VENTflash #225 August 09, 2017

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:

August brings some of the hottest days of the year to central Texas, but it also brings southbound shorebirds in increasing numbers. My favorite local birding area in Austin is the wastewater treatment center at Hornsby Bend, an excellent place to observe shorebirds in late summer. Last week, on a particularly memorable visit there, I saw 14 species of shorebirds including several species that I had not seen since spring.

Baird's Sandpiper

Baird’s Sandpiper — Photo: Greg Lasley

Shorebirds are an acquired taste. They lack the bright colors of warblers or the beautiful songs of thrushes, but the challenges of identifying them are a treat. To be appreciated they need to be studied at length, and preferably through a good scope at close range. Their sizes and shapes vary greatly from the very small Least Sandpiper with its tiny bill to the huge Long-billed Curlew with its incredible long and curved bill. Their colors are subtle. Most are adorned in shades of gray or brown. But what shorebirds lack in color they make up for in the intricacy of their feather patterns. Once you learn to separate a Baird’s Sandpiper from a Pectoral Sandpiper or a Least Sandpiper, you experience a sense of achievement. But what most endears shorebirds to many of us are the incredible migrations they perform. As we enjoy the lovely buff plumage of a Baird’s Sandpiper, we recall that this small bird bred near the shore of the Arctic Ocean and will spend the winter near the tip of South America. In describing his affinity for shorebirds, the late Peter Matthiessen wrote, “The restlessness of shorebirds, their kinship with distance and the swift seasons, the wistful signal of their voices down the long coastlines of the world make them, for me, the most affecting of wild creatures.”

I hope you are enjoying the summer and are seeing some shorebirds where you live.

In this issue:



Early next year, VENT will return to the Peruvian Amazon with our annual Amazon River Cruise, February 8-18, 2018. For this departure we’ll use a beautiful vessel, the Zafiro, featuring elegant design, superior stability and viewing conditions, spacious rooms with private viewing decks, and good cuisine. It is one of the most comfortable river boats available.

Zafiro on the Amazon River

Zafiro on the Amazon River — Photo: Zegrahm Expeditions

For many years, our Amazon River Cruise has been among our most popular trips. Unlike many companies that operate on the Amazon, we visit one of the wildest stretches of the river, upstream from the Peruvian city of Iquitos. Our itinerary includes plenty of time on the main channel of the Amazon in addition to exploration of the Ucayali and Marañon rivers, the two principal tributaries of the Amazon River. Our trips are scheduled for the high water season, when we can explore smaller tributaries and back channels in comfortable and stable flat-bottom skiffs. Every outing away from the ship offers unique and delightful experiences with Amazonian wildlife, from parrots perched in riverside trees to massive Horned Screamers standing watch over flooded lagoons and huge macaws winging across a brilliant Amazonian sunset, as well as a pageant of hawks, herons, kingfishers, trogons, monkeys, river dolphins, caiman, and more.

Visiting remote and unspoiled regions, this trip will be an unforgettable excursion—a full Amazonian rainforest and river experience. While birding is an important element of this program, we will be immersed in the full suite of Amazonian wildlife. Our trip also includes presentations from the cruise staff and VENT leaders on an array of topics that underscore the trip’s broader natural history theme. We’ll learn about the complex ecology of the Amazonian ecosystem and its wildlife and gain insight into the local indigenous culture through a visit to a riverside village.

If you haven’t yet made your winter travel plans, we strongly encourage you to consider this marvelous opportunity to explore one of the great ecosystems of the world. Please note that unlike recent years, we will operate only one Amazon River Cruise departure in 2018. Cabins are still available.

Amazon River Cruise: Birding and Natural History Odyssey Aboard Zafiro, February 8-18, 2018 with David Ascanio and Andrew Whittaker; cabins start at $7,495 per person in double occupancy from Lima.

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Panama's Canopy Tower

Panama’s Canopy Tower — Photo: Canopy Tower

In a little over two months we will operate our fall tour to the famed Canopy Tower in Panama, October 14-21, 2017. I am very pleased to announce that we have negotiated a $500 price reduction for this tour. The original published tour fee of $2,995 in double occupancy has been reduced to $2,495 in double occupancy. Although the departure date of the tour is drawing near, this price reduction represents a fantastic opportunity to visit a premier tropical birding area at an unbeatable price!

The brainchild of Raúl Arias, the Canopy Tower is unlike any other eco-lodge. Perched atop Semaphore Hill in close proximity to the Panama Canal, the Tower offers excellent birding in famous locations such as Soberania National Park, Gamboa and, above all, Pipeline Road. Our tours to the Tower typically record around 300 species of birds in addition to a slate of marvelous mammals, butterflies, and botany.

This particular tour is extra special because it is timed for the great raptor migration when, each autumn, hundreds of thousands of hawks and vultures cross the pinched-in “waist” of Panama en route to wintering grounds in South America. Previous fall tours to the Canopy Tower have recorded great flights of Swainson’s and Broad-winged hawks, Turkey Vultures, and Mississippi Kites. Moreover, this tour will be led by Barry Zimmer, an ever-popular tour leader who possesses years of birding experience in Panama. I have personally co-led this tour with Barry on a number of occasions and can’t recommend it highly enough.

I hope you will take advantage of this remarkable offer.

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. $2,495 with price reduction.

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VENT will close out 2017 in ritual fashion with our annual Christmas and New Year tours to Panama in addition to our first-ever Christmas tour in Europe:  Austria: Christmas in Salzburg.

