VENTFLASH #237 June 13, 2018

Posted by Victor Emanuel

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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,

Ever since I was a teenager, I have been interested in the history and culture of ancient Greece. Fifteen years ago, I met Dr. Paul Woodruff, who teaches philosophy and classics at the University of Texas, Austin. We became fast friends and discussed the possibility of putting together a tour to Greece. That conversation led to VENT’s first-ever Greece tour, a Birds & History cruise from Athens to Istanbul that I led in 2005 with Paul and VENT colleague Barry Lyon. Including that inaugural trip, we have now operated five Birds & History cruises to Greece.

Black-headed Bunting near Athens, Greece

Black-headed Bunting near Athens, Greece

— Photo: David Barton, Tour Participant

Two weeks ago, I returned from our most recent trip to Greece: A Circumnavigation of the Peloponnese, a trip I again co-led with Paul and Barry. This particular program had not operated since 2010 but was a wonderful success both for its exposure to the remarkable history of ancient Greece and for the rewarding natural history that we experienced along the way.

A land-based Athens Pre-trip that explored a variety of areas in and around the Greek capital yielded some very special birds, with Ferruginous Duck, Short-toed Snake-Eagle, Tawny Owl, Rüppell’s Warbler, and Black-headed Bunting heading the list. We also visited a number of iconic historical sites including the Acropolis of Athens, the battlefield at Marathon, the Temple of Artemis at Vravrona, and the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounio. With the start of the main trip, we embarked our ship in Piraeus, crossing the serene waters of the Saronic Gulf before reaching the Peloponnese. Over the ensuing six days, we visited some of Greece’s most important historical sites dating from antiquity: Epidaurus, featuring the largest and most intact theater from the ancient world; Mycenae (of Agamemnon fame); Monemvassia (a marvelous Byzantine-era village); Pylos; Olympia; and Delphi. The archaeological museums at Olympia and Delphi contain some of the most spectacular artifacts from ancient Greece including the marble statue of Hermes and the bronze statue of a charioteer, respectively. In particular, I must mention the helmet of Miltiades among the standouts of the many treasures housed at the museum in Olympia. This helmet is the actual war helmet worn by the Greek general Miltiades at the battle of Marathon in 490 B.C. in which an outmanned Greek army defeated a Persian army bent on destroying Athens. Following the battle, Miltiades journeyed to Olympia where he deposited the helmet in tribute to Zeus. It was thrilling to see this incredible relict, worn by the man who saved western civilization.

Charioteer in Bronze, Delphi, Greece

Charioteer in Bronze, Delphi, Greece

— Photo: Victor Emanuel

Throughout the trip we saw wonderful birds like Little Owl, Alpine Swift, Eurasian Jay, Woodchat Shrike, Great Tit, Short-toed Treecreeper, Western Rock Nuthatch, and more. We spent a day on the tiny island of Kythira, off the south tip of the Peloponnese. This island is accessible only by boat. As a result, few tourists visit this back-in-time place. Our local guide was an archaeologist who had been mayor of the island for eight years. He took us to Mylopotamos, a tiny village where we enjoyed birding and nature walks and relaxing in an outdoor café whose tables were shaded by the spreading limbs of a giant Plane Tree (Sycamore). Here, we had excellent looks at Eleonora’s Falcons hunting insects over the town. This beautiful falcon breeds in colonies around the Mediterranean and winters mainly in Madagascar. The world population of this bird is estimated at about 4,000 pairs. Our cruise ended with a passage through the narrow Canal of Corinth where we saw several Lesser Kestrels.

This trip offers a superb combination of birds, wildflowers, gorgeous scenery, Greek culture, and history. We will offer it again in late May 2020.

In this issue:

FALKLAND ISLANDS CRUISE: $1,000 DISCOUNT OFFER
EXTRAORDINARY TOURS TO EXTRAORDINARY PLACES
BIRDS, NATURE & CULTURE: FALL OFFERINGS IN EUROPE
OUR 2019 CRUISES & SPECIAL DEPARTURES CATALOG
CLOSING THOUGHTS

FALKLAND ISLANDS CRUISE: $1,000 DISCOUNT OFFER

It is with considerable excitement that I look forward to our first-ever Circumnavigation of the Falkland Islands cruise, a trip that will operate this fall: October 27–November 8, 2018. In case you have not yet made your autumn travel plans, I thought you might want to know about a new discount opportunity that has just become available. We are able to offer a $1,000 discount per person for all new registrations. The starting price for twin porthole cabins is $7,995 per person in double occupancy accommodations. Register now and pay $6,995! For a couple, this opportunity represents a savings of $2,000!

Black-browed Albatross Colony, Steeple Jason Island, Falklands

Black-browed Albatross Colony, Steeple Jason Island, Falklands

— Photo: Martin van Lokven, Oceanwide Expeditions

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This voyage will be our most thorough trip ever to the wonderful Falklands, where our itinerary includes a full circuit of the archipelago, visits to eight different islands, and encounters with a marvelous variety of birdlife. Among the trip’s many anticipated highlights are huge colonies of Black-browed Albatross, Imperial Cormorants, and King, Gentoo, Magellanic, and Southern Rockhopper penguins. This trip will afford the opportunity to see many of the birds and marine mammals that are seen on our voyages to Antarctica but at a fraction of the cost. Another reason to join this trip is the opportunity to travel with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis, a popular husband and wife tour leader team, and Barry Zimmer. Optional pre- and post-trip extensions to Buenos Aires & Northern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego respectively, promise many wonderful birds and other wildlife not possible on the cruise.

I hope you will be able to take advantage of this special opportunity.

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). Register now and save $1,000 per person.

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EXTRAORDINARY TOURS TO EXTRAORDINARY PLACES

Grand California, August 11-26, 2018

White-headed Woodpecker

White-headed Woodpecker — Photo: Ginger Livingston Sanders/shutterstock

This tour is VENT’s premier California tour. Covering a wonderful cross section of the Golden State from San Francisco to Lake Tahoe, from Mono Lake back across the Sierra Nevada and down to the Pacific shore at Monterey, this tour has it all! A highlight will be four days in Yosemite National Park, certainly one of our most spectacular national parks. The supreme beauty and diversity of California will be on full display, as will the mountain wildflower show. The birding will be terrific and includes opportunities to see a mix of California specialty birds, widespread western species, and a wonderful variety of pelagic birds. Among the possibilities are Black-footed Albatross, Mountain Quail, Greater Sage-Grouse, the spectacular California Condor, White-headed and Black-backed woodpeckers, Mountain Bluebird, Hermit Warbler, Green-tailed Towhee, Lawrence’s Goldfinch, and many others. This tour is led by California resident Jeri Langham. No one knows California and its birdlife better than Jeri.

Grand California, August 11-26, 2018 with Jeri Langham; $6,195 in double occupancy from San Francisco. Limit 7. Only 2 spaces available.

Indonesia Highlights: Sulawesi, Java & Komodo, August 25-September 10, 2018

Indonesia’s large size and marvelously varied geography account for its status as one of the world’s most biologically rich countries. Despite a large human population, Indonesia harbors a fantastic wealth of birds and mammals. With tour leader Dion Hobcroft, we will explore three islands of Indonesia: Sulawesi, Java, and Komodo. Visiting well-protected forests at upper and lower elevations, we will be treated to a trove of kingfishers, hornbills, parrots, pigeons, cuckoos, and starlings. Mammal possibilities include the goggle-eyed Spectral Tarsier, the bizarre Bear Cuscus, and fabulous Black Crested Macaque. Seeing the famed Komodo Dragon is another highlight. On the cultural front, we’ll also take time to visit the remarkable Borobudur Temples, a Buddhist complex dating from the ninth century.

Indonesia Highlights: Sulawesi: Java & Komodo, August 25-September 10, 2018 with Dion Hobcroft; $9,995 in double occupancy from Manado (ends in Denpasar). Only 2 spaces available.

 

Southern Tanzania, September 18-October 6, 2018

In August l979, my dear friend the late Peter Matthiessen went to the Selous Game Reserve in southern Tanzania for the first time. He had traveled extensively in Kenya and northern Tanzania, but he wanted to see the Selous because he knew it was the largest wildlife sanctuary in Africa and one of the greatest strongholds of large wild animals in the world. Following his trip, Peter wrote what I consider one of his finest books: Sand Rivers (1981). Here is a passage that offers insight into what that land of southern Tanzania is like, as well as the quality of Peter’s writing: 

“In mid-afternoon, a female kudu steps out into the bright sunlight. She is crossing one of the black granite platforms inset like monuments in the pale grass. Then a magnificent bull kudu—all adult males of the greater kudu may be called “magnificent”—moves in the same slow dream-like step over the rock. They fade into the woodland. But where the elephant path tends uphill the bull awaits us; this time he raises his big pink ears as if to listen to the oriole in the canopy, then stops and gazes at man for the length of a held breath, displaying all the white points of his face—the white muzzle and cheek stripe, the white chevron beneath the eyes, the ivory tips of the great lyrate horns."

African Elephants on Great Ruaha River, Tanzania

African Elephants on Great Ruaha River, Tanzania

Photo: Andrew Molinaro/shutterstock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This September, VENT will offer its first-ever tour to southern Tanzania, a region rich in birds and mammals. We expect to find birds that are not seen on our Northern Tanzania tours including Yellow-collared Lovebird, Ashy Starling, Dickinson’s Kestrel, Scheffler’s Owlet, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Reichenow’s Woodpecker, White-headed Black-Chat, Miombo (Stierling’s) Wren-Warbler, Shelley’s Sunbird, and many others. Among the many species of mammals that could be seen are Lion, Leopard, Cheetah, African Wild Dog, Greater Kudu, Eland, and Sable Antelope. Many days will be spent amid some of Tanzania’s largest and finest parks including Ruaha, Mikumi, and the vast Selous. A couple of days will also be spent on lovely and exotic Pemba island.

VENT is pleased to offer this new Africa trip. Only a few spaces remain available. We hope you will decide to reserve your space now, especially because this trip may not be offered again for several years.

Southern Tanzania: Endemic Birds & Spectacular Mammals, September 18-October 6, 2018 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $11,895 in double occupancy from Dar es Salaam.

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BIRDS, NATURE & CULTURE: FALL OFFERINGS IN EUROPE

In recent years, VENT has dramatically increased its offering of tours that combine birding and culture. Anyone who knows me is aware that my life has been defined by a love of birds and nature, yet not as many know that I also possess a passion for history, culture, and art. For a number of years, I dreamed of offering tours that would somehow combine these pursuits. While I knew that this type of trip would not appeal to some of our travelers, I also knew from talking to others that this kind of tour is exactly what they’ve wanted.

Prague

Prague — Photo: Ecotours Wildlife Holidays

Working with my colleagues Barry Lyon and Balázs Szigeti of Hungary, we developed our first trip in this genre, a Birds & Music tour to Hungary and the Czech Republic that operated in 2015. I felt the ingredients were in place for a successful tour, but I would never have predicted that it would turn out to be one of the greatest trips I’ve ever made. Centered around the world- class cities of Budapest and Prague, we enjoyed innumerable cultural and historical highlights, headlined by three classical music performances, as well as unforgettable birding. Around that time, Rick Wright joined our company. Rick, a familiar name in North American birding, brought to VENT his own love of birds and culture, which translated to our adding a number of Birds & Art tours to other European destinations including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Poland. With an impeccable academic background to match his native interest, Rick is well-suited to lead this type of trip.

In my opinion, Europe is perhaps the world’s most underrated birding area. While Europe does not have the amazing biodiversity of the Tropics or Southeast Asia, it is home to a surprisingly large avifauna that includes a wonderful assortment of beautiful and spectacular birds. It is true that some parts of Europe are less interesting than others from a natural history standpoint, but I emphasize that the places we visit are selected because they are so rich with birds. Finally, it goes without saying that Europe is a haven of history, culture, and art. It is for these reasons that our program of Birds, Nature & Culture tours centers on Europe, and why I am so pleased with our line-up of tours.

This fall, VENT will operate tours to Hungary and the Czech Republic, Germany, and Italy, all of which combine the pursuits of birds, nature and culture. If you have not yet made your fall travel plans, perhaps one of these fine departures will be of interest:

Hungary & the Czech Republic: Birds & Music from Budapest to Prague, September 8-23, 2018

This two-week tour to Hungary and the Czech Republic explores the heart of eastern Europe. From Budapest to Prague we’ll follow an itinerary that balances birding and natural history excursions with marvelous cultural experiences. Hungary and the Czech Republic are exceptional birding destinations. On past tours we have seen a wealth of wonderful birds that include Ferruginous Duck, Great Bustard, Imperial Eagle, Ural Owl, Black Woodpecker, Saker and Red-footed falcons, Crested Tit, Hawfinch, and Eurasian Bullfinch. Cultural highlights include live classical music performances, city tours of Budapest and Prague, viewing the Parliament building and Chain Bridge in Budapest by night; walking across the Charles Bridge in Prague; exploring the magical medieval Czech village of Cesky Krumlov, and more. Not to be overlooked, the landscapes of each of these countries present considerable scenic splendor.

Hungary & the Czech Republic: Birds & Music from Budapest to Prague, September 8-23, 2018 with Balázs Szigeti and Rafael Galvez; $6,595 in double occupancy from Budapest (ends in Prague). Limit 14.

Deutscher Dom, Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin

Deutscher Dom, Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin — Photo: mkrberlin/shutterstock

Germany: Birds & Art in Berlin & Brandenburg, September 29-October 8, 2018

This relaxed-pace tour is based in the center of Berlin and delves into the city’s natural and cultural heritage. Berlin’s many artistic and architectural treasures beg for exploration, and we’ll visit sites that represent both the bright and the dark sides of German history. Outside the city we will explore the countryside of Brandenburg, where we will look for Red Kites, wintering geese and shorebirds, and even the rare Great Bustard among many other birds.

Germany: Birds & Art in Berlin & Brandenburg, September 29-October 8, 2018 with Rick Wright; $3,795 in double occupancy from Berlin. Limit 8. 2 spaces available.

Italy: Birds & Art in Venice & the Po Delta, October 31-November 8, 2018

This is a relaxed tour, staying at two comfortable and handsome rural inns and indulging in the fine food and wine of northern Italy. Venice is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, home to the Grand Canal, centuries-old palaces and merchant houses, and the Venetian Lagoon, the largest wetland in the Mediterranean Basin and a critical wintering area for a wide range of waterbirds. Two hours south of Venice, the Po Delta is an extraordinary natural ecosystem comprising habitats from fossil dunes to sandbars and pine forests. In between birding by boat and by car, we will visit the small but magnificent abbey church of Pomposa—and the huge and even more magnificent complex of monuments at Ravenna with their dazzling mosaics.

Italy: Birds & Art in Venice & the Po Delta, October 31-November 8, 2018 with Rick Wright and Marco Valtriani; $3,195 in double occupancy from Venice (ends in Bologna). Limit 12.

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OUR 2019 CRUISES & SPECIAL DEPARTURES CATALOG

We are thrilled to announce the release of our 2019 Cruises & Special Departures catalog!

2019 Cruises & Special Departures

2019 Cruises & Special Departures

Produced annually in the late spring, our Cruises & Special Departures catalog showcases a suite of non-traditional tours such as cruises for birders and naturalists, Birds & History cruises, train trips, and more. These trips visit some of the most fascinating places on earth, places not as accessible by conventional means of travel.
 
Filled with beautiful photographic imagery, informative tour descriptions, and attractive route maps, our 2019 catalog is as beautiful as any we’ve produced. Within its twenty-four pages you’ll find information on over a dozen departures, a number of which are first-time offerings, such as our cruises to Papua New Guinea, the Baltic Sea, and the Norwegian Fjords and Svalbard, while others are traditional favorites, like our trips to Antarctica, the Amazon River, and the Galapagos Islands. Adding to the diversity are chartered voyages to the Lesser Antilles and Spain & Portugal aboard the elegant Sea Cloud. This year, we are especially proud to feature our first-ever India train trip aboard the Maharajas’ Express, one of the world’s most beautiful trains.

The catalog was mailed several weeks ago. If you have not yet received your copy, please contact our office and request yours today—free!

We hope to see you on deck or aboard in 2019!

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CLOSING THOUGHTS

I returned from Greece just in time to see the last of the migrant birds of spring. That weekend, a trip to my favorite local birding area, Hornsby Bend, produced sightings of White-rumped and Pectoral sandpipers, an Olive-sided Flycatcher, and a Wilson’s Warbler. Now, after a cooler than normal spring, temperatures in central Texas are in the nineties daily. The young of our summer resident birds have fledged. Soon the Purple Martins will be assembling by the tens of thousands in a pre-migration roost. By mid-July, some birds, like the Golden-cheeked Warbler, will already be departing for their wintering grounds, and shorebird migration will have begun.

One of the wonderful aspects of the natural world is the constant change we get to observe. Even through the long days of summer, close scrutiny of the world around us reveals changes that reflect the progress of the season.

During the summer months VENT will operate thirty-four tours to locations all over the world, as well as three youth birding camps. We are looking forward to these tours and camps and to watching the changes that every week brings.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel