Ralph Hoffmann at a Carpinteria Stream:
Dipper Nesting at 500 Feet Elevation

Robert Jan "Roy" van de Hoek

Ballona Institute
322 Culver Blvd., Suite 317
Playa del Rey, California 90293

(310) 821-9045

Volume 23
July, 1921

Dipper Nesting in Santa Barbara County, California

Jack Hawley of San Diego told me recently of a Dipper (Cinc1us mexicanus unicolor) apparently nesting on a stream in Carpinteria, Santa Barbara County. I visited the spot on April 21 and saw the female enter the nest, which I found contained young about three days old. The nest is a little above where the stream emerges from the lowest ridge of the Santa Ynez range on the coast side, at an elevation of less than 500 feet. There is another pair farther up the same stream and another on the next stream, at this season, all presumably nesting.
Carpinteria, California
April 23, 1921

Robert Jan "Roy" van de Hoek


Discovering an article written by Ralph Hoffmann is always fascinating. In this case, his write-up of several pairs of Dipper nesting on a stream near Carpinteria is remarkable. It is interesting to note also that the date of his writing the article and submitting to Joseph Grinnell, editor for the magazine known as Condor is April 21, the same date that he submitted an wrote and submitted an article about the Black-and-White Wabler that he observed at Carpinteria.

Both of these birds can be found in Los Angeles County in 1921 as well, so it can also be considered a glimpse into the history of the avian landscape of coastal southern California as a whole. In 1921, Ralph Hoffmann had only been living in southern California for approximately 2 years. Yet, in April, 1921, same month and year that he observed the Dipper and Black-and-White Warbler, he would make an entry in his journal that he is beginning work toward a new book. This book would be a Guidebook to the Birds of California, but ultimately it became a bird guidebook for the "Pacific States" including not just California, but also Oregon and Washington.

Ralph Hoffmann gave credit to Jack Hawley for first noting the nesting of the Dipper which shows the respect, etiquette, and credit deserved to the first person to see a new bird. The question arises as to the residence of Jack Hawley in San Diego, which may indicate that a letter exchange occurred between the two men. Therefore, another angle of research is now open to see if there is letter correspondence in the archives of the San Diego Museum of Natural History, or in the San Diego Historical Society?

It is interesting to note that Ralph Hoffmann was a teacher for a private boys school in Carpinteria. At the age of 51 years old in 1921, Ralph was able to find enough time to do birding and natural history studies with his field glass (aka binoculars) and his pen and typewriter, and consequently an article made its way into print in Condor on the nesting of the Dipper near the coast of southern California. The article was written for his generation in 1921 to take note of interesting birds, but Ralph's writing is still relevant today, for all of us to enjoy, even now in the 21st Century and new millenium, more than 85 years after he fist noted this remarkable bird. It is not unlike the relevant writings of John Muir, who also wrote an article about this remarkable bird, many years before Ralph Hoffmann, when this small bird was then known also as the Water Ouzel.