8 December 1988


Dear Friends and Family,


Well, we've survived another year and so are writing another Christmas letter, after 2 1/2 years here in Rochester. I continue to enjoy my job here at Kodak, which involves fascinating research, and has allowed Eileen and me to learn a lot about photography. I will start work in a new group in January, which studies entire photographic systems (photographer, camera, film, processor, printer, etc., and their interactions) as opposed to just film, like my previous group. This should allow me to do research which is of even greater interest to me, as I particularly like systems analysis. I will continue to do computer modeling, but will in addition have to shoot and analyze many picture tests, learn more about cameras and printers, etc. I have a technician starting work in January also, which should help me catch up on projects I've been having to put off due to lack of time.


Eileen has completed her masters degree in education and has received her permanent certification for teaching secondary level social studies in New York state. She is currently doing substitute teaching in several local school districts. She likes the substitute work because of the flexible schedule (you only work when you want to) and because there is no work to take home at night. This gives us a lot more time to spend doing things together, and makes it much easier to plan trips. She usually works 3 or 4 days per week.


We did a lot of weekend trips this year as well as several longer trips. Early in the year, we skied in the Adirondacks nearly every weekend, using Tupper Lake as a base, and taking different trails each time. We saw a lot of beautiful country this way, as well as redpolls, gray jays, white-winged crossbills, and barred owls. We saw snowshoe rabbit tracks but never did see any of the animals in their pure white winter coats.


Later in the year, Eileen took an interesting trip along the Santa Fe Trail for her final project for her degree. She drove the length of the trail (starting in central Missouri and ending in Santa Fe, a distance of about a thousand miles) and visited historic sites along the way. This trail was used from about 1820 to 1860 by traders who traveled the trail repeatedly to trade goods with the Mexicans (who were in possession of Santa Fe at that time). After a week on the trail, she continued south to El Paso and spent a week with her family before driving home. For her project, she prepared a report and a narrated slide show for use in the classroom.


Our big trip of the year was a 16-day sojourn to southern Florida, where I saw 13 of 16 possible new bird species, bringing my total list to 632 species (excluding introduced birds). Eileen had something like 60 new species, and we both had five new species of mammals (my first new ones since moving east). Sorting the 1400+ slides we took was quite a chore, but we got some very nice pictures, and have given talks about the trip to a local bird club and a group here at Kodak. Our trip is described at the end of this letter.


Our major project this year was to find, identify, and photograph as many species of native wildflowers as possible in our region. Our goal was 200 species, which we finally managed to exceed in mid-September, finishing the year with 204 species. We learned many new plants this way, and I regained familiarity with a number of species I hadn't seen in my five years out west. Next year we plan to study trees and shrubs so as to better round out our natural history knowledge.


Our most enjoyable trip of the summer was a 9-day canoe trip to Algonquin Provincial Park (about 200 miles north of Toronto) over the Fourth-of-July week. This park is about 50 x 75 miles, with the majority of the park more than one full day from any type of road. Access to the interior is usually by canoe, though occasionally people hike, ski, or snowshoe in. Due to very low water levels, we did not canoe as far into the park as we would have liked, but we still got a large lake to ourselves. Our campsite was a delight, complete with sand beach and a family of sapsuckers whose sap-laden workings attracted hummingbirds and butterflies. We had 21 moose, including bulls, cows, and calves, some at very close range. Loons called dozens of times per day in the best vocal displays I have ever heard. A family of four mink came through our campsite, twice--a new mammal for Eileen. We had both bear and moose in the campsite, though minimal damage was done. We had many frogs, including a new species for us, the mink frog, whose call sounds exactly like someone hammering!


Later in the summer we visited my dad, aunt, and uncle in Vermont and got to see the Green Mountains, where we found many nice wildflowers, including purple-fringed orchis. In the fall we visited the Adirondacks each weekend to enjoy and photograph the fall color. Eileen took a week-long trip to South Carolina and Georgia to meet up with her parents and see her brother Paul graduate from Army Basic Training. We visited my Mom over Thanksgiving, and were able to see my two brothers and my dad as well.


Now it's too late in the year to camp, and too early in the winter to ski. This is the time of year we catch up on what we have neglected the rest of the year, which is quite a bit! We hope your year has been a good one, and look forward to hearing from you soon!



Florida Trip 1988


We began our trip by flying into Miami, getting a rental car, and heading north along the coast to John Prince Park. By the time we found a nearby camping area (the park gates were closed), it was 2:30, so we didn't get much sleep! At dawn we returned to the park, where we easily found the advertised Limpkins, new species (hereafter "lifer") # 1. This bird, related to the cranes and rails, is nocturnal and secretive; although we found 6 at this park, and obtained excellent photos, we only glimpsed limpkin one other time on the whole trip. Next, we searched for lifer # 2, a staked-out Bahama mockingbird on Hypoluxo Island (about half a dozen United States records this century). This took several hours to find, but we finally saw and heard it well. At Loxahatchie National Wildlife Refuge, 3 hours of hiking the dikes finally yielded a small group of anis (lifer # 3), which we also encountered only one other time on the trip. We saw our first alligators here, and large turtles of several species were in abundance. Major thunderstorms completely soaked all our gear while we exchanged rental cars since the air conditioning didn't work. so, we ended up in a motel that night, after visiting Jonathan Dickinson State Park, one of the few locations where the native pine scrub vegetation has been preserved. The slash pines and saw palmettos were beautiful, and we were thrilled to see our first life mammal, armadillo.


