VENTflash #201 May 18, 2016

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,

I’m thrilled to report that the 40th Anniversary Celebration we hosted last month in Beaumont, Texas was a huge success! This event was the biggest in our company’s history, bringing together 114 participants, 17 tour leaders, several of our office staff, and an array of special guests as we proudly commemorated our fourth decade of providing birding and nature tours of the highest quality. In some ways it’s hard to believe how far we’ve come and all that we’ve accomplished since Victor Emanuel Nature Tours first opened for business back in 1976.

Victor Emanuel, Kenn Kaufman, and the Tour Leaders of VENT at the 40th Anniversary Celebration.

Victor Emanuel (front center), Kenn Kaufman (far left), and the Tour Leaders of VENT at the 40th Anniversary Celebration.

Our 40th Anniversary Celebration was a milestone achievement that exceeded my highest expectations. While the level of organization by our office staff and tour leaders was superb, and the birding excellent, it was the opportunity to celebrate such an historic occasion in the company of so many wonderful friends, colleagues, and tour participants that was the most special.

For a one-time event such as this, we committed ourselves to a program that was both full and engaging. Four days of field trips visited all the major habitats of the region including the piney woods of East Texas and the coastal marshes, beaches, and woodlands of the Upper Coast. Only a few times during the spring do “fallouts” occur when birds, having flown 700 miles across the Gulf of Mexico, stop in large numbers in the coastal woodlands. After a morning of rain, a fallout on the first afternoon of our Celebration provided a perfect beginning to what would be an amazing week to come. At the coastal sanctuaries of High Island and Sabine Woods, our groups witnessed mulberry trees filled with Scarlet and Summer tanagers, Baltimore and Orchard orioles, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, while interior woods teemed with 19 species of warblers including favorites such as Hooded, Prothonotary, Worm-eating, and Kentucky. Simultaneously, hundreds of migrating shorebirds stopped in flooded areas all along the coast.

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler — Photo: Michael O’Brien

Every day produced its share of highlights: Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Brown-headed Nuthatches, and Bachman’s Sparrows were seen in the piney woods north of the town of Jasper; visits to the famous rookery at High Island revealed over a hundred Roseate Spoonbills and other waterbirds; and sightings of elegant Swallow-tailed Kites were many.

Our days in the field were followed by evening social hours, delicious dinners, and keynote presentations by prominent people from the world of science and birding. Denver Holt, Kenn Kaufman, and Dr. John Fitzpatrick delivered excellent talks, while I closed the event with a reflection on a career that spans 40 years. All of the evening programs were Live Streamed and are available on our YouTube channel. An art show featuring the work of Mimi Hoppe Wolf, Rafael Galvez, Dennis Shepler, and Louise Zemaitis, and an optics table hosted by Leica Sport Optics, added to the festivities.

By the end of the Celebration, 236 species of birds were tallied, including 35 species of shorebirds and 31 species of warblers, providing participants with a wonderful array of experiences in the field. But as I said, while the birding was marvelous, it was the fellowship the event provided that was the most pleasing. Participants saw old friends from previous VENT trips, as well as VENT leaders with whom they had traveled. They also had an opportunity to meet and be in the field with VENT leaders they had not known previously. Not to be overlooked, the Celebration gave us the opportunity to welcome our newer travelers to the VENT community.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak — Photo: Brennan Mulrooney

We were gratified by the impact our Celebration had on the city of Beaumont. On one night the mayor, Becky Ames, came to welcome us.  She and other members of the city council used our event as a successful argument for spending $220,000 to build a boardwalk in Cattail Marsh, a part of the city’s wastewater treatment system that doubles as a wildlife refuge. The new boardwalk will provide opportunities for families, school groups, and local citizens to see birds and other wildlife close to home. Our event also raised over $4,000 to help Houston Audubon Society and the Texas Ornithological Society to maintain the crucial coastal woodlands they have acquired.

We look forward to many more great years as VENT enters its fifth decade of providing the world’s finest birding and nature tours, led by the world’s best tour leaders.

In this issue:



Male Polar Bears sparring

Male Polar Bears Sparring — Photo: Brian Gibbons

Churchill, Manitoba is the world’s premier site for observing and photographing polar bears. This fall, VENT will return to the tundra country along the shores of Hudson Bay for another Polar Bears of Churchill tour, October 23-28, 2016 with Bob Sundstrom. A Summer Discount of $500 per person is available to anyone who registers by July 1. The fee for this tour is $5,195 in double occupancy from Winnipeg; register by July 1 and pay $4,695.

VENT offered the very first Polar Bear tour in October 1980, a tour I co-led with the late author Peter Matthiessen. At the time, the idea of a trip designed for the sole purpose of seeing and studying Polar Bears was so unique that our tour earned a segment on the television show CBS News Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt. For most of the last 35 years, VENT has continued taking people to Churchill to witness the seasonal gathering of the bears along southwest Hudson Bay, an event I regard as one of nature’s greatest spectacles.

This tour spends most of three days in Churchill where, for several weeks each fall, there are more Polar Bears than any other place in the world. Traveling aboard Tundra Buggies, you will see numbers of these magnificent creatures at very close range, including mothers with cubs and enormous males. The diversity of birds is light, but the species that remain are among the far north’s hardiest inhabitants, including specialties such as Common Eider, Gyrfalcon, Willow and Rock ptarmigan, Purple Sandpiper, Snowy Owl, and Snow Bunting.

Polar Bears

Polar Bears — Photo: Doug Hanna

Among the reasons to consider the VENT tour to Churchill:

* Our tour fee includes internal round-trip airfare from Winnipeg to Churchill and back.
* The tour fee is considerably less expensive than what is offered by other operators.
* We have chartered a full Tundra Buggy exclusively for the VENT group so everyone has his own window.
* You could see 20–30 bears per day!
* This tour will not be offered again for at least two years.

Polar Bears of Churchill, October 23-28, 2016 with Bob Sundstrom; $5,195 in double occupancy from Winnipeg (fee includes internal air ticket). Register by July 1, 2016 and receive a $500 discount.

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If you are like me, you’ve occasionally pondered the concept of “pristine,” a word that implies an utterly unspoiled state of being, or perfection in the most natural way. It is a term I tend to shy away from in general because I feel that it is abused, especially in a world inhabited by over seven billion people in which true “pristine” is truly rare.

Main lodge, Little St. Simons Island

Main Lodge, Little St. Simons Island — Photo: LSSI

I recently returned from my tenth visit to Little St. Simons Island, a 10,000-acre barrier island off the coast of southern Georgia that exists in a condition as close to pristine as one will find in the United States in the twenty-first century. I would not be surprised if you’ve not heard of Little St. Simons Island, or LSSI as it is otherwise known, because it’s small…and it’s private…and it’s almost heaven.

Little St. Simons is probably the most unsullied barrier island in the country. When you visit you feel like you are stepping back in time to a world of yesteryear, a world of huge live oaks, towering pines, thriving wetlands, and miles and miles of untrammeled beaches. VENT has been visiting LSSI for many years. In addition to its natural beauty, the other main attraction is a private lodge featuring excellent accommodations and food that I regard as some of the best I’ve had at any lodge.

This fall VENT will return to Little St. Simons Island, October 14-18, for a fall migration workshop that heralds an educational and bird-rich experience amid beautiful natural surroundings. We have reserved the entire island for ourselves, meaning that no one else will be present except our tour group and the lodge staff. Our trip is scheduled for one of the best times of the year to visit this magical place: mid-October, the peak of hawk and falcon migration when numerous Peregrines, Merlins, Ospreys, Northern Harriers, and other raptors are moving south along the coast. We will visit all the habitats on the island and will see, in addition to birds of prey, a wealth of shorebirds, landbirds, and other wildlife.

Moss-draped Oak Forest

Moss-draped Oak Forest, LSSI — Photo: Cassie Wright Photography

Daily excursions will allow exploration of the island including: wetland areas where observation towers provide unobstructed study of a wonderful variety of herons, egrets, storks, and spoonbills; the mouth of the Altamaha River where the approach of high tide brings incredible concentrations of shorebirds, gulls, and terns, of which we’ll have ample opportunity for study; and the magnificent primeval oak-pine forest where frequent walks reveal numerous species of birds, plants, and other creatures.

Northern Harrier

Northern Harrier — Photo: Michael O’Brien

This tour should be regarded as a natural history trip as well as a birding trip, and is designed for those who simply desire immersion in a beautiful and unspoiled setting. Co-leading this tour with me will be Rafael Galvez and Erik Bruhnke, along with superb LSSI guides Stacia Hendricks and Scott Coleman who are some of the best naturalist guides we have ever worked with. Their interpretation will add a great deal to your experience. One night after dinner there will be a lecture on Georgia’s coastal islands.

I can’t imagine a more relaxing and pleasant long weekend than a visit to LSSI. One of the many highlights to anticipate is seeing meadows of Muhly Grass. In October, the feathery blooms of this grass tinge the low dune ridges with a pinkish-purple haze, often in concert with clumps of bright green Dog Fennel and yellow drifts of Goldenrod.

I hope to see you there.

Little St. Simons Island: A Fall Migration Workshop, October 14-18, 2016 with Rafael Galvez, Erik Bruhnke, and Victor Emanuel; $2,995 in double occupancy from Jacksonville, Florida.

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With our summer Galapagos Islands Cruise full, I want to let you know that spaces are still available on our fall departure, October 28-November 6, 2016. 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. This trip will be led by Paul Greenfield, who co-authored The Birds of Ecuador and who possesses years of experience leading Galapagos trips.

M/V Evolution

M/V Evolution — Photo: International Expeditions

October is an outstanding time to visit the Galapagos Islands. The Waved Albatrosses are still on their breeding grounds, and all the other birds and wildlife for which the Galapagos are so famous are also present including Galapagos Sea Lions, Giant Tortoises, Marine Iguanas, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, Flightless Cormorants, Galapagos Penguins, and the Galapagos finches and mockingbirds of Darwin fame. Our itinerary includes visits to most of the major islands—Santa Cruz, Isabela, Fernandina, Santiago, Bartolomé, Española, and San Cristóbal—and activities such as cruising between the islands, snorkeling, walking on pristine beaches, and visiting the highlands of Santa Cruz. With so many attractions, we emphasize that our Galapagos cruises are full natural history expeditions as well as birding trips and are well-suited for those whose interest is primarily birding, as well as those who prefer a relaxed travel experience.

The Evolution is an ideal vessel for a trip to the Galapagos. Her mid-range size makes her a more comfortable and stable “ride” than on a smaller boat, which can be very “bouncy” in even moderate sea conditions. Larger ships that accommodate more people typically require more time to offload passengers for shore excursions and typically lack the intimacy of a smaller vessel.

Many people put the Galapagos Islands high on their list of “must visit” places. I have been there ten times and regard it as one of the great destinations of the world. I hope you will join us this fall and see the islands’ wonders for yourself.

Galapagos Sea Lions and Galapagos Mockingbirds

Galapagos Sea Lions and Galapagos Mockingbirds — Photo: MIchael O’Brien

Galapagos Islands Cruise aboard M/V Evolution, October 28-November 6, 2016 with Paul Greenfield; cabins start at $7,995 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 25-28, 2016 with Paul Greenfield and a second leader to be announced; $1,095 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 5-11, 2016 with Doris Valencia and a second leader to be announced; $3,695 in double occupancy from Lima.

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By this time of the year, most people have already made their summer plans. However, if you are still deliberating over your summer getaway, or are willing to travel on short notice, I thought you would like to know that spaces are still available on a number of enticing summer offerings. Whether staying closer to home is your preference, or if you’re considering a farther flung destination, we will operate a fine suite of tours to a variety of domestic and international destinations, each promising outstanding birding and natural history:

Jaguar, female hunting

Female Jaguar Hunting in Brazil’s Pantanal — Photo: Andrew Whittaker

Minnesota & North Dakota, June 3-12, 2016 with Erik Bruhnke; $3,195 in double occupancy from Duluth. 4 spaces available.

Colombia The Central & Western Andes: Hummingbirds, Antpittas, Tanagers & Andean Endemics, June 5-21, 2016 with Steve Hilty and a local leader; $6,895 in double occupancy from Cali (ends in Medellin). 4 spaces available.

Spring in the Washington Cascades: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, June 5-11, 2016 with Bob Sundstrom and Rafael Galvez; $2,295 in double occupancy from Seattle. 1 space available.

Northern Peru’s Tumbes & Marañon Endemics, July 2-10, 2016 with Andy Whittaker and a local leader; $4,495 in double occupancy from Lima. 2 spaces available.

Northern Peru’s Cloud Forest Endemics: Mythical Owlet & Stupendous Spatuletail, July 10-21, 2016 with Andy Whittaker; $4795 in double occupancy from Lima. 3 spaces available.

Papua New Guinea Highlights, July 24-August 6, 2016 with Dion Hobcroft; $13,195 in double occupancy from Brisbane. 1 space available.

Borneo, August 12-30, 2016 with Machiel Valkenburg; $7,695 in double occupancy from Kota Kinabalu. 4 spaces available.

South Africa: The Western Cape & Kruger National Park, August 19-September 3, 2016 with David Wolf and Patrick Cardwell; $8,995 in double occupancy from Cape Town (ends in Johannesburg). 1 space available.

Red-and-green Macaws at Clay Lick, Manu, Peru

Red-and-green Macaws at Clay Lick, Manu, Peru— Photo: Pam Higginbotham

Brazil: Pantanal Safari: Birds & Jaguars, August 20-September 1, 2016 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $6,495 in double occupancy from Cuiaba. 6 spaces available.

Peru: Manu Biosphere Reserve: Cloud Forest, Foothills, and Lowland Rainforest, August 21-September 6, 2016 with Steve Hilty and David Ascanio; $6,695 in double occupancy from Lima. 5 spaces available.

Indonesia Highlights: Sulawesi, Java & Komodo, August 25-September 10, 2016 with Dion Hobcroft; $9,995 in double occupancy from Manado (ends in Denpasar). 1 space available.

Manaus, Brazil: Amazon Rainforest & River Islands, September 5-18, 2016 with Andrew Whittaker; $5,395 in double occupancy from Manaus. 4 spaces available.

Cape May: A Birding Workshop, September 18-24, 2016 with Louise Zemaitis and Michael O’Brien; $2,050 in double occupancy from Philadelphia. 6 spaces available.

Washington: September Migration in the Pacific Northwest, September 19-27, 2016 with Bob Sundstrom and a leader to be announced; $3,295 in double occupancy from Seattle. 8 spaces available.

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After a very successful suite of spring tours, we are looking forward to our summer tour season.  Once again we have sold almost all the spaces on our four Alaska tours in addition to sellouts on tours to the Galapagos Islands, Arizona, and Grand Manan Island. Later in the summer we will return to South Africa after an absence of a number of years.

As usual, our summer tours will span the globe with trips from the top of the world (Spitsbergen) to near the bottom (South Africa) and with a lot in between (Peru, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia). Many marvelous birds and animals will be seen on these and other great tours. Additionally, we operate our annual youth birding camps in the summertime. This summer we will be running camps in southern Arizona and Washington state.

I hope the rest of your spring goes well and that we’ll see you on a VENT tour soon!