VENTFLASH #238 June 27, 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,

At first glance, early summer in central Texas may seem comparatively uninteresting for birds and nature. The migrant birds of spring have long since passed through, and the local breeders have mostly stopped singing to tend nests and nestlings. Moreover, the “dog days” of summer have arrived with daily temperatures rising into the nineties. However, if one is willing to adjust his or her expectations, early summer is still a fine time to be outdoors. For example, a late June bird walk here will yield fewer species than at other times of the year, yet the birds one does see, in combination with other aspects of nature, still make for a rewarding day in the field.

Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting — Photo: Greg Lasley

This past Sunday, I visited a delightful place called Berry Springs Park and Preserve where I saw about fifteen species of birds, four species of dragonflies, and twenty species of trees and wildflowers. Among the birds, the star was a male Painted Bunting, one of the most colorful birds in the country. Other standouts were Green Heron, Ladder-backed Woodpecker, Bewick’s Wren, and a Red-tailed Hawk. Additionally, I had opportunities to study bird behavior, one of my favorite aspects of birding. To that end, I was delighted by a colony of nesting Cliff Swallows and a beautiful Yellow-crowned Night-Heron devouring a crayfish while Purple Martins pursued insects overhead. As I watched the martins, I knew that as early summer grades into mid-summer, it will not be long before these birds join up with many thousands of other martins in a huge collective roost prior to migrating to their wintering grounds in South America. 

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider— Photo: Greg Lasley






Among the dragonflies, Wandering Glider was the most numerous species, and it was fascinating to observe them seemingly suspended in air scooping up aerial plankton, their preferred food item. By this time of the year, most of the wildflowers have bloomed and gone to seed, yet some of the remnant Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera) still retained a few blossoms with their delicate maroon petals tipped with yellow.

If you have the right attitude and are attentive to detail, any walk in nature can produce marvelous results.

In this issue:


Over many years of international travel, I have been fortunate to have visited many of the world’s greatest destinations for birding and wildlife viewing. Yet, there is no doubt that while all of the continents offer incredible natural history, my heart will always belong to the American Tropics. No place in the world offers as much biological richness in so compact an area as do many of the countries of Central and South America. In particular, I retain a sense of awe for Peru and Brazil, each of which ranks in the top three of the world’s most avian diverse countries. In addition to birds, Peru and Brazil offer equally remarkable collections of mammals, insects, and reptiles and amphibians. They also harbor some of the world’s greatest botanical communities.

David Ascanio

David Ascanio

This fall, VENT will operate tours to each of these countries: a trip to the Manu Biosphere Reserve of Peru, and another to the Atlantic forests of Southeastern Brazil. These tours will be led by longtime VENT tour leaders David Ascanio and Kevin Zimmer, respectively. I have led tours with both men and can attest that they are among the most skilled and experienced leaders in the business. Equally important, both possess outstanding “people” skills and thus are popular with our travelers. I encourage you to read a bit more about each of these destinations and perhaps consider an autumn trip to the wonderful American Tropics!

Peru, Manu Biosphere Reserve

I will never forget my first trip to the Manu Biosphere Reserve of southeastern Peru in 1984. It was the wildest, most beautiful place I had ever been. Almost thirty-five years later, I still consider Manu among the top ten places I have ever been.

From the top of the Manu Road that leads from lofty Cuzco down to the Manu Wildlife Center in the lowland rainforests, over a thousand species of birds are found. That’s why I call the Manu Road “the greatest road in the world for birding.” On my early trips to the Manu area, there were no lodges so we had to camp. Now, there are good lodges at all locations that our tour visits. Among the many highlights of a trip to Manu are the mixed species flocks in the mountains that contain marvelous varieties of tanagers and other birds. Many of these South American tanagers are so gorgeous that you can’t decide which one you like most. Then there are the hummingbirds, the jewels of the bird world. Again, the variety is tremendous. The national bird of Peru is the Andean Cock-of-the-rock. Along the road to Manu is a cock-of-the-rock lek where as many as ten males perform an amazing courtship display only thirty feet from where you are sitting. Upon reaching the lowlands, another incredible set of birds and mammals awaits including monkeys and tapirs. With a lot of luck, we might even see one of the cats such as Ocelot and Jaguar, animals you have a realistic chance of seeing. Perhaps best of all is a clay bank on the Manu River where you may see twenty or more brightly colored macaws descend to the ground to eat dirt, which contains minerals the birds need—a truly unforgettable and breathtaking sight.

Red-and-green Macaws at Clay Lick, Manu, Peru

Red-and-green Macaws at Clay Lick, Manu, Peru —

Photo: Pam Higginbotham



























Our upcoming Peru, Manu tour, September 19–October 4, 2018, will be co-led by David Ascanio and a local leader. As I’ve said, David is a superb and popular tour leader. He is terrific at finding birds and other creatures and showing them to everyone in a tour group; he is attentive to the needs of every participant; his enthusiasm is contagious; and he enjoys being with others—the perfect summation of a “people” person. At the end of a trip led by David, you will find you have made a new friend. I can assure you that sharing this world-class, amazing region with David will be one of the best trips of your life.

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.

Peru Manu: Machu Picchu Extension, October 3–9, 2018 with Doris Valencia and a local leader; $4,295 in double occupancy from Lima.

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Kevin Zimmer

Kevin Zimmer

Southeastern Brazil

When I was a graduate student at Harvard in the 1960s, my favorite professor was Helio Jaguaribe, a Brazilan political scientist. It was because of Helio that I first developed an interest in Brazil, and as a result, it was very special for me to finally visit his country years later.

With over 1,700 species of birds and many other fascinating creatures, Brazil is among the most biologically diverse countries in the world. My first trip to Brazil was one I made with my dear friend Ted Parker in the early 1980s. On that initial trip I found the Brazilian people to be welcoming and gracious, and of course the natural history was incredible.

Ted Parker was one of the greatest field ornithologists that ever lived. Sadly, he died young in a small plane crash while conducting conservation work in Ecuador. Long before his death, he and fellow VENT tour leader Kevin Zimmer had become close friends. A few years before Ted died, he and Kevin co-led a tour to Brazil. In the process, Ted passed on to Kevin his passion for studying the birds of that country. In those early years, Brazil lacked a good comprehensive field guide to the birds, a problem that has persisted to the present day. Fortunately, Princeton University Press selected Kevin and VENT colleague Andrew Whittaker to write the definitive guide. Stemming from their work on the book and through the many tours these men have guided throughout Brazil, it is safe to say that Kevin and Andy know the country and its birdlife as well as anyone.

Swallow-tailed Cotinga

Swallow-tailed Cotinga — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

























Our upcoming Southeastern Brazil tour, October 21–November 5, 2018, will spend two weeks in the endangered Atlantic forest habitats of the southeastern corner of the country, a region home to over 140 species of birds found nowhere else in the world. Among these are spectacular birds such as the amazing Swallow-tailed Cotinga, and many colorful hummingbirds and tanagers. Throughout the trip you’ll be pleased with the excellent accommodations and food. Underscoring the attractiveness of this travel opportunity is the prospect of visiting one of the world’s top birding countries with one of the men who is writing the definitive guide to its birdlife. I hope you will join us. Only four spaces remain available.

Southeastern Brazil: Best of the Atlantic Forest, October 21–November 5, 2018 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $5,795 in double occupancy from São Paulo (ends in Rio de Janeiro). 4 spaces available.

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Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler in the fall — Photo: Michael O’Brien

As much as I love the American Tropics, I also have a special affinity for the birds we see right here in North America. Of the innumerable places where one may travel to see birds in our own country, few stir the imagination like Cape May, New Jersey, arguably the single greatest site in North America to experience the magic of bird migration. In fact, Cape May has been visited by birders from far and wide for so long—over one hundred years—that many in the birding community regard Cape May in reverence, the very heart and soul of North American birding.

For those who are not familiar with that part of the country, Cape May is the southernmost tip of New Jersey, a point of land that projects into the ocean where the waters of the open Atlantic and Delaware Bay meet. In the fall, as birds are migrating south, they hit that point of land and are temporarily “trapped” or disoriented at suddenly being surrounded by water on three sides. It is here where birders come every year in September and October to witness this “stacking” effect when thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands, of hawks, woodpeckers, vireos, thrushes, warblers, buntings, and grosbeaks temporarily concentrate before eventually finding their way south. The spectacle can be incredible, and not only because of the diversity, but because of the opportunity to see these birds in such profusion and at such close range.

I have been to Cape May several times, most recently about three years ago. My visit was short but happened to coincide with a “good” day for migration, when a trip to Higbee Beach saw the passage of thousands of birds in only a couple of hours of birding. The experience was unforgettable.

Michael O'Brien and Louise Zemaitis

Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis

While most birders are drawn to Cape May for its landbird spectacles, I also know that its marshlands and beaches host great numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds in the migration period.

Cape May is also the home of Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis, a wonderful husband and wife tour leading duo who for years have guided VENT’s Cape May tours, both in the spring and fall. Michael and Louise are some of the loveliest people I know. Besides their exemplary skills with birds and natural history, they are warm and personable people who enjoy sharing nature with others.

If you have not yet made your fall travel plans, I strongly recommend our upcoming tour, Cape May: The Magic of Fall Migration, September 16-22, 2018, a departure that will be led by Louise and Michael. This trip is timed for that special time in migration when all-around diversity is at its greatest, andwhen we have the best chances to see the greatest diversity of warblers and other songbirds in addition to large numbers of hawks and shorebirds. Please note that only 4 spaces remain available.

If you are considering autumn travel and prefer a shorter getaway, I think you will be very pleased with this opportunity.

Cape May: The Magic of Fall Migration, September 16–22, 2018 with Louise Zemaitis and Michael O’Brien; $2,195 in double occupancy from Philadelphia. 4 spaces available.

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It is still early in the summer, but it certainly isn’t too early to consider fall travel plans. While we understand that many people prefer not to be away during the autumn, I’ll remind you that the September–November period is when we operate tours to some of our most important and desirable locations such as Australia, Madagascar, and various countries in Europe and Central and South America.

African Elephants on Great Ruaha River, Tanzania

African Elephants on Great Ruaha River, Tanzania —

Photo: Andrew Molinaro/shutterstock

Looking ahead several months to the coming fall, I thought you would like to know about VENT tours that still have spaces available. Each of these trips affords wonderful birding and other experiences in nature. Most are entirely birding and nature oriented, but I also highlight our Birds & Art tours to Germany and Italy, trips designed for those who prefer to combine their natural history pursuits with visits to cultural attractions. I also want to take this opportunity to draw your attention to our upcoming Southern Tanzania tour with Kevin Zimmer. Tanzania is an extraordinary destination, but most people who travel there visit the famous parks of the northern part of the country. VENT tour leader Kevin Zimmer has designed a brand new trip to the much less frequently visited southern part. Southern Tanzania is more remote, yet it holds great herds of mammals and hundreds of species of birds, including many not found on our traditional Northern Tanzania tour. Among this trip’s many highlights are visits to the national parks at Ruaha and Mikumi in addition to the famous Selous Game Reserve. Please note that this tour will not be offered again for at least two years.

If this trip does not suit your fancy, perhaps one of these other opportunities will:

Bolivia: Endemic Macaws & More Part I: Eastern Lowlands, Beni Grasslands & Inter-Andean Valleys, September 15–30, 2018 with Andrew Whittaker and a local leader; $6,295 in double occupancy from Santa Cruz. 2 spaces available.

Southern Tanzania: Endemic Birds & Spectacular Mammals, September 18–October 6, 2018 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $11,895 in double occupancy from Dar es Salaam. 4 spaces available.

Germany: Birds & Art in Berlin & Brandenburg, September 29–October 8, 2018 with Rick Wright; $3,795 in double occupancy from Berlin. 2 spaces available. 

El Cantil Ecolodge, Nuqui, Choco, Colombia

El Cantil Ecolodge, Nuqui, Choco, Colombia — Photo: El Cantil Ecolodge

Colombia: Endemics of the Choco-Pacific Lowlands, October 6–16, 2018 with Steve Hilty and a local leader; $5,995 in double occupancy from Medellín (ends in Bogotá). 1 space available.

Panama’s Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp, October 6–14, 2018 with Barry Zimmer and a local leader; $3,695 in double occupancy from Panama City. 4 spaces available.

Grand Australia Part II: Queensland, Victoria & Plains-wanderer, October 15–November 1, 2018 with Dion Hobcroft; $6,795 in double occupancy from Brisbane (ends in Melbourne). 1 space available.

Italy: Birds & Art in Venice & the Po Delta, October 31–November 8, 2018 with Rick Wright and Marco Valtriani; $3,195 in double occupancy from Venice (ends in Bologna).

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. 3 spaces available.

Madagascar Highlights, November 6–21, 2018 with Dion Hobcroft; $8,995 in double occupancy from Antananarivo. 2 spaces available.

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Chimney Swift

Chimney Swifts — Photo: Greg Lasley

Birders have a special fondness for sewage ponds and water treatment plants because they are often great places to view waterfowl and shorebirds. Hornsby Bend Biosolids Facility, adjacent to the airport here in Austin, is our top local birding spot. On many occasions I have picked up birder-friends at the airport and taken them directly to Hornsby Bend even before taking them to their hotel! Despite the high temperatures of summer, August is one of the best times to bird Hornsby Bend as the “fall” shorebird migration is well under way. Part of the fun on any given visit is never knowing what you will find. On a good day, you may see fourteen species of shorebirds. In particular, I prefer late afternoon visits when the sun is lower in the western sky and viewing conditions are at their best. With the light at my back, I often gain superb views of these subtly beautiful birds.

Beyond shorebirds, Hornsby Bend is an outstanding place to see many other species of birds, including Chimney Swifts. On the west side of the facility, a huge upright concrete pipe serves as the nighttime roost site for over a hundred Chimney Swifts later in the summer. As the sun sets, the swifts circle over the pipe before suddenly disappearing into it with a plunge.

I hope that your summer is enlivened with adventures in nature wherever you live.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel