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

June 27, 2019

VENTFLASH #257: Grand Australia, PNG Cruise & More!

Dear friends:

Most people realize that it is better to give than to receive. This is obvious to the tour leaders of VENT, who have the pleasure of sharing nature with people who take our tours. Last week I had an experience that illustrated the rewards of giving. Along with my colleague Barry Lyon and his wife, Brooke Smith, I co-led an “owl prowl” for El Ranchito, a summer nature camp for children from the Austin area who, without support, would not otherwise have the opportunity to attend. Barry and I have led owl prowls for the camp almost every summer for the last thirteen years. It is a wonderful tradition and a meaningful way to give back to the community. 

Victor Emanuel with Brooke Smith and kids of El Ranchito © Barry Lyon

Our time with the kids began after dinner with a general discussion of owls, including varieties, where they are found, what they eat, and other fun facts. Then, Barry played the vocalizations of Eastern Screech-Owl, Barred Owl, and Great Horned Owl and asked the kids to raise their hands if they had heard any of these owls before. Over half of them raised their hands each time. This group of kids was composed of sixth and seventh graders, ages 12–13. Prior to El Ranchito, many of them had never been camping. At dusk Barry played the call of Eastern Screech-Owl. Almost immediately, two responded from the woods on the far side of an adjacent meadow. Making our way to the edge of the woods, Barry played another burst of recording. All of a sudden, an owl flew in and perched overhead on the limb of an oak. Everyone had good views of the owl in flight. In short order we had the owl trained in our spotting scopes. The kids lined up and, one by one, enjoyed superb views. Great excitement and joy was exhibited not only by the kids but also by the camp staff. Several Chuck-will’s-widows were calling nearby, but we were unsuccessful in drawing them in. Meanwhile, the wildflowers on the ranch were the best we have seen there. Most were Brown-eyed Susans and Purple Horsemint, but we also noted Basketflower and a range of yellow composites. Before long it was time to say goodbye, as the staff was eager to get the kids ready for bed.

Recalling an article that appeared in the New York Times on June 13 about the health advantages of spending two hours a week in nature, I told the kids that I hoped that they would do that for the rest of their lives. Being on this ranch and seeing the screech-owl and the wildflowers gave us a lovely evening, but the best part was seeing the smiles on the faces of the children.

Austin, Texas is known for its sophisticated “children in nature” initiatives, and none are more highly regarded than El Ranchito. Started in 2007 as a collaboration between the Shield Ranch, El Buen Samaritano, and the Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center, the camp provides urban kids the opportunity to learn about the natural world through an immersive experience in nature.

To learn more about this remarkable project, please visit the El Ranchito website.

In this issue:



Dion Hobcroft
Rose-crowned Fruit-Dove, Australia © Dion Hobcroft

For the last five years at least, our Grand Australia tours have been among our most popular, most heavily subscribed trips. Anchored by longtime VENT tour leader andAustralia resident Dion Hobcroft, this tour, offered in three parts, provides exposure to the remarkable birds, wildlife, and landscapes of one of the most biologically unique corners of the world. Because our tours typically sell out long in advance of departure, I made the decision last year to add a second series of Grand Australia tours in 2019 to accommodate the substantial waitlists that have built up for these tours in recent years. The second track will be co-led by VENT’s newest tour leader, Max Breckenridge, and veteran leaders Barry Zimmer (Part I) and Kevin Zimmer (Part II). Until about a month ago all three tracks for both sections were either sold out or almost sold out. Then things changed. Over a two-week period in late May and early June, we experienced a freakish rash of cancellations on a number of these departures. What this means is that spaces have again become available on both tracks of our 2019 Grand Australia tours.

Although the first sections of these trips depart in a little under three months, there is still time to secure space and book air travel without paying exorbitant fees for booking at the last minute.

I highly recommend VENT’s tours to Australia for a number of reasons. We have over three decades of experience operating Australia tours. Our primary tour leaders are native Aussies and know the land, its wildlife, and its people as well as anyone. Our tours are led by guides who provide an all-around natural history experience. Whereas some guides focus entirely on birds, our tour leaders are also knowledgeable about mammals, reptiles, and other forms of life. We use excellent, strategically placed hotels and lodges. And most important, Australia is a safe and worry-free destination.

Max Breckenridge

Following is a short description of each segment of our Grand Australia tours:

Grand Australia Part I: New South Wales & the Northern Territory

This, the most comprehensive of our Australia tours, promises a full travel experience with exposure to Australia’s unique natural and human heritages. From Sydney in New South Wales to Darwin in the Northern Territory, and to Alice Springs in the “Red Center,” we’ll be treated to a marvelous assortment of birds, mammals, and aboriginal art. Highlights include exploration of the rainforests, woodlands, and heathlands around Sydney, one of the world’s loveliest cities; time in famous Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, with its wonderful assortment of waterbirds that include Black-necked Stork, Brolga (crane), huge saltwater crocodiles, and a host of kangaroo species; and a grand finale visit to the region of Ayers Rock where we’ll seek the special birds and wildlife of the “Outback.”

Grand Australia Part II: Queensland, Victoria & Plains-wanderer

This trip promises a tour de force of eastern Australian wildlife, seeking many of the continent’s most iconic birds and mammals amid celebrated landscapes. A representation of what is possible includes Australian Brushturkey, Cassowary, Emu, Plains-wanderer, Australian King Parrot, Crimson Rosella, Regent Bowerbird, Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo, Rose Robin, Gray Currawong, Koala, and Platypus. Other high points include visits to the Great Barrier Reef and the Atherton Tablelands.

Flame Robin, Tasmania © Bill Clark

Grand Australia: Tasmania Extension

On this seven-day extension to Grand Australia Part II, we’ll travel from Launceston in the north to Tasmania in the south seeking the endemic birds and special mammals of this southernmost part of Australia. Highlights include spectacularly beautiful beaches, a visit to iconic Cradle Mountain in the Tasmanian Alps, scenic drives through the Central Highlands and Great Lakes District, having dinner with wild Tasmanian Devils, and seeking all twelve of the island’s endemic birds.

By all accounts, Australia is a traveler’s dream—clean, safe, friendly, and possessing a natural history second to none in its uniqueness. Led by a first-rate group of tour leaders, I cannot recommend our trips highly enough. I hope you will consider joining one or more of these outstanding departures:

Grand Australia, Series 1

Grand Australia Part I: New South Wales & the Northern Territory, September 28–October 14, 2019 with Dion Hobcroft; $8,495 in double occupancy from Sydney (ends in Ayers Rock). Limit 10. 5 spaces available.

Grand Australia Part II: Queensland, Victoria & Plains-wanderer, October 12–29, 2019 with Dion Hobcroft; $7,895 in double occupancy from Brisbane (ends in Melbourne). Limit 10. 2 spaces available.

Grand Australia: Tasmania Extension, October 29–November 5, 2019 with David James; $4,395 in double occupancy from Launceston (ends in Hobart). Limit 8. 2 spaces available.

Grand Australia, Series II

Grand Australia Part I: New South Wales & the Northern Territory, September 20–October 6, 2019 with Max Breckenridge and Barry Zimmer; $8,495 in double occupancy from Sydney (ends in Ayers Rock). Limit 10. 1 space available.

Grand Australia Part II: Queensland, Victoria & Plains-wanderer, October 4–21, 2019 with Max Breckenridge and Kevin Zimmer; $7,895 in double occupancy from Brisbane (ends in Melbourne). Limit 10. 4 spaces available.

Grand Australia: Tasmania Extension, October 21–28, 2019 with Max Breckenridge; $4,395 in double occupancy from Launceston (ends in Hobart). Limit 8. 6 spaces available.

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Papua New Guinea Cruise Route

In 2019, our program of birding and natural history cruises includes six departures in collaboration with trusted partner Zegrahm Expeditions. In the early fall we will operate our inaugural Papua New Guinea Cruise, September 20–October 6, a trip that will visit a number of remote coastal locations and islands where VENT has never previously traveled. From the beginning, demand for this trip has been strong, and we’ve long since sold out our allotment. Last week we received the unexpected news that several more cabins have become available to VENT travelers. Although we are only three months from departure, I thought I would share this good news in the event that you have not yet made fall travel plans.

This cruise will be co-led by David James and David Wolf. Both of these guides are familiar with the birds and wildlife of New Guinea. David James is a good friend of longtime VENT tour leader Dion Hobcroft, who highly recommends David for his birding and “people” skills. For the last several years, David has led our Tasmania tours. For over forty years, David Wolf has guided tours all over the world, including some of VENT’s earliest tours to New Guinea. David is an excellent all-around naturalist and a terrific birder, a man known for his encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world.

This cruise presents a rare opportunity to visit a host of locations available only by small ship. In traveling with David James and David Wolf, I can’t think of two finer leaders with whom to make this voyage.

To learn more about specific cabin availability and pricing, please contact Greg Lopez by phone (512-328-5221/800-328-8368) or by email (

Papua New Guinea Cruise, September 20–October 6, 2019 with David James and David Wolf; cabins start at $13,980 in double occupancy from Port Moresby; ends in Cairns.


This week I’ve been able to steal away to my beach house on the coast near Galveston for a few days of relaxation. Birding and getting caught up on reading are priorities, but just being here on the coast is always a rejuvenating experience for me. Although we are now into the summer, I’m reminded that the birding here is excellent year-round. Most birders come to the upper Texas coast in April and May to see migrating warblers, orioles, tanagers, and more, but the summer is an even-keel time of the year when the breeding birds like pelicans, waders, gulls, and terns are present in large numbers, and the beaches contain a surprising number of summering shorebirds. On Sunday afternoon I took the ferry from Galveston to the Bolivar Peninsula and saw eight Magnificent Frigatebirds during the crossing of Galveston Bay. Yesterday, I saw two more frigatebirds from the porch of my house. The presence of these birds is the surest sign that summer has arrived on the Texas coast.

Sunset at Bolivar Peninsula from Victor Emanuel's porch © Ben Reynolds

Like many people, I have a fondness for movies and documentaries about science and nature. If you weren’t aware, PBS, in conjunction with the BBC, has produced a new three-part series called Rivers of Life, that showcases the wildlife, landscapes, and people of three of the planet’s largest rivers: the Nile, the Amazon, and the Mississippi. Part I, The Nile, aired on June 19; Part II, The Amazon, aired, June 26; and finally, part III, The Mississippi, airs on Wednesday, July 3. Each episode is 55 minutes. For more information, please visit the website of PBS, or check your local PBS station for air times and possible repeat times.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel

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