11 December 1993

 

Dear Friends and Family,

 

This has been a pretty exciting year for us, with one major trip and quite a number of shorter trips, plus the usual weekends of camping. Our job and home situations are much the same. Kodak has not been doing especially well, but we have a new CEO (George Fisher from Motorola) who is probably the best CEO the company has had in decades. I expect the next two years to bring a lot of changes, but I am uncertain whether on balance they will have a positive or negative effect on research.

In the beginning of the year, we took several short vacations that were built off my business trips. In January we spent a week in Orlando, where Kodak introduced a new product that I invented, KODAK EKTACHROME Underwater Film, at the DEMA (Diving Equipment Manufacturers' Association) convention. The design and production of this film was very exciting and challenging for me, especially as there was no budget, no management sanction, and no official personnel. About half a dozen of us worked on this for a year in our spare time, and it was thrilling to have the product make it to market. There is no other film like it, and I hope that it will change the way that underwater photography is done.

After the convention, we took a couple of days to look for manatees on the Gulf Coast, an endeavor in which we were quite successful. An ancillary victory for us was our first sighting of wild snook, a game fish regarding which we read a number of very vague and mysterious references while in Baja (... it was here, in 1926, that Sir Reginald Hopkins encountered the infamous snook, in a battle from which legends would spring ... that sort of thing).

In February, underwater film took us south again to Atlanta, for the PMA (Photo Marketing Association) trade show. Eileen managed to visit several civil war battle sites (Chickamauga, Picket's Mill, Kennesaw Mt.) while I was in the convention. On the way, we stopped in South Carolina to visit my Dad and his wife Dotty. We had a fun day on the coast, seeing and hearing the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker very well. This species may never have been especially common, but fragmentation and lumbering of southern pine forests, especially those of longleaf pine, has reduced the population into the low thousands. Recently, serious hurricane damage to its last strongholds has further disrupted breeding. This species may become extinct in the next century.

In March, we bought Eileen a new car, replacing her 11-year old Ford escort with a cute 4WD (four-wheel drive) Subaru sedan. A blizzard right after this (occasionally, we get a truly wicked storm in March) gave Eileen a chance to try out the 4WD, and she was pretty thrilled when she was able to get in and out of the driveway without getting stuck! We've taken a number of short, non-camping trips in her car, to try to control the mileage buildup on the van (which nonetheless had reached 112,000 miles on its fouth birthday). Also in March, after a weekend with some friends in Toronto to see a performance of "Phantom of the Opera," Eileen flew home to Texas for her parents' fortieth wedding anniversary. With all the kids (seven of them) home, it was quite a celebration! Finally, we made our traditional trip to the Bruce Peninsula for snowshoe hares and, as tradition dictates, did not see any well, but saw lots of tracks. A beautiful snowy owl was some compensation, and as usual, we hand-fed reams of bold black-capped chickadees, which is quite an addictive pasttime.

Starting in April, for two months, I spent two mornings a week censusing neotropical migrants (birds that breed here but winter in Central and South America) along the Lake Ontario shoreline for the Nature Conservancy. I saw some lovely habitat on private lands, and had some nice sightings (many mourning warblers, willow and alder flycatchers singing together, and acadian flycatcher unusually far north). Also in April we saw one of our best birds of the year, a beautiful male garganey, which is a rare Eurasian duck; it turned up at a national wildlife refuge an hour to the west of us, and provided only my second sighting ever.

In May we took a 9-day trip to the deep south, inspired by another business trip, this one to Biloxi, Miss. to judge entries in the International Science and Engineering Fair. This extravaganza features about a thousand winners of country, state and local high school science fairs around the world (though certainly concentrated in the US). About a dozen of us from Kodak attend each year to award prizes for creative use of photography in the projects. Before the fair, Eileen and I camped in the Florida panhandle, locating some very rare conifers, the Florida Torreya and Florida Yew, the former of which is essentially extirpated from the wild (there are only a handful remaining, and no mature specimens are extant). After this trip, there were only two remaining conifers in eastern North America that I had not seen, Pond Pine and Carolina Hemlock. After the fair, we visited a petrified forest and the Vicksburg battlefield in Mississippi. We had lots of good plants, including yellow trumpets (a carnivorous pitcher plant), and a nice assortment of southern birds, including 4 new species for Eileen: Swainson's and Kentucky warblers, Bachman's sparrow, and Mississippi kite.

We finally had a deck built, which was finished on our 7th anniversary on 14 June. The deck, which I designed, is octagonal, 1 - 1 feet off the ground, with no railings to block the view of the back yard; we even found an octagonal cedar table to match it. We stained it gray like the house and we think it turned out well. We enjoyed eating out there almost every evening that we were at home for the rest of the summer. A family of downy woodpeckers afforded us almost continuous entertainment at the suet feeder a short distance from the edge of the deck.

