February 2007 Birdletter, Part I March 12, 2007

Part I of the February 2007 issue of VENT's printed newsletter, the Birdletter, includes articles about the Attu Cruise, our 2007 Alaska program, Amazonian Brazil, Peru: Manu, Argentina, Japan in Summer (Part I and Part II), VENT Cruises, and Western Turkey. (See Part II for articles about Spring Washington, the Texas Cibolo Creek Workshop, Kenya, Suriname, Grand Australia, spring tours with space available, short summer tours, the Southwest Pacific Cruise, and the Great Southern India Train Odyssey.)

In this issue:

ATTU CRUISE

ALASKA

AMAZONIAN BRAZIL

PERU: MANU

ARGENTINA

JAPAN

VENT CRUISES

WESTERN TURKEY

ATTU

Our 2006 Attu Cruise was so tremendously successful that we have decided to visit this famous birding hot spot again in September 2008. As before, we will charter the Spirit of Oceanus, a luxurious all-suite vessel that received excellent reviews from our 2006 participants.

David Wolf summarized our 2006 trip in this report:

A sense of excitement and anticipation was in the air as the full group gathered for our first lunch together and prepared to depart. Many had spent the previous day birding around Anchorage, highlighted by two male Spruce Grouse staying out at the road edge for all to see. Before long we were in Whittier and aboard the Spirit of Oceanus, and by dinner we were en route at last. A few intrepid observers spotted our first pelagic birds that evening. Seabirds and marine mammals would be a constant theme during the next five days, as "The Mother of All Pelagics" sailed west along the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands to fabled Attu. We thrilled to six or more pods of orcas feeding all around us, had fabulous looks at all three species of albatrosses "chummed in" to the ship (including 10 Short-tailed in one day), and spotted rarely-seen creatures like Mottled Petrel and Baird's beaked whale.

After a short exploration of Dutch Harbor, a diversion back through Baby Island produced good numbers of Whiskered Auklets in the rip tides, and then led us into a spectacular feeding concentration of humpback whales, with a carefully-estimated 1.5 million Short-tailed Shearwaters milling around them like clouds of smoke. While at sea we were surprised at the number of passerines that circled our ship, and pleased when an Orange-crowned Warbler and a Red-breasted Nuthatch utilized the Oceanus Memorial Forest, albeit briefly.

A brilliant sunrise over Attu our first dawn there heralded the gorgeous weather we would have all week. Our first explorations ashore, on Alexai Point, wore many of us out, but produced Gray-tailed Tattler, Common Snipe, Sky Lark, Tufted Duck, and more. By the time we visited Alexai again, days later, the walking seemed almost easy?and again this area produced, this time a Red-necked Stint. In-between these visits to Alexai we took zodiacs ashore from Massacre Bay on a daily basis, exploring far and wide on foot. Almost every day brought a new surprise, but hands-down the best finds were a lovely Spotted Redshank and a remarkably tame Baikal Teal. Other top birds included a Wood Sandpiper, stunning juvenile Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Snowy Owls, elusive White Wagtails, and a "Siberian" Pipit. The grand finale came as we explored ashore at the head of pristine Ettienne Bay in the southwest corner of Attu, "where no birders had gone before," and where Barry Zimmer discovered an odd passerine that proved to be the third North American record of a Yellow-browed Warbler. It took much patience and persistence, but eventually it was seen by most everyone.

Our final surprise came at sea in Russian waters, when at least nine Solander's Petrels were spotted amidst the commoner tubenoses, a rarely-seen species and difficult identification that was eventually confirmed by great photos and much study of several cooperative birds. All too soon we were ashore in Petropavlovsk, waiting for the plane to whisk us back to Anchorage and home.

See photos, detailed daily reports, and lists by visiting the Attu cruise log on the VENT website.

ATTU

Aboard the Spirit of Oceanus

September 13-30, 2008

$10,995 per person in double occupancy from Anchorage

With Larry Balch, Pete Dunne, Victor Emanuel, Steve Heinl, Jeri Langham, Thede Tobish, David Wolf, and Barry Zimmer

Limit 106

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ALASKA

BY BARRY ZIMMER

I often tell people that the Nome area is my single favorite birding spot in North America. A quick summary of highlights from our 2006 Alaska Mainland tour should provide ample evidence of why this is the case. We arrived in Nome at around 11 a.m. on the first full day of our tour, and wanted to have an early lunch to allow as much time as possible on the Teller Road in the afternoon. We made two quick stops at roadside ponds en route to the restaurant and were treated to a female Bar-tailed Godwit, numerous Red-necked Phalaropes, breeding-plumaged Red-throated Loons and Red-necked Grebes, fabulous Long-tailed Jaegers sailing overhead, and a Northern Shrike?all in about 15 minutes!

