An Unforgettable Day

Victor Emanuel

Victor Emanuel

Life is such a mixture of decisions, unexpected problems, and serendipitous events. It is also about the pleasure we derive from sharing good things with others. Saturday, November 9, 2013 was such a day for me.

Decisions: Michael O’Brien, Louise Zemaitis, Barry Lyon and I were representing VENT at the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. I was scheduled to co-lead a field trip to South Padre Island with Barry Lyon, Shawneen Finnegan, and Dave Irons. At 4 a.m. I woke up with a cold. I thought about not going on the field trip. I am always telling friends when they get sick that rest is the best medicine. I thought I should take my own advice. Fortunately, I decided to go to breakfast and see how I felt afterwards. After breakfast I did feel better and decided to go on the field trip.

Unexpected problems: The leaders were all present by 5:30 a.m. to check off the names of the people who had signed up for our trip. People were already lined up, but there was a problem. Six big buses were lined up, but not our bus. The RGV Birding Festival is extremely well-run, but in this case there was a slip-up. The driver had not been contacted. They tracked him down. We were told he would be there in 15 minutes. A half-hour passed and still no driver, but then the first serendipitous event occurred. A flock of 50 Red-crowned Parrots flew over us and perched on a telephone line. Soon we had them in our scopes for great views. There was one Red-lored Parrot among them. Shortly thereafter our bus appeared. By 7 a.m. we were en route to South Padre. We had left an hour late, but everyone was in good spirits. As we turned off U.S. Highway 77 onto State Route 100, we saw a few birders at a resaca (an oxbow lake). Little did we know that they would find a bird that would change everyone’s plans.

Amazon Kingfisher. Photo by Jeff Bouton.

Amazon Kingfisher. Photo by Jeff Bouton.

Serendipity: Our first stop was the Padre Island Convention Center. We had been there about 45 minutes looking at a variety of waterbirds when Shawneen received a phone call informing her that an Amazon Kingfisher had been spotted at the resaca we had passed by an hour earlier! Shawneen said, “RARE BIRD ALERT— EVERYONE BACK ON THE BUS!” Soon we were headed back east. En route, Shawneen was emailed a photo of the kingfisher. Welcome to the digital age of birding. As we approached the site we could see that about 30 cars and a few vans had parked on the shoulder on both sides of the road. We told the driver to slow down and pull off behind the last car. Even before we had stopped we spotted the Amazon Kingfisher perched across the highway on a side branch of a dead tree! Within a few minutes everyone on our bus was looking at the kingfisher. Then it flew across the road. We disembarked and had scope-filling views. Many people took photos. Everyone was very happy. All of a sudden my cold got a lot better.

As it turned out, Jeff Bouton of Leica had taken Nanette Roland out to that resaca to see some of the common birds of South Texas that she had never seen. Nanette lives in Germany. She had recently joined the Leica team. They had seen a Ringed Kingfisher fly across the road. A few minutes later Jeff spotted a kingfisher that looked like a Green Kingfisher, but was much larger than that small kingfisher. He soon identified it as an Amazon Kingfisher, a Neotropical species that had only once before been seen in the United States.

It was very special to share this great sighting with my co-leaders and with 33 participants. None of us had ever seen this species in the U.S. It is events like this that make birding so enjoyable and exciting. There is no place better than South Texas to have the opportunity for an experience like this. The organizers of the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival couldn’t have asked for a better event to celebrate 20 years of great festivals.

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Why choose VENT?

Victor Emanuel

Victor Emanuel

Why should you choose VENT over another birding specialty tour company? Why should you choose a tour company at all?

Because VENT clients take part in the richest, most in-depth nature travel experience available. They see more and learn more about birds, wildlife, and nature while traveling in comfort with high-quality accommodations and services. We are committed to showcasing the depth and richness of the natural world to our travelers. We have one of the highest client repeat ratios in the industry: over 80% of our trip participants have traveled with us previously. Participants see as many birds as on similar trips by competitors without sacrificing comfort or service quality.

• Because VENT tour leaders are world-class experts in their fields. Our leaders have literally written the book on birds across the globe: bird guides to Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, Brazil, Indonesia, and Colombia have all been written by VENT leaders. Our leaders have years of experience in the countries where they lead tours, and are experts not only at finding birds but showing them to tour participants.

VENT group at Thousand Foot Falls, Belize

VENT group at Thousand Foot Falls, Belize

• Because VENT leaders, operators, and office staff know how to plan tour operations for success and to prepare for unexpected events and emergencies. Anything can happen on a trip, whether you are in the San Francisco Bay Area or the wilds of Borneo. Our staff is trained to expect the unexpected and to deal with emergencies in the safest ways possible. Decades of travel operations experience have allowed VENT to develop the operational infrastructure to make split-second, sometimes life-saving decisions anywhere in the world. Our professional office staff has decades of tour management experience and knows how to arrange the best on-the-ground logistics with in-country operators.

• Because VENT is committed to bird and nature conservation. VENT has been a pioneer in helping to develop ecotourism. We lead special departures for environmental groups that are doing the most to protect bird habitats, including the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology and the American Bird Conservancy.

I hope you will choose VENT for your next trip!

The Best Ending Ever

Emanuel Victor resz2

Victor Emanuel

On the last morning of our recent Fall at Panama’s Canopy Tower tour, we birded Metropolitan Park just outside Panama City. We enjoyed superb looks at Lance-tailed Manakins, a Whooping Motmot, a male Rosy Thrush-Tanager, and a White-bellied Antbird. We also saw a wonderful troop of Geoffroy’s Tamarins. A visit to Panama Viejo’s mudflats yielded a superb selection of shorebirds. Since there had not been any rain except at night for several days, we hoped to see a big hawk flight. Most participants went to the Miraflores locks to see a ship go through the locks and tour the visitor center. While they were at the locks they witnessed kettle after kettle of hawks and vultures passing over them, an amazing 43,000 Broad-winged Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, and Turkey Vultures. Participants who stayed at the Canopy Tower saw kettles of hawks and vultures all along the coast including thousands right over downtown Panama City. The hawk counters at Ancon Hill estimated 750,000 hawks and vultures that afternoon!

Yellow-eared Toucanet, Panama's Canopy Tower, October 2013. Photo by Barry Zimmer.

Yellow-eared Toucanet, Panama’s Canopy Tower, October 2013. Photo by Barry Zimmer.

That amazing hawk flight would have been a fantastic ending to our tour, but there was more to come. When we gathered on the fourth floor of the Canopy Tower to do our bird list, I mentioned that when I first came to Panama in l979 my three most wanted birds were the Yellow-eared Toucanet, Rufous-vented Ground-Cuckoo, and Black-and-white Owl.  I remarked that it took me years to see all of these special birds, but that on this tour we had seen both the toucanet and the ground-cuckoo. I noted that we had not seen the Black-and-white Owl and said that hopefully participants would see that species on another tour. A few minutes later, Michael Castro called up from the entrance to tell us that he had heard a Black-and-white Owl just down the hill.

The staff had prepared a farewell grilled dinner for us in an area just across from the front door and next to the forest. In response to Michael’s superb imitation, the Black-and-white Owl had flown into a huge tree right next to the dinner site! We descended rapidly and soon we were looking at this magnificent owl. A few minutes later it was joined by its mate. The wild calls of both owls filled the air, a closing serenade. We had now seen all three of the birds I most wanted to see when I first came to Panama and had witnessed the greatest hawk flights any of us had ever seen. What a finale!