December, 1989

Dear Friends and Family,


     Greetings! Eileen and I have survived another year and so have written another Christmas letter, which is admittedly a bit early. Eileen continues to do substitute teaching a few days a week, which she likes because of the flexibility of the schedule, and the fact that she doesn't have to bring work home! I have been promoted to 'Senior Research Scientist' which certainly makes me feel older! My job is going quite well; this year I have worked on more important and relevant projects than in previous years, and I feel that my job will continue to grow more challenging as time passes.


     Last winter was relatively uneventful. For New Years we visited Acadia National Park and Baxter State Park in Maine, as well as the White Mountains of New Hampshire. When we left I had just gotten over the flu, and Eileen came down with the same the day after we left, and remained sick for most of the trip. Mt. Katahdin and the notches of the White Mountains were especially impressive, and we enjoyed sightings of moose and white-winged crossbills; the latter were everywhere.


     We skied and snowshoed in the Adirondacks about eight weekends in January, February, and March, seeing lots of superb scenery, although the snow/weather conditions were not nearly as good as the previous year. We were especially pleased to finally photograph gray jay, which is uncommon and localized in New York state.


     We started camping again in March, and visited several of the more notable scenic areas in the Finger Lakes region (about two hours southeast of Rochester), affording a number of nice photographs of waterfalls, and a few wildflowers we missed last year, like Dutchman's Breeches and Wild Ginger. We took a long weekend trip in May to Pt. Pelee, a peninsula sticking south into Lake Erie from Ontario, about an hour east of Detroit. This is the most famous spot for observing the spring migration of land birds in the east. We enjoyed this trip very much, as we saw many warblers, vireos, etc., some of which we photographed successfully. The highlight of the trip was two sightings of long-tailed weasel, a life mammal for Eileen, and only my second and third records. I saw about as many Philadelphia Vireos on this trip as in the rest of my life combined.


     Our big trip this year was a three-week birding tour of Alaska. Due to the logistical difficulties of visiting the offshore Eskimo islands, we joined an organized group (Wings Inc.) rather than going alone. The high arctic represents the last major North American habitat which I had not visited (except long-grass prairie, which has been essentially eliminated), hence we hoped for many new birds, mammals, and plants. In this regard we were quite successful; I saw 31 new birds (total 666) while Eileen had about twice as many lifers. There are now only half a dozen to a dozen regular breeding birds north of the Mexican border which I have not seen. We each got about eight new mammal species as well, and many of the wildflowers were new to us, including the rather rare calypso orchid. Attached in an account of the trip which Eileen wrote for our local birding club's newsletter.


     It was a little difficult to return to reality after the Alaska trip, but we tried on the Fourth of July weekend, when we visited the Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, which divides Lake Huron from Georgian Bay. This peninsula has greater numbers of a greater variety of orchid species than any other comparably sized non-tropical area in the continent. We had a marvelous time photographing various orchids, including Showy Lady's-Slipper, a stunning pink and white pouched species with white upper petals. Bright orange wood lilies were abundant, and we saw several very rare species of ferns. Since moving back to the east, I had not encountered any new ferns until this trip, when I got 4 new ones for the region, two of which I had never seen before (Hart's-Tongue Fern and Green Spleenwort)!


     The rest of the summer we took camping trips to various spots in the Adirondacks, often by canoe. On one trip in August, we saw the Travers Stakes thoroughbred race in Saratoga, and then visited Lake George, where our Subaru broke down for good at 164,000 miles. We spent two extra days having the problems diagnosed and decided it was not worth fixing. We bought a Toyota 4WD cargo van for our new 'field vehicle,' in which we built a platform for sleeping,  under which equipment could be stored. We put quite a bit of work into customizing the van for camping and field work, and were very pleased with the results.


     Eileen took a four-day trip in the van down to Gettysburg and Antietam, as she has recently read quite a bit about the battles which occurred there. She enjoyed seeing these areas in person, and took lots of pictures, which she is now putting together into a slide show.


     Over Labor Day we went up to Algonquin Provincial Park, about four hours north of Toronto, to look for wolves. This year we had better luck than last year; on two different nights we were able to get wolves to respond to our imitation of their howls. The second night was especially memorable; the aurora borealis flashed green in the northern sky, and three times in two hours we started a pack howling just a few hundred yards away. The last time they howled, even the alpha male joined in, with its incredibly deep and resonant voice. I think that hearing wolves like this was even more exciting than seeing one in Alaska.


     We spent almost every weekend in September and October camping in the Adirondacks and photographing fall color. We experimented with large format (4x5") view cameras and found them quite a bit of fun to use. Eileen's parents visited us for five days and we gave them a tour of the local scenic spots. The fall has turned out to be a difficult one; twice we have had camping gear stolen. Far worse, the weekend that the remnants of Hugo passed through the Adirondacks, a 70 foot live maple blew over on our van while we were sleeping in it. Fortunately we were not hurt, but about $7000 damage was done (which insurance will cover). As of this writing, we have been without the van for eight weeks, and won't get it back for several more weeks (Toyota has been shipping the needed parts at a glacial pace).


     It has been difficult managing with just one car, since Eileen and I work on different schedules in different directions. To complicate matters further, the Escort has been in and out of the shop on a regular basis recently. We figure we're about due for a change of luck! We are looking forward to visiting my family in Charlottesville, Virginia over Thanksgiving, and, if scheduling permits, we may try to visit the gulf coast of Texas over Christmas to see whooping cranes. We tentatively plan to start house-hunting late in the winter if all goes well, and intend to take next year's major trip to the Canadian Rockies. We would like to traverse the Rockies from north to south in three or so major trips (spanning as many years), picking up one year where we left off the previous year.


     We hope all is well, and wish you the best in 1990. Write if you have a chance!