VENTflash #229 October 19, 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:

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking at the Lake–Cook Audubon meeting in Highland Park, Illinois, and signing copies of my book One More Warbler: A Life With Birds. Attendance was lower than expected, as the Chicago Cubs were in a crucial playoff game that evening, but we enjoyed a fine turnout nevertheless. The next morning, I co-led a bird walk with my friend Wendy Paulson.

Our walk took place in a restored tallgrass prairie near Wendy’s home. We saw a wonderful variety of birds including numbers of American Goldfinches and White-crowned Sparrows as well as a few lingering Pectoral Sandpipers that were feeding on a muddy island. The highlight for me was seeing the prairie in the company of the people who have worked so hard for so many years to restore this tract and others like it, and who identified some of the plants for us. The Indian Grass and Big Bluestem were six to eight feet tall!  We also saw the famous Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum), a sunflower of the native prairie that can grow to eight feet in height. I was told that it can take decades to restore a prairie. The process requires removal of non-native invasive species, and seeds of native species need to be gathered and spread. This project is truly a labor of love, and to date has involved the efforts of hundreds of volunteers.

Compass Plants in a Restored Illinois Prairie

Compass Plants in a Restored Illinois Prairie — Photo: Shutterstock

In its original state, the tallgrass prairie was one of the greatest ecosystems in the world. It contained an incredible diversity of plants and was the preferred habitat for a wonderful array of birds and other wildlife. How gratifying that it has been recreated in some areas.

In this issue:



Cuba has been in the news a lot this year, owing to shifting political winds in the U.S., a hurricane, and a recent State Department Travel Warning. As a result, some of our travelers have expressed concern about visiting Cuba at this time. Given the unease, I want to reassure you that I have no qualms about visiting Cuba. I am certain that travel there is as safe as ever.

Cuban Trogon

Cuban Trogon — Photo: David Ascanio

All scheduled VENT tours will proceed as planned, for the following reasons:

First, we operate our Cuba tours through Alabama-based International Expeditions and its official “People-to-People” program. The rules governing this program are set by the U.S. Department of Treasury, which means that I.E.’s program is in total compliance with all regulations. By extension, it also means that in joining a VENT tour to Cuba, you will be there legally and with the backing of two solid companies and the U.S. government.

Second, Cuba was indeed affected by Hurricane Irma, but the recovery process is now almost complete. We have received word from I.E. that almost every place included in our itinerary escaped damage from the storm, and that those places that were impacted will soon be back to normal. All roads, hotels, and birding areas that we expect to use or visit will remain in the itinerary as planned. I am confident we will see all the specialty endemic birds that have been seen on previous—and very successful—VENT tours.

Finally, there is the matter of the mystery illness last year that affected some American intelligence people and that resulted in the Travel Warning. I want to emphasize several points: 1) No tourists were affected by this situation; 2) The matter, while still unsolved, appears to have been a “one-off” type of event; and 3) The Cuban government has not been implicated in any wrongdoing associated with this situation.

To demonstrate my certainty that Cuba is still a marvelous and worry-free place to visit, I have decided to join our first Cuba tour of the new year, January 23-February 3, 2018, a trip I will co-lead with David Ascanio.

For several reasons, I have long wanted to go to Cuba, not only because of its history and proximity to the U.S., but because Cuba is also the only large island in the Caribbean I have not birded. I am very much looking forward to this adventure and sharing it with our tour participants. I am also thrilled to work with my colleague and friend David Ascanio, who has led most of VENT’s previous Cuba tours.

Cuba, January 23-February 3, 2018 with David Ascanio and Victor Emanuel; $6,717 in double occupancy from Miami.

In addition to our January tour, VENT will operate two additional departures:

Cuba, March 13-24, 2018 with David Ascanio and a local leader; $6,717 in double occupancy from Miami. 5 spaces available.

Cuba: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, April 3-13, 2018 with David Ascanio and a local leader; $6,174 in double occupancy from Miami.

Since VENT began operating tours to Cuba over four years ago, we have enjoyed wonderful success in sharing the historical, cultural, and natural wonders of the island with many dozens of people. I hope you will decide to join one of these outstanding departures.

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Early in September, I received the sad news of the passing of my old friend Harry Gerhart. Harry and his wife, Creta, who preceded him in death, were two of my closest friends. I have known Harry and his family for over 40 years. Professionally, Harry was a great asset to my company as he served on VENT’s board of directors for over 15 years. He was especially supportive of our summertime youth camp program. In fact, his son Andy attended two of those camps. Harry and Creta supported VENT in other ways as well, having participated on our tours to the Galapagos Islands and Greece.
A graduate of the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Harry was a highly intelligent man with a sharp business acumen. Among his achievements, Harry became CFO and General Manager of Texas Monthly magazine in 1973, a key role in turning that publication into one of the most successful magazines in the country.
Harry loved nothing more than his family, friends, and a tall tale. He had a wonderful sense of humor. He epitomized encouragement and wise counsel in a time of need. VENT was fortunate to have his support and advice for many years. We will miss him greatly.

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There was a time in the not-so-distant past when VENT did not offer tours to Colombia because of political problems and security issues. All of that changed about a decade ago when the country settled down and became much more stable. At that time, veteran tour leader Steve Hilty led VENT’s return to that country after a 23-year absence. In the ensuing years, our program has grown to include almost half-a-dozen trips a year to a diversity of destinations within the country. This year VENT operated four Colombia tours, and five are scheduled for 2018. Most of these tours will be led by Steve Hilty.

Steve Hilty

Steve Hilty

Steve Hilty is one of VENT’s longest-serving guides, and his experiences with Colombia’s incredible biodiversity date to the early 1970s when he conducted graduate research in ornithology there. His study of flowering and fruiting plants and foraging strategies of fruit-eating birds culminated in his PhD dissertation. Later, he wrote the monumentally important, A Guide to the Birds of Colombia. The publication of this field guide in 1986 was a major event in world birding. Prior to its release, there were no first-class books on the birds of any South American country, a continent where over one-third of the world’s birds occur. A Guide to the Birds of Colombia changed all that. It is a superb book, in fact, one of the finest field guides ever published for any region of the world. The excellent plates were painted by Guy Tudor, one of the finest illustrators of South American birds. The text is also excellent, containing a wealth of information in a concise form. What is most remarkable is that Steve was able to write so succinctly that he described all the species of Colombia in one volume. This is all the more impressive given that Colombia’s bird list is the largest of any country in the world.

Traveling with Steve is an unforgettable experience. To demonstrate, I offer this quote from a participant on our 2017 Caribbean Colombia tour: “Steve is the best!; like traveling with an encyclopedia.”

Anchicayá Valley, a top Colombian birding site.

Anchicayá Valley: A Top Birding Site in the Colombian Andes — Photo: Steve Hilty

In 2018, in addition to leading established tours to the Andes and the Caribbean slope, Steve will introduce a brand new tour to the Choco-Pacific Lowlands that focuses on range-restricted specialty birds of Colombia’s west coast.

I know that you would enjoy any of these fine tours:

Colombia: Bogota, Eastern Andes & the Magdalena Valley, February 1-6, 2018 with Steve Hilty and a local leader; $6,595 in double occupancy from Bogotá. Limit 8.

Caribbean Colombia: Rio Magdalena Wetlands, Santa Marta Mountains & the Guajira Desert, February 16-24, 2018 with Steve Hilty and a local leader; $4,095 in double occupancy from Barranquilla. Limit 8.

Colombia: The Central & Western Andes: Hummingbirds, Antpittas, Tanagers, & Andean Endemics, March 13-28, 2018 with Steve Hilty and a local leader; $6,595 in double occupancy from Calí (ends in Bogotá). Limit 8. 4 spaces available.

Colombia: Endemics of the Choco-Pacific Lowlands, October 5-14, 2018 with Steve Hilty and a local leader; fee to be announced in double occupancy from Medellín. Limit 8.

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Since the publication this May of Victor Emanuel’s memoir, One More Warbler: A Life With Birds, Victor, outside of his duties as president and CEO of VENT, has maintained a series of speaking engagements and book signings in different parts of the country. In the last five months, Victor has spoken in Austin, Texas; Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts; Sedona, Arizona; and Highland Park, Illinois. He also has made guest appearances on two radio shows including BirdCallsRadio, hosted by Mardi Dickinson, and more recently, Inquiry, with Mark Lynch of WICN, Worcester, Massachusetts.

One More Warbler

One More Warbler

One More Warbler has been well-received, with over 2,000 copies sold to date. Recently, the book received favorable reviews by critic Bill Marvel in the Dallas Morning News, and by Pete Dunne, past executive director of the Cape May Bird Observatory. He was very flattered to receive the following email message from Pete:

“Victor, I am totally charmed by your book.  It’s fun seeing how all the pieces of your life fit together. More than this, every reader can find much to relate to. In many ways it is the story of us all.

Thank you and congratulations. Splendid book. I recommend it to everyone."

Again we wish to congratulate Victor on his meaningful achievement.

The year-end holidays are still two months away, but if you are already thinking ahead to the gift-giving season, we think that One More Warbler is a perfect gift for the birder or nature enthusiast in your life. A limited number of books remain 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 Patrick Swaggerty or Connie Buck at the VENT office by phone (800-328-8368/512-328-5221) or email ( or

One More Warbler can also be purchased through online booksellers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Victor’s upcoming speaking engagements include:

October 21: Fort Worth Audubon Society, Fort Worth, Texas

December 7: The Corner Bookstore, New York, New York (time to be announced)

January 11, 2018: United Way of Greater Houston, presented by Houston Audubon Society, (50 Waugh Drive; Houston, Texas 77007—more details to be announced)

April 20, 2018: FeatherFest, Galveston, Texas (time and location to be announced)

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During the next three months, VENT will operate close to 15 tours on which a few spaces are still available. Four of these trips will depart before the end of the year while the others will operate in January. On the domestic front, I like to highlight our wintertime tours to the Southwest, all of which run in January and promise excellent birding and generally good weather. Meanwhile, the fall and winter period is also a wonderful time to experience the American Tropics, especially in Panama and Ecuador. Both destinations offer a respite from the dreariness of winter at home; our tours to these countries operate either in the dry season or at the very end of the rainy season; and the quality of birding in both places is hard to beat.

Black Rosy-Finch, Sandia Crest, New Mexico

Black Rosy-Finch, Sandia Crest, New Mexico — Photo: Barry Zimmer

If you have not yet made your fall or winter travel plans, perhaps one of these fine trips will satisfy your birding desire!

U.S. Tours – The start of our Rockport, Texas tour is only a few weeks away, yet it is not too late to make last minute travel plans. Whooping Cranes, resident landbirds, and wintering shorebirds make this trip a rich experience. Meanwhile, there is no better way to ring in the new year than a winter trip to New Mexico, Arizona, or southern California, each location offering superb southwestern birding.

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. 3 spaces available.

Winter New Mexico, January 3-9, 2018 with Barry Zimmer and Erik Bruhnke; $1,995 in double occupancy from El Paso (ends in Albuquerque). 6 spaces available.

Winter Southern Arizona, January 15-21, 2018 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $2,145 in double occupancy from Tucson. 5 spaces available.

Winter Southern California, January 21-27, 2018 with Brennan Mulrooney and Erik Bruhnke; $2,095 in double occupancy from San Diego. 6 spaces available.

Panama & Ecuador – Panama and Ecuador are among the best-known and most frequently visited birding areas in the American Tropics. Excellent facilities and world-class birding make each of these countries “must-see” destinations. Our Panama tours visit three distinct regions of the country, all based out of the Canopy amily of lodges, while our trips to Ecuador also offer Fthree unique areas: Amazonia, eastern slope of the Andes, and, of course, the amazing western slope of the Andes.

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. 2 spaces available. 

Perhaps the most common hummingbird of the day was the Crowned Woodnymph. We saw more than a hundred of these gems.

Violet-crowned Woodnymph, Panama — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Panama: Christmas at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge Pre-trip, December 22-27, 2017 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $2,095 in double occupancy from Panama City. 2 spaces available.

New Year at Panama’s Canopy Tower, December 27, 2017-January 3, 2018 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $3,095 in double occupancy from Panama City. 2 spaces available.

Panama’s Canopy Tower & El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, January 4-16, 2018 with Jeri Langham and a local leader; $5,395 in double occupancy from Panama City. 3 spaces available.

Panama’s Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp, January 13-21, 2018 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $3,695 in double occupancy from Panama City. 6 spaces available.

Panama’s Canopy Tower, January 20-27, 2018 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $3,145 in double occupancy from Panama City. 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. 2 spaces available.

Ecuador: The Best of Amazonia, January 22-31, 2018 with Paul Greenfield; $4,195 in double occupancy from Quito. 2 spaces available. 

The Bird Watcher's Anthology

The Bird Watcher’s Anthology

Ecuador: Eastern Slope of the Andes, January 29-February 8, 2018 with Paul Greenfield; $2,995 in double occupancy from Quito. 4 spaces available.

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For me, the next best thing to being out in nature is to read a classic book about nature, such as A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold, Spring in Washington by Louis Halle, or The Outermost House by Henry Beston. I recently came across a copy of The Bird Watcher’s Anthology by Roger Tory Peterson. Published in 1957, the book contains eighty-five of Roger’s favorite excerpts from books about birds. This anthology is a gold mine of outstanding nature writing. In “The Aura,” Sir Peter Scott describes watching a flock of Pink-footed Geese. In the introduction to that excerpt, Roger quotes from Robert Falcon Scott’s (Peter’s father) last letter to his wife, “Make the boy interested in natural history if you can; it is better than games.” Shortly after writing that letter, Scott died on his way back from the South Pole. Peter subsequently became one of the greatest naturalists and conservationists that ever lived.

I hope that you are enjoying lots of time outdoors and also getting to read some good books about nature.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel