VENTflash #208 October 12, 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,

A year ago at this time, I had recently returned from co-leading our inaugural Birds & Music tour to Hungary and the Czech Republic. This multi-themed tour is one we had wanted to offer for years, but we hadn’t found an agent in Europe with whom we wanted to work. That changed several years ago when we met Balázs Szigeti and Attila Steiner at the Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival in Titusville, Florida. Balázs and Attila are Hungarian and the principals at Ecotours Wildlife Holidays, a small company based in Budapest. After spending time with them, we felt we had finally met the right people for the job and began working with them to organize the tour.

Red-footed Falcon, like this sharp-looking male bird, is a common breeding bird and passage migrant through the Hortobagy region.

Red-footed Falcon, Hungary — Photo: Mary Braddock

From the time we got off the plane in Budapest until our departure from Prague, this tour provided a cascade of wonderful experiences involving great birds, fascinating history, and superb music. Last year’s tour was sold out many months before departure, and with a long waiting list to boot. The same thing happened this year.

For the 2016 tour, we asked VENT leader Rafael Galvez to co-lead the trip with Balázs. We felt Rafael would be the perfect co-leader given his background of travel in Europe and the Caucuses, particularly the Republic of Georgia where he once spent months recording folk songs and writing a book on the raptors of Georgia. Last week we had a chance to catch up with Rafael and to hear about this year’s tour. He reported that he traveled with a wonderful group of participants who were very enthusiastic about all facets of the tour including the birds, culture, and music. They especially enjoyed their sightings of Great Bustards, a day-roost of Long-eared Owls, and many raptor species including Saker and Red-footed falcons, and Imperial and White-tailed eagles, along with many other birds. The musical performances in Budapest and Prague added a marvelous element to the trip, as did the professionally guided tours of the Hungarian and Czech capitals.

Parliament Building, Budapest, Hungary

Parliament Building, Budapest, Hungary — Photo: Brian Gibbons

Because I enjoyed this tour so much last year, it was gratifying to hear about its follow-up success. I am very pleased that VENT will again operate this tour next fall, September 9-24, 2017, and that it will again be led by Rafael Galvez. It is already receiving a lot of interest. 

Hungary & the Czech Republic: Birds & Music from Budapest to Prague, September 9-24, 2017 with Rafael Galvez and a local leader (probably Balázs Szigeti); tour fee to be announced by October 21 ($6,195 in 2016).

In this issue:



Blue-and-yellow Macaws

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

For many years, VENT has operated some of the finest Amazon River Cruises available, and the tradition continues in 2017 with two departures: January 12-22 and February 16-26. If you have not yet been to the Amazon River or have not yet made winter travel plans, I thought you might be enticed to join us on one of these marvelous voyages. Both trips have been well received and are filling fast. Three cabins are still available on both cruises (for both departures: two full cabins and one half of a female share cabin).

Over the years I have written frequently of my love of the Amazon River. The great waterway supports one of the most magnificent ecosystems on earth, the lifeblood of a region that we refer to as “Amazonia.” Featuring a profusion of tropical birds, freshwater dolphins, primates, mammals, reptiles, butterflies, and botany, I cannot think of another place that is as wonderful for immersing oneself in the wonders of tropical nature. Having made a number of trips on the Amazon River, I consider it an essential destination for anyone with a passion for nature.

VENT’s Amazon River Cruises are birding trips, but they are certainly much more than that, for they offer a full sweep of natural history. Our Amazon voyages explore the Peruvian Amazon near its headwaters above the city of Iquitos. This is one of the wildest remaining stretches of the river, and our travels include portions of the Amazon’s two principal tributaries: the Ucayali and Marañon rivers. We understand that comfort is as important to the success of our trips as our adventures in nature. To that end, our riverboat of choice is La Estrella Amazonica, a lovely vessel offering the stability, comfort, and quality of cuisine that we require.

La Estrella Amazonica

La Estrella Amazonica — Photo: International Expeditions

Leading these trips are some of VENT’s most experienced guides with regard to tropical ornithology and natural history: Steve Hilty, David Ascanio, and Andrew Whittaker. Each of these men has accumulated decades of experience guiding tours in the Amazon region, and each derives great pleasure from sharing the joys of tropical birding and nature with others.

If you’ve ever wanted to visit the great Amazon River ecosystem, I encourage you to register now while space is still available and air fares are less costly.

Amazon River Cruise: Birding & Natural History Odyssey Aboard La Estrella Amazonica, January 12-22, 2017 with Steve Hilty and David Ascanio; cabins start at $6,595 in double occupancy from Lima. 3 cabins available.

Amazon River Cruise: Birding & Natural History Odyssey Aboard La Estrella Amazonica, February 16-26, 2017 with David Ascanio and Andrew Whittaker; cabins start at $6,595 in double occupancy from Lima. 3 cabins available.

Return to Top


For many of us, the winter can be a rather empty time as the natural world around us goes into a months-long hibernation. While in the doldrums of January and February, we hope and wait for the first signs of spring. The southwestern U.S. is different, as this is where many of our northern breeding birds spend their winters and, when joining resident birds, create kaleidoscopic mixes of birds that warm the heart of any traveler to the region.

Altamira Oriole

Altamira Oriole, South Texas — Photo: Barry Zimmer

This winter, VENT will again offer a host of tours to the Southwestern U.S. In particular I want to highlight our tours to Southern Arizona, Southern California, and the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. These trips are short (a plus for people who can’t be away from home for an extended period of time); offer wonderful assortments of birds; enjoy generally mild and beautiful conditions; and are led by VENT leaders who live in the biological regions where these tours operate. I hope you will consider joining one or more of these fine trips.

Winter Southern Arizona, January 16-22, 2017 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $2,095 in double occupancy from Tucson. 3 spaces available.

One of our most popular wintertime trips, this tour promises an abundance of wintering waterfowl, raptors, sparrows, and more, in tandem with a collection of resident specialty birds.

Winter Southern California, January 22-28, 2017 with Brennan Mulrooney and Erik Bruhnke; $2,095 in double occupancy from San Diego. 6 spaces available.

This tour may be taken by itself or in complement to the Winter Southern Arizona tour. We’ll seek a number of California specialty birds in addition to a wide range of wintertime visitors. From the Pacific Coast to the Salton Sea, this trip promises a large list of birds and plenty of excitement.

Winter Rio Grande Valley, February 10-16, 2017 with Erik Bruhnke; $1,995 in double occupancy from McAllen. 5 spaces available.

Wonderful birding is assured on this trip to one of the most venerable destinations for birding and natural history in North America. Range-restricted specialty birds, multitudes of waterfowl and shorebirds, and over-wintering Neotropical migrants combine for a dazzling effect.

Return to Top


Of all the places VENT operates tours, none exceeds Africa in terms of its ability to provide the complete travel experience. Big game, birds galore, timeless landscapes, and legendary place names stoke the allure of Africa as an ultimate destination. Despite the enormity of the continent, the two outstanding regions for wildlife viewing are East Africa and Southern Africa. Both areas contain the largest remaining wildlife herds on the continent and some of its finest national parks. I have been very fortunate to have traveled to both East Africa and Southern Africa on multiple occasions, and I can’t speak highly enough about the experiences I’ve had there.

African Elephant

African Elephant — Photo: Dion Hobcroft

In 2017, VENT will offer tours to eight countries in Africa; however, at this time I wish to highlight our tours to Northern Tanzania and Botswana, in the opinion of many, the two greatest countries in Africa for big game and birds. Additionally, I’m thrilled to announce a $1,000 early registration discount on our tour to Botswana, April 11-22, 2017.

Northern Tanzania: Birding and Wildlife in the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Beyond

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 VENT leaders Kevin Zimmer and Machiel Valkenburg, who are very knowledgeable about the birds and mammals of East Africa. We will operate two tours to Northern Tanzania in 2017: a late winter trip, February 19-March 7, and a fall trip, October 31-November 6. Both departures have spaces available.

Northern Tanzania is an amazing place 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.

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.

Northern Tanzania: Birding and Wildlife in the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Beyond, October 31-November 16, 2017 with Machiel Valkenburg and a local leader; price to be announced in double occupancy from Arusha ($11,195 in 2016).

Botswana: From Desert to Delta

Saddle-billed Stork

Saddle-billed Stork — Photo: Dion Hobcroft

Our popular tour to Namibia, Botswana & Zambia visits two wonderful locations in Botswana, both in the region of the Okavango Delta. For several years, we have wanted to put together a Botswana-only trip that included areas not visited on our traditional tour. I’m pleased that we have done that. Our Botswana: From Desert to Delta tour will operate April 11-22, 2017 and will spend time in the Kalahari Desert and at other lodges in the Okavango Delta. This trip will be led by Geoff Lockwood, who has led our Namibia, Botswana & Zambia tours for over a decade, and who routinely receives rave reviews from those who have traveled with him. For an added enticement, register by December 15 and receive an early booking discount of $1,000. The fee for this tour is $9,995 in double occupancy. Register before December 15 and pay $8,995!

Two days in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve will give participants a chance to see a variety of dry country birds and mammals. Possibilities include Honey Badger, Aardwolf, African Wildcat, Crimson-breasted Boubou (Shrike), the near-endemic Kalahari Scrub-Robin, Northern Black (White-quilled) Bustard, Martial Eagle, and others. Our local guides will be San Bushmen who possess a wealth of knowledge about this region. A charter flight will take participants to the spectacular Okavango Delta, one of the largest and biologically richest wetlands in the world. In the Delta, two lovely small camps, Little Vumbura and Jacana Camp, will enable the group to see a very different array of mammals including African Elephant, Leopard, Lion, Spotted Hyena, and two of the world’s most beautiful antelope: Greater Kudu and Sable. The Delta is a paradise for birds including a range of herons, egrets, storks, kingfishers, bee-eaters, rollers, and the amazing Pel’s Fishing-Owl, a huge orange-colored owl.

