February 13, 2024
It has been a while since the last edition of VENTFLASH, and I will take this opportunity to inform our travelers about recent events. As you have heard by now, last fall I stepped down from my position as the CEO of VENT and have been succeeded by Barry Lyon. In assuming the title of Executive Chairman, I will continue working with Barry as a team in the management of the company.
In mid-December we hosted our first Company Meeting in four years. Until the onset of the pandemic in 2020, we’ve hosted company meetings about every other year. These occasions have always been extremely important for the rare social time they allow our tour leaders and office staff, for the opportunity to discuss important topics in a group setting, and for training on any number of matters. With life having largely returned to normal, it felt so good to have everyone together again in person. The overriding theme of this year’s meeting was our shared purpose of making VENT an even better company than it already is. We feel so fortunate to have such a strong and wonderful organization, with the best tour leaders and office staff we’ve had and a loyal and supportive clientele. I say this with the knowledge that there is always room for improvement, and with that in mind, I can tell you that solid plans are in place for elevating the company to an even higher level of performance. Our travelers will see a range of enhancements at VENT as the year unfolds, a number of which are described farther on.
The new year has started well. Tour registrations have been strong, and we are on the cusp of debuting a host of NEW tours to NEW destinations in 2024 and 2025. Many of these departures will be led by NEW tour leaders. We look forward to introducing you to these new travel opportunities and to some of the new faces at VENT.
Of enormous importance, our friends and loyal VENT supporters Paul and Betty Rae Davis recently offered me $100,000 to create a non-profit organization that will operate our summer youth camps. I consider my decision to found these summer camps, now almost 38 years ago, one of my best ideas. Our programs are designed for young birders and naturalists aged 14–17. They are open to boys and girls from across the country and overseas. I’ve supervised many of these camps, some with famous personalities from the world of birding including Kenn Kaufman, Pete Dunne, and Roger Tory Peterson. Over 500 young birders have attended these camps. Some have joined the ranks of the world’s top ornithologists and played key roles in developing the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s citizen science projects, namely eBird. Young birders from Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, and the U.K. have attended our camps. Until 1986, nothing like this had previously been tried. We’ve worked hard to keep the camp program going for all of these years, as I feel they are an important part of North American birding. Unfortunately, costs have risen dramatically, and it has become a struggle to operate the program without incurring financial loss. To be clear, we do not operate our camp program for profitability, but we do need to avoid losing money. With the launch of the non-profit, we will be much better positioned to raise funds in support of our effort to perpetuate youth birding through our summer camp program.
The nonprofit will be called the Victor Emanuel Young Birders and Naturalists Foundation. Through it we can increase the diversity of program options and provide scholarships. I am grateful to Paul and Betty Rae for providing these critical start-up funds.
Connecting young people to nature is one of mine and VENT's proudest accomplishments.
We are looking forward to a great year ahead. Thank you for your support, as always.
IN THIS ISSUE:
TOUR LEADER REPORTS FROM THE FIELD, JANUARY
Among the joys of our jobs at VENT is receiving reports from our tour leaders of outstanding bird and wildlife sightings from our tours. The strong start we’ve experienced to the new year is exemplified through a spate of wonderful reports from tours that operated last month. From the Desert Southwest to the forests of India and the wilds of South America, participants on VENT tours have had a lot to be excited about. To demonstrate, I share with you some of the highlights from recent VENT tours. Enjoy!
Kevin Burke, Winter New Mexico: “Got the rosy-finch slam at Sandia Crest, NM on our Winter New Mexico tour.”
David Ascanio, Undiscovered Eastern Colombia: “Here reporting a mix of grand birds (never before seen in this area by any tour company): Gray-bellied and Yapacana antbirds, and Rio Orinoco Spinetail.”
Max Breckenridge, Southern India: Great looks at a large troupe of the endangered Lion-tailed Macaque in Tamil Nadu on our Southern India tour.”
Jeri Langham, Panama’s Canopy Tower & El Valle: “Just finished my January Panama tour with some great birds: Crimson-bellied Woodpecker, male Blue Cotinga, and Black-crowned Antpitta.”
Erik Bruhnke, Panama’s Canopy Camp: “Participants are having a thrilling time on our Canopy Camp tour. Smiles and good camaraderie all day long. We scored a very rare adult male Ruby Topaz within seconds of checking in!”
Kevin Burke, Winter Southern California: “Brennan Mulrooney and I finished up our Winter Southern California tour. Awesome views of Long-eared Owl. And 175 Mountain Plovers today!”
Barry Zimmer, Winter Southern Arizona: “Kevin Burke and I had killer views of a male Costa’s Hummingbird from just feet away in Green Valley today with our Winter Southern Arizona tour group.”
David Ascanio, Amazon River Cruise: “The Amazon River Cruise started with a blast of mega species never seen before on the first day of the cruise. Highlights were Pygmy Marmoset, Pheasant Cuckoo, and Black-tailed Antbird.”
On the heels of a very successful Company Meeting to close out 2023, we headed into 2024 with an air of excitement for the year ahead. Our bright outlook is derived in part from a series of important enhancements we are undertaking to make VENT an even stronger company. While we are proud of our reputation for providing high quality travel experiences, we also know there is always room for improvement. Following is a summary of important developments our travelers should anticipate as the year unfolds:
A New Website!
We have been quietly at work for some time developing a website to replace our current site. We’ve intentionally stayed silent about this project as we’ve not known with enough confidence exactly when the new site would be ready for launch. With the project now in the late stage of development, we are anticipating a launch date in April or early May. Critical highlights of the new site are a mega-menu for more efficient navigation; enhanced filter features that enable more effective searches for tours; a global search feature; and, perhaps most important, integrated online registration capability, with dedicated customer accounts, credit card payment capability, electronic forms, and more. More information will be provided as we get closer to launch.
Smaller Tour Group Sizes
In an effort to further improve the quality of experience provided on VENT tours, we are reducing the maximum group size from 14 participants to 12. This change goes into effect for all VENT tours departing on or after October 1, 2024. We point out that this adjustment applies largely to our domestic tour program, as the majority of our international departures already accommodate a maximum of 12 people or fewer. For domestic tours, the new participant-to-leader ratio will not exceed 6:1 or 12:2. For international tours, group sizes are tour-specific, ranging from 8 to 12, and almost always with the involvement of local leaders. A range of variables come into play when setting tour limits for international trips including quality of local leaders, vehicle sizes, and accommodations limitations. Among the benefits of a smaller group size are a more personalized experience with a tour leader, greater space availability in the vehicles and in restaurants, more time at the spotting scopes, and so on.
Upgraded Tour Itinerary Documents
Our tour itineraries are the most important resource we have for conveying information about our tours. Whether viewed online or in print, these documents enable our travelers to learn about a tour on a detailed level, and therefore assess its appeal, determine if it is the right fit from a physical activity standpoint, and properly prepare for the tour. Based on a combination of events—customer feedback, our own perceptions, and changes in the birding and nature tourism industry—we are undertaking a process of upgrading the quality of our itineraries. The coming changes are both substantive and cosmetic. Among these: a new “CONDITIONS” section that better and more clearly addresses most qualities of a tour including Accommodations/Lodging, Dining/Meals, Tour Pace and Physical Activity, Transportation, Elevation and more; an upgrade of the “TIPPING” section that includes more detailed and useful information about the practice of tipping that our travelers will find helpful; and a new “PHOTOGRAPHY” statement that addresses traveler questions and concerns about photography on our tours. The style and format of our documents will be updated for a more contemporary look. These changes in content and appearance will debut for tours departing in the first part of 2025.
Customer Loyalty Program
A VENT customer loyalty program will debut this year, most likely in the second half. The details of the program are still being worked out, but the bottom line is that we want to do more to show our appreciation of YOU for supporting VENT by choosing to travel with us time and again.
VENT will return to the Galapagos Islands this summer with another outstanding birding and natural history cruise. This departure will operate June 11–20, 2024 and will be led by Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis aboard the 20-passenger Coral II.
Due to a recent cancellation, a cabin has opened for availability. Those who canceled were under full penalty, and we are able to offer this cabin at a two-for-one rate. The published fee for this cabin is $9,970 per person in double occupancy accommodation from Quito. With this special offer, a couple will pay $4,985 per person in double occupancy. A single traveler will pay the full double occupancy rate ($9,970), but with no single supplement. We hope you can take advantage of this rare opportunity!
For anyone with an interest in birds and nature, the Galapagos Islands are as marvelous a destination as any in the world. A trip here is far more than a birding trip, but rather a complete natural history experience. The VENT tour offers an itinerary that visits many of the key islands where the special birds and wildlife of the Galapagos are found. The Coral II is a yacht-style vessel that provides stability at sea, comfortable accommodations, and spacious public areas. Michael and Louise are a dynamic husband and wife leadership team. They have led many of VENT’s Galapagos trips and together bring massive experience to their tours here. Any trip with Michael and Louise will be exceptional, and this certainly holds true for the Galapagos.
Galapagos Islands Cruise, June 11–20, 2024 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; cabins start at $9,970 per person in double occupancy from Quito. Limit 18. One cabin available at the special offer rate. A couple will pay $4,985 per person in double occupancy; a single will pay $9,970 with no single supplement!
Spring into mid-summer is the busiest time of the year for our domestic tour program. From early March to mid-July, VENT will operate close to twenty-five tours in the United States, from one side of the country to the other—from the wilds of Alaska to the tip of South Florida; from Cape May, New Jersey to the Big Island of Hawaii; and to many destinations in between. Some of these trips are full, but spaces remain available on a number of others. If you have not yet made your spring or summer travel plans, I thought you might be enticed by the following travel opportunities, each promising outstanding birding and natural history:
Big Bend National Park & the Texas Hill Country, April 18–28, 2024 with Brad McKinney and Kevin Burke; $4,495 in double occupancy from San Antonio. Limit 14; 4 spaces available.
South Florida & The Keys, April 19–27, 2024 with Rafael Galvez and a second leader to be announced; $4,395 in double occupancy from Key West. Limit 14; 8 spaces available.
Spring in Cape May: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, May 12–18, 2024 with Louise Zemaitis and Michael O’Brien; $3,095 in double occupancy from Philadelphia. Limit 14; 2 spaces available.
Grand Alaska: Nome & Gambell, May 29–June 8, 2024 with Kevin Zimmer and Brian Gibbons; $8,995 in double occupancy from Anchorage. Limit 14; 4 spaces available.
Minnesota’s Northwoods, May 30–June 4, 2024 with Erik Bruhnke and a second leader to be announced; $3,295 in double occupancy from Duluth. Limit 14.
Spring in the Washington Cascades: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, June 2–8, 2024 with Kevin Burke and a second leader to be announced; $3,395 in double occupancy from Seattle. Limit 14; 2 spaces available.
Colorado: A Summer Stay in Estes Park, June 17–23, 2024 with Rick Wright; $5,645 in double occupancy from Denver. Limit 7.
Avian Jewels of Arizona, July 15–23, 2024 with Barry Zimmer and Brian Gibbons; $3,945 in double occupancy from Tucson. Limit 10; 1 space available.
If you are considering international travel this summer, you might be interested to know that spaces are still available on tours to Japan, Uganda, and Colombia in the June–July period.
Japan: Summer Hokkaido: Birds, Wildlife & Culture in the Land of the Ainu, June 4–20, 2024 with Mark Brazil and Mayumi Brazil; $10,595 in double occupancy from Kushiro (ends in Haneda). Limit 9; 4 spaces available.
Set to debut this summer, this brilliant new tour provides immersion into the birds, wildlife, and culture of Hokkaido, northernmost of Japan’s main islands. Birding and wildlife viewing will occupy much of our time, but this tour gives strong attention to Japanese and Ainu culture. This tour will be led by Asia bird expert and Japan resident Mark Brazil, and Mayumi Brazil, a professionally licensed cultural guide. We simply couldn’t ask for a more capable leadership team than this couple.
Uganda Highlights: Gorillas, Chimpanzees & Shoebills, June 14–July 3, 2024 with Dion Hobcroft and a local leader; $13,375 in double occupancy from Entebbe. Register by February 29, receive a $1,000 discount, and pay $12,375. Limit 8.
This tour delivers some of the finest birding available in Africa, along with mammalian superstars Mountain Gorillas and Chimpanzees. Our tour is led by veteran tour leader Dion Hobcroft.
Colombia: The Central & Western Andes, July 6–21, 2024 with Steve Hilty and a local leader; $8,290 in double occupancy from Medellin (ends in Cali). Limit 8.
Led by tropical ornithology dean Steve Hilty, this tour captures the essence of birding in the central and western cordillera of the Colombian Andes. Hummingbirds, tanagers, antpittas, and endemic birds—who could ask for anything more?
Colombia: Magdalena River Valley & Western Andes: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, July 13–21, 2024 with David Ascanio and a local leader; $5,225 in double occupancy from Medellin. Limit: 10; 3 spaces available.
A shorter Colombia tour but at a more relaxed pace. Add in a slew of wonderful hummingbirds, tanagers, and other montane species, and you’ll know this is as good as tropical birding gets.
Our program of VENT Webinars continues in February as Barry Lyon and Victor Emanuel present an enticing lineup of New Tours and Tour Leaders in 2024–2025. Whether you are still new to VENT, have taken one or two tours, or participated on ten or more, we are confident that any number of our brand-new trips will be of high appeal.
For the next installment in the VENT Webinar series, Barry and Victor will profile the exciting new tours VENT has in store for its travelers this year and next. Illustrated with photos, maps, and tour specific information, their presentation will take the audience to six continents as they showcase a suite of domestic and international departures. New tours to Argentina, Peru, Indonesia, Japan, Bulgaria, Scotland, and Rwanda are only some of the new tours and destinations you’ll learn about. This presentation also offers the opportunity to learn about VENT’s newest tour leaders including Scott Baker, Mark and Mayumi Brazil, Kevin Burke, Mark Garland, Remigio (Remi) Grefa, Brad McKinney, and Doris Valencia. Please join Victor Emanuel and Barry Lyon on February 29 as they introduce New Tours and Tour Leaders in 2024-2025.
The webinar will begin Thursday, February 29, 2024 at 11:00 am PST/12:00 pm MST/1:00 pm CST/2:00 pm EST.
Register for the webinar: New Tours and Tour Leaders in 2024-2025!
After a very hot and dry summer in Central Texas last year, the winter has been a good one for rainfall. More than a month into the new year, the rainfall total for the Austin area is running several inches above normal. As a result, Central Texas could see a major wildflower bloom this spring. In another three weeks, the first signs of spring will appear here. The first flowers will pop up by the end of the month, and the Redbuds will be sporting their new leaves. Soon thereafter, we will look forward to the return of the warblers, both the ones that breed near where I live and the ones that migrate through.
Seeing warblers is always the highlight of my year, and on that note, I will spend most of April at my beach house north of Galveston. VENT will operate several trips this spring that are great for experiencing the spring and observing warblers, and on which spaces are still available. Among these are Spring in South Texas, Big Bend National Park & the Texas Hill Country, Spring in Cape May, and South Florida & The Keys.
It means a lot to me to continue being active at VENT, especially as we aspire to make our company ever-better.
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