VENTflash #182 December 18, 2014

Posted by Victor Emanuel

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Victor Emanuel

Victor Emanuel started birding in Texas 68 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,

Two weeks ago I traveled to Patagonia, Arizona with my colleagues Barry Lyon and Brian Gibbons to attend the dedication ceremony of the Paton Center for Hummingbirds. This historic occasion marked the climax of a determined two-year effort to preserve one of the country’s best known birding locations in perpetuity.

Conservation heroes George Fenwick, Paul Green & Victor Emanuel

Conservation heroes George Fenwick, Paul Green & Victor Emanuel — Photo: Barry Lyon

I became involved in the Paton project over two years ago when one of our former travelers, Ann Cullen Smith, who was 103 years old at the time, called me and asked for help in raising the money for the purchase of the property. Following the passing of Wally and Marion Paton, who had hosted birders on their property for so many years, it appeared that the property would be sold. At the time, I was a member of the Board of Directors of the American Bird Conservancy (ABC). Shortly after Ann’s call, I attended an ABC board meeting at which I asked that organization to get involved by heading up a fund-raising campaign. Fortunately, George Fenwick, ABC’s Executive Director, agreed to my request, but also stipulated that ABC could lead the purchase drive, but would then donate the property to Tucson Audubon Society. Paul Green, Tucson Audubon’s Executive Director, and his board were willing to accept the donation if sufficient funds were raised to both purchase and maintain the property.

Through its website, ABC initiated its first-ever crowd-funding project. Simultaneously, VENT announced an appeal to anyone who receives VENTflash for donations to this important project. In like fashion, Tucson Audubon reached out to its membership and the birding community at large. Thanks to all these efforts sufficient funds were raised!

Broad-billed Hummingbird, Paton Hummingbird Center, Patagonia, AZ

Broad-billed Hummingbird, Paton Hummingbird Center, Patagonia, AZ— Photo: Barry Zimmer

The dedication ceremony on December 6 was a happy and heartwarming event. Being back in Southeast Arizona brought back great memories of leading VENT tours and summer youth camps there. I first met Barry and Brian at Camp Chiricahua in 1988. Now they both play an important role at VENT. I also saw lots of old friends including some who had been on several VENT tours.

The ceremony was attended by over 100 people, all of whom had made significant contributions toward turning the dream of saving the Paton property into a reality. In addition, I was grateful for the opportunity to meet Bonnie Paton Moon and her husband in person. Bonnie is the daughter of Wally and Marion. She wanted the property saved in memory of her parents, and for the continuing enjoyment of birders from around the world.

On a lovely day that saw birds coming to the feeders, including a male Lazuli Bunting and a Broad-billed Hummingbird, I felt that this event was one of the most gratifying of its kind that I’ve ever been a part of.

Moving forward, Tucson Audubon has plans to make the Paton Center for Hummingbirds an even better place for birds and birders, as well as a place that introduces people to birds and to conservation. I look forward to future visits there.

In this issue:

ALASKA TOUR DISCOUNTS IN 2015
AMAZON RIVER CRUISE: LAST CABINS AVAILABLE
SPRING IN HAWAII WITH BOB SUNDSTROM
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS & ANTARCTICA: OUR NEXT DEPARTURES
JANUARY-FEBRUARY BIRDING WORKSHOPS
SOUTH FLORIDA & THE DRY TORTUGAS WITH RAFAEL GALVEZ
WINTER TOURS WITH SPACES STILL AVAILABLE
CLOSING THOUGHTS

ALASKA TOUR DISCOUNTS IN 2015

Last month I announced a suite of early registration discounts on our 2015 Alaska tours. The response to this offer was tremendous as all of these tours are on their way to selling out. I want to remind you that this offer will expire on February 1, 2015, and that now is the time to reserve one of the remaining spaces!

Willow Ptarmigan, Nome, Alaska, June 2013

Willow Ptarmigan, Nome, Alaska — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

As a reminder, discounts of $500/person are available on registrations we receive before February 1, 2015 for our Grand Alaska: Gambell/Nome Pre-trip and Alaska Highlights tours, and $250/person for our Grand Alaska Part I, Grand Alaska Part II, and Barrow Extension tours.

For anyone who loves birds, nature, and dramatic landscapes, a trip to Alaska is truly the trip of a lifetime. For over 30 years VENT has offered tours to Alaska, a destination unrivaled in North America for its combination of great birding, wildlife, and scenery. In June 2015, VENT will operate five Alaska tours. These trips cover the full range of Alaska’s best birding and wildlife areas.

Grand Alaska: Gambell/Nome Pre-trip, June 2-10, 2015 with Kevin Zimmer and David Wolf; $5,195 in double occupancy from Anchorage. Register before February 1 and pay $4,695. 3 spaces available. Combine this tour with Grand Alaska Part I for an additional discount of $500 in double occupancy or $750 in single occupancy. 

Grand Alaska Part I: Nome & the Pribilofs, June 9-20, 2015 with Kevin Zimmer and David Wolf; $7,495 in double occupancy from Anchorage. Register before February 1 and pay $7,245. 4 spaces available. Combine this tour with the Gambell/Nome Pre-trip for an additional discount of $500 in double occupancy or $750 in single occupancy.

Spectacled Eider

Spectacled Eider — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

Grand Alaska Part II: Anchorage, Denali Highway & Kenai Peninsula, June 19-27, 2015 with Kevin Zimmer and David Wolf; $3,945 in double occupancy from Anchorage. Register before February 1 and pay $3,695. 5 spaces available. Combine this tour with Grand Alaska Part 1 for an additional discount of $250 in double occupancy or $350 in single occupancy.

Alaska Highlights, June 16-27, 2015 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $6,695 in double occupancy from Anchorage. Register before February 1 and pay $6,195. 5 spaces available.

Barrow Extension, June 27-29, 2015 with Kevin Zimmer and Barry Zimmer; $2,395 in double occupancy from Anchorage. Register before February 1 and pay $2,145. 3 spaces available. This tour may be combined with either our Grand Alaska Part II or Alaska Highlights tours.

Please visit our website and view the descriptions, tour reports, and field lists from our 2014 tours.

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AMAZON RIVER CRUISE: LAST CABINS AVAILABLE

With the new year right around the corner, I want to remind you that VENT will operate two Amazon River Cruises in 2015. I’m very pleased that our January departure is sold out; however, two cabins are still available on our second departure, February 19–March 1, 2015.

The Estrella Amazonica, our cruise ship on the Amazon and Ucayali rivers.

La Estrella Amazonica on the Amazon River — Photo: Steve Hilty

There are three destinations that I feel should be visited by anyone with an interest in birds and natural history: Antarctica, East Africa, and the Amazon River. In the latter region, we think our Amazon River Cruises are the best way to experience the wonderful world of Amazonia. Aboard a lovely, new riverboat, we will spend a week on the wildlife-rich stretch of river above Iquitos, Peru, exploring the region of the Amazon’s headwaters. This is a very comfortable and easy trip that affords plenty of time on the main river channel in combination with morning and afternoon skiff excursions up tributaries and side channels. These trips never fail to produce a marvelous array of birds and other wildlife. Everywhere we look and everywhere we go there are wonderful things to see: toucans; parrots; a dazzling array of macaws, trogons, and tanagers; Pink and Gray river dolphins; Red Howler Monkeys…the list goes on and on.

If you’ve ever wanted to see the Amazon River, lifeblood of one of the greatest ecosystems on Earth, I encourage you to claim one of the remaining spaces. For an even richer Peru experience, we offer a Machu Picchu Pre-trip that offers Andean birding in the heart of the Inca homeland.

Amazon River Cruise: Birding and Natural History Odyssey Aboard La Estrella Amazonica, January 8-18, 2015 with Steve Hilty and David Ascanio; $6,295 in double occupancy from Lima. Sold out!

Amazon River Cruise: Birding and Natural History Odyssey Aboard La Estrella Amazonica, February 19-March 1, 2015 with David Ascanio and Andrew Whittaker; $6,295 in double occupancy from Lima. 2 cabins available.

Amazon River Cruise: Machu Picchu Pre-trip, February 14-19, 2015 with Doris Valencia and Andrew Whittaker; $3,995 in double occupancy from Lima. 3 spaces available.

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SPRING IN HAWAII WITH BOB SUNDSTROM

I'iwi

I’iwi, Hawaii — Photo: Brian Gibbons

Several years ago I had the pleasure of co-leading our Spring Hawaii tour with Bob Sundstrom. Despite all I had heard about the natural wonders of our 50th state, it wasn’t until we were well into the tour that I realized just how much I had missed all these years by not going to Hawaii sooner. Beautiful coastlines, volcanic wonders, and rugged canyons were highlights of the islands’ scenic splendor, while our searches for native birds (and some fascinating introduced species) underscored the themes of island biogeography and conservation.

In visiting the islands of Oahu, Kauai, and Hawaii, we sought the striking gray and yellow Palila on the slopes of Mauna Kea, visited the lunar-like landscape of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, walked in Kapiolani Park, and viewed the famed Na Pali Coast. Incredible Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge boasted a seabird spectacle second to none, with Laysan Albatross, Red-tailed Tropicbird, Great Frigatebirds, and Red-footed Boobies all nesting.

Palila

Palila, Hawaii— Photo: Barry Zimmer

Our Hawaii tours are led by Bob Sundstrom, a longtime VENT leader who has overseen VENT’s Hawaii program for almost two decades. Bob’s easy-going style makes it a pleasure to travel with him, while his general knowledge of Hawaii imparts a complete natural history experience to our tours.

A few spaces remain available on our 2015 Spring Hawaii departure. I hope you will join us on this outstanding trip.

Spring Hawaii, February 24-March 5, 2015 with Bob Sundstrom and Rafael Galvez; $4,095 in double occupancy from Honolulu (ends in Hilo). Limit 12. 3 spaces available.

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ROYAL RAJASTHAN TRAIN JOURNEY: ONE CABIN AVAILABLE

I want to inform you that we are down to our last cabin available for our upcoming Royal Rajasthan Train Journey in India, February 18-March 4, 2015.

Demoiselle Crane

Demoiselle Crane — Photo: Machiel Valkenburg

When I first went to India over 15 years ago, I did not anticipate that it would become one of my favorite destinations. Since that initial trip I have returned to India more than 10 times, including three journeys on the famed Palace on Wheels train. For this departure, we have reserved rooms on an even better train, the Royal Rajasthan, for another unique way to experience India. We will visit the princely cities of Jaipur, Jodhpur, and Udaipur. We will also enjoy great birding including the opportunity to observe a flock of over 5,000 Demoiselle Cranes. Included in the program is a visit to the Keoladeo National Park, one of the greatest birding areas in the world, as well as a visit to the Taj Mahal, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. A pre-trip to Kanha visits one of India’s largest tiger reserves, while our Kaziranga Post-trip offers a stay in one of India’s greatest wildlife viewing sites.

If you are like me, and you love train travel as well as great birding, wildlife, and culture, this is the trip for you!

India: Royal Rajasthan Train Journey, February 18-March 4, 2015 with Dion Hobcroft and a local leader; $9,995 in double occupancy from Delhi.

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GALAPAGOS ISLANDS & ANTARCTICA: OUR NEXT DEPARTURES

The Galapagos Islands and Antarctica traditionally rank among VENT’s most popular destinations. Endowed with exquisite wildlife and scenery, each destination represents a type of pilgrimage that many travelers ultimately must make.

Waved Albatross Pair

Waved Albatross Pair, Galapagos Islands — Photo: Greg Lasley

If you’ve not yet been to either of these extraordinary places, I thought you would like to know that VENT will operate two Galapagos Islands cruises in 2015, while our next Antarctica trip is scheduled for January 2016. For both destinations, we have chosen excellent ships on which to travel, and we work with companies that we feel provide the best itineraries. Our Galapagos trips visit most of the major islands, and our Antarctica trip includes the South Atlantic outposts of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia Island where most of the wildlife of the Southern Ocean is found.

I hope you will consider joining us on one of these fine trips.

Galapagos Islands Cruise aboard the M/V Evolution, July 10-19, 2015 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; cabins start at $6,795 in double occupancy from Quito.

Galapagos Islands Cruise aboard the M/V Evolution, October 30-November 8, 2015 with Paul Greenfield and a second leader to be announced; cabins start at $6,795 in double occupancy from Quito.

Antarctica, South Georgia & The Falkland Islands aboard the Sea Adventurer, January 7-28, 2016 with Michael O’Brien; cabins start at $18,890 in double occupancy from Ushuaia.

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JANUARY-FEBRUARY BIRDING WORKSHOPS

If you are not familiar with our program of Birding Workshops, you might be interested to learn about this newer style of tour. The emphasis of a Birding Workshop is not on accumulating a long species list, but rather on gaining quality experiences with birds, with more time spent studying field marks, shape, posture, flight patterns, and behavior. Time in the field is supplemented by evening presentations to reinforce what we learn during the day. 

Whooping Crane

Whooping Crane — Photo: Greg Lasley

Our workshops are designed for beginners and advanced birders alike, and are led by VENT leaders whose excellent field skills are complemented by an ability to teach and communicate effectively. These leaders are eager to share knowledge acquired from years of birding, much of which information is not available elsewhere.

In 2015, VENT will operate seven Birding Workshops, two of which will occur in the January-February period. Spaces are still available on both of these unique trips:

Winter Florida Birding Workshop, January 26-31, 2015 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; $2,095 in double occupancy from Orlando.

Florida in the winter is a birder’s dream, featuring large numbers of waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds, gulls, and terns. Join Michael and Louise for several fun-filled days of birding, learning, and fun in the Sunshine State.

Rockport, Texas: A Birding Workshop, February 15-19, 2015 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; $1,695 in double occupancy from Corpus Christi.
 
This trip to a scenic and birdy section of the Texas coast promises numerous opportunities for viewing a high diversity of waterbirds and landbirds, crowned with a boat trip specifically to view Whooping Cranes.

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SOUTH FLORIDA & THE DRY TORTUGAS WITH RAFAEL GALVEZ

If you haven’t yet visited South Florida, the Florida Keys, and the Dry Tortugas for birding, you have missed seeing a diversity of species found nowhere else in the country, and the opportunity to experience one of the biologically richest corners of North America.

Rafael Galvez

Rafael Galvez

At our recent Company Meeting, held last week in Austin, Texas, I had the opportunity to visit with one of VENT’s newest tour leaders, Rafael Galvez. Rafael was born in Lima, Peru, but moved with his parents to Miami while still a boy. He became interested in birds at an early age, and acquired a wealth of knowledge about Florida’s birds and wildlife which he is eager to share as a tour leader. During our visit, Rafael explained to me why he feels the “Great White Heron” should be considered a distinct species rather than a race of the Great Blue Heron. I was very impressed by Rafael’s knowledge of birds and his enthusiasm. Rafael is also an accomplished bird artist. As a result, he has a keen eye for detail.

Given his knowledge of Florida and its birdlife, Rafael is an obvious choice to lead our Florida tours. Our South Florida & The Keys tour, combined with our Dry Tortugas tour, promises a wonderful array of habitats and scenery, as well as some marvelous birds such as Snail Kite, White-crowned Pigeon, Antillean Nighthawk, Mangrove Cuckoo, Gray Kingbird, Black-whiskered Vireo, and more. The Dry Tortugas offers one of the greatest bird spectacles in North America with its huge colonies of Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies, as well as the chance to see a wonderful selection of migrating landbirds and both Masked and Brown boobies.

I hope you will reserve one of the remaining spaces on these truly delightful trips.

South Florida & The Keys, April 23-29, 2015 with Rafael Galvez and a second leader to be announced; $2,350 in double occupancy from Key West.

Dry Tortugas, April 29-May 2, 2015 with Rafael Galvez; $1,695 from Key West.

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WINTER TOURS WITH SPACES STILL AVAILABLE

Altamira Oriole

Altamira Oriole — Photo: Barry Zimmer

If you’ve got a hankering for a wintertime getaway, I thought you might want to know that spaces are still available on a handful of tours departing in the late January–early March period. Our offerings include an outstanding mix of domestic and foreign tour opportunities where warm weather and superior birding are virtually assured.

Winter Southern California, January 25-31, 2015 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $1,995 in double occupancy from San Diego. 4 spaces available.

Winter Rio Grande Valley, February 7-13, 2015 with David Wolf and Erik Bruhnke; $1,995 in double occupancy from McAllen. 4 spaces available.

Best of Belize: Crooked Tree & Chan Chich Lodge, March 4-11, 2015 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $4,795 in double occupancy from Belize City. 4 spaces available.

Jamaica, March 4-11, 2015 with Brian Gibbons and Brandon Hay; $3,495 in double occupancy from Kingston. 5 spaces available.

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CLOSING THOUGHTS

Last week the majority of our Tour Leader corps joined our Office Staff in Austin, Texas for a two-day Company Meeting. Most of our U.S.-based leaders were present, but also here were David Ascanio from Venezuela and Andrew Whittaker who arrived all the way from Brazil. The meeting included not only our veteran tour leaders and office staff, but several new members of our team: tour leaders Erik Bruhnke and Rafael Galvez, and our Controller, Mike Ard.

VENT Leaders at Company Meeting 2014

VENT Leaders at Company Meeting 2014 — Photo: TaV Garvin

This event was the largest and most productive company meeting in VENT’s 38-year history. The time together provided a rare opportunity for our Tour Leaders and Office Staff to come together and collectively set our vision for the future. In addition to business, our meeting was very much about interacting with fellow colleagues, many of whom don’t get to see one another very often. We all came away from this experience having reaffirmed our dedication to our company and to continuing to operate birding and nature tours of the highest quality.

The fiscal year that ended September 30, 2014 was the most successful in our history. We conducted approximately 140 tours to many corners of the world, as well as to destinations throughout our own country. These are exciting times at VENT and we’re looking toward the future, and its challenges, with optimism. Underscoring this point, we have begun planning for our next great event, VENT’s 40th Anniversary Celebration, to be held in Beaumont, Texas, April 17-22, 2016. Details will appear soon.

Finally, as we close out the year, I’ll take this opportunity to recognize VENT’s greatest assets, the people who make the company all that it is: our tour leaders, our office staff, and you, the wonderful people who have supported us through the years by joining our tours.

On behalf of the entire VENT community, I wish you and your families a most enjoyable holiday season and a happy new year.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel