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June 11, 2019

VENTFLASH #256: Guyana Opportunity with David Ascanio; Early 2020 Charter Cruises

Dear friends:

I'm  writing to inform you of a newly available opportunity to travel to Guyana this fall with VENT tour leader David Ascanio. I also want to bring to your attention two charter cruises for birders and naturalists that VENT will operate in February and March 2020 to the Amazon River and the Lesser Antilles.

In this issue:


Red Siskin © Jhonathan Miranda

Last fall I was approached by my old friend Mike Braun and VENT tour leader David Ascanio about the possibility of VENT arranging a private trip to Guyana in October 2019. As they explained, the goal of the trip would be to see two very rare and beautiful birds: Sun Parakeet and Red Siskin. In the process, participants would see a great many other species of birds and mammals and receive exposure to what are some of the grandest stretches of savannas and rainforests remaining in northern South America. I have known Mike for a long time. We go way back, to a time when we both lived in the Houston area in the 1970s. Mike ultimately moved to Washington D.C., where he’s spent his career as a biochemist at the Smithsonian Museum, and where for years he has been involved in a Red Siskin conservation project. I was sold on the idea and we agreed to operate the trip.

If you are not familiar with these birds, the Sun Parakeet is a spectacular member of the parrot family, while the Red Siskin is an equally attractive member of the finch family. Both birds have suffered greatly from illegal capture for the pet trade. In Guyana the birds still survive in healthy numbers in the Rupununi Savannas in the south of the country, the area which serves as the epicenter of the Smithsonian’s effort to study and conserve the Red Siskin.

We limited this private trip to 14 participants, but at this time, space is still available. As we are now a little more than four months from departure, I’ve decided to make these remaining spaces available to all of our travelers

Sun Parakeets © Jhonathan Miranda

The trip is split into two parts, a main tour and a pre-tripThe main tourGuyana: A Tropical Catharsis, October 19–27, visits the Rupununi Savannas of southern Guyana, where the focus will be on finding the Sun Parakeet and Red Siskin in addition to a range of other marvelous birds, such as Brazilian Teal, Crestless Curassow, Sharp-tailed Ibis, Azure Gallinule, Guianan Cock-of-the-rock, and many others. On the mammal front, one highlight is the chance to see Giant Anteater.

For a more complete Guyana experience, the main trip can be paired with an optional pre-trip to the famous Iwokrama Rainforest, October 14–21, 2019. Normally, I avoid using the word pristine, because few places in the world, if any, are truly pristine, yet the Iwokrama Reserve in central Guyana is about as close to pristine as still exists. Here, giant lowland rainforest supports an incredible collection of birds, mammals, reptiles, botany, and more. It is a place with all of the megafauna still intact, home to Harpy Eagle, Jaguar, and Anaconda. Spending time between two lodges, we’ll likely observe a huge diversity of birds, many of which are not found widely elsewhere or whose numbers are reduced due to the pressures of habitat loss and hunting. Among the many enticing possibilities of a visit are Maguari Stork, the remarkable Capuchinbird, Gray-winged Trumpeter, Black Curassow, Red-fan Parrot, Ferruginous-backed Antbird, and many others. A standout experience is a two-night stay at the Atta Rainforest Lodge, featuring a canopy walkway with three platforms and four bridges.

Whether joining the main trip only or both sections, all participants will be treated to the glorious sight of Kaieteur Falls, a towering waterfall with a 740-foot plunge. 

Sun Parakeets © Jhonathan Miranda
By all accounts, Guyana is still a wonderfully wild and sparsely populated place. The opportunity to spend time there, in the company of expert birders, naturalists, and scientists. David Ascanio and Mike Braun, is nothing short of remarkable. David Ascanio is an authority on the birds of South America and an outstanding tour leader with a great following, while Mike too possesses encyclopedic knowledge of South American avifauna. Combined, they own many decades of experience studying birds and leading groups in the American Tropics.

Supporting this trip is superb guide Ron Allicock, a Guyana native who will oversee our itinerary and logistics.

Please visit our website and download the itinerary to learn more about this unique opportunity to experience Guyana. I am confident that you will enjoy this trip.

Guyana: A Tropical Catharsis, October 19–27, 2019, and Iwokrama Rainforest Pre-trip, October 14–21, 2019 with Mike Braun, David Ascanio, and Ron Allicock; fee for main tour: $6,795 in double occupancy from Georgetown, Guyana; fee for main tour and pre-trip: $7,995 in double occupancy from Georgetown, Guyana.

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VENT has operated cruises for birders and nature enthusiasts for more than 20 years. Among the advantages of ship-based travel: we visit places that are accessible only by ship; this style of trip is typically a good option for those who travel with a non-birding spouse or companion, due to the multithemed nature of the programs; and once aboard, you are not faced with continual accommodation changes. Most of our departures are ideal for those whose interest is primarily in birding and nature, while others embrace general natural history and elements of history and culture. In particular, I am most proud of our charter cruises, in which we reserve an entire vessel exclusively for VENT travelers. On our charters, we are able to set the program and itinerary to our liking.

Our next two charter cruises will depart in February and March 2020. In February, we will again operate our Amazon River Cruise in Peru—one of our favorite trips—while in March we will return to the eastern Caribbean for a voyage to the Lesser Antilles aboard the Sea Cloud. Each of these departures promises wonderful experiences in nature. I hope you will consider joining us on one of these fine trips.

Amazon River Cruise, February 6–16, 2020

Cruising the Amazon River aboard Zafiro © International Expeditions

Early next year, VENT will return to the Peruvian Amazon with our annual Amazon River Cruise, February 6-16, 2020. For this departure we’ll again use the beautiful Zafiro, featuring elegant design, superior stability and viewing conditions, spacious rooms with private viewing decks, and good cuisine. It is one of the most comfortable river boats available.

For many years, our Amazon River Cruise has been among our most popular trips. Unlike many companies that operate on the Amazon, we visit one of the wildest stretches of the river, upstream from the Peruvian city of Iquitos. Our itinerary includes plenty of time on the main channel of the Amazon in addition to exploration of the Ucayali and Marañon rivers, the two principal tributaries of the Amazon River. Our trips are scheduled for the high water season, when we can explore smaller tributaries and back channels in comfortable and stable flat-bottom skiffs. Every outing away from the ship offers unique and delightful experiences with Amazonian wildlife, from parrots perched in riverside trees to massive Horned Screamers standing watch over flooded lagoons and huge macaws winging across a brilliant Amazonian sunset, as well as a pageant of hawks, herons, kingfishers, trogons, monkeys, river dolphins, caiman, and more.

Visiting remote and unspoiled regions, this trip will be an unforgettable excursion—a full Amazonian rainforest and river experience. While birding is an important element of this program, we will be immersed in the full suite of Amazonian wildlife. Our trip also includes presentations from the cruise staff and VENT leaders on an array of topics that underscore the trip’s broader natural history theme. We’ll learn about the complex ecology of the Amazonian ecosystem and its wildlife and gain insight into the local indigenous culture through a visit to a riverside village.

If you haven’t yet made your winter travel plans, we strongly encourage you to consider this marvelous opportunity to explore one of the great ecosystems of the world.

Hoatzins, Hacienda Amazonia Lodge, Peru © Robert (Spike) Baker

Amazon River Cruise: Birding and Natural History Odyssey aboard Zafiro, February 6–16, 2020 with David Ascanio, Andrew Whittaker, and another tour leader to be announced; cabins start at $9,795 per person in double occupancy from Lima. Limit 31.

Those interested in maximizing their time in Peru are encouraged to join our optional pre- and post-cruise extensions. Our Machu Picchu Pre-trip visits the incomparable ancient capital of the Inca in addition to seeking many of the special birds of the Peruvian Andes in the regions of Cuzco and the Urubamba River Valley. Our Cloud Forests of Northern Peru Extension offers a rare opportunity to explore a cloud forest preserve in the northern Andes, seeking a range of rarely seen birds, especially the near-mythical Long-whiskered Owlet and Marvelous Spatuletail hummingbird. 

Machu Picchu Pre-trip, January 31–February 7, 2020 with Doris Valencia and a local leader; $4,895 in double occupancy from Lima. Limit 14.

Cloud Forests of Northern Peru Extension, February 15–23, 2020 with Andrew Whittaker and a local leader; $3,995 in double occupancy from Lima. Limit 8.

Lesser Antilles Aboard the Sea Cloud, March 5–13, 2020.

For this departure, we have chartered the beautiful Sea Cloud for a trip that explores the special birdlife, scenic wonders, and historical highlights of the Lesser Antilles—one of the world’s most beautiful regions. Our cruise route begins and ends in Barbados. In between we will explore the five islands that form the Caribbean’s eastern boundary: Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent.

Sea Cloud © Courtesy Sea Cloud Cruises

March is an excellent time of the year to travel in the Caribbean. Nearly all of the birds we’ll seek are either locally or regionally endemic. Of these, the parrots and hummingbirds are supreme, and we’ll focus our efforts on finding Red-necked, Imperial, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent parrots; Blue-headed and Antillean-crested hummingbirds; and Green-throated and Purple-throated caribs, in addition to a range of doves, pigeons, thrashers, tremblers, thrushes, warblers, and tanagers. This trip is also a good option for those with non-birding spouses or companions, as our program includes an array of sightseeing and historical tours. Enhancing this trip’s appeal is the opportunity to travel aboard Sea Cloud, a ship that many consider the world’s most beautiful sailing vessel.

I will co-lead this trip with VENT colleagues Barry Lyon and David Ascanio, along with botanist, Peter Zika, and historian, John Harrison.

Off the coast of Martinique © David Ascanio

The Caribbean is a marvelous destination, and this program’s multifaceted approach, combining birding, botany, and history, makes it an ideal choice both for serious birders who seek as many specialty birds as possible, as well as broader-focused travelers whose interests are more varied.

The Lesser Antilles aboard the Sea Cloud, March 5-13, 2020; cabins start at $9,795 in double occupancy from Barbados. Limit 54. Note: Only 10 cabins remain available.

For more information, or to reserve space on either cruise, please contact Operations Manager Greg Lopez or his assistant Patrick Swaggerty. Both can be reached by phone (512-328-5221/800-328-8368) or email (;

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel

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