The next day we birded in the prairie region of south-central Florida, where several western species (burrowing owl, scrub jay, sandhill crane, and crested caracara) have disjunct populations. We found each of these species fairly easily, and then headed for Highlands Hammock, the largest and most beautiful hammock ("island" of trees in an open expanse) we saw on our trip. The subtropical nature of southern Florida was obvious as we looked at many species of ferns (some 6 feet high), palms, and bromeliads. We then headed south to the Old Venus area, which harbors the southernmost longleaf pine stand in the state. This is consequently more or less the southernmost breeding point for Bachman's sparrow and red-cockaded woodpecker, both of which we found. We camped in the Fisheating Creek area, which usually has a nesting pair of mythical short-tailed hawks. We were unable to find this bird in most of a day of searching, though we did locate lifer # 4, swallow-tailed kite, one of the most elegant and graceful of North American birds (eventually we saw about 75 kites in many locations). Late in the afternoon we headed for Sanibel (on the gulf coast), where Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge provided excellent photographic opportunities, particularly of wading birds like roseate spoonbill (this was the only place we saw reddish egret). Next we visited Corkscrew Swamp, which had nesting wood storks, and then continued to the western Everglades, where we took a boat out to the Ten Thousand Islands. This extensive series of islands are composed of silt held together by mangroves, which readily grow with their roots in salt water. Here we saw many nesting osprey and a flock of black skimmers. At night we conducted one of many "mammal runs" of the trip in which we drove on back roads for several hours in search of nocturnal mammals. This particular night we covered the Fakahatchee Strand and nearby areas, where the last 30 or so panthers in the east remain. Although we had no luck with panther, we did find several species of mammals, including river otter.


At dawn we visited Marco Island, where we found mangrove cuckoo (lifer # 5), which we also had on No Name Key later in the trip. Continuing east along the north edge of the Everglades, we found 6 snail kites (lifer # 6) on the Miccosukee Indian Reservation. We found this very rare species, which feeds primarily on apple snails, nowhere else on the trip. A tram ride into the Shark Valley was fairly interesting, with many alligators. The next day, refreshed after a night in a motel, we headed into the heart of the Everglades (on the road to Flamingo). The Everglades are a roughly 50 mile wide shallow, sawgrass-congested river flowing from Lake Okeechobee to the Gulf. We watched two bobcats for several minutes as they hunted at dusk near Flamingo. We camped at Flamingo that night, just before they closed the area to camping due to insects. At dawn we drove the length of the Flamingo road to see marsh rabbit, our second life mammal (we found two). Later that day we reached the Florida Keys and drove to Key West, finding black-whiskered vireo (lifer # 7) as well as Wurdemann's heron, gray kingbird, and other Florida Key specialties. At the Marathon Airport at dusk we heard and saw Antillean nighthawk (lifer # 8), which we also found on the Dry Tortugas.


The next day we joined the Florida Ornithological Society for a 3-day boat trip to the Dry Tortugas, 75 miles west of Key West. On the trip out we got two new mammals, spotted and Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, as well as some birds I had not seen in many years, like bridled tern and Audubon's shearwater. The Dry Tortugas are small coral islands which are famous for their seabird colonies and as being the site of Fort Jefferson. There are no facilities on the Tortugas (you have to bring all your own water and food), so we were surprised to find about 100 people already occupying the roughly 100 by 200 yard camping area! There are 40,000 sooty terns (lifer # 9) and 4,000 brown noddies (lifer # 10, another type of tern) nesting here, and masked boobies (lifer # 11) rested on nearby Hospital Key, hardly more than a sandbar. We were very fortunate in seeing the only known black noddy (lifer # 12) in the US, which we found at dusk when it came in to roost. Despite diligent searching, we did not see two potential lifers: tropicbird (a rare but regular species here) and shiny cowbird, a Caribbean species which had been seen recently. We had fun photographing the several hundred trans-Gulf migrant songbirds which were downed on the island by thunderstorms. The fort itself was interesting to investigate, and we spent one afternoon snorkeling.


Upon returning to Key West, we quickly located white-crowned pigeon (lifer # 13). Thus, after 8 days we had only one potential lifer left on the "mainland": short-tailed hawk. We spent most of the remainder of the trip unsuccessfully searching for this species. However, in the Fisheating Creek area we had excellent luck with mammals, particularly armadillos, gray fox, and our fifth life mammal, spotted skunk. We saw the latter as it raided live-traps we put out to try to catch mice. We also had chuck-will's-widow and barred owl in this campsite, so it was quite an exciting place at night!