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

May 15, 2019


Dear friends:

I’ve recently returned from Europe where I co-led our inaugural cruise to Spain & Portugal aboard the Sea Cloud. This cruise was among the best we’ve ever offered. The

Sea Cloud © Victor Emanuel

birds and nature were superb, the cultural sites marvelous, and, as always, being on the Sea Cloud was an amazing and unforgettable experience.

Our trip began with a city tour of Lisbon, one of the most picturesque and delightful cities in Europe. On our first day at sea, we enjoyed close views of Great Skuas, Northern Gannets, Audouin’s Gulls, Long-finned Pilot Whales, and Common Bottlenose Dolphins. Leading this trip with me were my VENT colleague Barry Lyon; Larry Wolff, professor of European history at NYU; and Peter Zika, a botanist associated with the herbarium at the University of Washington. Larry and Peter delivered terrific presentations that set the stage for an amazing overview of the human history and natural ecosystems of the Iberian Peninsula. Thereafter, we disembarked Sea Cloud in the cities of Huelva, from which Columbus departed for his voyage to the New World in 1492, and Motril, gateway to the famous city of Grenada.

We enjoyed two days in the Huelva-Seville area (Seville lies only an hour to the north) and then sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar to Motril. On all of our shore excursions we offered options for birding and for history, culture, and sightseeing. About two-thirds of the group chose the birding options while the rest chose to participate in the cultural activities. The birding was the best we have ever had on a Sea Cloud cruise in Europe. The birders were treated to Red-crested and Common pochards, Great and Little bustards, Greater Flamingo, Eurasian Spoonbill, many White Storks, two Black Storks—including one on a nest, Cinereous Vulture, a number of Booted Eagles, Calandra Lark, Black Wheatear, and several male White-headed Ducks that were displaying to females. On the cultural front, our group visited a number of the best-known sites in Spain. In Seville, the Plaza d’España, Royal Alcazar, and Cathedral of Seville were fantastic, while in Grenada everyone visited the Alhambra, which I consider the most beautiful cultural site I’ve ever seen. On top of that, the birding at the Alhambra is remarkably good. During our guided tour, part of the group observed a flock of 20 European Bee-eaters atop a bare tree.

To enhance the experience, we offered a Southern Portugal Pre-trip that combined birds and history. The trip sold out, and everyone who participated told me how much they loved it.


Because of the great success of this cruise, we’ve already decided to offer it again in two years. The likely dates will be April 19–29, 2021. Please contact Greg Lopez in our office for more information. Greg can be reached by phone (512-328-5221/800-328-8368) or email (

I am looking forward to being in Portugal and Spain once again and hope you will join us.

In this Issue:


Steve Hilty

Longtime VENT tour leader Steve Hilty is widely recognized as the foremost expert on the birds of Colombia. The publication of his monumentally important field guide, A Guide to the Birds of Colombia (1986), the first modern field guide for any South American country, established him as one of the true deans of South American ornithology.

Sadly, following the publication of the guide, Colombia became a “no-go” place as a result of political problems and security issues. All of that began to change about twenty years ago when peace and stability returned to the country. About a decade ago, Steve Hilty led VENT’s return to that country after a 23-year absence. In the ensuing years, our program has grown to include half-a-dozen trips yearly to a diversity of destinations within the country.

This week I spoke with Steve about Colombia. In light of the fact that we have two Colombia trips scheduled for this summer, Endemics of the Chocó-Pacific Lowlands and Caribbean Colombia, I wanted to hear directly from Steve why he thinks each of these departures is so special.

Following are Steve Hilty’s thoughts on Colombia and our upcoming tours to the Chocó-Pacific Lowlands and Caribbean Coast:

“My involvement with Colombia and its remarkable avian diversity began in the 1970s, and it remains my favorite Neotropical destination. Travel was suspended in the late 1980s and 1990s because of civil unrest, and I thought I might never be able to return, but everything changed twenty years ago. Today Colombia ranks as one of the safest travel destinations in Latin America, and there are new lodges and exciting birding destinations popping up almost overnight—something I could never have imagined years ago.

This, of course, is good news for birders. VENT has two short upcoming trips in July that tap into this expanding reservoir of birding sites. The first trip, in the heart of Colombia’s famed Chocó-Pacific, visits three sites, all with beautiful beaches, comfortable lodges, and rainforest just a few steps away. This region has long been known for high endemism but also has been largely inaccessible. Birders dreamed of visiting these areas. So did I. I dreamed of rainforests with Black-tipped Cotingas, Sooty-capped Puffbirds, Baudó Oropendolas, and other once unobtainable endemics. Now they can be seen in a short easy visit. We’re offering our second Chocó-Pacific trip in July, and I am as excited about this trip as any I’ve led.

