April 4, 2019
VENTFLASH #252: New Galapagos Discount and More!
|Agami Heron © Barry Zimmer
The first three months of 2019 have been among the best in VENT’s history. We operated 43 tours in this period and all were highly successful. In fact, some of these tours, to places where we’ve been operating tours for decades, were the most successful ever!
Barry Zimmer’s favorite tour is Best of Belize. This short tour combines a visit to the Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary with a stay at the incomparable Chan Chich Lodge. Barry considers the 2019 edition of this tour, which he led in early March, the best of all his Belize trips to date. The water levels at Crooked Tree were perfect. The group saw 26 Jabirus, 227 Limpkins, 300 Wood Storks, 100 Northern Jacanas, 10 Russet-naped Wood-Rails, 15 Boat-billed Herons, and an unbelievable 10 Agami Herons. The Chan Chich portion of the trip was equally amazing. The night drive was the best he’s done, with 4 Northern Potoos, 3 Mottled Owls, a Black-and-white Owl, and a Spectacled Owl. Many other great birds were seen during the tour, but the most marvelous sighting was a Jaguar in the road strolling toward the van in midday and approaching within 35 yards of the vehicle! Meanwhile, our Yellowstone in Early Spring tour began with a sighting of 11 Gray Wolves and a flock of almost 200 Bohemian Waxwings—on the first day. Back in January, an Emperor Penguin was seen on our cruise to Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falkland Islands, while Kevin Zimmer felt that the Northern Tanzania tour he led in February was one of the best tours he’s ever led to that destination. Lions, Cheetahs, two Caracals, and 500,000 Wildebeest were seen along with many other great mammals and birds. Also in February, all participants on our India: Birds & Culture on the Maharajas’ Express enjoyed excellent views of a Tiger, while some of the group also saw a Leopard.
|Victor Emanuel © Reed Bowman
I spent much of February and March leading tours. Following the India train tour, I co-led tours to El Triunfo, Mexico and to the Archbold Biological Station in Florida with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I returned from Florida on March 24, which gave me 11 days at home before flying to Portugal on April 5 in advance of our upcoming cruise to Spain & Portugal Aboard the Sea Cloud. You might think I would use the time in between the trips for rest, but I was determined to spend a couple of days at the Bolivar Peninsula on the upper Texas coast, my favorite place in the world. As it turned out, those two days were truly epic, as spring migration showed itself to be well underway. Imagine sighting your favorite bird on 60 unique occasions. That was the case for me as I was treated to that many sightings of Hooded Warbler, my favorite bird. After Hooded, the most common warbler was Prothonotary. I saw about 40 individuals of this gorgeous warbler. At one point there were seven male Prothonotaries on the ground in a circle! My warbler tally was 11 species, a low count compared to what one can see on a good day in late April, but good for this stage of migration. On the other hand, it was amazing to see so many Hooded and Prothonotary warblers, two of the most beautiful warblers, and species that both become less numerous later in the month.
Toward the end of one particular day, I watched a Yellow-throated Warbler that was feeding in an oak tree in full sun. As I watched this marvelous creature, I thought of one of my favorite passages from Spring in Washington (1947), by Louis Halle:
“Sunday, March 25, because it brought the first warbler, long before I had expected it, stands out in the list of days. In the sunrise, a milky mist was steaming up from the river. The dew was sparking on the grass. The singing of birds was everywhere continuous. I heard a song across the highway that transfixed me. I found the bird quickly enough in the bare tops of the trees. Flitting from twig to branch and from branch to trunk. The low morning sun shone full upon it, the bright yellow throat, like a piece of the sun itself, the blue-gray wings and black-and-white head of the yellow-throated warbler. Now that it was here, the warbler season had begun.”
I hope you have a wonderful spring and see many warblers where you live.
In this issue:
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS CRUISE: NEW DISCOUNT AVAILABLE!
ANTARCTICA, SOUTH GEORGIA & THE FALKLAND ISLANDS 2020
NEW TOURS IN 2019
NEW TOURS IN 2020
THE PASSING OF BILL THOMPSON III (1962-2019)
NEW BOOKS FROM RICK WRIGHT AND KENN KAUFMAN
GALAPAGOS ISLANDS CRUISE: NEW DISCOUNT AVAILABLE!
|Galapagos Land Iguana and Galapagos Mockingbird © Michael O'Brien
We’ve barely had time to enjoy the start of spring, yet it certainly is not too early to be looking ahead to the summer travel season. On that note, one of our first summer tours this year is our annual Galapagos Islands Cruise, a trip that will operate June 21–30, 2019. With the departure date less than three months away, I am letting you know that one full cabin is available and that we are able to offer it at a discount of $1,000 per person off the double occupancy rate. The cabin is a Category A accommodation and features a queen bed. The published price is $10,895
in double occupancy. Reserve this cabin now and pay $9,895 per person in double occupancy. For a couple, this discount opportunity represents a savings of $2,000! The cabin will be sold on a first-come basis.
Additionally, our single travelers may be interested to know that two request-share cabins are available as well: one female request-share cabin at $8,995 per person in double occupancy, and one male request-share cabin at $9,795 per person in double occupancy.
I have been to the Galapagos Islands many times and, like many, regard it as one of the world’s greatest natural history destinations. In my opinion, it is a “must see” place for anyone who loves birds and nature. The exquisite wildlife, unique geology, and remarkable history of the place are second to none in the lore of international nature tourism.
Time is getting short, but I hope you are able to take advantage of this special opportunity.
Please contact Greg Lopez by phone (800-328-8368 or 512-328-5221) or email (email@example.com) for more information.
Galapagos Islands Cruise Aboard the M/V Evolution, June 21–30, 2019 with Michael O’Brien, Louise Zemaitis, and Stephanie Mason; one full cabin available at $10,895 in double occupancy from Quito. Reserve now and pay $9,895 in double occupancy. Two request-share accommodations also available starting at $8,995 in double occupancy.
ANTARCTICA, SOUTH GEORGIA & THE FALKLAND ISLANDS 2020
|Busy Beach, Antarctica © Brian Gibbons
Many of our travelers require greater lead time for planning their next VENT adventure. For this reason, we have for the last couple of months seen a surge of interest in our 2020 tours. Looking ahead to next year, I’ll remind you that among VENT’s early-in-the-year offerings is our annual voyage to Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falkland Islands, January 4–25, 2020.
I am asked fairly often to name my favorite travel destinations. The Amazon River, the upper Texas coast, and East Africa are probably nearest and dearest to me, yet I don’t hesitate to also include Antarctica in the mix. I have been fortunate to have been able to visit this magical destination approximately eight times in the course of my career. While I could go on and on
about the incredible wildlife, the ice, the spellbinding scenery, and other highlights of a voyage to the Far South, I’ll simply say that there is no place on earth like Antarctica and that you must see it for yourself to believe it.
In addition to visiting the continent itself, our voyage also visits the South Atlantic outposts of South Georgia Island and the Falkland Islands, an essential part of the voyage as these locations are where most of the wildlife of the region is found, including large colonies of albatrosses, penguins, cormorants, and fur seals.
On this voyage, we will again collaborate with longtime partner Zegrahm Expeditions, a trusted name in small ship adventure travel. VENT has reserved cabins in a range of category classes. Please visit our website or contact Greg Lopez for more information.
Antarctica, South Georgia & the Falkland Islands Aboard the Island Sky, January 4–25, 2020 with Andrew Whittaker; cabins start at $23,480 in double occupancy from Ushuaia, Argentina. Limit 22.
NEW TOURS IN 2019
VENT offers more than 150 land-based tours and cruises each year. Of these, approximately 90% operate one year to the next. While this volume of departures presents limitless options for our travelers, we still work to ensure that our annual tour schedule includes an assortment of “New Tours.”
What do we mean when we refer to a tour as “new”? The term “new” is surprisingly broad in meaning. A tour can be new if it visits a destination that we’ve never before visited; it could be new if it follows an itinerary greatly modified from a previous version, or it could be considered new if it is to a destination that we’ve not visited in a number of years that offers attractions previously unavailable to us. Our lineup of “New Tours” typically encompasses 5–10% of our annual tour offerings. Our motivation is you! Some of our longtime travelers have taken dozens of VENT tours throughout the years and appreciate the opportunity to experience a “new” location or itinerary. Sometimes our tour leaders rework existing itineraries to rejuvenate long-standing programs, while in other instances we are simply excited to capitalize on new opportunities.
Between April 1 and December 31, 2019, VENT will offer 14 new tours and cruises to a variety of destinations worldwide. A complete listing of “New Tours” appears on our website, and I encourage you to check it out to learn what’s new and fresh at VENT; however, in this space I highlight a selection of new tours that will operate in the autumn this year, each of which promises superb adventures in nature:
|Snow Leopard; Altai Mountains, Mongolia © Ecotours Wildlife Holidays
Snow Leopards of Mongolia: Birds & Rare Mammals of the Mongolian Wilderness
This new tour ranks among our most exciting departures of 2019. Never before have we presented a tour that has a high probability of success in observing a Snow Leopard, one of the world’s least known and mysterious animals. Unlike most places where Snow Leopards occur, viewing the animal in Mongolia does not require ascending to uncomfortably high altitudes or subjection to extreme cold and snow. Our visit will occur in early September when the weather is still mild and the mountains and passes are snow-free. In addition to Snow Leopards, our tour should record a wealth of marvelous birds and mammals. Among other wildlife we’ll seek are
the very rare Saiga Antelope, Przewalski’s Horse, White-naped Crane, Lammergeier, Altai
Snowcock, and Mongolian Ground-Jay among many others.
Snow Leopards of Mongolia: Birds & Rare Mammals of the Mongolian Wilderness, September
1–15, 2019 with Rafael Galvez and a local leader; $8,995 in double occupancy from
Ulaanbaatar. Limit 10. 3 spaces available.
Ghana: A West Africa Bird Bonanza!
|White-necked Rockfowl (Yellow-headed Picathartes) © B. Cottele
What most of West Africa lacks in big game wildlife, it makes up for with a stellar avifauna. Within this region, Ghana stands out. Located on the Gulf of Guinea on the beautiful Gold Coast, Ghana exists within a zone of high avian endemism, home to an assemblage of rare, localized, and beautiful birds. On this new tour, we’ll travel to Ghana, one of Africa’s best birding countries, for a chance to see special birds like Shining Blue Kingfisher, Oriole Warbler, and the amazing White-necked Rockfowl. Additionally, Ghana is a safe and friendly country that offers a rich and vibrant culture.
Ghana: A West Africa Bird Bonanza!, October 23–November 11, 2019 with Machiel Valkenburg and a local leader; $6,995 in double occupancy from Accra. Limit 8. 4 spaces available.
Poland: Birds & Art in Royal Krakow: A Birds, Nature & Culture Tour
Beautiful Krakow, the capital of Poland for more than five centuries, is the venue for VENT’s first-ever tour to Poland. On this tour that combines the themes of birds and art, we’ll experience the artistic and architectural pleasures of Poland’s most diverse city while spending time outdoors in some of the country’s best areas for birding, including a mix of woodland and wetland sites. This tour will be led by Rick Wright, who oversees VENT’s varied program of Birds & Art tours in Europe.
Poland: Birds & Art in Royal Krakow: A Birds, Nature & Culture Tour, September 3–11, 2019 with Rick Wright and Gerard Gorman; $2,995 in double occupancy from Krakow. Limit 12.
Austria: Christmas in Salzburg: A Birds, Nature & Culture Tour
As with our Poland tour, this departure to Austria represents VENT’s first-ever appearance in that country. Led by husband and wife team Rick Wright and Alison Beringer, this tour spends the Christmas holiday in Salzburg, one of Europe’s most beautiful and stored cities. Our activities offer a captivating blend of high culture—dramatic medieval and Baroque architecture, a wonderful Christmas market, and musical performances—and high-quality birding amid stunning natural settings. This tour provides a relaxed experience based out of a single hotel.
Austria: Christmas in Salzburg: A Birds, Nature & Culture Tour, December 19–27, 2019 with Rick Wright and Alison Beringer; $4,595 in double occupancy from Salzburg. Limit 14.
NEW TOURS IN 2020
Looking ahead, we have additional new tours coming in 2020!
Undiscovered Eastern Colombia: Birding Secrets of the White Sands of Inirida, January 4–11, 2020 with Steve Hilty and Luis Urueña; $4,145 in double occupancy from Bogotá. Limit 8. 6 spaces available.
Mexico: Yucatán: Birding and Maya Ruins, March 7–16, 2020 with Brian Gibbons and a local leader; fee to be announced in double occupancy from Mérida. Limited information for this tour appears on our website. Please check back with us soon for a detailed itinerary.
Taiwan, April 20–May 5, 2020 with Max Breckenridge; price to be announced in double occupancy. Limit 8.
Classic China: Sichuan Province, May 17–June 1, 2020 with Max Breckenridge and a local leader; price to be announced in double occupancy from Beijing. Limit 8.
Wild Kamchatka with the Kuril Islands Aboard the Caledonian Sky, May 20–June 4, 2020 with Machiel Valkenburg; $14,980 per person in double occupancy from Sapporo, Japan (ends in Seoul, Korea). Please check back with us soon for a detailed itinerary. Limit 15.
|Mt. Fuji, Japan © Farid Ridzuan/shutterstock
Japan in Summer: Birds & Culture, May 29–June 12, 2020 with Kaz Shinoda and Bob Sundstrom; fee to be announced in double occupancy from Tokyo. Limited information for this tour appears on our website. Please check back with us soon for a detailed itinerary.
Circumnavigation of the Black Sea Aboard Le Bougainville, June 26–July 10, 2020 with Rick Wright; cabins start at $11,980 in double occupancy from Istanbul. Please check back with us soon for a detailed itinerary. Limit 15.
The Republic of Georgia, September 2020, with Rafael Galvez and Machiel Valkenburg. Information for this tour does not yet appear on our website. Please check back with us soon for specific dates and a tour description.
Peru: Tambopata Reserve, October 4–14, 2020 with David Ascanio. Information for this tour does not yet appear on our website. Please check back with us soon for specific dates and a tour description.
Ethiopia, October 30–November 17, 2020 with Machiel Valkenburg, David Wolf, and Attila Steiner; price to be announced in double occupancy from Addis Ababa. Limited information for this tour appears on our website. Please check back with us soon for a detailed itinerary. Limit 12.
Colombia: Hummingbirds & Tanagers of the Andes: A Relaxed & Easy Tour, December 6–13, 2020 with David Ascanio. Information for this tour does not yet appear on our website. Please check back with us soon for specific dates and a tour description.
THE PASSING OF BILL THOMPSON III (1962–2019)
|Bill Thompson III © Julie Zickefoose
The pleasure I’ve expressed over the positive start to the year for VENT, and the joy I’ve derived from seeing the first warblers of the spring, are tempered by the sad news of the very recent passing of Bill Thompson III, a standout individual in the North American birding community.
Depending on where you live, or whether you have participated in any number of the nation’s major birding festivals, you would instantly recognize the name Bill Thompson III. If you are a reader of Bird Watcher’s Digest, you almost certainly would have great familiarity with his name.
Bill Thompson III was for years the face, brains, and brawn of Bird Watcher’s Digest, serving for decades as its editor and publisher until his untimely death last month. Ohio was Bill’s home for most of his life, but as a prominent figure in North American birding, he often could be found at any number of birding festivals—guiding, speaking, mingling, or manning a booth. Bill is best known for his work at BWD, but his passions and talents extended to music, teaching, and the desire to fight nature deficit disorder by getting young people interested in nature.
I have not attended as many birding festivals in recent times, but in the years when I was more active in that arena, I would often run into Bill and he was always glad to see me. Confident in demeanor, direct with his words, kind, funny, and amiable. All of that was Bill.
I don’t profess to have known Bill as well as did others in the birding community, yet he was someone who I liked and admired, a person whom I respected as an ambassador for birds, birding, and the cause of outdoor education in young people.
On behalf of all of us at VENT, I convey our sympathies to the family and friends of Bill Thompson III in this time of loss.
Please click here to read a fuller account of the life of Bill Thompson III.
NEW BOOKS FROM RICK WRIGHT AND KENN KAUFMAN
|Peterson Reference Guide to Sparrows © Rick Wright
I am most pleased to inform our travelers of two new publications in the world of birds and
birding, one by VENT tour leader Rick Wright, and another by my longtime friend and VENT
associate, Kenn Kaufman.
First, we congratulate Rick Wright on the publication of his book, Sparrows of North America.
Rick’s book is the latest edition to the Peterson Reference Guide series and tackles a family of birds that elicit confusion and consternation in many a birder. Through detailed species accounts and beautiful photographic illustrations, Rick has succeeded in adding vivacity and comprehension to a group of birds often dismissed as “little brown jobs.” At first glance, sparrows are the focus of this work, yet the book also includes an array of related species in the family passerellidae.
At this point, I urge a bit of caution. Lest you fall into the trap of thinking about this work as a typical reference guide, you should know that Rick is a scholar, former academic, and an expert on medieval art and literature. Armed with a formidable knowledge base and the skills of a good writer, Rick adds to his book lucid historical accounts of scientific discovery, the appearance of sparrows in art and culture, and the challenges of survival in a rapidly changing world. It this union of science and culture within the book’s pages that yield its distinction.
|A Season on the Wind © Kenn Kaufman
In his new book, A Season on the Wind: Inside the World of Spring Migration, Kenn Kaufman captures the magic and spectacle of spring bird migration while warning of the deleterious effects of human-induced climate change. In 288 pages, Kaufman—birder, author, public speaker, and conservation advocate—sounds the alarm of an impending future in which ancient migration paths are imperiled as nature’s delicate balance—on which birds depend—is thrown off. At once beautiful and scary, this book is highly recommended for anyone who cares about birds and their continued existence, or who have experienced the joy of spring migration.
Today is my last day at home before I depart for my final tour of the year, a Birds, Nature & Culture tour to Spain and Portugal aboard the Sea Cloud. My colleague Barry Lyon and I developed this trip two years ago, and I am excited that the time has finally arrived in which we will lead the tour.
It will be interesting to experience spring migration in another part of the world. Although the birds will be different, the phenomena are the same—millions of birds surging out of the south to breeding grounds in the north at a time when the cycle of life begins anew.
Upon my return to Texas in late April, I will probably head straight back to my beach house on the coast where I hope to catch the later migrating songbirds. Late April is a time for northern breeding vireos, warblers, thrushes, flycatchers, and cuckoos.
The spring is perhaps the most fleeting time of the year. I hope you are able to enjoy its arrival
wherever you live.