Read the VENTFLASH and catch up on the latest news from VENT!

March 7, 2019

VENTFLASH #250

Dear friends:

Mayur Mahal Restaurant Car, Maharajas’ Express
Photo: Maharajas’ Express

I recently returned from India where I co-led our tour, India: Birds & Culture on the Maharajas' Express. I can say unequivocally that this trip was one of the best of my life. I love birds, wildlife, history, and trains, and this trip had it all.

The Maharajas' Express, one of the most elegant trains in the world, served as the centerpiece of our tour. On board for six nights, we traveled a swath of western and northern India from Mumbai to Delhi, experiencing national parks, architectural marvels, and cultural pageants.

The parks and reserves of India are home to a wonderful array of birds and mammals. Including our optional pre- and post-tour extensions to Kanha and Kaziranga national parks, respectively, over 300 species of birds were seen. Wildlife sightings on the main tour included a Bengal Tiger, a beautiful female seen by the entire group in Ranthambore National Park; a Leopard; Langur and Macaque monkeys; Sambar; Spotted Deer (Chital); Nilgai; and Blackbuck. Our Kanha Pre-trip enjoyed Tigers and a wealth of birds while our Kaziranga Extension logged Asian Elephants, Indian Rhinoceros, and many other birds new for the trip.

Other highlights of the main tour included:
*    Several thousand Greater and Lesser flamingos at Thane Creek in Mumbai. As we were watching the flamingos, a hundred Pied Avocets flew between us and the flamingos.
 
*    A flock of two hundred gorgeous Demoiselle Cranes near the city of Bikaner. The cranes were roosting on a dry pan before launching into flight and passing overhead.

*    Watching Painted Spurfowl, Rufous Treepies, and Indian Peafowl feeding together at Ranthambore National Park.
 
*    Herds of lovely Spotted Deer with Langur monkeys nearby. These species are adept at sensing the presence of a Tiger or Leopard and giving warning calls.

*    A ride on bicycle-powered rickshaws through the refuge at Bharatpur Keoladeo National Park), where we observed incredible concentrations of waterfowl, pelicans, storks, and other waterbirds, and had superb views of Sarus Cranes and Dusky Eagle-Owls.

*    Over a hundred Steppe, Tawny, and Imperial eagles and Egyptian Vultures in the desert outside Bikaner.

Great Indian One-Horned Rhinoceros - Photo: Dion Hobcroft

On the cultural front, touring the princely cities of Rajasthan State offered a view, centuries back, into India's fascinating history. Halfway through the trip, one group member said to me, "India is a feast." Another participant told me that every day was better than the previous day. When not on the train, we stayed at some of the best hotels in India, including several in the Oberoi line, and the wonderful Bagh in the community of Bharatpur, which is only a mile or two from the best birding area in India: Keoladeo National Park.

It was a privilege to co-lead this trip with such a great team of VENT tour leaders that included Dion Hobcroft, Machiel Valkenburg, Barry Lyon, Max Breckenridge (our newest tour leader), and Ansar Khan. Making this trip extra special was the opportunity to travel with my longtime dear friend Raj Singh, who owns the company that arranged this tour for VENT. I met Raj in 1988 when I co-led my first India trip with another longtime friend, Bob Fleming. Years later, it was Raj's idea to charter the Palace on Wheels for our first-ever India train trip, a tour we operated in 2001. A few years ago, after at least two more India train tours, he suggested we reserve 25 rooms on the Maharajas' Express, the newest and most elegant train to date, for another train journey. He and his staff arranged wonderful surprises for us at several locations, many of which included music and dance performances, and even a puppet show on one occasion.
 
India is an experience that is hard to describe. The colors, music, and sights are fantastic, and the people are welcoming. Each of the three princely cities we visit (Udaipur, Jodhpur, and Jaipur) is unique and fascinating.
 
Our tour group on this great journey was terrific. Among our participants were people who had taken more than 40 VENT tours and others who had never traveled with us before. All were thrilled with their experiences.
 
Throughout the trip, a quote from Emily Dickinson ran through my mind: "Seek ecstasy in life, the mere sense of living is joy enough." In my opinion, India is ecstasy.

Based on the marvelous success of this trip, we have decided to offer it again in two years, January 27-February 12, 2021. The itinerary for this next departure will be the same as for this year's program, with a couple of modifications, and the trip will be led by the same group of VENT tour leaders as this year.

Information about our 2021 departure will appear soon on our website. In the meantime, to reserve space or request more information, please contact Greg Lopez via email 
(greg@ventbird.com) or phone (800-328-8368/512-328-5221).

India: Birds & Culture on the Maharajas' Express, January 27-February 12, 2021 with Victor Emanuel, Barry Lyon, Dion Hobcroft, Machiel Valkenburg, Max Breckenridge, and Raj Singhprice to be announced in double occupancy from Mumbai (ends in New Delhi) ($14,995 in 2019). Limit: 40.

Kanha National Park Pre-trip, January 22-28, 2021 with a tour leader to be announced; price to be announced in double occupancy from New Delhi (ends in Mumbai) ($2,995 in 2019). Limit: 15.

Kaziranga National Park Extension, February 12-17, 2021 with a tour leader to be announced; price to be announced in double occupancy from New Delhi ($3,395 in 2019). Limit 15.

In this issue:

ALASKA TOURS 2019 - LAST CALL
ONE OF MY BEST IDEAS: BIRDING ACROSS AMERICA BY TRAIN
SPRING BIRDING IN SPAIN WITH BRIAN GIBBONS AND SANTIAGO VILLA
SPRING TOURS WITH SPACES STILL AVAILABLE
SUMMER TRAVEL OPPORTUNITIES
CLOSING THOUGHTS

ALASKA TOURS 2019 - LAST CALL

 Late-night shot of the Denali Highway float plane lake - Photo: Barry Zimmer

While March heralds the onset of our spring tour season, many people are already thinking ahead to the summer. If you have not already settled on your summer plans, I urge you to consider a VENT tour to Alaska. For the birder and naturalist, Alaska provides a boundless opportunity for discovery and adventure. Alaska holds some of the finest visual scenery in the world, a mammal spectacle that ranks among the finest anywhere, and, of course, superb birding.

Alaska is home to birds and mammals that either do not occur in the Lower 48 or are very difficult to find here, and that serve as prime attractions of our tours. Highly-sought species such as Spectacled Eider, Bristle-thighed Curlew, Northern Hawk Owl, Snowy Owl, Bluethroat, Northern Wheatear, Arctic Warbler, and many other great birds are complemented by the presence of Moose, Dall Sheep, Caribou, Musk Ox, Grizzly Bear, Orca, and Humpback Whale. As a backdrop to this pageant of wildlife is some of the grandest scenery on the planet, with places like Kenai Fjords National Park and Denali (Mt. McKinley) taking center stage.

Steller's Eider, Barrow, Alaska - Photo: Kevin Zimmer

VENT has been operating tours to Alaska for more than three decades, a point of which I am extremely proud. Our Alaska tour leaders-Kevin Zimmer, Barry Zimmer, Brian Gibbons, and Erik Bruhnke-are an exceptionally talented group. Together they possess decades of experience in Alaska, and they are all adept at finding the special birds and mammals that people want to see and sharing their knowledge with others.

This June, VENT will again offer an array of Alaska tours. These trips cover the full spectrum of Alaska's best birding and wildlife areas. If you have ever wanted to visit Alaska, this summer presents an excellent opportunity. Each of the following trips still has spaces available; however, we will soon be releasing all unsold space. I hope you will consider joining one or more of these fine tours.

Grand Alaska: Nome & Gambell

Any trip to the Nome/Gambell area is exciting. Late May and early June, however, are the best times to visit these remote northern outposts. Highlights include cliffs stacked with nesting seabirds, and lakes, ponds, and Arctic tundra hosting breeding loons, raptors, shorebirds, jaegers, buntings, and longspurs. The spectacle of thousands of breeding and migrating birds makes for one of North America's most sensational birding experiences. And there is always the possibility that rare vagrant birds from Asia will be seen on this trip. Examples from recent tours include Emperor Goose, Common Greenshank, Red-necked Stint, and Eyebrowed Thrush. An optional pre-trip to the Pribilof Islands and Anchorage area focuses on the amazing seabird spectacle of St. Paul Island, where participants will be treated to thousands of nesting seabirds and will search for rare vagrant Asiatic shorebirds and landbirds.

Grand Alaska: Nome & Gambell, May 29-June 8, 2019 with Kevin Zimmer and Brian Gibbons; $6,695 in double occupancy from Anchorage. 4 spaces available. Combine this tour with Grand Alaska Part I for a discount of $500 in double occupancy or $750 in single occupancy.

Grand Alaska: Pribilofs & Anchorage Pre-trip, May 23-29, 2019 with Kevin Zimmer and a second leader to be announced; $4,795 in double occupancy from Anchorage.

Grand Alaska Part I: Nome & Barrow

Bluethroat - Photo: Kevin Zimmer

This tour focuses on two of the most exciting birding areas in Alaska: Nome and Barrow. We will emphasize finding Alaskan specialty birds and mammals in Nome, such as Bluethroat, Bristle-thighed Curlew, and Musk Ox, while Barrow, on the shores of the Beaufort Sea, offers a taste of the true High Arctic. Traveling beyond the ranges of any of our other Alaskan tours, we'll experience the thrill of seeing four species of eiders on their breeding grounds-including the rare Steller's and Spectacled eiders, Red Phalarope, and Snowy Owl. Polar Bears are seen on some trips.

Grand Alaska Part I: Nome & Barrow, June 7-16, 2019 with Kevin Zimmer and Brian Gibbons; $6,195 in double occupancy from Anchorage. 5 spaces available. Combine this tour with Grand Alaska: Nome & Gambell for a discount of $500 in double occupancy or $750 in single occupancy.

Grand Alaska Part II: Anchorage, Denali Highway & Kenai Peninsula

The Alaska Range, as viewed from the Denali Highway - Photo: Kevin Zimmer

We will seek the many special breeding birds of south coastal and interior Alaska, with excellent opportunities for seeing many of Alaska's iconic mammals, as well as some of the most spectacular scenery in North America.

Grand Alaska Part II: Anchorage, Denali Highway & Kenai Peninsula, June 16-24, 2019 with Barry Zimmer and Erik Bruhnke; $4,795 in double occupancy from Anchorage. 2 spaces available.

Please visit our website and view the descriptions and itineraries for our 2019 tours, and the field 
reports from last year's tours.

ONE OF MY BEST IDEAS: BIRDING ACROSS AMERICA BY TRAIN

Years ago, following the development of our India train tours, I had the notion of a birding tour by train right here in the United States. That idea would come to fruition as Birding Across America by Train, a grand cross-country adventure that visits three distinct parts of the country, all linked by travel aboard Amtrak trains.

Starting in Albany, New York, this tour spends more than three days amid the forests and lakes of the Adirondack Mountains before boarding the Lakeshore Limited bound for Chicago. After picking up the Empire Builder in Chicago, the train continues west to Minot, North Dakota, where we deboard for three days of birding amid the prairies and wetlands of the High Plains. From Minot, we ride the train across the northern tier of the country through western North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Washington before deboarding at Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast, in advance of three days of birding on Washington's majestic Olympic Peninsula.

Birding Across America by Train Main Tour Route Map 

The birding on this trip is tremendous, with over 230 species of birds expected, but the tour is about far more than good birding. It is a trip about our country-its landscapes, its wildlife, its cities, and its people. It is also a throwback experience, to a time when travel by train was the preferred means of transportation.

I consider Birding Across America by Train one of my best ideas. Only two spaces remain available on this year's tour. I hope you will consider joining us. This tour is led by popular husband and wife duo, Michael O'Brien and Louise Zemaitis.

Birding Across America by Train, May 27-June 9, 2019 with Michael O'Brien and Louise Zemaitis; $7,695 in double occupancy from Albany (ends in Seattle). 3 spaces available.

SPRING BIRDING IN SPAIN WITH BRIAN GIBBONS AND SANTIAGO VILLA

Gabardito refuge in the Pyrenees - Photo: Brian Gibbons

I am currently in southern Mexico co-leading our El Triunfo tour with Brian Gibbons. In working with Brian again, I am reminded of what a fine tour leader he is. Well organized, a highly skilled birder and naturalist, and an excellent "people person," Brian possesses all of the qualities of a first-rate tour leader.

I am also reminded that Brian will be off to Spain at the end of April to co-lead our annual Spring Birding in Spain tour, a tour that has consistently been one of our most popular European departures. Although the trip is coming up in only a month and a half, I thought you might like to know a bit more about this special tour.

Spain possesses one of the largest bird diversities in Europe, and this comprehensive tour explores the best birding areas on the Iberian Peninsula, from the wetlands on the Atlantic Coast to the savanna-like habitats of Extremadura, to the high mountains and foothills of the Picos de Europa and Pyrenees. Representative of the many specialty birds we'll seek are Black Stork, Eurasian Spoonbill, Lammergeier, Spanish Eagle, Montagu's Harrier, Azure-winged Magpie, European Bee-eater, Rufous-tailed Scrub-Robin, Wallcreeper, White-winged Snowfinch, and many others. Hallmarks of this trip are great accommodations including picturesque guesthouses, 
good food and wine, and easy birding on moderately-paced days.

Brian will co-lead this trip with native Spaniard Santiago Villa, who, beyond being an expert birder, brings a wealth of knowledge of Spanish history and culture. With Brian and Santiago at the helm, I can't recommend this trip highly enough. Four spaces are still available.

Spring Birding in Spain, April 28-May 15, 2019 with Santiago Villa and Brian Gibbons; $6,395 from Sevilla (ends in Madrid). 4 spaces available.

SPRING TOURS WITH SPACES STILL AVAILABLE

Our spring tour season will be a busy one as many of our tours are either sold out or almost sold out. If you are considering a spring getaway but have not yet made plans, I thought I might entice you to join a VENT tour this spring. Here, I present ten tour opportunities-to domestic and international destinations alike-on which spaces are still available. Whether you can travel at the last minute or need more time to plan, or whether you desire to stay closer to home or to 
travel abroad, I think you will be pleased with the available options:

Yellow-throated Warbler - Photo: Kevin Zimmer

Spring in South Texas, March 31-April 9, 2019 with Barry Zimmer and Jacob Drucker; $3,495 in double occupancy from Corpus Christi (ends in Laredo). 2 spaces available.

Colorado Grouse, April 5-15, 2019 with Brian Gibbons and Michael O'Brien; $3,545 in double occupancy from Denver. 1 space available.

High Island Migration, April 18-24, 2019 with Erik Bruhnke and Jacob Drucker; $2,245 in double occupancy from Houston. 2 spaces available.

Montana Owl Workshop, April 19-24, 2019 with Denver Holt and Matt Larson; $2,045 in double occupancy from Missoula. 2 spaces available.

Bolivar Beach House: Migration on the Upper Texas Coast, April 23-30, 2019 with Michael O'Brien and Louise Zemaitis; $2,695 in double occupancy from Houston. 6 spaces available.

Kazakhstan & Uzbekistan: Birding the Silk Road of Central Asia, April 24-May 16, 2019 with Machiel Valkenburg; $7,995 in double occupancy from Tashkent (ends in Astana). 1 space available.

 

Charles Darwin House
Photo: Andrew Whittaker

Southern England: Birds & History, May 2-12, 2019 with Phil Jones; $3,595 in double occupancy from London. 3 spaces available.

Spring Grand Arizona, May 10-20, 2019 with Barry Zimmer and Jacob Drucker; $3,295 in double occupancy from Tucson. 2 spaces available.

France: Birds & Art in Provence, May 20-28, 2019 with Rick Wright and Alison Beringer; $3,695 in double occupancy from Arles. 1 space available.

Spring in the Washington Cascades: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, June 2-8, 2019 with Bob Sundstrom and Jacob Drucker; $2,595 in double occupancy from Seattle. 2 spaces available

SUMMER TRAVEL OPPORTUNITIES

On the other hand, if you've already made your spring travel plans, or simply prefer not to travel at this time of the year, I thought you should know that VENT will operate many fine summer tours as well, some of which still have spaces available. Our tours to Brazil's Rio Roosevelt region and Northern Peru's cloud forests will produce many range-restricted specialty species, while tours to Uganda and Borneo are as enticing for their mammal life as much as for the birds. Finally, our Birds & Music tour to Slovenia and Austria blends high-quality birding and culture in two of Europe's most beautiful countries.

Relaxed boating excursion on the Rio Roosevelt
Photo: Andrew Whittaker

Brazil: Amazonia on the Rio Roosevelt, June 14-24, 2019 with Andrew Whittaker; $9,095 in double occupancy from Porto Velho.

Slovenia & Austria: Birds & Music from Ljubljana to Vienna, June 16-July 1, 2019 with a local leader and Rafael Galvez; $7,995 in double occupancy from Ljubljana (ends in Vienna).

Uganda Highlights: Gorillas, Chimpanzees, and Shoebills, July 2-21, 2019 with Dion Hobcroft and a local leader; $11,495 in double occupancy from Entebbe. 4 spaces available.

Rufous-crested Coquette - Photo: Andrew Whittaker

Borneo, July 11-29, 2019 with Machiel Valkenburg and a local leader; $8,995 in double occupancy from Kota Kinabalu. 4 spaces available.

Northern Peru's Cloud Forest Endemics: Mythical Owlet & Stupendous Spatuletail, August 12-23, 2019 with Andrew Whittaker; $5,145 in double occupancy from Lima. 4 spaces available.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

I was not home from India for long before it was time to leave on another tour to the El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve in Mexico. I have been going to El Triunfo for more than 40 years. Everyone who knows me knows that this destination is my favorite place in the world. I talk about it and write about it as often as I can.

The essence of this tour is a walking and camping trip in the heart of the Sierra Madre de Chiapas. From the Atlantic side of the range, our group spends most of a day walking up to a forest-ringed valley at 6,500 feet. This is the valley of El Triunfo, or "The Triumph," as it translates in English. For four days, we'll explore the valley and trails that lead into the surrounding cloud forest, a realm inhabited by Resplendent Quetzals, jewel-like hummingbirds, and the near-mythical Horned Guan. The last part of the trip is a three-day hike from the valley down to the Pacific lowlands, an experience that is nothing less than epic.

I've been to El Triunfo many times, yet I never tire of coming back. For me, it is sacred ground.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel

victor@ventbird.com
https://ventbird.com

Copyright © 2018, Victor Emanuel Nature Tours, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
Victor Emanuel Nature Tours
2525 Wallingwood Drive, Suite 1003
Austin, TX 78746
800-328-8368 / 512-328-5221
info@ventbird.com