VENTflash #207 September 21, 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,

VENT operates approximately 150 tours a year to destinations all over the world. With so many tours in the field every month, I regularly receive reports of amazing sightings that occur on our trips. In August, we operated tours to Africa (Namibia, Botswana & Zambia and South Africa) North America (Canada: Grand Manan), Australasia (Borneo, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and West New Britain), and South America (Brazil: Pantanal and Peru: Manu). The tour reports that we received from our tour leaders following these trips are thoroughly enjoyable to read and offer marvelous insights into the joys of being in nature on a VENT tour. Well-written and usually illustrated with photos, these reports convey the enthusiasm our tour leaders bring to their jobs. It is that enthusiasm, along with their remarkable skills at finding birds and other creatures, that makes VENT tours so wonderful. Here are a few examples from recently completed tours:

Razorbills, Grand Manan, 2016

Razorbills, Grand Manan, 2016 — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Namibia, Botswana & Zambia, by Geoff Lockwood: “The area around Namutoni provided some of the best birding and wildlife experiences of the tour. Never-to-be-forgotten memories included a group of forty-seven elephants moving peacefully past us only three yards from our parked vehicle! The only sound was the crunching of sand under 188 feet as these gentle giants filed past. Another indelible memory was watching the drinking behavior of hundreds of Burchell’s Sandgrouse coming in to Klein Okevi waterhole and seeing the antics of the males as they loaded up their specially-modified belly and breast feathers with water to take back to their chicks, offering a special window into the lives of these striking endemic birds. Pride of place goes to the superb sightings of a Pel’s Fishing-Owl that perched in the top of a nearly leafless tree giving us superb views of this huge orange owl.”

Autumn Grand Manan, by Barry Zimmer: "With storm-petrels everywhere and dozens of shearwaters following us, we were in pelagic heaven. An early Northern Fulmar joined the crowd. Then, incredibly, another South Polar Skua was spotted. This day was turning out to be one of our best pelagic trips ever off Grand Manan, and yet the biggest surprise was still to come. I heard my co-leader, Brennan (Mulrooney) call out, “Get on this bird at three o’clock.” I turned and quickly saw a large bird with slow wing beats, and I felt my heart skip a beat—a Cory’s Shearwater, a species documented only a few times in New Brunswick and a lifer for me. All in all, we saw over 7,000 seabirds including 9 Razorbills and 60 Atlantic Puffins, as well as 20 Humpback Whales and two North Atlantic Right Whales—one of the rarest whales in the world. On other days we saw 20 species of warblers. The combination of amazing birds, wonderful marine mammals, delicious seafood, and the scenic New Brunswick coast provided us with a magical week."

Ocelot, Manu, Peru

Ocelot, Manu, Peru — Photo: Tour Participant, Marilyn Veek

Peru: Manu, by Steve Hilty: “The next several days took us downward through a series of habitats as dramatic as any in the world. Our final destination was the Manu Wildlife Center. By now the avian diversity was amazing. This was the Amazon rain forest we had dreamed about, the most biologically diverse region of the planet. Highlights that stand out above all others include the Razor-billed Curassows, Pale-winged Trumpeters, the macaw spectacle at the colpa (clay lick), the Andean Cock-of-the-rock lek, the Common Woolly Monkeys, Giant Otters, Red Howler Monkeys, adorable little Saddle-backed Tamarins, and timid agouties. However, nothing equals the amazing views we had of a much chagrined Ocelot that failed to capture a macaw and then stood around for some time looking around as if he hoped no one had seen his clumsy effort.”

Brazil: Pantanal, by Kevin Zimmer: “Every trip to the Pantanal seems to get better. On this trip we saw six Jaguars, the most ever, including a female with two cubs. The birdlife was fantastic including Hyacinth Macaws, five Agami Herons, and a Zigzag Heron.”

Juan Fernandez Petrel, Tucson, AZ, Sept. 7, 2016

Juan Fernandez Petrel, Tucson, AZ, Sept. 7, 2016 — Photo: Brian Gibbons

Amazingly, the most remarkable recent sighting by a VENT leader was not on a tour but at home. Like many VENT leaders, Brian Gibbons, who lives in Tucson, Arizona, birds his home region assiduously. On September 7, as the remnants of Hurricane Newton moved into Arizona, Brian began receiving reports of pelagic birds appearing widely across the desert between Tucson and the Mexican border. After learning that a number of seabirds had been sighted in the Tucson area, he left his home and drove onto a nearby thoroughfare. In short order he spotted a storm-petrel circling low over the road. Unfortunately, the bird was struck by a truck and killed. Brian retrieved the specimen that turned out to be his lifer Least Storm-Petrel! After checking other nearby areas for lost seabirds, he decided to return home and set up a vigil. Within minutes, a storm-petrel with a white rump flew by. He photographed the bird that later proved to be a Wedge-rumped Storm-Petrel, another extraordinarily rare bird for North America and another lifer! Maintaining his watch, 35 minutes later, he was astounded to see a larger seabird with bowed wings and slow flaps heading directly at him from the north. Photographing the bird as it flew past his driveway, Brian obtained clear images that later allowed for the bird’s identification: Juan Fernandez Petrel! This species is a member of the Pterodroma genus that breeds in the Juan Fernandez Islands far off the coast of central Chile. Brian’s observation was not only another lifer, but also the first documented North American record of this seabird. Imagine the thrill of adding a species to the North American list from your yard! What an amazing afternoon for Brian.

In this issue:



M.V. Evolution

M.V. Evolution — Photo: Courtesy of International Expeditions

After recently selling out our upcoming Galapagos Islands Cruise, we have received notification of a cancellation, leaving us again with one final cabin to sell. Because of cancellation penalties incurred, we are able to offer this last cabin at a discount of $2,000 per person in double occupancy!

For this trip, October 28-November 6, 2016, we have taken a half charter of the 32-passenger M/V Evolution, one of the best ships that cruise these waters. 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 next fall, October 27-November 5, 2017, when VENT has again taken a half charter on the Evolution.

October is an outstanding time to visit the Galapagos Islands. The Waved Albatrosses are still on their breeding grounds, and all of 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 Galapagos finches.

Galapagos Islands Cruise aboard the M/V Evolution, October 28-November 6, 2016 with Paul Greenfield; $8,295 per person in double occupancy from Quito. With $2,000 discount, fee is $6,295 per person.

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Over the years, our wintertime trips to Southeast Asia have proven an important part of our Asia program. In Southeast Asia, the small countries of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam form a unique trifecta of geographic variability and spectacular biological diversity. In particular, each of these countries is a birder’s paradise, home to hundreds of colorful tropical birds and a fabulous assortment of mammals, insects, and plants. Southeast Asia is also the birthplace of some of the world’s most ancient and fascinating cultures, and our tours are enhanced by exposure to cultural attractions ranging from ancient archaeological sites and architectural wonders to ethnically diverse people, and to a fabulous gamut of culinary delights.

Machiel Valkenburg

Machiel Valkenburg

In Dion Hobcroft and Machiel Valkenburg, VENT has a superb team of leaders for our tours to Southeast Asia. Dion has led VENT tours to Asia for the last 15 years and is among our most popular leaders. A citizen of Australia, Dion worked for decades as a field researcher and for various government agencies prior to joining VENT. In addition to his master birding skills, he brings to his tours encyclopedic knowledge of many other aspects of the natural history of the Australasia region. Machiel Valkenburg is one of the newest members of the VENT team and was “discovered” by Dion, who co-led tours with him to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan a couple of years ago. A Dutch citizen, Machiel has spent huge amounts of time in Asia, particularly in the Central Asian republics and eastern Russia, and has developed an expertise on the birds of that continent. Machiel recently returned from leading our annual tour to Borneo on which he received glowing reviews. Machiel presently lives in Spain with his wife. Please visit our website to read the complete bios of Dion Hobcroft and Machiel Valkenburg.

This winter, I am thrilled that VENT will again operate trips to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand. I hope you will consider joining us on one of these outstanding tours:

Cambodia, February 17-March 3, 2017 with Dion Hobcroft; $5,595 in double occupancy from Siem Reap (ends in Phnom Penh). 4 spaces available.

The expansive forests and untouched wetlands of small Cambodia harbor some of the rarest species and races of birds and mammals in Asia. Examples of the many seldom seen and locally distributed birds we will search for on this trip include Greater Adjutant, Milky Stork, White-shouldered Ibis, White-winged Duck, Green Peafowl, White-rumped Falcon, White-rumped and Slender-billed vultures, and many others. Besides natural history, the itinerary also includes visits to some of the greatest surviving architectural monuments of Southeast Asia including the temples of the ancient city of Angkor. 

The Best of Vietnam, February 28-March 18, 2017 with Machiel Valkenburg; $5,995 in double occupancy from Hanoi (ends in Ho Chi Minh City). 6 spaces available.

Dion Hobcroft

Dion Hobcroft

Although not as well-known for birds and wildlife, 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 north to south 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.

Thailand Highlights, March 4-23, 2017 with Dion Hobcroft; $7,395 in double occupancy from Bangkok. Sold Out! Wait list available.

Our Thailand Highlights tour offers a perfect introduction to the birds and other biological riches of Southeast Asia. While the pheasants are perhaps the finest spectacle of any Asia tour, there is a vast array of characteristic Southeast Asian birds that cannot fail to enthrall the birder, including a marvelous diversity of pigeons, parakeets, trogons, hornbills, barbets, broadbills, pittas, bulbuls, leafbirds, babblers, and parrotbills. Added attractions are sensational cuisine, fascinating culture, a myriad of incredible butterflies, and some very exciting mammals.

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As we look ahead to early 2017, VENT will operate three Panama tours in January. Discount opportunities have been available for each of these departures, and now I am pleased to announce that the deadline for receiving the discount has been extended! Register by October 14 for our Canopy Tower & El Valle tour and receive a discount of $810, or book space on our shorter Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp or El Valle’s Canopy Lodge tours and receive a $500 discount

Black-breasted Puffbird, Canopy Tower, Panama, January 2013

Black-breasted Puffbird, Panama — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

Panama’s Canopy Tower & El Valle, January 3-15, 2017 with Jeri Langham and a local leader; $5,395 in double occupancy from Panama City. With $810 discount, fee is $4,585. 3 spaces available.

Panama’s Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp, January 14-22, 2017 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; one premium tent suite available at $3,995 in double occupancy from Panama City. With $500 discount, fee is $3,495.

Panama: El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, January 21-28, 2017 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $2,695 in double occupancy from Panama City. With $500 discount, fee is $2,195.

Additionally, $500 discounts are available until September 30 for our two year-end holiday tours. As a reminder, if you are open to holiday travel, now is the time to make your plans as airfares will only become pricier.

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.

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.

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In 2017, VENT will operate five birding and natural history cruises in collaboration with our valued travel partner, Zegrahm Expeditions. To promote a few of these trips, this fall we are hosting a series of free webinars that showcase our Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand, Circumnavigation of Iceland, and Wild Alaska cruises.

Atlantic Puffin colony on cliffs of Grimsey Island, Iceland

Atlantic Puffin colony on cliffs of Grimsey Island, Iceland— Photo: Michael Zysman/shutterstock

Last week, in tandem with my colleague Barry Lyon, we presented the first of these webinars in which we discussed the special qualities of our upcoming cruise to the Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand. On the heels of that successful event, we are preparing for our next webinar, October 5, a presentation on our Circumnavigation of Iceland cruise, June 1-12, 2017, with VENT leader, David Wolf.

Once again, I invite you to join me and Barry, and to learn about Iceland, a destination VENT has not visited in many years. Making this cruise so special is the opportunity to participate in a complete circumnavigation of the island, a voyage that promises beautiful landscapes and great pageants of wildlife, including millions of breeding gannets, alcids, and gulls. Shore excursions offer encounters with nesting waterfowl, shorebirds, and songbirds; visits to stunning national parks and timeless fishing villages; doses of Norse history; and time in the dynamic capital city of Reykjavik.

Our Circumnavigation of Iceland webinar is free and will be held Wednesday, October 5, 2016 at 1:00 p.m. CDT.

Details for registration to be announced soon!

If you missed our first webinar, featuring the Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand, I encourage you to visit our YouTube channel or the tour description page on the VENT website where the presentation is available for viewing.

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With the start of autumn at hand, we are reminded that we’ve reached the time of the year when VENT operates its fewest number of tours. With summer travel behind us, most people settle in for the fall as thoughts turn toward the year-end holidays. On the other hand, the fall is a time that appeals to some travelers. Airports are less busy; places are less crowded; and, of course, the birding is often very good at this season.

Swirling flocks of Andean tanagers hold wonderful colors such as this Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager.

Blue-winged Mountain-Tanager, a highland species of Ecuador — Photo: Andrew Whittaker

If you are someone who doesn’t mind being away from home during the autumn, I thought you might like to know that a limited number of spaces are available on tours departing within the next two months to destinations on three continents including North America, South America, and Africa. These fine trips promise outstanding birding and rewarding experiences in nature:

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. 4 spaces available.

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. 5 spaces available.

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. 3 spaces available.

Wild Patagonia & Central Chile, 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. 2 spaces available.

Ecuador: The Northwestern Andean Slopes, November 12-20, 2016 with Paul Greenfield; $3,095 in double occupancy from Quito. 3 spaces available.

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Sabine's Gull (juvenile), El Paso, TX, Sept. 16, 2016

Sabine’s Gull (juvenile), El Paso, TX, Sept. 16, 2016— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Last weekend I traveled to El Paso to visit with old friends. On my first night there I spent the evening with VENT tour leader, Barry Zimmer, his wife, Yvonne, and their daughter, Alex. The next day Barry and I birded at a couple of large reservoirs about an hour east of town. Our first stop was at McNary Reservoir where we saw a mixed group of about a hundred Clark’s and Western grebes. At one point, two Western Grebes were facing each other with their necks and heads resting on the surface of the water. They were bobbing their heads when all of a sudden they jumped up and proceeded to dance side by side for a couple of minutes. Later, we went to Fort Hancock Reservoir to look for shorebirds. As it turned out, the reservoir was full and there were no mudflats for shorebirds. We were about to leave when Barry stunned me by saying, “There’s a Sabine’s Gull!”  I looked toward the direction he was pointing and saw a small gull about 30 feet from us swimming our way. It was a juvenile Sabine’s Gull, a species that breeds in the Arctic and winters at sea and that is only very rarely observed in Texas. Remarkably, this was a new bird for my Texas list. In over 40 years of birding the El Paso region, Barry has seen this species here only a few times.

I hope the fall season heralds wonderful experiences in nature for you!

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel