VENTFLASH #235 April 05, 2018

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:

Spring in Washington

Spring in Washington

My window to the world is the view I have of Stacy Park from the picture window on the second floor of my house in Austin, Texas. In early February, all the trees I could see, except the live oaks and junipers, were leafless. By mid-March, all except the pecans and sycamore had leaves. In thinking about this transformation, I was reminded of the description of a similar change Louis Halle observed in Washington, D.C. which he described in his superb book, Spring in Washington (1947): “Are these the woods in which, only a few days ago, every tree and shrub, standing naked could be counted? It is as if magic had come back to a world that no longer believed in it.”

With decent winter rains, wildflowers were prevalent in some areas, such as these Bluebonnets at the Goose Island entrance.

Texas Bluebonnets — Photo: Barry Zimmer

All the seasons have their wonderful aspects, but spring is especially marvelous. Every morning brings more changes. These events start in early March when the first Purple Martins return from Amazonia and continue through late May when the last migrant birds pass through. The first flowers are the Redbuds, followed by the Plums and Mountain Laurel. Birds such as Lesser Scaup, Bufflehead, and Cedar Waxwing that spent the winter in Austin will start to depart for their northern breeding grounds. Birds that wintered in the Tropics return, including Common Nighthawks, Chimney Swifts, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Free-tailed bats that spent the winter in Mexico will return to the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge downtown. By late March, many other flowers are blooming including Spiderworts, Wild Onion, Anemones, Baby Blue-Eyes, and Bluebonnets. In April other flowers appear including Blue-curl, Wood-sorrel, and Pink Evening Primrose. The number of species of butterflies also increase as Pipevine and Giant swallowtails, Red Admirals, Gulf Fritillaries, and various sulphurs are seen.

Another of my favorite passages from Spring in Washington: “The daily renewal of creation…is not appreciated among us…Every dawn gives us a new chance, restores our innocence…However jaded the earth may become in the course of each day it begins the next day with a fresh start and so might all mankind. This renewal is an utterly wonderful thing. It is salvation itself.”

I hope the renewal of spring has touched you wherever you live.

In this issue:



Flightless Cormorant, Galapagos Islands

Flightless Cormorant, Galapagos Islands — Photo: Michael O’Brien

VENT will operate only one Galapagos Islands Cruise this year, a summer departure, July 6-15, 2018. For this trip we have chartered the freshly renovated 32-passenger M/V Evolution, one of the best ships that cruise these waters. With three months until departure, I thought you should know that we are down to our last two cabins available.

If you have ever wanted to go to the Galapagos Islands, now is the time. Following this trip, our next departure will not operate until summer 2019, which means waiting an additional year for the next opportunity to visit this famed destination with VENT.

The summer is a peak time to visit the Galapagos. The Waved Albatrosses are on their breeding grounds, and all of the other birds and wildlife for which the Galapagos are so famous are also present including Galapagos Sea Lions, Giant Tortoises, Marine Iguanas, Sally Lightfoot Crabs, Flightless Cormorants, Galapagos Penguins, and Galapagos finches.

Galapagos Islands Cruise aboard the M/V Evolution, July 6-15, 2018 with Paul Greenfield and a second leader to be announced; cabins start at $8,695 per person in double occupancy from Quito. 2 cabins availalble.

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Magellanic Penguins, Falkland Islands

Magellanic Penguins, Falkland Islands — Photo: Werner Thiele/Oceanwide Expeditions

This fall, we will operate our first-ever Circumnavigation of the Falkland Islands cruise, October 27-November 8, 2018. For this trip we’re teaming with Oceanwide Expeditions for a voyage unlike any we’ve previously offered to this amazing destination. While the response to this offer has been strong, I want you to know that cabins are still available. Recently, Oceanwide announced a discount opportunity available only for new registrations: Reserve a cabin in the Twin Porthole category before August 1 and receive a $950 discount per person in double occupancy. Twin Porthole cabins are priced at $7,995 per person in double occupancy. Register now and pay $7,045!

On this cruise we will spend five full days in the Falklands, performing a full circumnavigation of the archipelago from west to east and back again. We’ll visit seven islands, see colonies of four species of penguins including Magellanic, Gentoo, Southern Rockhopper, and King penguins, and colonies of Black-browed Albatross and Imperial Cormorant, as well as South American Sea Lion and Southern Elephant Seal, and so much more.

Leading this trip is an all-star cast of VENT leaders including Michael O’Brien, Louise Zemaitis, and Barry Zimmer. Joining the Oceanwide staff as presenters are seabird expert Brian Patteson and geologist and naturalist extraordinaire, Kitty Coley. I cannot think of a stronger or more charismatic team of tour leaders with whom to travel.

Circumnavigation of the Falkland Islands Aboard M/V Ortelius, October 27-November 8, 2018 with Michael O’Brien, Louise Zemaitis, and Barry Zimmer; cabin prices start at $7,995 per person in double occupancy from Puerto Madryn (ends in Ushuaia).

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African Elephants, Kruger, South Africa

African Elephants, Kruger, South Africa — Photo: Avian Leisure

I have long felt that Southern Africa, along with East Africa, offers some of the greatest combined birding and mammal viewing experiences available anywhere. In South Africa, our tour itinerary is built around exploration of the Southwestern Cape and Kruger regions, areas rich in birds, wildlife, and marvelous scenic highlights. Additionally, an optional extension to the highlands of Wakkerstroom provides an opportunity to see a range of other birds, including the majestic Blue Crane.

I believe our South Africa tour to be superior to that of programs offered by other companies. Not only do we enjoy superb birding and wildlife viewing, but we stay in several wonderful hotels and lodges, particularly Notten’s Bush Camp in the Kruger area. Additionally, our tour is timed for the peak of the spring wildflower bloom on the west coast, which will be of appeal to many. In 2017 our tour recorded the “Big Five” mammal experience in Kruger among an overall mammal list of close to 40 species, and over 300 species of birds. Add to this a number of cultural highlights that include winery stops, a bush Bar-b-que, and more, and it is easy to understand why I cannot recommend our South Africa tour highly enough.

Our next departure will operate this year toward the end of summer and will be led by Patrick Cardwell and Brian Gibbons. Only 3 spaces are available.

South Africa: The Southwestern Cape & Kruger, August 17-September 1, 2018 with Patrick Cardwell and Brian Gibbons; $10,195 in double occupancy from Cape Town (ends in Johannesburg). Limit 12. 3 spaces available.

South Africa: Wakkerstroom Extension, August 31-September 4, 2018 with Patrick Cardwell and Brian Gibbons; $2,095 in double occupancy from Johannesburg.

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Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, Montana

Lake McDonald, Glacier National Park, Montana — Photo: Alexey Kamenskiy/shutterstock

Looking ahead to the next couple of months, May and early June will see the continuation of our spring travel season. A fine suite of domestic departures, peppered with a couple of tours to the U.K., makes for a robust and alluring schedule of offerings. A few spaces remain available on VENT tours to California, England, New Jersey, Montana, and Washington State. June is also a special time for us as the month marks the start of our annual program of tours to Alaska, a destination to which VENT has traveled for over 35 years.

If you have still not made your spring travel plans, I encourage you to consider any of these outstanding trips:

California Specialties, April 27-May 6, 2018 with Jeri Langham; $3,595 in double occupancy from San Diego (ends in Santa Barbara). 4 spaces available.

Southern England: Birds & History, May 8-19, 2018 with Phil Jones and Rafael Galvez; $3,695 in double occupancy from London. 3 spaces available.
Spring in Cape May: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, May 13-19, 2018 with Louise Zemaitis and Michael O’Brien; $2,095 in double occupancy from Philadelphia. 5 spaces available.

Montana June, June 1-10, 2018 with Denver Holt; $3,495 in double occupancy from Missoula. 3 spaces available.
Spring in the Washington Cascades: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, June 3-9, 2018 with Rafael Galvez and James Purcell; $2,395 in double occupancy from Seattle. 1 space available. 

The next morning, we ventured once again out the Teller Road. A pair of Willow Ptarmigan in the road brought us quickly to a halt.

Willow Ptarmigan, Alaska — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Grand Alaska Part I: Nome & Barrow, June 7-16, 2018 with Kevin Zimmer and Brian Gibbons; $5,895 in double occupancy from Anchorage. 4 spaces available.

Grand Alaska Part II: Anchorage, Denali Highway & Kenai Peninsula, June 16-25, 2018 with Brian Gibbons and Erik Bruhnke. $4,195 in double occupancy from Anchorage. 2 spaces available.

Alaska Highlights, June 13-25, 2018 with Barry Zimmer; $7,395 in double occupancy from Anchorage. 2 spaces available.

Alaska: Barrow Extension, June 25-27, 2018 with Brian Gibbons and Erik Bruhnke; $2,495 in double occupancy from Anchorage. 6 spaces available.

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Lion, Ngorongoro Crater

Lion, Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania — Photo: David Wolf

This year is already shaping up to be one of the best years in VENT’s long history. In the first three months of the year we’ve operated over 40 tours including several that were new tours or tours that had not been offered in many years. We have received wonderful reports from many of these trips:

* Our Uganda Highlights tour recorded 460 species of birds including the amazing Shoebill. Participants on that tour also had a marvelous Gorilla experience as they spent an hour watching a group of eleven animals at close range.

* Our Northern Tanzania tour saw more Lions than on any previous tour here, as well as a superb assortment of other mammals and birds.

* Our Sri Lanka tour, a trip we had not offered in many years, as well as our first-ever Morocco tour and our inaugural Belize’s Hidden Treasures tour were also very successful.

* Both our Southern India and India: Tigers, Taj and Birds Galore! tours enjoyed sightings of Tigers in addition to a plethora of birds.

* 2018 marked our thirty-fifth year of operating tours to the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve in southern Mexico. Our group enjoyed sightings of the spectacular Horned Guan, as well as Highland Guans, Resplendent Quetzals, and many other wonderful cloud forest birds.

Our spring tour season has begun, and we are looking forward to a full line-up of departures to a diversity of domestic and international destinations including Cuba, Texas, Bhutan, Colorado, Spain, Florida, Scotland, Southern England, California, Missouri and Arkansas, Japan, Greece, New Jersey, Arizona, Alaska, and Washington State.

I hope you will join us on one or more of these outstanding spring tours!

Finally, I was interviewed recently by Alcalde, the alumni magazine of the University of Texas, for my thoughts on the Peregrine Falcons nesting atop the Main Building (“The Tower”) on the UT campus. The piece, entitled “Tower Girl,” features Austin’s only known year-round Peregrine Falcons, and how, after eight years of residence, the female bird finally found a mate in 2018. Check out “Tower Girl” on YouTube or through the website of Alcalde.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel