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April 10, 2024

Dear friends:

In February, I joined our Amazon River Cruise in Peru. It was one of the best trips of my life. Being immersed in nature means so much to me. The Zafiro is a great ship. It was wonderful to look out at the trees along the lovely river, and then board a fine skiff to go up a side stream and enter the forest, where we saw terrific birds and monkeys. The camaraderie among the participants was some of the finest I have ever experienced. One couple had taken forty VENT tours! The leaders—David Ascanio, Doris Valencia, and Remi Grefa—were superb. Equally important, this leadership team represented a historic event in that it was the first time in our history that we featured an all-South American team for our Amazon River Cruise. David is Venezuelan; Doris is Peruvian; and Remi is Ecuadorian. After our checklist session, we were entertained by great music, and some people danced; on our last evening, most of the participants and the leaders formed a conga line! Our 2025 Amazon River Cruise, January 29-February 8, is sold out. Please let us know if you'd like to be added to the wait list, or let us know if you might be interested in our 2026 cruise, for which dates will be available later this year.




Space is still available on both of our summer youth camps: Camp Chiricahua, July 3-15, and Camp Cascades, July 24-August 4. Both camps will be co-led by Michael O’Brien and Louise Zemaitis—a great team. Thanks to a donation we have received from Paul and Betty Rae Davis, a few scholarships are available to deserving campers.


By Steve Hilty

The air is fresh and cool. We step off the bus into a garden of flowers fit for royalty. At the end of a short flower-lined path we are greeted by our smiling host, Javier, who welcomes us to his little corner of paradise in the Western Andes above Cali. Javier quickly invites us to view the birds coming to his fruit and nectar feeders while he and his wife begin preparing a magnificent outdoor breakfast.

Javier is excited, almost bursting to tell us about the birds at his finca. I already know about the tanagers and hummingbirds coming to his feeders, and also about the Chestnut Wood-Quails and White-throated Quail-Doves that come to a feeding site immediately behind his buildings. But this time he has even more surprises. A Scaled Antpitta, he says, now comes for worms each morning. This is indeed a surprise. Although people have been attracting antpittas to feeding sites in Ecuador, Colombia, and elsewhere for more than twenty years, no one, to my knowledge, has ever succeeded in attracting a Scaled Antpitta . . . until now. And that isn’t all. Javier leads us back in the forest and shows us another site, where we watch a pair of Little Tinamous coming to yet another feeding site.

Green Thorntail, Colombia - Steve Hilty

Years ago, I spent almost two years in this part of Colombia’s Western Andes when I was doing my graduate dissertation research, but that was before bird books, ecotourism, eBird, and even before a lengthy period of civil unrest that followed in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, much has changed. The country is now peaceful, and there are hundreds of local birders and naturalists—home grown, youngish, and eagerly exploring the biodiversity of their remarkable country. And now they have bird books—including the two of mine, and others by younger authors. They also have access to sound libraries and resources I once could only dream about. But there is another change important for birders. Now there are many little fincas and country lodges that cater specifically to birders.

Multicolored Tanager, Colombia - Steve Hilty

Our host, Javier, represents, in many ways, the face of this change. A former lawyer from Cali, he now operates one of the most remarkable little birding sites I have seen anywhere. Within minutes we are seated in the midst of a kaleidoscope of flowering shrubs and watching hummingbirds and colorful tanagers whizzing back and forth at dizzying speed. Moss-covered perches strategically positioned next to feeders aid photographers in their quest for the perfect photo, but sometimes the birds are so close I can almost photograph them with my iPhone. And these are not just common species. Soon a pair of absolutely drop-dead gorgeous Multicolored Tanagers, one of Colombia’s most sought-after endemics, appears right in front of us. And then there are Blue-winged Mountain-Tanagers, Golden Tanagers, Golden-naped Tanagers, Flame-rumped Tanagers, warblers, and thrushes. Even some Chachalacas show up, all while a half-dozen or more kinds of hummingbirds vie for our attention.

Golden Tanager, Colombia - Steve Hilty

Javier’s Finca Florida, however, is not the only country site that awaits discovery by foreign, as well as local, birders and naturalists. There are several others nearby–each with its own unique combination of birds. In fact, there are now so many sites that it isn’t possible to visit all of them in a single trip, so we try to pick ones at different elevations and in different habitats to maximize our opportunities. But one that is always on our itinerary is Doña Dora’s El Descanso Restaurant (now known as Avistamiento de Aves). Once a humble roadside stop, Dora’s restaurant, and her bird feeders, are now legendary—Toucan Barbets, Empress Brilliants, hillstars, thorntails, and sometimes even a Lyre-tailed Nightjar dozing on a nearby roadcut are almost routine.

Toucan Barbet, Colombia - Steve Hilty

We also visit a site in the endemic-rich Pacific lowlands that can be reached only by riding a homemade, narrow-gauge rail car powered by a motorcycle. Yes, really! It’s an unforgettable experience: a four-and-a-half-kilometer trip through lowland rainforest to an isolated village where we have breakfast and lunch, and enjoy superb lowland birding. This high-diversity region is home to parrots, barbets, toucans, antbirds, oropendolas, and, with a little luck, even a Blue-whiskered Tanager. But just when you think it can’t get better . . . it does.

One of my favorite sites is the Montezuma Rainforest Lodge, recently featured in the April 2023 issue of Birding Magazine (see The Women of Colombia’s Montezuma Rainforest Reserve and Ecolodge). The lodge, a few hours north of Cali, is owned by Michelle Tapasco, an enterprising woman who, along with one or more of her five grown daughters, guides visiting birders and operates a superb lodge that is an adventure just to get there. Montezuma offers a fantastic birding transect along an old road descending from over 8,000 feet down to the lodge at around 4,500 feet in elevation. But you don’t even have to leave the lodge. There are swarms of hummers and tanagers at feeders that also attract Andean Motmots, oropendolas, euphonias, and brushfinches, all while timid agoutis creep around in the gardens to steal guavas.

Crescent-faced Antpitta, Colombia - Steve Hilty

Remarkably, the list of lodges, fincas, and government reserves continues northward all the way to Medellín and beyond, and our Central and Western Andes tour visits many of them. Pick a city—Pereira, and the Otún-Quimbaya Reserve is nearby. In Manizales—the Río Blanco Reserve is nearby, and Los Nevados National Park’s high páramo is an hour beyond. The newest addition to this stellar lineup is Hacienda el Bosque, a prize-winning cattle and dairy operation that now boasts feeding sites for two rare antpittas—Equatorial Antpitta and Crescent-faced Antpitta—as well as Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucans, Barred Fruiteaters, Sword-billed Hummingbirds, and much more. 

Gray-breasted Mountain-Toucan, Colombia - Steve Hilty

From the city of Manizales, it’s a few more hours northward to the city of Jardín. The word Jardín means “garden” in Spanish, and this lovely little Andean town is justly famous for its well-preserved colonial architecture, balconies with flowers, nearby coffee farms, and a lively plaza where locals and visitors alike gather in the evenings. But Jardín is a “must-see” for birders because a much-habituated group of Andean Cocks-of-the-rock display in a private forest reserve little more than three blocks from the city plaza!

Andean Cock-of-the-rock, Colombia - Steve Hilty

An hour above Jardín brings birders to the Yellow-eared Parrot Reserve, and further on to a marvelous new finca, the Mirador Los Robles (Oak lookout), which features several antpitta feeding sites, brushfinches that take seeds from your hands, and hummingbirds and flowerpiercers that perch on your fingers to sip nectar. There’s also an array of tanagers and other wildlife nearby. And yes, this site, too, is owned by an enterprising woman, and she serves some of the best breakfasts and lunches anywhere in Colombia.

Our next full length Central and Western Andes trip, July 6-21, 2024, will visit all of the sites mentioned above. There are a few spaces left on this trip, but if this route seems a little ambitious, VENT offers some shorter, “Relaxed and Easy” trips in the Andes including one in July 2024 (sold out, but space available in 2025) and another in December 2024. These trips visit far fewer sites and are only about a week in length, but some travelers may find the slower pace and shorter duration appealing.

Colombia: The Central & Western Andes, July 6-21, 2024 with Steve Hilty and a local leader; $8,290 in double occupancy from Medellin (ends in Cali). Limit 8.

Colombia: Hummingbirds & Tanagers of the Western Andes, A Relaxed & Easy Tour, December 8-15, 2024 with David Ascanio and a local leader; $5,295 in double occupancy from Cali. Limit 10. 1 space available.

Colombia: Magdalena River Valley & Western Andes, A Relaxed & Easy Tour, July 19-27, 2025 with David Ascanio and a local leader; price to be announced ($5,225 in 2024) in double occupancy from Medellin. Limit 10.

The VENT webinar series continues on April 18 when we showcase two outstanding new travel opportunities to Southern Peru. Join charismatic VENT tour leader Doris Valencia as she guides us through the birds, landscapes, and culture of her native Peru.

Our program begins with Southern Peru: Feathers & Traditions, a captivating journey blending birdwatching with cultural exploration. From the majestic Andean peaks to the ancient Inca ruins, Doris will guide us through a diverse mountain landscape teeming with birds, including endemic species like the Bearded Mountaineer and White-tufted Sunbeam hummingbirds. On the cultural front, you’ll be immersed in Peru’s rich heritage as Doris takes you through bustling markets and connects you with indigenous communities, all while savoring the tantalizing flavors of Peruvian cuisine.

Next, embark on an adventure along the legendary Manu Road with Southern Peru: Birding the Enchanting Manu Road. Discover the biodiversity of the Andean cloud forests and the lush lowland jungles of Manu National Park, home to a kaleidoscope of tropical bird species.

The webinar will begin Thursday, April 18 at 11:00 am PDT; 12:00 pm MDT; 1:00 pm CDT; 2:00 pm EDT.

Register for the webinar here. Don’t miss this opportunity to learn about these newest offerings from VENT!


As much as I enjoy all of the seasons, spring is my favorite time of the year. It is the time when Central Texas fills with the blooms of a menagerie of beautiful wildflowers, and birds are on the move. In a couple of weeks, I hope to get to my beach house on the Bolivar Peninsula north of Galveston, Texas, where I can again enjoy all the wonderful songbirds arriving back for the new breeding season. On that note, I am inspired to share with you one of my favorite poems that celebrate the spring season, “Before a Departure in Spring,” from The River Sound, by W.S. Merwin.

Once more it is April with the first light sifting

            through the young leaves heavy with dew making the colors

remember who they are the new pink of the cinnamon tree

            the gilded lichens of the bamboo the shadowed bronze

of the kamani and the blue day opening

            as the sunlight descends through it like all the return

of a spirit touching without touch and unable

            to believe it is here and here again and awake

reaching out in silence into the cool breath

            of the garden just risen from darkness and days of rain

it is only a moment the birds fly through it calling

            to each other and are gone with their few notes and the flash

of their flight that had vanished before we ever knew it

            we watch without touching any of it and we

can tell ourselves only that this is April this is the morning

            this never happened before and we both remember it

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel

Victor Emanuel Nature Tours  |  2525 Wallingwood Drive, Suite 1003  |  Austin, TX 78746
Phone: 800.328.8368 / 512.328.5221  |  Email:

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