Login to Claremont COURIER

Daniel Albert Guthrie: Bird watcher, biologist, Pitzer professor

Bird watcher, biologist, founding Pitzer professor, environmentalist

Dan Guthrie was a devoted bird watcher, professor and environmentalist. He lived in Claremont for 55 years, where he worked as a biology professor at Joint Science Department (now W.M. Keck Science Department) at the Claremont Colleges.

He died on July 1, surrounded by his family. “Dan instilled a love of the outdoors and scientific personalities in all of us,” his family shared.

He was born in Terra Haute, Indiana in 1939 and was raised in Garden City, New York. As a boy, his parents gave him a wonderful childhood of nature, exploring and adventures outdoors. At 12 years old, he recorded all the birds he had seen, each day for an entire year. His notebooks of bird sightings continued through 2019. He was remarkably passionate about birds and living things for his entire life.

Mr. Guthrie attended Massachusetts’ Amherst College, where he studied biology and played lacrosse. He graduated in 1960 with a degree in biology. He then met and married Judy Blume, a Wellesley graduate that shared his love of the outdoors and science. He then continued his education, earning a master’s degree in biology from Harvard and a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts.

The couple travelled west to collect data for Mr. Guthrie’s doctoral dissertation, “A New Species of Dichobunid Artiodactyl from the Early Eocene of Wyoming.”

The couple had two daughters, Kate and Ruth. The family moved to Claremont in 1964, where he was a founding faculty member of Pitzer College. The family then welcomed a third child, Winnonah.

Every summer the family drove across the United States, camping, looking at birds and collecting fossils. Mr. Guthrie worked several summers for the Webb Schools, taking high school students on fossil digs in the western United States.

Working at Joint Science/Keck, he specialized in comparative anatomy, animal behavior, introductory biology and environmental science. He was instrumental in setting up the department and had a lasting impact on students interested in careers in biology, ecology and medicine.

As a biologist, Mr. Guthrie salvaged and collected an extensive comparative collection of US bird skeletons for use by museums and teachers. He donated his time and expertise to finding and identifying fossil bird bones from many road cuts, excavations, and languishing collections for local educational institutions.

One of his favorite yearly expeditions was to San Miguel Island, outer most of the Channel Island chain, in Southern California. He also had an extensive collection of seaweed that he gathered much of in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands and while birding Attu Island.

He worked for Joint Science/Keck for 48 years, during which he was department chair, lacrosse coach, and helped to plan the new WM Keck Science Center. He authored more than 70 papers and studies in biology and led innumerable field trips both locally and abroad. He was a Fellow for the American Associate for the Advancement of Science and was active in the Southern California Academy of Sciences.

Mr. Guthrie was a very active member of the Pomona Valley Audubon Society, where he served in every capacity over the past 40 years—president, fundraising, birding, program development, newsletter production, and providing free owl pellets to teachers to encourage an appreciation of science in elementary school students.

In 1983, he met Judy Sugden while leading a bird trip to the Salton Sea. Together they shared a passion for bird watching and travel. Mr. Guthrie travelled to more than 40 countries, including Madagascar, Mongolia and Belarus. 

In later years, he took the entire family to the Galapagos and to Alaska. Together, they were able to bird watch, hike, swim and enjoy these remarkably beautiful places. As he got older and it was harder to travel, he managed to bird about twice a week locally, entering data into Cornell University’s eBird database. If he didn’t get to go birding, it made him anxious to get out. He was a world class birder with a respectable “life-list” of 7,153 bird species.

Mr. Guthrie is survived by his three daughters, Kate Poaster, Ruth Guthrie and Winnie Larson, and their spouses, Bob, Dave Overoye and Tom, respectively; eight grandchildren, Lee, Ben, Bobby, Acacia, Sage, Jack, Teddy and Alex; and three great-grandchildren, Aydan, Gavyn and Cypress. 

“Those who knew Dan would say that he wasn’t an enormously social person,” his family shared. “He had a passion for travel and new experiences and really didn’t like meetings and any fuss. Instead of a memorial service, to honor Dan’s memory, the family asks that you take the time to enjoy nature in your day and perhaps go outside and find a Spotted Towhee, a Red-tailed Hawk or, if you’re lucky, maybe a Summer Tanager. Think of Dan while you’re out there.”