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Doorway to a Career

Lynne Stenzel


Before "internship" was the term given to full-time study and volunteering at PRBO, our organization was training field biologists and preparing them for careers in conservation science. Many of the senior staff at PRBO got their starts as resident volunteers--at Palomarin Field Station, on Southeast Farallon Island, or (as in Lynne Stenzel's case) helping study shorebirds.--Editor
Lynne sieves for invertebrates from the Bolinas dock. PRBO photo

In 1971, as a student of marine biology at College of Marin, I had become a disciple of the great teacher Al Molina and his ecological approach. While attending his summer courses that year, I spent most evenings in the Bolinas Marine Lab, wading through manuals, atlases and primary literature to identify the invertebrates collected on our field trips. After the course ended, I continued to hang out at the Lab, helping collect and classify intertidal organisms. One day that late summer, Gary Page walked in the door. He had been given my name as a person who might be interested in identifying some worms he had collected from Bolinas Lagoon.

Gary had arrived at PRBO in February 1971, and by fall of that year (after things settled down from the huge oilspill outside the Golden Gate!) he was focused on an ecological study of shorebirds on Bolinas Lagoon. Gary aimed to include not only the shorebirds but also their predators (raptors) and their prey (invertebrates)--an uncommon approach at the time and thus an exciting study to be invited to join.
Early days of PRBO'S Bolinas Lagoon: (L) Lynne Stenzel, Gary Page and Gary's sister Deanna survey shorebirds. PRBO photo

I'd like to think it was talent and great insight that allowed me to correctly identify the species Gary showed me in our first work session, but luck probably played the biggest role. Hoping that he had secured an assistant for the diet studies he planned, Gary encouraged me to help design and implement an invertebrate sampling scheme for the lagoon. He applied to the County of Marin and Marin Audubon Society for a grant to pay me for this work, but it was 15 months before the funding came through. During that time I worked on a volunteer basis for 40-plus hours a week while also maintaining a part-time 'day job' to pay my bills.

Like so many others at PRBO, I learned by doing, first by sampling the sand- and mud-dwelling creatures but later by participating in all aspects of the project; I gained experience in the profession of conservation science. Of the numerous publications that came from those early months of work on Bolinas Lagoon, I played a major writing role in Aspects of the Ecology of Shorebirds on Bolinas Lagoon (a 1975 report to the County of Marin by G. Page and L. Stenzel) and Feeding Behavior and Diet of the Long-billed Curlew and Willet (a 1976 paper in the Wilson Bulletin by L. E. Stenzel, H. R. Huber, and G. W. Page).

Well before a salary became available for me, late in 1972, I had become (and remain) a PRBO shorebird biologist. In this role, I have joined Gary Page and numerous other PRBO scientists in providing training for the hundreds of volunteers and interns who, as I did, gain invaluable experience--and who make our projects possible.