VENTflash #219 April 25, 2017

Posted by Victor Emanuel


Victor Emanuel

Victor Emanuel started birding in Texas 70 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:

As we’ve reached the middle of spring, I am reminded again and again why April is my favorite month of the year. Where I live in central Texas, April is glorious—the trees are rife with fresh green leaves, spring wildflowers reach their peak displays, and migrating birds are on the move. April is also a time when I most enjoy spending time at my beach house on the upper Texas coast in close proximity to the famed Bolivar Flats and High Island bird sanctuaries.

Hooded Warbler

Hooded Warbler — Photo: Greg Lasley

This month I’ve had the pleasure of visiting my beach house on several occasions. Recently I spent time there with my old friends Sarah Plimpton and Bob Paxton. I first met Sarah in July 1977 when I co-led VENT’s first Kenya tour with her brother, the late author George Plimpton, and John Rowlett. Sarah met Bob a few years later on a tour I was leading to the Maya ruins of Palenque in southern Mexico. Over the years, Bob and Sarah have taken 25 VENT tours together, including some with me, but in all their travels they had never been to Texas. During our five-day stay, we birded the Bolivar Flats, High Island, Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, and the pine woods of east Texas.

The beaches, mud flats, marshes, and shallow pans of the southern Bolivar Peninsula are magical. On one memorable morning, we walked out the jetty near my house where we soon found ourselves in close proximity to over 4,000 American Avocets (watch a short video clip on our Facebook page), many other shorebirds, scores of Black Terns, and more Nelson’s Sparrows than I’ve ever seen at one time. On another standout morning, a trip into the pine woods north of High Island produced a wonderful array of breeding warblers including Swainson’s, Kentucky, Hooded, Yellow-throated, Pine, Prairie, and Northern Parula. That afternoon, on the return trip, we spotted a pair of Swallow-tailed Kites performing spectacular courtship flights over a tract of pine woodland. A short while later we discovered a flooded rice field containing 1,000 Long-billed Dowitchers. As we were watching the dowitchers, as if by magic, two Hudsonian Godwits suddenly dropped down in front of us! This species is a very long distance migrant, likely having flown non-stop to the Texas coast from southern Chile. In another large area of irrigated fields, we saw over 2,000 Whimbrels. On other days we saw Summer and Scarlet tanagers side by side, Orchard and Baltimore orioles, and many other migrants.


Herbertia — Photo: Barry Lyon

I was pleased when Bob and Sarah told me this was one of the best trips of their lives. On the drive back to Austin I visited a spot just off the highway where I was treated to a great display of wildflowers that included Winecup, Indian Paintbrush, Pink Evening Primrose, and Blue-eyed Grass. I was especially pleased to see thousands of a small blue iris of the genus Herbertia that I had first seen decades ago on the grounds of my middle school in Houston.

In Spring in Washington (1947), the seminal book about the arrival of spring in the nation’s capital, author Louis Halle writes, “The discovery of spring each year, after the winter’s hibernation, is like the rediscovery of the universe.” This is what April, particularly on the Texas coast, means to me.

In this issue:



Anyone with a zest for birds, natural history, and foreign travel should strongly consider a trip to Brazil. Brazil is an amazing country for many reasons, but primarily because of its superb geographical and biological diversity.

For birders and naturalists, the Pantanal region of southern Brazil is probably the

Jaguar, female (

Female Jaguar with cub, Pantanal — Photo: Kevin J. Zimmer

country’s best known and most frequently visited area. Together, the great savannas, rivers, and waterholes are home to spectacular concentrations of wildlife reminiscent of Africa. Not only are birds wonderfully abundant and easy to see, the mammal and reptile shows rival that of any other place in the western hemisphere, with high probability for encounters with megafauna such as Jaguar, tapir, primates, Giant Otter, Capybara, caimans, and more. Other parts of Brazil, including the northern and southern regions of the Amazon, and the Atlantic forest, teem with resplendent tanagers and hummingbirds and arrays of endemic birds.

VENT has been operating tours to Brazil for decades. Kevin Zimmer and Andrew Whittaker lead most of our Brazil tours. Testifying to their expertise, they were chosen by Princeton University Press to write the definitive field guide to the birds of Brazil. Nobody knows Brazil better than they do, or is more skilled at finding so many rare and local specialty birds. In fact, both men, while in Brazil, have discovered species new to science. Kevin and Andy are consummate tour leaders and great fun to be with. Jeri Langham has been leading tours to the Pantanal region for the last couple of years and also has built a tremendous base of knowledge. An excellent birder and naturalist, and popular with tour participants, Jeri provides a first-rate all-around natural history experience. I am confident that you would be delighted to join a tour with any of these fine leaders.

Brazil: Pantanal Safari (Birds & Jaguars), July 9-21, 2017 with Jeri Langham and a local leader; $6,895 in double occupancy from Cuiaba. 3 spaces available. 

Brassy-breasted Tanager, Intervales State Park, Sao Paulo, Brazil, October 2013

Brassy-breasted Tanager, Brazil — Photo: Kevin Zimmer

Brazil: Pantanal Safari (Birds & Jaguars), August 20-September 2, 2017 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $6,795 in double occupancy from Cuiaba. 1 space available.

NOTE: Our July tour features an optional Iguacu Falls Pre-trip while our September departure may be matched with an optional Iguacu Falls Extension. Space is available on both tours.

Amazonian Paradise: Cristalino Jungle Lodge, Brazil, August 12-23, 2017 with Andrew Whittaker and a local leader; $5,945 in double occupancy from Cuiaba. Limit 6. Combine this tour with Brazil: Pantanal Safari (Birds & Jaguars) and receive a discount of $150 in single occupancy.

Manaus, Brazil: Amazon Rainforest & River Islands, September 4-17, 2017 with Andrew Whittaker; $4,995 in double occupancy from Manaus. Limit 8.

Brazil’s Southern Amazon: Rio Azul & Cristalino Jungle Lodges, September 23-October 8, 2017 with Kevin Zimmer; $8,995 in double occupancy from Cuiaba. Limit 8.

Southeastern Brazil: Best of the Atlantic Forest, October 8-22, 2017 with Andrew Whittaker and a local leader; $5,795 in double occupancy from Sao Paulo (ends in Rio de Janeiro).


One More Warbler

One More Warbler


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At last, we are very pleased to announce the release of Victor Emanuel’s memoir, One More Warbler: A Life With Birds, published here in Austin by the University of Texas Press.

A limited number of books are available for sale through the VENT office. Anyone purchasing a book directly from VENT will receive an autographed copy. The cost (for U.S. residents) is $35.00 per book and includes shipping and handling (Texas residents add $2.48 per book for state sales tax). Credit cards and personal checks are accepted. Non-U.S. residents will need to pay additional postage charges.

To purchase your copy of One More Warbler: A Life With Birds, please contact Connie Buck at the VENT office by phone (800-328-8368/512-328-5221) or email (

Because Victor will be leading a tour until May 22, you will not receive your autographed copy until June 1 (approximately).

We are also proud to announce that Victor will soon be honored with an engagement here in Austin. In an event co-sponsored by Travis Audubon Society and the University of Texas Press, Victor will be interviewed by acclaimed author and screenwriter Stephen Harrigan at the Thompson Conference Center on the campus of the University of Texas at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 31. A reception and book signing will follow.

For more information, or to reserve tickets, please visit the event page on the website of Travis Audubon.

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By now, many people have already settled on their summer travel plans. However, if you’re still mulling a summertime getaway of your own, I thought you would like to know about a selection of travel opportunities in the July-August period, each of which has limited space availability.

All of these trips promise exceptional experiences in nature in the company of world-class tour leaders. Speaking to the latter point, I’ve included some recent testimonials below that demonstrate the skills and personable natures of the VENT leaders that guide these trips.

Papua New Guinea Highlights, July 9-22, 2017 with Dion Hobcroft; $13,395 in double occupancy from Brisbane. 1 space available.

Red-faced Warbler

Red-faced Warbler, Arizona — Photo: Michael O’Brien

Experience exceptional tropical forest birding with large numbers of endemics in one of the world’s most exotic birding destinations. We expect to see an excellent variety of birds-of-paradise, fabulous kingfishers, pigeons, parrots, and bowerbirds.

“I do believe this itinerary has been perfected. Dion is always happy, enthusiastic, communicative, and eager to find and show birds. I have never had even a “bad moment” in his company. He is the “ideal field guide.” - Tom Andrews, Thailand Highlights, March 2016.

Colombia: The Central & Western Andes: Hummingbirds, Antpittas, Tanagers & Andean Endemics, July 13-28, 2017 with Steve Hilty; $6,595 in double occupancy from Cali (ends in Bogota). 1 space available.

An exciting tour to Colombia focuses on endemic birds, such as the rare Yellow-eared Parrot, and species of the cooler middle-elevation belt, including dozens of beautiful tanagers.

“Steve is the best! Like traveling with an encyclopedia.” – Dale  Henderson, Caribbean Colombia, February 2017

Avian Jewels of Arizona: Hummingbirds, Trogons, Warblers & More, July 17-25, 2017 with Barry Zimmer; $2,695 in double occupancy from Tucson. 4 spaces available.

Hummingbirds, warblers, trogons, and more are chief attractions of this mid-summer tour.

“My first VENT trip. Barry and Brennan (Mulrooney) were great. They had a mixed set of people/birders and managed to keep everyone happy. Birds were great. Food was great, which I wasn’t expecting. Very happy and will definitely go on another VENT trip.” – Deb Poillon, Winter Southern Arizona, January 2017. 

Cape Rockjumper

Cape Rockjumper, South Africa — Photo: Clayton Burne/shutterstock

South Africa: The Southwestern Cape & Kruger Park, August 18-September 2, 2017 with Patrick Cardwell and David Wolf; $9,495 in double occupancy from Cape Town (ends in Johannesburg). 4 spaces available.

Featuring the best of South Africa, you’ll be treated to big game viewing, endemic birds, and lovely scenic highlights.

“David Wolf was great. He made sure our birding group had as much opportunity to bird at each location as possible. The leaders on the ship (Boli and Christina) also looked after us very well. Their knowledge of the islands and their wildlife made each island an adventure.” – Trevor Waller, Galapagos Islands Cruise, July 2016.

Autumn Grand Manan, August 28-September 3, 2017 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $3,495 in double occupancy from Bangor, Maine. 1 space available.

Incredible seabird spectacles, migrating birds, marine mammals, and a picturesque New Brunswick island are highlights of this end-of-summer tour.

“Barry and Brennan are a great team! This was really a fun trip – great birds, wonderful lodging and food, beautiful scenery. A highlight for us was the pelagic boat trip. And the mini-golf tournament added to the fun. Great photo ops too.” – Gary and Jan Small, Autumn Grand Manan, August 2016.

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A year ago at this time, VENT was hosting its 40th Anniversary Celebration in Beaumont, Texas.  Over 125 participants attended that memorable event. The birding and the fellowship that marked that historic occasion were wonderful. VENT is now in its 41st year of business, and it is turning out to be fantastic. Our recent Colorado Grouse tour, co-led by Brian Gibbons and Michael O’Brien, was one of the best ever, with excellent weather and superior birding. Other companies offer grouse tours, but nobody has been doing it longer than VENT. In fact, it was veteran tour leader Kevin Zimmer who first came up with the idea of a “chicken tour” over 30 years ago. In another part of the world, our India: Tigers, Taj, and Birds Galore! tour, led by Machiel Valkenburg, saw Tigers at Corbett National Park on three occasions, including a male they watched for over an hour!

Tomorrow I leave for Malta and Sicily where, with Barry Lyon, Peter Zika, and Larry Wolff, I will co-lead a Birds & History cruise aboard the Sea Cloud. It should be a marvelous trip.

We are looking forward to more great tours during the rest of the year.

I hope you are enjoying spring wherever you live.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel