UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
ORAL HISTORY PROJECT
INTERVIEWEES: Oliver Austin, Jr.
INTERVIEWER: Steve Kerber
August 30, 1978
K: Today is Wednesday, August 30, 1978. My name is Steve Kerber and I am
going to be conducting an oral history interview with Dr. Oliver
Austin, Jr., curator emeritus in ornithology at the Florida State
Museum. Okay. I'd like to start out by asking you your full name, Dr.
A: The name is Oliver Luther Austin, Junior.
K: And where were you born?
A: I was born in Tuckahoe, New York on twenty-four May, 1903, which is
"Empeh Day," to my English mother's great delight, "Empeh Day" being
Queen Victoria's birthday, still celebrated in England.
K: What was your mother's name?
A: Her name was Elizabeth Wise before she married my father.
K: And I take it your father was senior?
A: My father was Oliver L. Austin. Eventually when I started using the
Junior and we were both writing in ornithology, he added the Senior and
signed his papers Oliver L. Austin, Sr., M.D.
K: What did your father do? Did he teach?
A: No, he was one of the last of the old G.P.'s who made house calls at all
K: Oh, I see.
A: He was a surgeon and a G.P.
K: And ornithology was his hobby?
A: It became his hobby after I got into it. Originally, he had a number
of hobbies. He was a fine musician, a good church organist. He loved
trout fishing, and he took me trout fishing with him in my youth in
the Catskills. When we first went to Labrador in 1926, he went primar-
ily for the salmon and sea trout fishing, while I went for birds, too.
And then he got interested in birds along with me.
K: Did you grow up in Tuckahoe? Did you go to grade school and high
A: I went to grade school in Tuckahoe, and to high school in Mt. Vernon,
an adjoining town five miles away, formerly known as "the bedroom of
K: When did you graduate from high school?
A: I graduated from high school in 1921 and, on the advice of friends, my
father sent me for a year to Berkshire School in Sheffield, Massachusetts,
where I graduated in 1922. That summer I went trout and salmon fishing
in New Brunswick with my father and came out of the woods in August suf-
fering from an incipient TB. At least that's what they called it.
K: Mm hmm.
A: So I wasn't able to go to college that fall. I had been accepted by
Dartmouth (in Hanover, N.H.), where I badly wanted to go, but I couldn't.
I chucked off the incipient TB by Christmas time and wanted to go to
college for the coming spring term. Dartmouth would not take me at that
time, but my father had a close friend and patient who was also a grad-
uate of Wesleyan, where my father had gone for two years before he went
to P. & S. at Columbia. That was back in the 1890s when you didn't
need a bachelor's degree to get into medical school for your M.D. But
he'd always considered himself a Wesleyan man. So his friend took me
up to Middletown and we had interviews with the deans and whatnot and
they decided, yes, it would be possible for me to come in at midyear
there, though it was rather unusual. So I started Wesleyan in the
spring term of '23, and I graduated with my class in three and a half
years in 1926.
K: I see. Now what was your major at Wesleyan?
A: My major at Wesleyan was biology, my minor was geology. And I took all
the English comp. I could sandwich in, and still fill Wesleyan's re-
quirements for a B.S. Wesleyan at that time was a purely liberal arts
college and insisted on a well-rounded education. That is, I had to
take economics, that I didn't give a hoot about, and some history, phil-
osophy, ethics, and so forth, as well as two languages--French and
German. I'd had four years of Latin in high school.
K: Did you go to college as an undergraduate with the intention of going
on to graduate school?
A: No, I didn't know what the picture was at that time. But as I got
going along I kept working with the birds that I had always been crazy
about. I revamped the bird collection at Wesleyan, which was a lot of
fun, and that really got me going on the subject. One of my biology
professors, Hubert B. Goodrich, an embryologist, encouraged my in my
work, and I had friends with whom I went afield, and as we learned
something more about birds, I decided gee, I would like to know a lot
more about birds. So I decided in my senior year that I should go on
to graduate school, but where to go to get a degree in ornithology was
a question. At that time the only place that gave degrees in ornithol-
ogy was Cornell, where Arthur A. Allen taught. But an acquaintance of
mine, Ludlow Griscom, then at the American Museum of Natural History in
New York, suggested that a better place for me to go would be Harvard,
where they had a much finer bird collection than that at Cornell, and
a very good scientist on the faculty. He was actually the curator of
mammals at Harvard, but he was also a very fine ornithologist. In
fact, he was editor of the Auk for seven or eight years.
K: Who--who is this?
A: This was Glover Morril Allen, who became my principal mentor and
teacher at Harvard, together with the two men in the bird department
who became my very close friends, James Lee Peters, author of Peters'
Checklist of Birds of the World, and Outram Bangs, dear old Outram'
K: Now how long were you at Harvard and when did you start?
A: I started at Harvard immediately on our return from Labrador in
September 1926, in the autumn of '26. That first year I had to take
four courses. Harvard rules were then that graduate students from
other colleges during their first year at Harvard took four formal
courses, in which they had to get B's or better. After that you could
do what you cussed pleased, but they first wanted to see what you could
do inasmuch as you came in from another school. With the grades I had
earned at Wesleyan I wouldn't get in graduate school today, for I
coasted through on high C's and low B's, then called "gentleman's
grades." The only subjects I got A's straight through were those bi-
ology courses that I cared a lot about--comparative anatomy, histology,
embryology, etc. I also did pretty well in English. I also took
English comp. courses at Harvard. I tried unsuccessfully to get
Copey's famous course, but I got several others, which were a help.
K: Were you obliged to work for one or two semesters before you could
specialize, or how many?
A: Yes, I was obliged to take courses in biology, which I wanted and that
I didn't have. And I had had college chemistry so I didn't have to
take that but I didn't have college physics. And so I had to take
physics. That was the only thing outside my field that I took there
outside of English courses. I added those later on when I had time and
didn't have to fill in on my major.
K: Now you went immediately into a Ph.D. program. I take it there was just
no point or perhaps no existing master's program that would have done
you any good?
A: I automatically got a master's degree by passing four full courses with
B or better grades my first year.
K: Oh, I see, I see.
A: That gave me a master's degree if I wanted it. But inasmuch as I was
going on for a Ph.D., why should I spend a hundred dollars and stay
back in Cambridge for another two to three weeks for graduation after
I'd finished my exams, when I was on the way back to Labrador?
K: Right, you knew what you wanted.
A: Yes, I knew at that time that I wanted to go for a Ph.D. and that's
what I did.
K: Could you describe for us a little bit of the work you did in Labrador?
A: I collected birds and I banded birds.
K: Any particular species?
A: The arctic tern was one of my favorites that I worked with at one good
rookery, and I worked with the alcids quite a bit, that is, the auks,
murres, and puffins on various islands off Labrador.
K: I should tell you right now. I know almost nothing about birds.
A: Oh, don't worry! The arctic terns-I banded gave me my first real break.
At Turnevik Island in 1927, I banded about a thousand young arctic
terns, able to walk but still unable to fly. This was in late July and
early August. One of these was found dead some three to five weeks
later on the coast of France. That was the year of Lindbergh's flight
[May 20-21, 1927], and the bird got considerable publicity. I remem-
ber the Hearst papers headlined it "Lindy's only rival, a three-month-
old baby." [laughter] I started wondering what this bird was doing
over in France. Why had it crossed the ocean?
K: Mm hm.
A: So I went back in '28 and banded another 1,500 young terns on the same
islands. One of those was picked up late that fall in Natal, southeast
Africa, several hundred miles on the other side of the Cape of Good
Hope. This started me thinking about the migration of the arctic tern,
and some of the first work I published was on my theories on the arctic
tern's movements, the fact that the birds migrate out of a country by
the route their ancestors entered it. To me the arctic tern was an Old
World palearctic species that became circumpolar by expanding its
breeding range into North America, via Iceland and Greenland.
K: Mm hm.
A: All those arctic terns in Labrador were doing was retracing their an-
cestors' steps across to Greenland, Iceland, and then down the eastern
Atlantic coast. Actually they were following a great circle route,
which was the shortest way they could get to South Africa and their
wintering grounds in the Antarctic.
K: Did this become the subject of ybur dissertation, then?
A: No, but it became part of it, though I published one paper on the mi-
gration of the arctic tern in 1929.
K: But birds of Labrador was really what your dissertation was...
A: My dissertationwas on the birds of Labrador, and considered the dis-
tribution of all the birds known to occur there, while the arctic
tern's distribution and migration made a large chunk of it. I had some
systematics to straighten out on the Labrador birds, which was fun.
And those are the important parts of it.
K: I see.
A: The origin of the northern fauna also intrigued me, particularly the
high percentage of Labrador birds that were circumpolar in distribu-
tion. In other words, they were an integral part of a northern group
of birds. Were those birds always there? What happened to them during
glacial time? In this I followed the thinking of one of my Harvard pro-
fessors, the botanist Merritt Lyon Fernald, who had worked a lot in
Newfoundland and southern Labrador, and who was one of the first to
note that many of the plants he was finding there were not found any-
where else in North America until you reached the tops of the Rockies.
He postulated that these plants simply were one time all across the
continent, that the glaciers wiped them out, and they survived through
the glaciation on nunataks, unglaciated islands, above the ice. I
wondered if this could happen to the birds as well, and there's no
reason why it couldn't have happened--the theory still holds water.
K: I see. Now your degree, of course, was not in ornithology by which
discipline was it in?
A: My degree was a Ph.D. in zoology, but actually my thesis was in orni-
K: When was it awarded to you?
A: It was awarded me in January of 1931.
K: Did your mother have an interest in birds as well as your father? Or
was that just something she shared because of your love with the out-
A: That's right.
K: I see. Did you have the opportunity to teach at all while you were at
A: Yes. I assisted in lab courses.
K: That was the general way of graduate students?
A: Yes, many graduate students did. I had a partial scholarship my first
year at Harvard, and then I was able to make enough to take the load
off my father while I was doing graduate work, though he didn't need
it. He was certainly rolling in the chips at the time [laughter]!
Highly successful physician and surgeon in Westchester County, New
York with a large practice before the days of income taxi
K: Did you study any languages while you were at Harvard?
A: No. I didn't have to at Harvard. I was fairly fluent in French and I
knew a bit of Italian, which I've forgotten completely, and I got by
with my clumsy German by translating Bernard Hantsch's Birds of
Labrador and a few other German papers that dear Glover Allen pointed
out to me. You had to be able to read German or you couldn't get by in
ornithology because one of the most important journals was and still is
the Journal ffr Ornithologie, the oldest and one of the finest journals
in the world.
K: I see. I'd like to digress for a moment and ask you a few questions
about the first Mrs. Austin if you don't mind. Where did you meet
A: I met Elizabeth Austin in my home when she came to play with my sister,
who was her age, and we went to dancing school together when we were
nine or ten years old.
K: I see, so you practically grew up together?
K: What was her maiden name?
A: Schling. Her father was a highly successful florist in New York. He
had a big shop in the Savoy Plaza.
K: I think I read that he was a horticulturalist?
A: He was a noted horticulturalist. In addition to his flower shop he had
a seed store that catered to the elite. He made a practice of getting
seeds that nobody else could get, and of introducing new things. I
think one of the common things here now in Florida that he brought in
first was Gerbera, the African daisy.
A: Yeah. He was a close friend of Liberty Hyde Bailey [1858-1954] at
Cornell. Bailey was the author of the three-volume Encyclopedia of
Horticulture. Max Schling used to go to Cornell annually to give a
short series of lectures for him.
K: Where did Mrs. Austin go to college?
A: She never went to college. She went to Columbia School of Journalism
for several terms and to a little college in New Rochelle that didn't
amount to anything, but she got her main-training at a convent, St.
Elizabeth's, in New Jersey, where her father sent her when she was
through grammar school at a private school in Bronxville. Then to find
a place to send her, he was Austrian and the good schools that he knew
of as a boy before he'd come to this country were the Catholic schools.
So he-found a convent school nearby in New Jersey where daughters of
friends of his went and there she was sent. Which was very fortunate
because she had a very fine teacher there. In English particularly.
She had a gift for English and writing. Sister Mary Catherine
O'Conner encouraged her and taught her.
K: When did you get married?
A: We got married on tenth of September, 1930.
K: Did Mrs. Austin have an interest in ornithology?
A: No, not at all.
K: So it was as a result of being in contact with your career?
A: That's right.
K: When did she first begin to read and study assiduously in ornithol-
A: I think her first introduction to ornithology was after we were mar-
ried. Before I got my degree I'd done all my course work and the only
thing left for me to do was to write my thesis and take my final orals.
But a job opened up with the Bureau of Biological Survey as an assist-
ant biologist at the Lake States Forest Experiment Stations in St.
Paul, Minnesota. Jobs weren't easily come by in those Depression days,
and it made sense for me to grab that one while the grabbing was good.
So I grabbed it. I remember it paid me $2,600 a year as an assistant
biologist. I spent most of my time up in Chippewa and Superior
National Forest working with the birds there. After I'd been in ser-
vice seven months I could more or less pick my own field and Fred
Lincoln in the banding office wanted some help. I would rather have
been in the banding office than anywhere else anyhow. So I took leave
for six months, got married in September, and then sat down to write
my thesis. I wrote my thesis that fall on Cape Cod and "Sliver," as
my wife was known to her friends, had her first introduction to orni-
thology by reading my thesis as it came out of the typewriter, and by
criticizing it. We had an excellent bird library at the Cape, so she
could read all she wanted to, and she did., She was an assiduous
K: Now how long did you stay with that bureau?
A: In the Biological Survey I worked for a while in the banding office and
then became what is now known as the Atlantic flyways biologist. My
job was to follow birds, particularly waterfowl, up and down the Atlan-
tic flyway, to see where they were going, what they were doing, and to
band those I could. I went to the Surney in January of 1930. When
Franklin D. Roosevelt became president in 1933 his first act was to
close the banks and his second was to put people back to work, for
which he established the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). To get
the money for this he stripped the various government bureaus of the
younger men who had just come in. I was one of the last, as I'd only
been in three and a half years. So he ruined the bureau of standards
and the Geological Survey and a few others just to get money to put
the CCC camps going. While I was in the middle of doing tern work on
Cape Cod in July, the letter came telling me that after September I
would be furloughed indefinitely without pay. I couldn't be fired as
I had been working three and a half, almost four years. I was in the
middle of the problem on the terns, and I couldn't waste time looking
at the letter, so I threw it to one side till the end of summer, when
I had finished writing my paper on the terns. I suddenly woke up to
the fact that I needed a job if we were going to eat, but what did I
do for a job, preferably a good teaching job [laughter]. There were
no teaching jobs. By September every teaching job possibly available
not only in colleges but in high schools was already grabbed--these
were Depression days!
A: So where did we go from there? My father wanted me to stay at the
research station which he and I together had founded there on the Cape
as a banding station.
K: Excuse me just for a second. Now when did you start it? When did you
A: We started the research station in late '29, early '30.
A: My father bought the property in '29, a big old house, barn, and 150
acres of marsh and upland. I ran the research from '30 through '34,
and had my fingers in it up until the time of his death in '58. It was
the largest and most successful banding station up to that time in
K: Where exactly were you located?
A: We were located in South Wellfleet, just over the border from North
Eastham. It's out on the forearm of the Cape, north of the elbow
fronting Cape Cod Bay, about twenty, twenty-five miles south of
K: When you and your father started it what was the purpose or the scope
of the station-what did you hope to accomplish?
A: What we hoped to accomplish was to determine what the migration routes
were of birds on the outer Cape Cod, and particularly our most import-
ant work was done on the terns. There were thirteen tern colonies of
greater or smaller sizes on the Cape, all the way from Truro, the
northernmost one, down around to Plymouth Beach, and south to Penikese.
We visited them all, and my old man got very much interested in them,
and he carried on after I went into business. Also we banded small
birds throughout the year. My friend Bill Adams, who was head of the
Massachusetts Fish and Game, had some Italian nets that his wardens
confiscated from Italian poachers who were using to catch song birds
to eat somewhere near Brockton. These were the first bird nets I'd
seen. Bill asked me if I'd be interested in them; I certainly would.
I took them and soon learned about nets. Then my father made contacts
in Italy and imported some more Italian bird nets. These were the
first and only nets in use in this country until the late forties,
when I went to Japan after the war and found the mist nets. On the
Cape we used several types of baited cage traps as well as the Italian
bird nets, which are rather difficult to set and need more or less
permanent settings. They're big things and heavy to handle and made
in three layers.
K: Could you talk a little bit about the difference between these nets
and as to how you could catch birds?
A: I first used the Italian nets in '28 and '29 on the Cape. And then we
began to get them in quantity from Italy. I mentioned them at the AOU
meetings in 1939 at Salem, Massachusetts, and Joe Grinell, the famous
California ornithologist, was interested in them. My superior at Fish
and Wildlife Service, Joseph C. Lincoln, was quite a politician and
very chicken as far as anything of that sort went. He let the Austins
use nets, but he wouldn't let anybody else use them. He didn't want
me to publish a thing about them--you know, we have to keep these
things quiet because they may make trouble for the game law enforcement
K: Mm hm.
A: This was quite true. As I pointed out to Joe Grinell, you can really
band birds and catch birds in quantity with them. He tried to get
authority to use them in California, but he never could get permission
from the California Fish and Game people. I suspect because they prob-
ably had trouble with the Japanese evidently using mist nets over
there, which the fish and game people never mentioned. There wasn't a
thing about it in the literature anywhere!
K: Mm hm.
A: Anyhow Joe Grinell was unable to get permission to use nets, and the
only other person who used them at all was Josslyn Van Tyne of the
University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. I lent him several to carry
with him on a trip into Central America. He didn't have too much luck
with them, for he didn't know how they worked.
K: But this would enable you to get a more representative sample of birds?
A: Yes, it gave you a lovely sample of whatever was there, for the nets
are largely nonselective. They are selective in a way in that the size
of the net determines the size of the birds you can catch with it. But
the smaller the net sized that you need for very small birds will also
take some large birds as well. But they are nonselective in that they
do not depend on bait. They are just set in brushlands or through
woodlands where they do not have an open sky behind them. The birds
fly into them and remain entangled until you remove them. We caught
birds on Cape Cod with the nets that we had never seen in migration
there. One, for instance, was the Northern Water Thrush. We used to
band fifteen or twenty every fall, and there were no other records of
Water Thrushes coming down through the Cape. So this was a grand way
of smapling what was going through.
K: Much more accurate and scientific, then?
A: Much more scientific giving you something factual to go by.
A: Almost none of that banding has ever been worked up or published on.
I never had time to work the material up, and the records contain data
on anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 small birds banded every year from
1929 to the middle 1950s. We spent most of the time working up the
tern data. And for that we had handled some three quarters of a mil-
lion terns in the thirty years we banded there.
K: Where did your manpower come from?
K: Local volunteers?
A: Finally, yes. The first year we had four undergraduates from Harvard
who were my first students: Seth Lowe, Burt Whitman, Lincoln Bryant,
and Louie Thatcher. I supervised their work during the summers of 1931
and 1932. In 1933 we hired a young lad who had been working around the
Boston Public Gardens and elsewhere and needed a job; his name was
Maurice Brown. Maurice stayed with us for two years and left us to
become the superintendent of the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania.
He carried on at Hawk Mountain for the rest of his career. He retired
there and did very well indeed. Wrote a book called Hawks Aloft.
K: At any one time approximately how many people would you have been
likely to have working there?
A: Usually two.
K: Just two?
A: Yes. We had friends who would come down and help us with tern work.
You needed a crew to work the tern islands, and we'd press in anybody
who happened to be coming through. Even my brother-in-law spent sever-
al days helping us trap adult terns, and band young ones. My father
had friends on the hospital staff, doctors and nurses who used to come
down quite regularly in tern season and were very glad to have a vaca-
tion on Cape Cod and go banding terns. Sometimes we'd take as many as
six or eight with us for a crew to get the terns all banded, which was
no small job. Through the rest of the year banding small birds was
seldom by more than the hired help. Lennie Brewer, Bud Rich, and
Gertrude Benner, who kept the records for us.
K: Could you describe just briefly the tempo or the pattern of work dur-
ing the year-the kinds of things that you would be doing at different
times of the year?
A: You'd be banding and keep the traps going year round, as long as you
were able to, as long as the weather was okay. And the nets. You
couldn't net in the wintertime unless you could watch the nets at all
times, which defeated their purpose. Usually we made the rounds to the
nets once every two to three hours. But in the wintertime a bird in
the net would freeze in that time on Cape Cod. So you didn't. But
Gertrude would trap and band during winter--nobody was there, sometimes
I'd go down from my place and help them out. And the work started when
spring migration came along and things really got going when the terns
came back. Then my father would leave his practice and come down in
late May or June, and he'd stay until the terns left in August. But
you asked about the mist nights, and I don't want to get away from it
though, they came along considerably later, when I went to Japan with
the occupation in 1946. On one of the first trips I made in the fall
of 1946 I heard about the mist netting up in -the hills where the
Japanese were catching birds for food. So I requisitioned a jeep and
a trailer and got a Japanese ornithologist, named Masauji Hachisuka, to
go with me. "Masa" was a graduate of Cambridge, England, and his
English was as fluent as his Japanese. Of course, he was native born;
in fact, he was a nobleman, a Japanese marquis. Together, we made a
trip through the Japanese Alps, mainly in Gifu Prefective, where the
main mist netting was carried on. This was an eye opener to me, and I
was intrigued by it!
K: Mm hm.
A: I wrote up the first article on mist netting ever written in occiden-
tal tongue. The Japanese had described it, yes, but there was nothing
on it in English, French, or German. My report on mist netting for
birds in Japan, which the Occupation published in 1947, was the first
actual western report.
K: Mm hm.
A: Now at that time my erstwhile student whom I mentioned earlier, Seth
Lowe, had gone with the Fish and Wildlife Service after he left the
research station and got his degree from Harvard. He never got his doc-
torate, for after he got his bachelor's degree he went as a refuge man-
ager for the Fish and Wildlife Service. Then when Lincoln retired
Seth was picked to run the banding office. And Seth was running the
banding office after he got out of the army at the end of the war and
I went to Japan. This delighted me, and when I learned about the mist
nets I immediately sent some of them back to Seth. I told him how to
set them and to work them and Seth was also intrigued. This was the
real start of a revolution in ornithology.
K: What is the difference? How are they better?
A: The difference is well--the Japanese net depends on shelf strings that
run horizontally and are stretched tight, with loose net between. The
nets are usually ten meters in length. They can be longer than ten
meters, but the Japanese had found the ideal length, except in some.
places you want them half that length, five meters. Five and ten meters
are the standard lengths. Birds fly into them and drop down behind the
shelf string and there they are.
Whereas the Italian net has to be in three layers. It works like a
fisherman's trammel net. Two big diamonds matching each other on each
side which are a foot in diameter, and then the fine net hangs in be-
tween them. The birds made individual pockets in the fine nets as they
went through the big diamond. Those nets have to be braced top and
bottom. We ran them on long wires at the top, and staked them into the
ground at the bottom, as well as on each end. You could have tremen-
dous nets--we had some that were oh, twenty, thirty meters. But they
were a lot of trouble--you had to make your sets permanent and there
they were. The Japanese nets you could take anywhere. All you had to
do was clear a ten meter path, sink two poles, one on either end, and
stretch your net taut and there it was. They worked beautifully.
K: So you had much greater flexibility?
A: Oh, yes, much greater flexibility! And much cheaper. Where a ten
meter Italian net would cost $40, the Japanese net at that time was
worth $3 to $4.
K: So the Japanese net, I assume, would enable the ornithologist to sam-
ple bird populations that had not been touched before?
A: Yes, and to find things that you would never get any other way--many
things appear in the nets before you see them in the bush. It has
revolutionized banding in this country--nets are used by every major
station, and no ornithologist would go into the field today without
K: How long had the Japanese been using a net of that sort?
A: They had been using them since early in the toKngowa Shogunate.
K: Several hundred years?
A: Several hundred years. It's of interest, as my friend Masa Hachisuka
pointed out, that the only people who netted birds were more or less
peninsular people--the Italians and the Japanese.
K: I started to ask you before--what were the most significant discoveries
that came out of the work that you and your father and associates did
at the station in Massachusetts?
A: Well, I think our behavior studies on the common tern and on the Arctic
and the roseate, and the least Terns as well. Also our studies of
their distributions and demographics, that is, their length of life,
annual mortality rate and so forth. I think we were quite far off on
the latter. One of our great troubles stemmed from loss of bands.
K: Mm hm.
A: We were using a lightweight metal band, not a monel metal, but even
monel would not stay on a common tern too long. The common tern is a
shore tern. He migrates long distances over the sea to the West
Indies and northern South America, but he seldom strays too far from
land. He lands on sand beaches, and of course he breeds in sand on
Cape Cod. In fact almost everywhere he breeds his nests are in open
sand. Now sand is hard silica. His feet are wet and sand sticks to
his legs and the band goes up and down and wears from the inside.
The loss of bands was biasing our works and biasing our figures
greatly. The first thing we did when we found out that the birds were
losing bands was to replace every worn band we encountered. In fact
we didn't replace them, bur we banded the bird on the other leg.
Finally we automatically rebanded on the other leg any bird bearing a
band more than five or six years old.
K: Mm hm.
A: Still we had losses of bands, and these affected our figures. My par-
ticular figures showed that the common tern annual mortality rate was
running twenty-three to twenty-five percent. We never could work it
out to make the mortality and replacement balance correctly. Recent
work by other people who have come along since with better mathematical
techniques have figured out that the mortality rate is probably some-
where around fifteen, seventeen, and could be even less sometimes.
When we started working down here after I came to Florida State Museum
in 1958 and began our work on the Dry Tortugas with the sooty tern we
found an entirely different situation. The sooty tern is not a shore
tern. He's pelagic, probably the most pelagic of all the terns. And
he nests mainly on coral islands. The Dry Tortugas are of coral and
that is softer and does not wear the bands. Furthermore we learned
that the sooty tern didn't come back to breed until he was at least
three years old, sometimes not until their sixth or seventh year. All
that time they never set foot on land and never sat down in the water.
They're unable to swim. Strange thing about the sooty tern. His
feathers are not waterproof.
A: If he sits down in the water and doesn't get off it quickly, he'll
drown inside twenty minutes. Just down he'll go, his feathers soaked
with water. So they stay in the air all the time., When these birds
first came back at three and four years old you--you pick one of them
up and his band looks just as though we put it on yesterday--bright
K: Makes your work much easier.
A: It made the work much easier, as we had no loss of bands from wear.
The oldest sooty tern we found was thirty-one years old. And the band
on that thirty-one-year-old was perfectly legible. No trouble to read
it at all. We used our mist nets, incidently, in banding the sooty
terns [laughter]--the first time this was done! They made catching big
samples of adults a lot easier than the cage traps that we set over the
nests on Cape Cod.
K: Mm hm. Did the station at any time during its existence have any sort
of official affiliation with a university or government agency?
A: Never with a university, but it was officially recognized as an affil-
iate by the Fish and Wildlife Service, as working for them without pay
or cost to them, so my old man was able to take the station expenses
off his income tax, which was a great help.
K: I assume they gave you cooperation?
A: Oh, yes! They furnished all the bands we wanted, kept our records for
us, and so forth.
K: But basically the funding then just came from you, you father, and the
A: It was my father's home and land, and he financed it.
K: Now I believe you said that it's no longer in existence?
K: It is in existence?
A: Not as a research station. After my father died it was sold to the
Massachusetts Audubon Society by his widow and the lawyer he appointed
as executor of his estate. It is now known as the Wellfleet Bay
Sanctuary. They've never done any research work there at all. They
wouldn't after calling the research station the Ludlow Griscom
Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary. Ludlow never did any research in his life.
As far as I'm concerned the only good thing he ever did for me was to
recommend that I go to Harvard!
K: I see. It went out of business then as far as research at what time,
A: When my father died in '57.
K: You mentioned a bit earlier that you went into business, and I'm not
familiar with that. Did you move back to New York City?
A: My wife and I went to New York City to look for a job. We had to live
somehow, and Cape Cod was on a seasonal economy. There was plenty of
work in the summertime, and there was some work in the winter, but not
much. My artist and writer friends down there, all or probably most
of them, went to the cities in the winter to "keep up their contacts."
Some went as far as Florida to keep their contacts going [laughter]!
But you made no money on Cape Cod in the wintertime. So we closed our
house on the Cape and then went to New York, where we shared an apart-
ment in Greenwich Village with two older friends of ours, a couple in
their sixties. Sliver went to work for her father--she had worked for
him in the flower shop for three or four years before we were married,
and she was an expert floral designer. So he was glad to have her
come and work for him and I looked around for a job. I sold one arti-
cle to Field and Stream on crows and then suddenly landed into R. H.
Macy's in the toy department as a section manager. That was really
something. I wonder if it's ever been put down in history--that was
the winter of what? I've forgotten, I think it was '34. In the depths
of the Depression. To man that toy department at Christmastime, Macy
took on 150 section managers and 1,000 clerks. To get a job as a
clerk at that time you had to have a bachelor's degree.
K: Mm hm.
A: I made it as a section manager. I remember at first they paid us $25
a week for which they had to limit our working time to 40 hours a week.
When they wanted us to work more than a 40-hour week they had to give
us "executive pay" of $35 a week. I ended up working some 60 hours
per week from late November through December for $35 a week as a sec-
tion manager. When the toy department closed up at Christmas of
course they laid off most of the clerks, but kept on the section man-
agers to handle all the Christmas turn ins, refunds and what-nots for
another week or ten days. But then a job opened up in the grocery de-
partment, so they kept me on and I worked in Macy's grocery department
for another three-odd months, until spring came along. We had a house
on Cape Cod, and I just didn't like living in New York City when spring
was coming on.
And I saw no reason why we had to. There was nobody in the landscape
business on the outer end of the Cape, and I kenw quite a bit about it
--that is, I had landscaped the research station, and had always played
around with plants. So we took what money we had saved, and I drew my
retirement out of Fish and Wildlife Service. Yes, this was '35, right.
And I withdrew my retirement-I've put it back after I came home from
Japan [laughter] and thank God I did! But we drove to Cape Cod, es-
tablished ourselves in our old Cape Cod house on Pamet Point Road and
opened a nursery business.
K: I see.
A: I built a small greenhouse and started to grow flowers and bedding
plants as well. That business grew right along and kept us solvent,
until "then came the war," shall we say.
K: Mm hm.
A: I was never completely happy with it--I was happy, yes, I was happy
planting, working in the greenhouse--it was fun. I had built up an
orchid collection, which became another hobby of mine. But I always
wanted to keep going with the birds as well. The old man was running
the station--I was giving him advice on it as needed, and helping him
with the terns when I could get away from my landscape business and
until 1942 and I didn't like the looks of things at all. I had a
flower shop in Provincetown as well as at home in Wellfleet. The
Provincetown shop was doing well, but one day the German submarines
sank three troop ships coming back down from Iceland off Provincetown,
and one of the places they used to stretch the corpses out was my
shop. And I thought you can't do this to me. I don't belong here
running a business on shore with my knowledge of the sea. After all,
I'd been a Cape Cod longshore sailor and fisherman since I was a kid
of fourteen. Fact, since I was a kid of eleven I went town to Cape
Cod in 1914 at the age of eleven. Had my own sailing dory and later
on had a sailing canoe up there, and then Dad and I had the schooner
Ariel for two trips to Labrador. I knew quite a bit about sailing
vessels and I knew the northeast coast from Cape Cod down all the way
to Cape Chitley in Labrador, and I knew it pretty well.
K: Mm hm.
A: So I said I ought to be of use to the navy on this, so I went up to
Boston and applied for a commission in the navy, which thanks to my
Ph.D. degree from Harvard put me fairly well in the pictures.
K: Mm hm.
A: And they decided they would offer me a commission as a lieutenant-
two stripes. And this was fine by me, so I went and took my physical.
And on the physical I had a blood pressure of 200 plus over something
and I was forty pounds overweight--I weighed 230-odd pounds, 225 or
thereabouts, and the navy M.D. looked at me and said, "You know,
you're in fine shape except for one thing. You're forty pounds over-
weight. At your height you can't be over 190 pounds. And this is the
trouble with your blood pressure, too. You get your weight down and
your blood pressure'll come down to where it ought to be, and then we
can talk turkey with you."
Boy, was that a blow. It broke my heart to start with, but I went
home and told Sliver what the story was and she said, "Oh, that's all
right, just go on a diet, that's all. I'll put you on a protein diet."
I cut out the startches and sugars and stayed to proteins and raw veg-
etables, green vegetables, and so forth. I cut myself down to under
1,000 calories and it took me a little less than four weeks to go from
225 down to 190 pounds.
K: Wow. Quite a drop.
A: This was quite a drop, but I felt so much better for it it wasn't funny.
K: You didn't feel any bad side effects from it?
A: I had no bad side effects at all, and I was then about 39. This was
K: Mm hm.
A: And the old man came down to the Cape by that time and was watching
what I was doing. He was checking my blood pressure for me.
K: Mm hm.
A: My blood pressure came down with my weight. And in July, I went back
up to Boston to naval headquarters, went into the M.D.s and they hauled
my record out and all they did was weigh me. I was 189 pounds, so they
took my blood pressure which was down where it ought to be probably,
110 or 120 over 70 or something of the sort. I was fine. They marked
me as passed. So what would happen then? They told me to go home and
wait until I got orders. The orders came in as I remember it in the
middle or towards the end of July. And I was told to go and get into
uniform and to report on the first to communications school at Cornell.
I had my navy indoctrination there for the first three months of it.
K: Mm hm.
A: August, September, and October. Then they decided they would combine
the communications school at Cornell with the one at Harvard. So they
took us out of Cornell, where we still had two months to go, and moved
us over to Cambridge!
K: Mm hm.
A: Oh, boy! It was fine by me! I was right at home. I was able to have
my wife and family come up and stay at Cambridge with me.
K: Mm hm.
A: Well, Sliver came up, brought the two boys, and we rented rooms from
friends of ours in Cambridge.
K: Mm hm.
A: While I went and finished my work in communications.
K: Mm hm.
A: Then came the.time for our first orders to active duty. I was one of
the older men in communications. I was 39, and most of them were kids
in their 20s or early 30s, and I think of the 300 of us, only three or
four of them were close to my age, that is, over 35.
K: Mm hm.
A: And I remember the commander of the communications school said you
boys are going to apply for orders. I want to know what you want
whether you want sea duty or shore duty. All these young ensigns were
just married and crazy for shore duty and they didn't want any of this
sea business. I wanted to get to sea and I wanted to go the worst way.
A: I remember walking into the commander-he interviewed one after the
other of us privately--saluting him, and he said, "Lt. Austin, what do
you want? Sea duty or shore duty?" I said, "Sea duty by all means,
sir." I think he was a little taken aback.
K: I'm sure.
A: But he said, "How do you think that you're fit for sea duty?" "Well,"
I answered, "I've been a longshoreman, and I've been a skipper of my
own schooner for quite some time, I know the ropes of a sailing vessel,
I know the northeast coast from Cape Cod through Labrador pretty
closely, been over most of it fairly well. And if you've got a place
for somebody on small boats up that way--sub chases or something or the
sort--I'm your man."
K: Mm hm.
A: Well, this was evidently surprising to him. I added, "All my life I've
led an outdoor life, and I can't see sitting in a shore station break-
ing code messages and so forth. I want to go to sea." And when the
orders came in three weeks later or so I got sea duty all right--I was
assigned to the USS Tryon and I was to meet her out in New Caledonia
in the South Pacific!
K: Oh, wow!
A: Of all the places to go!
K: I see.
A: So, I had a wonderful time in the South Pacific. I must say, to me,
it was a good war.
A: Mainly because it got me back into ornithology again.
K: Mm hm.
A: And thank goodness I didn't have to stay on the Tryon long.
K: What kind of ship was she?
A: She was an evacuation transport. I was on her when she took the first
Marines off Guadalcanal. She was an armed hospital ship, really. She
carried fifteen doctors, and had a tremendous sick bay. The first
Marines came aboard suffering from dengue and malaria-they were in
bad shape. Well, we took them down to New Zealand.
K: Mm hm.
A: I made two trips into the Solomons on the Tryon and when we got back
to New Caledonia the exec called me into his office and said, "Here
Austin, I got some orders for you." I said, "Yes, sir." He said,
"We have no use for you aboard this vessel"--this was true. He was
running his own ship, and he didn't want a two-striper as communica-
K: Mm hm.
A: So he assigned me as a junior deck officer. And I was given deck duty
--it was standing deck watches with a young JG named Herman Talmadge.
A: Who didn't begin to know what I knew [laughter] about standing watches!
And being at seal
A: But I stood watches with "Humman" for several months on the Tryon
until the exec had put me down as not needed on his ship, so I didn't
get rated at all on it, and I was transferred to the communications
pool in New Caledonia. Halsey's communication pool.
K: Mm hm.
A: This was an eye opener. Halsey's communications center was in the
basement of a big brick building in New Caledonia, and we lived in
Quonset huts outside the town. And we stood the worst watches I have
ever stood in my life--was six on and twelve off. Those are indeed
the worst in the world, especially if they are not "dogged." I don't
mind four on, four off right along, or six on, six off if you dog
them, so you get to sleep the same hours nightly. But six on and
K: Too irregular.
A: ...yeah, it's much too irregular, for you never sleep the same hours
succeeding nights. But four on and eight off is fine, especially when
they're dogged, so you sleep roughly the same hours nightly. But our
work there in that damn hell hole in the cellar of a brick building
that was hotter than blazes.
K: Mm hm.
A: No air conditioning in those days. And we were running electric coding
machines. I certainly learned a lot more about communications on that
three or four weeks stint. And there was politics being played there
to heat the cars. None of the boys who were down there wanted to go
up around Guadacanal up in the Solomons where the fun was. They wanted
to stay down there.
K: Mm hm.
A: I didn't, though. I wanted to get to sea in the worst way. I tangled
with the communications personnel officer who was one of what we called
the "glory boys" who wanted to stay down there where it was nice and
safe behind the lines.
K: Mm hm.
A: When I went out to the South Pacific I went on the President Munroe,
one of the Dollar Line tourist liners. It took us three weeks to get
from San Francisco to New Caledonia. And I made a good friend on board
who was coming out to his first sea duty. It was Arleigh Burke. He
was a three striper when he came aboard the Monroe, and I was a two
striper, but he was an old Annapolis man, a "trade-school boy" to us
reservists. He came aboard the Monroe to go out to the South Pacific
to take command of a destroyer, and a destroyer squadron, no less. I
didn't know that Burke came in two weeks after I was on the beach at
New Caledonia, and asked if they had a communications officer named
Austin available. He would like him for his vessel. I had gotten
along very well with Burke. We had something like 6,000 troops of the
Monroe, and as Troop Commander, Burke put me in charge of the forward
decks and forward holds.
K: Mm hm.
A: I liked him, and he evidently liked me. I ran into him once or twice
again out in the South Pacific [laughter]. I didn't know that he'd
asked for me and the personnel officer said, "Like hell I'll let
Austin go." He had another request for a communications officer on a
little gasoline tanker, a little 200-footer that was going up to carry
gasoline from the big tankers up to the forward air bases.
K: Mm hm.
A: This was called hazardous duty at the sea front. He said, "That's the
place for Austin." Boy, he didn't know it, but it was really the
place for me, and I was a lot happier aboard the good ol' AOG 1
Pataspsco than I ever would have been with Arleigh Burke on his des-
K: Mm hm.
A: Because I ranked well on the Patapsco. I was the senior standing watch
deck officer on her, and I could set the watches and I could do what I
pleased at will where we were ashore. We were always at the small
bases--we berthed at Tulagi to start with. We first went out of New
Caledonia, then we went to "Roses," the code name for Efate, and then
to Espiritu Santu. We carried the first gas from Espiritu Santu up to
Henderson Field, in Guadalcanal, and then over into Tulagi, where we
got bombed by the Japanese for the first time. This was all right by
me. I could get ashore at least four days in five. We had five watch-
standers at the start, and when we were pumping gas ashore we were
always tied up for at least a day and a half, and we decided that one
man would take the watch continually while we were on the beach, that
is, while we were tied up pumping. Well, that gave me four days out
of five that I could go ashore.
K: Mm hm.
A: And go hunting. I took the riot gun, an old sawed-off twelve-gauge
automatic that was down in the armory, and every time we went alongside
a destroyer or a carrier to fill her with gas I'd go aboard and see if
they had any shotgun shells, some light trap loads that I could use
[laughter]. So I started to hunt birds and we had a freezer on board,
which was a great help. I could go ashore and spend all my time hunt-
ing. Didn't have to worry about getting my birds skinned immediately.
Back aboard I could label my specimens, put them in the freezer, and
then thaw them out while we were at sea and make up my new specimens
when I was off watch. At sea, of course, we stood one in three deck
watches. At first we had five officers aboard, so we stood two-man
watches, four hours on and eight off. Later on we had eight top watch
standers, so we each stood one watch in four, which was about as easy
duty as you could get afloat.
K: Mm hm.
A: So I kept busy collecting birds whenever I got ashore from Efate and
Espiritu on up into the Solomons. When we were based in Tulagi it was
a lot of fun. For at Talagui I got a boat of my own.
K: Oh, really?
A: Oh, yes. I got a little skiff which somebody'd left behind and we'd
haul it up and put in on the deck--I could lower it over the side when-
ever I wanted to use it, and I didn't have to worry about getting the
captain's gig to go ashore in. I could take my own little boat and
paddle to shore and go hunting when I wanted to.
K: Made to order.
A: Made to order, yeah. I collected somewhere in the neighborhood of
two thousand plus birds and bats.
K: Oh, really?
A: I got two new bats, a new species off Guadalcanal that's named after
me by my friend Barbara Lawrence at Harvard, and a good sub-species
off Treasury Island of a big silver-winged fruit bat.
K: Now this was all by shooting?
A: Yes, all by shooting.
K: You had no access to nets or anything?
A: No, I--yes, I finally got some nets sent out.
K: Did you?
A: I had two or three Italian nets sent out to me from the research sta-
tion. I did use nets out there but they were not as successful in the
Solomons as they would be in other places. Birds weren't thick enough
K: Now how long did you have this duty?
A: I had this duty on the Patapsco for twenty-two months, and at that
time, of course, all of us wanted to get home.
A: I was having a fine time collecting cirds for Harvard. I found the
thing I could ship them back in was bacon boxes, the boxes that sides
of bacon came in were just right for sending back birds. And so I sent
them all back by parcel post, to Jimmy Peters' great delight. He was
adding to the collections all sorts of new things and sending me out
the identifications of whatever I collected and sent him.
K: Uh huh.
A: But at that time ALNAVS were always coming through asking for people
who'd been out at sea long enough who wanted to come back stateside.
All sorts of berths were opening on shore. I'd look at one after an-
other. Here was a job for new construction and men must be under
thirty. There were all sorts of jobs that I was the only man on the
ship who was capable of filling. That is with my training and my edu-
cation, I was also a top watch stander as well as top communications
K: Mm hm.
A: And I was made exec of the ship before I left her.
K: Mm hm.
A: Every twix that came through looking for applicants for jobs back in
the states--I could fill every job, I had every qualification except
one--I was born eight, ten years too soon. Finally one came through
that looked more or less up my alley. This one wanted men in various
fields with various training for work in the military government in
the Far East. And there was no age limit.
K: Mm hm.
A: So well, what the hell. I automatically put in for it. I'd been
out there then twenty-two months, and I was due for rotation
to go home.
K: Mn hm.
A: I sent it in and forgot about it. We sat in Tulagi between making the
K: Mm hm.
A: It was a lot of fun up in Bougainville. The destroyers escorted us up
there and we tied up at the air strip and pumped gas while the destroyer
went down and lobbed shells into the Japanese positions. I took my
shotgun and went ashore [laughter] into no man's land and hunted birds.
I collected the first birds to come out of Bougainville for a great
many years. But then we'd come back to Tulagi--at that time they were
letting the big tankers in there and we'd go up alongside a tanker and
fill up and we'd sit in Tulagi and wait till there was another echelon
going in Bouganville. And on my days off (in those days I was getting
five out of six or six out of seven days off), I just got into my
little skiff and paddled up the river, pulled her out of the water, and
started over the trails I'd found looking for birds.
K: Mm hm.
A: I came back one night, and my young replacement at communications had
the deck when I came in just at dusk. As I came up alongside the
gangplank, handed my unloaded shotgun to the bos'n of the watch, and
gave my field bag to him, to take down to my stateroom, as I walked up
the gangplank and saluted the ensign and quarterdeck the youngster on
the quarterdeck said, "Oh, there's a message for you, Doc." (I was
always known as Doc out there.)
K: Mm hm.
A: "Oh," he said, "but there's an awfully good movie on tonight why don't
you wait till after the movie. It can wait till then." Well, I wasn't
expecting anything. So I went to the movies [laughter] after I saw
that my birds were in the freezer. Then I came down to have some chow
and the other officers all came down to the mess hall to have their
coffee after the show.
K: Mm hm.
A: Mick Miles was skipper then, and he looked at me and said, "Hey, Doc,
if you want to know the latest low down dope, who do you ask to find
it." I said, "You know very well who's got all the dope. It's the
mess boys. They know more about what's going on than any of the rest
of us do." So he called our colored mess boy, Dyson. "Hey, Dyson!
What's the latest word you got around here?" "Yes captain." Dyson
reached into his hip pocket and pulled out my orders back to military
K: Heh heh [laughter].
A: No, it wasn't my orders back to military government school. That's a
mistake. They were my orders back to the states for reassignment.
A: Didn't know what it was to be but I was ordered back home for reassign-
K: Mm hm.
A: There was a big tanker lying in the roadstead out there that was going
to sail the next day back for Treasure Island, Los Angeles, and I sent
a message over asking if they had space aboard for a passenger, and
they did. So I quickly packed up my birds and everything else and the
captain's gig took me over to the tanker, and we sailed back for Long
K: Mm hm.
A: It took three weeks for the journey, and we finally landed at "Turmoil"
Island. Three other officers were going back for reassignment with me.
We got a taxi to naval headquarters, and we didn't get there till along
about ten thirty, eleven o'clock at night. And I saw then my first
K: Heh heh heh heh.
A: Very pretty little girl, W.A.V.E., JG. I came in and laid my orders on
her desk; she said, "Oh, yes, you're here for reassignment. It will be
a week or ten days before you get reassigned. Meanwhile you can put
up over at B.O.Q., and if you have friends around you might call them
and find out, but it'll be some time. Meanwhile--" she said, "What's
your date of rank lieutenant?" I said. "My date of rank is July two
years ago." She said, "There's an ALNAV just came in with a lot of
lieutenants on it. There's a copy of it on the admiral's desk. Hold
on, I'll get it." So she came in with this thick booklet of promo-
K: Mm hm.
A: And I looked in it, and there right smack on the first page was my
name. I had made the big jump from lieutenant to lieutenant commander.
K: Mm hm.
A: So that's what took my next couple of days.
A: Well, no, getting paperwork and I had to take a thorough physical.
And they redid all my teeth for me. Took out all the gold fillings
and put amalgam in, which was naval regulations at that time. And I
passed my physical, went and got a half stripe to put on my uniform.
First time I put on my uniform after I'd made lieutenant commander I
walked down the street and met a whole bunch of enlisted men coming
out from a class, and I had to salute [laughter] down for half a mile.
They never would bother with lieutenants you know.
K: Mm hm.
A: Especially ones with worn braid which mine was. But I had also known
that an old friend and patient of my father's lived nearby in Beverly
Hills. He used to spend all his vacations with us on the Cape, espe-
cially in the spring, and he'd come down in the fall for the migration
banding. His name was Jerome Kern.
K: Mm hm.
A: Maestro, we called him. And he and his wife Betty used to band the
terns with us on the islands. They had the front room at the research
station. And the maestro asked me one morning, "Say, there's a bird
out there by the pond that has a very nice melody. I wonder what it
is." I said, "What's the melody?" "Well," he says, "it's one that I
have never run into anywhere before--la da da da da da. And he sings
that same melody all the time." I said, "Maestro, there's only one
thing it can be." [bird whistle] Ah, that's a song sparrow and there
are two or three pairs of them and they each have a slightly different
note. But that's his territorial song--that's the one he sings to
hold his place there.
K: Mm hm.
A: Maestro said, "I want to use that. It's very nice." He did, too.
A: It became "I Told Every Little Star" from "Music in the Air" and I
said, "Well, if you want bird notes, why don't you take the wood
peewee song which they're singing up there in the woods." So he took
"pee oh ee" and that became "yesterdays" in "Roberta."
K: Did he continue to do that?
A: He did not--those are the only two I know of that he used bird melo-
K: Mm hm.
A: But "I've Told Every Little Star" became the prize song in "Music in
K: Mm hm.
A: ...and the telephone operators were just as nice as they could be. I
looked up Kern and found out that he had an unlisted number.
K: Mm hm.
A: And I said, "Gee, he happens to be an old friend of mine and my father's
--I'm just in from two years out in Pacific." Incidentally, I had
called home and in those days you didn't just pick up and dial. You
had to put your call in and they had a special group there at the naval
station that did wonders for us. I had to wait for about an hour, and
they asked me who I was--I called the old man collect. It was after
dark and they wanted to know who it was and I said, "Commander Austin"!
K: We don't know anybody by that name!
A: We don't know anybody by that name! [laughter] said, "Oh!"
Then he suddenly came to and called me back. But meanwhile I had tried
to get Maestro Kern.
K: Mm hm.
A: The old man called me back in a little while and said, "Here, why don't
you call Maestro Kern. I have his unlisted number." I said, "Thanks,
Dad, the operators here already got it for me, and I'm going out to
K: Heh heh heh heh.
A: They called there and told the maestro that Oliver Austin was there,
was going to be there for a week or so could he come and call? "Have
him come out and stay with us by all means quickly!" So I went out to
Maestro Kern's and spent a week, ten days with him. I've forgotten
just how long it was...had a delightful week with Maestro Kern till my
orders came through, and when they called me from headquarters and told
me my orders were there I said, "Can you tell me what they are?" He
said, "Yes, sir, the military government school in Princeton."
K: Heh heh heh.
A: "Well, of all things. When do I have to report?" He says, "You got
three days enroute to report on the first of December to a class that's
starting." Gosh, this was 25th, 26th of November.
A: I said, "Golly, how do I get there?" He said, "Well, come in, we'll
tell you the best way." So we did. I told Maestro what I was doing
was going into military government. He said, "Oh, my God,..." [laughs]
"imagine you as a military governor." Well, I went to the base and got
my orders from the duty officer, another nice W.A.V.E., an ensign. I
said, "Now how do I go from here?" She said, "If you're all packed,
go on right over there to the naval air station. There'll be a plane
heading east very quickly."
A: So I walked over lugging my valise and my sea bag with my orders in my
hand and inside of two hours I was aboard a "Gooney bird" [a C-47]
headed for New York.
K: Mm hm.
A: Only we got fogged in at Kansas City. There I had my first experience
with the travel and the wonderful gals who handled your travel orders
for you at the railroad stations. The whole east was socked in.
There wasn't going to be any more flying from there on. I had to go
by train from Kansas City to New York. So I got a taxi into the rail-
road station. Gee, those women at the traveler's aid. Boy, they did
everything for you!
A: I just handed them my orders. "That's easy, Commander." [laughter]
I was getting used to being called commander. And they got my tickets
for me and berth reserved, I went to Chicago and from Chicago to New
York. And got telegrams off to my wife who was going to come to New
York, was staying with her friend Peggy (Mrs. Clarence) Day, waiting
for me to come in.
K: Mm hm.
A: She met me at Grand Central the next morning and what did I want to
do? She had the car there. There was only one thing I wanted--I
wanted to get to the Cape.
A: So we got into the car and went to the Cape.
K: And you had a couple of days, anyway?
A: I had two days on Cape Cod at Thanksgiving time.
K: Mm hm.
A: Boy, I was never colder in my life! Of course, I'd been two years out
in the South Pacific. The first time I was cold was when we stopped
on the Gooney Bird from Los Angeles naval air station at Denver to
refuel. The Gooney bird I was in had no seats, but she had bunks run-
K: Mm hm.
A: And the pilot said, "You fellows might want to go ashore and go to the
shack and have a cup of coffee while we're gassing up." It was 200
yards from where they let us off the Gooney bird to the shack, and I
had a light raincoa.t...
K: Oh, boy.
A: ...the temperature was down well below zero.
A: I damn near froze in the time [chuckle] it took me to walk that 200
yards. How glad I was to get inside!
A: And when we went to the Cape--well, it wasn't below freezing but it
was down in the thirties and my blood was thin. I was just not used
to it, I didn't have any warm clothes. I darn near froze to death,
there on Thanksgiving time on Cape Cod where I'd usually think nothing
of it. So we went to Princeton, and we had a delightful three months
at Princeton, and I saw my boys--in fact, my young boy, Tim, came with
us and my older boy, Tony, was in Riverdale School.
K: Let me interrupt. When were your two sons born? And what are their
A: Tony was born in 1935 and Tim was born in 1938, and they were both
A: Both were born on the Cape--both came to New York for the Caesareans
that they were born by but their birth records are in Wellfleet,
K: So what--what sort of a program did they put you through at Princeton?
A: At Princeton they put us through a very good program. This was fine.
We had a lot of trouble getting a place to live. We finally were able
to rent the Sloane mansion, which was a lot more than we could afford.
If I remember it was $300 a month. But there was room enough in it.
K: Mm hm.
A: And we took first one couple then a second couple so that we had three
couples in the Sloane mansion.
K: Mm hm.
A: And Mrs. Sloane was very particular because she was the widow of a
professor of French history and her home was full of French antiques
--also a grand piano. A great big living room. But she wanted social
references for anybody who took the place. So Sliver gave her social
references, daughter of Max Schling. I was the son of a successful
surgeon. Well, she thought that might do. Then we told her we would
like to bring another couple in with us--a fellow named Jasper Morgan
I had known through yachting circles.
K: Mm hm.
A: Jasper P. Morgan, before she would let us take him in she had to have
social references for him. [laughter] Said his name happens to be
J. P. Morgan--all right to that. So Jasper and one other couple, the
Higginses (he was a banker in New Hampshire), shared the rent of the
big Sloane Mansion, and Princeton gave us dormitory rooms where we
could store our books when we were not in class and where we could sit
and study if we needed to. This was fine. Princeton was just as nice
they could be to us. Gee, I enjoyed Princeton to the utmost.
K: Mm hm.
A: I remember seeing the captain of the Tryon there, who wanted to be
friends with me, but I had no use for him at all [laughter]. I hadn't
seen him since I left his ship, but he was in the military government
class ahead of me. But I went through military government school there
and with the other-this was a naval military government school, and
then orders came in for other things said we want to go here--time for
orders came again and I said gee I would like to go to have more of
this military--to have this chance that they were going to train of-
ficers for the invasion of Japan.
K: Mm hm.
A: I said this is up my alley. I'd like to go to that school. So I put
in for it. And I not only got it but you see I'd only had two days
leave after I came back from the South Pacific. They gave me a month's
leave before I reported to Stanford.
K: Oh. That's more like it.
A: This was more like it. I had a month to report to Stanford, and I had
a Ford station wagon. It was our car, and they gave us a C-card, all
the gas I needed to drive across the country.
K: Oh, boy!
A: And we had a wonderful time--Sliver and the two boys and I driving to
Stanford. I shouldn't tell you the many adventures we had going across
the country when there was gas rationing, and almost no cars on the
road. There was also meat rationing, but when we got into Texas they
wouldn't look at my red ration point card. I could have all the meat
I wanted-[chuckle]-I was in uniform! And we had a beautiful trip
across Texas and New Mexico.
A: The boys dearly loved the Carlsbad Caverns, where we had a little
cabin and remember they were empty. Everywhere you went you didn't
have to reserve anything. Motels were very glad to see anybody come
in off the road. The big Carlsbad tourist site was just full of over-
nite camps and nobody in them.
K: Mm hm.
A: And when we got up one morning the boys were out and they'd found two
burros down the vale below us and had climbed aboard them.
K: Heh heh heh.
A: Those two burros were our babysitters for the [laughter] two or three
days we stayed in Carlsbad Caverns and then we went to Stanford. And
Stanford you can have.
K: When did you get out of the Princeton program?
A: I was three months at Princeton, December, January, and February.
A: And at the end of February, I got orders to report to Stanford on the
first of April.
K: So March would have been...vacation?
A: March was the month. March was my leave time after almost two years
overseas. We drove across the country. We went by the southern route
in March, seeing lots of western birds I'd never seen before, stopping
on the way. And we got to Stanford and finally found a motel we could
get into and started to look for a place to live, and there wasn't any.
Princeton had gone out of their way to help us find housing. Professor's
wives at Princeton had established themselves as a group to look for
housing for officers' wives and families who'd just come back for
training and so forth. And this is how we found the place there. They
had all sorts of places where you could stay at Princeton. Not at
Stanford! I went to Stanford and asked for my C-card--I'd lost my
wallet on the way at a movie theater we'd stayed in the day before with
my C-cards in it. And they gave me a bad time at the ration board.
Told me the only place I could find to live was up in the hills, Los
Altos, twelve miles away and they said you were told not to bring your
family with you. I said, "If you thought I was going to come out here
after two years out in the South Pacific without my family--you think
again!" Now I said, "Are you going to give me a C-card for this or do
I have to get orders from my boss up at the naval station at Stanford?"
K: Mm hm.
A: They gave us a hard enough time out there. The only place I could find
to live was up in Los Altos, and in fact if it hadn't been for the boys
we wouldn't have had that. I found a place out in the middle of an
apricot orchard when I was able to turn a garage into an apartment for
K: Mm hm.
A: This was to be a six months course at Stanford. And we still had a
couple of months to go when V-J day came. But Stanford tried their
level best to hook us for everything we had.
A: Stanford stood there with fifteen fraternity houses empty that they
could have filled with officers and their families. Anybody who wanted
a dormitory room could have it, and the price that they asked for it
was four times what they were charging students for the same rooms.
Whereas Princeton had given us dormitory rooms to live in if we wanted
A: And I remember the bachelors among us were up in arms about the whole
thing. We were working at the Hoover Library--this was the headquarters
for the military government school. When I found out what I was up
against, and that I was headed for Japan, I said I better start working
on the birds of Japan, get a list of birds of Japan and see what there
is. So I went over the the Stanford University library. The Hoover
library was a grand political library, and-of course you know, they had
nothing in the sciences.
K: Mm hm.
A: So I went to the Stanford library and said, "I want a copy of Peter's
Checklist of Birds of the World--there are six volumes of it now, and
I would like to take them out." And the librarian looked at me and
said, "Oh, you're here at the military government school? The CAT
school?" I answered, "Yes." She said, "You can look at the books
here all you want, but you can't take them out. We can't take the risk
of losing them to officers." I said, "What!" I just about blew my
top! It was difficult for us to get time off because we were running
a six-day schedule, but I got leave the next Monday and I drove over
to University of California at Berkeley, and walked into the Museum of
Vertebrate Zoology. I didn't bother to look up my friend Alden Miller,
the museum director, which I probably should have done first, but I
looked him up later. I walked into the library first of all and said,
"I'm Oliver Austin," and the librarian looked up at me and said, "Oh,
yes Dr. Austin we know about you--and I wasn't commander, but suddenly
Dr. again, and I said, "What I'm looking for, what I would like to
borrow--Stanford won't let me take a copy of Peter's Checklist out and
I want to make a list of the birds of Japan." She looked at me and
said, "You can take anything you want out of this library to take over
to Stanford and work with as long as you need it! Incidentally, we
have some interesting Japanese things here you might look at. Here is
a copy of a Checklist of the Birds of Japan that we just got in on
microfilm from Ernst Mayr. This might interest you."
A: Later, I learned that my friend Masa Hachisuka had somehow sneaked a
copy of the Handlist that had been published late in 1941 and sent it
to Ernst Mayr.
K: I see.
A: Mayr had had it microfilmed, and sent it around to the major bird li-
braries. Boy, was this handy to me'
A: And so I had the most recent handlist of birds of Japan and I also had
Peter's Checklist; and they had other books in Japanese--on Japanese
birds that I was able to take up. So I have always had a very warm
spot in my heart for Berkeley and its Museum of Vertebrate Zoology.
K: Surely. What was, if I can interrupt for a second, the state of the
art of ornithology in Japan before the war? Was it a very well-devel-
A: If you mean in Japan, no, it was not. It was followed only by the elite.
K: Mm hm.
A: There were only two or three ornithologists who were not of the elite
who were working for the government. But most of the top ornitholo-
gists--well the chief one and head of the Japanese Ornithological
Society was Prince Taka.Tsukasa, a cousin of the Emperor.
K: Mm hm.
A: Under him was Marquis Karada, Marquis Yamashima, Marquis Hachisuka, and
the other members of the nobility who had been working in ornithology
for twenty or thirty years, and the only ones who had the funds and the
time to do so.
K: It was definitely not an adacemic discipline?
A: It was definitely not an academic discipline, though all four I
mentioned had Ph.Ds from Tokyo Imperial University and they were all
good ornithologists, believe you me. And we'll come to that in a lit-
tle while, if we're going to do this in sequence I should say...
A: When V-J came they folded Stanford and sent us on down to Monterey,
where we continued our schooling in Japanese language at Fort Ord,
from where we were going to be shipped out to Japan.
K: What sort of subjects were they giving you?
A: Mainly Japanese language. We spent half the day in Japanese language.
They had eight or ten Nisei there who were fluent in Japanese and these
were the first Japanese we had known. They were charming people.
First ones we'd known. Of course up to that time all of us hated the
damn yellow Japs--you know this is during the war...
A: The first half of the day was spent talking nothing but Japanese in
class "Nihongo dake." The afternoon was spent in what we called
"Sweetness and Light." [laughter]
K: What was that?
A: Well, they called in missionaries, repatriated schoolteachers and other
people who had spent time in Japan to come in and tell us about Japan,
what Japan was like--what the Japanese people were like.
K: I see.
A: They had one Catholic priest who had spent thirty-odd years in Japan--
Father--oh, what was his name? I forget, but he was a charming nice
old fellow--a Japanese schoolteacher, and then they hauled in visitors
who gave us all sorts of things about Japan and the Japanese. We
learned a great deal about Japan that way before we went. We knew
that we were going to Japan and that was that.
K: Did you study legal systems, economic systems, anything like that?
A: No, none of that.
K: Culture though?
A: Yes, we studied the culture. The language courses were designed by
the army language school by another man I came to know very well later
on--Abe Halpern, who was out of the Chicago linguistics school. He
married a Nisei, by the way. A charming girl. (Edie, you remember
Abe and his wife?) And they taught us the Japanese we learned by
K: Mm hm.
A: We learned phrases. We took home with us at night a mimeographed list
of phrases, things that we were going to want to know. "How are you?",
"Good morning," "Good afternoon," "Good day," and "Where is the toilet?"
[laughter] "Benjo-wa doko ni arimasu ka?"
A: We learned later on they were teaching us women's Japanese.
K: Oh, really?
A: Oh, yes. It was men's Japanese we had to learn. Which we did later on
[chuckle] when we got to where we were using it! But I studied it and
worked hard at it. So did all the other naval officers, there were
eight of us, including another Austin who, like me, was a lieutenant
commander. The six of us, lieutenant commanders, all got into the same
section, and we all took it seriously. We worked at our Japanese, and
we worked at "Sweetness and Light"--we wanted to learn.
K: Mm hm.
A: Sliver used to hear the homework I brought home at night, and she got
interested in it too, and a number of other naval officers' wives and
a few of the army officers' wives got one of the Nisei girls to come
and teach them Japanese.
A: So she had some knowledge of Japanese before she came over there.
K: I see.
A: I'm very proud to say we naval officers did well by ourselves. We got
top grades all the way through. The army usually sent officers who
were surplus on their payroll.
K: Not the same quality people?
A: Not the same quality people. They sent all ranks from second lieuten-
ant on up to full colonels, and the full colonels couldn't care less
about the Japanese. "Oh, make the bastards learn English," so far as
they were concerned. That was the lieutenant colonels and the majors
K: Did any of your other naval people have advanced degrees?
A: No. None of them had advanced degrees but they were all well educated
men. Jim Austin, who was the other Austin (we became very close
friends--our families did too), was a superintendent of schools from
southern Illinois. One was an editor of a Miami paper. Another was
vice-president of a bank in New Hampshire. This was the caliber of
the lieutenant commanders at least, and there was one young ensign who
had just come in who was as sharp as a whip, and joined our group. He
kept us on our toes to beat the cars trying to learn. His name was
Joe Roday. Remember Joe? He became quite a power in the occupation
later on as a civilian. We went to Japan after we had continued our
Japanese studies in Monterey and we had time enough there to drive
around and see the sea otters down below the Big Sur, and we drove up
the shore and saw quite a bit of southern California and really en-
joyed it. Incidentally, we had very nice quarters in Monterey, a house
on Cannery Row.
K: Is that where you left your family?
A: That's where I left my family while I went to Japan for the occupation.
K: Now when did they ship you over?
A: They shipped me over in, let's see, we went down to Monterey in uh,
right after VJ Day, which was--
A: That's right. In September we went to Monterey.
K: I see.
A: But I think it was October when I went out. Yes, it was October or
November when I went to Japan. And we went to Atsugi, where the great
airfield is now, south of Tokyo. It was then barracks to house mili-
tary government and other officers, occupation troops coming in.
K: I see.
A: We lived in Quanset huts there, and it was all dusty and God-awful
while we waited for orders.
K: Mm hm.
A: Well, military government in Japan didn't have any place for me.
K: Mm hm.
A: So they decided they'd send me on over to Korea where there would un-
doubtedly be a place for me.
K: Mm hm.
A: So I waited there at that camp till they had a Victory ship headed for
Korea, got aboard it and went to Korea.
A: I landed in Inchon Harbor and went up to Seoul to find a job. They
finally found one for me to assist a young major who was in charge of
the agricultural station at Suwon, where the Japanese had established
a very fine agricultural experiment station and library thirty-five
miles south of Seoul.
K: The Japanese had?
A: The Japanese had.
A: And the Japanese had all been sent home except for four key personnel
at the station. They left head of agronomy, head of animal husbandry,
head of soils, and the head of the office to teach the Koreans how to
carry on, because the Koreans had formerly all been kept in the most
K: Mm hm.
A: The Koreans wouldn't listen to any of these Japanese. And they were
sitting on their cans with nothing to do, and when I landed in there I
had a note from one of them, the man who ran the office, saying he had
picked up a little English. He'd been studying English from the radio.
Would I have any interpreting that he could do or some translating that
he could do for me? He later became my very close friend and assistant,
Shojn Kurozawa, when he came in. I said, "Shoju, I know there's a good
library here. First find all the Japanese bird books. What have they
got?" They had practically everything. They had Tori and Yacho com-
plete and everything else and I said, "Find everything you can in there
and in these periodicals on birds of Korea." There's no book in
Japanese on the birds of Korea but there are all sorts of articles on
Korean birds written in the periodicals.
K: Mm hm.
A: So Shoju Kuruzawa sat himself down and learned English by translating
the Japanese bird articles for me into English, and we saw to it that
he wasn't lacking for food, though we were living on ten-in-one rations.
We soon found out that the Koreans who had come in to run the station
wouldn't listen to us at all, either to Vic Shumber, the major in
charge, or to me, his assistant. As there wasn't a cussed thing we
could do for them, I said, "Okay Vic if you don't mind, I'm going on
my merry way--I'm going to be an ornithologist again." He said, "I
don't blame you, Doc. Go ahead."
A: We had a flat-top jeep, this was our transportation. And by a flat
top, I mean a flat top! She had no nothing except the seats in her.
No top or windshield. And that was the coldest transportation, the
coldest winter I ever put in. In below zero weather to drive around
in a flat top jeep was really something!
K: Mm hm.
A: But I collected all through Korea till spring came.
K: What did you do? Did you trap or shoot or-?
A: I netted--
A: I didn't know about the Japanese nets then, but I had four Italian
nets with me. I stuck these up in the woods nearby wherever I could
find decent cover. The Koreans had knocked down all the cover flat
except around the tombs, which were sacred. And it was in there that
I went and had most of my good netting. I had a Korean houseboy who
used to go along and carry my spare gun for me, and I carried my
shotgun, old Betsy Jane, under my arm, which was the shotgun Jimmy
Peters had given me.
K: Mm hm.
A: I also took the .22 which my houseboy, Kim Sung Jang, carried. And we
went hunting all winter long, and I built up a collection of almost
2,000 birds. And every so often twixes would come through with orders
of one sort or another and one came through on naval officers showing
how much time overseas and points you had to have in order to get
home. Well, I had about cleaned up in Korea. I knew there was nothing
for me there in Korea and what in blazes was I doing sitting here
thirty-five miles below the DMZ--thirty-five miles below the Russians.
K: Mm hm.
A: And I had time enough on my hands to get home, when suddenly another
twix came in. This twix came in from Colonel Skenck, who was head of
Natural Resources Section in Tokyo under General MacArthur.
K: Mm hm.
A: He had been advised of my presence in Korea by a classmate of mine at
CAT (Civil Affairs Training) school [laughter] in Stanford; his name
was Claude Adams. Claude knew that Schenck was building up the natural
resources section, and they had a good big fisheries section, but
nobody was paying any attention to the wildlife, the birds and the
animals. And he was going to send home for somebody to do that when
Claude got wind of it and went to the colonel and said, "Hey, we got a
man right over here in Korea. I know Austin's over there. I'll bet
he'd love the job here. Why don't you send him a twix?" So he sent
me a twix. "Would you be interested in establishing a wildlife branch
in the Natural Resources Section?" Well, would I. It didn't take me
long to get my birds packed up. I had everything just about ready to
go--but I spent the next two days packing my birds in bacon boxes
again that I'd been saving and three-in-one boxes, ration boxes. Got
them all packed and ready to send back to Harvard.
K: Mm hm.
A: At that time we were not supposed to carry anything but occupation
K: Mm hm.
A: I'd gone in with a hundred dollars in greenbacks in a money belt
around my waist as a short anchor to windward, but I had spent most of
it and I had somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen or twenty dol-
lars left, for I could never get an army paymaster to open my pay
account. I wasn't drawing much, only thirty-five, forty dollars a
month, which was I figured all I needed from my pay to get along on,
as I was living on rations, and perhaps a little poker money, and that
was about it.
A: Not too much of that. You see, no army paymaster would open up my pay
account, a navy pay account, and I couldn't find a navy pay officer to
pay me. So all I had was this little left, and I went to the post
office and addressed the packages to Harvard and the bill for the fif-
teen or twenty boxes came in the neighborhood of thirty-five, forty
dollars. I didn't have it! And I couldn't get it! And I said,
"What's this? Why is this so expensive?" "Well," he says, "It's free
freight across to San Fransisco but yours to Cambridge is what, seventh,
eighth zone, and this is what your weight goes for." I said, "Wait a
minute--it's free to San Francisco?" He says, "Yep." I said, "Fine!"
And I just got new labels, addressed them all to Alden Miller at the
MVA across the bay in Berkeley [laughter]! I wrote Alden a letter
telling him I was sending him these. I think the bill was a dollar
and a half--something of the sort! Local zone, you see.
K: Mm hm.
A: So they went to Alden Miller and he got a letter from me saying please
send these on to Jimmy Peters.
K: I see.
A: Which he did. They were waiting for me when I got back to Cambridge.
In fact, they were all in a big museum case where they had been fumi-
gated. So I went to Japan...
K: Now what--what were the dates again that you were stationed in Korea?
A: I was in Korea from the end of October to June.
K: October, '45 to June, '46?
A: Yes, '46.
K: Mm hm.
A: When I put to Japan I went and saw this darling Lt. Col. Hubert Schenck,
who was head of the Natural Resources Section. He asked me about my
background, asked me what I'd been doing over in Korea. I told him the
Koreans wouldn't listen to us so I'd been collecting birds! I was
going to write up the birds of Korea. And he said, "That's just the
sort of thing I'd like to see you do here in Japan. We need somebody
to take over the wildlife situation here. There's nobody doing any-
thing about it. Would you be interested in it?" I said, "You bet your
life I would." And he said, "Go on over to personnel and with my
blessing tell them to establish a place for you here."
K: Mm hm.
A: Well, they would not establish a section for wildlife, but they would
make me part of fisheries division. They wouldn't establish a divis-
ion of wildlife but they would establish a branch.
K: Mm hm.
A: As a branch had the best rating I could out of it was a GS-11.
K: Mm hm.
A: I said I don't want to be a civilian. I'd like to take it as a naval
officer. I'll have to go over and see ComNavJap about that. I was
still in uniform. So I went over to see ComNavJap and lo and behold,
in ComNavJap was a skipper I had sailed under from New Zealand back
to the Solomon Islands in 1944 in the USS Talamanca.
A: So he knew me fairly well; and he said, "Oh, Doc, what are you doing
A: I've just taken over this job here, and I'm finding my way around.
"Well," he says, "I've got two gas tankers down in Sasebo that need
skippers, you can have one of them." I said, "No, I don't want that.
I want to be assigned here to the military government. They've of-
fered me a job that's right up my profession where I can get back into
my old civilian life.-"- He says, "Fine. I'll do one of two things--
either take that tanker down there or I'll give you a discharge. I'll
send you back to the states for it if you want, or you can have your
discharge right here, and you can take your job right now."
K: Mm hm.
A: Well, the job hadn't been set up and it was going to take a little
while for the red tape to go through, so I thought I'd better find out
what the score is at home. They had just put the overseas telephone
in. It took me five, six hours to get a phone call home to my wife.
K: Mm hm.
A: And told her what was in the wind that I had a job--chance for a job
here in Japan and could bring my family over later on. Would she be
interested? She said, "You do what you want, honey. I'll go along
with whatever it is." So I went to personnel, we set up the wildlife
branch under the fisheries division with myself in charge of it as--as
a GS-11, and I went over and got quarters on the next ship that was
K: Mm hm.
A: I have lots of stories about that but they don't belong in here. And
I was met in San Francisco by my wife and before we went back to
Monterey, I went to naval headquarters to get my discharge. I had
three months leave coming to me, which I decided to take back home on
K: So when had you arrived back in the United States?
A: I arrived back in the United States in early July.
K: And then you got out right after--?
A: I got out right then and there.
K: Uh huh.
A: I would like to have stayed in and gone on as an officer but if they
didn't want me, no, I would go back as a civilian to Japan.
K: Did you and your family take another automobile trip or did you-?
A: No. Jim Austin's son was out there. He was an enlisted man in the
navy and was just getting discharged too. I went and found my family
and got our tickets aboard a train back to Cape Cod, and young Jim
Austin drove my car back home for me.
A: Of course, we wanted to get back home as quickly as we could. We'd
sold our house in Wellfleet, so I went back home and found a place to
live during the summer, until my orders came through to go back to
Japan. And I sat down that summer and started to write Birds of Korea.
In fact I finished a complete draft of it.
K: I see.
A: I'd spent quite a bit of time looking my specimens over at Harvard, but
I didn't really have the time I should have had.
K: Mm hm.
A: But I worked up Birds of Korea from what I had, and while it was
fairly rough, I submitted it to the MCZ for publication. My orders
back to Japan came through as I remember in September--and I flew west
to the coast and then across to Japan via Hawaii and Guam. After I got
my feet under a desk in the Mitsubishi Shoji building downtown in Tokyo
and a billet in the Daichi Hotel, meeting the Japanese ornithologists
was the first thing I made it my business to do. Tops among them were
Marquis Yamashina, Marquis Kurodz, and Prince Takatsakasa. Yamashina
had been working on he birds of Korea. He had made a list of all the
birds of Korea in the Japanese collections, in his own collection, and
in Kuroda's and in Takatsukasa's. Yamashina's collection was still
saved, but Takatsakasa's collection an- Kuroda's were destroyed by the
bombing. Yamashina had complete data on all the Korean birds, and he
just handed them over to me, saying in his very broken English, "If
you're going to publish on birds of Korea, you would probably like
these." He became my dear friend-he's still alive and still my dear
friend. The Yamashina Museum became the headquarters later on of orni-
thology in Japan. In fact, I've just written a small story about that
and what I had to do with getting the Chogakai--the ornithological so-
ciety of Japan--together again in the early days of the Occupation for
Yamashina's "Koju," his seventy-eighth year, which is a big year they
celebrate. I wrote a congratulatory article describing my first con-
tacts with Yamashina and the revitalization of the "Chogakai" (the
Ornithological Society of Japan), that will be published in the special
memorial edition of "Tori," the Ornithological Society's quarterly
journal, sometime in the next three months. I've got a carbon of what
I wrote here.
K: Well now, what was the scope of your new job supposed to be?
A: My new job was to do what I pleased--to set it up, see what the wildlife
situation was and make recommendations to the Japanese government as to
what should be done. I found Hachisuka, who lived down in Atami and
whose English was so fluent, invaluable. He told me about the mist
netting and suggested we ought to go and see it. Incidentally, I had
had Kurozawa and his three other Japanese repatriated to Japan just
before I left Korea. They were doing no good there and it was quite a
job to get them out, particularly the soil chemist, who had a stomach
ulcer. We had quite a time with him, but we got them all safely home,
and they were terribly grateful to me for so doing. Shemburg wasn't
going to do anything about it all, but I found out how it could be done
by pulling rank a bit, which I did and got them out. So the first
thing I did after getting settled was to get the Japanese police and
post office people going to find Shoju Kurozawa for me. He was in my
office next morning [laughter], and delighted to see me!
A: There was money available from the Japanese government for me to hire
an assistant to translate for me, so I took him on right off the bat.
But he did not go with me on the first trip. I left him doing more
translating in Tokyo while Masa Hachisuka and I headed for the hills
in a jeep and a trailer full of gas.
K: Mm hm.
A: We spent, how many weeks was it? I think we spent a good six weeks in
October and November up in the Fossa-Magna country in the high moun-
tains of Japan studying the mist netting, which was indeed an eye
K: Mm hm.
A: I told you I'd tell you a little more about it when the time came.
Having Hachisuka with me as an interpreter was invaluable. He was in-
terested too, for he had never seen any of this before. I also had two
Japanese bird skinners he knew traveling with us. I could take my pick
of the mist netting catch every morning [laugher] and I got what I
needed! We came out of that trip with something like eight or nine
hundred bird specimens for Harvard, which was really something!
K: All right Dr. Austin now yesterday we talked about your career really
up until the time that you left the navy and started to work for the
Occupation government in Japan. Was there anything that we skipped
over that you would like to mention before we go on?
E: May I add something? I had the opposite experience from Oliver. I
was teaching at a women's college in Japan, and of course I had to
learn some Japanese, and my tutor was a man. When I got out there I
found I'd learned man's Japanese. Nobody explained to me there were
four different kinds of Japanese language; the-Imperial language,
men's language, women's language, and children's language. And the
first time I ran up against it was when a Swedish friend of mine came
to visit who had lived in Japan until he was ten. He spoke fluent
Japanese, but my servants went into hysterics because he was talking
E: I think the same thing was true hwen the Emperor broadcast the surren-
der speech. He spoke in Imperial Japanese, and half the Japanese
didn't know what he was talking about, and they didn't believe in the
surrender for quite a long time.
K: Did you find that that was one of the real problems with that speech?
E: I don't think it did occur to them, but I know that when some of the
Japanese were isolated on the islands in the South Pacific where we
were stationed in Guam, they hadn't translated the Emperior's speech.
A: They use different endings and some different words.
K: Did the Emperor use the other forms of speech?
E: No, his speech had to be translated for him into ordinary Japanese and
then broadcast from a destroyer all over Truk, Tinian, Saipan, and
Guam so the soldiers hiding out in the jungles would know the war was
over and they could come in and be repatriated.
K: That's very interesting. I assume that would have caused problems,
then, for both of you in your work over there?
A: Not too much. You see, we were given enough Japanese so we could get
by if we had to. The main thing was to be able to check up on your
interpreters to know that you were getting a fair translation. My
Japanese was never fluent enough to really understand everything the
Japanese said, or to tell them everything I wanted to. And the
Japanese had a phobia against understanding. When they saw a white
person, that is Occidental, they'd automatically assume they couldn't
understand what he was going to say. And if you spoke to them in
Japanese, they wouldn't understand you purposely [laughter]!
K: So it really didn't make that much difference if you did not know
A: No. For instance, with Shoju Kurazawa, my interpreter, I'd drive into
a town and stop somebody and in Japanese I'd ask them where the hotel
was. They'd shrug and not understand me and the Shoju would lean for-
ward and say exactly the same thing. I couldn't understand any differ-
ence in what I had siad and his, "Hoteru wa doko desuka?" [laughter]
Shoju would say the same thing. He'd tell us right off the bat.
K: So there was probably some element of passive resistance involved too?
A: Yeah. Well that, as I mentioned yesterday, that is how fortunate I
was in having Hachisuka with me on that first trip up the mountains
where we went to the mist netting, because Hacuisuka could speak all
the Japanese, including the Imperial!
K: Was there a great regional variation in dialect?
A: Yes! There were regional dialects. Twice when I was afield with
Nagahisa Huroda, my assistant who wrote Birds of Japan with me and was
the son of Marquis Nagamichi Kuroda, once in southern Kyushu and again
in Hokkaido, we'd go out in boats and have local guides with us who
would talk to one another and it was just Greek to me as I couldn't
understand a work of it! I couldn't even understand the verbs or part-
iciples or anything they were saying! Now I'd look at Kuroda and ask,
"What are they saying, Nagahisa?" He would shrug, "I don't know
either!" [laughter] These are the local dialects that did occur.
E: In the islands too...
A: Yes, in the islans, that is the Japanese islands as the Izus, where we
found strange dialects--
E: On Oshima, for instance-
A: Yes, Oshima--
E: --had its own dialect. And Hachijojima--
A: At Hachijo, yws very much, and at Aoshima even more so, which is the
southernmost one. That's the little volcano that goes straight up
from the sea.
K: While we're speaking of language, in what language were the scholarly
articles and literature, if any, on the birds of Japan written? Were
they written in a certain type of Japanese?
A: Yes, they were written in standard Japanese.
K: Just one?
A: Yes, just the one. But there are three types of Japanese writing.
First are Kanji, which are the Chinese characters, just borrowed from
Chinese and given the Japanese reading.
K: Mm hm.
A: The Japanese word was used instead of the Chinese word. For the same
character so that the well educated Japanese could read Chinese with no
trouble at all and understand what it's all about. But a Chinese is
troubled with Japanese because the Japanese have two other sets of
Characters they use with the Kanji. They have two syllaberies, one
called Hiragana and the other called Katakana. Two different kinds of
syllables, each for a consonant and a vowel. "A-E-EH-OH-00" are the
vowels. And then come "SA-SEE-SEH-SOH-SOO, KA-KEE-KEH-KOH-KOO-NA-NEE-
NEH-NOH-NOO" and so forth on down for the entire alphabet. The trans-
literate foreign words with the Katakana entirely. When newspapers
use unusual Kanji, Chinese characters, that people might not understand
or know how to pronounce, or which pronunciation to give it. they will
put the pronunciation alongside it in Hirogana in small type. But
the Kanji are hard to dope out. I got so I knew probably 100-150
Kanji, but I made it a point to learn both Hirogana and Katakana so
that I could read the street signs right away with no trouble at all.
Most of the street signs would be in the Hirogana and any advertising
sign of foreign material or what-not "a-ru-me-ne-roo" for aluminum, for
instance, would be written in Katakana.
E: I think it was fun because so many of them really were very symbolic--
for instance the Kanji for trouble was three women under one roof!
E: That was the sort of thing...if you learned it that way it wasn't so
hard. But all the railroad signs were in English, because an American
engineer had laid out the railroads in Japan.
K: I see.
A: Hachisuka questioned the mist netters for me, and got from them the
story of exactly how they did it. One amazing thing was that to lure
these fall migrants coming down they had decoys, thrushes they kept
over winter in cages and forced into song in fall. You see, thrushes
normally sing only in spring in the breeding season.
K: Mm hm.
A: The Japanese learned that you could make these birds sing in the fall
by keeping them in a fairly dark place in springtime, and when summer
came along gradually feed them more rice and particularly more protein
food, fish meal, and so forth. And they increased the light, that is,
lengthened the daylight artificially in the fall, they said, so the
birds would eat more protein food. Actually we know very well it was
the light that was stimulating the gonads so that the birds came into
song into October. It was the darnedest thing to go up on the top of
the hill and hear these thrushes singing just like our robins and wood
thrushes sing away here in this country in the spring.
K: Mm hm.
A: And that is at 7,000 feet thereabouts or 10,000 feet up in the tops of
the hills. That was one of the things we found out and I described in
my mist netting paper, as well as selling the catch. After going all
through the hills and seeing the mist netting practiced, we also figured
another problem. The forestry people had the problem of a bark-beetle
emidemic that was killing off the Japanese forests [laughter]. An ob-
vious contributing factor was they were killing off all the insect-
eating birds as fast as they came down from Siberia and Sakhalina.
K: How and why were they doing this?
A: Why, they were killing them with mist nets! They were netting them for
K: Just for food?
A: Just for food.
K: Because of food shortages?
A: Well, that's what they said, that there were food shortages, but there
K: There weren't?
A: No. It was just an old practice they'd been mist netting these birds
for 150 or 200 years. But they had not interfered too much with the
environment. They still had their woodlands, fields, and wooded slopes
and so forth for the birds to be in but there were no birds there.
K: Mm hm.
A: So the obvious thing to do was to stop the mist netting. That I was
able to do as an occupation official speaking for General MacArthur
and I simply called the minister of agriculture into my office--all
the game laws and what-not were under him-and I said, "First thing
we're going to do is stop all mist netting. There will be no mist
netting from now on," and I just pounded the desk. He said, "Oh, no,
I can't do that!" I said, "Oh, yes we can do that--we are going to do
that." And that was it. And that, incidentally, was written in the
new constitution and became the law of the land--no more mist netting!
K: I see.
A: When--after the peace treaty was signed--one of the first things that
the Japanese did was abrogate the new constitution and throw it out
the window, and write still another one the way they wanted it. And
my Japanese bird friends, Kuroda and Yamashina, and Takatsukasa, and
the others put up a great fight and an advertising and propaganda cam-
paign telling the people how important it was the the small birds be
saved, that they not be used for food. That they were important for
part of the environment and by George, they put it through!
K: Did they?
A: And it's the only one of the occupation-enforced changes that I know
of that the Japanese kept with them when they wrote the new constitution.
A: Really. I'm rather proud of that.
K: I think you should be. Could you--before we go any further-explain a
little bit about eh relationship between your position in the occupa-
tion government and whatever Japanese agencies staffed by Japanese
would have been under your control?
A: Yes. The Japanese ministry of agriculture had a department of the
game laws and so forth. Those were under my control.
K: Directly under your orders?
A: Directly under my orders. But there were very few of them and they
were woefully understaffed. My right hand, the people who really
helped me, were the so-called "Choga Kai," the ornithological society
of Japan, who for the most part were noblemen. Of- course there were
more nobility supposedly under the occupation. But both Kurodas,
senior and junior and Yamashina and Takatsukasa all had their doctors
degrees from Tokyo Imperial University-one or the other. So they
were good friends of mine and in fact when I first called on Kuroda
when I got into Japan, on my way to Korea when I was still in uniform,
he knew me right away from my previous writings from this country and
from my writings in English and he recognized me as an ornithologist
in a military hat [laughter], and that I was not a military man. And
they were all pleased when I left the military and came into the occu-
pation as a civilian.
K: Did that make it easier for them to cooperate with you once you had
left the military?
A: No, it really made no difference, it was just a matter of feeling, that
was all. One big trouble when I got the Chogokai, the ornithological
society, together,was to find a place to meet.
K: Mm hm.
A: The various places such as the Japanese hotels, the occupation had
taken over, were off limits to Japanese. There was only one where the
Japanese could go, that was the Daichi. And our first meetings were
K: How large an organization had this been before the war?
A: Oh, it's been 75-100. But I htink Tori, thier quarterly magazine, had
a circulation of probably 500 at home and abroad.
K: Very much group of prosperous, well-educated gentlemen?
A: For the most part they were mostly prosperous, well-educated gentlemen.
K: Not academics?
A: No, not academics. But there were some academics among them, some
college professors and what-not ho had worked their way up. There are
a number of those now, quite a few more than there were before.
K: What steps did you take to get the organization going again?
A: Well I just called them together and found a 'place for them to meet,
first at the Daichi Hotel and then when my wife came over and I drew a
cery large house where the downstairs was large enough to hold 40-50
people at a meeting. And they all came over to my house [laughter] for
the first winter!
A: Then after things eased up a bit there was more food available and
there was more heat available, which was another important thing, for
in the winter in Tokyo it gets pretty cold. They finally got heat
back in the Yamashina Museum. We all met over there.
K: I see.
A: That's where the society still meets.
K: So basically you tried to stimulate them but there was really no...
A: They hadn't seen one another through the war years! That is, they'd
K: Uh huh.
A: They always had met at Takatsukasa's home. He was president of the
society--you know it's the highest-ranking nobility of seven families
into which the Imperial household was allowed to marry in the old days.
K: But you were really doing this more as an individual and as someone
known to them rather than as a government agent?
A: That's exactly what I was to them, a scientist, and doing the best I
could for birds of Japan. We had another cause celebre when I found
that the Japanese game laws allowed killing of waterfowl, practically
all the time that the waterfowl were in Japan, which meant they ar-
rived in October and they left in late March, early April. Long as
waterfowl were there you could soot them, net them or trap them--any
way you wanted. Well, when the occupation got in there and the military
officers were going out hunting too, this was more of a strain than the
waterfowl population could take. So I immediately sat down and said,
"Look, you have to adjust the use of this commodity to what it will
stand. So we're going to cut the season down. We'll open the season
about the 15th of October but we'll close it first of January and no
killing in spring because that's the time when waterfowl start their
courtship in January, February, and Marcy on their way north." And im-
mediately there was a big hue and cry from the military. I announced
this at a press conference with the military, what the Japanese game
laws were going to be, and a bright young reporter was from the Stars
and Stripes--he became rather famous later, he still is famous--Peter
K: Oh, yes.
A: Peter Kalisher was there as an army non-com reporting for Stars and
Stripes and the first question he asked me, "Do the Japanese game laws
hold for the military and the occupation as well as the Japanese?" And
I said, "They certainly do!" That's when, shall I say, the mud hit the
fan from the military.
K: Mm hm.
A: Well there was no question about it. The rules of the land warfare--
army manual twenty-two dash ten [laughter] setting the rules of land
warfare, stated what the occupiers of a country should do. They should
obey the laws of that country, unless prevented from so doing by mili-
tary necessity. Well I couldn't see that hunting ducks was any mili-
tary necessity! Though Generals "Jumping Joe" Swing and Walker and
one or two of the others tried to make the point that hunting was the
one sport you can give a soldier that's in line with what he's been
trained to do anyhow. In other words, kill something.
K: Mm hm.
A: And I was called on the carpet immediately by MacArthur's chief of
staff. General Muller called me over to his office, pounded the table,
and told me that this was a gross injustice to all the occupation. I
told him I was sorry but this was how I saw it. And I had also put for
the first time a bag limit. I said fifteen ducks is plenty to shoot
in a day. No business shooting several hundred as some of the officers
had been doing. And geese, I said two geese is enough for a man to
shoot. And Muller called me in and said, "Oh, no, this is ridiculous.
You should allow at least twenty-five to fifty ducks and at least ten,
fifteen geese." I said, "No, General, this is impossible." And he
says, "You're going to do it!" And I said, "You're my commanding of-
ficer. You order me to do it, I will do it--I have no choice. But
it doesn't come from me, it comes from you. I know that this is
wrong." We were sitting in his chief-of-staff's office, which was
almost Mussolini style. I saw a man come in from a corner door--when
you're working with the military you're very conscious of rank and en-
signia. He had an ensignia on I'd never seen before. I did a double
take, and of course it was General MacArthur. General MacArthur came
walking over, we both stood up and Muller introduced me to General
MacArthur. "This is Mr. Austin." And General MacArthur looked at me:
"Dr. Austin? I'm very glad to meet you. I've heard of your work here
and I'm very much interested in it." And Muller said, "Austin and I
are having quite an argument as to the saving of Japanese waterfowl and
the conservation of Japanese wildlife." And MacArthur just simply
said, "Well, if something isn't done about it pretty soon there isn't
going to be any more." MacArthur just went up in my estimation like
that. He turned to Muller and said, "Paul, when you get a minute,
please come in, I have some things for you." So as he shook my hand
very friendly and went to his office, Muller said, "Help yourself to a
cup of coffee and I'll go see what the general wants." In he went. I
sai there. He came back in, he was quite a bit different.
A: He took my recommendations for game laws but he increased the geese to
four. Said that's what it'll have to be. I said, "It's yours. You do
it, that's all right by me." But he kept my seasons and the rest of it.
K: Did you at any time find out if MacArthur had been following this con-
A: Oh, yes! We came to know Mrs. MacArthur and young Arthur MacArthur
and I had more contacts with MacArthur later on through two of his gen-
erals who were notorious as to-the-victor-belong-the-spoils advocates.
These were "Jumping Joe" Swing of the lithe Airborne and Walker of the
8th Army. I had warned Schenk, my beloved boss, that I was going to have
to do things around here that would probably be political headaches.
He replied, "You just go ahead. That's what we're here for, to do
things right. We can't let the military ruin us with all this sort
K: What were those later conflicts about?
A: Well, through a letter to General MacArthur, I heard that there was
trouble up on the north shore of Japan, in Niigata, on the Japanese
netting grounds. That General Swing and General Walker had found some
of these netting grounds and put them off limits to all hunting and
then they had gone in with their staffs and shot up the netting
grounds. These were duck netting grounds where they netted the ducks
once a week and regulated the take very carefully. There was never a
gun fired within twenty miles of the netting grounds. Waterfowl will
not stand for shooting. You start shooting and away they go. But you
can trap them, net them, and it just doesn't disturb them and the sur-
vivors will stay around. I had heard that there had been violations
and somebody asked me if I was going to write in about it. I suggested
if-they had any complaints to send them in to General MacArthur.
General MacArhtur's interpreters got the letter form the families of
the village where one of these netting grounds was saying, "Dear
General MacArthur, We are very humble men, but our livelihood is being
taken away from us. Some of your generals, high ranking generals,
have come in here and shot all our ducks. And our ducks, thousands of
ducks, we had here always have now left us." They had the names, they
had the licenses of the [laughter] occupation licenses of the cars,
they had kept track of the numbers of birds that they had shot. On
the first day that Swing and Walker went in there, the party of eight
or ten shot something like 1,500-2,000 ducks. They went back four or
five days later and managed to kill about two or three hundred. That
was it. They went back again and I think they got two or three ducks
at most. Away they went. So when I got this, I read it through care-
fully, then took it up to Colonel Schenk. The colonel looked at me
and said, "Why, the sons-of-bitches!" "What do I do about it, Colonel?"
I said. He said, "Put it into a staff study and get it right ready for
General MacArthur." I got it ready for General MacArthur and the staff
study, with all the essentials on the first page as they all had to be,
and sent it over to MacArthur's chief-of-staff, who was then General
Armand. This was later in the occupation, in fact, towards the end of
it. From my office to the Dai-ich Building where the MacArthur's
office was oh, some ten blocks. I signed the staff study, Colonel
Schenk signed it with me, and we gave it ot one of our messengers to
take over vy hand to the Daichi Building.
K: Mm hm.
A: Yokahama was thirty-five miles away, a good hour and a half by jeep
in those days and it wasn't an hour and a half later we had results.
The staff study went out at 9:00 in the morning. By 10:30 a fresh
young snotty came in, knocked on my door, and said, "I'm looking for
Dr. Austin." I said, "You're talking to him, lieutenant." Obviously
he was a young West Pointer just out--certainly a general's aide.
K: Mm hm.
A: He said, "I'm General Walker's aide. I would like a list of all the
places that are off limits for hunting in Japan." All I did was just
look at him. I said, "How did you get the word this fast?" "What do
you mean?" "All Japanese netting grounds have always been off limits
to hunting. There's no question about it." But that's how fast it
came. General Armand was two stars as MacArthur's chief of staff;
General Walker, Commanding General of the 8th Army, who was later
killed in Korea in a jeep accident--remember that?
K: Mm hm.
A: He was three stars. Obviously General Armand, the minute he saw this,
got Walker on the phone, told him what was up and that trouble was
brewing for him. Well, there'd been a lot of trouble for Walker.
Walker was--oh, boy! He just commandeered whatever he wanted, here
there and everywhere. And so did Swing, for that matter. Some never
heard any more about it. But this was one of MacArthur's real head-
aches. Handling that pair. This was just more ammunition for
MacArthur, and he handled it sub rosa.
A: But the word got back to this country and a congressional committee
asked very embarrassing questions about the high ranking officers who
were violating the Japanese game laws. A letter came in from a con-
gressional committee saying that this had been told them by a head of
the Fish and Wildlife Service in the United States, a man named Ira N.
Gabrielson had provided them with this information. Schenk's adjutant,
the major, walked into my office one morning and said, "Do you know a
man named Gabrielson?" I said, "If you mean an American ornithologist
named Gabrielson--Ira N. Gabrielson, yes. I know Gabe. I've known
him for some years." He said, "How long since you've had any corres-
pondence with him, had dealings with him?" I said, "I haven't seen
him or had any dealings with him since before the war. Why? Certainly
not since the occupation or anything." And he threw this congressional
complaint and inquiry on my desk. I was supposed to have given the
word. I was the one who might have done it.
A: I wasn't, thank goodness. I found out later who di, my immediate su-
pervisor, Bill Harrington, head of fisheries division, [laughter],
yeah. Bill had gone home and seen his old friend Gabe, told Gabe what
was up and Gabe just simply told Wayne Morse, the senator from Oregon.
And Morse sent the letter through channels and once again, mud hit the
K: Did you have any other experiences of that sort?
A: MacArthur backed me up every time. No question about it. I was get-
ting back into ornithology in a big way and into wildlife conservation,
which was a lot of fun. And I enjoyed every minute of it. I wrote
five major reports for the Natural Resources Section, the first one
having been this mist netting study. I wrote another one which Hachisuka
did most of the work on, was translating and abstracting all the publi-
cations in vertebrate zoology, ornithology, and mammalogy particularly
that had been written during the war years. Then I wrote one that young
Kuroda dug much of the material out for me on a history of wildlife con-
servation in Japan. And then, at the instigation of the military, I
wrote The Waterfowl of Japan. It was illustrated so that it could be
given around to the vatious military people and they'd know what water-
fowl could be killed and what couldn't and what was there. This was the
first thing that'd been done on them in quite some time. And Kuroda was
a great help on that. Then the final one was the fur seal report that
Ford Wilkie had come over in my last year there to work on fur seals.
Japan, you'll remember, had advocated the fur seal treaty before the war.
K: Mm hm.
A: We made quite a report between us on Japanese fur sealing of historical
K: Had the Japanese government done much in the way of studies in wildlife?
A: No. They had not.
A: They had one government ornithologist, Seinosuche Uchida, head of the
wildlife. He wrote a Birds of Japan, but they didn't take it very seri-
ously. And they take it much more seriously now.
K: Never during the war did they consider these useful resources that
needed to be protected?
A: Oh, no, this was a resource that you used.
K: I see.
A: The Japanese had claimed that the Pribilof fur seals were ruining their
fisheries. And Floyd Wilkie and young Kuroda went and made quite a
study of the fur seals and the Japanese pelagic sealing. The report
proved the Japanese claims were correct and that the Pribilof seals
were indeed coming to Japan. Seals banded, that is, tagged on the
Pribilofs had been taken in Japan, and the Japanese had used this before
the war back in the late '30s to abrogate the fur seal treaty act of
1909 was it, I think? [North Pacific Fur Seal Convention of 1911] I've
forgotten exactly I can ljok it up, between Russia, Britain, the United
States and Japan, which stopped all pelagic sealing, that is killing
seals at sea. Saying seals would only be killed on the breeding grounds,
of which Russia had one, Japan had one-Robben Island. Russia had the
Komandorsk Islands and of course America had the Pribilofs.
K: Mm hm.
A: So the Japanese had claimed here the Pribilof seals were coming down to
Japan and as proof gave four or five tags that they had taken from the
Pribilof seals killed off Japan. And the American Fish and Wildlife
people said, certainly they got these right off the Pribilofs themselves
where they were poaching. These weren't taken down in Japan off
Hokkaido and northern Honshu as they claimed. On the other hand Wilkie
and I found out they were.
K: Mm hm.
A: And I went along as we Ford and Kuroda went through various villages
and talked to some of the old seal hunters. They dug up something like
eight or ten more bands that had not been reported. They were taken
right there. So we learned quite a little about the migration routes
of the Pribilof seals. Everybody always thought they just simply went
south off the coast of British Columbia and Oregon and then back to the
Pribilofs. On the contrary, they went down the Pacific coast of Asia
as well as North America. Which was a very nice find, too. But that
about wound up the more important things that we did while in Japan.
K: What about your own work--did you have much chance to pursue your own
A: Oh, yes. Of course I did. I got afield and learned the Japanese birds,
and with the Japanese ornithologists at their meetings and I decided it
was time we had another Birds of Japan written in an Occidental tongue.
And Kuroda and I decided to do that together, and we did. I took
Kuroda's manuscript home with me when I left Japan in 1950, and rewrote
it after I got home.
K: I see.
A: That was published in '52 by the Museum of Comparative Zoology.
K: And this was really the first English language?
A: This was the first English treatment of the birds of Japan since 1890
when Seebohm, a Britisher, wrote a Birds of Japan, sixty years previ-
K: Did you have any occasion to study any effects, you or your organiza-
tion, of the nuclear explosions on wildlife population?
A: No, that we did not. Kuroda and I went through Kiroshima once by train
and didn't stop. We were on our way to Kyushu and just happened to go
by. We did not go to Nagasaki. We had no reason to investigate that
particular aspect of it. In fact, we never thought of it if the truth
be known and admitted...
K: It would have in no way been in physical proximity to any nesting
A: No. Wouldn't be on breeding grounds and wouldn't be on major wintering
grounds of any species. But the atomic bombs had no effect on any wild-
life I knew of. It didn't land where they were.
K: Didn't it have some effect on the fish?
A: Locally, yes. But that was all.
K: But if it had been near wintering grounds and the bombs being dropped
in late summer there also would have been no impetus for studies?
A: I doubt it. Doubt it very much.
K: Well how did you come then to come back to the United States?
A: Well the occupation was over. I left Japan in late winter of 1950 and
came on home.
K: Back to Massachusetts?
A: I came back to Cape Cod and sat down and started looking for a job.
Whew! There were no jobs in ornithology and needless to say the museum
jobs were few and far between and teaching jobs were few and far between
at that time, too.
K: Mm hm.
A: Well, we stayed on Cape Cod. I got a Guggenheim fellowship-in fact, I
got two in a row, which we lived on for almost two years. They just
got us by.
K: When was this?
A: This was 1950 and '51. When I first got back I went on the G.I. bill.
Thank goodness for that G.I. bill. Harvard was a little stuffy about
it. I went in and applied for it, I thought I would write my Birds of
Japan, do the research at the museum, and I wanted to see all the
Japanese material in the museums of this country, which I did before I
was through. I did this on the Guggenheim later, but first on the G.I.
K: Mm hm.
A: I wanted to take graduate level courses--I just put down for four hours
for the four full courses and would spend all my time up at the bird
range of the Museum of Comparative Zoology with Bangs and Peters,
though Bangs was dead by then, and it was Jim Peters and Jim Greenway.
But Harvard was very stuffy about it. They pointed out to me that,
after all, I had a Harvard Ph.D. and so was educated--could be consid-
ered educated. Well I said this is renewing my early training and so
forth. They said you can only do this if you take two standard courses.
We'll let you take two courses sitting up in the bird range writing your
book, and doing research on the birds of Japan but you must take two
formal courses. So I did. I took a course in geography with Irvin
Reitz who later did the atlas of Florida here some years ago. This was
a very interesting a productive course to me. The other course I took
was Columbus Iselin's course in oceanography, also of great interest
ultimately to me. Was glad I was forced to take a few courses and
broaden my field of vision considerably in those two courses. Mean-
while I got out the MCZ Japanese material of which I'd sent back a
great many specimens of course. Something in the neighborhood of five
or six thousand skins. Then, when I got my Guggenheim Fellowship the
next spring, that carried us by,.and I went down to New York and saw
all the Japanese material in the Rothschild Collection, which was then
in the American Museum of Natural History, which had been sent from
Japan in the 1890s. Very interesting material and a lot of Korean ma-
terial too that added to my Birds of Korea as well. Went to Washington,
went to Philadelphia, went to Pittsburgh, saw all the major museums
that had stuff in them.
K: Mm hm.
A: Then, just about as I finished up, I managed to land a job, through my
friend Harold Coolidge who recommended me for a post at the Arctic,
Desert Tropic Information Center. Thanks to the editing work I had
done, for they needed an editor and somebody who was a zoologist to
work on survival publications for the Air Force. I stopped in down
there and interviewed the director, Paul Nesbitt, and he thought this
was a fine idea, and he offered me the job at my old government rank.
I very much wanted to stay in government service at the time, which was
natural because I had had early Fish and Wildlife Service training. I
had my four and a half years in Japan as a Department of the Army, civil-
ian, I'd had fifty-plus months military service, all of which would add
to my retirement. So these things I was thinking of. And so we went
to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama, and there I spent
K: Now that was a part of what they called the Air University?
A: That's right. It was one of the units of the Air University, and it had
a darn good library there, too! They built a beautiful library. But
before that I should add that when I first came back to this country and
went up to the M.C.Z. that spring of 1950 and worked there in the fall
of '50 and '51, a tall young man had come in from the University of
Florida on a sabbatical year and he came up to spend it at the M.C.Z.
His name was J.C. Dickinson. And that's when Joshua and I first met.
K: I see.
A: And Josh came down to the Cape, saw the Austin Station down there, what
we did there and so forth-we hit it off very well together right from
the very start. And we kept in touch. I came down to Alabama. At one
time he wanted me to go with him on a trip when they were investigating
the Appalachicola drainage, but I was unable to get away.
But it was after four years in Montgomery, in 1956 if I remember cor-
rectly, I had a letter from Joshua saying that they had some money for
a new line item in their budget iwth pay (as I remember, $3,500) for an
assistant in ornithology. Who would I recommend to take the job? Of
course I was making $11,000+ or better, twelve-something I think as I
remember it, at Maxwell. I sat down and thought it over very carefully
and I made two recommendations. I told Joshua of the two men that I
thought were young and comers and would be ideal for this job here.
One was Kenney Parkes, who's the present head of the Pittsburgh Museum
department of ornithology, one of the best in the country; and the other
was Phil Humphrey who is now director of the University of Kansas Museum.
K: Mm hm.
A: Those two I recommended as the best likelihood for the sort of men that
Dickinson wanted. But I had discussed this with my wife and said, oh,
golly, this is something. They haven't much down there, this is start-
ing from scratch. Josh told me they had something like 1,700-1,800
bird specimens and this was a chance for somebody to come and build up
a whole new department for the Florida State Museum. So I put a P.S.
on the letter. I said to my wife, "You know this is very little money."
But our two boys at that time were practically educated, that is, one
was going into the new Air Force Academy, and the other one was at
Annapolis and they were off my hands, more or less. I said, "You know,
with what we've got we can get by one, ,more or less. I'd sort of like
to--I'd like to get out of this semi-military thing I'm doing here where
I'm writing other men's theses for them." What I was doing was editing
all the survival publications, which was a re-write job and getting no
credit, no author credit for a thing.
K: Mm hm.
A: Which didn't help my career at all. So, "I'd like to get back into some
real ornithology, and here's a chance. I wonder." She said, "Well,
why don't you see?" So I just put a P.S., "How would I do?" on the
letter to Dickinson. The next night [chuckle] I got a phone call!
Dickinson said, "You really mean that?" I said, "Of course, I do." He
said, "Come on down and we'll talk it over." And that was the start.
I came down here and took over in '57.
K: Was that the first time you had been to Gainesville or to Florida?
A: That was the first time I had been to Florida and first time I had been
K: So it was just the challenge of starting pretty much from scratch?
A: To me this was the challenge of starting something from scratch. This
was fine. This was exactly what I wanted. And Josh said, "You know, if
you'll take this, I think I can get some more money than what we're of-
fering. After all, you're an older man with a reputation," and so
forth. So they did, they started me off at $4,500 if I remember cor-
rectly. And Joshua pushed me ahead and pushed my salary up right along
for the eighteen years I was on the staff here.
K: Now what was the title again that you came in as?
A: I came in as assistant curator in ornithology.
K: Within social--did they have departments then in the museum?
A: Yes. Oh, yes.
K: So it was in Natural Sciences?
A: Yes. This was under Natural Sciences.
K: I see.
A: And the museum at that time was in the Seagle Building.
K: Right. How many floors did it occupy and which floors?
A: It occupied part of the basement and the first three floors.
K: And where were the--
A: And the offices were on the third floor, the director's office and most
of the social sciences material. The bird collections were in Lane
cases in the hall. If I remember there were ten Lane cases that con-
tained the entire bird collection.
K: Was there anyone on the staff who was a qualified ornithologist?
A: Not on the staff of the museum.
K: Mm hm.
A: There was a highly qualified man on the zoology department staff, [Dr.]
Pierce Brodkorb, one of the best, and, in fact, the country's leading
paleo-ornithologist by far.
K: Was he the person who really had oversight over the bird collection?
A: No, he was not. He had a collection that was supposedly part of the
department of zoology, but actually should have been the museum's. And
Joshua had seen that it came to the museum.
A: This was the university collection and it should be part of the museum
and not the zoology department.
K: Mm hm.
A: He fought that out before I got here. So we had about 1,000 Florida
birds from the old collection that had been made by students before
Brodkorb had gotten here and then the collection that Josh had made when
he was with the Carrs in Nicaragua-or rather, Honduras...
K: Do you know if any of that collection dated back to the days before the
museum was in the Seagle Building?
A: Oh, yes. A lot of it did.
K: When it was in Flint Hall?
A: When it was in Flint Hall, yes...
K: Science Hall...
A: ...yes, in Science Hall. And, of course, with the big Doe collection
of eggs, which had been in Science Hall. And when they moved out of
Flint down to the Seagle Building all the eggs were packed away. I
never got to the eggs until we got here in this building. They were
just stashed away where you couldn't sit down in the cellar, and storage
rooms on the first and second floors, and back behind the habitat groups
where you couldn't see them.
K: Could you make a general estimate as to what kind of condition that
collection was in?
A: It was in excellent condition.
K: Was it?
A: It was a good collection, but small.
K: Physically it was in good...?
A: Physically it was in excellent condition. Dickinson had seen to that.
K: A little surprising, considering how little they had to work with.
A: Yes. They had very little to work with, but it was good, what they did
have. And the first assistant I had was a young Scotsman who was here
as a graduate student, Dick Allen. Dick and I went out and collected
quite a bit when we could--watching our opportunities, and that was our
start. My first office was in the Seagle Building, a small office off
the director's office. The director then was [Dr.] Arnold [Brams]
Grobman. Dickinson was head of Natural Sciences and had an office out
on the campus. My office in the Seagle Building was next to the bird
collection, and Dick Allen and I worked there. But it didn't make too
much sense to be down there and I wanted to be on the campus, where I
was nearer the students. This was where we should have been. So finally
we got permission to move the collection back to Science Hall, now Flint
K: I see.
A: And we moved the Lane cases-no great shakes-up into the second story
and put them in the hallway of Flint Hall where there's a lot more room
than there was on the third floor of the Seagle Building. We had enough
money to add a few more Lane cases to take on the stuff that I was col-
lecting, the additional material.
K: When was it that you moved back with the bird collection?
A: I think our first move was back in '59.
A: Then the next move-Flint Hall wasn't too good. I had a small office
up there, but it wasn't of the best and I wanted more room if I could
get it, to make space for more Lane cases for a bigger collection. I
would dearly love to have found a place where I could put the egg col-
lection, which we didn't,get till some time later. But the next thing
that became available was one of the temporary buildings right next to
Flint, Building I.
K: Would that be the one to the west [of Flint]?
A: The one to the west. So they gave me two great big rooms over in
Building I. And the job then was to move the collection from Flint
Hall and from the Seagle Building out to Building I. I remember talk-
ing to Plants and Grounds about moving it, and the money they wanted
was out of the question. I had had an assistant-a little girl who
came in there asked for a job and thought she could learn to skin birds
and do other things for me. So fine and dandy, I gave her the job.
And she was a bride-the wife of the star tackle on the football team.
And when the business came of moving, I was hitting the roof at the
price that Plants and Grounds wanted, which we just plain didn't have
in our budget, and little Jody said, "Well, you know, since the foot-
ball team's going to be doing absolutely nothing over Christmas vaca-
tion, they'd be glad to work for a dollar an hour." So I had the line
of the football team and several of the backfield carrying trays and
cases. I had eight or ten of them who worked for a dollar an hour for
about five or six days, and we got all the collections moved.
K: I see.
A: And that became our bird department until we moved down here to the new
Florida State Museum. And when we came down here we could bring all the
stuff that I had had no room in Building I for, including the Doe egg
collection. The Coe egg collection is one of our great assets because
it was made entirely before DDT...
K: I imagine there is much greater stability and life expectancy in the egg
A: Well, no, the insecticides were affecting the size of the eggs, the
thickness and strength, rather, of the egg shell.
K: Mm hm.
A: They were interfering with the birds' ability to secrete lime for egg
shells. This was what happened to the Peregrine falcon, what happened
to the pelicans in Louisiana. Their state bird was shortly extincted
by the pollution of the Mississippi River...
K: So this is simply a much, much better, more accurate collection?
A: This collection allowed us to measure eggshell thicknesses before there
was any pollution from the insecticides and compare them with the sizes
of eggshells today. The measurements showed immediately that, yes, the
eggshells were thinning. This was the straw that broke the camel's
back; this was what cost us quite a number of things; this was what was
really behind Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Thank goodness for Rachel
Carson! This was it.
K: I should ask you if you have had opportunities to teach in the formal
setting at the university--
K: -in a classroom setting or just in your work in the museum?
A: Just in my work in the museum. It was part of my contract when I came
down here that I did not have to teach formal courses, that I could take
graduate students if I wished, and so I didn. And I had four or five
while I was here, including one who got his doctorate under me-Jim
Dinsmore. And I lectured at times--gave formal lectures in other men's
courses. I lectured to Archie Carr's ecology, and to J.C.'s ecology
course, mainly on Antarctica. And I gave several lectures to some of
Lew Berner's courses, only when asked, but was always glad to do so.
K: So officially your university duties were relating to the collection?
A: Related to the collection entirely and to the Florida State Museum.
K: Now how the university gone-and the museum gone--about supplementing
and building up the collection?
A: Well, they increased my budget year after year, and gave me money to
travel around the state with, which helped a great deal. I had other
things that came in from the side-I never had a government grant but I
had some other things which helped a great deal. Like the phone call
I received while I was in Flint Hall in 1959.
K: Mm hm.
A: I'd moved out to Flint Hall in '59...yes, in '59. The voice on the
other end of the line said, "You don't know me, but my name is Herbert
Zinn, and your name has been given to me by a friend of mine, Dr. Robert
Murphy." I said, "Yes, Bob...Robert Cushman Murphy." He said, "How
would you like to write a Birds of the World?" "Well," I said, "I'd
never thought about it, but I'd like to, yes." He said, "Good." He
says, "We're looking for somebody who'll write a Birds of the World. I
have a young artist, his name is Arthur Singer, who has produced some
drawings for a juvenile book on birds. And I think his paintings are
far too good to be used just for juvenile and that they could be in an
adult book, and there hasn't been a Birds of the World for some time and
maybe you would like to look at them." I said, "I certainly would."
He said, "Well, come on down, I'll pay your way down and back, at least,
and then we can talk this over." So Herbert lived on Plantation Key--
had a big place there. I went down and looked at the spreads. There
were something like thirty spreads that Arthur Singer had made, and all
I could say when I looked at these big spreads of birds was, "My good-
ness, where has this man been?!" Absolutely an unknown, was Arthur
Singer at that time. Course he's now known as one of the best bird
painters who ever produced. Well, I was tremendously impressed with
Arthur's work. I said I'd be glad to and Zim said, "Well, suppose you
sit down and block a Birds of the World out and write at least one ac-
count so we'll have something to go by." I came back and sat down and
wrote an account of one of the families I'd recently been working with,
the penguins. I wrote the penguin a-count--the first one I did. Sent
that in and made an outline--rough outline of a book to be 200 pages and
that it would be illustrated. And Zim took this up to Western Printing,
Golden Press. They thought it was a very good idea and they gave me a
sizeable advance to work on. I went to work and I hadn't done more
than eight or ten families when I realized the 200 pages wasn't going
to do it!
K: Mm hm.
A: That is, with the illustrations they wanted as I remember-it was to be
about one quarter illustrations and I was to provide the other three
quarters with the little black marks that go in between the pretty pic-
tures you see. So we increased the text by forty pages. This was the
signature size of Birds of the World. A book of that size their press
would take twenty faces at a time--that meant forty pages, both sides.
And then we had to go to forty more and then we went to forty more and
the book finally came out at three hundred--300+ pages, 320 pages, plus
end sheets. Over a period of two years.
K: Now when was it that they commissioned you to begin with and when did
the book first come out?
A: They commissioned me in '59 and it was to come out-they gave me one
year to do it. One year to write a 300-page book on Birds of the World!
But we had a little trouble at that time; that is, Mrs. Austin became
very ill--Sliver was very ill, had to go to the hospital which knocked
three to four months out of my working time so the book wasn't ready to
go until the fall of '61. It came out for the Christmas trade of '61.
K: I see.
A: And they sent out a flyer with some of Arthur's illustrations and part
of the text--a couple pages of the text of it, which received a tremen-
dous reception. They got something like 20 or 39 percent return on the
K: That's very good.
A: Which was whew! Way out--so they frankly, they overprinted. I expec-
ted the original contract called for a printing of maybe 50,000.
K: Mm hm.
A: And the first printing they figured they'd get rid of 180,000 copies so
that's what they printed. They promised me at the time that they would
give me an updated edition of the book. They hadn't given me the time
I needed. I knew there were errors all through the thing, and ornithol-
ogy is a dynamic subject. It's going to improve; it's going to change
considerably. And the then president of Western Printing, All Leventhal,
promised me that as soon as the first printing was out they would have
a second and revised edition. By the time that date came, which was ten
years later in 1970, Leventhal was no longer president of Western
Printing, and we have kicked it around ever since. They wanted to do a
revised edition, in fact, they paid me for doing a revised edition,
which I submitted to them four years ago. They at first wanted to just
reprint the old one, but I said no, that wasn't the promise. The prom-
ise was I'd have an updated edition. They decided--the powers that be
in the thinking behind the throne--that in order to put this book out
they would have to print 90,000 copies to sell for $30 a copy. The or-
iginal one sold for $16 and $18. And that was ridiculous. Even a re-
vised edition wouldn't sell 90,000 copies in ten years. They ought to
have known the market. "But," I said, "Why?" I said, "The way book
prices are going now, we put a little more art in this thing with
Arthur, change some of the art to justify it and asking $40 for it and
print 20,000 copies."
K: Mm hm.
A: This they wouldn't see. So that's where it's standing even today.
K: But you still have hopes-?
A: I still have hopes that we'll get another edition. Eventually.
K: Is there any way that you can go to another publisher?
A: If they want to pay the money to buy the art from...
K: Western Printing.?
A: Western Printing. I doubt they will.
K: So otherwise you're stuck for the time being.
A: So we're stuck for the time being. And I may do a new revision on my
own time if I find the time to do it but I have other things to do at
the present moment. That's one of the things that's on the schedule
K: In the time that you've been here at the University of Florida have
there ever been any courses in ornithology offered?
A: Oh, yes! Pierce Brodkorb gave courses right along. He gave one every
year, an elementary course one year and an advanced ornithology the
next year. They alternated years on this.
K: I've looked in the catalog and I did not see any at the present time--
A: No, I don't think there is one right now.
K: Uh huh. Is it since he retired that they have not...
A: Yes. No, well, Dave Johnson gave it one year if I remember correctly.
K: Is the zoology department at all supportive of the ornithology staff
and collection in the museum?
A: Yes. They recognize us--as a matter of fact, they gave me departmental
standing in the department of zoology. That is, I was at first assist-
ant curator and assistant professor in zoology. And they carried me on
to full professorship when I was made full curator here.
K: I see.
A: But they paid none of my salary at all.
K: Mm hm.
A: But this allowed me to take students.
K: Now within the museum in working with the collection have you had grad-
A: Yes, I have had graduate assistants right along.
K: And technicians?
A: And technicians as well.
K: Mm hm. And this has been the case both--
A: I had undergraduate assistants at first.
K: Uh huh.
A: And this has been so right along as long as I stayed on the payroll.
K: What have been your areas of interest since you came to Florida? Has
there been a certain species of bird that you-
K: --have been interested in?
A: -I've been more interested in, of course, my old love, the terns. The
great tern rookeries down here on the ry Tortugas. And we started the
work on those in '59. That was with Russ Mason of the Florida Audubon
Society and Bill Ro inson, the biologist of Everglades National Park,
which has control of the Dry Tortugas. And we went out there first in
'59 to see what the story was. There hadn't been any banding done out
there since before the war. But Dickinson went there one year before
the war in '38 or '39. (I can find his picture--it's up in the bird
range of the crew that went out there." But the Audubon Society used
to go down there every year. From about '36 I believe to '41. And
various members of the Audubon Society and the people who went on the
parties who happened to be banders would take what bands they had and
go over to Bush Key (one year they were on Garden Key), band the terns
--band young ones, and you could catch some of the adults and band them
too. All told they banded something like 6,000 birds.
K: Mm hm.
A: In those years of '36 to '41 until the war in '42 put a stop to it.
K: Mm hm.
A: One year Doe went down and collected a bunch of eggs, which was against
the law, but he did it just the same. Got away with them, too. They're
in our collection right here today, the ones he collected. But we went
out and started banding terns on the Dry Tortugas. I took what bands I
had, some 1,500 I think I had that year. Didn't take us long to put
those on, and Russ put on what he had and so did Bill Robertson. Then
we organized the banding on the dry Tortugas under Bill Robertson's
guidance, and got our own bands for the project from the Fish and
Wildlife Service. This banding project was a cooperative agreement
between the federal government and the Park Service, the Florida
Audubon Society, and the Florida State Museum, which let me spend my
budget money going down there. We made two trips a year once to trap
and band adults. I found that we could use the Japanese mist nets
again to catch the adults in quantity.
K: Mm hm.
A: And we trapped adults as well as banded many young. We banded as many
as we could. Our high year I believe was 25,000. But in the late
'60s, I've forgotten exactly how many, but we were up in the 100,000
category. Now several hundred thousand birds have been banded. An
interesting thing has been catching those old birds that were banded by
the previous parties.
K: Before the war?
A: Before the war. We caught quite a number of those-as a matter of fact
I think we have records of about 120 of them. The oldest one, and we
haven't had any since, was over 31 years old.
A: I remember taking that 31-year-old bird and oh, boyI These were birds
that were banded as young and we knew their exact dates. And I was
able to work out--but have never published--the demography, the annual
mortality rates on these birds in which I have been greatly interested.
But I needled Bill Robertson into writing up the history of the Dry
Tortugas, which he did a beautiful job on, and I was able to publish it
for him when I was editor of the Bulletin. This was one of the first
and one of the best Bulletins we ever put out. And Bill has published
quite a number of things since. Then the Audubon Society more or less
dropped out of it and Glenn Woolfenden took Russ Mason's place. And
Glenn ran the crowds. Each year we took a party of fifteen or twenty
to work It took that many to handle the nets and to corral the young
birds for banding.
K: What is the legal status today of netting by an ornithologist? Do you
A: Oh, yes.
K: --permission from local authorities or from the uh--
A: You need both from the federal government and from local authority if
there is provision within that state.
K: I see.
A: Now Florida does not have a state law governing banding, but they do
govern collecting. Now the manner of collecting is up to you. I can
either shoot, or I can net, in the state of Florida. But in order to
net I must have special permission from the banding office of the Fish
and Wildlife Service that issues the bands.
K: Is this a permission that is freely given, or must one establish one's
A: One must establish one's credentials, that you know how to identify the
birds you are banding and how to handle traps and nets without harming
K: Does the Service ever supervise you while you are at work?
A: No, they take the word of those of us who know. The men who have banded
with me are careful and reliable.
K: I wanted to ask you a few questions about the Auk and your work as
editor. How long did you serve as editor?
A: I served ten years.
A: 1968 through 1977.
K: How did you come to hold that position? Could you tell us something
A: Bob Mengel, the previous editor, whom I succeeded, had had it for five
years and decided it was too much for him and didn't want to do any
more. We were having budget troubles here in what was needed in the
Florida State Museum and my friend Harold Mayfield, who was then presi-
dent of the AOU, wrote to me and asked me if I would ocnsider taking on
the editorship of the Auk. Well, I had wanted the editorship of the
Auk for many years--Ernst Mayr asked for me to be editor when I first
came down here to Florida. And Joshua, unbeknownst to me, that Mayr
didn't approach me, he approached my employer, Dickinson. And Dickinson
put his foot down and said, "No, Austin won't have time to edit the
Auk." Actually, Josh was afraid I might make enemies, as editors can,
A: I think that was his main reason for turning me down when Mayr asked
him if I could become eidtor back in 1959. So it was some time later--
two other editors later, in fact, three other editors later before I
came on the scene. I walked into Joshua's office with Mayfield's let-
ter and threw it on the desk. "What do you want me to do about this,
Joshua?" I said. "Shall I write him and tell him no as you told Mayr
some years ago?" And he looked up at me and said, "No, I think this
would be a good thing now. Because after all, we haven't too much
money to send you afield anymore; we've got to cut down' you might just
as well do some of this too as well as your other editing." I was ed-
iting the Bulletin, of course, at the time--
K: How long had you been doing that?
A: Oh, I'd been doing that since the second year I was here.
K: Uh huh.
A: I took over that immediately. I wasn't editor at first, Bill Riemer
was the editor over me, and I was just assistant editor until Riemer
left; then I took over.
K: How did your process work? How did you receive material and--
A: What do you mean? For both?
K: --send it for both. Let me ask you about both.
A: For both. We developed our own procedure on the Auk. I told the AOU
that I couldn't handle the Auk unless they provided me with top secre-
tarial help. That I had somebody in mind who would work a twenty-hour
week and this would be enough but she would get top salary of $2,500 a
year for that. And I got Florence Pettis, who was an A-number-one
assistant. She and I worked out the system that the Auk is still using,
so far as I know, and other journals have picked up the same system. I
know the Journal of Mammalogy uses my evaluation sheets and methods of
sending material out for review, that is, everything is reviewed. And
my system on the Auk was, if it happened to be in my field I could tell
whether I wanted it or not and I could judge whether a paper was well
written or not. If it was well written in something that I was not par-
ticularly cognizant of, I should say had no real expertise in, such as
physiology or some of these other esoteric branches of ornithology, I
would send it our to be refereed.
K: Mm hm.
A: And it was likewise a very good way of keeping yourself off the hook,
to have a referee's opinion on it. Finally I was using two--at least
two, and sometimes three--referees for every paper. And we did the
same thing for the Bulletin.
K: Did you give each referee certain criteria?
A: Yes, we gave them criteria to work by. We gave them five grades to put
a paper in, as to whether it was acceptable immediately, acceptable
with a little revision, acceptable with major revisions, doubtfully ac-
ceptable, or unacceptable, and so forth. I think those were the five.
K: Mm hm.
A: Also we sent a sheet asking for criticism of the paper as to what sort
of revision it needed. Did it need padding, did it need cutting down,
or what should be done to it? We had done the same thing for the
Bulletin. At first we used to judge the Bulletin entirely within the
museum. The editors would decide whether we wanted a paper or not. But
we then decided it would be better to have some on-campus referees. For
instance, no authority on fossils, or shall we say, herps? Or some of
the other things that the Bulletin was publishing?
K: Mm hm.
A: We took the word of whoever was in the department on that or in the
zoology department of elsewhere on the campus, and then decided it
would be even better if we had off-campus referees. And that has been
the procedure for the last ten to fifteen years, that we've used off-
campus referees as well as on-campus for Bulletin material. And for
Auk material I used the entire AOU and a good many that were outside
the AOU occasionally, occasional foreigners who happened to be up on
particular fields we didn't have any expertise on in this country.
K: What kind of turnaround time or turnover time did you have in dealing
with articles in each one? In other words, from the time of first sub-
mission until either rejection or publication?
A: This wasn't long. That is, acceptance or rejection--rejection can often
be done right away. Things that I knew didn't measure up, I just turned
down on my own authority--this was it. But turnaround time with refer-
ees I found varied greatly. You soon learned who were good referees-
Kenney Parkes was one of the best I ever had--I mentioned him before.
And others who would sit on them forever. My predecessor, Mengel, was
one who'd sit on them forever and he knew better, too! I had a number
of people who never even had the courtesy to return the papers.
K: Which was embarrassing for you.
A: Which is exceedingly embarrassing. But you learned finally who was good
and who wasn't and who could be depended on. But it was usually any-
where from three to five months before a person got an acceptance unless
it was a hell of a good paper, which occasionally happened.
K: Mm hm.
A: And I had some--in fact, I've had papers come in from Kenney Parkes
that went right smack through--that is, his own papers. And I think
Kenney holds the record acceptance to publication--that is, from sub-
mission to publication. Usually we had a big backlog- In fact, Mendel
sent me something like seventy or eighty papers that he was considering
when I came in, when I took over. And the stuff came in at the rate of
three to four hundred papers a year. We couldn't publish nearly that
many, of course, And our lag time from date of acceptance to appearance
in print ran anywhere to a minimum of nine months to a maximum of eight-
een to twenty months. This was one of the things I worked hard to
improve. The only way you could do it was to cut down on the stuff you
accepted and get tougher and tougher. This was very difficult to do.
K: I assume you maintained the anonymity of the referees?
A: I did. The referee was always given a choice. He could sign his crit-
ique or not. I had a number of people who signed regularly, and more
and more began to sign it as time went on. Franz Sauer always signed
his reviews. Joe Hickey always signed his comments, whether good or
bad. Usually if it's an adverse comment, a referee doesn't always want
to be known, because it's undoubtedly by somebody who knows him. As we
all know each other in ornithology practically, as you do in your field,
too. But more and more people are coming to sign their reviews or were
when I left office.
K: How did you deal with book reviews? Did you have another book review
editor or did you-?
A: No, I had a book review editor. I did a lot of reviewing myself. And
Mrs. Austin did quite a bit of reviewing, but we had a book review edi-
tor to start with. I also had committees that were supposed to take
care of obituaries and memorials to deceased fellows.
K: Mm hm.
A: These were other problems that we had to handle.
K: Do you remember, just in broad terms, the kind of publication budget
you had to work with for either publication?
A: Well, I could give you the exact figures for each one of them. We're
down to zilch now [chuckle] in the Bulletin but my last budget for Auk,
if I remember correctly, was $45-48,000.
K: Did you use many illustrations?
A: Yes, we used a lot of illustrations, that is, cuts, but we published
colored plates only when they were paid for by the author; or by some-
body else for the author. And we were always glad to get a colored
frontispiece, but those ran five to seven hundred dollars.
K: Did you ever happen to notice that there was a certain time of the year
when you received a large number of articles, such as maybe after your
A: No. Not after the annual meeting. I kept records by quarters. The Auk
was a quarterly and I ran when my material came in. I also budgeted by
quarters--so many per quarter. And I have all those figures for ten
years. And as I remember it, most of the articles would come in in the
fall term. People got through with summer...
K: Work over the summer?
A: Work over the summer, right.
K: It's fair to say, it's the same in history. I've worked with Dr.
Proctor on the Florida Historical Quarterly and they come in in the
autumn and they come in in the spring-
A: Yes. Well, our society doesn't meet in the spring. Our society usu-
ally meets in fall.
K: I see.
A: Late summer of fall. But we do have a fluctuation at the end of winter.
Then it drops off during the spring and summer. Most ornithologists are
afield and not writing. That is, the producing ones are.
K: Well, Dr. Austin, I know we haven't covered everything-
A: Not by a long shot.
K: -because there's too much to cover, but I don't have any other pre-
pared questions. Would you like to add anything?
A: Not at the moment. I may when I see the write-up on this and recall
things that I think...
K: That would be great.
A: ...may ne d covering. I think we've covered most of the things on pub-
lication, whether I've made it clear how the Bulletin has worked...
E: Oliver, you didn't do anything on Deep Freeze.
A: No, I didn't mention Deep Freeze at all. I was on the first Deep
K: Could you tell us about that?
A: I could tell you a little about it, yes, I went on that as an Air Force
ovserver from the Arctic, Desert, Tropic Information Center. And I
joined the Glacier in Panama and sailed to New Zealand and went down
into the Ross Sea-spent three months down there. And then came back.
K: And what were your duties?
A: My duties were to see what the air force could possibly do, what we
could contribute or not. But the navy wasn't very happy about the air
force doing too much with them. The cooperation wasn't too hot. And
in my three months in Antarctica, if I remember correctly, I had thirty
hours ashore on the penguin rookeries.
K: Not very much.
A: Not very much. Everybody got priority on the helicopter going ashore
except the ornithologists or the Air Force observer. The newspaper
correspondents could go and young Dicky Byrd could go, but not the or-
K: Were you able to come up with any material that would be of use to you
or Mrs. Austin?
A: Oh, yes, I did. I got a paper on it. I wrote a paper on the Ross Sea,
banding in the Antartctic, describing what I did. I banded a lot of
skuas, which were a lot of fun. Swooping them out of the air with a
butterfly net more or less. But this came to good effect later on dur-
ing the later years of Deep Freeze when other men went down there. My
penguin banding never came to anything because my banding was not the
sort that would do anything. I tried to use steel tags on them and
they just wouldn't stay. And you can't, penguin just doesn't have
enough of a tarsus to put a band on. And when my friend Bill Sladen
banded he used flipper bands.
K: I see.
A: He developed flipper bands for penguins and it works beautifully. But
I had none of them when I went down. I used a regular standard band
and they didn't work. But I did have plenty of bands for skuas and I
banded somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 or 500 skuas, if I remem-
ber correctly. Oh, no, it wasn't that many--it was maybe 100 or 150
skuas. But some of those were taken by subsequent workers on skuas in
the Ross Sea area.
K: I see.
A: And this was a start on the Skua banding--it was a real help to Bob
Woods, who did the first real skua work down there, and wrote a paper
I later published in the Auk for him.
K: And this would have been about '56?
A: This was '56. This was the fall of '55 and spring of '56. It was just
after I came back from Deep Freeze in '56 that I got the letter from
Joshua asking me to recommend somebody for a job down here.