Ralph Hoffmann as the Resident Naturalist in Alstead Centre, New Hampshire:
The Goshawk Story and a Botanical Story in the Summer of 1902
Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek
322 Culver Boulevard, Suite 317
Playa del Rey, California 90293
During 1902, Ralph Hoffmann briefly lived at a farmhouse in Alstead, New Hampshire (Hoffmann, 1902). How he came to be a resident in Alstead is a mystery, however he did do birding there (Hoffmann, 1903), and also some botanical writing (Hoffmann 1902). Presented below are two examples of Hoffmann's writings that relate to his brief residency in New Hampshire, as well as some concluding remarks, acknowledgements, and a bibliography.
Auk (Journal of the Nuttall Ornithological Club): Volume 20, Number 2: Page 211-212, April, 1903
Nesting of the Goshawk in Southern New Hampshire. On the 21st of July, 1902, I came upon a large Accipiter in a clearing in some woods at Alstead, New Hampshire. The bird screamed loudly and when I began to search for a nest, flew at me twice like a bolt, so that I instinctively put up an elbow to guard my head. I found a nest containing two nearly full-grown young in a smallish pine about forty feet from the ground. On the 27th I saw at 4:45 A.M. a full-grown Goshawk kill and begin to devour a pullet under the window of the farm-house where I lived. I therefore on the 29th shot one of the young hawks from the nest and sent it to Mr. Brewster, who has identified it as a young Goshawk (Accipter atricapillus). Alstead is seventeen miles from Keene, in southern New Hampshire. According to Mr. G.M. Allen this is the most southern breeding record which he can find for this bird in New England.
- RALPH HOFFMANN,
Rhodora (Journal of the New England Botanical Club): Volume 4, Number 45: Page 188, September, 1902
Virulence of the Wild Parsnip. - The following note on poisoning from contact with the juice of the Parsnip (Pastinaca sativa) may prove of interest. The writer was walking with a botany class along a Berkshire roadside, and attracted the attention of a farmer, who after some conversation on the various herbs growing near by, asked whether I knew that the Parsnip, which lined the roadside was poisonous to handle. I replied in the negative, and shortly after when the farmer had left us, expressed my disbelief in the poisonous qualities attributed to the plant. To prove its innocence I broke off a stalk, let the juice collect and rubbed it hard across my wrist. During the rest of the walk nothing developed, and I thought that I had proved my case. Over night, however, a blister developed on the spot, preceded, I believe, by irritation, though of this latter point, I am not certain. The blister became large and did not subside for several days. After an interval of six years, a dark line on the wrist still serves to attest the truth of the farmer's observation.
- RALPH HOFFMANN,
Alstead Centre, New Hampshire.
The brief residency of Ralph Hoffmann in Alstead, New Hampshire, in the summer of 1902, together with his close encounter with the Goshawk and a brief botanical story about the origin of a scar on his hand, is noteworthy toward a historical understanding of naturalists and natural history studies in New England a century ago. Pamela Weatherbee (1996) shows us that Ralph Hoffmann was in Berkshire, sometime in 1902, but there is no exact day and month given regarding Hoffmann's collection of a grass (Secale cereale). In addition, Ralph Hoffmann wrote two other articles on bird topics in 1902 that demonstrate his whereabouts and philosophy in the context of his summer residency in New Hampshire. First, he observed the Carolina Wren in May of 1902 at Belmont, near Boston Massachusetts (Hoffmann, 1902). And secondly, he wrote an article, togeher with the famous ornithologist, William Brewster, regarding the proper documentation of birds in Auk with a short title of "Unsatisfactory Remarks" (Brewster and Hoffmann, 1902). The shared philosophy of Brewster and Hoffmann began around July, 1902, while Hoffmann was in New Hampshire, because the July issue of Auk is what sparked their interest. The December issue of Auk clearly shows their coauthored viewpoints which must have transpired, perhaps by mail, between Hoffmann (in New Hampshire) and Brewster (in Massachusetts), but continued after Hoffmann came back to Massachusetts from his stay in New Hampshire.
1902 Log of Dates that Frame the New Hampshire Summer Visit
April 27 ... Stockbridge, Massachusetts ... Larix laricina collected ... Index Bot. Spec., Gray Herb., Harvard
May 4 ... Belmont, Massachusetts ... Carolina Wren observed at Cambridge (Hoffmann 1902)
July 21 ... Alstead, New Hampshire ... Goshawks observed at a nest which attacks him (Hoffmann, 1903)
July 27 ... Alstead, New Hampshire ... Goshawk observed catching chicken at 4:45 am (Hoffmann, 1903)
July 29 ... Alstead, New Hampshire ... Goshawk shot at nest as juvenile bird (Hoffmann, 1903)
August 3 ... Stockbridge, Massachusetts ... Rhamnus cathartica vegetative growth phase, (IPANE, 2006)
August 20 ... Stockbridge, Massachusetts ... Epipactis helleborine collected ... Index Bot. Spec., Gray Herb., Harvard
August 23 ... Stockbridge, Massachusetts ... Sarracenia purpurea ... Index Bot. Spec., Gray Herb., Harvard
August ? ... Stockbridge, Massachusetts ... Scirpus lineatus ... (Hoffmann, 1904)
August ? ... Pittsfield, Massachusetts ... Eleocharis intermedia ... (Hoffmann, 1904)
August 24 ... Pittsfield, Massachusetts (bog) ...Carex comosa ... Index Bot. Spec., Gray Herb, Harvard
August 27 ... Sheffield, Massachusetts ... Diphasiastrum digitatum ... Index Bot. Spec., Gray Herb., Harvard
August 27 ... Sheffield, Massachusetts (border of Lake Undine, [The Dome] ... Carex cumulata ... Index Bot. Spec., Gray Herb., Harvard
August 27 ... Mount Washington, Massachusetts (The Dome [Mount Everett], Wood Road) ... Carex foenea ... Index Bot. Spec., Harvard
August ? ... Pittsfield, Massachusetts (roadsides, railroads) ... Secale cereale ... (Weatherbee, 1996)
August ? ... Pittsfield, Massachusetts (fields) ... Sinapsis arvensis ... (Weatherbee, 1996)
August ? ... West Stockbridge, Massachusetts (dry woods) ... Potentilla arguta (Weatherbee, 1996)
August ? ... Stockbridge, Mass. (open disturbed areas, now a rare garden escape) ... Linum usitatissimum ... (Weatherbee, 1996)
August ? ... Stockbridge, Mass. (dry fields/waste ground, native farther west) ... Plantago aristata (Weatherbee, 1996)
August ? ... Stockbridge, Massachusetts (waste areas, native further south) ... Physales subglabrata ... (Weatherbee, 1996)
August ? ... Sheffield, Massachusetts (dry calcareous hill, rare-historical) ... Symphoricarpos albus ... (Weatherbee, 1996)
Ralph Hoffmann's brief residency and ornithological observation in New Hampshire also contributes scientific historical knowledge toward understanding the southward breeding range extension of the Goshawk into southern New Hampshire, which the editor of the Auk believed worthy of publication. Interestingly, the goshawk article also shows that Ralph Hoffmann carried a gun and that he would use it to document a specimen, even though he favored the use of his "opera" field glass. The Goshawk continued its southerly breeding extension into Massachusetts in the 1950s, which give credence to Hoffmann's report for undertanding the spatial and temporal aspects of the life history of the Goshawk as a breeding species in New England.
My research indicates that Ralph Hoffmann did not venture into neighboring states adjacent to Massachusetts very often. In fact, I can only document two journeys out of Massachusetts, one of which is this one to New Hampshire, and the other a journey south into Rhode Island. Therefore, Hoffmann's record of the Goshawk in Auk is not only a contribution to science and natural history of an earlier era more than 100 years ago, but it also serves today, in 2006, as a contribution to geography, history, and biography of Ralph Hoffmann. Hoffmann's two articles assist in piecing together one of the many journeys in the 'life and times' of Ralph Hoffmann, more than 100 years ago.
A careful perusal of this article in Auk indicates that Ralph Hoffmann lived in Alstead, New Hampshire, at least during the summer of 1902. In another article by Ralph Hoffmann, published in Rhodora, about "wild parsnip", he lists himself as having written this article from Alstead Centre. Interestingly, there is an article preceding Hoffmann's article in Rhodora, which is also written from Alstead Centre by another naturalist about a mushroom, by H. Webster. What connection, if any, is there between these two men and Alstead, New Hamsphire? However, Ralph Hoffmann wrote up his observations of the Goshawk for publication after moving back to Belmont, Massachusetts. Approximately 9 months elapsed between the time of the field observation of the goshawk in New Hamsphire before the goshawk article appeared in Auk. Is there correspondence between the editor of Auk and Ralph Hoffmann regarding the goshawk article?
Ralph Hoffmann matured into an experienced naturalist in New England during the 1890s and early 1900s, evidence of which is the publication of a unique pocket-sized field guide to the birds of New England, which appeared less than 2 years after his stay in New Hampshire. His investigations of natural history in New England would serve him well later in life, when he moved to Missouri and later to California, where he became the Director for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, approximately 23 years later, in 1925. In California, he wrote another pocket-sized field guide, this time about birds of the Pacific States.
The summer of 1902 in Alstead, New Hamsphire appears to have been a memory that Ralph Hoffmann kept with him throughout his life. For example, in 1922, while living in California, Hoffmann completed his Flora of Berkshire County, and he wrote about Wild Parsnip in that "flora" as to its weediness and poisonous nature as follows: "Waste places, roadsides and fields; common. The juice is poisonous to the touch." A few years later, in 1927, Ralph Hoffmann completed his bird guide of California, Oregon, and Washington. In this book, there is a nice narrative about the Goshawk, which demonstrates that he still remembered his experience in southern New Hampshire, 25 years earlier in 1902. A passage from that book illustrates this case: "The Goshawk is the peer of any large Falcon in the reckless boldness with which it pursues its quarry and the speed of its attack." And additionally, Hoffmann writes: "The birds then appear in the farm lands of the low country, and become a terror to the poultry. The method of attack is by a lightening-like drive from some nearby cover. Near the nest the Goshawk is noisy and pugnacious." Lastly, in Hoffmann's classic guidebook to the birds of New England, written in 1904, he writes passionately about the Goshawk, drawing on his experience of two years earlier in New Hampshire as follows: "The Goshawk is a rare summer resident of the Canadian Zone, where it is confined cheifly to the deep forests of the higher mountains.... They are extraordinarily bold and rapacious, and fly, when hunting, with great speed... An adult is a very beautiful bird, the slaty gray of the back andf ine gray barring on the white under parts giving it a lighter tone than any other hawk, except the adult male Marsh Hawk... An immature bird could hardly be told from a large Cooper's Hawk, unless killed and measured."
I would like to acknowledge the staff at Harvard University in the Museum of Comparative Zoology for their assistance in my research of Ralph Hoffmann.
Hoffmann, Ralph. 1902. Virulence of the Wild Parsnip. Rhodora 4 (45): 188.
Hoffmann, Ralph. 1902. The Carolina Wren in Eastern Massachusetts. Auk 19(3): 242 (July 1902).
Hoffmann, Ralph. 1902. Unsatifactory Records. Auk 19(4):420 (October-December 1902).
Hoffmann, Ralph. 1903. Nesting of the Goshawk in Southern New Hampshire. Auk 20 (2): 211-212.
Hoffmann, Ralph. 1904. A Guide to the Birds of New England and Eastern New York. The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Mass.
Hoffmann, Ralph. 1922. Flora of Berkshire County, Massachusetts. Proc. Boston Soc. Nat. Hist. 36(5):171-382.
Hoffmann, Ralph. 1927. Birds of the Pacific States. The Riverside Press. Cambridge, Mass.
IPANE, 2006. Invasive Plant Atlas of New England.
Index of Botanical Specimens. 2006. Gray Herbarium, Harvard University.
van de Hoek, Robert. 2006. Ralph Hoffmann and Pamela Weatherbee, Two Botanists... Internet Site.
Weatherbee, Pamela. 1996. Flora of Berkshire County Massachusetts. Berkshire Museum.
Webster, Hollis. 1902. A Form of the Bitter Boletus. Rhodora 4(45):187-188.