VENT's 40th Anniversary Celebration Apr 17—22, 2016
Posted by Victor Emanuel
Our 40th Anniversary Celebration was the biggest event in the history of Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, and, I’m thrilled to say, a huge success! In bringing together 114 participants, 17 tour leaders, several of our office staff, and an array of special guests, we proudly commemorated the completion of 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 VENT first opened for business back in 1976.
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.
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 ornithology 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.
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.