Ralph Hoffmann at a Carpinteria Stream
Black-and-White Warbler Singing in a Plane Tree

Robert Jan "Roy" van de Hoek
(revised-see Note at end of Afterword)

Ballona Institute
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Volume 23
September, 1921

Black-and-White Warbler Again in Southern California

- On April 20, 1921, I observed a male Black-and-White Warbler (Mniotilta varia) in full song in a plane tree in a stream bed in Carpinteria, Santa Barbara County. This is, I believe the sixth known occurrence of the species in California (see Pacific Coast Avifauna, no. 11, p. 144), and Condor, XXII, p. 76). The bird noted above was within a mile of the spot where Dr. Henderson saw the bird noted by him (loc. cit.).
Carpinteria, California
April 23, 1921

Robert Jan "Roy" van de Hoek

Remarkable indeed that Ralph Hoffmann recorded only the sixth known occurence of the Black-and-White Warbler in the state of California. And now 80 years later, it is fairly regular each year to find a few in migrations through southern California, particularly in Los Angeles County.

As headmaster for a private boys school in Carpinteria, Ralph Hoffmann was able to find time to do birding and natural history studies with his field glass (aka binoculars), and make this excellent observation of this warbler. This warbler occurs on mainly in the eastern United States, so Ralph Hoffmann would have known about this special warbler a long time ago as very young man living and birding in Massachusetts.

I was intrigued by one particular phrase in Hoffmann's Carpinteria article, namely, "in a plane tree in a stream bed in Carpinteria." The description of this tree and habitat tells us that in 1921 plane trees occurred occurred near the coast in Carpinteria. We know also that this type of stream known in the spanish language as an arroyo can be dry at the surface. Interestingly, there is a very famous Plane Tree, (aka Sycamore Tree), found directly behind the beach at Carpinteria Beach State Park. This Plane Tree is recorded in a Spanish missionary diary and with a state historical monument marker as the place where a group of Native American men were constructing their maritime watercraft for journeys to the islands off the coast of Santa Barbara County. The Native American Indians were referred to as "Carpinteros." From that first diary notation and also the explorer's journal, this "placename" was preserved on the landscape because the name of the small city of Carpinteria has its name from this group of Native American men constructing their redwood watercraft. Carpinteria is a lovely little village, or small city, nestled against the Santa Ynez Mountains and framed by a saltwater lagoonal-estuary, of the same name: Carpinteria Salt Marsh.

Ralph Hoffmann quoted a gentleman named Dr. Henderson because this individual actually discovered the Black-and-White Warbler in Carpinteria two years earlier (1920), but immediately showed it to Ralph Hoffmann in the morning of the same day in 1920. Presented here is the short article by Dr. Henderson because Ralph Hoffmann is quoted, and therefore, this article provides a nice contextual component and comparison of these two birders and naturalists cooperation. It also proves that Ralph Hoffmann was in Carpinteria in the river woodland of oak trees on January 9, 1920. In the subsequent article on this same warbler by Ralph Hoffmann, reprinted above, we learn that the warbler was seen in a California Plane (aka sycamore) Tree. In essence, by merging the two articles together, we can ascertain that there were both "Live Oak" and "California Plane" trees occurring near to each other, and that the Black-and-White Warbler utilizes both trees and that we can refer to the forested woods amongst the streams of Carpinteria as a "riparian mixed-hardwood forest" for those of us who are interested in the ecology of California and the classification of natural communities in our great state.

It is clearly apparent that Dr. Henderson asked Ralph Hoffmann to come quickly to see this warbler in the oaks of the arroyo behind Carpinteria. And it is also apparent that Ralph Hoffmann, an expert on birds including warblers, must have confirmed the sighting for Dr. Henderson. In any event, both of these articles and observations, only one year apart (1920 and 1921), demonstrate clearly that Ralph Hoffmann saw this unique warbler at least twice in southern California. Here then, in the next paragraph is the article that Dr. Henderson wrote in 1920, in its entirety.

Henderson (March 1920, Condor 22,p.76-77) wrote: "I wish to report the occurrence at Carpinteria, on January 9, 1920, of the Black and White Warbler (Mniotilta varia). The bird was observed continuously from 8:45 to 9:30 A.M. at a distance of from six to thirty feet. The entire time was spent hunting over the bark of the larger limbs and trunk of a live oak. At the end of the forty-five minutes it flew to another oak about one hundred feet away. Mr. Ralph Hoffman[n] also saw the bird and can vouch for my identification. -H. C. HENDERSON, Carpinteria, California, January 27, 1920."

I note here that Mr. Henderson, as well as the editor of Condor, Dr. Joseph Grinnell, both had an oversight on the spelling of the surname of Ralph Hoffmann because only one "[n]" appeared in print. This pattern is a recurring theme for the surname of Ralph Hoffmann, both during his lifetime and continuing for decades after his death, and even now in the current era of the 1990s and in the new millenium. This typographical error first occurred in the 1890s in Auk in an article regarding birds of Massachusetts. The editor of Auk apologized in a subsequent issue of the ornithology journal (Auk) for mispelling the surname of Ralph Hoffmann. In one instance, the Auk even attributed an article to another person, and not to Ralph Hoffmann. Even the obituary of Ralph Hoffmann in the Auk utilized only one [n] in his surname.

Between 1921 and 2006, several hundred Black-and-White Warbler have been recorded in southern California. For example, I saw a male of this species of Warbler this late winter in the City of Manhattan Beach at a park with dune swale and pond in Polliwog Park. This warbler was seen by a several birders as it migrated through Southern California.

*Note: The penultimate pararaph and the two paragraphs prior to the penultimate paragraph (discussion regarding Mr. Henderson) were edited into this second edition of an AFTERWORD on July 15, 2007.