VENTFLASH #240 August 23, 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:

This summer has been extra special. In between visiting close friends in Massachusetts in July and spending time at my beach house on the Texas coast last week, I traveled to Southeast Arizona to “drop-in” on Camp Chiricahua, our annual summer youth birding camp that this year celebrated its thirty-second anniversary.

Victor Emanuel with Willy Hutcheson and Brian Gibbons

Victor Emanuel with Willy Hutcheson (left) and Brian Gibbons

Over the course of a long career in birding and business, my proudest achievement remains the creation of VENT’s summertime youth birding program. It began back in 1986 when I had the idea of providing young people who possessed a passion for birds and nature the opportunity to come together with their peers for a two-week summer camp. Such a passion is especially rare in young people, and in fact, traditionally, a young birder could come of age without ever meeting another birder or naturalist in his peer group. As a young naturalist growing up in Houston in the 1940s and 50s, I had some wonderful mentors, but what I did not have was contact with others my own age who shared a similar love of nature. Through my own experiences, I was inspired to give to the birding community something that had not previously existed. Nothing like a birding camp designed exclusively for teenagers had ever been tried before and frankly, my idea was not universally supported by others in my company, but I was determined to make it happen, and the result was Camp Chiricahua.

Looking back on that first camp, when we struggled to get the word out about its existence and attracted only about ten kids, I could not have imagined how successful the camp would become. In ensuing years, “camp” became “camps” as we went on to offer other youth birding camps in Washington state, Texas, California, Mexico, and Belize. Through it all, Camp Chiricahua retains the flagship status and, according to many, is still the gold-standard of the many youth birding opportunities now available. I am proud that our youth camp program is still going strong. In 2018 we attracted so many kids that we were able to operate three camps: two sessions of Camp Chiricahua in Arizona, and Camp Cascades in Washington state.

This year, our first departure of Camp Chiricahua was led by Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis, while the second was led by Brian Gibbons, Willy Hutcheson, and my longtime friend Kathy Hornbein. It was this second camp on which I “dropped-in,” along with my friend Ben Reynolds, whose son Eliot was a camp participant. Brian and Willy met as teenagers at Camp Chiricahua in 1988, a camp that I personally supervised. It was remarkable to see these men whom I knew as teenagers, now with families of their own, continuing the tradition.

White-nosed Coati at Cave Creek Ranch

White-nosed Coati at Cave Creek Ranch — Photo: Brian Gibbons

The Chiricahua Mountains are one of my favorite places in the world and the site of so many wonderful memories. It was great to be back there again and with the opportunity to go birding with the campers. As always, we had a great group of young birders from all over the country, including a young man from Panama. Their enthusiasm was terrific, and they were interested in everything: birds, plants, insects, lizards, snakes, and mammals. Every day White-nosed Coatis came to eat peanut butter that had been smeared on the trunk of a tree around the cabins where we were staying. White-tailed Deer ambled around the lodge. Every evening Striped Skunks appeared. The feeders at the Cave Creek Ranch attracted a great variety of birds including Blue-throated Hummingbirds, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Lesser Goldfinches, and many others. On an evening owl trip, we saw a Whiskered Screech-Owl and a pair of Elf Owls.

It was very satisfying for me to visit this camp and see young birders meeting other young birders. The experiences that these young people had at Camp Chiricahua will last a lifetime.
This is exactly what I had in mind when it all began thirty-two years ago.

We will again offer three camps in 2019:

Camp Chiricahua, July 10–21, 2019 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; price to be announced ($2,095 in 2018). Limit 14. Sold out! Register for waitlist.

Camp Chiricahua, July 17–28, 2019 with Brian Gibbons and a second leader to be announced; price to be announced ($2,095 in 2018) Limit 14. 9 spaces available.

Camp Cascades, July 27–August 7, 2019 with Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis; price to be announced ($2,095 in 2018). Limit 14. 12 spaces available. 

Camp Chiricahua 2018!

Camp Chiricahua 2018!





























In this issue:



As much as I’ve enjoyed the places around the world where I’ve birded, I will always be especially drawn to the American Tropics, where I have led so many tours throughout my career. In particular, I love Panama, the country where I have led more tours than any other country in the Tropics. From my earliest tours in the late 1970s and right up to the present, few other destinations have brought me as much sheer delight in nature as Panama.

Canopy Lodge

Canopy Lodge — Photo: David Tipling/Canopy Lodge

Over the past thirty-five years, VENT has operated well over one hundred tours to Panama. For the last twenty years, our tours have been based out of the premier lodges of the Canopy Family of lodges: Canopy Tower, Canopy Lodge, and Canopy Camp. I am very proud of the fact that VENT brought the first tour groups to each of these lodges.

Among the reasons why I recommend a trip to Panama:
* The birding is sensational. Our trips regularly record around three hundred species of birds, many of which are among the most beautiful birds in the world
* Our Panama tours are co-led by experienced VENT leaders who work with top-notch local guides
* Because we operate more tours to these lodges than any other company, VENT gets the best prices. As a result, we are able to offer our tours at very competitive rates
* Panama has excellent air service from a number of U.S. cities at very reasonable prices

Between late September and January, VENT will operate seven Panama tours on which space is still available. If you’ve not yet been to Panama, or perhaps are intrigued with the idea of a return visit, I urge you to consider any of these fine tours:

Panama: Fall at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, September 29–October 6, 2018 with Barry Zimmer and Victor Emanuel; $2,795 in double occupancy from Panama City. 3 spaces available.

The rarely seen Red-billed Scythebill was a show-stopper.

The rarely seen Red-billed Scythebill, Canopy Camp — Photo: Barry Zimmer

Panama’s Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp, October 6–14, 2018 with Barry Zimmer and a local leader; $3,695 in double occupancy from Panama City. 

Panama’s Canal Zone: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, November 12–18, 2018 with David Ascanio and a local leader; $2,995 in double occupancy from Panama City. 6 spaces available.

Panama: Christmas at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge Pre-trip, December 22–27, 2018 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $2,295 in double occupancy from Panama City.

New Year at Panama’s Canopy Tower, December 27, 2018–January 3, 2019 with Tony Nunnery and a local leader; $3,295 in double occupancy from Panama City. 2 spaces available.

Panama’s Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp, January 12–20, 2019 with Erik Bruhnke and a local leader; $3,995 in double occupancy from Panama City.

Panama: El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, January 19–26, 2019 with Erik Bruhnke and a local leader; $2,995 in double occupancy from Panama City.

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I have written often of my affinity for those places where wildlife can be seen in spectacular concentrations. Antarctica, East Africa, and Brazil’s Pantanal are examples of places where the visitor may be treated to some of the world’s greatest gatherings of wildlife. To the list of these remarkable places I would include Japan in the wintertime, where large concentrations of cranes, sea-eagles, and waterfowl are nothing short of amazing. 

Steller's Sea-Eagle

Steller’s Sea-Eagle — Photo: Peter Harrison

Since its inception six years ago, our Japan in Winter tour has proven one of our most popular wintertime trips. This exciting tour visits Hokkaido as well as two other islands. Aside from the beautiful Red-crowned Crane, we’ll see the world’s largest eagle, the Steller’s Sea-Eagle, and the world’s largest owl, the Blakiston’s Fish-Owl. The tour also includes a visit to the Arasaki Crane Reserve on the island of Kyushu where over 10,000 Hooded and White-naped cranes winter. Common, Demoiselle, and Siberian cranes are also possible here. Additionally, we expect encounters with many other exciting year-round resident and winter birds including Whooper Swan, Smew, White-tailed Eagle, Azure-winged Magpie, Japanese Woodpecker, Japanese Grosbeak, and a wonderful collection of other waterbirds and woodland birds.

This trip will be led by Kaz Shinoda and Arne van Lamoen. Kaz is a native of Japan. He personally designed this program for VENT, and also that of our Japan in Spring tour. In addition to his strong birding and natural history skills, Kaz is a nationally licensed English-speaking guide and a wonderful ambassador to Japanese culture, a not-to-be-overlooked aspect of any trip to Japan. Arne is Dutch by birth but has lived a life that has taken him all over the world. He has lived in Japan for the last ten years (with his Japanese wife) and has developed an expertise on Japanese birds and culture. Arne’s multilingual abilities and knowledge of Japanese customs and etiquette render him an excellent co-leader.

VENT tour leader Steve Hilty co-led this tour with Kaz in 2018. I encourage you to read Steve’s field report from this trip.

Japan in Winter: A Crane & Sea-Eagle Spectacle!, January 19–31, 2019 with Kaz Shinoda and Arne van Lamoen; $7,295 in double occupancy from Tokyo. Limit 9.

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As I’ve written and discussed on many previous occasions, East Africa is probably 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

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:

Uganda Highlights


Shoebill, Uganda — Photo: Kevin J. Zimmer

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 Mountain 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 12–31, 2019 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $11,495 in double occupancy from Entebbe. Limit 8.

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 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 17–March 6, 2019 with Kevin Zimmer and a local leader; $11,995 in double occupancy from Arusha. 2 spaces available.

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Two weeks ago, I announced VENT’s next cruise aboard the famous sailing ship Sea Cloud: Spain and Portugal: Birds, Nature & Culture, April 14-24, 2019. The response was strong, and the trip is now approaching half-full. With more than seven months until departure, this trip will almost certainly sell out. If you have not yet been on the Sea Cloud, or not yet made your travel plans for next spring, this trip presents a wonderful travel opportunity, a chance to experience the birds and nature of two of Europe’s most alluring countries. For an added enticement, VENT will provide free roundtrip airfare in Economy class for all registrations received prior to November 1, 2018.*

An exciting itinerary begins in Lisbon, where we’ll enjoy a tour of the marvelous Portuguese capital. From Lisbon, we’ll trace a route along the south coast of the Iberian Peninsula through the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea en route to Valencia on the Spanish Riviera. We’ll call at Huelva and Motril, gateway ports to the famous cities of Seville and Granada in the heart of Andalusía, where we’ll present options for birding, sightseeing, and culture. Of the many highlights will be a visit to the monumental Alhambra and seeking a superb array of waterbirds and landbirds.

Strait of Gibraltar — Photo: Andrea Poertner/Shutterstock










For more information or to register, please contact Greg Lopez at the VENT office by email ( or phone (800-328-8368 or 512-328-5221).

Spain & Portugal Aboard the Sea Cloud: Birds, Nature & Culture, April 14–24, 2019 with Victor Emanuel, Barry Lyon, Larry Wolff, and Peter Zika; Cabins start at $9,995 in double occupancy from Lisbon (ends in Valencia). Limit 54. Register by November 1 and receive free airfare!*

*The air itinerary provided by VENT will be based on the most direct flights from your home to Lisbon, Portugal, returning from Valencia, Spain in Economy class. The cost for upgrades or additional charges due to deviations from the routing provided by VENT will be the responsibility of the passenger.

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The end of August is a marker that our autumn travel season is almost upon us. Many people prefer not to be away at this time of year, especially if they’ve already traveled during the summer; however, those who would consider an autumn vacation might be interested in knowing that a few spaces remain available on a selection of VENT tours departing in the September–December period. Our tour to Cape May, New Jersey centers on the magic of fall migration right here in the USA; tours to Bolivia and Ecuador offer exceptional birding opportunities in South America; while our fall tours to Germany, Italy, and Israel are designed for those who prefer their birding balanced with doses of history and culture. Perhaps one of these fine tours will appeal to you! 

Velvet-purple Coronet

Velvet-purple Coronet; NW Andean Slopes, Ecuador — Photo: Paul J. Greenfield

Cape May: The Magic of Fall Migration, September 16–22, 2018 with Louise Zemaitis and Michael O’Brien; $2,195 in double occupancy from Philadelphia. 1 space available.

Bolivia: Endemic Macaws & More Part I: Eastern Lowlands, Beni Grasslands & Inter-Andean Valleys, September 15–30, 2018 with Andrew Whittaker and a local leader; $6,295 in double occupancy from Santa Cruz. 2 spaces available.

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

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).

Israel: Birds, History & Culture in the Holy Land, November 4–16, 2018 with Jonathan Meyrav and Rafael Galvez; $6,595 in double occupancy from Tel Aviv. 1 space available.

Ecuador: The Northwestern Andean Slopes, November 10–18, 2018 with Paul Greenfield; $3,095 in double occupancy from Quito. 3 spaces available.

New Zealand Highlights, November 30–December 18, 2018 with Dion Hobcroft and a local leader; $7,995 in double occupancy from Auckland (ends in Dunedin). 3 spaces available.

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A number of birds that breed in central Texas, like Western Kingbird, Purple Martin, and Golden-cheeked Warbler, have already migrated to Central America. We think of these birds as “our” birds, but in actuality they spend most of their lives on their wintering grounds out of the country. Shorebird migration is now in full swing as well. It is special to look at a Baird’s Sandpiper knowing that this tiny bird bred near the Arctic Ocean two months ago and will winter in southern South America.

Unlike spring migration, fall migration is a long, drawn-out affair. The first southbound birds—always shorebirds—appear as early as late June while the last migrants—usually waterfowl and sparrows—may not show up until mid-December! It is fascinating to see the changes in species composition as the migration period progresses. I especially enjoy that part of migration that occurs in the mid-autumn when just as some of the last songbirds are passing through the region, the first winter residents begin to appear.

Observing migration is to observe an unfolding drama, and is one of the phenomena that makes birding such a joy.

I hope the migration season is productive where you live.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel