VENTflash #155 February 15, 2013

Posted by Victor Emanuel


Victor Emanuel

Victor Emanuel started birding in Texas 69 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,

For almost 20 years, VENT has operated an annual trip for the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Chairman’s Council and Administrative Board. The places we like to visit with this group include a diversity of domestic and international destinations, and all offer the essential combination of great birding and excellent accommodations. This year’s trip, which finished up last weekend, was to the Sueño Azul Resort in Costa Rica. This short getaway focused on the famed La Selva Biological Station which Dr. John Fitzpatrick, the Lab’s director, called “hallowed ground” for tropical biologists. As one of the top birding sites in Central America, it is also hallowed ground for birders. Our trip list totaled over 230 species, including 22 species of hummingbirds, leading Dr. Fitzpatrick to declare this year’s Chairman’s Council trip one of the best ever.

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

Our first morning at La Selva was remarkable for its offering of rare and spectacular birds. Only minutes out of the vehicle, we saw a male Great Curassow feeding on fallen guavas in front of the station headquarters. This species has been exterminated from most of its range due to hunting and habitat loss. That the bird seemed so oblivious to our presence was astonishing, and a reflection of the protection that the biological station affords the wildlife that lives there. A short time later a Great Green Macaw, another spectacular bird, flew over. After that auspicious beginning, the ensuing days produced many more wonderful tropical birds including Snowy Cotinga, Keel-billed and Chestnut-mandibled toucans, Rufous Motmot, and an array of colorful tanagers and orioles. Our time in Costa Rica reaffirmed our feeling that it is one of the premier countries in the world for birders.

We are honored to have been chosen by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to operate these Chairman’s Council trips. The Lab is the leading organization in the world for bird research and citizen science. If you are not already a member, we encourage you to visit their website and join.

In this issue:



VENT’s return to Colombia, spearheaded by Birds of Colombia author, Steve Hilty, who has traveled and guided more widely in Colombia than anyone, represents a landmark. Our Central and Western Andes tour, June 10-25, 2013, visits four exciting destinations in the Central Andes and two incredible bird-rich sites in the Western Andes. The fee for this tour is $6,695 in double occupancy, which includes a price reduction of $300. Register before April 1 and receive a $500 discount!

Yellow-eared Parrots

Yellow-eared Parrots — Photo: ProAves Colombia/

Colombia boasts the world’s longest list of birds, now near 1,900 species, and this exciting tour route capitalizes on the spectacularly rich montane avifauna, famous for its hummingbirds and tanagers. We’ll have an opportunity to search for a good number of Colombia’s endemics, among them the Yellow-eared Parrot, critically endangered Indigo-winged Parrot, hummingbirds, antpittas, dozens of colorful tanagers including the endemic Gold-ringed Tanager, and the Black-and-gold Tanager, and Red-bellied Grackle among many others.

Colombia enjoyed a boom in birding and natural history tourism in the 1970s and early 1980s, and then suffered a 20-year hiatus as security issues plagued portions of the country. Inevitably, the question people ask about Colombia is, “Is it safe again?” The answer is yes, we believe it is. We are currently operating several tour routes in Colombia, as are other travel companies, and we believe the areas we visit are as secure as anywhere in Latin America. Colombians are desperate for normalcy in their lives, and the government, at all levels, has made great strides in bringing peace and prosperity to this beautiful country. Everywhere we travel, we see evidence of Colombia’s dynamic and booming economy, friendly people, and a population dedicated to putting its past behind. During the last few years birders and tourists alike have begun flocking back to Colombia’s seashores, beautiful green mountains, and cloud-filled valleys. We think you should consider a vacation here too, and why not travel with someone who knows this country best. Steve Hilty has spent years traveling in this remarkable country, and will guide this tour in concert with dynamic young Colombian birder Luis Eduardo Urueña.

Colombia: The Central & Western Andes, June 10-25 with Steve Hilty and Luis Eduardo Urueña; $6,695 in double occupancy from Bogotá. This fee includes a $300 price reduction. Register before April 1, 2013 and receive a $500 discount!

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VENT will operate two Papua New Guinea Highlights tours in the late summer of 2013. These relatively short trips are based on the idea of offering a “best of” birding in New Guinea’s top birding sites.

Papua New Guinea is indisputably one of the world’s most remarkable birding and natural history destinations. The birds-of-paradise are the banner species for which the island is best known, but New Guinea, one of the world’s largest islands, also hosts a range of truly spectacular birds including huge cassowaries; strange mound builders; a gorgeous array of doves, parrots, and kingfishers; exquisite fairywrens; and fascinating bowerbirds. Interesting mammals include numerous little-known marsupials, in addition to some striking and weird reptiles and amphibians, and a wondrous plethora of butterflies, including the spectacular birdwings.

Ribbon-tailed Astrapia (bird-of-paradise)

Ribbon-tailed Astrapia (bird-of-paradise) — Photo: K. David Bishop

Underscoring the allure of a trip to Papua New Guinea, this past year has seen added attention on the famed birds-of-paradise, thanks to the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s Birds-of-Paradise Project.  This endeavor is an extraordinary undertaking to scientifically document all of the species of birds-of-paradise. For nearly a decade, the project team worked on New Guinea, several nearby islands, and the rainforests of Australia to amass the footage that reveals the astounding beauty of some of the most specialized birds on earth. After eight years and 18 expeditions to New Guinea and Australia, Cornell Lab scientist Ed Scholes and National Geographic photojournalist Tim Laman succeeded in capturing images of all 39 species in the bird-of-paradise family for the first time ever.

An amazing video project trailer reveals the scale of the undertaking and an intimate look at some of these extraordinary birds:

To learn more about this remarkable project, or to receive updates, please visit the website of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology:, or find Cornell’s Birds-of-Paradise Project on Facebook.

Remember, VENT tours to Papua New Guinea this year will see about 20 species of birds-of-paradise!

Papua New Guinea Highlights, August 5-18, 2013 with David Bishop; $11,195 in double occupancy from Brisbane. Limit 8; 2 spaces available.

Papua New Guinea Highlights, August 20-September 2, 2013 with Dion Hobcroft; $11,195 in double occupancy from Brisbane. Limit 8; 6 spaces available.

For those who would like to experience more of New Guinea than is offered on the Highlights tour, we offer an extension to the island of West New Britain, which may be combined with either departure.

Papua New Guinea: West New Britain, August 15-23, 2013 with Dion Hobcroft; $3,795 in double occupancy from Brisbane. Combine with Papua New Guinea Highlights for a discount of $600 in double occupancy and $825 in single occupancy. 5 spaces available.

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While VENT offers tours to over 100 destinations worldwide, the springtime is perhaps the best time to enjoy the birds and wildlife of our own United States. If you’ve not yet made your spring travel plans, I thought you would be interested to know that spaces are still available on a number of wonderful domestic tours departing from March through early June:

Rockport, Texas: A Birding Workshop with Kenn Kaufman and Victor Emanuel, March 7-11, 2013; $1,195 in double occupancy from Corpus Christi. Register before February 15 and receive a $100 discount.


Altamira Oriole

Altamira Oriole, Texas — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Spring in South Texas, April 4-13, 2013 with Barry Zimmer and Kevin Zimmer; $3,195 in double occupancy from Corpus Christi (ends in Laredo). 3 spaces available.

High Island Migration, April 20-26, 2013 with Steve Hilty and Sahar Sea; $1,995 in double occupancy from Houston. 4 spaces available.

Big Bend National Park and the Texas Hill Country, April 23-May 2, 2013 with Barry Zimmer and Kevin Zimmer; $2,895 in double occupancy from San Antonio (ends in El Paso). 1 space available.

South Florida & The Keys, April 25-May 1, 2013 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; $2,195 in double occupancy from Key West. 2 spaces available.

Dry Tortugas, May 1-4, 2013 with Brennan Mulrooney; $1,595 in double occupancy from Key West. 3 spaces available.


Another shot of the Red-faced Warbler in Pinery Canyon.

Red-faced Warbler, Arizona — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Spring Grand Arizona, May 10-20 with Barry Zimmer; $2,895 in double occupancy from Tucson. 4 spaces available.

Spring in Cape May: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, May 12-17, 2013 with Louise Zemaitis & Michael O’Brien; $1,595 in double occupancy from Philadelphia. 5 spaces available.

Delaware Bay Shorebirds: An Introductory Birding Tour, May 19-23, 2013 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; $1,395 in double occupancy from Philadelphia. 6 spaces available.

North Carolina: From the Swamp to the Gulf Stream, June 1-8, 2013 with Michael O’Brien; $2,995 in double occupancy from Wilmington (ends in Norfolk). 2 spaces available.

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If you haven’t already heard the news, the birding world mourns the passing of longtime New York birder Starr Saphir. For years, Starr was a fixture of the city’s famed Central Park where she could often be found walking the park’s paths and trails assiduously noting the various species of birds that graced the park, as well as their numbers. Further demonstrating her passion for birding, Starr led organized birding walks four days a week during the spring and fall. Many area birders met Starr on these walks and credit her for their own passion for birding. Accentuating her enormous influence, Starr was a source of inspiration in another way: for the last 11 years she maintained her presence in the park while battling metastatic breast cancer, a battle that was lost this past week. She was 73.

Last year Starr appeared in Jeffrey Kimball’s documentary film, Birders: The Central Park Effect, which aired on HBO.

Visit the website of the New York Times to read the obituary of this remarkable woman.

I also want to remind you that this weekend marks the start of the 16th annual Great Backyard Bird Count, February 15-18. The GBBC is an annual four-day event that engages bird watchers of all ages in counting birds to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are. Please visit the website of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology for more information.

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If you are considering traveling a little further afield this spring, you should know that our Spring Birding in Spain and Classic China tours both have spaces available. While these trips offer broadly different experiences, together they share a common denominator of outstanding birding infused with cultural highlights.


White Storks, Spain

White Storks, Spain — Photo: Brian Gibbons

Spring Birding in Spain, April 25-May 11, 2013 with Santiago Villa and Brian Gibbons; $5,995 in double occupancy from Sevilla (ends in Madrid). Limit 10; 4 spaces available.

This tour offers a comprehensive look at much of the best birding on the Iberian Peninsula, from the wetlands on the Atlantic coast to the high mountains of Picos de Europa and Pyrenees, exploring the savanna-like habitats of Extremadura, the dramatic Sierra de Gredos, and the dry grounds of the Ebro Valley steppes, searching for some of the scarcest birds of Europe, including Great Bustard, Spanish Eagle, Lammergeier, Black Woodpecker, Wallcreeper and many others.

Classic China: Beijing & Sichuan, May 10-June 2, 2013 with David Bishop; $10,495 in double occupancy from Beijing. Limit 8; 4 spaces available.

On this tour, participants will visit two of China’s richest and most interesting regions, Beijing and Sichuan. Our time in Beijing will give us the opportunity to visit several famous cultural sites such as the Great Wall, Summer Palace, Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square, as well as birding sites like Wild Duck Lake during spring migration when a variety of exciting birds are possible. In the incredible mountain forests of Sichuan, we’ll experience exceptionally beautiful scenery and some of the most spectacular and rarely encountered Chinese birds imaginable. Sichuan is the epicenter of pheasant diversity, and time will be spent searching for the alluring Temminck’s Tragopan, and Golden, Lady Amherst’s, Koklass, Blood, and White and Blue eared-pheasants. We will also visit sacred Buddhist mountain sites like Emei Shan and the Leshan Buddha, Wolong Panda Reserve, the forests of Wawu Shan, the World Heritage Jiuzhaighou Nature Reserve, and the eastern Tibetan Plateau where we will see nesting Black-necked Cranes.

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If you haven’t already done so, be sure to “like” us on Facebook. Facebook allows us to post interesting news about our company and our tours, including information about new tours, special offers, and photographs from recent tours. Please respond to our posts and photo galleries, communicate with our leaders, and share your own tour photos.

To view the latest from VENT, either go to the Facebook website,, sign in, and enter Victor Emanuel Nature Tours in the search bar, or click the Facebook icon on the VENT homepage. You will then be transferred to the VENT Page where you can view our posts and photographs.

Facebook is a free service. I encourage you to learn about it and become a VENT Facebook fan soon!

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With mid-February upon us, I’m reminded that the birds that migrate to Central Texas for the winter will soon be heading back north. At the same time that I’m enjoying these birds, my thoughts turn to the songbirds that will soon be returning from the Tropics. First and foremost of these, for many of us, is the Golden-cheeked Warbler—the only bird that breeds exclusively in Texas. Within two weeks the first Golden-cheeks will be seen in the juniper-clad hills that form the Texas Hill Country. For us local birders, that’s an event we eagerly look forward to.