VENTFLASH #236 May 10, 2018

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:

For several years I’ve wanted to spend most of April at my beach house on the Bolivar Peninsula on the upper Texas coast. My house is situated close to the famed Bolivar Flats and High Island bird sanctuary, two of the premier places in North America for experiencing the magic of spring migration. Every spring this region plays host to millions of shorebirds, hawks, and songbirds that pass through or linger in the area, and my house is right in the middle of it! There is no other place I’d rather be in April than here.

Victor's beach house, aka

Victor’s beach house, aka “Warbler’s Roost” — Photo: Barry Lyon

This year that dream came true. I spent twenty-five marvelous days at my house this April. I spent time with close friends and colleagues and had a chance to be in the field every day. I met up with VENT tour leader Erik Bruhnke and his High Island Migration tour group and enjoyed three dinners with fellow tour leaders Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis and their Bolivar Beach House tour group. Both groups were having a terrific time.

Thanks to favorable weather patterns, this April was the best in several years for observing migrants. Lots of tanagers, buntings, orioles, grosbeaks, thrushes, and warblers were noted by many observers throughout the area. On some days migrants were seemingly everywhere. Over the course of my stay I saw thirty species of warblers, which delighted me as warblers are my favorite birds. Especially enjoyable were the long studies I had of Bay-breasted, Blackburnian, and Cerulean warblers, as well as many good looks at Hooded Warbler, my favorite warbler of them all. Other highlights included seeing as many as twenty Scarlet Tanagers in a day, and side by side views of Indigo and Painted buntings, Blue and Rose-breasted grosbeaks, and Baltimore and Orchard orioles. The abundance of colorful birds one can observe here is a true delight.

No fewer than eight Hooded Warblers were at this one spot, several of which cooperated for great photos.

Hooded Warbler, male — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Once again, I came away convinced that in April there is no better place in the country to be than the upper Texas coast. And I am not the only one that feels this way. The Bolivar Beach House tour went so well that Michael and Louise plan to lead it again in 2019, and Erik Bruhnke will again lead our High Island Migration tour. Both trips provide ample opportunity to enjoy this wonderful area. I hope you too will experience it first-hand by joining one of these trips.

High Island Migration, April 18-24, 2019 with Erik Bruhnke and a second leader to be announced; fee to be announced in double occupancy from Houston ($2,195 in 2018).

Bolivar Beach House: Migration on the Upper Texas Coast, April 21-28, 2019 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; fee to be announced in double occupancy from Houston ($2,695 in 2018).

In this issue:



Blue Crane, South Africa

Blue Crane, South Africa — Photo: Avian Leisure

Since reintroducing a South Africa tour to our annual schedule of tours a couple of years ago, we have come to regard that trip as one of our premier summer departures. Featuring exceptional birding, mammal viewing, wildflower displays, and scenic highlights, our tour to South Africa: The Southwestern Cape & Kruger has proven among our most popular Africa tours. Looking ahead to this year’s tour, August 17-September 1, 2018, I wanted you to know that only two spaces are still available.

South Africa is one of the most captivating countries in Africa, containing a marvelous array of birdlife and wildlife. South Africa is home to many endemic birds, as evidenced by the fact that a trip here could produce sightings of as many as seventeen species that begin with “Cape,” such as Cape Sugarbird, Cape Rockjumper, Cape Starling, Cape Crombec, and many others. If you have birded East Africa you will see many birds in South Africa that do not occur in Kenya, Tanzania, or Uganda. South Africa has excellent infrastructure, so you can be assured of traveling on high quality roads and highways while enjoying fine accommodations and food.

A highlight of the VENT tour is a stay at the wonderful Notten’s Bush Camp in the Greater Kruger Conservation Area. As a result, our tour stays amid one of the very best parts of the country for game-viewing and birding while avoiding the large crowds of Kruger National Park. All of the “Big Five” mammals are found here including one of the largest populations of elephants in the world and healthy populations of Cheetah and Lion. Following our 2016 tour, we heard from a tour participant who wrote, “Loved Notten’s. Kind attentive people everywhere. Food delicious.” Staying at Notten’s is costlier than staying at the government-run camps in Kruger, but the experience is vastly superior. Many people have told us that their time at Notten’s was the highlight of their tour. 


Cheetahs, South Africa — Photo: Avian Leisure

For those seeking an even fuller South Africa experience, we offer an optional Wakkerstroom Extension where we may see endemic birds like Southern Bald Ibis, Blue Bustard, Botha’s Lark, and Yellow-breasted Pipit among other birds of the marshes and grasslands.

Of especially high interest, both on the main tour as well as on the extension, we will seek the national bird of South Africa, the elegant Blue Crane, among the most beautiful of all the world’s cranes.

With only two spaces available, we expect this tour to sell out. We hope you will be able to take advantage of this opportunity. You will be delighted with the wealth of birding and wildlife experiences that South Africa has to offer.

South Africa: The Southwestern Cape & Kruger, August 17-September 1, 2018 with Patrick Cardwell; $10,195 in double occupancy from Cape Town (ends in Johannesburg). Limit 8. 2 spaces available.

South Africa: Wakkerstroom Extension, August 31-September 4, 2018 with Patrick Cardwell; $2,095 in double occupancy from Johannesburg. Limit 8.

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The summer marks a continuation of our prime travel season. From June to mid-September, we operate tours to a diversity of destinations both foreign and domestic. Many of our tours are full, but if you are still considering summer travel, I thought you might like to know about an array of upcoming tours on which only a limited number of spaces are still available. As you would expect, all of these trips offer superb birding while others also promise fantastic mammal viewing and even a bit of culture. 

White-tailed Eagles

White-tailed Eagles, Hungary — Photo: Ecotours Wildlife Holidays

Galapagos Islands Cruise aboard the M/V Evolution, July 6-15, 2018 with Paul Greenfield and Rafael Galvez; cabins start at $8,695 in double occupancy from Quito. 1 cabin with 1 queen bed available.

Brazil: Pantanal Safari: Birds & Jaguars, July 8-20, 2018 with Jeri Langham and a local leader; $7,095 in double occupancy from Cuiaba. 2 spaces available.

Northern Peru’s Cloud Forest Endemics: Mythical Owlet and Stupendous Spatuletail, July 15-26, 2018 with Andrew Whittaker; $4,995 in double occupancy from Lima. 1 space available.

Grand California, August 11-26, 2018 with Jeri Langham; $6,195 in double occupancy from San Francisco. 4 spaces available.

Indonesia Highlights: Sulawesi, Java & Komodo, August 25-September 10, 2018 with Dion Hobcroft; $9,995 from Manado (ends in Denpasar). 2 spaces available.

Hungary & the Czech Republic: Birds & Music from Budapest to Prague, September 8-23, 2018 with Balázs Szigeti and Rafael Galvez; $6,595 in double occupancy from Budapest (ends in Prague). 6 spaces available.

Peru: Manu Biosphere Reserve: Cloud Forest, Foothills, and Lowland Rainforest, September 19-October 4, 2018 with David Ascanio and a local leader. $6,895 in double occupancy from Lima. 5 spaces available.

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Last fall my colleague Barry Lyon and I traveled to Israel to lead VENT’s inaugural tour: Israel: Birds, History & Culture in the Holy Land. With its multi-themed approach, this trip was one of the greatest trips of my life. The birding was incredible, the landscapes extraordinary, and the history and culture immeasurably rich. However, the reason for that trip’s success was due primarily to one man: Jonathan Meyrav. Jonathan served as our local guide and trip operator. He is not only is a top field observer, but also a true hero in the movement to protect birds in Israel and the eastern Mediterranean region.



For those who have not heard the name, Jonathan Meyrav is the Director of Tourism for the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI). Of the many hats Jonathan wears, the role of conservationist is perhaps first and foremost. Jonathan is passionate about protecting birds, particularly in a region of the world where birds are illegally killed and captured by the millions every year. Through the SPNI, Jonathan and his colleagues developed an event called Champions of the Flyway. Modeled on New Jersey Audubon’s World Series of Birding, Champions is a “Big Day” endeavor held in Israel in which teams compete to see the most number of birds in a 24-hour period. Each team is responsible for raising money from sponsors. Each year, all money raised through the event is used to support a pre-determined bird conservation project or public awareness campaign somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean or Caucuses region. Begun in 2013, the Champions of the Flyway event has since raised hundreds of thousands of dollars toward stopping the slaughter of birds in five different countries to date.

Jonathan Meyrav (center) with Barry Lyon and Victor Emanuel

In Houston, Texas with Jonathan Meyrav (center), Barry Lyon,

and Victor Emanuel

While in Israel, we discussed with Jonathan the possibility of his coming to Texas to speak at different venues to tell the Champions of the Flyway story. Earlier this year Jonathan contacted us to let us know that he would be available to come to Texas in May. I am extremely proud that we were able to make this happen. On Wednesday, May 1, Jonathan was in Austin to speak to members of Travis Audubon and Shalom Austin. Then, the next day he spoke at two venues in Houston, including the headquarters of Houston Audubon. Although his visit was brief, it was very special having him here and hearing him deliver his important and inspiring messages about protecting birds. It also brought me great pleasure to be able to show Jonathan his “lifer” Golden-cheeked Warbler and Black-capped Vireo!

As a further measure of our support for Jonathan, the SPNI, and Champions of the Flyway, this year VENT contributed financial assistance to a team of young Israeli birders who competed in the unofficial youth division. Given our own support of youth birding through our summertime youth birding camp program, I am immensely proud that VENT is able to support a youth team at the Champions of the Flyway event. To learn more about bird conservation in Israel, or to make a donation, please visit the websites of the SPNI and Champions of the Flyway.

VENT offers two outstanding Israel tours. Participation on these tours not only promises world-class birding, but also helps protect the birds we go there to see. That our tours are operated by the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel means that the revenue generated is used solely to support bird conservation.

Champions of the Flyway

Champions of the Flyway

Our next two Israel tours are:

Israel: Birds, History, & Culture in the Holy Land, November 4-16, 2018 with Jonathan Meyrav and Rafael Galvez; $6,595 in double occupancy from Tel Aviv. Limit 14. 2 spaces available.

Southern Israel: A Spring Migration Spectacular, March 21-April 3, 2019 with Andrew Whittaker and a local leader; price to be announced in double occupancy from Tel Aviv. Limit 14.

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I am excited to share with you the news of two new publications involving VENT tour leaders Rafael Galvez and Bob Sundstrom.

ABA Cover April 2018

ABA Cover April 2018

The April issue of Birding magazine, published by the American Birding Association, features an interview with Rafael Galvez. As many of our travelers know, Rafael is an accomplished artist and something of a Renaissance man in terms of his broad scope of interests and unique life experiences. Rafael came to Florida as a child immigrant from Peru. In the interview he discusses the factors that led to a life of bird study and conservation, and the use of artistic expression to convey his love of birds. Beyond his personal story, Rafael also reveals his perspective on the positive effect immigrants can have not only on the birding community but on society at large. In tandem with the interview, the magazine cover features Rafael’s beautiful artwork: a sumptuous scene featuring hundreds of waterbirds gathered amid the tidal flats of Florida Bay.

BirdNote book


The nationally syndicated public radio program BirdNote recently unveiled its first book: BirdNote: Quirks, Chirps, and 100 Stories from the Popular Public Radio Show. This new publication from Sasquatch Books features 100 short essays by a collection of BirdNote-affiliated scientists and other authorities. Each essay is a summary version of a story first aired on BirdNote’s radio program. We are proud of longtime VENT leader Bob Sundstrom, who for many years has been a contributing writer for BirdNote. A number of the essays that appear in the book were written by Bob. Complementing the writing is a lovely foreward by Dr. John Fitzpatrick of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the artwork of Emily Poole, whose handsome paintings of birds adorn the book’s pages from front to back. Please visit the BirdNote website for more information or to purchase a copy. This book is a wonderful gift idea for the birder or nature enthusiast in your life.



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A general notion of spring is of that all-too-brief period between the cold of winter and the heat of summer when everything in nature smacks of freshness and renewal. While spring is the same length as the other seasons, there is an especially fleeting quality to the season, a feeling derived in part from the sudden appearance of wildflowers where before there were none, and the passage of migrant birds that touch our lives in one moment and are gone in the next. Yet despite the transitory nature of spring, the season does last for several months, over which time the season progresses in waves. Here in central Texas, the earliest part of the season has passed. Gone are the famed Bluebonnets, which marked the last weeks of March and beginning of April, as are our earliest migrant birds like Louisiana Waterthrush and Northern Parula. By mid-April we are into the middle of the season when the greatest number of shorebirds are on the move and the roadsides are lined with another burst of wildflowers such as Winecup, Mexican Hat, and Firewheel. By late April and early May we have entered the latter stages of migration. At this time we note later-season migrants such as White-rumped Sandpiper, and Canada, Mourning, and Bay-breasted warblers. By about the 10th of May migration has slowed perceptibly, although we will continue to see a few north-bound birds deep into the month.

Just as we cherish the first migrants of the season, we’ll savor the last ones with equal vigor.  Spring migration is one of nature’s greatest joys, yet it comes and goes all too quickly.

I hope that you are enjoying a wonderful spring wherever you live.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel