VENTflash #205 August 29, 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,

As many of you know, this past April VENT celebrated its 40th anniversary. On the heels of that historic milestone, this summer marked an occasion just as significant: the 30th anniversary of the founding of our summer youth birding camp program.

Back in 1986, VENT inaugurated the country’s first-ever youth birding program with Camp Chiricahua, a two-week summer camp in southeastern Arizona. Nothing like this camp had ever been attempted, and the idea behind it was to connect young people, ages 14–18, more deeply to birds and nature and to other birders their age. Essentially, I wanted to give to the birding community what I and other widely distributed young naturalists never had when we were growing up. It brings me great pride and satisfaction to know that more than 400 young birders and naturalists have attended our camps over these 30 years.

Camp Chiricahua 2016

Camp Chiricahua 2016 — Photo: Louise Zemaitis

In this commemorative summer we operated two camps: our flagship camp, Camp Chiricahua, and Camp Cascades in Washington State. Each camp was filled with a wonderful group of aspiring young naturalists; each was a great success. Michael O’Brien, Louise Zemaitis, and Jennie Duberstein co-led Camp Chiricahua in July while Barry Lyon and I teamed up with Michael and Louise to co-lead Camp Cascades in Washington State in late July and early August.

Over the years I have personally supervised Camp Chiricahua more than any of our other camps, but I have a special feeling for our Washington camp as well. This year’s crop of kids, nine boys and five girls, was one of the best groups we have ever had at our camps—all were extremely knowledgeable about birds and other facets of the natural world including mammals, reptiles and amphibians, flowers, and butterflies. Their enthusiasm was contagious!  When something new was sighted, they did not merely stroll over to see it; they ran. The camp began with four nights at Camp Casey on Whidbey Island on the north side of Puget Sound. Every day we enjoyed seeing magnificent Bald Eagles soaring over the trees near our quarters. One day we took a boat trip to Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge where we saw Common Murres, Rhinoceros Auklets, and other seabirds. The highlight was a long, close study of a Tufted Puffin, one of the most striking of the world’s seabirds. The rest of the camp was spent at two sites in Mt. Rainier National Park, one of the most beautiful of our national parks. At both Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh campgrounds we were surrounded by 100-foot Douglas-Firs, Western Red Cedars, and Western Hemlocks. Walking among the giant trees felt like being in the most perfect of cathedrals, paying homage to the majesty of nature.

It was especially wonderful to be at Mt. Rainier during the centennial year of the founding of the National Park Service. In getting to know the park we hiked the incomparable Skyline Trail, enjoying subalpine meadows spangled with wildflowers, a Prairie Falcon hunting at close range, magnificent panoramic views of the volcanic peaks of the High Cascades, and, of course, the dramatic ice-clad mountain itself, 14,416 foot Mt. Rainier. Near the end of the hike we were treated to marvelous views of a male Sooty Grouse as it walked across the trail four feet in front of us and proceeded to take a lengthy dust bath nearby! Cameras were clicking non-stop. Incredibly, a female bird with four chicks was seen a short distance further alongside the trail. What an unforgettable experience for everyone.

Camp Cascades 2016

Camp Cascades 2016 — Photo: Victor Emanuel

On another day we traveled to the eastern slope of the mountains to a place where Michael and Louise had previously found breeding Lewis’s Woodpeckers, certainly one of the most beautiful of all woodpecker species. On the day of our visit we tallied a remarkable 27 individuals.

On our last night in the park, I hosted a discussion with the campers on the questions of why birds interest people more than any other creatures, and how birding and being in nature has the power to change lives. Rather than delivering a standard presentation, I wanted the talk to be inclusive, and after speaking for a few minutes I asked the kids for their ideas. Lots of hands went up. Their answers to the first part of the question included flight, song, migration, and the fact that birds are everywhere. In response to the second part, one boy gave a one-word answer, “healing,” while a girl said that only when she is birding and out in nature does her mind stop racing. Others mentioned that birds connect us to the environment and to other people.

I have supervised about 15 of our camps. They all have provided me with wonderful experiences in nature and connected me to young birders who reminded me of my own days as a young birder. I consider the creation of these camps my greatest achievement. Back in 1986 I never dreamed they would be so successful or would influence so many lives. In 2017, VENT’s youth birding camp program will enter its fourth decade, and the tradition grows richer.

VENT will operate two camps in 2017, and both already are sold out!

Camp Chiricahua, July 11-22, 2017 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis.

Camp Cascades, July 29-August 9, 2017 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis.

In this issue:



Kids at Play

African Elephants, Tanzania — Photo: Tour Participant, Bill Denton

As someone who has traveled widely over most of his life, I am occasionally asked what I consider to be the world’s greatest areas for birding and wildlife. While there are many places that offer marvelous experiences in nature, there are probably about 10 or 12 destinations that I consider truly elite—places like Antarctica, Australia, and India for example. While as great as these and other places are, no area offers a greater experience than northern Tanzania in East Africa.

With its diversity and number of big game, huge avifauna, and classic landscapes, northern Tanzania really is as good as it gets. Year after year, our Northern Tanzania tour has proven among our most popular departures. Our trips are led by longtime VENT leaders David Wolf and Kevin Zimmer, who are very knowledgeable about the birds and mammals of East Africa. We will operate two tours to northern Tanzania in the next six months: a fall trip, October 31-November 17, 2016, and a late winter trip, February 19-March 7, 2017. Both departures still have spaces available.

Northern Tanzania is an amazing place to visit at any time of the year, and this tour is without question one of our greatest adventures, where participants experience incredible birding and big game viewing on a daily basis. You’ll see African Elephant, Giraffe, Common Zebra, Lion, Leopard, and Cheetah in the famous locations of Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Manyara, Tarangire, and Lake Victoria. The birdlife of northern Tanzania is marvelous, and you are guaranteed of seeing a wonderful diversity of landbirds and waterbirds. For many people, one of the main attractions is the opportunity to see the great herds of wildebeest that gather on the short-grass plains to calve prior to the start of the rainy season. This spectacle is encountered annually on our winter trip; our fall trip offers a different type of experience in which we witness the big herds still moving south. Besides wildebeest, the plains of the Serengeti host a half-million gazelle, a quarter-million zebra, and a variety of other bovids and ungulates. 

Martial Eagle, Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania, March 2014

Martial Eagle, Lake Manyara National Park, Tanzania — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

Northern Tanzania: Birding and Wildlife in the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Beyond, October 31-November 17, 2016 with David Wolf and a local leader; $11,195 in double occupancy from Arusha.

Northern Tanzania: Birding and Wildlife in the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Beyond, February 19-March 7, 2017 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $10,895 in double occupancy from Arusha.

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On a continent filled with amazing options for birding and natural history observation, perhaps no place features the remarkable diversity comparable to that of Ecuador. In this small South American country, about the size of the state of Colorado, you can travel from the vast Amazon lowlands to the cloud forests of the Andes in a short amount of time, recording an extraordinary number of birds along the way. Ecuador is a birder’s dream come true. I have been there many times, both for personal travel and to lead tours, and can attest to its remarkable diversity of birds and ecosystems.

While birders have long traveled all over Ecuador, it is the northern part of the country that receives the most visitation. Much of this has to do with the fact that the country’s capital, Quito, is situated in the north, but other factors include a better overall developed infrastructure, better services, and better known birding sites. In particular, northern Ecuador can be divided into what I call “super-regions,” and in northern Ecuador there are three of these: the northwestern slope of the Andes, the eastern slope of the Andes, and the Amazon Basin, or Amazonia. VENT operates tours to all three of these areas. Each trip is very different from the others in terms of the landscapes, the birdlife, and the overall travel experience, but each is wonderful in its own right.

Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan

Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, NW Andean Slopes — Photo: Paul Greenfield

VENT will operate three land-based tours to Ecuador this fall and winter. Our Northwestern Andean Slopes tour will operate in November while January will see the return of our Amazonia at Napo Wildlife Center and Ecuador: Eastern Slope of the Andes tours. All of these trips will be led by Paul Greenfield, co-author of the The Birds of Ecuador (2001). Traveling with Paul presents a rare privilege to be in the field with one of the most knowledgeable Ecuador tour leaders anywhere.

Ecuador: The Northwestern Andean Slopes, November 12-20, 2016 with Paul Greenfield and a second leader to be announced; $3,095 in double occupancy from Quito.

This, our flagship Ecuador tour, is traditionally our most popular Ecuador departure. On this tour, participants will spend time amid cool cloud forests, experiencing lovely mountain scenery, spectacular birds, and riveting bird spectacles. We anticipate 20 or more species of hummingbirds, leks of displaying Andean Cocks-of-the-rock, and an extraordinary collection of antpittas that must be seen to be believed. For added measure, we also expect to record fabulous birds such as Golden-headed Quetzal, Toucan Barbet, Crimson-mantled Woodpecker, Turquoise Jay, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, and an incredible assortment of jewel-like tanagers. For even greater diversity, this trip can be coupled with our Tinalandia Pre-trip, November 8-13, 2016; $2,195 in double occupancy from Quito. Take both trips and receive a combined tour discount of $150 in single occupancy or $75 per person in double occupancy.

Ecuador: Amazonia at Napo Wildlife Center, January 8-17, 2017 with Paul Greenfield; $3,895 in double occupancy from Quito. 4 spaces available. Combine with Ecuador: Eastern Slope of the Andes for a discount of $300 per person.

Napo Wildlife Center, Ecuador

Sunset at Napo Wildlife Center, Ecuador — Photo: Peter English

The combination of birds, wildlife, and accommodations in a wild and untrammeled location makes our Ecuador: Amazonia at Napo Wildlife Center tour one of our premier South American departures. Our trip spends five nights at the Napo Wildlife Center (NWC), a lodge located on a beautiful oxbow lake on the bird-rich south bank of the Napo River. Although other lodges in the area are better known, Napo is far superior to any of them, and for these reasons: 1) the south side of the river is much richer in birdlife than the seasonally flooded north bank; 2) two fabulous “parrot licks” are located nearby; 3) it has the best canopy tower in Amazonia; 4) other area lodges accommodate 40–50 guests; the NWC has only 16 cabañas; 5)  it is located amid 100 square miles of protected rainforest; and 6) it is owned and operated by the indigenous Añangu community and has received many awards as a model for sustainable and responsible tourism.

Ecuador: Eastern Slope of the Andes, January 15-25, 2017 with Paul Greenfield; $2,995 in double occupancy from Quito. 2 spaces available. Combine with Ecuador: Amazonia at Napo Wildlife Center for a discount of $300 per person.

Forming the spine of the world’s most bird-rich continent, the Andes offer the world’s most spectacular mountain birding. Based out of three lodges, this tour explores the fantastic diversity of different elevations of the Ecuadorian Andes. Within easy reach is an incredible transect of habitats, from lush upper tropical forest in the foothills to temperate cloud forests, stunted alpine scrub, and treeless páramo. This region of the Tropics harbors some of the greatest diversity of tanagers found anywhere, along with hundreds of other exciting trogons, quetzals, parrots, hummingbirds, antbirds, ovenbirds, flycatchers, and cotingas.

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Nazca Booby

Nazca Booby, Galapagos Islands — Photo: Barry Zimmer

I want to let you know that our next Galapagos Islands Cruise, October 28-November 6, 2016, is now almost full and that we are down to our last available cabin. 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 (2001) and who possesses years of experience leading Galapagos trips. If you have ever wanted to go to the Galapagos, now is the time. Following this fall trip, our next departure, June 23-July 2, 2017, is already sold out as well. This means that anyone wanting to go to the famous islands with VENT may have to wait until at least the autumn of 2017, the next time we’ll operate a trip in the Galapagos on which space availability is not yet a concern.

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, Nazca Boobies, and the Galapagos finches and mockingbirds of Darwin fame.

An added advantage of going to the Galapagos Islands with VENT is that all of our departures can be supplemented with optional pre- and post-cruise extensions. Our two-day Tandayapa Pre-trip visits the Andean cloud forests of the Tandayapa Valley outside Quito for beautiful mountain scenery and a visit a private residence to witness one of the world’s greatest hummingbird shows. Our Machu Picchu Extension 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 Islands Cruise aboard the M/V Evolution, October 28-November 6, 2016 with Paul Greenfield; one cabin available at $8,295 per person in double occupancy from Quito.

Tandayapa Pre-trip, October 25-28, 2016 with Paul Greenfield; $1,095 in double occupancy from Quito.

Machu Picchu Extension: Birds, Ruins, and History, November 5-11, 2016 with Paul Greenfield; $3,695 in double occupancy from Lima.

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Main catalog cover 2017

Main catalog cover 2017

I’m very pleased to announce that our 2017 annual tour catalog was mailed a couple of weeks ago. It is always an exciting time here at VENT for us to hold the new catalog in our hands, hot off the press. Our staff puts a great deal of effort into planning our tour schedule and creating our catalog, and we feel that this year’s production represents another outstanding effort.

Our 2017 catalog marks our 41st year and once again displays the cover art of my dear friend Robert Bateman, one of the greatest living bird and wildlife artists. The presentation features a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird hovering before a Red Columbine in full bloom, seemingly deliberating over which blossom to visit first. Set against the colder tones of a lichen-covered rock wall, both the bird and the flowers appear radiant in partial sunlight. The enchantment of the scene is enhanced by a sense of intimacy whereby the viewer is treated to a rare and fleeting moment in the life of one of the most diminutive members of the bird world. The use of light, the attention to detail, and imparted familiarity with the subject is vintage Bateman. Inside the catalog are 84 pages of tour descriptions, biographical sketches, and our upcoming tour schedule—all accompanied by outstanding images from our tour leaders and some of the world’s finest wildlife photographers.

Cruise catalog cover 2017

Cruise catalog cover 2017

Preceding our main catalog by several months, our 2017 Cruises & Special Departures catalog features a spectacular cover image of a Scarlet Macaw in flight, representing our cruises on the Amazon River. Our Amazon River cruises, as well as others to destinations such as Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, Alaska, Iceland, Sicily and Malta, and other world-class locations, are described in detail within the pages of the catalog. The majority of these departures offer all-inclusive natural history themes that extend beyond birding, while some place equal emphasis on human history and culture. Many of these trips are ideal for those who desire a vacation with a broader focus, including those who travel with a non-birding spouse or companion.

Please let us know if you would like to have a copy of this beautiful catalog sent to a friend, family member, or anyone who you think might enjoy it.

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If you are someone who doesn’t mind being away for the year-end holidays, I thought I’d remind you that VENT offers a limited selection of Christmas and New Year tours. This year we will operate trips to Panama and Portugal, destinations that offer superb birding and beautiful natural surroundings. Although we still have not reached the end of summer, I want to emphasize that now is a very good time to make year-end travel plans, as airfares will only become more expensive. Please keep in mind that $500 discounts are available for our holiday tours; I’m pleased to announce that the deadline for receiving the discount has been extended to October 1.


Broad-billed Motmot

Broad-billed Motmot, Panama — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

Panama: Christmas at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge Pre-trip, December 22-27, 2016 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $2,095 in double occupancy from Panama City. With $500 discount, fee is $1,595 for all registrations received by September 30.

New Year at Panama’s Canopy Tower, December 27, 2016-January 3, 2017 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $3,095 in double occupancy from Panama City. With $500 discount, fee is $2,595 for all registrations received by September 30.

New Year in Portugal, December 27, 2016-January 7, 2017 with João Jara and Bob Sundstrom; $6,495 in double occupancy from Lisbon. With $500 discount, fee is $5,995 for all registrations received by September 30.

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If you are open to the idea of a fall getaway, or are willing to travel on short notice, you might like to know that VENT will operate a number of tours in the coming months that still have a few spaces available. The September–November period is a prime time to experience southbound bird migration on both coasts of the U.S. and in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas; delight in a visit to nearby Panama; immerse yourself in the magnificent landscapes and avifauna of the southern South American countries of Bolivia and Chile; or go further afield and explore the super-exotic birds, botany, and mammals of incomparable Madagascar. Regardless of your preference, any of the following trips are sure to invigorate your autumn season:

Cape May: A Birding Workshop, September 18-24, 2016 with Louise Zemaitis and Michael O’Brien; $2,050 in double occupancy from Philadelphia. 3 spaces available.

Washington: September Migration in the Pacific Northwest, September 19-27, 2016 with Bob Sundstrom and Kevin Zimmer; $3,295 in double occupancy from Seattle. 4 spaces available.

Panama: Fall at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, October 8-15, 2016 with Barry Zimmer and a local leader; $2,795 in double occupancy from Panama City. Register by September 2, receive a $500 discount, and pay $2,295! 4 spaces available. 

And they are often successful. This scene, featuring an alpha male on a fresh kill, is nothing short of arresting.

Puma at a Kill in Patagonia, Chile — Photo: Andrew Whittaker

Bolivia: Endemic Macaws and More Part II: Foothills, Cloud Forests & the Altiplano, October 13-23, 2016 with Hector Slongo and Andrew Whittaker; $3,695 in double occupancy from Santa Cruz. 2 spaces available.

Ornithology 101 in South Texas: A-Learn-About-Birds Workshop, October 28-November 2, 2016 with Denver Holt and a second leader to be announced; $1,895 in double occupancy from McAllen. 6 spaces available.

Wild Patagonia & Central Chile: Pumas, Penguins, Condors & More!, November 3-17, 2016 with Andrew Whittaker and Fernando Diaz; $8,495 in double occupancy from Santiago, Chile. 2 spaces available.

Madagascar Highlights, November 6-21, 2016 with Dion Hobcroft; $8,595 in double occupancy from Antananarivo. 4 spaces available.

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In mid-August, the high pressure system that was blocking moisture inflow from the Gulf of Mexico moved out, allowing an extensive low pressure system to move in. Consequently, for over a week the Austin area enjoyed an unusual amount of rain. The countryside is green and the area lakes are full.  Hopefully the fall wildflowers will be impressive. Even though summer doesn’t officially end for another several weeks, we have been enjoying southbound bird migration for the past month, with 17 species of shorebirds recorded in August alone at Hornsby Bend, my favorite local birding area. It is a treat to see species such as Baird’s and Pectoral sandpipers and to think about the long journeys they have undertaken from their Arctic breeding grounds to central Texas, and how much further they have to travel to their wintering grounds in southern South America. Each day brings new arrivals. Fall is always an exciting time. 

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel