July 2006 Birdletter, Part II August 23, 2006

Part II of the July 2006 issue of VENT's printed newsletter, the Birdletter, includes articles about our Arizona Winter Birding Festival, Birding Across America by Train, Relaxed and Easy Tours (New Year in South Texas, South Florida Winter Weekend, and El Valle's Canopy Lodge in Panama), Day of the Dead in Oaxaca Mexico, Ecuador's Northwestern Andean Slopes, South Texas Birds and Butterflies (one of our new "Birds and Butterflies" tours), Brazilian Highlights, and our Kenya Bird Safari.


January 10-15, 2007

? Enjoy great birding in mild winter weather

? Four days of field trips with expert leaders to Arizona birding hot spots

? Evening programs including talks by Kenn Kaufman and Victor Emanuel

? All nights in Tucson

Leaders: Victor Emanuel, Kenn Kaufman, Barry Lyon, Barry Zimmer, and others

Limit: 56 participants

Fee: $1995 per person from Tucson, Arizona

Early booking discount of $100 for signups prior to October 1, 2006

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In this issue:

Arizona Winter Birding Festival

Birding Across America by Train

Relaxed and Easy Tours

Mexico: Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

Ecuador: Northwestern Andean Slopes

South Texas Butterflies and Birds

Brazilian Highlights

Kenya Bird Safari



Sometimes you have an idea that works out better than you had hoped. I love birds, and I also love travel by train. A couple of years ago I came up with the idea of "Birding Across America by Train." Last May, Barry Lyon and I co-led such a trip. It was wonderful?so wonderful that we've decided to offer it again, May 19-June 1, 2007.

The idea was a simple one. We birded three very rich and very different areas: the Adirondacks of upstate New York, the prairies of North Dakota, and Washington's Olympic Peninsula, and traveled between them by train. We crossed our great country, watched the landscape change, and saw a wonderful array of birds and other wildlife, wildflowers, and trees. In the Adirondacks we saw a marvelous selection of northeastern birds including 16 species of warblers, and breeding Common Loons. We birded the prairies of North Dakota just as they were bursting with life. The summer residents were breeding. Migrants headed further north were pouring through. It was a very dynamic time to be in North Dakota. Some of the special birds we saw included Baird's and Le Conte's sparrows, Sharp-tailed Grouse displaying, Chestnut-collared Longspurs, Western Grebes dancing on the water, a Connecticut Warbler, and lots of shorebirds, including Wilson's and Red-necked phalaropes, and Buff-breasted Sandpipers.

Then we completed crossing the Great Plains, crossed the Rockies and Cascades, and arrived on the Pacific coast. We ended our trip with a couple of delightful days on the Olympic Peninsula where we enjoyed both forest birds and marine species including Varied Thrushes, Red-breasted Sapsuckers, Tufted Puffins, and Pigeon Guillemots.

I look back on it as one of the most exciting and enjoyable trips I've ever made. I'm glad that Barry Lyon and I will be co-leading it again next May. It is already half full. I hope you will come with us.

Birding Across America by Train

May 19-June 1, 2007

With Victor Emanuel and Barry Lyon

Price TBA

Limit 14

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A typical bird tour with any company is, by its very nature, an active and somewhat intense activity. Everyone wants to see a lot of birds, and usually this means covering a good bit of ground with long days in the field.

Some companies run extremely intense tours that most people would find exhausting. VENT tours are operated at what we regard as a sensible pace. We have early starts and spend most of the day in the field, but where possible we have a midday break when bird activity slows down. The actual time of departure and amount of walking varies from tour to tour depending on the local conditions. Obviously, on our Colorado Grouse tour we need to be up well before dawn to be at the dancing grounds early. On a tour such as our Summer Big Bend tour there is much more walking than on a tour such as Spring in South Texas. Our international tours also vary in terms of intensity. A tour in Amazonia, such as a trip to the Napo Wildlife Center in Ecuador, will involve much more walking than a Belize tour since there are no roads in most Amazonian locations, while at Chan Chich in Belize a fair amount of time is spent birding from an open vehicle called the Birdmobile.

Recently we have heard from some participants that they would be interested in tours that are "easier" and more relaxed than typical VENT tours. As a result, we have decided to create a new category of tours called "Relaxed and Easy" tours, or "R&E" tours. These new tours will differ from typical VENT tours in the following ways:

- Later departures, with breakfast usually at 7:00 and departure at 8:00. Of course, we will offer pre-breakfast birding where possible for early risers.

- Fewer hours in the field with at least a couple of hours off after lunch on most days, and returning to our rooms at least an hour before dinner.

- Less walking. These tours will be appropriate for persons who can walk 4 to 5 city blocks on level ground at a moderate pace, but who would have difficulty with longer hikes. (Many VENT tours involve very little walking. These tours include most of our Africa tours, our cruises, and many U.S. tours. The R&E tours differ from these tours in being slower-paced with more time off, later starts, and less moving around.)

- Less moving around. More and more I have come to appreciate staying in one spot in nature and letting things happen right around me. At High Island's Scout Woods on the Texas coast, there are benches where you can sit and watch birds come to bathe. Often birders sit there a short while and then start walking trails hoping to find more migrants. On returning to the benches, they often find out that people who stayed put saw more than those who were moving about the sanctuary.

This past April, I helped with a sketching workshop conducted by the renowned Swedish bird artist Lars Jonsson. Our modus operandi was to take folding chairs to the Bolivar Flats and sit there for a couple of hours, watching and sketching birds. It was a marvelous experience. We watched the changes in birdlife around us, observed bird behavior, and watched the interactions between various birds. As the tide changed, the mix of birds changed.

Lars Jonsson, participant Lorna Duncan, and Victor Emanuel sketching birds at Bolivar Flats, Texas

Lars Jonsson, participant Lorna Duncan, and Victor Emanuel sketching birds at Bolivar Flats, Texas — Photo: Craig Fischer

Many of these Relaxed and Easy tours will stay in one location for the duration of the tour.

To inaugurate this program we will offer the following R&E tours in late 2006 and 2007:

New Year in South Texas, December 27, 2006-January 2, 2007 with Kim Eckert and Brad McKinney

South Florida Winter Weekend, January 11-15, 2007 with Brennan Mulrooney and TBA

Panama: El Valle's Canopy Lodge, January 21-28, with Victor Emanuel and Barry Lyon

Although these tours will be of limited interest to most VENT clients, we think they will fill a need not currently being met. They are appropriate for persons of all ages who want such a tour. Even though they do involve less walking, they are not appropriate for persons who cannot walk 4 to 5 blocks.

Our typical tours will continue as they have been run in the past. We pride ourselves on offering tours that seek out secretive and rare species, and show participants a marvelous array of birds. The birdlist from a typical VENT tour is as long as or longer than that of any other birding tour organization.

We feel that in addition to a long bird list, VENT tours offer educational opportunities, a chance to appreciate the beauty of birds and other creatures, and a lot of good times.

If you or someone you know might be interested in our program of Relaxed and Easy tours, please contact the VENT office.

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A trip to central Oaxaca is more than an ornithological adventure; it's a colorful, vibrant mixture of sights and sounds?both man-made and natural. During this multifaceted tour, we will have an opportunity to sample much of what makes Oaxaca so special.

We will explore a variety of distinctive habitats and life zones, from the lush cloud forest near La Cumbre to the exotic tropical dry forests of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. We will also visit impressive pre-Columbian ruins such as Mitla and Monte Alban, which for thousands of years served as cultural and ceremonial centers for such peoples as the Zapotecs and Mixtecs. And we will experience the color, beauty, and whimsy of a celebration with roots deep in Mexico's pre-Columbian past: Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.

Oaxaca is rich in endemic species, and even in the relatively small geographic area covered during our tour, we will have a chance to see as many as 30 species of birds found only in Mexico. Some of these, such as the Beautiful Hummingbird and Boucard's Wren, are restricted to the arid thorn scrub of interior valley bottoms and adjacent slopes. Others, such as White-throated Magpie-Jay and White-lored Gnatcatcher, make their homes in the tropical dry forests of the Pacific lowlands. Yet others, such as Gray-barred Wren and Collared Towhee, must be sought in the high cool pine and cloud forests of the surrounding sierras. The upland habitats are particularly interesting for their mixture of temperate, tropical, and Mexican highland species: Brown Creepers and Spot-crowned Woodcreeper, Townsend's Warbler and Red Warbler, Steller's Jay and Dwarf Jay. Although some of the endemics can be challenging to find, many, such as the White-throated Towhee, are common and easily observed.

The dates of this tour were selected to coincide with late October/early November festivities culminating in the traditional Mexican celebration of Day of the Dead. Nowhere is this occasion more colorful or authentic than in Oaxaca. In addition to the usual kaleidoscopic array of produce and handicrafts, markets are piled high with flowers, chocolate coffins, and "pan de muerto"?loaves of bread with likenesses of cheerful skulls and pious saints baked into them. In homes and at work, Oaxacans erect altars in honor of departed loved ones: framed pictures, favorite foods, and poignant and humorous mementos. And above all, flowers. Bright red celosias and yellow marigolds?zempoalxochitl?spill out into the streets, flower beacons guiding departed spirits home to the welcome of family and friends. This is not a sad time, but a joyous celebration that has been the inspiration for some of the most celebrated works of Mexican art.

Once we reach Oaxaca, there will be no hotel changes. Staying in one place will enable us to devote extra time to the distinctive avifauna of central Oaxaca, as well as to enjoy the cultural attractions of this ancient and historic region. With the exception of the two full days spent birding at La Cumbre and the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, most other afternoons will be spent visiting cultural sites in and around the valley of Oaxaca. Activities will include shopping for arts and crafts in small indigenous villages, touring pre-Columbian ruins and ornate churches, enjoying colorful Day of the Dead festivities, or simply wandering around the bustling central square of Oaxaca City. And an impressive array of fine restaurants found close at hand will enable us to sample Oaxaca's justly famous cuisine.

This tour will be led by Brad and Alice Boyle who possess a great affection for Oaxaca, its birds, culture, and people.

Mexico: Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

October 28-November 5, 2006

With Brad Boyle and Alice Boyle

$3250 from Oaxaca City

Limit 12

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Ecuador's northwestern Andean slopes are home to spectacular avian diversity compacted into a comparatively tiny area. Within only about 50 miles as the eagle flies, we will experience five separate life-zones?which hold species from four Endemic Bird Areas and some of the birdiest localities in Ecuador?and in a country that boasts over 1,600 species, that translates into quite a show!

Our "circuit" begins as we climb from the city of Quito up and over the western cordillera to this country's oldest birding hot spot, Hotel Tinalandia. We will search for White-tipped Sicklebill, Choco Trogon, Orange-fronted Barbet, Pale-mandibled Aracari, and Guayaquil Woodpecker among the more than 250 species recorded here. At lowland sites around Rio Palenque and Arasha, we will search for a host of specialties including Gray-backed Hawk, Rose-faced Parrot, Ecuadorian Trogon, Choco Toucan, Scarlet-backed and Lita woodpeckers, and Scarlet-browed and Scarlet-and-white tanagers.

Our ascent back up the Andes brings us to the rich Mindo-Tandayapa cloud forests, known as one of the finest birding areas in all of Latin America. Actually, the entire western slope of "Volcan" Pichincha holds an incredible mega-diversity of flora and fauna. If nothing else, we will be staying at the world's richest hummingbird haven, Tandayapa Bird Lodge, where over 20 species have been seen; most can be observed in a single day! This, along with Toucan Barbet, Plate-billed Mountain-Toucan, quetzals, and many tanagers! We will spend our last day at the newly established Yanacocha Reserve.

This tour will be led by Paul Greenfield, who has lived in Ecuador for over 30 years, (and who illustrated The Birds of Ecuador, which he co-authored with Robert Ridgely).

Ecuador: Northwestern Andean Slopes

November 13-24, 2006

With Paul Greenfield and TBA

$3055 from Quito

Limit 14

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With the publication of some new and excellent field guides, butterfly-watching in the United States has taken off explosively, and in some areas butterfly-watchers are becoming almost as common as bird-watchers. In fact, many birders are increasingly crossing over to become active seekers of both birds and butterflies, as well as dragonflies and other wildlife.

In the United States, there is no better area for butterfly-watching than the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. As with birds, many Mexican species of butterflies cross into the United States only in South Texas. More species have been recorded there than in any other region of the United States; of the approximately 722+ species recorded in the United States and Canada, 300+ have been found in the four southernmost counties of Texas, with more than 236 at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge alone. Increased interest in butterflies in the area has resulted in an explosion of "butterfly gardens," the insect equivalent of bird feeders, throughout the Valley.

Especially interesting South Texas butterflies we expect to see include Giant and Pipevine swallowtails, Large Orange Sulphur, Zebra Longwing, Julia Heliconian, White Peacock, Mexican Bluewing, Common Mestra, Monarch, the similar Monarch relatives Queen and Soldier, Long-tailed Skipper, White-striped Longtail, and Sickle-winged Skipper.

The focus of this tour will be to introduce interested naturalists to the hobby of butterfly-watching, along with helping them learn to identify as many species as possible during our time in South Texas. While butterflies will be the focus, they will not be the sole interest of our tour. On our travels we will certainly amass an impressive bird list, and we will never ignore interesting birds that cross our path. We will be almost certain to see such Valley avian specialties as Least Grebe, Plain Chachalaca, White-tipped Dove, Buff-bellied Hummingbird, Green Jay, Great Kiskadee, Couch's Kingbird, Long-billed Thrasher, Olive Sparrow, and numerous other common species.

Finally, we will take time to enjoy as many other elements of the natural world in the Valley as we can. We will look closely at and try to identify any reptiles, amphibians, or mammals that we encounter. Dragonflies and damselflies will be pursued as actively as butterflies, and we will hope to learn the basic skills needed to sort out these interesting insects, as well. While botany will not be our focus, an understanding of butterfly food plants is important and will be incorporated as much as possible.

This tour will be limited to only seven participants.

South Texas Butterflies and Birds

November 5-10, 2006

With Marshall Iliff

$1610 from Harlingen

Limit 7

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Kevin Zimmer and Andrew Whittaker's knowledge of and enthusiasm for Brazilian birds is legendary. They have been chosen by the prestigious Princeton University Press to write a guide to the birds of Brazil. No better team could have been selected. Birding Brazil with them is a true delight. Besides being experts on Brazil and its incredible bird life, Kevin and Andy are great bird finders, superb at showing people secretive and rare birds, and fun to be with. This is an opportunity you will not want to miss. — Victor Emanuel

Few places on earth can match the diversity of natural history experiences available in Brazil, South America's largest country. Brazil boasts 1,700 species of birds and a wide range of habitats spread over an area larger than the contiguous 48 United States. It's easy to see why Brazil requires multiple visits. Even those that have been there many times find themselves returning again and again to this land of friendly people, great food, and abundant natural beauty. This tour is designed both for the first-time visitor to Brazil and for seasoned veterans of previous trips. We have selected a unique mix of sites and habitats, each of them teeming with birds and each conducive to seeing birds with relative ease. Habitats visited will include bamboo-rich Atlantic Forest, campo grasslands, cerrado brushlands, gallery woodlands, and rocky serras (isolated mountains). The general "birdiness" of each site, combined with the variety of habitats visited, makes this an excellent introduction to the biotic diversity of Brazil. At the same time, we have deliberately selected sites that are not visited on any of our other Brazil tours. For the many folks who have taken all of our other Brazil trips and who have been clamoring for more, this is the ideal chance to experience a number of special places and exotic birds not previously offered. As a side note, opportunities for seeing some special mammals should be excellent throughout.

Our tour includes a visit to Intervales State Park, recently designated as a World Heritage Site, which protects an impressive expanse of Atlantic Forest some 200 km southwest of São Paulo. Based out of a lovely lodge, and with access to an exceptional trail system, we will seek out a multitude of Atlantic Forest specialties including, perhaps, Black-fronted Piping-Guan, Long-trained Nightjar, Blue-bellied Parrot, Giant and White-bearded antshrikes, and many more.

Serra da Canastra National Park encompasses a wonderful realm of plateau grassy campos and chaparral-like cerrado, dissected by forested streams and plunging waterfalls. Greater Rheas, Red-legged Seriemas, giant anteaters, and maned wolves roam the open habitats of the park. The streams below are home to the endangered and highly sought-after Brazilian Merganser. Serra do Cipó National Park also offers spectacular canyonlands and waterfalls, along with a nice mixture of campo and cerrado habitats. The higher portions of the park are also home to a handful of highly localized birds, including two spectacular hummingbirds, the Hyacinth Visorbearer and Horned Sungem.

Beautiful Serra do Caraça combines montane Atlantic Forest habitats and birds with those of the rocky serras and cerrados, all as a backdrop for a 200-year-old monastery. The possibilities here range from Large-tailed Antshrike and Swallow-tailed Cotinga to Red-eyed Thornbird, Serra Antwren, and Red-ruffed Fruitcrow. For all of the abundant bird possibilities, this park is best known for the maned wolves that put in nearly nightly appearances. On our return to Belo Horizonte, we will make a special stop to search for Three-toed Jacamar.

Brazilian Highlights

November 4-20, 2006

With Andrew Whittaker and Kevin Zimmer

$4395 from São Paulo (ends in Belo Horizonte)

Limit 14

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David Wolf is one of the top experts on the birds and wildlife of Kenya. It is a marvelous experience to spend time in Kenya under his leadership. Here's how he began his report on last year's very successful trip:

"Kenya always amazes me. How can there be such incredible diversity in such a small area, so many different birds, animals, even peoples? The answer lies in the complexity of the terrain and climate, but what it means for the visitor is an inexhaustible wealth of things to see. We took full advantage of this abundance again this year, from our first birding strolls in Nairobi, when everything was new and the comical Speckled Mousebirds were clearly the favorite, to our final morning in the Masai Mara, when a stunning Narina's Trogon glided onto an open sunlit branch for us. In-between came over 575 more species of birds, an impressive array of mammals, and a lifetime of memories of Africa."

David will lead our Kenya trip again this fall. It will be limited to just six participants. Only two spaces remain available. I hope you will be able to take advantage of this opportunity.

Kenya Bird Safari

October 29-November 15, 2006

With David Wolf

$7350 from Nairobi

Limit 6

Samburu Extension

November 14-19, 2006

With David Wolf

$2095 from Nairobi

Limit 6

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VENT tours departing from locations within the United States and Canada (including Alaska and Hawaii) are guaranteed to operate, regardless of the number of participants signed up. In addition, no small-party supplements will be charged on these tours.

You can make your plans?both with VENT and with the airlines (or Victor Emanuel Travel)?with the assurance that your tour will NOT be cancelled simply bcause there weren't enough people signed up for it! And, you won't have to worry about any last-minute small-party fees.

We are pleased to offer this special service on our U.S. and Canada tours. We hope to hear from you soon!

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