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Robert ’50 and Shirley (Johnson) ’50 Batdorf
Tracking Eagles and Tracing Petroglyphs
Alumni Do Field Research Around the World

Robert ‘50 Batdorf participates in an
archaeological dig in Mallorca, Spain in 2002.

Robert ’50 and Shirley (Johnson) ’50 Batdorf have studied deer in Virginia, wrestled and tracked beavers at Voyager National Park in Minnesota, and studied wildlife in Colorado and New Mexico.

They trekked through the wetlands of Manitoba, Canada. They climbed 300 feet into the air to monitor hawks in Colorado, got their hands dirty digging up artifacts of the Beaker people in Mallorca, and traced petroglyphs of the Hopi Indians in the Alamosa River valley of New Mexico.

The Batdorfs, of Reading, Pa., have been traveling the world doing field research for an organization called Earthwatch Institute for the past 16 years. Earthwatch Institute engages people worldwide in scientific field research to promote the understanding and action necessary for a sustainable environment.

The couple, who met in Albright’s chemistry lab, started going on these exotic adventures shortly after Robert’s retirement from Bell Labs in Reading.

Their interest in environmentally demanding fieldwork stemmed from their daughter Carol, an oceanographer who began a study on the effects of oil spills on wildlife surviving in a bay in New England.

Earthwatch, which has research expeditions in 48 countries, provides students, volunteers, teachers, and researchers with the tools needed to execute field work on a variety of subjects including environmental studies and archeology.

The Batdorf ’s first memorable trip was in 1990. The two vivacious Albrightians went to Michigan to conduct studies on bald eagles. Robert and Shirley were given 40 nests to tend to, and they helped collect blood and measurements from bald eagles between the ages of seven and nine weeks.

Shirley (Johnson) ‘50 Batdorf participates in an archaeological dig in Mallorca, Spain in 2002.

Robert says, in order to collect the measurements and samples, professional climbers ascended hundreds of feet into trees to reach the nests.“We were called ‘gaboons,’” he jests, as he describes how the couple gathered items, like feathers, from around the eagle’s nests. A “gaboon” is an affectionate term for the researcher’s assistant. The Batdorfs enjoyed themselves so much that they went on another bald eagle expedition the following year.

While digging in a square meter hole at the Roman Fort on the Tyne River in England, Shirley found a Roman coin with the image of Trajan, the Roman emperor from A.D. 98 to 117. “He was before Hadrian and after Caesar,” says Shirley. She had been told earlier in the expedition to call a researcher if she came across any green soil. The coin, which was made of copper, would turn the soil green and let everyone know it was there.

Robert also found an ancient Roman artifact, a silver stylus. The stylus would have been used to write in wax and was four to six inches long. “It looked like something you used to push back the cuticle on your finger,” says Shirley.

In England, the couple had the chance to visit Newcastle on their only day off. They arrived on the one day of the year in which the old castle of Newcastle was open, took a tour and viewed ancient engineering drawings that dated back to the first and second centuries.

Of the 15 invigorating expeditions that the Batdorfs have participated in, “Alaska was our favorite,” says Shirley. In 1995, the pair traveled to Mother Goose Lake in Alaska. Along with other team members and researchers, the Batdorfs tagged and monitored birds using mist nets. Robert jokes about the weather forecast in Alaska: it was always, “cloudy with a chance of rain or cloudy with a chance of snow . . . and it was never wrong.”

These Earthwatch expeditions have served as vacations for the Batdorfs, Robert says, and they don’t plan on stopping them anytime soon.“We’ll keep going as long as Earthwatch will have us.”

– Kellie Connors '07

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