For a variety of reasons, many people prefer to be away from home for the Christmas and New Year holidays. If you are someone who doesn’t mind being away at this time, you might consider one of our holiday tour offerings. This year’s selection of holiday getaways again offers superb birding and beautiful natural surroundings. I want to emphasize that now is a very good time to make year-end travel plans, as airfares will only become more expensive. 

Christmas Market in Salzburg, Austria

Christmas Market in Salzburg, Austria — Photo: Robert Faritsch/Shutterstock

Austria: Christmas in Salzburg, December 19-27, 2017 with Rick Wright and Alison Beringer; $3,995 in double occupancy from Salzburg.

Our first-ever Christmas tour in Europe centers on the marvelous city of Salzburg where trip participants will explore both Salzburg’s stunning alpine setting and its rich artistic history while enjoying easy birding. Join Rick Wright and Alison Beringer for a beautiful holiday experience where cultural highlights include Europe’s most charming Christmas market, music performances, and masterpieces of medieval and Baroque architecture. Birding excursions in and around the city may produce an array of high profile species including Tufted Duck, Eurasian Nutcracker, Wallcreeper, and Hawfinch.

Panama: Christmas at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge Pre-trip, December 22-27, 2017 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $2,095 in double occupancy from Panama City.

Nestled in the cool middle elevation El Valle region, Panama’s Canopy Lodge offers great birding and luxury accommodations. Cloud-misted peaks loom over the lodge while the verdant grounds teem with a parade of colorful motmots, hummingbirds, tanagers, and more.

New Year at Panama’s Canopy Tower, December 27, 2017-January 3, 2018 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $3,095 in double occupancy from Panama City.

The famous Canopy Tower has garnered international attention for its remarkable design, close proximity to an amazing diversity of wildlife, and attention to high quality service. In a week’s time you’ll see approximately 300 species of birds and an array of mammals, experience a dynamic slice of central Panama, and visit the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal.

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Booted Racket-tail

Booted Racket-tail, Ecuador — Photo: Cathy Summa-Wolfe

VENT will operate approximately ten tours this fall on which a handful of spaces or fewer are still available. Autumn is a time when many people prefer to be at home, yet it is also a fine time to get out and see the world. Airports are often less busy at this season, popular hotels and lodges are not as full, the crowds of summer have dissipated, and the heat of summer has abated. If you are able to travel on relatively short notice, perhaps one of these excellent upcoming trips will entice you into a little autumn birding away from home:

Hungary & the Czech Republic: Birds & Music from Budapest to Prague, September 10-25, 2017 with Rafael Galvez & Balázs Szigeti; $6,395 in double occupancy from Budapest (ends in Prague). 1 space available.

Peru: Manu Biosphere Reserve: Cloud Forest, Foothils & Lowland Rainforest, September 20-October 5, 2017 with Steve Hilty and David Ascanio; $6,495 in double occupancy from Lima. 2 spaces available.

Panama: 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. 3 spaces available.

Galapagos Islands Cruise, October 27-November 5, 2017 with Paul Greenfield; $8,495 in double occupancy from Quito. 1 male share cabin available.

Wild Patagonia & Central Chile: Pumas, Penguins, Condors & More!, November 2-17, 2017 with Andrew Whittaker and Fernando Diaz; $8,995 in double occupancy from Santiago. 5 spaces available.

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

Ecuador: The Northwestern Andean Slopes, November 11-19, 2017 with Paul Greenfield and David Wolf; $3,095 in double occupancy from Quito. 2 spaces available.

Panama’s Canal Zone: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, November 12-18, 2017 with David Ascanio and a local leader; $2,995 in double occupancy from Panama City. 2 spaces available.

Rockport, Texas: A Bonanza of Wintering Birds, November 13-17, 2017 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; $1,495 in double occupancy from Corpus Christi. 5 spaces available.

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Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming— Photo: RIRF Stock—shutterstock

Those who know me are aware that my love of nature is certainly not limited to birds. As I frequently write, I love all facets of the natural world whether it be a springtime field of wildflowers, a big flight of bats, a bright starry night, a waterfall, or a dazzling sunset. All of these phenomena bring joy to my life. So it was of great interest to me when VENT tour leader Brian Gibbons approached me last year with the idea of operating a trip to the Grand Tetons in Wyoming to see the much anticipated solar eclipse that will occur this month. VENT has never before operated a trip around a celestial event like an eclipse, but I thought the idea was wonderful. I couldn’t imagine a better idea than a late summer trip to the Grand Tetons—one of the most beautiful places in the world—for the opportunity to see such a rare natural event as a solar eclipse while also enjoying a range of western birds and mammals. As it turned out, the trip filled up and I couldn’t bridle my desire to be a part of it any longer; I decided to join Brian as his co-leader. I will leave for Wyoming on the 17th.

Pondering the adventures in nature that my time in the Tetons will bring makes me realize, again, that it doesn’t take something as dramatic as a solar eclipse to get the most out of the natural world. VENT operates nearly 150 tours a year, and each and every one of our trips yields immeasurable pleasure from nature, whether through viewing herds of big game on the plains of Africa, seeing hundreds of thousands of Sandhill Cranes on Nebraska’s Platte River, being surrounded by spring wildflowers in the Texas Hill Country, or experiencing bird migration in Cape May, New Jersey.

I hope the coming months provide you with memorable encounters with nature as well.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel