VENTflash #223 July 26, 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:

Summer is a very important time of the year for me because that is when we operate our camps for young birders and naturalists: Camp Chiricahua in Southeast Arizona and Camp Cascades in Washington State.

Rowan O'Shea

Rowan O’Shea — Photo: Brian O’Shea

I have long regarded VENT’s summer youth camp program as one of the best things our company has ever done. About 500 young birders and naturalists have attended these camps over the past 31 years. Some of these kids have led birdwalks for other youngsters in their home areas, thereby getting more young people interested in a lifetime of birding. Over the years, I have stayed in touch with a number of former campers. Recently, Brian O’Shea’s wife, Liz, gave birth to their first child, Rowan. Brian attended several of our camps in the early 1990s when he was a teenager before going on to earn a PhD from Louisiana State University. Brian hopes his son will become a birder, and a few days ago he held Rowan close enough to a nest of Carolina Wrens to see the nestlings. His father says Rowan now has a life list of 1! Now, that is starting a kid early! I hope that fourteen years from now Rowan will attend a VENT youth camp.

I have often said that if you are interested in birds and nature, there are three places you should visit: the Amazon, East or Southern Africa, and Antarctica (including South Georgia Island). I will never forget my first trip to East Africa, a trip I made to Kenya with my old friend George Plimpton in July 1977. The birds and mammals we saw were amazing. I still remember my first “life” bird, a gorgeous Lilac-breasted Roller along the airport runway in Nairobi as our plane taxied to a halt. Many years later, I had the opportunity to travel to Uganda and see a Mountain Gorilla. That experience was one of the top ten nature experiences of my life. I encourage you to read on and learn more about our wonderful upcoming trips to Uganda, Northern Tanzania, and Madagascar.

In this issue:



As I’ve written and discussed on many previous occasions, East Africa may well be the greatest destination in the world for wildlife viewing. In addition to big game watching, the birding is extraordinary. Among the many pleasures of birding in East Africa is that the birds are not only plentiful, but are easy to see. Combine the birding and mammal viewing with unforgettable landscapes, and you have the ingredients for the perfect trip.

Kevin Zimmer

Kevin Zimmer

I first visited Uganda and Tanzania on separate trips I made over a decade ago. I was dazzled by both countries. I will never forget the sheer numbers of birds that we encountered while also viewing the iconic wildlife for which this part of the world is so well known including Elephants, Lions, Rhinoceros, Zebra, Hyenas, Gazelles, Cheetahs, Leopards, Hippopotamus, and more. I have always felt that with few exceptions, no place offers a more powerful soul-stirring connection to nature than East Africa.

This winter VENT will return to East Africa with a January departure to Uganda and a February tour to Northern Tanzania. Both of these trips will be led by longtime VENT leader Kevin Zimmer. Kevin has been leading tours for VENT for over 30 years. He is well-known for his tours to Alaska and Brazil (he designed our programs for both of these important locations), but he has also led many tours throughout the Americas over the length of his career. However, Kevin has also developed an expertise on the wildlife of East Africa, having led a number of previous tours to this region.

Anyone who has traveled with Kevin knows him as a wonderful birder and naturalist and someone who is great fun to be with in the field. He is enthusiastic and a great sharer of information, not to mention an excellent raconteur. I have led a number of tours with Kevin and can assure you that any tour with him will be a rewarding travel experience. I hope you will consider joining Kevin Zimmer on one of these fine East Africa tours:


Our annual June Uganda Highlights tour is so popular that we now offer a second departure in January.

Eastern Gorilla

Male Gorilla, Uganda — Photo: Dion Hobcroft

By any measure, Uganda is an extraordinary destination. It has everything that the traveling birder or naturalist could ask for including wonderful mammal viewing, a marvelous avifauna that some maintain is the finest in Africa, and unforgettable geographic features. While other countries in East and Southern Africa host many of the same mammals, it is the opportunity to see Gorillas and Chimpanzees—attractions that are not available on any other VENT tour—that is a primary highlight of this tour. On top of that, Uganda is the best place in Africa to see the remarkable Shoebill, one of the most desired-to-see birds in Africa. Here, in the interface where the savannahs of East Africa meet the jungles of West Africa, are hundreds of tropical birds, forest primates, and other creatures. Other standout activities of this tour are visits to Lake Victoria, Murchison Falls, and several national parks.

Uganda Highlights: Gorillas, Chimpanzees & Shoebills, January 13-February 1, 2018 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $10,795 in double occupancy from Entebbe. 3 spaces available.

Northern Tanzania

Northern Tanzania offers what many consider the greatest wildlife spectacle on earth. Years ago I made a trip to Tanzania with my late great friend Peter Matthiessen. While I had already been to Kenya previously, I fell in love with Tanzania and its mesmerizing concentrations of wildlife. Our Northern Tanzania tour capitalizes on the sheer volume of birds and mammals present during the winter months including a million calving Wildebeest and an abundance of other big game, such as Elephant, Giraffe, Zebra, Lion, Leopard, and Cheetah. On the birding front, Tanzania offers world-class birding possibilities, as evidenced by the fact that our tours regularly record over 400 species! Finally, it is also important to point out that this tour will take you to a number of the most famous locations and national parks in all of East Africa including Lake Victoria, Arusha, Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Manyara, and Tarangire.

Northern Tanzania: Birding & Wildlife in the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and Beyond, February 18-March 7, 2018 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $11,995 in double occupancy from Arusha. 5 spaces available.

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Off the coast of southeast Africa, the island-nation of Madagascar is a place unique unto itself. I have been to Madagascar eight times and can attest to the singularity of this destination. First of all, almost everything one could see in Madagascar is endemic, i.e. found nowhere else, including trees, plants, birds, mammals, and reptiles. Of course, the Lemurs are the most famous of Malagasy wildlife and the primary draw for nature enthusiasts who come here. The birding is incredible as well, with six families entirely endemic to the Madagascar region including the mesites, ground-rollers, cuckoo-rollers, asities, Madagascar warblers, and vangas. An endemic subfamily of large cuckoos, the couas, also forms an important part of the avifauna.

Ring-tailed Lemur

Ring-tailed Lemur — Photo: Dion Hobcroft

Our Madagascar Highlights tour has proven to be one of our most in-demand Africa tours. Led by ever-popular tour leader Dion Hobcroft, this trip focuses on two main regions: the area around the capital, Antananarivo in the south-central part of the country, and the Zombitse Forest and coastal region in the far southwest. Our itinerary is one we have operated with great success for many years. Most recently, our 2016 tour produced 155 species of birds, 15 species of Lemurs, and many happy tour participants!

Dion is the ideal tour leader with whom to travel in Madagascar. In addition to his ace birding skills, Dion is a remarkable all-around naturalist and excellent “people” person. After traveling with him, many people take other tours that he leads. I am confident that you will be very pleased with this trip.

If you have ever wanted to see Madagascar, now is the time. A few spaces are still available on our 2017 departure while our 2018 tour is almost sold out. Finally, new for 2017 is a post-tour extension to Ampijoroa National Park on the western coast of northern Madagascar where we will spend two days exploring varied habitats, from rainforest pockets to dry woodland and wetlands. We will have the chance to see several highly endangered and localized birds, including the remarkable Schlegel’s Asity, White-breasted Mesite, Van Dam’s Vanga, ultra-rare Madagascar Fish-Eagle, and Madagascar Jacana.

Madagascar Highlights, November 6-21, 2017 with Dion Hobcroft; $8,795 in double occupancy from Antananarivo. 3 spaces available.

Madagascar Highlights, November 6-21, 2018 with Dion Hobcroft; fee to be announced in double occupancy from Antananarivo. 2 spaces available.

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In January 2018, for the first time in several years, VENT will operate a cruise to Baja California to witness the annual gathering of Gray Whales on their wintering grounds. On this trip, VENT has reserved a limited allotment of space. The response has been strong, and we are down to one final cabin available.

Whale-watching, Baja California

Whale-watching in Baja California — Photo: Michael O’Brien

Experiencing close encounters with Gray Whales is central to this program; however, this trip provides a complete natural history experience, with opportunities to see a range of other marine mammals, reptiles, and the spectacular botanical community unique to Baja. Of course, birding is an important activity, and you’ll have opportunities to seek a range of Pacific seabirds and resident and over-wintering landbirds. Partnering with Lindblad Expeditions, we’ll travel aboard the lovely 62-passenger National Geographic Sea Bird, on a journey that will take us from Bahia Magdalena on the Pacific side to Cabo San Lucas at the tip, and finally to Isla Espiritu Santo in the Sea of Cortez.

Important note: The trip will now begin with a complimentary night, including meals, in the beautiful CostaBaja Resort and Spa in La Paz. This night has been added to the itinerary courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions and is not reflected in the original itinerary. Prior to embarkation, there will be time for birding near the resort where we may locate some of the birds that are found only in Baja, including Gray Thrasher, Xantus’s Hummingbird, and Belding’s Yellowthroat.

If you have ever wanted to experience the magical desert landscapes and amazing wildlife of the Baja Peninsula and the Sea of Cortez, I encourage you take action and reserve this last cabin, especially since we will not offer this program again for at least two years.

Baja California & the Sea of Cortez: Among the Great Whales, aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird, January 19-27, 2018 with David Wolf; cabins start at $6,590 in double occupancy. 1 cabin available.

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With the dog days of summer upon us, it’s easy to forget that the start of the fall season is now only a little over a month away. In the autumn season VENT operates fewer tours than at other times of the year, yet opportunities for travel still abound. Although many people are already looking ahead to 2018 for their next adventures in natural history, I thought you might be interested to know that a few spaces are still available on a selection of tours departing in the September–November period of this year. Most of these opportunities are for foreign travel, with tours to Central America (Costa Rica and Panama), South America (Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, and Peru), and Europe (Hungary and the Czech Republic), but also in the mix is a single domestic opportunity, a tour to famous Cape May, New Jersey at one of the best times of the year.


Prague, Czech Republic — Photo: Ecotours Wildlife Holidays

Whether you desire a long trip or a short trip, a trip near home or a chance to travel abroad, I am confident that you will be pleased with any of these marvelous departures:

Manaus, Brazil: Amazon Rainforest & River Islands, September 4-17, 2017 with Andrew Whittaker; $4,995 in double occupancy from Manaus. 2 spaces available.

Hungary & the Czech Republic: Birds & Music from Budapest to Prague, September 10-25, 2017 with Rafael Galvez & Balázs Szigeti; $6,395 in double occupancy from Budapest (ends in Prague). 3 spaces available.

Cape May: A Birding Workshop, September 17-23, 2017 with Louise Zemaitis; $2,195 in double occupancy from Philadelphia. 3 spaces available.

Peru: Manu Biosphere Reserve: Cloud Forest, Foothills and Lowland Rainforest, September 20-October 5, 2017 with Steve Hilty and David Ascanio; $6,495 in double occupancy from Lima. 2 spaces available.

Brazil’s Southern Amazon: Rio Azul & Cristalino Jungle Lodges, September 23-October 8, 2017 with Kevin Zimmer; $8,995 in double occupancy from Cuiaba. 2 spaces available.

Panama: Fall at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, October 7-14, 2017 with Barry Zimmer and a local leader; $2,795 in double occupancy from Panama City. 2 spaces available.

Southeastern Brazil: Best of the Atlantic Forest, October 8-22, 2017 with Andrew Whittaker; $5,795 in double occupancy from São Paolo (ends in Rio de Janeiro). 2 spaces available.

Fall at Panama’s Canopy Tower, October 14-21, 2017 with Barry Zimmer and a local leader; $2,995 in double occupancy from Panama City. 4 spaces available. 

Yellow-eared Toucanet, Panama — Photo: Kevin J. Zimmer

Galapagos Islands Cruise Aboard M/V Evolution, October 27-November 5, 2017 with Paul Greenfield; $8,495 in double occupancy from Quito. 1 male share cabin available.

Wild Patagonia & Central Chile: Pumas, Penguins, Condors & More!, November 2-17, 2017 with Andrew Whittaker and Fernando Diaz; $8,995 in double occupancy from Santiago. 4 spaces available.

Costa Rica: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, November 4-12, 2017 with David Ascanio; $3,795 in double occupancy from San José. 1 space available.

Ecuador: The Northwestern Andean Slopes, November 11-19, 2017 with Paul Greenfield and David Wolf; $3,095 in double occupancy from Quito. 3 spaces available.

Panama’s Canal Zone: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, November 12-18, 2017 with David Ascanio and a local leader; $2,995 in double occupancy from Panama City. 4 spaces available.

Rockport, Texas: A Bonanza of Wintering Birds, November 13-17, 2017 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; $1,495 in double occupancy from Corpus Christi. 7 spaces available.

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Swallow-tailed Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite — Photo: Andrew Whittaker

Ever since my return from Sicily and Malta in late May, I have been hoping to spend a few days at my beach cottage on the Bolivar Peninsula near Galveston. I finally made it there this past weekend. From the time I arrived until the morning I left I was immersed in birds and nature. On the first afternoon there were 29 Roseate Spoonbills and about 50 egrets in view from my porch. The next morning, I walked the public beach down to the sand flats. There, spread before me, was a remarkable tableau of gulls, terns, herons, egrets, and pelicans. But what delighted me the most were the close looks I had at 14 species of shorebirds including all four of the small “ringed” plovers, as well as four gorgeous Baird’s Sandpipers. One reason that shorebirds were Peter Matthiessen’s favorite birds is the amazing long migrations they undertake. For example, the Baird’s Sandpiper breeds at the edge of the Arctic Ocean and winters at the tip of South America! When I shared my observations with my friend Winnie Burkett, who has done so much to preserve and protect this area, she responded, “Aren’t shorebirds amazing? I am always impressed that they can get to the Arctic, breed, and get back to Texas so quickly, and are adapted to so many climates.”

As always, my time at Bolivar was wonderful, but another treat awaited me. On my way back to Austin, I decided to divert to the town of Liberty with hope of seeing one of my favorite birds: Swallow-tailed Kite. Nine miles north of Interstate Highway 10, I spotted a Swallow-tailed Kite flying along the edge of the road. Quickly I pulled off the road and jumped out of my car; I was astounded to observe five kites circling above me. Some flew only 40 feet overhead. At one point, I had four in my binoculars at one time! Swallow-tailed Kites are one of the world’s most striking and magnificent birds. Prior to 2000 there were no known nesting Swallow-tailed Kites remaining in Texas. Over the past fifteen years, their nesting population in East Texas has increased dramatically. When I look at shorebirds I sometimes feel a tinge of sadness because I know their numbers have dropped so substantially in the past few decades.  The story of the return of Swallow-tailed Kites to Texas provides a needed good news story.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel