Bird is a beautiful coffee table style publication designed to capture the essence of the Lab’s work over its century-long history. Thoughtful essays by Barbara Kingsolver, Scott Weidensaul, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, and the Lab’s director, Dr. John Fitzpatrick, explore the lives of birds and communicate the value that birds bring to our lives. The power of their writing is enhanced by the accompanying imagery of award-winning wildlife photographer Gerrit Vyn. The combination of words and photographs creates an intimate and lasting impression. For anyone who cares about birds and their future, this book will make a welcome addition to your library.

A short promotional trailer was produced prior to the book’s publication, and may be viewed here.

The Living Bird is published by Mountaineers Books and is available for $29.95 at the Lab’s Gift Store, or by calling 877-266-4929 (10% discount for Cornell Lab members).

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Asian Elephant, Nagarhole National Park

Asian Elephant, India – Photo: kash Routh/shutterstock

My first trip to Asia was a tour to India that I co-led with my good friend Bob Fleming, one of the foremost experts on India.  It was a marvelous trip. From the day I arrived I was delighted not only with the abundance and variety of birds, but by the fascinating co-existence between the Indian people and their wildlife: parakeets nesting in the walls of ancient forts; White-breasted Kingfishers sitting on telephone wires in the middle of villages; and people putting out grain to feed the birds. I was also thrilled to have the opportunity to visit some of India’s many national parks. An added bonus was the culture and history of this great country.

Given all of this, it is not surprising that I have returned to India over ten times.  Our India tours are arranged by Exotic Journeys, a company owned by Raj Singh. Raj is the nephew of the Maharaja of Bharatpur. Raj has organized our India tours for over twenty years. He and his company do a superb job. As a result, our India tours run very smoothly.

Bengal Tiger, Kanha National Park

Bengal Tiger, India — Photo: Dion Hobcroft

On our Southern India tour you will be delighted with the leadership of Dion Hobcroft, an excellent VENT leader and an expert on India’s birds and wildlife. Many people don’t know this, but India, Southern India in particular, is comparable to Africa for its diversity of birds and megafauna. We will certainly see hundreds of Asian bird species, but mammal viewing is of equal appeal with Asian Elephant, Gaur, Spotted Deer, Sambar, Barking Deer, Nilgiri Langur, Bonnet Macaque, and Nilgiri Tahr almost assured. We will also be looking hard for the more elusive big carnivores: Tiger, Leopard, and Asian Wild Dog. Adding to the diversity is an array of lesser known mammals ranging from the extraordinary and endangered Lion-tailed Macaque to the Sloth Bear and Stripe-necked Mongoose. On one afternoon during our last tour we watched an enormous male Tiger at a waterhole, and then followed a gorgeous Leopard as it casually wandered down the track in front of our group!

Southern India, January 30-February 20, 2016 with Dion Hobcroft; $9,195 in double occupancy from Bangalore (ends in Kochi). 2 spaces available.

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Roseate Spoonbill

Roseate Spoonbill, Texas — Photo: Erik Bruhnke

This summer I announced that VENT will host an anniversary celebration next spring to commemorate our 40 years in business. I am thrilled about the strong response we’ve received so far, with 89 of the 112 spaces available now sold. If you want to be a part of this one-time event, I urge you to reserve your space soon!

VENT’s 40th Anniversary Celebration will take place in Beaumont, Texas, April 17-22, 2016. This historic occasion 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.

No fewer than eight Hooded Warblers were at this one spot, several of which cooperated for great photos.

Hooded Warbler, Texas — Photo: Barry Zimmer

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 formative years. The opportunity to share this region that I love so much with a wonderful group of VENT participants will be very special for me.

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!

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

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With the end of the year less than two months away, I thought you might like to know about a suite of travel opportunities that promise plenty of birds and other wildlife to kick ofF your 2016! Spaces are still available on a number of January tours to Central America and right here in the USA. Warm weather and beautiful tropical birds are assured on our Belize and Panama getaways, while most of our domestic departures offer a break from winter’s grip to some of the mildest parts of the country. If you have not yet made your winter travel plans, I am confident you will be happy with any of these fine departures:

A shot of the Canopy Tower in the afternoon on our return from Cerro Azul.

Panama’s Canopy Tower — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Central America

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.

Belize: Chan Chich New Year, December 28, 2015-January 3, 2016 with Brian Gibbons; $3,595 in double occupancy from Belize City. 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. 5 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.

Panama’s Canopy Tower, January 24-31, 2016 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $3,145 in double occupancy from Panama City. 2 spaces available.

United States


A large group of Sandhill Cranes shortly after dawn at Bosque del Apache.

Sandhill Cranes, Bosque del Apache NWR, New Mexico — Photo: Barry Zimmer

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

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. 4 spaces available.

Winter Southern Arizona, January 18-24, 2016 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $2,095 in double occupancy from Tucson. 3 spaces available.

Winter Southern California, January 24-30, 2016 with Brennan Mulrooney and Erik Bruhnke; $2,095 in double occupancy from San Diego. 4 spaces available.

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. 7 spaces available.

Northern Minnesota Winter Weekend, January 28-February 1, 2016 with Brian Gibbons and Rafael Galvez; $1,595 in double occupancy from Duluth. 4 spaces available.

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Here in Texas, spring arrives with a suddenness that is breathtaking, but autumn arrives slowly over many months. Fall bird migration peaks in August and September, but winter resident species start showing up in October and keep arriving through mid-December. In Central Texas the fall foliage show is not as spectacular as in more northern areas, but is still wonderful. The Cedar Elm’s foliage starts to turn yellow by mid-October, followed later by the sycamores, American Elms, cottonwoods, hackberries, pecans, and ash trees. The oaks produce the greatest variety of colors, and the most intense reds, yellows, and purples of any of our local trees. Their leaves are the last to turn and do not fall until December. By that time the leafless woods are filled with wintering birds in mixed species flocks.

We hope you are enjoying the autumn and the changes, both dramatic and subtle, that the season brings.