We started June by censusing the rare small white lady's slipper (found only two places in New York state, where it is at the eastern extent of its range). The next weekend we took two friends to the Adirondacks for a weekend of birding, and had very good luck, finding three species of birds at the very southern edge of their range in eastern North America (black-backed woodpecker, boreal chickadee, and gray jay). At the end of the month we took a very successful botanizing (plant-finding) trip to the Bruce Peninsula on Lake Huron; exciting finds included two rare ferns, wall rue and moonwort, the latter a first for us.

One of our major goals this year, starting in early May, was to track down and photograph a variety of native wildflowers in the northeast to bring our total above 300 species. You may recall that about 4 years ago we tried to photograph as many native flowers as possible in a single year, and just barely broke 200. Since then we had added about 15 species a year, and were near 270 at the start of 1993. By making several specific trips to different locations at different times of year, and concentrating on obscurer species in the areas we visit more frequently, we were able to bring our overall list to 333 species, a gain of over 60 species in one year!

Fourth of July week we took an 8-day botanizing trip to the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, by way of the Catskills and Poconos, and looping back via the coast. The Pine Barrens would have been great camping except for a dreadful heat wave that made it difficult to function. While there we photographed our 300th native wildflower of northeastern North America, the thread-leaved sundew, a beautiful carnivore. Other favorite flowers of the trip included orange milkwort, meadow beauty, and golden crest. We next drove up the coast, stopping very briefly on Long Island so Eileen could see roseate terns at a nesting colony. Rhode Island was my 49th state (I have still only landed, but not travelled in, Washington state) and Eileen's 46th state (she has yet to visit Delaware, Washington, or Oregon). From there we continued on to Cape Cod, where a rare black-tailed godwit had been seen recently. Although we did not locate this bird, we did have a very successful whale-watching trip out of Provincetown, which yielded superb views of one of the 300 remaining right whales in the world, as well as minke and finback whales, and Wilson's storm-petrels.

July was rounded out with trips to the Bruce Peninsula and the southwest Adirondacks, during which our good luck with ferns continued. The former trip featured hart's-tongue fern, the distribution of which is very unusual (apparently, on this continent, originally found only in very small portions of Tennessee, New York, Ontario, and New Brunswick); on the latter trip we discovered dissected grape, Massachusetts, and Boott's ferns (this last one a hybrid). We had seen each of these ferns except the grape fern only once before. In the Adirondacks, a short canoe trip resulted in a fine selection of sightings, such as a family of 6 rusty blackbirds (at the southern extreme of their breeding range there), a beaver at close range, and 4 species of carnivorous plants, which are quite common in sphagnum bogs in this region.

We started August with a fine canoe camping trip in the Adirondacks, with lavendar bladderwort (a tiny and apparently very uncommon carnivorous plant), water lobelia, and floating heart (an aquatic gentian) being highlights of the trip. We frequently see the leaves of the latter, which are very cute heart shapes that float on the surface of sluggish rivers, but have had trouble intersecting with their blooming period. The next weekend we visited my Dad and friends in northern Vermont, which was a lot of fun. Our last trip of the month was our third assault on the Bruce Peninsula, where we found late-blooming species such as smaller fringed gentian, rattlesnake plantain, asters, and goldenrods.

Our major trip of the year was the third in a series of four covering the mountain west. Our earlier trips were to the Canadian Rockies/Glacier and Yellowstone/Tetons/Colorado. This three-week trip concentrated on photographing the scenery of southern Utah and the Arizona strip (that part of Arizona north of the Grand Canyon). This was our first major trip ever in the fall. The weather was generally pleasant; the high was 103 in Zion, the low slightly below freezing in Bryce. Although we avoided the tourist season for families with children, some of the parks (Zion and Bryce, especially) were unfortunately fairly crowded, primarily with foreign visitors. However, we visited a lot of out-of-the-way places and sometimes would go half a day without seeing anyone. Our itinerary, with a few highlights, follows. We drove 3 days to reach Cedar Breaks NP, UT, where we camped at over 11,000 feet elevation (our highest camping ever). This eroded amphitheater resembles Bryce but is much higher, with subalpine fir/Engelmann spruce forests, At one overlook, we had a golden eagle pass by at close range, at eye level. From there, we visited the majestic Kolob Canyon area in northwest Zion NP, and then camped at remote Lava Pt. in northern Zion. Next on the agenda was Coral Pink Sand Dunes SP, with its salmon-colored sands and ponderosa pines.

That evening, after a 2-hour drive on confusing dirt roads, we reached a rarely visited viewpoint of the Grand Canyon at Toroweap Pt. Here the canyon is only a mile wide and the sides are almost vertical, so if you climb out onto the rocks at the edge, as we did to photgraph at sunset, you can look straight down into the river. This is considered one of the scariest views around, and more than one author has written of being unable to ever again approach the viewpoint after seeing it once. Eileen was pretty much unwilling to approach the viewpoint before seeing it at all!

After a morning of photographing and enjoying the many white-tailed antelope squirrels and pinyon jays in the area, we headed back north and met Eileen's parents at Zion, where we spent two days. At 04:30 the first morning, Eileen and I crawled out of bed and went searching for ringtails. These very nocturnal, raccoon-like mammals have long, magnificent, black-and-white banded tails. I have been trying at every opportunity to see them for 11 years now, and Eileen and I had come to regard them as being mythical (like lynx and fisher). Consequently, we were amazed when Eileen, after many minutes of searching for an animal that had disappeared down a steep, grassy bank into a grove of trees, put the light on a ringtail halfway up one of the trees! Before dawn, we found two more elsewhere in the park, but we will never forget the thrill of that first view.

Next we spent two days in Bryce NP, where a blue grouse joined us for a picnic lunch one day. The first day was cold, reaching a high of only 55, 48 cooler than the high the previous day in Zion! The following two days were spent at the North Rim. When we arrived, Eileen and I took the 4WD road to Pt. Sublime, which we had entirely to ourselves; the viewpoint was lovely. Eileen's parents started touring the other parts of the park (we could not all fit in our 2-seat 4WD van), and had the audacity to get good views of Kaibab squirrel. Although later in the trip Eileen saw one briefly, I have still not ever seen one, even after 3 trips to the North Rim. The following morning, we went out to Bright Angel Point to see the sunrise; photography was hampered by the high winds (later in the day we had a glass camera filter blow away over the edge!).

From the North Rim, Eileen and I headed northeast, and Eileen's parents headed home. We periodically followed long dirt roads to the Colorado River, obtaining a number of fine views. Marble Canyon, viewed from the House Rock area, was especially dramatic. The dirt road simply barges up to the canyon lip; if you were going fast enough and did not see the edge I think you could drive right off into the canyon. After a windy night of camping at Lee's Ferry, we cleaned and reorganized the van (the former with the help of a friendly canyon wren), and headed for Page, AZ. After picking up literature to help with planning our final trip of the series, we headed north back into Utah and reached Kodachrome Basin, an extinct geothermal area, late in the day. We took the single campsite at Grosvenor Arch, and enjoyed the beautiful double arch with the wails of coyotes in the background.

Continuing northeast we entered Capitol Reef NP from the Burr Trail. This park has lengthy 4WD routes through geologically fascinating areas, each of which we took during our 2-day visit. Some of the geological highlights included the Waterpocket Fold, huge hills composed of bentonite clay, a 20-foot diameter mass of gypsum at the surface, and the monoliths of Cathedral Valley. After efforts spanning over 20 years, I finally was able to add the cryptic Colorado chipmunk to my mammal list, in the canyon at the end of the scenic drive (we also saw this species later in Canyonlands NP). In between Capitol Reef and Canyonlands NP, we stayed at Goblin Valley SP, where at nights the roads abounded with Ord's kangaroo rats and black-tailed jackrabbits, and we also saw a few poorwills.

Canyonlands NP has three isolated districts, separted by the junction of the Green and Colorado Rivers, of which we visited two (the Maze and Island in the Sky) on this trip (the Needles will have to wait for next year). The Maze is far from anywhere and you cannot even get into the national park without 4WD. On the dirt road on the way in (a dusty 2-hour drive), I spotted a badger, one of Eileen's "most wanted" mammals (I had seen one previously), and we got good looks at it. We drove the 9-mile road to Panorama Pt. in 1 hours one-way, excluding stops -- that was one rugged road (average speed 6 mph!) Our camping spot that night, The Neck, was a thin, almost knife-edge ridge between two expansive canyons, each with superb views -- quite a spot!

Next we visited the Island in the Sky District. Scenic photography potential was significantly limited by jeep trails near the canyon rims (we try to have no evidence of man in our scenic photographs, a tremendous challenge in the east, but usually easier in the west). Nearby Dead Horse Pt. SP has a famous vista that, unfortunately, is also marred by a jeep trail. After a pleasant night of remote camping on BLM land outside the park, and pulling a camper out of a soft sand wash, we headed for the last stop of the trip, Arches NP. This is a very enjoyable park, and we had a lot of fun hiking around and photographing a selection of arches. The drive home took 3 days; we stopped overnight in Manhatten, Kansas to visit Eileen's sister's family; it was nice to see them! We arrived home after 23 days, having covered 7200 miles.

We finished up the year with a few short trips. The weekend after returning from the west, we spent three days of miserable weather in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, pretty much at the peak of fall color. Two weekends later we made our traditional trip to the Adirondacks to see the tamaracks in fall color; we were unfortunately a little after peak. Over Thanksgiving, we went to Cape Ann, Massachussetts, a peninsula near the New Hampshire border that is excellent for seabirds at that time of year. There we saw our second right whale; numbers of razorbills, black guillemots, gannets, and kittiwakes; a pair of harlequin ducks; and one dovekie. The razorbills were my first in the US (I saw them on the breeding grounds in Newfoundland 12 years ago), and the dovekie only my third sighting ever.

We are looking forward to spending Christmas visiting my folks in Virginia. I guess that I wrote last year's letter early enough that I did not mention last Christmas, which we spent in west Texas, visiting Eileen's family. While there, we took a 4-day remote camping trip to Big Bend. The trip was delightful; at night, we had to watch where we stepped because there were so many kangaroo rats underfoot -- it sure is hard to beat camping in the desert!

We hope that all is well with you and your families!