After lunch we spent the remainder of the day on the Teller Road. We saw over 50 musk oxen in this time, some right next to the road. Avian highlights were almost too numerous to mention. At one spot along the road we had Rock Ptarmigan, Northern Wheatear, Rock Sandpiper, Red Knot, Snow Bunting, and stunning American Golden-Plovers all in view practically at once! Talk about overload. In addition we tallied gorgeous breeding-plumaged Pacific Golden and Black-bellied plovers, walk-away scope views of American Dipper, a very responsive Arctic Warbler, Yellow Wagtails, several Hoary Redpolls, and a handsome red fox. Generally speaking this road is considered the least birdy of the three roads that lead out of Nome!

The next day we ventured north from town on the Kougarok Road where our prime target was the incomparable Bluethroat. We made several "unsuccessful" stops searching for the Bluethroat and had to "settle" for nesting Golden Eagle; Wandering Tattler; stunning Harlequin Ducks; another Northern Shrike; numerous Gray-cheeked Thrushes; Golden-crowned, Fox, and American Tree sparrows; both species of redpolls; a gray wolf in the road; and several moose (we would finish with 22 moose for the day). Finally we caught up with two territorial male Bluethroats that performed nicely with their wonderful skylarking displays and magnificent blue throats with red bull's-eyes.

The remainder of the day yielded three Willow Ptarmigan, a pair of Gyrfalcons, and, for those who made the hike at Coffee Dome, great studies of a Bristle-thighed Curlew and a very unexpected Buff-breasted Sandpiper. On our way into town a late Red Phalarope (arguably the prettiest shorebird of all) was found on a small pond near our hotel.

The birdiest road?the Council Road?lay ahead for our last full day. Skirting along the edge of famous Safety Lagoon and eventually climbing up into high tundra, this road offers a variety of habitats and the best chance for rarities. Unfortunately, once we rounded Cape Nome, strong winds greeted us and lingered throughout most of the day. Despite this we had fantastic Pacific Loons, two Emperor Geese right next to the road, male Eurasian Wigeon, two Steller's Eiders, a sub-adult male King Eider, Rough-legged Hawk, countless Long-tailed Jaegers, Aleutian Tern at point blank range, more Bar-tailed Godwits, three Slaty-backed Gulls, a Sabine's Gull, and repeated great views of Yellow Wagtails and Lapland Longspurs.

Hoping for an Arctic Loon (rare, but increasingly regular along this road), we offered a post-dinner return to Safety Lagoon. No sign of the loon, but as we scanned the lagoon we found a Whooper Swan?a superb Asiatic vagrant and unrecorded from Nome for about 15 years! We had only a portion of the group with us, so we returned to town for the others. By the time we got back to where the swan had been we could not relocate it. We did have two full adult King Eiders up on the beach providing amazing views as consolation.

The next morning we had two hours to bird before departing for Anchorage. We desperately wanted everyone to see the swan, and luck was on our side; with nine minutes to go before we had to head to the airport, we refound the bird and had wonderful views. In addition we also had great views of Arctic Loon right along the beach nearby. I think you can see why I like Nome so much!

Of course our Alaska Mainland tour offers so much more than just Nome. There is the Seward/Kenai Fjords National Park area where highlights included Trumpeter Swans on a nest, Barrow's Goldeneye, Spruce Grouse, myriad alcids including hundreds of both Horned and Tufted puffins, Thick-billed Murre, and very close views of Kittlitz's and Ancient murrelets, Red-faced Cormorant, nesting Three-toed Woodpeckers, Varied Thrush, and Pine Grosbeak. Mammals were equally well represented with black bear, grizzly bear, mountain goat, Dall sheep, Dall porpoise, orca, humpback whale, sea otter, and river otter among the more memorable.

Finally there is the Denali portion of the tour. We had Mount McKinley in full view for an entire morning on our way up to the park. In addition we had great views of a Northern Hawk Owl (at one point being mobbed by both Bohemian Waxwings and White-winged Crossbills!) along the Denali Highway. The park itself yielded five more grizzlies, numerous caribou, yet another Northern Shrike, and more Willow Ptarmigan.

In all we totaled 170 species of birds (a record-setting effort for this tour), 23 species of mammals, and countless breathtaking vistas in the Last Frontier.

VENT's 2007 ALASKA PROGRAM

ADAK, ALASKA

May 16-24

With Kevin Zimmer and Dan Wetzel

$4395 from Anchorage

Limit 15

GAMBELL/NOME PRE-TRIP TO GRAND ALASKA

May 27-June 4

With Kevin Zimmer and David Wolf

$3995 from Anchorage

(see Grand Alaska)

Limit 16

GRAND ALASKA

June 3-18

With Kevin Zimmer and David Wolf

$8050 from Anchorage

(Combine Grand Alaska and Gambell/Nome and receive a discount of $595)

Limit 14

ALASKA MAINLAND

June 5-16

With Barry Zimmer

$5245 from Anchorage

Limit 7

BARROW EXTENSION TO ALASKA MAINLAND

June 16-18

With Barry Zimmer

$1650 from Anchorage

Limit 14

BARROW EXTENSION TO GRAND ALASKA

June 18-20

With David Wolf

$1650 from Anchorage

Limit 14

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AMAZONIAN BRAZIL

BY ANDREW WHITTAKER

A relaxed boat trip on the Amazon and Negro rivers with superb Brazilian food, and great birds and scenery, was only one of the many highlights of our 2005 Amazonian Brazil: Manaus tour. Among the rarest birds of our trip were two diminutive, rarely seen species: three Dusky Purple-tufts that we watched in the scope as they hawked for insects in the canopy at Presidente Figueiredo, and superb studies of a pair of Pelzeln's Tody-Tyrants at the INPA campina, with probably the first known nest. The famous canopy tower of INPA lived up to its great reputation offering spectacular eye level views of several species of macaws and parrots, a memorable close-up soaring Bicolored Hawk, in your face views of a multicolored stunning Paradise Tanager flock, and excellent studies of Guianan Toucanet, Guianan Gnatcatcher, Guianan Puffbird, Black-spotted Barbet, and Olive-Green Tyrannulet. And who could ever forget those spectacular, ever-present displaying male Pompadour Cotingas?

The food at Iracema Falls was almost as spectacular as the constant hummingbird show on the hotel grounds, where flowering trees produced multiple stunning Crimson Topaz, White-necked Jacobin, Fork-tailed Woodnymph, Gray-breasted Saberwing, and Black-throated Mango, while a nonstop stream of honeycreepers, including Short-billed, Purple, and Green, graced a flowering canopy tree outside our rooms.

The Amazon river island of Marchantaria, explored off our excellent boat, produced a nonstop bombardment of birds including several poorly-known spinetails: Scaled, Red-and-white, Parker's, and White-bellied, and the favorite of the group, the Black-and-white Antbird. We were tripping over Ladder-tailed Nightjars, and the splendid colors of flocks of Orange-backed Troupials, as well as Yellow-hooded, Red-breasted, and Oriole blackbirds, added to the grand island show.

After passing the world-famous meeting of the waters where we observed both pink and gray river dolphins, we entered the grandmother of all rivers?the slow, peaceful Rio Negro. The Negro's mill-pool-like water captured our imaginations as it reflected a myriad of stars at night, as well as the countless hundreds of forested river islands during daylight, as we steamed through the secluded Anavilhanas Archipelago (the second largest in the world).

Birding highlights here included spectacular studies of Crestless (or Lesser Razor-billed) Curassow as it was spotlit late one evening, the recently rediscovered Klage's Antwren, Cherrie's and Leaden antwrens, Blackish-gray Antshrike, Ash-breasted Antbird, Long-billed Woodcreeper, Ornate Hawk-Eagle, fishing American Pygmy Kingfisher, and the two forms of Band-tailed Nighthawk (one still waiting to be fully named) dancing over our canoe at dusk. We also enjoyed wonderful studies of a star-studded lineup of manakins including Yellow-crested, White-fronted, White-crowned, and Tiny Tyrant-Manakin.

Combine this tour with Brazil: Mato Grosso for a lengthier Brazil experience. One space is available on our Brazil: Mato Grosso tour, August 1-13. Fee: $3695 from Cuiaba.

AMAZONIAN BRAZIL

August 11-28, 2007

With Andrew Whittaker and Kevin Zimmer

$5595 from Manaus

Limit 14

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PERU: MANU

BY STEVE HILTY

Some will say the incomparable Andean Cocks-of-the-rock at their lek, nine of them point-blank, was the finest moment. The Cock-of-the-rock display was indeed impressive, and I have never witnessed a group of these birds so completely habituated to humans as these. Others may recall a whirlwind of colorful tanagers in mixed species flocks; the shadowy image of a male Lyre-tailed Nightjar, tail spread wide, as it sang a yodeling song into gathering dusk; the enchanting notes of the Chestnut-breasted Wren, which seemed as if produced by a delightfully cunning elf; or hummingbirds and barbets and tanagers, each one more colorful even than the fruit spread before them; or the Pavonine Cuckoo's first timid responses to an unseen competitor and his eventual bravado performance that would have rivaled any Italian tenor. For me the fabulous midnight (and moonlight) chorus of owls, a Pauraque, and three species of potoos simultaneously at the Amazonia Lodge embodied all that is wild in this great wilderness.

Maybe it was simply being in this vast wild place, witnessing the elevational replacement and change in the plants and the birds as we ascended from Cuzco first through rank after rank of dry scrub and high puna, and eventually descended the great green wall of the Andes toward the lowlands. Hummers, furnariids, tyrannids, and a few finches dominated the high, dry zones. But soon these were overshadowed by a rainbow of tanagers that drifted, ephemeral-like, between swirls of clouds, offered tantalizing glimpses, and left us longing for more and, at the same time, wondering how such heavenly creatures could allow themselves to be viewed by mortal eyes. Eventually, at lower elevation still, where forests grew taller and only stray beams of light reached the murky depths of the forest understory, untold ranks of more modestly attired antbirds and shade-loving wrens dominated our birding quests.

At the Hacienda Amazonia we were up early and out late for birds, and enjoyed peaceful meals, the quiet hospitality of the family that operates the lodge, reflection and rest on the big porch, and, in the evenings, watched candles cast long shadows on spare walls. There was also the touch of stocking feet on spotless wood floors, oropendolas and caciques just beyond the porch, and a parade of hummingbirds (nine or more species) visiting flowering shrubs around the lodge building. We climbed hills and explored old plantation woodlands and mysterious lagoons. Soon we were off on a predawn walk to a shadow-filled riverbank, a rendezvous with a river, and a dashing journey downstream through foothills, beyond the Andes, coasting out onto the perimeter of the Amazon basin itself, riding a river into one of the greatest lowland rainforests on earth and the beginning of yet another remarkable journey?the Manu Biosphere Reserve Part II.

From a quilt-work landscape of wheat fields, lupine, remnants of Puna, and colorfully-clad descendants of once proud Incas in quietly traditional highland villages, we had?in just over a week?descended through the clouds to the steamy feet of the Andes firmly planted at the base of the Amazon. It was a glorious ride through one of the richest of all floras and faunas. So tantalizing, so mysterious, and so beautiful. I'd go again tomorrow.

PERU: MANU, PART I

August 11-23, 2007

With Steve Hilty and David Wolf

$4150 from Lima

Limit 14

PERU: MANU, PART II

August 20-29, 2007

With Steve Hilty and David Wolf

$4280 from Lima

Limit 14

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ARGENTINA

BY STEVE HILTY

Argentina is an immense country offering some of the finest wildlife experiences in the world. Because of its size and the fact that it contains so many different habitats, it is impractical to combine them all into one natural history or birding experience. With this in mind, we offer three separate trips to Argentina: one to Northeastern Argentina which focuses on the rich variety of habitats and birds in the pampas, wetlands, and forest north to Iguazu Falls. The second focuses on birds in the spectacularly scenic northwestern region of Argentina. The last samples several regions in Patagonia and ends in the dramatic and unforgettably beautiful region of Tierra del Fuego. The three trips can be taken separately or combined into a month-long odyssey.

Northwestern Argentina begins in the Chaco, a broad desert-like region stretching from southeastern Bolivia across western Paraguay and into the heart of the northwestern part of the country. The Chaco avifauna is particularly rich, and the vast majority of Chaco birds are not well known to naturalists. To those who have visited or lived in the Sonoran Desert of the American Southwest, much of the Chaco will have a familiar feel. Many of the tree genera are shared, and the sheer abundance and exuberance of birdlife is not unlike that of the Sonoran Desert, even though the species are different. 

The rest of the trip will be devoted to exploring some of the many other Andean habitats of northwestern Argentina. This is a region well-stocked with interesting furnariids?spinetails, thornbirds, canasteros, earthcreepers, miners, cinclodes, and foliage-gleaners, perhaps the most dazzling hummingbird on earth, and, on high altiplano lagoons, a spectacular assortment of flamingos and waterfowl stretching away into shimmering mirages of pink.

Northeastern Argentina begins in the pampas immediately south and west of Buenos Aires. The pampas is a rather flat grassland that was once treeless but is now checkered with widely spaced haciendas and scattered trees. We will concentrate on the coastal section of the pampas which receives higher rainfall than areas to the west and south; this region is dotted with marshes that teem with waterfowl and wetland birds. With an avifauna that ranges from three-inch-long hummingbirds to Greater Rheas that stand almost as tall as a human, and from pipits and tiny flycatchers to swans and a rich display of waterfowl and waders and ponderous Southern Screamers, the pampas offers one of the exciting wildlife spectacles on the continent.

The trip continues northward with two days in the endemic-rich wetlands of northern Corrientes and then continues to Iguazu Falls. These two regions contain a tremendous diversity of bird species. The Iberá region is notable for a number of species that have small ranges and are notably local as well, including the rarely-seen Sickle-winged Nightjar, Strange-tailed Tyrant, Saffron-cowled Blackbird, and Sharp-tailed Tyrant to name a few. The Iguazu region contains the most diverse avifauna in the country, boasting many furnariids, antbirds, toucans, flycatchers, and tanagers.

Southern Argentina focuses on two broad areas in Patagonia and on the fabled region of Tierra del Fuego. In the northern reaches of Patagonia we'll visit a scrub-desert where we will walk among a colony of half-a-million penguins, searching for Burrowing Parrots and strange camel-like animals called guanacos and, odder still, maras or Patagonian cavies which seem to recall giant rabbits in miniskirts. There are many interesting desert birds here, ranging from canasteros to cacholotes and a few secretive marsh-dwellers as well, and in lagoons we should see flamingos and large concentrations of waterfowl. 

The second area of Patagonia we'll visit is far to the southwest?and here we find some of the grandest and most scenic terrain anywhere on the continent. Amidst high plains grasslands and in nearby southern beech (Nothofagus) forests, the air is cool and the birds less numerous, but almost everything is different here; most of these birds are found nowhere else but in these southern forests and plains?and there are others such as the Andean Condor and lovely Upland Geese and the hardy little Austral Negrito that, in their abundance, seem to epitomize this beautiful but stark region.

The last area we visit is Tierra del Fuego, dubbed the "land of fire" by early explorers because of the fires natives built along the shores. This stark, cold region of beech forest and snowy peaks has only a few birds, but they are almost all found nowhere else but here. The trip concludes with a boat trip on the Beagle Channel that promises albatrosses, petrels, cormorants, diving-petrels, steamer-ducks, geese, and, with any luck, two species of penguins.

NORTHEAST ARGENTINA

November 9-20, 2007

With Steve Hilty and a local leader

$3045 from Buenos Aires

Limit 14

NORTHWEST ARGENTINA

November 19-December 2, 2007

With Steve Hilty and a local leader

$3865 from Buenos Aires

Limit 14

SOUTHERN ARGENTINA

December 1-12, 2007

With Steve Hilty and a local leader

$5190 from Buenos Aires

Limit 14

Register by June 15 and receive a discount of $500.

(Prices do not include internal air.)

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JAPAN

BY SUSAN MYERS

Japan is my second home. I have lived and traveled in this remarkable country for over 20 years now and have loved every minute of it!

Our 2005 Japan in Summer tour started in Tokyo, and we moved westward to the foothills of the Japan Alps at Karuizawa. These lush broadleaf forests are a wonderful place to start?not only is it very picturesque, but there are some great birds that are difficult to find elsewhere on our tour. The scarce Japanese Yellow Bunting is regular here, but the Crested Kingfisher provided the most fun, as we chased him up and down the river! The Japan Alps are surely one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in the world, and an outing traversing them from east to west was a sensational experience, enhanced by some great wildlife sightings. Those Japanese Serows were unforgettable.

Our next destination was the far-away island of Hachijojima, in the Izu Islands group. This chain of volcanic islands stretches from just south of Tokyo down into the Pacific Ocean to Aogashima, a very distant 300 kilometers from Tokyo. We had a great time exploring the island in search of the endemic warbler and thrush.

Our next destination was Miike in the Kirishima mountain range straddling Kagoshima and Miyazaki Prefectures. This small lake is famous for its migratory population of Fairy Pitta, one of the scarcest of its kind. There are only two places in the world where there is a realistic chance of seeing this stunning bird?here in this small park, or at a couple of sites in Taiwan. It is certainly one of the rarest birds in Japan. We met with great success here, recording all our hoped for species?the pitta, Ruddy Kingfisher, Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher, and more.

From Kagoshima we continued on to Amami Oshima, an island less than an hour's flight from Kyushu. Again we succeeded very admirably, seeing all on our wanted list. A spotlighting evening was most exciting with many Amami Woodcocks seen and a huge habu, as well. Personally, this is one of my favorite places in Japan.

Next stop, Okinawa. In the northern, forested quarter of the island we pursued those fantastic Ryukyu endemics, as well as many others. Our encounters with the Okinawa Rail and Pryer's Woodpecker will stick in our memories for sure!

From the southernmost part of Japan, we returned to Tokyo and traveled to Hokkaido by ferry. Up on deck we

enjoyed many hours of very exciting birding until the fog descended. Thousands and thousands of Streaked Shearwaters provided the backdrop to rarities such as Japanese Murrelet, Tufted Puffin, and Fork-tailed Storm-Petrel.

The last part of our travels was spent touring the incredible island of Hokkaido. For birders this island is a real treat with a whole suite of birds not found in the rest of Japan. From the wetlands of Utonaiko in the south to the dramatic cliffs of Kushiro in the east, we traveled over the central mountain range through the superb Daisetsuzan National Park (Japan's largest) to the beautiful Shiretoko Peninsula, then down to the extraordinary Notsuke Peninsula and the saltwater marshes of Lake Furen. This variety of habitats allowed us to observe an exciting range of Hokkaido's special birds.

Highlights were many, but standouts included Spectacled Guillemots, the elusive Grey Bunting, endemic Japanese Accentor, and the simply enormous Blakiston's Fish-Owl (with chick!). Wildfowl featured in our bird list, and most of them were seen on Hokkaido?the sensational Falcated Teal and Mandarin Duck were especially captivating. The White-tailed Eagle was a much hoped for prize, and we were fortunate to see many around the lakes and eastern seashores, even though numbers decline in Japan over summer.

In summary, we saw 12 of Japan's 16 endemics, four of seven endemic breeders, and 12 of 14 near endemics. We recorded over 200 species of birds, and many great mammals and reptiles.

JAPAN IN SUMMER, PART I

Southern Japan and Island Endemics

May 16-30, 2007

With Susan Myers

$10,750 from Tokyo

Limit 8

JAPAN IN SUMMER, PART II

Summer in Hokkaido

May 29-June 9, 2007

With Susan Myers

$7395 from Tokyo

Limit 8

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VENT CRUISES

2007

SCOTTISH ISLANDS

Aboard the Grigoriy Mikheev

May 25-June 2

Cabins from $3295

ALASKA'S OUTER ISLANDS AND RUSSIA

Aboard the Clipper Odyssey

June 25-July 9

Cabins from $7900

ALASKA AND RUSSIA

Aboard the Clipper Odyssey

July 29-August 11

Cabins from $8130

SPLENDORS OF CROATIA AND THE DALMATIAN COAST

Aboard the Callisto

August 15-26

Cabins from $6995 (sold out)

CHILE: TORRES DEL PAINE, TIERRA DEL FUEGO AND CENTRAL CHILE

Aboard the Mare Australis

October 17-29

Cabins from $5795

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

Aboard the Islander

November 10-19

Cabins from $4995 (sold out)

SOUTHWEST PACIFIC

Aboard the Clipper Odyssey

November 22-December 11

Cabins from $9045

ANTARCTICA, SOUTH GEORGIA & THE FALKLANDS

Aboard the Adventurer

December 15-January 7

Cabins from $11,815

2008

ANTARCTICA, SOUTH GEORGIA & THE FALKLANDS

Aboard the Explorer II

January 3-22

Cabins from $11,950

ANTARCTIC PENINSULA

Aboard the Corinthian II

January 19-February 1

Cabins from $8995

BAJA, CALIFORNIA: AMONG THE GREAT WHALES

Aboard the Sea Bird

February 23-March 1

Cabins from $4270

CAPE HORN TO CAPE OF GOOD HOPE

Aboard the Corinthian II

February 28-March 21

Cabins from $7995

CIRCUMNAVIGATION OF SICILY

Aboard the Callisto

May 9-17

SCOTTISH ISLANDS

Aboard the Grigoriy Mikheev

May 27-June 4

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

July (dates TBA)

ATTU

Aboard the Spirit of Oceanus

September 13-30

Cabins from $10,995

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

November (dates TBA)

ANTARCTICA, SOUTH GEORGIA & THE FALKLANDS

December (dates TBA)

2009

RIVERS OF WESTERN AFRICA

Aboard the Callisto

January (dates TBA)

AMAZON RIVER CRUISE

Aboard the La Turquesa

January (dates TBA)

ANTARCTICA, SOUTH GEORGIA & THE FALKLANDS

January (dates TBA)

THE SEYCHELLES

Aboard the Le Ponant

March (dates TBA)

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS

July (dates TBA)

THE BERING SEA

July (dates TBA)

All cabin prices are per person in double occupancy.

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WESTERN TURKEY

BY PETER ROBERTS

The phrase we have in the UK that comes to mind when leading this tour is, "trying to fit a quart into a pint pot"! There is always far more to see and do, with more places to explore and more birds to find than we can ever fit into a two-week tour. With plenty of interest for a full history or birding tour, this trip is a real "two for the price of one" holiday.

We spent a productive couple of hours birding on the Buyuk Menderes River delta (the ancient origin of the word "meander") where cotton fields and large areas of open saltmarsh and lagoon provided a large array of species?the most spectacular being large groups of flamboyant, luridly pink Greater Flamingos, plus cumbersome Great White Pelicans with a handful of endangered Dalmatian Pelicans. Bright Yellow Wagtails, ducks (including Garganey), Great Crested and Little grebes, terns (including Gull-billed, Little, Caspian, and White-winged), gulls, and shorebirds (including Wood, Common, and Green sandpipers) are grand sights anywhere, but particularly poignant here.

The silting up of this historic river delta caused the decline of several important ancient coastal cities such as Miletus and Priene in the Byzantine era 1,500 years ago. After our visit here it was a short drive to witness this for ourselves as we meandered through 2,000+ years of history at Miletus. This impressive ruined city once had a strong fleet of ships serving and trading with 90 colonies around the Mediterranean and Black seas. Started back at the same early date as Priene in c.1400 BC, much of what remains is Hellenistic/Roman from 300 BC to 400 AD. The wonderful amphitheatre with its fine arched entrances and covered walkways to the seating and the Faustian Roman Baths are on a massive scale.

At the Roman city of Ephesus, a morning was spent wandering through the ancient ruins of temples, libraries, bath-houses and a 25,000-seat amphitheatre. The concept of a "two for the price of one" tour lived up to its name as we watched a Little Owl perched in a bush next to 2,000 year-old relics, a pair of Rock Nuthatches cavorting about in the ancient Agora, and a Blue Rock-Thrush perched on the carved marble arches of the immense library. At the extensive city of Hierapolis the hoped-for Finsch's Wheatears enhanced the rich experience of wandering through the ruins of the grand central streets, massive stone walls, marble pillars, and the amazing Necropolis?a huge area of sarcophagi: very elaborate tombs in carved stone blocks of different designs, shapes, and sizes.

 

Our four days in Istanbul were perhaps the ultimate in combining birding and history. The city is full of world-class historical sites from Roman aqueducts to the many elaborate palaces and mosques of the Ottoman Empire?most just walking distance from our accommodation reassuringly written up in the Best Small Hotels of Turkey publication. Great birding sites just out of the city offered optional diversions from "historical overload," while overhead the legendary raptor and stork migration was viewed from the hills overlooking the entire city of Istanbul.

Apart from dedicated time for birding, birds "popped-up" all the time: Europe's only Laughing Doves were seen regularly, while sipping a cold beer at the end of the day, from our hotel's rooftop terrace with its stunning view of nearby Aya Sofia and the Topkapi Palace; Levantine Shearwaters powered their way past the busy shipping in the narrow Bosphorus Straits between the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara; and White Storks swirled over in tight kettles of thousands of birds low over the domes of the Blue Mosque, as they've reassuringly done every fall for millennia.

WESTERN TURKEY

August 26-September 9, 2007

With Peter Roberts and a local leader

$4465 from Izmir, Turkey (ends in Istanbul)

Limit 14

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