An optional extension to the Western Cape region of South Africa will visit an entirely different series of habitats that are home to a number of endemic and near-endemic bird species such as Cape Spurfowl, Southern Boubou, Cape Sugarbird, and Orange-breasted Sunbird. Participants will also see a great variety of waterbirds including Greater Flamingo, Cape Shoveler, Cape and Hottentot teal, Maccoa Duck, and Spur-winged Goose. A highlight will be a visit to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve and the Boulders Coastal Park where the critically endangered African Penguin will be seen. Further west there will be opportunities to look for many other special birds of this beautiful region including the Black Harrier, another critically endangered species that is widely considered the most beautiful harrier in the world, and the elegant Blue Crane, South Africa’s national bird.

Botswana: From Desert to Delta, April 11-22, 2017 with Geoff Lockwood; $9,995 in double occupancy; $13,995 in single occupancy from Maun. Limit 8. Register by December 15 and receive a $1,000 discount: $8,995 in double occupancy; $12,995 in single occupancy.

South Africa: Western Cape Extension, April 21-27, 2017 with Geoff Lockwood; $3,695 in double occupancy from Cape Town. Limit 8.

Return to Top


Orange-bellied Trogon

Orange-bellied Trogon, Panama — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

During late fall and winter, many people like to take a vacation, either to get away for the holidays or simply to alleviate the monotony of winter. Short and overcast days, cold weather, rain, and snow—qualities typical of this time of year—are enough to make anyone long for the warm weather and abundance of nature that we associate with the springtime.

To help relieve you of the wintertime blues, VENT will operate trips to a host of tropical destinations in the November–January period, each of which promises delightful conditions and a wealth of wonderful birds and other wildlife, and each of which still has spaces available. Three tours to Ecuador offer exposure to distinct regions of the country while four tours to Panama (two with discount opportunities!) center on the esteemed “Canopy” family of lodges, including two trips that visit Panama over the holidays. Further afield, our inaugural tour to the llanos (grasslands) of Colombia offers exciting open-country birding in a part of the country never before visited by VENT. Additionally, our tours to Portugal and The Netherlands offer marvelous wintertime birding in Europe infused with fascinating cultural highlights.

Ecuador: The Northwestern Andean Slopes, November 12-20, 2016 with Paul Greenfield; $3,095 in double occupancy from Quito. 3 spaces available. Pair this trip with our Tinalandia Pre-trip (November 8-13, 2016; $2,195 in double occupancy) and receive a combined tour discount of $75 in double occupancy and $150 in single occupancy.

Panama: Christmas at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, December 12-22, 2016 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $2,095 in double occupancy from Panama City. 6 spaces available. 

Napo Wildlife Center

Napo Wildlife Center, Ecuador — Photo: Peter English

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. 7 spaces available.

New Year in Portugal, December 27, 2016-January 7, 2017 with Bob Sundstrom and João Jara; $6,495 in double occupancy from Lisbon. 6 spaces available.

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. 3 spaces available. Register by October 14, receive a discount of $810, and pay $4,585.

The Netherlands in Winter: Birds, Art & Dutch Culture, January 6-15, 2017 with Machiel Valkenburg and Mike Hirschler; $3,995 in double occupancy from Amsterdam. 6 spaces available.
Ecuador: Amazonia at Napo Wildlife Center, January 8-17, 2017 with Paul Greenfield; $3,895 in double occupancy from Quito. 4 spaces available. $300 discount if combined with Ecuador: Eastern Slope of the Andes.

Ecuador: Eastern Slope of the Andes, January 15-25, 2017 with Paul Greenfield; $2,995 in double occupancy from Quito. 1 space available. $300 discount if combined with Ecuador: Amazonia at Napo Wildlife Center.

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. 7 spaces available. Register by October 14, receive a $500 discount, and pay $2,195.

A Week in the Llanos of Colombia: Hato La Aurora, January 27-February 3, 2017 with David Ascanio and Diana Balcázar; $2,995 in double occupancy from Bogotá. 6 spaces available.

Return to Top


Zebra Heliconian

Zebra Heliconian, Austin, TX — Photo: Victor Emanuel

Here is Central Texas, landbird migration has been unusually slow during September and the first part of October. Persistently warm temperatures and an absence of cold fronts this fall have allowed birds to linger farther north longer than usual. On the other hand, a wet summer has resulted in plentiful fall wildflowers. In particular, the Frostweed (Verbesina virginica), a white composite, is taller than I have ever seen it. This species blooms in the autumn, a time when its white flower heads attract an abundance of butterflies. On a recent walk with two friends at Hornsby Bend, my favorite local birding area, we saw 23 species of butterflies. The most abundant types were Hackberry and Tawny emperors, but also present was an array of swallowtails, sulphurs, hairstreaks, metalmarks, queens, and skippers, as well as the striking Bordered Patch. On the other side of town, a Zebra Heliconian, a beautiful black Longwing butterfly with yellow stripes has appeared from time to time around our office. One of the many wonderful things about a walk in nature is that there is always something fascinating to enjoy.

I hope your autumn season is off to a festive and nature-rich start.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel