VENTFLASH #241 September 12, 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:

All across the country, birds are being seen as fall migration continues. VENT tour leader Kevin Zimmer was thrilled to see a Buff-breasted Sandpiper in San Luis Obispo County, California—his home county—a bird he had long wanted to see there. Kevin feels as I do that the Buff-breasted is his favorite sandpiper. Both of us have seen this species many times but always hope to see it again. I feel the same about warblers, which is why I titled my memoir One More Warbler.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, San Luis Obispo County, CA, September 2018

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, San Luis Obispo County, CA, September 2018 — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

Fall migration is more drawn out than spring migration but as in the spring, the best conditions are associated with cold fronts. After a hotter and drier than normal summer, central Texas is getting some much needed rain as a product of our first “cold” front of the season. Migrant birds are coming through, with various birders in the Austin area reporting Yellow, Mourning, Black-and-white, Wilson’s, and Black-throated Green warblers this past week. Mississippi Kites and Broad-winged Hawks are moving through now as well, and soon we’ll be seeing Franklin’s Gulls, followed soon thereafter by the season’s first Sandhill Cranes. Remarkably, some of the first winter residents have now arrived, with recent reports in our area of Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Blue-headed Vireo.

In this issue:



In the late 1990s, VENT inaugurated a new way to experience the magnificent country of India: a birds and culture tour aboard a luxury train. Palace on Wheels was the name of that first departure, an unforgettable journey that served as a springboard for other India train trips to come. It has now been a number of years since our last such effort, which is why I take great pleasure in announcing that in 2019 VENT will at last operate another India train trip: India: Birds & Culture on the Maharajas’ Express, February 6–22, 2019.

Maharajas' Express Mayur Mahal Restaurant

Maharajas’ Express Mayur Mahal Restaurant — Photo: Courtesy Raj Singh

India is among the world’s most compelling countries—for its size, its people, and its spellbinding natural history and cultural heritage. On my first trip to India, over twenty years ago, I developed a great affection for that amazing place. I will never forget going birding on the Delhi golf course near the lovely Oberoi Hotel and seeing a huge billboard at the entrance entitled Birds of the Delhi Golf Course, with paintings of over forty birds found on the property, and then being approached by one of the staff who asked me if I wanted to see the Little Owl! That incident occurred soon before we boarded the Palace on Wheels for a train trip that turned out to be one of the best trips VENT has ever run.

I have now been to India ten times. I love the birding, wildlife, culture, history, and people there. I was fortunate to be introduced to India by Robert Fleming, who grew up in India and co-authored with his father Birds of Nepal (1976), and Raj Singh, the founder of Exotic Journeys, one of the top tour companies in India. They have both become dear friends.

Besides the fact that it’s been some years since our last India train trip, the impetus for this departure came from our tour leaders, who told me that they were being asked by our travelers, when would VENT offer another India train journey? Around that time, Raj told me about the Maharajas’ Express, how it was India’s newest and most luxurious train, and with that I knew the time to act was now, and promptly booked forty berths. Our itinerary is rich with natural history and cultural and historical offerings. We will travel in supreme comfort while visiting the princely cities of Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Udaipur, a host of wonderful national parks, and the incomparable Taj Mahal.

You will find in India that birds are everywhere since the people do not kill or trap them. Even in a small village you will see the gorgeous White-breasted Kingfisher perched on a telephone wire. Parakeets nest in the walls of fortresses. We will have a good chance of seeing Tigers and a range of other mammals.

Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal— Photo: Shutterstock


























We have assembled a superb staff for this trip. Joining me as co-leaders are Dion Hobcroft, Barry Lyon, Machiel Valkenburg, Raj Singh, and Max Breckenridge. Max is a highly regarded young Australian birder and tour leader whose VENT debut will be on this trip!

Bengal Tiger in waterhole, Ranthambore National Park

Bengal Tiger in waterhole, Ranthambore National Park

Photo: Aditya Singh/shutterstock

We have enjoyed an outstanding response to the trip. Only eight berths remain available. As we do not plan to offer this departure again for several years, we urge you to reserve one of the remaining spaces.

India: Birds & Culture aboard the Maharajas’ Express, February 6–22, 2019 with Victor Emanuel, Barry Lyon, Dion Hobcroft, Machiel Valkenburg, Raj Singh, and Max Breckenridge; $14,995 in double occupancy from Mumbai (ends in New Delhi). Limit 40. 8 berths available.

Those wanting to spend more time in India are encouraged to join our optional pre- and post-tour extensions. Our Kanha National Park Pre-trip offers increased chances for Tigers and a range of birds we won’t see on the main tour, while our Kaziranga National Park Extension promises an array of special birds and a pageant of mammals including Asian Elephant and Indian Rhinoceros.

India: Kanha National Park Pre-trip, February 1–7, 2019 with Dion Hobcroft and a local leader; $2,995 in double occupancy from New Delhi (ends in Mumbai). Limit 15.

India: Kaziranga National Park Extension, February 22–27, 2019 with Machiel Valkenburg and a local leader; $3,395 in double occupancy from New Delhi. Limit 15.

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Adorable Adelie Penguins on fast-ice on the Antarctica Peninsula

Adorable Adelie Penguins on fast-ice on the Antarctica Peninsula

Photo: Andrew Whittaker

In addition to operating over 140 tours annually, I am very proud of VENT’s program of birding and natural history cruises. Our cruise destinations offer some of the world’s greatest experiences in nature, yet are otherwise inaccessible via traditional land-based travel. In the first four months of 2019, our tour schedule will be anchored by VENT cruises to Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falkland Islands, the Amazon River, and Spain & Portugal. Each of these trips promises wonderful travel experiences at a high level of comfort. Each of these cruises is almost sold out, with limited cabin availability. If you are open to ship-based travel, I strongly encourage you to consider any of these outstanding departures: 

Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falkland Islands aboard the Hebridean Sky, December 30, 2018–January 20, 2019 with Andrew Whittaker; 1 Promenade Suite available; $23,695 in double occupancy from Ushuaia.

As always, our annual visit to the Southern Ocean remains one of the greatest trips one could make. Featuring the “White Continent” and the wildlife havens of South Georgia Island and the Falkland Islands, this trip really does have it all: birds, mammals, wildlife spectacles, and epic scenery. For this year’s trip, we are partnering with polar travel specialists Polar Latitudes, with whom we have reserved an allotment aboard the Hebridean Sky. With less than four months until departure, we have sold all available space except for one Promenade Suite cabin. All unsold space will be returned on October 1. 

Blue-and-yellow Macaws

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

Amazon River Cruise: Birding & Natural History Odyssey aboard Zafiro, February 21–March 3, 2019; cabins start at $7,895 in double occupancy from Lima. 4 cabins available.

Our annual cruise on the Amazon River offers a superb rainforest and river odyssey. Birds are a primary focus, but this trip delivers a complete natural history experience rife with primates, river dolphins, reptiles, and, of course, the mighty Amazon River itself.

Spain & Portugal aboard the Sea Cloud: Birds, Nature & Culture, April 14–24, 2019 with Victor Emanuel, Barry Lyon, Larry Wolff and Peter Zika; cabins start at $9,995 in double occupancy from Lisbon (ends in Valencia). 3 cabins available. Register by November 1 and receive free roundtrip airfare in Economy class!

Our first-ever cruise-based program to Spain and Portugal is a multi-themed departure in which opportunities for birding and natural history are balanced with historical and cultural excursions to the world-class cities of Lisbon, Seville, and Granada. This trip is a perfect choice for those who like to mix their birding with a bit of culture, those who travel with a non-birding spouse or partner, or those who simply want to experience the thrill of cruising aboard the Sea Cloud, in the eyes of many the world’s most beautiful sailing vessel.

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This week began with a whirlwind overnight trip to Seattle, Washington I made with my colleague Barry Lyon.

Upon arrival in Seattle on Sunday morning, we traveled southwest to the Olympia area to spend part of the day at the home of longtime VENT tour leader Bob Sundstrom and his wife Sally Alhadeff. Bob has led tours for VENT since about 1985 and for many of those years anchored our tours to Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest, the Texas coast, Trinidad, and other destinations. Those who have traveled with Bob know him as a man of high intellect, gentle demeanor, and studiousness in his love of natural history. At this time a year ago, we received the terrible news that Bob had been diagnosed with leukemia and was critically ill. The type of leukemia he faced was known to be very aggressive, yet also treatable.

Bob Sundstrom with Barry Lyon and Victor Emanuel

Bob Sundstrom (center) with Barry Lyon and Victor Emanuel

— Photo: Sally Alhadeff

This past year has been an arduous one for Bob as he fought his way through extreme weakness, numerous rounds of chemotherapy, extended periods of hospitalization, unexpected setbacks, and finally a stem-cell transplant. Through it all, he managed to stay positive while receiving love and support from family, friends, and colleagues, most notably Sally.

As Bob marks the one-year anniversary of life since diagnosis, it is with profound relief that I can report that he has survived the ordeal and is cancer-free. The road back from such grave illness is long and fraught with challenges, yet Bob is doing well and is in the process now of regaining his strength and stamina. To see him doing so well and to have spent a day with him and Sally meant so much to us.

It is too early to predict when Bob will be able to lead tours again, but we hope he will be able to get back into the field on a limited basis in 2019.

On Monday, we spent part of the day near downtown Seattle at the offices of Zegrahm Expeditions. In the last five years, VENT has ramped up its partnership with Zegrahm, an outstanding organization that specializes in small ship travel, to present birding and natural history cruises to an array of marvelous destinations around the world. The purpose of our meeting was to discuss collaborative opportunities for 2020 and beyond. Trust me when I tell you that we have some exciting opportunities in store!

Information about specific Zegrahm-VENT cruises for 2020 will be available in the months ahead. Please check our website on a regular basis!

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In recent weeks we have seen a rush of registrations for our 2019 tours. And with our 2019 catalog of tours about to be mailed, I thought the timing perfect to bring to your attention a host of VENT tours that depart within the first four months of the new year, each of which offers exceptional birding and natural history: 

Red-crowned Cranes

Red-crowned Cranes, Japan — Photo: Steve Hilty

Japan in Winter: A Crane & Sea-Eagle Spectacle!, January 19–31, 2019 with Kaz Shinoda and Arne van Lamoen; $7,295 in double occupancy from Tokyo. 2 spaces available.

The opportunity to view large concentrations of Asian waterfowl, sea-eagles, and Red-crowned Cranes in alluring Japan makes this trip one of our most popular departures.

Cuba, February 5–16, 2019 with David Ascanio and a local leader; $6,480 in double occupancy from Miami.

Cuba, March 5–16, 2019 with David Ascanio and a local leader: $6,480 in double occupancy from Miami.

We will offer only two Cuba tours in 2019, both of which are presently half full. Seeking regional and island specialty species is the core of a program that also includes a number of cultural highlights.

Colombia: Bogotá, Eastern Andes & the Magdalena Valley, February 6–21, 2019 with Steve Hilty and a local leader; $6,595 in double occupancy from Bogotá. Register by September 14 and receive a $250 discount.

Our flagship Colombia tour is still a classic, offering superb diversity of landscapes and birdlife. This trip will be led by Steve Hilty, who authored the monumental Guide to the Birds of Colombia (1986).

Trinidad, February 14–21, 2019 with Barry Zimmer and Rafael Galvez; $3,745 in double occupancy from Port of Spain.

No single site offers a greater introduction to birding in the American Tropics than the Asa Wright Nature Centre on Trinidad. The famed veranda at Asa Wright is a premier venue for seeing a pageant of jewel-like tropical birds.

Short Costa Rica: Toucans to Quetzals, February 23–March 3, 2019 with David Wolf and Mimi Wolf; $3,995 in double occupancy from San José.

On this classic tour, you’ll enjoy birding in two of Costa Rica’s top birding areas, La Selva and Cerro de la Muerte, offering a wonderful blend of lowland and highland species. 

Matt Larson and Victor Emanuel with a Long-eared Owl during VENT's 2012 Montana Owl Workshop.

Victor Emanuel with a Long-eared Owl, Montana Owl Workshop 2012 — Photo: Steve Hendricks

Southern Israel: A Spring Migration Spectacular, March 21–April 3, 2019 with Andrew Whittaker and a local leader; $6,995 in double occupancy from Tel Aviv (ends in Jerusalem). 4 spaces available.

This NEW departure offers a comprehensive tour of the southern half of Israel. Many other companies offer spring tours to southern Israel, with heavy emphasis on the migration haven of Eilat. In addition to spending several days in Eilat, our program seeks several rarely seen mammals including Arabian Wolf and Striped Hyena, and includes visits to the historical sites of Masada and the Old City of Jerusalem.

Montana Owl Workshop, April 19–24, 2019 with Denver Holt and Matt Larson; $2,045 in double occupancy from Missoula.

One of our most unique tours, the Montana Owl Workshop regularly records at least half a dozen species of owls, often including specialties such as Great Gray and Boreal owls. Leading this trip is international owl expert Denver Holt, who provides interpretation and demonstrations while in the field.

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It seems that no matter where one lives, September is a glorious month for birding. With fall migration in full swing, I’m planning to get down to my beach house on the upper Texas coast this weekend for a couple of days of relaxation and birding. From the deck on the back of my house I should be able to see huge numbers of shorebirds and waders while isolated groves of trees and woodlots may hold migrant passerines.

I don’t know if you have a special birding place, but now is the time to get out and enjoy the spectacle of fall migration.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel