VENTflash #220 June 06, 2017

Posted by Victor Emanuel

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Victor Emanuel

Victor Emanuel started birding in Texas 69 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:

After several visits to my beach house on the Upper Texas Coast this April, I found it difficult to leave Texas for Europe in advance of our Birds & History cruise to Sicily and Malta aboard the Sea Cloud. In late April, warblers are still coming through in numbers, and I had yet to see some of my favorites including Blackburnian, Cerulean, and Golden-winged. However, duty called, and the prospect of traveling aboard the lovely Sea Cloud with a wonderful group of people and seeing Greek ruins, wildflowers, and birds was an easy enticement.

Temple of Segesta, Sicily

Temple of Segesta, Sicily — Photo: Luigi Nifosi/shutterstock

Our cruise went very well. We visited four Greek ruin sites dating from antiquity, enjoyed an afternoon in a beautiful mountaintop medieval village, sailed on the beautiful Sea Cloud, and birded at two of Sicily’s premier wetland preserves. On one day, south of Syracuse on Sicily’s east coast, we saw 14 species of shorebirds. Throughout the trip we were treated to fabulous displays of wildflowers. On the land-based Sicily Extension, I even gained a life bird—Spectacled Warbler—which we saw in full song and performing flight displays. Traveling with so many old friends and new acquaintances, we had a most enjoyable trip; nevertheless, I kept thinking about the American wood warblers back home.

Our trip concluded on May 22 and I flew to Washington D.C. to visit friends and attend a wedding. I spent the morning after my arrival walking on the C&O Canal. There, I enjoyed superb looks at a Pileated Woodpecker and other birds, but saw no warblers. In the afternoon, I went to the National Mall and visited a number of the monuments including the Lincoln, FDR, MLK, and WWII memorials.

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler — Photo: Greg Lasley

At one point I sat down under an oak tree. Nearby were several locust trees. All of a sudden, I saw a small bird fly into one of the locust trees. Judging by its size and quick movements, I thought it might be a warbler. I grabbed my binoculars and got on the bird. It was a male Blackpoll Warbler! As I gazed at this marvelous little bird that was making its way north from the jungles of South America to the boreal forests of the northern United States and Canada, I thought about the life it leads: migrating south for three days over the Atlantic Ocean in the fall, and north along the eastern seaboard in the spring. I was delighted that my life had intersected with the life of this warbler. That is one of the many things that make birding so rewarding and satisfying: we never know when our life path will cross with that of a particular bird, and how our day is brightened immeasurably when it happens.

As I gazed at this gorgeous warbler, I thought about some of the last lines in Louis Halle’s natural history classic, Spring in Washington (1947, republished 1998): “On June 8 I saw my last migrant, a Blackpoll Warbler, behind the Japanese Embassy. The accomplished fact of a Washington summer lay before me. Yet this was merely the tick of the great clock that ticks out eternity. For a few ticks I am here, uncomprehending, attempting to make some record or memorial of this eternal passage, like a traveler taking notes in a strange country. He knows only that he has been bustled blindfolded onto the scene and that blindfolded he will be bustled off again in short order. Meanwhile the spectacle itself is beautiful, awe-inspiring.”

In this issue:

HUNGARY & THE CZECH REPUBLIC: ONE OF MY BEST IDEAS
GERMANY: BIRDS & ART WITH RICK WRIGHT
FALL PANAMA TOURS WITH BARRY ZIMMER
NEW TOURS
TWO NEW BOOK RELEASES: A SALUTE TO DAVID ASCANIO & VICTOR EMANUEL
AUTUMN TOURS WITH SPACES STILL AVAILABLE
CLOSING THOUGHTS

HUNGARY & THE CZECH REPUBLIC: ONE OF MY BEST IDEAS

Several years ago I came up with one of my best ideas for a new tour: a trip that combined the fantastic birding opportunities of Eastern Europe with the history and music of two of the great cities of the world, Budapest and Prague. The result, Hungary & the Czech Republic: Birds & Music from Budapest to Prague offers what I consider one of the finest all-around travel experiences a person could have.

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

Our inaugural tour was a trip I co-led with Barry Lyon and Balázs Szigeti in 2015. Last year the trip was co-led by Rafael Galvez and Balázs.

I remember vividly the marvelous experiences we had on a daily basis. The trip started in Hungary, and from the time we arrived in Budapest and entered the lovely Hungarian countryside, we were immersed in birds and nature: Great Bustards, the world’s largest flying bird, flying and feeding amid the grasslands of Kiskunság National Park; dozens of Red-footed Falcons low over a field catching dragonflies and then perching on the ground; simultaneous views of Imperial Eagles and Saker Falcons; in the Bükk Hills, a huge Ural Owl flying out of a dense woodland to catch a rodent and then perch in a small tree, affording scope-filling views; and a daytime roost of a dozen Long-eared Owls in a lovely little village. On the cultural front, our experiences were equally rich: enjoying a gourmet dinner, with the famous “Bull’s Blood” wine, in a private wine cellar; a private chamber concert performed by a quartet of terrific young Hungarian musicians; and a superb city tour of Budapest. On the evening of the concert, as I listened to the music of Mozart and remembered the marvelous sightings we had enjoyed in the first week of the tour, I was in heaven. It was a dream come true, and the Czech Republic awaited us with many other unforgettable adventures to come.

Just before I left home for this trip, a friend suggested I read Between the Woods and the Water (republished 2005), by Patrick Leigh Fermor. This book is rightly regarded as one of the best travel books ever written, and describes the middle leg of a journey that Fermor made across Europe, largely on foot, in 1933-34, and that took him through Hungary. I read it during our trip and loved it. Our 2015 and 2016 tours sold out quickly. A few spaces are still available on this year’s tour. I heartily encourage you to reserve one of the remaining spots and bring with you a copy of the book. I can assure you that this will be one of the most exciting and rewarding trips you will ever make.

Hungary & the Czech Republic: Birds & Music from Budapest to Prague, September 10-25, 2017 with Rafael Galvez and Balázs Szigeti; $6,395 in double occupancy from Budapest (ends in Prague). 4 spaces available.

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GERMANY: BIRDS & ART WITH RICK WRIGHT

Rick Wright

Rick Wright

Continuing with the birds and culture theme, I am very pleased at the success we’ve enjoyed with our Birds & Art tours to Europe. Knowing that many of our travelers enjoy trips that include cultural highlights in tandem with their birding experiences, we adopted this program of tours several years ago when Rick Wright joined VENT as a tour leader. Our next Birds & Art tour with Rick Wright will depart this fall: Germany: Birds & Art in Berlin & Brandenburg, September 29-October 8, 2017.

This relaxed-pace tour is based in the center of Berlin and delves into the city’s natural and cultural heritage. Berlin’s many artistic and architectural treasures beg for exploration, and we’ll visit sites that represent both the bright and the dark sides of German history. Outside the city we will explore the countryside of Brandenburg, where we will look for Red Kites, wintering geese and shorebirds, and even the rare Great Bustard among many other birds.

Armed with a PhD in German from Princeton University, Rick Wright is the ideal guide for a Birds & Art tour. Among his outstanding credentials, Rick has worked as an associate professor of medieval studies and co-authored scholarly books on literature of the Middle Ages. Read his full bio here.

Germany: Birds & Art in Berlin & Brandenburg, September 29-October 8, 2017 with Rick Wright; $3,595 in double occupancy from Berlin. 4 spaces available.

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FALL PANAMA TOURS WITH BARRY ZIMMER

Panama's Canopy Tower

Panama’s Canopy Tower — Photo: Canopy Tower

As much as I enjoy the birds of Europe, my heart will always be in the American Tropics, where I have led so many tours throughout my career. In particular, I love Panama, the country where I have led more tours than any other country in the Tropics. From my earliest tours in the late 70s and right up to the present, few other destinations have brought me as much sheer delight in nature as Panama.

Through the decades, VENT has operated numerous Panama itineraries in a variety of locations across the country. I have loved every trip that I have led there, but in particular, one of my favorites is an October trip I developed a number of years ago with longtime VENT leader, Barry Zimmer: Fall at Panama’s Canopy Tower.

Prior to our inaugural trip, now more than a decade ago, I had never been to Panama in October, but we had heard that October is a prime time to see birds of prey in migration. The prospect of seeing hundreds, if not thousands, of migrating raptors in addition to the marvelous assortment of resident tropical birds was incredibly tantalizing.

Working with Barry, that first trip was all I had hoped for and more. In fact, I loved it so much that I co-led it with him for several years. Based out of the one-of-a-kind Canopy Tower, a mere hour from Panama City, this tour promises unforgettable experiences in nature. From the top of the tower to the bottom of Semaphore Hill (on which the tower is sited), birds and other wildlife are everywhere including toucans, trogons, motmots, parrots, antshrikes, shrike-vireos, warblers, honeycreepers, primates, sloths, butterflies, and much more. In many years, this tour experiences amazing migrations of hawks and vultures, when before your eyes tens of thousands of raptors kettle and stream nearby the tower. A big hawk migration is one of the most exciting events in nature. As if this weren’t enough, in recent years we’ve made it possible to combine an autumn visit to the Canopy Tower with a stay at the enchanting Canopy Lodge. Taken together, our Fall at Panama’s Canopy Tower and Fall at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge tours provide a more comprehensive and richer Panama experience.

Zimmer, Barry (cropped)

Barry Zimmer

Barry Zimmer is among VENT’s longest serving leaders and has led tours to Panama for almost 20 years. I can’t recommend either of these tours with him highly enough. Read his full bio here.

It is not an exaggeration to say that there are few places in the world where you can be as immersed in nature as fully as you can in Panama. I hope you will consider joining us on either or both of these fine tours.

Fall at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, October 7-14, 2017 with Barry Zimmer and a local leader; $2,795 in double occupancy from Panama City.

Fall at Panama’s Canopy Tower, October 14-21, 2017 with Barry Zimmer and a local leader; $2,995 in double occupancy from Panama City.

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NEW TOURS

At present, we are hard at work on our 2018 catalog of tours. With much of the job completed, we anticipate its release later this summer. In the meantime, I encourage you to have a look at our New Tours page where we’ve posted links to new tours to Alaska (redesigned programs for 2018); Montana and Yellowstone with Denver Holt; a Rockport, Texas tour with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; and a smorgasbord of new departures to Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, the Falkland Islands, Tanzania, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, and more!

Check out our New Tours page here.

TWO NEW BOOK RELEASES: A SALUTE TO DAVID ASCANIO & VICTOR EMANUEL

David Ascanio & Birds of Venezuela

David Ascanio & Birds of Venezuela

In late April we were very pleased to announce the long-awaited release of Victor Emanuel’s memoir, One More Warbler: A Life with Birds. This month we are proud to follow on the heels of that event with the news of another major publishing achievement, this time for VENT leader, David Ascanio.

Working with Helm Field Guides, David, a native of Venezuela, was the lead author on a brand new comprehensive field guide to the birds of his beloved country. Handsomely illustrated and concisely written, this book is destined to be a “go-to” reference for the traveling birder. It will also make a welcome addition to your home library.

David Ascanio joins fellow VENT leader, Steve Hilty (Birds of Venezuela, Princeton University Press, 2003) in authoring authoritative guides to the birds of Venezuela, one of the world’s greatest countries for birding. Although the current political climate in Venezuela precludes VENT from offering tours there at this time, this situation in no way diminishes what is a remarkable achievement.

 

 

 

 

 

Victor Emanuel, Laura Bush, Stephen Harrigan & Joan Marshall (E.D. Travis Audubon Society)

Victor Emanuel, Laura Bush, Stephen Harrigan & Joan Marshall (E.D. Travis Audubon Society)

As part of the fanfare regarding the publication of One More Warbler, Travis Audubon Society and University of Texas Press co-hosted a speaking engagement and book signing for Victor on the campus of the University of Texas last Wednesday night, May 31. On a beautiful night, the event was sold-out as Victor joined noted author and historian Stephen Harrigan on stage for a conversation about Victor’s life and his love of birds. Enhancing the occasion, former First Lady Laura Bush opened the night with a heartfelt introduction to Victor and Stephen, with both of whom she is a longtime friend. A video of this event will soon by posted on our YouTube channel.

A limited number of Victor’s book are available for sale through the VENT office. Anyone purchasing a book directly from VENT will receive an autographed copy. The cost for U.S. residents is $35.00 per book and includes shipping and handling (Texas residents add $2.48 per book for state sales tax). Credit cards and personal checks are accepted. Non-U.S. residents will need to pay additional postage charges.

To purchase your copy of One More Warbler: A Life With Birds, please contact Connie Buck at the VENT office by phone (800-328-8368/512-328-5221) or email (connie@ventbird.com).

As anyone who has ever written a book knows, the process is long and arduous. On behalf of all of us at VENT, we salute David Ascanio and Victor Emanuel on their milestone achievements.

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AUTUMN TOURS WITH SPACES STILL AVAILABLE

Guianan Red Cotinga, Manaus

Guianan Red Cotinga, Manaus, Brazil — Photo: Andrew Whittaker

With the early days of summer on deck, most people have already made their near-term travel plans. Looking down the road several months, however, you might like to know that VENT will operate a number of tours on which a few spaces are still available.

From late August through early November, VENT will run tours to a marvelous diversity of destinations including Grand Manan Island in Maritime Canada, the Pacific Northwest, Brazil, Peru, and Madagascar—destinations that offer excellent birding and natural history opportunities amid wonderful landscapes and scenery. If you are looking for the right getaway opportunity to lure you from home, perhaps one of these fine trips will suit your fancy:

Autumn Grand Manan, August 28-September 3, 2017 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $3,495 in double occupancy from Bangor, Maine. 1 space available.

Manaus, Brazil: Amazon Rainforest & River Islands, September 4-17, 2017 with Andrew Whittaker; $4,995 in double occupancy from Manaus. 4 spaces available.

Washington: September Migration in the Pacific Northwest, September 17-25, 2017 with Bob Sundstrom; $3,450 in double occupancy from Seattle. 3 spaces available.

Peru, Manu Biosphere Reserve: Cloud Forest, Foothills & Lowland Rainforest, September 20-October 5, 2017 with Steve Hilty and David Ascanio; $6,495 in double occupancy from Lima.

Brazil’s Southern Amazon: Rio Azul & Cristalino Jungle Lodges, September 23-October 8, 2017 with Kevin Zimmer; $8,995 in double occupancy from Cuiaba. 3 spaces available.

Southeastern Brazil: Best of the Atlantic Forest, October 8-22, 2017 with Andrew Whittaker and a local leader; $5,795 in double occupancy from Sao Paulo (ends in Rio de Janeiro). 4 spaces available.

Madagascar Highlights, November 6-21, 2017 with Dion Hobcroft; $8,795 in double occupancy from Antananarivo. 3 spaces available.

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CLOSING THOUGHTS

In the Northern Hemisphere, summer lies before us, and it is a rich and exciting time for birders and naturalists. Trees that were leafless only a few months ago are flush with foliage in various shades of green. In central Texas, where I live, the beautiful wildflowers of spring (Bluebonnets, Winecups, Spiderworts and more) have been replaced by flowers that will bloom well into the warmest months of the year, species like Coreopsis, Black-eyed Susan, Mexican Hat, and Bee Balm. Many of these flowers are frequented by lovely butterflies.

Journey Into Summer

Journey Into Summer

Like the other seasons, summer progresses through stages, and even though the calendar tells us that summer is about to begin, it won’t be more than another month before the first southbound migrants show up. By late July, our annual Purple Martin spectacle will occur in which hundreds of thousands of martins form enormous pre-migratory flocks; migrant shorebirds will appear at our local wetland, Hornsby Bend, en route to their southerly wintering grounds; and the days will begin to shorten. In the meantime, June is early summer, a time of vibrancy and renewal, a time when birds are still singing and are followed with their new offspring in tow. And I will be out there to witness it.

For a wonderful treatment on the summer season, I recommend Edwin Way Teale’s book, Journey into Summer (1965, republished 1998). In 1960, Teale, a naturalist, and his wife, Nellie, drove 19,000 miles around the country chronicling the natural world in the summer season. From New England to Pike’s Peak and many places in between, the couple observed all facets of the natural world, from insects to birds, to flowers, to geology, and then wrote about it. Teale’s warm and descriptive writing style will endear you to the joys of the season.

I hope you enjoy summer and all that it offers in the natural world.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel