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Joe T. Marshall, 1918 - 2015

Fern Davies

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Joe Truesdell Marshall, Jr.  a former professor of zoology and curator of birds at the University of Arizona, passed away on 22 February 2015. He was a life member of the American Ornithologists' Union and the Cooper Ornithological Society. Dr. Marshall collected thousands of important specimens from the southwestern USA, Mexico, and elsewhere. He was elected Fellow of the American Ornithologists' Union in 1960. He also served for a time as the curator of birds at Occidental College.


Marshall earned his undergraduate (1939) and graduate degrees (1948)  from UC Berkeley where he studied under Alden Miller.


His graduate work was interrupted by his service in the U.S. Army in World War II. From 1943-1946, he served as a parasitologist in Micronesia. 


Returning to Berkeley, he wrote his thesis on the Song Sparrows of the San Francisco Bay region. This research was published in two parts in the Condor in 1948: 


Ecologic races of Song Sparrow in the San Francisco Bay region Part I. Habitat and Abundance. 1948. Marshall, J.T., Jr. Condor 30:193-215


Ecologic races of Song Sparrow in the San Francisco Bay region Part II. Geographic Variation. 1948. Marshal, J.T. Jr. Condor 50:233-256.


Following graduate school, hoped to work at the field station on Kosrae in the Caroline Islands, but that position did not materialize so Marshall took a research position at the Hastings Reserve in Carmel, California, where he unfortunately contracted polio.  


He then worked in the Marshall Islands in 1951. That same year, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. 


Marshall resumed his career in parasitology in 1964, when he began working for the medical research laboratory of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization in Bangkok, Thailand. He remained in that position until 1976. During that time, Marshall also studied and collected vertebrates of that region, publishing A synopsis of Asian species of Mus (Rodentia, Muridae) (Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History; v. 158, article 3).


Marshall's career also took him to the National Museum of Natural History, where he worked in the collection of what is now the U.S. Geological Survey but was then under the management of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.The Smithsonian archive record of his field notes spans 1932 - 2001:
This collection contains 63 field books and two folders by Joe T. Marshall, originally maintained by the Division of Birds. The field notes mostly consist of journals with daily entries, and species accounts with multiple dated entries containing information regarding a certain species. Entries mostly relate to birds, but there is also information on mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and plants. Marshall takes particular interest in gibbons and towhees as well. Localities include but may not be limited to the United States, Canada, Mexico, Thailand, the Philippines, Arizona, Indonesia, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Nepal, Taiwan, Puerto Rico, India, Fiji, and Singapore. Information included in journal entries and species accounts relates instances of observing and collecting animals, often detailing their age, sex, coloration, physical measurements, calls, the surrounding terrain, specific locality, weather and wind conditions, altitude, and coordinates. There are also many animal sketches and sketched and printed maps, some with a great degree of detail.
In 1964, Marshall co-authored the Birds of Arizona, together with Allan Phillips and Gale Monson. Ken Parke's  review in The Auk stated:
The adjective "long-awaited" should probably have been honorably retired from the book-reviewer's vocabulary after the appearance of Todd's Birds of the Labrador Peninsula (see Auk, 81: 461-464, 1964). Nevertheless, the earliest drafts of Allan Phillips' The birds o! Arizona were written some 30 years ago. As stated in Guy Emerson's preface, Phillips is a perfectionist, and was never quite ready to publish his Arizona book. This was complicated by his moving to Mexico and devoting his research time almost entirely to Mexican birds. A fortunate combination of circumstances and persuasion several years ago resulted in an arrangement whereby Joe Marshall, then of the University of Arizona, undertook most of the actual writing of The birds o! Arizona, using Phillips' notes supplemented by observations of his own and of Gale Monson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Much revision of the text was then based on conferences between Phillips and Marshall, to the extent that the latter has characterized the book (p. ix) as being "Phillips' Birds of Arizona 'as told to' Marshall and Monson." 
In 1978, he published a monograph on the systematics of smaller Asian nightbirds based on Voice (Ornithological Monographs 25, American Ornithologists' Union). On the other side of the world, the Nuttall Ornithological Club published his monograph on Bicknell's Thrush (The Gray-cheeked Thrush, Catharus minimus, and its New England Subspecies, Bicknell’s Thrush, Catharus minimus bicknelli. Joe T. Marshall. 135 pp., 2 color plates, 5 maps, 6 figures, 2 photos, 2 tables, 2001).


In addition to ornithology, Marshall also had an interest in harpsichords, which he built himself. 

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Joseph T. Bagnara, a colleague and friend of Joe Marshall's going back to their days at the University of Arizona, kindly gave us permission to post his recollections of Joe Marshall from his book, Unfinished Business: A Biologist in the Latter Half of the 20th Century


Writing of Joe Marshall during their days at the University of Arizona, Joseph Bagnara wrote: 


Also, during these early years, I spent a fair amount of time in the field enjoying vicariously the research projects of other colleagues. One of these scientists was Joe T. Marshall, the outstanding ornithologist of our Zoology Department in 1956 when we arrived. If there ever was a person who truly deserved to be recognized as a character, it was he. There are so many people that we meet who have the reputation of being a character only because they work at calling attention to themselves. Joe Marshall was a natural, as I point out in a few vignettes. Joe received his training at the University of California in Berkeley. He had been a gymnast when he unfortunately contracted polio. He did not let the disease get him down as he continued his gymnastics. When we arrived, he was working out regularly at historic Bear Down Gymnasium. Joe dragged one leg when he walked, but that did not keep him out of the field. One of the projects he was working on with the support of an NSF grant was the pairing behavior of towhees. His study site was at Indian Dam along the banks of the Santa Cruz River on the San Xavier Indian reservation, quite near the renowned Mission San Xavier del Bac. In those days, the Santa Cruz valley was quite moist and supported a substantial mesquite bosque in addition to good stands of cottonwood trees . There were two species of towhees that bred there, the brown towhee, now called canyon towhee, and Abert’s towhee. Joe would go out early in the morning to set mist nets to catch and band towhees. The characteristic bands allowed him to identify the birds on subsequent visits. Often, on Thursday mornings he asked me to go along to help with the mist nets. His work showed clearly that towhees pair for life, but that sometimes there were divorces and reconciliations. I talked with Joe quite a lot and learned that he had been born during WWI when his father had been attaché to Gen. George Pershing in Paris. I never learned much about his upbringing or how he got to Berkeley, but I did learn much about his work. A project that he did before I knew him led to a monograph on the birds of the Rincon Mountains. I know the trails to Mica Mountain and Rincon Peak fairly well and fully realize what an effort it must have taken to do his study. Another project he worked on concerned screech owls, and after I told him that we had a family near our house, he came up to check on them. Indeed, we found the mother feeding young between our house and Bond’s. I should point out that Joe had a musical ear and perfect pitch. He told a funny story about that in connection to his screech owl study. Joe and Elsie did not have a home of their own. Rather, they often rented the home of a University of Arizona faculty member who was on sabbatical leave. Near one of the houses they had stayed in, Joe heard the call of a local owl, and by mimicking its call, he got the owl to approach so close that he was able to reach out and grab it. Joe wanted a photo of the owl to use in the monograph he was writing so, soon after the previous incident, he went in search of the owl with camera in hand. He got the owl to return to his call and to approach closely, but never close enough for Joe to catch it again. Joe’s musical and other skills became quite well known in Tucson. I believe that it was someone in the then College of Fine Arts who showed Joe an antique Italian harpsichord that they had acquired and that needed total restoration. Joe took on the task. Harpsichords of that age were made from Italian cypress, and so Joe tracked down some of these trees in Tucson. Randolph Park was home to quite a few of Italian cypress that I always knew as “cemetery trees.” He was able to work out an arrangement with the city to give him those trees that they were going to remove. Thus, he was able to obtain authentic Italian cypress logs from which to make useable wood. As part of the restoration, he needed authentic European boar’s bristles, but this was no problem since the wildlife unit had such a boar’s head mounted on the wall of their teaching lab. Joe was able to complete the restoration and to produce a beautiful sounding instrument. He was so successful that he went on to build other harpsichords from scratch that the College of Fine Arts was able to put to use. There are only a few people left who would remember this, but for quite some time one of Joe’s harpsichords was on display in a window of Cele Peterson’s dress shop, at that time located downtown on Pennington Street. There were always stories of Joe Marshall going around. One of the more interesting ones is a bit mysterious, and of which there were several versions. It related to an event that must have taken place in 1960 when we were away in Europe. The way I understood it was that Joe, who always had an interest in behavior, came across a freshly killed Harris ground squirrel on the road as he was going to the university . It appeared that another squirrel was attempting to mount it. He took it in to the collections area and placed the dead female in the lordosis position in a cage. He was asking the question, does the assumption of this mating stance induce males of the species to mate? It seems that when he placed a male or males in with the dead female, they immediately tried to copulate with her. Enough data were collected to warrant the writing of a brief note for the Journal of Mammalogy. One of Joe’s other interests and talents dealt with limericks; in fact, he was a veritable walking library of limericks, capable of reciting them from memory with ease. Many of us knew this and shared limericks with him. My understanding was that the editor of the J. Mammalogy was also a limerick virtuoso, and this prompted Joe to play a joke. The brief note that was submitted was entitled “Davian Behavior in Ground Squirrels.” When the note was received by the journal, the limerick aficionado was not there, and the person who received it did not question the title. If he had, he would have realized “Davian” referred to a ribald limerick, “There once was a hermit named Dave who kept a dead whore in a cave. You have to admit, he hadn’t much wit, but think of the money he saved.” The brief note was published with this title and apparently caused much embarrassment. Over the years, this story was told with many versions. I had never seen the published note, but one of my colleagues, the late Bob Chiasson, showed me a reprint of it, and the surprising thing was that the author was Robert Dickerman...A manifestation of Joe’s true and profound interest in his science was clearly demonstrated by his suddenly resigning his position as a tenured full professor at the University of Arizona to pursue new ground. He felt that he had fully exhausted his ornithological calling in Arizona, so he moved to the Smithsonian Institution to explore pioneering work on mammalian behavior in Indonesia. It did not take him long to register success in this area when he published a fine paper in Science on orangutan behavior. Over the years, I have lost touch with Joe, but often after his departure from Tucson, he would return to visit. I saw him at least once, but at another time he stopped by my office. I knew that he had been there since he left a unique calling card. Joe and I frequently used to greet one another with the words “Jo-Jo the dog-faced boy.” During the noon hour I was often away from my office to play handball, but I always left the office door open. One day when I returned, I found a small scrap of paper on the corner of my desk on which was written “Jo-Jo the dog-faced boy.”
T. Bagnara, Joseph  (2013-06-16). Unfinished Business: A Biologist in the Latter Half of the 20th Century (Kindle Locations 2168-2175). Wheatmark, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 
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  • 3 weeks later...

I remember the time I first met Joe. Allan Phillips had told me to look him up. I was working on Catharus thrushes at the USNM, and I heard this distinct gait coming, and then, when the walker got close, "Who the fuck is working in my thrushes?!" And I knew right away who it must be, and I stepped around the corner and said "You must be Joe Marshall. Allan Phillips told me I had to meet you. I'm..." Good times.


Later, Joe wrote this piece (here copied unedited) for the book I edited, "Moments of Discovery" :


   "Bird Specimens Collected at Lake Olomega, El Salvador
    I have been reproached for some disembowelled bird skins collected at Lake Olomega—those from whom the carefully placed cotton stuffing was untimely ripped. The study skins were soaked in a boat accident. To save them I removed the body stuffing and tried to dry them, afraid they would rot in the tropical heat. An example is the Royal Flycatcher (Onychorhyhchus mexicanus) skin, serviceable for study but empty of stuffing.
    The circumstances are thus. The Vertebrate Paleontology Museum and the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology together mounted an expedition to El Salvador in 1941-1942. It was led by Dr. R. A. Stirton from Paleo, who had accompanied Adrian van Rossem on an earlier expedition throughout El Salvador for the Dickey Collection in Pasadena. By January or early February of 1942 we arrived at the Olomega Rail Station for six weeks of collecting in the tropical deciduous forest on the far (south and west) side of the lake. Stirt arranged with the local fishermen to take us across the lake to a farmhouse, part of which (including the shaded porch) was rented from a hospitable farmer. In six or perhaps nine or a dozen huge dugout canoes we crossed the lake with our gear. At the farm house, Stirt paid off the boatmen and arranged for them to paddle us back in six weeks. As an afterthought, he called them back and paid them for that future return trip—apparently so he would not have to interrupt his geology work by returning. Stirt and Bill Gealey (geology) then trekked down river to the coast, returned in a couple of weeks, and went to another part of the country.
    On the appointed day of return, only one canoe showed up. The boatmen had long since spent their money and had lost interest in us. The one boatman took the personnel across to the station and then went back, presumably to make numerous trips to take our gear and specimens, packed carefully into the prefab pine boxes used by Paleo. But no! Just at sunset the canoe hove into view with all the boxes piled on. Just at the edge of the lake it tipped over, and as the load was carted to the station we could see water sluicing out of some of the boxes. One was a bird box, which I immediately opened and started taking cotton out of the few skins that were already soaked.
    The six weeks at Lake Olomega were most interesting zoologically. The personnel I remember being there were Milton Hildebrand (mammals), John Davis (herps), Joe Marshall (birds, with emphasis on complete skeletons), John Tucker (botany), and Nate Geer (cook). Old Nate was Stirt's uncle. We scraped aside our skinning tools, formalin, sawdust, and arsenic from the porch table when Nate brought out the meals. Milt Hildebrand kept a photographic history, especially of habitats, from start to finish of the expedition.
    Lake Olomega, the stream, deciduous forest, swamp forest, and lovely spring at the base of the nearby mountains teemed with wildlife. There were spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi), Jabirus (Jabiru mycteria), and King Vultures (Sarcoramphus papa). The lake was full of birds, mostly big ones. Wild Muscovy Duck (Cairina moschata) males came into the farmyard to mate with the domestic Muscovy females. On my birthday, 15 February, I hired a boatman to paddle me on the lake, and I shot a wretched excess of specimens. Davis and Hildebrand pitched in and helped me save them. We wore greasemonkey coveralls as protection from ticks and their larvae. The seed ticks started as a spot on the pant leg if you brushed against vegetation, and this pod quickly grew as the thousands looked for a way to get at the skin, where they would burrow in and die. We carried twig whips to beat them off our clothes. Iguanas had the strange habit, when startled by our walking the trail beneath them, of doing a loud belly-flop onto the trail—like a gun shot, then running off. The day Stirt and Gealey returned from the coast, I had shot a crested forest eagle [probably Ornate Hawk Eagle, Spizaetus ornatus, ed.] above the spring that I could not find. Stirt went with me, and I pointed the exact direction it had flown. Stirt plunged into the dense woods, ticks and all, and came back with the gorgeous specimen, smelling of skunk—their favorite food. It turned out later that day that Hildebrand had a skunk in a trap at the spring.
    By late May 1942 we were all back in Berkeley, where Dr. Alden H. Miller generously arranged a curatorial assistantship for me to fill until I got drafted. Why did I not restuff the specimens at that time? I am clueless. Perhaps they had not yet arrived, as they had to be shipped overland on account of war danger at sea. I did, however, write up the Salvadoran bird novelties (Marshall 1943) for The Condor, which means that they must have arrived before I was drafted in November 1942.
    Things happened for me in that period after returning from El Salvador. Introduced to Elsie Rader by Paul Illg on a blind date, I married her on 19 August 1942 at the San Francisco Courthouse after a whirlwind, three-week courtship. Illg was best man. Dr. E. Raymond Hall thought I shouldn't rush. Mrs. Hilda Wood Grinnell had Don Hoffmeister take her car with me and our suitcases over to the Shaw Hotel in San Francisco. Elsie and I rented a little apartment on Eddy Street overlooking a park; she continued work at the Civil Service Commission and I commuted to MVZ daily on the Big Red Train into November."

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  • 5 years later...

My father Joe Burch graduated from University of Arizona and Joe Marshall was one of his professors.  They were lifelong friends.  After my Dad joined the Air Force as a pilot, he was stationed at Clark AFB in the Philippines from 1968-72.  Joe Marshall came to the Philippines around 1971 to record the songs of owls and Dad and I accompanied him.  I was a 11 year old kid and got to traipse through the hardwood forests of Southern Luzon with Joe Marshall.  He was hauling around a 50 lb tape recorder through the forest at night, even with a bum leg he had from polio or something. It was quite the experience.  A few years later (summer of 1974), my Dad and us kids went to Bangkok and stayed at Joe Marshall's house.  He had some very interesting books!  One of his bathrooms was dedicated to keeping several large parrots.  It is impressive how many square feet parrots can cover with the voluminous poop.

I believe he was using birdsong for the taxonomy of birds. I found that interesting because I envisioned doing something similar with African drumming but I never got very far with it. 


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