VENT is also offering a short trip to Colombia’s Caribbean coast that can be linked to the Chocó trip. This trip visits dry and humid forest sites on or near the coast, continues on to the fascinating Guajira Desert, and ends with three nights in the cloud forests of the Santa Marta Mountains. This is a superb trip for endemic birds, especially in the desert and the mountains. It’s also comfortable and an easy destination to reach with short daily flights from the U.S. It is a great mid-summer getaway.”

Although July is just around the corner, and time is getting short, I thought you might be interested to know that a few spaces remain available on each of these fine trips.

Colombia: Endemics of the Choco-Pacific Lowlands, July 7–17, 2019 with Steve Hilty and a local leader; $6,195 in double occupancy from Medellin. Limit 8. 4 spaces available.

Caribbean Colombia: Rio Magdalena Wetlands, Santa Marta Mountains & the Guajira Desert, July 17–25, 2019 with Steve Hilty and a local leader; $4,195 in double occupancy from Barranquilla. Limit 8. 3 spaces available.

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Dion Hobcroft

Back in February I co-led our India train trip with several other VENT tour leaders, including Dion Hobcroft. Prior to that trip, it had been a number of years since I was last on a tour with Dion, and the experience was a bold reminder of what an outstanding tour leader he is.

Born in Tasmania and a lifelong resident of Australia, Dion has for almost 20 years led tours for VENT all over the Australasia region. His background in field research and work with an array of governmental and non-governmental agencies has equipped him with encyclopedic knowledge of birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Complementing his tremendous field skills is an easy-going, steady personality that has made him a favorite of VENT travelers. Indeed, almost any tour led by Dion is sure to sell out!

Looking ahead to the end of the year, Dion will again lead our annual New Zealand Highlights tour, a trip that still has a few spaces available. On this remarkable departure, you’ll join Dion in exploration of the best of the North and South islands with the aim of seeing all of the country’s special birds. Participants on this trip will visit island sanctuaries to see endemic birds such as Kea, Kokako, Tui, Saddleback, and Yellowhead; search for elusive kiwis at night; and experience incredible seabirding in some of the world’s most productive waters.

As for scenic highlights, nowhere else but in this one small country, near the bottom of the world, will you find such a diverse and spectacular combination of natural features—the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps, glacially carved fjords, tranquil lakes and bubbling mud pots, towering forests, dense coastal scrub, and lovely beaches. New Zealand is also an extremely pleasant, sophisticated, and immaculate country, with outstanding food, excellent accommodations, friendly people, and picturesque towns and countryside.

New Zealand is one of the truly special places of the world. What better way to experience it than in the company of a first-rate tour leader?

New Zealand Highlights, November 30–December 18, 2019 with Dion Hobcroft and a local leader; $8,495 in double occupancy from Auckland (ends in Dunedin). 3 spaces available.

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Rick Wright

Having recently spent almost three weeks in Europe, I was again reminded that 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 comparatively rich with birds. Moreover, it goes without saying that Europe is a haven of history and culture. It is for these reasons that our program of Birds & Art tours centers on Europe, and why I am so pleased with this style of tour.

Our Birds & Art tours are designed for travelers whose passion for birds is matched by a keen interest in exploring some of the world’s most historically rich places. They are ideal for people who like to blend their birding time in the field with time spent exploring museums, monuments, and an array of architectural wonders. Flexible and set to an easy-going pace, these tours are an ideal choice for the birder with a partner, spouse, or traveling companion whose interest in birds is less intense. Our Birds & Art tours are led by Rick Wright, who has been leading tours for VENT for the last four years. Rick is widely known in the American birding community as an author, speaker, editor, book reviewer, and tour leader. Possessing a love of culture, Rick brings an impeccable academic background to match his native interest. Among his outstanding credentials are a PhD in German from Princeton University, work as an associate professor of medieval studies, and author of scholarly books on literature of the Middle Ages.

Our next Birds & Art tour with Rick Wright will depart this fall: Germany: Birds & Art in Berlin & Brandenburg, September 29-October 8, 2019.

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.

I cannot imagine a better person with whom to explore the cultural and historical riches of Berlin and Brandenburg than Rick Wright. To emphasize this point, I’m sharing a quote from a couple who joined Rick on our 2018 tour:

“This trip was extremely flexible to accommodate wishes of participants. Perfect for us...

From restaurants, to birds, to art, Rick did a fantastic job. He really works with the participants to accomplish their goals.”  ---Valerie and Charles Zecca, 2018

Germany: Birds & Art in Berlin & Brandenburg, September 29–October 8, 2019 with Rick Wright; $3,895 in double occupancy from Berlin. Limit 8. 2 spaces available.

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In addition to the trips and destinations I’ve written about, VENT will offer a number of other departures in the summer and early fall that still have spaces available. If you’ve not yet made your summer travel plans, or if you are able to travel within the next two to six months, perhaps you’ll be tempted by one of these fine opportunities for travel:

Galapagos Islands Cruise aboard the M/V Evolution, June 21–30, 2019 with Michael O’Brien, Louise Zemaitis, and Stephanie Mason; cabins start at $8,995 in double occupancy from Quito. Limit 27. 2 request share spaces available: 1 request share female at $8,995; 1 request share male at $9,795.

Jaguar: Pantanal, Brazil © David Ascanio

Brazil: Pantanal Safari: Birds & Jaguars, July 10–22, 2019 with Jeri Langham and a local leader; $7,145 in double occupancy from Cuiaba. Limit 12. 1 space available.

Borneo, July 11–29, 2019 with Machiel Valkenburg and a local leader; $8,995 in double occupancy from Kota Kinabalu. Limit 8. 2 spaces available.

Avian Jewels of Arizona, July 15–23, 2019 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $2,795 in double occupancy from Tucson. Limit 14. 6 spaces available.

Marvelous Spatuletail: Northern Peru © Steve Hilty

Northern Peru’s Cloud Forest Endemics; Mythical Owlet & Stupendous Spatuletail, August 12–23, 2019 with Andrew Whittaker; $5,145 in double occupancy from Lima. Limit 8. 4 spaces available.

Snow Leopards of Mongolia, September 1–15, 2019 with Rafael Galvez and a local leader; $8,995 in double occupancy from Ulaanbaatar. Limit 10. 1 space available.

Autumn Grand Manan, September 2–8, 2019 with Barry Zimmer and Brennan Mulrooney; $3,595 in double occupancy from Bangor, Maine. Limit 12. 2 spaces available.

Brazil: Pantanal Safari; Birds & Jaguars, September 3–17, 2019 with Andrew Whittaker and a local leader; $7,695 in double occupancy from Cuiaba. Limit 12. 1 space available.

Peru: Manu Biosphere Reserve, September 3–18, 2019 with David Ascanio and a local leader; $7,295 in double occupancy from Lima. Limit 10. 6 spaces available.

Washington: September Migration in the Pacific Northwest, September 8–16, 2019 with Bob Sundstrom and a second leader to be announced; $3,495 in double occupancy from Seattle. Limit 12. 2 spaces available.

Cape May: The Magic of Fall Migration, September 15–21, 2019 with Louise Zemaitis and Michael O’Brien; $2,195 in double occupancy from Philadelphia. Limit 14. 7 spaces available.

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Victor Emanuel with Nathan Goldberg

One of the many wonderful things about being connected to nature is being attuned to the rhythms of life. This is especially true during the spring, a time when millions of birds are migrating north, and there is a succession of wildflower blooms.

After our wonderful cruise to Spain and Portugal, I spent only one day at home before heading to High Island and the Bolivar Peninsula on the upper Texas coast. Upon arrival at High Island, I ran into VENT tour leaders Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis and our Bolivar Beach House tour group. At a water drip we were delighted to watch a male Golden-winged Warbler bathing, view four Chestnut-sided Warblers (a warbler John James Audubon saw only twice) at once perched in bare branches above the drip, and savor stunning Scarlet and Summer tanagers and Baltimore Orioles. The following week, I went to Chicago to talk about my book, One More Warbler, at my friend Wendy Paulson’s conservation book club. That afternoon, at a reception at the Field Museum, I ran into Nathan Goldberg, who attended three VENT youth camps and who had recently graduated from Cornell University. The next morning we birded Montrose Beach, a park on the shore of Lake Michigan, where the commonest warbler was Palm Warbler.

Hudsonian Godwit © Greg Lasley

Back in Austin, finally, I discovered that migration has been very good here this spring. In the last two weeks I’ve seen more warblers, many of which are species that are more numerous later in the spring, including Canada, Bay-breasted, and Magnolia warblers. Remarkably, this spring has also been one of the wettest on record in Central Texas. One result of a series of torrential rains that we’ve experienced in recent weeks is the flooding of some of the agricultural lands east of the city. One flooded short grass field in particular has been a magnet for migrating shorebirds. Over a series of visits, I’ve seen eight Buff-breasted Sandpipers (my favorite shorebird), up to 25 Hudsonian Godwits including some male birds in breeding plumage, and scores of Wilson’s Phalaropes, Stilt Sandpipers, and Lesser Yellowlegs. The godwit migrates non-stop from southern Chile to Texas and then flies to the Hudson Bay area and Alaska to breed. As I savored the beauty of the rich chestnut breasts of the male godwits and watched Wilson’s Phalaropes spinning as they fed, I found it hard to pull myself away when it was time to go home. Each spring is so special and passes so quickly.

I hope you too are enjoying warblers and shorebirds wherever you live.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel

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Victor Emanuel Nature Tours
2525 Wallingwood Drive, Suite 1003
Austin, TX 78746
800-328-8368 / 512-328-5221