May 11, 2021
For months we had hoped to resume operating tours by this spring. In mid-March we felt that the strong pace of vaccinations and positive health trends would allow for safe operation of our April tour to Big Bend National Park and the Texas Hill Country. All looked good for the tour regarding final preparations, until a couple of weeks before the departure date, when a forest fire developed in the Chisos Mountains in the core of Big Bend, causing the park service to close access to the center of the park and the higher elevations beyond. It appeared that to operate the tour, our group might have to stay outside the park and forgo the chance to see a Colima Warbler, a bird that in the United States breeds only in the Chisos Mountains. Nevertheless, we decided to proceed with the tour. Fortunately, shortly before the tour commenced, the fire was contained, and the closed areas of the park began to reopen. The Chisos Mountains Lodge reopened only two days before our scheduled arrival!
The time that our tour group spent in the Hill Country was a great success, with superb looks at Golden-cheeked Warblers and Black-capped Vireos, plus Painted Buntings and many other species. The bat flight at the Frio bat cave—always a trip highlight—featuring the emergence at dusk of millions of Brazilian Free-tailed Bats, was incredible. By the time the group left the Hill Country and entered the Trans-Pecos region to the west, 144 species of birds had already been seen, including Ringed and Green kingfishers and 126 Scissor-tailed Flycatchers.
The best area in Big Bend to see Colima Warblers was still not open to visitation when our tour group arrived, but my friend Joe Keenan, who lives in the area, performed some advance scouting in an effort to help us, and located a singing male on the Lost Mine Trail above the park’s Basin complex. All but three participants made the five-mile round-trip hike to the top of the trail and enjoyed superb views of the rarest (lowest in number) breeding warbler in the United States.
The remainder of the tour was equally successful. A total of 219 species were seen including virtually all the birds we traditionally hope to see. The tour group was thrilled simply to be back out birding again. As you would expect, VENT tour leaders Barry Zimmer and Louise Zemaitis did a fantastic job. Their knowledge of the birds, butterflies, flowers, and mammals is tremendous and their enthusiasm contagious. They loved sharing birds and all aspects of nature with the participants.
We couldn't have asked for a better tour to resume tour operations. Barry Zimmer told me that all the participants were talking about other VENT tours that they want to take this year!
Looking ahead, we will operate all of our scheduled 2021 and 2022 domestic tours and select international tours. A number of upcoming tours are sold out.
The past 13 months have been immensely challenging, but the future is looking much brighter.
We greatly appreciate your support.
IN THIS ISSUE:
The latter part of April saw VENT’s return to tour operations with departures to Texas, Montana, and California. We have worked hard to get to this point in our gradual recovery from the effects of the pandemic, and with vaccination rates and public health trends generally moving in the right direction, we’re increasingly optimistic about the prospects of many of our upcoming departures.
As I announced in March, central to our return to tour operations, VENT has instituted a Covid-19 vaccination requirement: All customers and tour leaders must be fully vaccinated in order to participate in a VENT tour.
The bottom line is that VENT will make its reasonable, best effort to keep its tour leaders and tour participants safe and healthy on its tours. We feel that the best chance for success in achieving this goal is through a vaccination requirement. A requirement is the surest way to provide our travelers with peace of mind about their fellow travelers and tour conditions in terms of health and safety. When someone joins a VENT tour and is in the company of fellow participants, they will have the assurance of knowing those people are there because they’ve been vaccinated.
Underscoring our commitment to safe operation of our tours, we have developed a COVID-19 health and safety protocols document that provides guidance for the operation of our tours. This guidance is firmly rooted in information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Our goal is to operate all of our domestic tours from this time on, while our ability to operate international departures will be determined on a case-by-case basis. For any tour whose future is in question, we will continue our policy of deciding no less than six weeks prior to a tour’s start date whether it will operate.
Please refer to the Coronavirus Travel Update page of our website to view our most recent update in full, including more detail about our vaccination requirement policy, as well as our COVID-19 Protocols document.
I am increasingly optimistic about the year ahead. With vaccination of Americans proceeding and public health trends pointing in the right direction, I am confident that VENT’s return to tour operations will be sustained. I am especially confident about the prospects of our domestic tours. In fact, from this time on, we are moving forward with the expectation that all of our scheduled domestic tours will operate.
For many travelers, domestic travel will, for the foreseeable future, be more feasible than international travel. Whether one’s concern is about illness, traveling long distances from home, or negotiating country entry and exit requirements, a variety of factors will lead some people to favor domestic travel in the near and middle-terms.
As expected, we are seeing a surge of interest in our domestic trips. Many of our upcoming United States departures are either sold out or almost sold out. In response, we have been adding second departures when necessary, in order to accommodate the increased demand. For instance, we will operate two Fall Hawaii tours in 2021 and two High Island Migration tours in 2022. We will continue to add second departures to specific destinations as needed. Furthermore, some of our tour leaders are designing new departures for later this year and next year that will appear on our website in the coming weeks and months.
I hope that you are starting to feel comfortable about traveling again in the near future. If so, I thought you might want to know about VENT’s domestic tour offerings through April 2022. If you are considering traveling here in the USA in the year ahead, I recommend you make your travel plans soon, as I expect most, if not all, of our tours to sell out.
Spring in the Washington Cascades: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, June 8–14, 2021 with Willy Hutcheson and a second leader to be announced; $2,995 in double occupancy from Seattle. Limit: 14. 6 spaces available.
This splendid springtime tour visits the beautiful Cascade Mountains during the loveliest time of the year.
Southeast Arizona: The Chiricahua Mountains, July 19–25, 2021 with Brian Gibbons and a second leader to be announced; $3,350 in double occupancy from Tucson. Limit: 12. 2 spaces available.
This short tour focuses exclusively on the famed Chiricahua Mountains, one of North America’s premier birding locations.
Washington: September Migration in the Pacific Northwest, September 5–13, 2021 with Willy Hutcheson and a second leader to be announced; $3,645 in double occupancy from Seattle. Limit: 12. 9 spaces available.
Superb autumn birding, Pacific-coast style, featuring a pelagic trip, migrant shorebirds and landbirds, and pleasing scenery.
Cape May: The Magic of Fall Migration, September 19–25, 2021 with Louise Zemaitis and Michael O’Brien; $2,445 in double occupancy from Philadelphia. Limit: 14. 1 space available.
Is there any place better for birding in the autumn than Cape May, New Jersey?
Fall Hawaii, October 21–30, 2021 with Brian Gibbons and a second leader to be announced; $6,195 in double occupancy from Honolulu (ends in Hilo). Limit: 12. 3 spaces available.
This tour was added as a second departure due to the fact that the first scheduled departure, October 10–19, has been sold out for months.
Winter New Mexico, January 4–10, 2022 with Barry Zimmer and Willy Hutcheson; $2,695 in double occupancy from El Paso (ends in Albuquerque). Limit: 14. 9 spaces available.
A classic wintertime southwestern getaway promises an abundance of waterfowl, raptors, songbirds, and more.
Winter Southern Arizona, January 17–23, 2022 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $2,995 in double occupancy from Tucson. Limit: 12.
Many are not aware that Southeast Arizona is as productive in the winter as in the venerable months of summer. This ever-popular tour is a wintertime favorite.
Winter Southern California, January 23–29, 2022 with Brennan Mulrooney and a second leader to be announced; $2,895 in double occupancy from San Diego. Limit: 12. 8 spaces available.
Based in San Diego, this tour offers a blend of habitats, wintering waterbirds and songbirds, and resident specialty species.
Northern Minnesota Winter Weekend, February 3–7, 2022 with Erik Bruhnke and a second leader to be announced; $2,195 in double occupancy from Duluth. Limit: 14.
A long weekend tour in the north country focusing on specialty birds seldom found farther south, such as Great Gray Owl and Northern Hawk Owl.
Yellowstone in Early Spring: Wolves, Bison, Elk & Birds, March 23–29, 2022 with Denver Holt and a second leader to be announced; price to be announced in double occupancy from Bozeman ($2,595 in 2021). Limit: 14.
An early spring visit to our most revered national park is much more than a birding tour; it is a complete natural history experience offering what is perhaps the greatest mammal viewing extravaganza in North America.
Spring in South Texas, April 3–12, 2022 with Barry Zimmer and Willy Hutcheson; price to be announced in double occupancy from Corpus Christi (ends in Laredo); ($3,795 in 2021). Limit: 14. 7 spaces available.
From Whooping Cranes to Rio Grande Valley specialty birds and more, this trip captures the spirit of our “birdiest” state at its most beautiful time of the year.
Spring in South Texas: Hill Country Extension, April 12–16, 2022 with Barry Zimmer and Willy Hutcheson; price to be announced in double occupancy from Laredo (ends in San Antonio); ($2,095 in 2021). Limit: 14. 5 spaces available.
The famed Texas Hill Country is a region unique unto itself. Golden-cheeked Warblers, Black-capped Vireos, and millions of Brazilian Free-tailed Bats are highlights of this magical trip.
High Island Migration, April 17–23, 2022 with tour leaders to be announced; price to be announced from Houston ($2,495 in 2021). Limit: 14. Please contact Tour Operations Manager Patrick Swaggerty for more information about this tour. Patrick can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This BRAND-NEW departure was added this week due to the fact that the first scheduled departure, April 14–20, has been sold out for months. Simply put, there may be no greater place to be for birding in the spring than the Upper Texas Coast.
South Florida & the Keys, April 23–29, 2022 with Rafael Galvez and Willy Hutcheson; price to be announced in double occupancy from Key West ($2,995 in 2021). Limit: 14. 5 spaces available.
Regional specialty birds and tropical habitats are themes of this popular tour.
Dry Tortugas, May 2–5, 2022 with Rafael Galvez; price to be announced in double occupancy from Key West ($2,195 in 2021). Limit: 11.
This tour was added as a second departure due to the fact that the first scheduled departure, April 29–May 2, has been sold out for months.
Montana Owl Workshop, April 24–29, 2022 with Denver Holt and a second leader to be announced; price to be announced in double occupancy from Missoula ($2,245 in 2021). Limit: 14. 5 spaces available.
Perhaps our most unique domestic tour, we focus on the life histories of some of America’s most mysterious birds.
While the prospects for domestic travel are strong for the rest of this year and next, the near- and mid-term outlook for international travel is less clear. Conditions surrounding the pandemic are stable and improving in some parts of the world, while remaining undeniably bad in other areas. Our feeling is that some of our remaining international tours in 2021 will operate and some will not. Throughout the pandemic, we have relied on a policy of waiting no later than six weeks prior to a tour’s departure date to determine if it will operate. Given the speed with which things change, our approach has been that we will only cancel a scheduled departure once we know with certainty that it cannot operate. So, if an international tour still appears on our 2021 schedule, it is because we think we may be able to operate that tour.
Looking ahead to the last four months of the year, VENT will operate a number of international departures. The following 2021 tours are by no means a comprehensive listing of our total international offerings, but rather represent tours that we feel have a higher probability of operating and that still have spaces available. Those of our travelers who feel confident about international travel and who are prepared to accommodate minor to moderate inconveniences related to coronavirus avoidance may be interested in joining one of these departures.
NOTE: VENT will operate tours only to destinations where we feel it is safe to do so, meaning that relative to other international destinations, VENT can provide reasonable assurance that its tour participants will enjoy a safe and healthy travel experience.
Malawi: Miombo Magic, September 1–18, 2021 with Machiel Valkenburg; $8,950 in double occupancy from Lilongwe (ends in Blantyre). Limit: 8. 3 spaces available.
Snow Leopards of Mongolia: Birds & Rare Mammals of the Mongolian Wilderness, September 1–15, 2021 with Attila Steiner and Rafael Galvez; $9,950 in double occupancy from Ulaanbaatar. Limit: 10. 3 spaces available.
Spain: Birds & Art in Asturias, September 8–17, 2021 with Rick Wright and Malte Beringer; $4,295 in double occupancy from Oviedo. Limit: 12. 4 spaces available.
Caucasus Georgia: Birds, Ancient Chants & Wines, September 23–October 9, 2021 with Rafael Galvez and Attila Steiner; $7,995 in double occupancy from Tbilisi. Limit: 14. 2 spaces available.
Southern Portugal in Autumn: Birds & History, September 26–October 8, 2021 with João Jara and a local leader; $6,895 in double occupancy from Lisbon. Limit: 14. 6 spaces available.
Panama’s Darien Lowlands: Canopy Camp, October 2–10, 2021 with Erik Bruhnke and a local leader; $3,995 in double occupancy from Panama City. Limit: 12. 6 spaces available.
Panama: Fall at El Valle’s Canopy Lodge, October 9–16, 2021 with Erik Bruhnke and a local leader; $2,995 in double occupancy from Panama City. Limit: 14. 8 spaces available.
Fall at Panama’s Canopy Tower, October 16 –23, 2021 with Willy Hutcheson and a local leader; $3,295 in double occupancy from Panama City. Limit: 12. 8 spaces available.
Cuba, November 1–13, 2021 with David Ascanio and a local leader; $7,995 in double occupancy from Havana. Limit: 12. 6 spaces available.
We anticipate that 2022 will see the return of cruise-based nature tourism. Between VENT’s vaccination requirement for tour leaders and participants, and strict Covid-prevention policies adopted by our cruise partners, including their own vaccine requirement policies, we feel confident resuming this style of travel.
Among our offerings are charter voyages to the Amazon River aboard Zafiro, and to Spain and Portugal aboard the Sea Cloud. Additionally, we’ve reserved allotments aboard brand-new ships in the “small adventure” category. These vessels hold approximately 150 passengers and visit areas we could not otherwise reach. Our new relationship with Australia-based Aurora Expeditions has resulted in three new North Atlantic cruises, all aboard the lovely Greg Mortimer, while our cruise to the Bering Sea and Russian Far East will see us partner for the first time with Swan Hellenic and its brand-new ship, Minerva.
Amazon River Cruise
Amazon River Cruise: Birding & Natural History Odyssey Aboard Zafiro, January 27–February 5, 2022 with David Ascanio, Andrew Whittaker & Doris Valencia; $9,655 per person in double occupancy from Lima. Limit: 31. Only 8 cabins available.
With our Amazon River Cruise next January/early February, we will again offer one of our all-time favorite departures. Featuring a beautiful river boat in Zafiro and an amazing all-around natural history experience in one of the great ecosystems of the world, this trip really does have it all. From spectacular birds to amazing plants to captivating primates, this trip is a birding trip and so much more.
Spain & Portugal Aboard the Sea Cloud
Spain & Portugal Aboard the Sea Cloud: A Birds, Nature & Culture Tour, April 19–29, 2022 with Victor Emanuel, Barry Lyon, Larry Wolff, and Peter Zika; starting price to be announced per person in double occupancy from Lisbon (ends in Valencia); ($9,995 in 2019). Limit: 54. 11 cabins available.
Debuting in 2019, our first-ever cruise to Spain and Portugal aboard the Sea Cloud was a beautiful voyage filled with birding and cultural highlights. We intended to operate this trip again in 2021, but the pandemic forced a rescheduling to 2022. Highlights include birding at famous Doñana National Park and visits to Seville and Granada, culminating with a visit to the Alhambra, which some people feel is as impressive as the Taj Mahal.
Three new North Atlantic cruises with Aurora Expeditions
The following three trips form a trio of voyages to destinations in the North Atlantic Ocean. All departures are operated by Aurora Expeditions; each is designed to explore a unique region of the Atlantic. From south to north, we’ll explore Ireland (and its less visited west coast), Scotland, and finally from the Scottish Isles all the way to Spitsbergen. These trips, all aboard the Greg Mortimer, may be taken as stand-alone voyages or connected for a grander experience.
Ireland’s West Coast, May 13–26, 2022 with David Ascanio; cabins start at $12,395 per person in double occupancy from Dublin. Limit: 15. 9 spaces available. Receive a 5% discount when reserving on one of the connecting cruises. An early booking discount of 25% off the quoted rate is available while supply lasts.
Wild Scotland, May 26–June 6, 2022 with Brian Gibbons; cabins start at $10,595 per person in double occupancy from Edinburgh (ends in Aberdeen). Limit: 15. 2 spaces available. Receive a 5% discount when reserving on one of the connecting cruises. An early booking discount up to 20% may apply.
Scotland, Faroes, Jan Mayen & Svalbard, June 5–20, 2022 with Andrew Whittaker; cabins start at $13,795 per person in double occupancy from Aberdeen (ends in Longyearbyen). Limit: 15. Receive a 5% discount when reserving on one of the connecting cruises. An early booking discount up to 20% off the quoted rate is available while supply lasts. (This departure is Sold Out. Contact Greg Lopez, email@example.com, to add your name to the waitlist.)
Aleutian Islands, Russian Far East & Bering Sea Discovery with Swan Hellenic
VENT has not offered a trip to the Bering Sea/Russian Far East region in about five years. The lack of quality cruise ships in the area and our high standards for these programs explain the paucity of offerings. We are pleased to present a return to this part of the world with a cruise that travels from Seward, Alaska up the length of the Bering Sea to the Chukchi Peninsula in northeast Russia, and finally back to Nome. Tremendous natural history spectacles of all types await!
Aleutian Islands, Russian Far East & Bering Sea Discovery aboard the Minerva, July 3–19, 2022 with Rafael Galvez and Brent Stephenson; cabins start at $18,153 per person in double occupancy from Seward (ends in Nome). Limit: 30. Early booking discounts of approximately 19% apply for registrations prior to December 31, 2021.
I spent most of April at my beach house on the Upper Texas Coast near Galveston. Unlike last spring, the Houston Audubon sanctuaries at High Island were open to birders. By all accounts, the bird migration this spring was the best in years. One of the top highlights for me was seeing 15 species of warblers at eye level from my porch in one hour. The birds, recently arrived after a trans-Gulf crossing, were feeding hungrily in the trees next to my house. Thanks to the important conservation work of Houston Audubon over many years, more than 2,000 acres of woodland, mudflats, and coastal grassland have been protected from development.
Complementing the amazing sanctuaries at High Island is the complex of open beach, mudflats, and marshland that collectively form the Bolivar Flats. Another highlight of my time on the coast was encountering Stennie Meadours, who over 20 years ago led the effort to persuade Galveston County to allow a barrier to be built at the south end of Bolivar Beach to prevent vehicles from driving to the end of the beach and onto the Bolivar Flats area. Until the barrier was built, motor vehicles and a parade of people would disturb the shorebirds and other waterbirds. I was thrilled to see Stennie and have an opportunity to thank her again for the crucial role she played in getting that barrier built. Stennie is an example of the good that one individual can do to benefit birds and nature. I had just seen a Swainson's Warbler before running into Stennie, a secretive species she had not seen in several years. I was thrilled to be able to show her that special bird.
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