VENTflash #204 July 26, 2016

Posted by Victor Emanuel

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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,

Of all the places where I’ve led tours, few are nearer to my heart than Panama. Starting with the very first trip VENT ever operated to Panama in January 1978 to the present, that small Central American country has remained a staple of VENT’s foreign tour repertoire.

The Rufous Motmot stole the show as he dominated the feeders.

Rufous Motmot, Panama — Photo: Barry Zimmer

That first tour was one I co-led with my friend John Rowlett, and although it’s been almost 40 years, I still recall that trip well. I remember the excitement and anticipation of being in the Tropics and seeing so many wonderful birds that I had heretofore only heard about or read about. On the first day of the tour we saw a Spotted Rail with young, a remarkable sighting that served as the first-ever record for the country. That auspicious start set the tone for a tour that would prove a marvelous success, despite the fact that Panama had no ecotourism infrastructure in those years. I still remember the decision we made to lodge the group at a hotel near the airport in an attempt to escape the noise volume of Panama City. Of course, this also meant that we had to drive for over an hour to reach the prime birding spots.

In the late 70s and 80s, I co-led many tours to Panama and simply fell in love with it. Prior to those early trips, I had never been to a place where birds existed in such profusion and were so easy to see. Trogons perching on telephone wires, motmots sitting next to recently excavated nest holes, manakins dancing, antswarms attended by numerous species of birds, and much more—all of these experiences I found enthralling, which cemented my love of the Tropics.

Guide to the Birds of Panama

A Guide to the Birds of Panama (second edition)

The inspiration for that first Panama trip was my friend Robert Ridgely’s A Guide to the Birds of Panama (1974), the first complete field guide to any Central American country. Not only did the book contain superb plates illustrating all of the birds, but the text included excellent descriptions of field marks, as well as a section on habits. On that first trip we saw a Double-toothed Kite moving through the sub-canopy searching for lizards and insects. A troop of White-faced Capuchin monkey followed the hawk. When I looked up Double-toothed Kite in the text, I was delighted to read: “frequently seen accompanying monkey troops.”  A good field guide adds so much to the pleasure of birding a foreign country for the first time, and with Ridgely’s Birds of Panama, I was ready to build a knowledge base.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, VENT operated multiple Panama tours annually. Participants on those trips routinely saw a marvelous variety of birds. Over the years our tours even added species to the country list including Dwarf, Gray-capped, and Dark-billed cuckoos and Ruby-topaz Hummingbird. Panama’s bird list now stands at over one thousand, the largest for any country in the world relative to size.

Raul, Victor, Denise & Marshall

Raul Arias de Para, Victor Emanuel, Denise Isalas & former VENT tour leader Marshall Iliff

It’s interesting to reflect on tour-leading in those years. Logistically, conditions were often spare, yet we thought little of it. During the first two decades of our Panama tour program, our leaders did everything including driving station wagons (instead of riding around in vans and coaches), buying groceries, and preparing field breakfasts and lunches. Everything changed in 1999 when Raúl Arias de Para and his wife Denise Isalas opened Panama’s first ecotourism lodge, the Canopy Tower, followed later by the Canopy Lodge and Canopy Camp. This wonderful couple has permanently transformed birding ecotourism in Panama. Each facility offers a unique ambience and a unique assortment of birds. Each is close to wonderful birding areas. Each has hummingbird feeders, a library filled with books on birds and natural history, good food, comfortable rooms, and a superb staff. We are proud that VENT operated the first tours to each of these lodges. Raul and Denise are some of the finest people I know. Not only do I place high value on my business relationship with them, I am proud to call them close friends. I admire so much what they do for ecotourism and conservation in Panama. That they generously credit VENT with having played a major role in their success demonstrates the mutuality of our relationship.

In this issue:

BIG DISCOUNT OPPORTUNITIES ON UPCOMING PANAMA TOURS
HOLIDAY TOURS
AUTUMN TOURS WITH SPACES STILL AVAILABLE
OTHER OCTOBERNOVEMBER TRAVEL OPPORTUNITIES
CLOSING THOUGHTS

BIG DISCOUNT OPPORTUNITIES ON UPCOMING PANAMA TOURS

Panama's Canopy Tower

Panama’s Canopy Tower — Photo: Canopy Tower

Between October and January VENT will operate eight Panama tours. If you’ve not yet been to Panama, or perhaps are intrigued with the idea of a return visit, I thought you should know that $500 discounts are available for all registrations we receive by September 2, 2016 for any of these tours. Additionally, we have eliminated the single supplement on our October tour to the Canopy Camp in the Darien Lowlands.

Based out of the “Canopy” family of lodges, these tours will be co-led by experienced VENT leaders who will work with top-notch local guides. Because we operate more tours to these lodges than any other company, VENT gets the best prices. As a result, we are able to offer these tours at very competitive rates. Another advantage of traveling to Panama is that it has excellent air service from a number of U.S. cities at very reasonable prices. For example, if you register for our October or November tours, round-trip airfare from Dallas, Los Angeles, Chicago or Newark is currently running around $600.

I urge you to sign up for one of these fine Panama tours. I know you will come to feel as I have, that Panama is one of the great destinations in the Americas for birds and nature.

Panama’s Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp, October 1-9, 2016 with Barry Zimmer and a local leader; $3,595 in double occupancy from Panama City. With $500 discount, fee is $3,095. No single supplement! For single travelers, this represents an additional savings of $630. When combined with the $500 discount, the tour fee for single travelers is reduced to $2,465, representing a savings of $1,130!

Canopy Camp Tent #5

Tent at Panama’s Canopy Camp – Photo: Alex Alba Photo

We have also been informed that there may be an active Harpy Eagle nest that participants can visit. We are presently awaiting news of the accessibility of the nest, and should have more information later this week. Stay tuned. We hope you can take advantage of the opportunity to bird the Darien region of eastern Panama with Barry Zimmer. This easternmost part of Panama contains birds not found in other parts of the country, including some that are found nowhere else in the world.

Also, this tour can be combined with our Panama: Fall at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge tour, October 8-15, 2016 for two wonderful weeks in Panama. You can also combine either of these tours with a few nights at the Canopy Tower or a few nights in Colonial Panama. For an added bonus, you can extend your time in Panama with a visit to the Museum of Biodiversity which was designed by the famous architect Frank Gehry. Erik Lindqvist, who operates our Panama tours, will be happy to help you with air arrangements, as well as any pre- or post-trip arrangements.

Panama: Fall at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, October 8-15, 2016 with Barry Zimmer and a local leader; $2,795 in double occupancy from Panama City. With $500 discount, fee is $2,295.

Panama’s Canal Zone: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, November 6-12, 2016 with David Ascanio; $2,995 in double occupancy from Panama City. With $500 discount, fee is $2,495.

Dining room at the Canopy Lodge

El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, lounge area and veranda — Photo: David Ascanio

Panama: Christmas at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge Pre-trip, December 22-27, 2016 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $2,095 in double occupancy from Panama City. With $500 discount, fee is $1,595.

New Year at Panama’s Canopy Tower, December 27, 2016-January 3, 2017 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $3,095 in double occupancy from Panama City. With $500 discount, fee is $2,595.

Panama’s Canopy Tower & El Valle, January 3-15, 2017 with Jeri Langham and a local leader; $5,395 in double occupancy from Panama City. With $500 discount, fee is $4,895.

Panama’s Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp, January 14-22, 2017 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $3,695 in double occupancy from Panama City. With $500 discount, fee is $3,195.

Panama: El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, January 21-28, 2017 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $2,695 in double occupancy from Panama City. With $500 discount, fee is $2,195.

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HOLIDAY TOURS

After a couple of hours on top of the Canopy Tower, we decided to head down the road into the forests of Semaphore Hill. We had barely made it out of the gate when we spied this fabulous male Slaty-tailed Trogon.

Slaty-tailed Trogon, Panama — Photo: Barry Zimmer

As we push toward the height of summer, now is an excellent time to consider year-end travel plans. For a variety of reasons, many people prefer to be away from home for the Christmas and New Year holidays. If you are someone who doesn’t mind being away at this time, you might consider one of VENT’s holiday tour offerings. This year we will operate trips to Panama and Portugal, destinations that offer superb birding and beautiful natural surroundings. I want to emphasize that now is a very good time to make year-end travel plans as airfares will only become more expensive.

Panama: Christmas at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge Pre-trip, December 22-27, 2016 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $2,095 in double occupancy from Panama City. With $500 discount, fee is $1,595 for all registrations received by September 2.

Nestled in the cool middle elevation El Valle region, Panama’s Canopy Lodge offers great birding and luxury accommodations. Cloud-misted peaks loom over the lodge while the verdant grounds teem with a parade of colorful motmots, hummingbirds, tanagers, and more.

Violet-bellied Hummingbird

Violet-bellied Hummingbird, Panama — Photo: David Ascanio

New Year at Panama’s Canopy Tower, December 27, 2016-January 3, 2017 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $3,095 in double occupancy from Panama City. With $500 discount, fee is $2,595 for all registrations received by September 2.

The famous Canopy Tower has garnered international attention for its remarkable design, close proximity to an amazing diversity of wildlife, and attention to high quality service. In a week’s time you’ll see approximately 300 species of birds and an array of mammals, experience a dynamic slice of central Panama, and visit the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal.

New Year in Portugal, December 27, 2016-January 7, 2017 with João Jara and Bob Sundstrom; $6,495 in double occupancy from Lisbon. With $500 discount, fee is $5,995 for all registrations received by September 22.

Our first-ever holiday tour to Europe visits charming Portugal, a country replete with good birds and good birding areas. Join Bob Sundstrom and excellent local guide João Jara for a thorough survey of the country’s southern half, visiting the famed Altentejo and Algarve regions to view a pageant of resident species and wintertime visitors. Of course, no trip here would be complete without time in the lovely capital, Lisbon, a city filled with cultural, historical, and architectural highlights.

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AUTUMN TOURS WITH SPACES STILL AVAILABLE

Black-footed Albatross

Black-footed Albatross, Washington — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Looking ahead to the fall, VENT will operate a number of trips on which spaces are still available. Departures to select destinations include Brazil and Bolivia in South America; Washington and Cape May in the United States; Canada, where the discount on our Polar Bears of Churchill tour is still in effect; and Africa, where four spaces just opened up on our Madagascar Highlights tour due to cancellations. All of these tours offer remarkable experiences in nature and time in the field with expert leaders.

Manaus, Brazil: Amazon Rainforest & River Islands, September 5-18, 2016 with Andrew Whittaker; $5,395 in double occupancy from Manaus. 4 spaces available.

Cape May: A Birding Workshop, September 18-24, 2016 with Louise Zemaitis and Michael O’Brien; $2,050 in double occupancy from Philadelphia. 5 spaces available.

Washington: September Migration in the Pacific Northwest, September 19-27, 2016 with Bob Sundstrom and Kevin Zimmer; $3,295 in double occupancy from Seattle. 4 spaces available.

Polar Bears

Polar Bears, Churchill — Photo: Brian Gibbons

Bolivia: Endemic Macaws and More Part I: Eastern Lowlands, Beni Grasslands & Inter-Andean Valleys, October 1-14, 2016 with Hector Slongo and Andrew Whittaker; $4,495 in double occupancy from Santa Cruz. 5 spaces available.

Bolivia: Endemic Macaws and More Part II: Foothills, Cloud Forests & the Altiplano, October 13-23, 2016 with Hector Slongo and Andrew Whittaker; $3,695 in double occupancy from Santa Cruz. 7 spaces available.

Polar Bears of Churchill, October 23-28, 2016 with Bob Sundstrom; $5,195 in double occupancy from Winnipeg. Register by September 1, receive a $500 discount, and pay $4,695. 5 spaces available.

Wild Patagonia & Central Chile, November 3-17, 2016 with Andrew Whittaker and Fernando Diaz; $8,495 in double occupancy from Santiago, Chile. 4 spaces available.

Madagascar Highlights, November 6-21, 2016 with Dion Hobcroft; $8,595 in double occupancy from Antananarivo. 4 spaces available.

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OTHER OCTOBERNOVEMBER TRAVEL OPPORTUNITIES

If none of the destinations mentioned above piques your interest, I thought you might like to see an additional listing of autumn tours. Spaces are available on each of these fine trips:

marine iguana

Marine Iguana, Galapagos Islands — Photo: Michael O’Brien

Galapagos Islands Cruise aboard the M/V Evolution, October 28-November 6, 2016 with Paul Greenfield; cabins start at $7,995 per person in double occupancy from Quito. 2 cabins available.

Ornithology 101 in South Texas: A-Learn-About-Birds Workshop, October 28-November 2, 2016 with Denver Holt and a second leader to be announced; $1,895 in double occupancy from McAllen.

Northern Tanzania: Birding and Wildlife in the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Beyond, October 31-November 17, 2016 with David Wolf and a local leader; $11,195 in double occupancy from Arusha.

Southern Argentina: Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego, November 5-20, 2016 with Héctor Slongo and a local leader; $6,295 in double occupancy from Buenos Aires.

Ecuador: The Northwestern Andean Slopes, November 12-20, 2016 with Paul Greenfield and a second leader to be announced; $3,095 in double occupancy from Quito.

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CLOSING THOUGHTS

Purple Martin Roost, Austin, TX, July 2016

Purple Martin Roost, Austin, TX, July 2016 — Photo: Cullen Hanks

Since early June there has been very little rainfall in Central Texas, and our typical summertime weather has arrived, with temperatures climbing into the upper 90s daily. Among the summer treats we enjoy here in Austin are the famous evening flight of Brazilian Free-tailed Bats from the Congress Avenue Bridge, and the enormous Purple Martin roost that forms every summer in north Austin. The annual gathering of martins is a remarkable event, but one that also presents questions without any known answers. For instance, the roost site changes every summer which causes us to wonder which individual martin picks the new site and why do they change? Regardless, the gathering of the birds is a marvelous show. Starting around 8:15 pm there are about 1,000 individuals circling overhead; by 8:30 there are 5,000; and by 8:45 the sky is filled with hundreds of thousands of birds. At that point they start dropping out of the sky, and by 9:00 they have all gone to roost in a small grove of about 10 medium-size live oak trees. As many as a hundred people come to watch the show each evening. Many bring their children. Click here to view a short video segment of this remarkable spectacle, captured by my friend Cullen Hanks.

After a very successful suite of tours in June and July, we are looking forward to continuing our summer travel season with August tours to Borneo; Namibia, Botswana & Zambia; California; and Peru.

Prior to 2016, it has been some years since we last offered a South Africa tour, so we were delighted when our August tour filled up early. We are confident it will be a marvelous trip. This trip, South Africa: The Western Cape & Kruger National Park, will be offered again next year, August 18-September 2, 2017. Similarly, our Indonesia Highlights tour filled up early, and also appears on our 2017 schedule, May 9-25, 2017.

I hope you are having a good summer, with good times in nature and with great birding.