Favorite photos, memories, and stories from the class throughout the decades!

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Adventures in IB LBK and Beyond

Submitted by Todd Schlenke, Spring 1994

I took IB 104 in 1994 with Jim Patton, Ned Johnson, and Harry Greene.  Some things I remember from the course were: On a fieldtrip to Sagehen Creek we trapped a flying squirrel.  We let it out in a clearing in the forest – it immediately jumped on a student and climbed up to her shoulder, then jumped off and glided to another student and climbed up that student’s shoulder, then jumped off and glided to a tree, which it promptly ran up.  On a fieldtrip to Hastings we trapped a skunk, and Jim couldn’t help getting sprayed right in the glasses when he tried to sneak up and open the cage.  On another fieldtrip where our van was trying to “find” more vertebrates than the other vans, Ned would pull over on various side roads, open his window to hear bird calls, and tell us what new species he’d heard that we should write down in our notebooks.  I also remember taking a lab test where we received a bizarre looking skull to identify.  By dentition it seemed to be a dog, and sure enough it turned out to be a bulldog skull (a trick question) – that might have been Jim’s Mammalogy class.

After IB 104 I got a job as a curatorial assistant at the MVZ where I worked for two years.  I worked on the bird egg collection, among other things, and was often surrounded by dozens of random egg boxes of different shapes with outdated taxonomy.  I was jokingly referred to as “egg boy”. My job was to get everything into standardized containers and get them sorted by taxonomy.  There was one really large set of eggs from a particular collector who for some reason tagged all the specimens with a letter code rather than a number code, even though his notebooks had numbers for every specimen (his notebooks also had vivid descriptions of collecting golden eagle eggs and eating them for breakfast – “tastes like chicken”).  By comparing the rarer specimens back to his notebook I slowly deciphered his code: it was BLACKSMITH, where B stood for 0, L stood for 1, etc.  Why he chose to use a different code for his notes versus his actual specimens I don’t know, but I was very proud to have figured it out.

Taking IB 104 and working in the Museum opened my eyes to the possibility that one could study natural history for a living. I went to grad school at UT Austin and TA’d vertebrate natural history there a few times, then eventually switched over to bugs.  I’m now a professor at the University Arizona working on the evolution and genetics of interactions between fruit flies and their parasites, especially parasitoid wasps.


A Career Changer

Submitted by Raymond B. Huey, Spring 1965

Unlike many biologists, I was never a child naturalist. In fact, I had no interest in animals as a kid. True, I did collect my first herp (a desert tortoise) when I was 5 years old. I took that tortoise to ‘show-and-tell’ at my kindergarten class and proudly announced that I’d dug up a turtle. My teacher quickly corrected me, “Ray, thats a tortoise, not a turtle.”  That was my first encounter with the trials of taxonomy, and it soured me on herps for years.

I avoided taking biology in high school, and went off to Deep Springs College in ’61. Although Deep Springs is in an isolated desert valley in eastern California, it was occasionally invaded by herpetologists in pursuit of the endemic Deep Spring toad (Anaxyrus exul). I remember thinking that anyone who would drive hundreds of miles just to see a little black toad is certainly strange and perhaps warped!  I had no inkling whatsoever that I myself would soon become a herper.

I transferred to Berkeley in Jan ’64 with the near-certain intent of eventually going into medicine. I chose to major in Zoology, as the associated course work would make medical school less challenging. Becoming a professor was not on my radar.  I took Zool 1a that spring and Zool 1b that summer (at UCLA). I found both courses to be boring and conceptually uninteresting, and I got C’s in both. Obviously, I did not get off to a good start!

But in fall ‘64 I took Embryology from Richard Eakin and Wildlife Biology from Starker Leopold. Both were captivating professors, I loved the material, and my grades jumped to A- and A respectively. Zoology was suddenly starting to look interesting, but even so I was still fully committed towards medical school.

In spring ’65 Leopold invited me to participate in a grad seminar on wildlife biology, and I also took the Natural History of the Vertebrates (then Z. 113), taught by Seth Benson, Ned Johnson, and Robert Stebbins. The course had a reputation of being a major time sink, but I was immediately at home. Great profs, great material, great TAs, and great field trips. For the first time in my academic education, I had found material that was 100% fun to learn. I devoured everything (I even read the textbook) and was soon at the top of the class. As a result, Ned Johnson and later Robert Stebbins offered me a job, which got me involved in the MVZ as a bonus.

For me the individual field project was the high point of the Natural History course. I’d been on a canoe trip on the Russian River the previous summer and was excited to drift very close to a great blue heron. So, I decided to observe the foraging behavior of great blues. This was the first field project I’d ever done, but I was a kid in a candy store; and I happily spent my entire spring vacation (plus several weekends) watching herons near Bodega and Tomales Bays.

I still have my project paper — it is in fact the only thing I saved from my undergrad days!  Here are two quotes. “Herons use two distinct types of hunting whether on land or in the water stalking and still hunting…” “If a heron isstill hunting in a shallow bay when the tide is coming in, it will orient itself into the flow of the water and wait for the waterto bring in its hoped for meal.” Thus, I had observed that herons adjusted their foraging mode to the immediate habitat.    

[As delighted as I when I found that old project paper, I was rather shocked to be reminded how poor a writer I was at the time.  Here is the start of the Introduction: “The central coastal are of California between Tomales and Bodega Bay is a compact interspersion of relatively unadulterated habitats…Corresponding to these habitats is a diverse variety of avifauna…” ]

By coincidence, Eric Pianka was finishing his PhD thesis at the University of Washington in that same spring of ‘65. His thesis included a chapter (published in 1966 in Ecology), distinguishing between “sit-and-wait” versus “widely foraging” lizards, and Eric speculated that this difference might reduce interspecific competition. So, we had independently seen different foraging modes and interpreted them in an ecological context.

By the end of the Natural History course, I was beginning to favor a career in biology rather than in medicine. I graduated in January 1966 and immediately went on a Tropical Ecology field course (OTS) in Costa Rica. That course – and the associated faculty and students – reinforced my feeling that I should switch to biology.

When I returned from OTS, I got a job working in the herp lab for Robert Stebbins, who was about to go on sabbatical leave in Australia. That job led to an opportunity to join Carl Koford and two grad students on a fantastic MVZ expedition to the coastal deserts of Peru in summer 1967. I then started grad school in Zoology at the University of Texas Austin in Sept 1967, and did my thesis (June ‘69) on interspecific competition of geckos in coastal Peru.

By yet another coincidence, Eric Pianka was hired at UT in Sept 1968, and we immediately became close friends. Eric invited me to run a NSF-funded field study on species diversity and ecology of desert lizards in the Kalahari Desert, and I jumped at the chance.

So, from late November ‘69 until mid-October ‘70, I camped out in the Kalahari, happily chasing the wily desert lizard, while evading scorpions, puff adders, cobras, lions and their ilk. Eric came over for about two months, and we soon noticed that the lacertid species used two different foraging modes, sit-and-wait or widely-foraging.  We ended up writing a paper (Ecological consequences of foraging mode, Ecology ‘81) that drew attention to the importance of foraging mode in ecology, and also that introduced me to phylogenetic thinking and the comparative method. I later did a set of additional papers with great colleagues (with Al Bennett, Ken Nagy, and Henry John-Alder) on the physiological ecology of those lizards. 

Returning to the States in late ‘70, I became a grad student at Harvard, finished my degree in ‘75, and moved back to the MVZ for a Miller Postdoc (’75-’77).  I was then hired as an Assistant Professor of Zoology at the University of Washington, and my first course was, of course, “Natural History of the Vertebrates, Exclusive of Fishes”!

So, Natural History of the Vertebrates has profoundly and positively influenced my life and career. Most importantly, I learned that organismal and academic biology was not only great fun and exciting, but also that academic biology would be far more interesting to me than was medicine.  As a result, I changed careers and have never regretted that shift.  Also, that course got me involved with the MVZ, where I was able to meet and interact with outstanding scientists, join the MVZ expedition to Peru, and later be a postdoc. And my field observations on foraging behavior of herons led directly to ecological and physiological projects on foraging mode of Kalahari lizards. Natural History of the Vertebrates compelled me to a career that I have enjoyed for over half a century.


Suited for the Occasion

Submitted by Lawrence A (Larry) Riggs, TA 1974-1976 and 1978, Teaching Associate 1977

As GSI in 1974, 1975, and 1976 (we were “TA’s” then), Teaching Associate in 1977, and GSI once more in 1978, I often reminded students to dress appropriately for Zoology 107 field trips and to be prepared for weather changes.  Photos from the early days of MVZ field trips show “appropriate” dress to be full suits and long dresses, usually black in color.  In the 1970’s the colors were lighter, occasionally flamboyant.  But we were usually well prepared for the weather – for example with birthday suits for the banks of the Owens River on a 70’s-era Spring Break trip to the desert.


A Herpetologist Out from the Rocks

Submitted by Bryan Bach, Spring 2016

I don’t know how it happened, but for the final IB 104 trip to Hastings, I was picked to be in the Birds of the Central Valley van. “That’s funny,” Jim McGuire said after we’d arrived. “I thought you would have been in one of the herp-themed vans.” Me and you both, Jim.

Though I was admittedly expecting the worst, I was absolutely delighted by the birds we saw—Loggerhead Shrike in the distance at Del Puerto Canyon, a flock of Cedar Waxwings noisily munching on mulberries (I helped myself, too) in Gustine, and the chainsaw-like song of the Yellow-headed Blackbird at Merced National Wildlife Refuge.


How Many Field Biologists Does it Take to Lift a Car?

Submitted by Sabrina Horrack, Spring 2017

On our trip to Pt. Reyes, our car got a flat tire. Another car of fellow students stopped and stayed behind to help while the cars ahead of us went on. When we got the tire off and tried to put on the spare, we realized the jack wasn’t quite tall enough and we didn’t have enough clearance to get the tire on. Faced with a lack of cell service/ability to call for help, with the turkey vultures soaring ominously overhead waiting for us to fail and die in the wilderness, we did what any intrepid field biologists in our position would have. We gathered around and lifted the car enough to slide the tire on. So, how many amazing lady field biologists does it take to lift a car? Turns out it’s about 8. The rest of our class may have gotten to go on and see some quail and an otter latrine without us, but at least we got a good story and some intense biologist bonding out of our misfortune!



Zoology 107: A Lasting Mark

Submitted by Katie (McLain) Noonan, Spring 1970

I was a student in Zoology 107 in Spring 1970, and my professors were: Oliver Pearson, Ned Johnson, Robert Stebbins and James Patton. The course discipline of careful observation, recording details — being quiet on the trail — and appreciating the ecological context of our lives stayed with me in all my subsequent endeavors.  I completed a Ph.D. in Biological Sciences at the University of Michigan in 1979 with Richard D. Alexander (my dissertation “Strategies of Inclusive fitness maximizing in the social wasp, Polistes fuscatus). 

My most vivid memories of Zoology 107 are of 1) sitting on lab tables and watching a rattlesnake and a CA King snake interact, and 2) having my T.A. break into tears recounting the failure of Brown Pelican nests in the Channel Islands in 1970.

Currently, I volunteer with UC Berkeley professor Frank Sulloway on his long-term study of the population dynamics of Opuntia echios in the Galapagos in relation to human influences, using the technique of repeat photography.  My role is to help find new photographs especially from the 1960’s-2000 and then to compare the photos from different years to abstract survival and recruitment of individuals. If you would like to share photos for research, please contact Dr. Sulloway at sulloway@berkeley.edu, phone (510) 642-7139. You can read about the research in an article on his website, “The mystery of the disappearing Opuntia” at http://www.sulloway.org/OpuntiaMystery.pdf

I taught high school biology in Oakland California from 1990-2014. I am perhaps proudest of this part of my story because I was able to develop a program inspired by Zoology 107 that encouraged students to spend time observing nature, keep field notebooks, and consider the ecological context of their lives. Many of my students became scientists, conservationists, teachers and outdoors enthusiasts.  

The photo shows a trip to Plaza Sur (Galapagos Islands) in 2013. 


Race to Hastings

Submitted by Natasha Stepanova, Spring 2016

For the final field trip, our class broke into groups with each taking a different route to Hastings Natural History Reservation in Carmel Valley, competing to see who could get the highest number of species along the way. My group went through the Santa Cruz Mountains where we stopped at multiple locations, primarily to look for herps though we kept our eyes peeled for other vertebrates. Our biggest find, pictured here, was a first for most of us, a Rubber Boa (Charina bottae). In fact, we found a total of three over the two-day trip! We also saw a black salamander (Aneides flavipunctatus) and the largest rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus) I have ever seen. By the time we reached Hastings, we had seen over 100 species!
At Hastings, we joined up with the others to eat dinner, set mammal traps, and spend the night. The next morning, after checking the traps and hiking, we gathered to go through our species lists. Although my group didn’t see the most vertebrates, we did see many herps that we’d never seen on previous field trips and all of us had a blast. As a class, we saw around 260 species overall! To top it off, on the way back, we stopped once more in the Santa Cruz Mountains and found 4 snakes (rubber boa, ring-necked snake, gopher snake, Coluber constrictor) within five minutes of each other. It was the perfect way to end the best course I took at Berkeley.  


A Lesson in Territoriality

Submitted by David Kammerer, Spring 1992

I took this class in early 1990’s and Prof. Ned Johnson led the Ornithology section. The class was down at Aquatic Park on a field trip having a great old time. I pointed out an Anna’s Hummingbird perched on top of a branch. We observed it for a few moments and it then flew away. I began to move on but Ned instructed us to wait around for a minute. Sure enough, the Anna’s returned to the exact perch it had left one minute before!

After Ned’s explanation, the importance of territory was etched in my mind.


Predicting the Rise of Computers 

Submitted by Ilka Schulz, Spring 1990

I was a student in IB 104 Spring 1990, my first semester at UC Berkeley as a transfer student. It was an exceptional experience!  I am a biology teacher in Switzerland now and still grateful for that course.

Just one anecdote I remember from the good-bye meeting of 104 in the big lecture hall. Ned Johnson gave a moving speech to us on completion of the course, and I remember that he predicted that the computers we had just started using (mostly offline at that time, I bought my first Macintosh at UCB 1991) would become the most important tool by the time we were adults, and that we would save the forests by not reading paper journals and newspapers any more. Crazy!!


Field Footwear Faux Pas

Submitted by Paula White, GSI/TA 1999-2003

I was fortunate enough to be a GSI for several years and ultimately a TA for the Natural History of the Vertebrates class while completing my PhD. Saturday field trips met early in the mornings, rain or shine, in various parks around Berkeley. One morning as we were all assembled and getting ready to head out on the trails, a car raced up at the last minute, parked, and a student who was running late got out. He rushed over to meet up with us. It was only then that he realized he was still wearing his fuzzy bedroom slippers. That was the only footwear he had with him, and it was a very muddy day on the steep trails, but he just laughed and slid along good-naturedly for several miles through the puddles and muck as we checked small mammal traps and looked for birds, reptiles and amphibians. I doubt his slippers survived beyond that day, but he never complained. Such was the enthusiasm that 104 inspired in students.


Bird Watching and Robbing

Submitted by Michael Chinn, Spring 1972

I was a student in Zoology 107 in 1972.

A member of our class, who was apparently a falconer, was implicated in the robbing of the nest of Peregrine Falcons at Morro Rock that spring. I don’t know if they ever recovered the birds, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t pass the class.

I still enjoy going bird watching and that has taken me to many places I might never have visited. I volunteer as a docent at the Berkeley Botanical Garden, and often point out the vertebrates we run across on my tours. I also helped create a guide for the Garden and East Bay Hills – “Illustrated Guide to Common Animals of the East Bay Hills” which covers common vertebrates and insects in the Berkeley Hills.


Good Friends

Submitted by Monica Jane Albe, Spring 2000

Our class had some really wonderful people in it and over the semester, many of us became good friends.
And speaking of good friends — during that time, in grocery stores, there was Kashi ‘Good Friends’ cereal, and one of the people on the cover of it looked  just like one of my lab buddies, Lauren Richardson (McGoldrick at that time). I thought this was hilarious.
So, as a joke one time, I bought a box of the cereal and brought it into lab to show the class and get Lauren’s autograph on it….turns out, Lauren did some modeling and that was ACTUALLY HER! We all laughed and I felt pretty silly. We had so many good laughs during that class. The students were great, the GSIs were great, and the professors were amazing! Wouldn’t trade those memories for anything!



Influence of the Natural History of the Vertebrates Class

Submitted by Carla Cicero, Undergraduate Spring 1981, GSI 1987, Teaching Associate Spring 1992

I took the “Natural History of the Vertebrates” class in 1981 when it was Zoology 107. We were on the quarter system, so it was an intense 20 week class with one grade for 10 units. Without a doubt it was the best class I ever took at Cal. I had already been interested in animals, and especially birds, and had taken a similar field ecology class at the Teton Science School (Jackson Hole, Wyoming) when I was in high school. If you want to be a field biologist, there is nothing like these sorts of experiences – especially if you grow up in a city like I did.

In those days, one field trip involved watching “Brown Towhees” (now known as California Towhees) for a full four hours and then writing a report on their behaviors. I remember that it was raining that trip. Who knew that watching a LBJ (“little brown job”) in the rain could be so fun?!  Although I loved taking the class, I equally loved helping to teach it and seeing students get excited by the natural world.

This is a picture of me in 1987 holding a nestling Barn Owl at Corral Hollow to show to a group of enthusiastic students. 


A Love for Ecology

Submitted by Edwin Pister, Spring 1947

It may well turn out that I am one of the older students who took  Zoo 113, later 107. I am 88 years old and believe I took the class in 1947, not long after WWII. Professors were Bob Stebbins, Alden Miller, and Seth Benson. Our TA was Bob Rudd who led us to numerous woodrat nests in Strawberry Canyon. Bob had recently returned from flying heavy bombers over Germany. Lending assistance to the class was my major professor, A. Starker Leopold, a Berkeley Ph.D.who was creating a major in Wildlife Conservation. I pursued this major through the master’s program and into the Ph.D. Stebbins and I later taught a UCB extension class: “Ecology of the High Mojave Desert,” assisted by Nate Cohen, a really great herpetologist. Through Starker  I received the influence of his Dad, Aldo. “A Sand County Almanac” served as a major guide in my later career and throughout my life.

Following graduation I was hired as a fishery research biologist by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Convict Creek Research Station on Convict Creek in Mono County. I later transferred to a fishery biologist position with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife headquartered in Bishop, supervising aquatic management and research in about a thousand lakes and streams along the crest of the Sierra Nevada, lakes that were formed toward the end of the Pleistocene. I spent my entire career in Bishop and still live there.

I still visit the Bay Area and stay with my brother in Lafayette. Karl served as Dean of the College of Engineering during the 90s and ended up in the President’s Office following six years as Chancellor at U.C. Santa Cruz. At 92 Karl is still active in Berkeley affairs. Karl and I were led to Berkeley by our mother, who attended Cal in the Class of 1914.

If I were to list my major professional accomplishment  influenced by Natural History of the Vertebrates, it would be my efforts to lead the Department of Fisn and Game (later Wildlife) into the management and concern for all parts of the biota, and  not just those with a commercial value. The Department of Fish and Wildlife holds strongly to superficial and traditional values, hunting and fishing being two of these traditions. I am proud of this accomplishment, being led by MVZ faculty and what I learned from them.



Carrying on the Grinnell Method

Submitted by Steven Herman, Spring 1958

I was a student in Natural History of the Vertebrates in1958.  I was fascinated by the course and especially by the Grinnell journal system.  I got only a B- on my journal, but later went on to write and publish a book describing the system in detail:  The Naturalist’s Field Journal: “A Manual of Instruction Based on a System Established by Joseph Grinnell”. The book has gone through two editions and been distributed all over the world.  Several  copies reside in the MVZ library.  Most importantly, the course, the system, and other connections with MVZ led me to a Ph.D. in zoology from UC Davis and a now 46 year career at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.  There I also established The Evergreen State College Museum of Natural History.  The nucleus of my career involved taking students to wild and semi-wild placed in North and Latin America for significant periods of time.  Rigor was ensured by requiring the Grinnell Journal.  So the course and MVZ had much to do with creating a life that has been as rich as any imaginable.


Coyote Hills Bird Hike

Submitted by Steve Carr, Spring 1977

In Spring Semester 1977, Laurence Frank led a group of us student on a bird hike at Coyote Hills. We came across an old snag, with extending limb. Beneath the limb were several owl pellets. Students began poking them apart, looking at the remains of small rodents, etc. Someone asked, “What kind of owl is it, Laurence?” Laurence answered without hesitation, “Great Horned Owl.” Students wrote this down in their field notes; I thought, well, sure, and wrote it down. Laurence sniffed the pellet, and announced “Female.” Students wrote; I closed my notes. Laurence mashed it open, tasted it, and announced “Raised three young to maturity last year.” Students wrote; I listened. Some students were still writing it all down several minutes later.


Field Day at Corral Hollow

Submitted by Jackie Childers, Spring 2011

After spending the entire day in separate vans, three teams competed to find the highest number of species in the final bioblitz of the 104 class. At the end of the day we arrived at Corral Hollow, wading through the high grass at sunset to reach our final destination: a large rock-outcropping at the edge of a farm where for many years a pair of Barn Owls continued to nest every Spring. This year was no different and we were able to view the nest that evening, and it contained three nestlings.




Sunol Regional Wilderness

Submitted by Jackie Childers, Spring 2011

Sean the snake charmer: Sean Reilly, a former graduate student of Jim McGuire, had disappeared for 20 minutes while the rest of the class continued to search for lizards and snakes under boulders. When he suddenly returned he came back not just with one, but three snakes! A Whip Snake (Masticophis flagellum) in his right hand, a Western Racer (Coluber constrictor) in his left, and a Gopher Snake (Pituophis catenifer) around his neck. Sean was the TA for IB104 during this semester.


Tilden Park – Dawn Chorus Trip

Submitted by Jackie Childers, Spring 2011

The Dawn Chorus field trip was the first time in my life I’d ever seen wild birds up close and held them. We set up mist nets before the sun rose, and within the next hour we already had our hands full. California and Spotted Towhees, Wrentits, Bewick’s Wren, and several Wilson’s Warblers were all carefully removed, one by one, before being weighed and measured and subsequently released. Rauri is shown here, instructing me how to properly hold one of the delicate Wilson’s Warbler’s we caught, the first bird I ever held in my life. Now, nearly six years later I’m a first-year PhD student in his lab!