13 December 1997


Dear Friends and Family,


We hope that all is well with you. We have had an enjoyable year, with trips to the Maritime Provinces and Kentucky, Thanksgiving in west Texas with Eileen's folks, and soon, Christmas in Charlottesville visiting my family. Work is mostly going well for me, although Kodak is going through hard times, producing a stressful environment. The research program I lead has grown to have an annual budget well in excess of $1 million and there are indications that this area of research is likely to be supported for at least another 5 years. Eileen has been kept very busy by the combination of running the household, keeping up with all the specimen preparation and computer data entry for the Moose River Plains plant project and other natural history work, and gardening. The yard looks beautiful thanks to her efforts and we enjoy the fresh-cut flowers and vegetables (this year with a salsa preparation motif) during the spring to fall months. During the field season, it is a challenge to keep up; with flex time, I take off every other Friday, so we are in town for 4.5 days one week, and only 3.5 days the next. During these intervals, Eileen has to squeeze in all the shopping, housework, mail, computer work, packing and unpacking, and specimen work. It is frantic but with the long winters here, you want to pack in eveything you can while the weather is tolerable!


Spare time in the first few months of the year were devoted to specimen identification and amusements such as anagrams, crossword puzzles, movies, and reading. I taught a single-session class in gull plumages at the local "Birding School" event in February. We visited my Mom in March while she had a successful cataract operation. One weekend in May the New York Flora Association had a field trip weekend in our area that we joined. It was a lot of fun to spend time in the field with other ardent botanists, and we saw some beautiful habitats and photographed several new plants.


Sixteen days of May were spent on a trip to Kentucky, built around a 3-day business trip to judge for Kodak in the International Science and Engineering Fair in Louisville. While there, we got to see Eileen's brother Tom, who is stationed at nearby Fort Knox. We photographed 37 new wildflowers on this trip, and saw one new mammal, Eastern Pippistrel, a tiny bat that we encountered in Mammoth Cave. The national park surrounding the cave is a mecca for wildflowers and a fine flower guide to the park was just published this year. We also visited Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, Cumberland Falls State Park, Yahoo Falls Scenic Area, the Red River Gorge National Scenic Area, Kingdom Come State Park, and Breaks Interstate Park. Some of the most interesting plants we saw were: Violet Sorrel, Wild Comfrey, Jacob's Ladder, Pennywort, Isopyrum, Larkspur, Butterweed, Sessile and Bent Trilliums, Purple Rocket, Appendaged Waterleaf, Purple and Fringed Phacelias, Puttyroot (an orchid), Showy Orchis, Climbing Fern, and Heart-Leaf (Hexastylis).


We spent 30 days this year in the Moose River Plains working on our vascular plant study, compared to 19 and 26 days in the first two years. Our emphasis this year was to finish hiking all trails and canoeing all accessible stretches of water within our study area. We finalized the boundaries of our study area, which consists of 50 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) square blocks lying within a circle with radius about 10 km. We have now visited and found at least 45 species in each block. By virtue of the number of days of field work and the amount of new area covered, we found about 64 new species, just a few short of last year, despite the increasing difficulty of finding new plants due to diminishing returns. Our total list is now about 438 species, all but one of which (a scarce orchid) have been documented by a specimen. We collected 138 specimens this year (bringing our total to 675), which I will work on identifying starting in January. Many of these specimens are grasses and sedges, which are especially difficult groups, so I will have my work cut out for me! In April, we visited the New York State Museum in Albany for two days to study their massive collections, in order to check some less confident identifications against reference specimens, which was enormously fun. At that time we donated about 55 specimens to the museum that represented first documented occurrences for Hamilton or Herkimer Counties. We will visit the museum again for a day or two at the end of this winter.


We had several nice mammal sightings this year in the Moose River Plains. In addition to many coyotes, we had extended looks at a hunting least weasel, a new species for us, and had a very close encounter (30 feet) with a bull moose with full antlers. When we moved to New York 11 years ago, there were estimated to be fewer than 10 moose left in the state. However, the numbers have been steadily increasing as moose have naturally recolonized the area from Vermont, and now there are thought to be several dozen in the area of our study. This sighting was our first in the state, although we have seen moose many times elsewhere. On our traditional Labor Day weekend in Algonquin Provinvial Park, we had a good photographic encounter with a cow moose. Other highlights of that trip were several beautiful day-long canoe trips with many interesting aquatic plants, sightings of Spruce Grouse and Red Fox, and finding the ethereal Pink Corydalis in bloom on scenic rocky outcrops along a remote lake.


We spent two weeks in west Texas at Thanksgiving, one week in El Paso visiting Eileen's family, and one week in Big Bend National Park with her parents. We rented a big four-wheel-drive and did all the 4WD-only roads in the park. As usual, there were few people in the park and some days we saw nobody after leaving the paved roads behind. We had two views of Texas Antelope Squirrel, a new subspecies or species for us. We also saw Javelinas (or Peccaries, which are like handsome wild boars) and the very small Sierra del Carmen subspecies of the White-tailed Deer. Some of the common birds of Big Bend in winter are Rufous-crowned Sparrow, Canyon Towhee, Canyon, Rock, and Cactus Wrens, Scaled Quail, Roadrunners, the light-colored Fuertes subspecies of the Red-tailed Hawk, and Black-throated Sparrows. We concentrated on desert plants, with highlights being direct comparisons of four species of Yucca (including the spectacular Dagger Flats stand of Yucca faxoniana), the fancy and aptly-named Purple-tinged Prickley Pear, Blackfoot Daisy, Hechtia (in the pineapple family), Living Rock (a bizarre cactus), a spikemoss (Selaginella lepidophylla, a fern ally), and a climbing gourd vine. We especially enjoyed two hikes that we had not done previously, to Ernst Tinaja (a year-round water hole in a spectacular banded limestone canyon) and to Pine Canyon (a moist canyon with Bigleaf Maple, Ponderosa Pine, the elegant Texas Madrone, several sumacs, and three oak species). One night we looked at the planets so nicely visible in a line: Saturn (rings conveniently tipped for viewing), Jupiter (four moons visible), Venus (a crescent at this time), Mars, and Mercury.


We finally had to replace our Toyota van, which started to have a number of small problems this year. We nursed it through the end of the camping season and then gave it to our mechanic with about 203,000 miles on it! Based on our camping needs, we decided that our new vehicle should have three characteristics: four-wheel (or at least all-wheel) drive; a sliding side door for good access, especially in tight spaces; and a vertical rear liftgate that provided shelter from rain for cooking, etc. Remarkably, there are only two (related) vehicles sold in this country that meet those requirements: Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town and Country. The former is only sporadically made with all-wheel drive and would not be available until well into 1999, so we chose the latter, which still had to be ordered. We just picked it up this week and it looks like it will work out very nicely. With the all-wheel drive option, you get a major accessory package that makes the vehicle quite luxurious, and it is very quiet and smooth. The cargo space is so close to that of the Toyota van that we can reuse the bed that we built. The T&C (dumb name) is also the only van with a driver-side sliding door, which will make gear packed under the bed even more accessible (it also has a sliding door on the passenger side, so there is access to the back from three doors). We were remarking that the seats we have to remove to convert the van into a camping vehicle are nicer than our living room furniture, so maybe we should just put casters on them.



Maritime Provinces Trip


We left Rochester and drove through New England, entering New Brunswick from Calais, Maine. Soon we saw the first of many Rhodora stands (a pink-flowered rhododendron), which we never failed to find stunning, despite the frequency of encounter in the Maritimes. Other favorite plants we first saw on the trip here were Mountain Cranberry and Three-toothed Cinquefoil. We visited Fundy NP and the Sackville area in NB, relocating near the latter a spot where I saw my only short-tailed weasel ever on my trip 17 years ago.


We crossed Nova Scotia quickly, then spent a day at Cape Breton Highlands NP, which I remembered from my previous visit as being much the most interesting area in the province. There we located a short trail (at Lone Sheiling Hut), which I had hiked on my earlier trip, and which had Male and Braun's Holly Ferns and Nodding Trillium (each seen both times). We did not go off-trail at all but it was evident that an excellent fern list could be compiled there. From the high cliffs on the west side of the peninsula we saw the first of many finback whales of the trip. After returning from Nfld., we passed through the park a second time to check out the slope fen (French Mt. Bog) for Arethusa (a rare magenta-flowered orchid). We were not disappointed; I counted 600 flowers from one spot, without taking a step (but with binoculars). We had seen only a few Arethusa ever before! We really like seeing uncommon plants growing so lushly. Also out were three species of rein orchids (Platanthera blephariglottis, P. huronensis, and P. dilitata for afficianados). A boat trip out to the Bird Islands was very nicely conducted and yielded a life mammal, gray seal.


We took the Argentia ferry to the SW corner of the island of Newfoundland on a perfect day with calm seas and clear weather. The pelagic birding was excellent, with the highlight being three flocks totalling 15 Manx Shearwaters, which were seen beautifully, and were only my second sighting ever, and were new for Eileen. Atlantic Pilot Whale was a new mammal to us. Some Lagenorhynchus dolphins would have been lifers too if we could have identified them to species. We started in eastern Newfoundland at the Cape St. Mary's gannetry in rather bad fog (Gannets are large seabirds (boobies, in fact) that nest in very few locations in North America). We had a lot of fun talking with a researcher of alpine plants, who showed us many lovely dwarf plants in her plots near the visitors' center. The Moss Campion was positively adorable, but the Diapensia was not in bloom (this tiny alpine plant forms small mats of waxy leaves). We finally tracked Diapensia down, in bloom, at Cape Onion, many days later. On my earlier trip I saw this species in bloom on top of Gros Morne Mt., but we did not get up there this time because Eileen got a throat infection and was under the weather.


We took two different boats out to see all the islands at Witless Bay, which were exceptional. We thought Great I. to be the most scenic, but the bird photography was best at Gull I. We had the first of many great looks at Humpback and Minke Whales here. We found the Caribou herd where the Cape Freels road leaves the highway west of Trepassey; this is putatively a different subspecies than we saw in Alaska. A second visit to Cape St. Mary's on a perfect day was very rewarding; we hiked quite a while with one of the rangers (Tony). A special treat was the diminutive Bog Bilbery with its almost spherical pink flowers. Tony and I walked right over it because it was completely hidden by other vegetation but Eileen unerringly found it, no doubt due to her affinity with things pink.


Proceeding west across the island of Newfoundland, in Terra Nova NP, we hiked a trail said to be good for Lynx, but (no surprise) had no luck. It was closed halfway out due to Goshawks attacking hikers! We did have Pine Grosbeak and Black-backed Woodpeckers, however.


In Gros Morne NP we started at the Lomonde Trail, where we found 8 of the 10 species of orchids known to grow there. Because the season was very late, few of the orchids were in bloom, though we did see Early Coralroot, a species we have encountered rarely, in bloom. March Horsetail, a scouring rush related to the ferns, was a second sighting ever for us. What a marvelous trail! The next day we hiked a ways on the Green Gardens Trail. This was very scenic and the plants were very interesting, with the magenta Alpine Campion a favorite. The Berry Hill Trail was a delight, featuring Braun's Holly Fern, White Mandarin, and our second Heart-leaved Twayblade (an orchid) sighting ever (although we saw it twice more later in the trip).


Our next major destination was on the Great Northern Peninsula. We took the road to the Point Riche lighthouse, as suggested by Todd Boland, a botanist living in St. Johns, who provided us with excellent advice on where to find interesting plants in Newfoundland. Here we were astounded by the abundance of plants entirely new to us. We had seen and photographed in bloom over 500 spp. of native wildflowers in northeastern North America at that point, but the first stop along this road yielded 5 new species! Roseroot and Northern Asphodel were delightful, but Bird's-Eye Primrose was truly one of the loveliest flowers we have ever seen. Farther north, at Watt's Point in the fog, we found Fiery Lousewort in full bloom.


After Cape Norman, which was very scenic, we got a motel in St. Anthony's to have a break from camping. Returning south after visiting the Viking settlement at L'Anse-aux-Meadows, we saw the unique Mare's Tail (Hippurus) at Reef's Harbor and there and at St. Pauls had large numbers of Moonwort, a bizarre grape fern. At the latter location we counted about 80 Moonworts per square meter in some areas and there were many thousands of plants overall, possibly into the tens of thousands! This is the way we like to see unusual plants!


The ferry across the Straits of Belle Isle to mainland Labrador was excellent for pelagics, including dark Fulmar and many Finback and Humpback Whales, one of the latter of which was lobtailing. Coastal Labrador and Quebec were nice for raptors (Merlin and Rough-Legged Hawk) and the area near the L'Anse-L'Amour Lighthouse was good for plants, including Kotzebue's Grass-of-Parnassus, which was new to us. The return ferry to St. Barbe was dull, as was the return ferry from Port-aux-Basques to Nova Scotia, although a dozen or so Leach's Storm-Petrels complemented the few Wilson's on the Argentia leg.


Prince Edward Island was our tenth and final Canadian province (we will have to see about those Canadian territories next year). Highlights there were Piping Plovers and Arctic Terns on nests, and a den of Red Foxes (three pups, one adult) at very close range at Orby Head. We had poor weather in Kouchibouguac NP in New Brunswick, but saw thousands of roadside orchids (mostly Grass Pinks with a few Rose Pogonia). As we neared and then crossed the Gaspe Peninsula, my abyssmal French was tested sorely, but as was the case everywhere we went on this vacation, people were extremely friendly and helpful. Bonaventure I. was an interesting contrast to Cape St. Mary's (it is not as pretty but you can get even closer to the Gannets, which is great for photography). We found a larger species of twayblade in bud on the island, (probably Listera convallarioides), which was our 16th and final orchid species of the trip. We tried to get a whale trip out of Forillon N. P. for Blue Whale but were weathered out. We had some problems getting reservations to cross the St. Lawrence and ended up having to skimp on Parc de la Gaspesie, which was disappointing, as we really did not get to experience much of the botanical potential of the Gaspe (although I believe that the overlap with western Newfoundland is considerable). Finally, a boat trip from the Tadoussac area in the St. Lawrence River yielded a couple dozen Belugas (White Whales), one of our principal targets on the trip.


In total, we drove 5900 miles in 23 days and spent 27 hours on ferries. Eileen had 4 life birds (Leach's Storm-Petrel, Greater Shearwater, Manx Shearwater, Atlantic Puffin) and the latter two were only my second sightings. We each had three life mammals (Atlantic Pilot Whale, Gray Seal, Beluga), bringing our year total to 5 new mammals, and we photographed 24 new native plants in flower, most in Newfoundland, bringing our total to 570 species, with 72 new species in 1997.