Science for a Blue Planet

Featuring cutting-edge work, discoveries, and challenges of our scientists, our partners, and the larger conservation science community.

Lynne Stenzel: the Woman, the Myth, the Legend

Lynne Stenzel, Wetlands and Shorebird Ecologist on staff at Point Blue from 1973 to 2023

This year marks a big milestone in Point Blue’s people history. Lynne Stenzel retired at the end of March after 50 years of being on staff with the organization! She’s the last to retire of the folks who were with the organization starting in the 1970s and has such a wealth of knowledge about the organization’s history: its science, its culture, its characters (and there have been many characters!). We are so excited for Lynne. We are NOT sad, because Lynne will become a Point Blue Research Associate, working on our deep, rich, fascinating data set on Snowy Plovers in Monterey. And she will remain a resource, a colleague, and a friend to the organization for years to come.

Lynne has been an incredibly productive scientist, starting with her first published paper, out in 1976 with Gary Page and Harriet Huber, “Feeding behavior and diet of the Long-billed Curlew and Willet” in the Wilson Bulletin, to her latest, very important paper accepted by Ecosphere, “Climate change consequences for differential adult survival and the mating system of a temperate breeding shorebird,” co-authored by most of the long-timers on the Monterey Bay Snowy Plover project (it will be published and available soon!).

From my first days with the org I have admired Lynne’s broad range of skills, deep knowledge, and  enthusiasm for fieldwork. Her positive attitude is completely infectious, and I strive to emulate her kindness and grace. She has served as an inspiration for generations of field biologists and been the steward of one of our richest long-term databases. Lynne will always be part of Point Blue.” – Grant Ballard, Ph.D., Chief Science Officer

Lynne Stenzel sieving for invertebrates in the late 1970s or early 1980s on the Bolinas Lagoon. Photo courtesy of Lynne Stenzel.

Lynne originally came to then Point Reyes Bird Observatory in 1973 to be part of an ambitious study led by wetlands scientist Gary Page to monitor the health of the Bolinas Lagoon estuary through the shorebirds, involving understanding the trophic relationships of shorebirds, studying both their predators and their prey. Lynne was a keener on invertebrate identification and entered this way to the rich world of ecology.

Lynne says, “I began to feel I had found not only the direction I wanted to go, but also the band I wanted to play in.”

Lynne describes the early days at the organization with great fondness: days when they’d turn the worktable at Palomarin into a ping pong table at the end of a long workday (which still happens!), days when they were embarking on new adventures to study bird populations throughout California, days when a very small staff all pitched in on various functions at the organization. Lynne even filled in as secretary for the organization for a couple of weeks early in the 1970s, when there was only a director and secretary and the secretary resigned (mornings in the field, afternoons as secretary, data in the evenings!). She was librarian during the 1970s, during which time she was responsible for converting our then library from “alphabetic-by-author” to Library of Congress numbers, accomplished by dividing up our card catalog among a team of volunteers, driving to the UC Berkeley libraries to get the LC#s, and hand-writing them on our cards. What commitment!

Now an accomplished ecologist and statistician, Lynne remembers when the organization’s first HP calculator was purchased in the early 1970s and they no longer had to calculate standard deviation by hand!

Lynne is such a treasure to Point Blue, and to plover conservation! She has left an indelible mark. I stand on her coattails when I work with the Point Reyes plovers and the Point Blue and NPS team that monitors and helps protect them; when I work with USFWS and the Point Blue T&E species leads to coordinate our Recovery Permit that she curated so attentively for so long before passing that baton to me; and when I collect data from oiled birds and engage in preparedness for future oil spills in California. I am deeply grateful to Lynne on all of those fronts.” – Diana Humple, Avian Ecologist & Banding Coordinator

Lynne has always shared her passion for science and nature (especially wetland birds!) with others. So many of the projects she worked on involved working with volunteers, mostly non-career-track people who wanted to contribute their skills to a scientific endeavor that benefited the natural world. This has been an extremely gratifying part of Lynne’s work. She coordinated volunteers for Bolinas Lagoon bird censuses (1971 to 2016) and for the first West Coast Beach Bird Project for PRBO’s marine bird biologist from 1977 to the mid-1980s. She worked on oil spill effects on marine and shorebirds and on the first study of Double-crested Cormorant nesting on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge from 1988 to 1990. She coordinated volunteers and partners for the Pacific Flyway Project, which from 1988 to 1995 collected a baseline of shorebird abundance data west of the Rockies, from British Columbia to Baja California, that was the foundation for Pacific Flyway Shorebird Survey, the now 13-country Migratory Shorebird Project, and the new 11 state Intermountain West Shorebird Survey.

Lynne has helped to move the field of conservation science forward in so many ways. She helped to bring statistics into our field along with a deep knowledge of the systems in which she worked. Not only is she respected in the shorebird world here in California and the United States but also internationally. Our partners in the Migratory Shorebird Project in Mexico are those same partners that she and Gary Page worked with many years ago. She knew that migratory shorebird conservation here in California would only be successful by looking locally and across the flyway. Her work and partnerships have helped to grow the Point Reyes Bird Observatory into PRBO Conservation Science and then into Point Blue Conservation Science. I truly believe that without her and the other pioneering early scientists of the Point Reyes Bird Observatory our organization would not be where we are today. We can all hope to have a career as impactful as hers.” – Matt Reiter, Ph.D., Research Director, Pacific Coast and Central Valley Group

Snowy Plover with colored leg bands that identify it as an individual for study. Photo credit: Kriss Neuman.

Dearest to her heart is the Snowy Plover. Lynne has been studying the many aspects of plover life history and demographics since 1977. She and Gary Page conceived a project in 1976 with Ricky and John Warriner, a couple who conducted beached bird surveys for PRBO on Monterey Bay and had noticed the plovers breeding at a playa near their beach house. It rapidly grew to a multi-faceted study. They documented the unusual mating system of the species; conducted studies of reproductive success at Point Reyes, Monterey Bay, and Mono Lake; conducted state-wide surveys that revealed a depleted coastal breeding population and a previously unknown large number of plovers breeding in the interior; and worked with our colleagues, partners, and skilled volunteers to protect and study this charismatic species on the Channel Islands, Vandenberg Air Force Base, and Morro Bay area. Lynne helped to build the large community of professional and citizen scientists that to this day work together to restore the coastal, listed subpopulation to a viable size and reproductive success. Lynne is loved and respected by those across the species’ range!

Lynne shares, “Point Blue has long been an organization that attracts extraordinary people, and it has been both humbling and a privilege to work here. I’ve not only worked with highly skilled and creative scientists (and others) but over the years have counted many of them among my dearest friends. Thank you all for your contributions to Point Blue and protecting the natural world. I hope to continue to be part of the Point Blue circle as I enter this next phase of life.”

I want to express my deepest appreciation for the many years of amazing contributions Lynne has made to Point Blue and to the conservation field. In addition to her deep commitment to the mighty Snowy Plover, I admire how much work Lynne has done over the years to engage with and build a community of volunteers and partners (as well as her ability to calculate standard deviation by hand!). – Manuel J. Oliva, Chief Executive Officer

Lynne has been an inspiration and a mentor to many, and one of the most dedicated, passionate, intellectually engaged and curious ecologists. She is a huge part of this organization’s history and its accomplishments. Please join us in sending her congratulations on her retirement.

A Selection of Lynne’s published contributions to science over the years:

Henkel LA, Neuman KK, Stein RW, Stenzel LE. 2020. Assessing accuracy of sampling schemes to estimate western Snowy Plover reproductive success. Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management 11(1):210–216; e1944-687X.

Stenzel, Lynne & Page, Gary. (2019). Breeding Biology of Charadrius Plovers *. DOI: 10.1201/9781315152882-5.

Stenzel, Lynne & Page, Gary. (2018). Trends in abundance of wintering waterbirds relative to rainfall patterns at a central California estuary. DOI: 10.21199/SWB3.13.

Stenzel, Lynne & Hickey, Catherine & Kjelmyr, J.E. & Page, Gary. (2002). Abundance and distribution of shorebirds in the San Francisco Bay area. Western Birds. 33. 69-98.

Gary W. Page, Lynne E. Stenzel, Janet E. Kjelmyr, Overview of Shorebird Abundance and Distribution in Wetlands of the Pacific Coast of the Contiguous United States, The Condor, Volume 101, Issue 3, 1 August 1999, Pages 461–471,

W. David Shuford, Gary W. Page, Jules G. Evens, Lynne E. Stenzel. Seasonal Abundance of Waterbirds at Point Reyes: A Coastal California Perspective. Western Birds 20: 137-265, 1989.

Stenzel, Lynne E., Gary W. Page. (1988). Results of the First Comprehensive Shorebird Census of San Francisco and San Pablo Bays. Wader Study Group Bulletin. 54:43-48. New World Section.

Stenzel, Lynne E., Harriet R. Huber, Gary W. Page. (1976). Feeding Behavior and Diet of the Long-Billed
Curlew and Willet. The Wilson Bulletin. Vol. 88, No. 2.