Ralph Hoffmann
and the
Deltaic Estuarine Lagoons
of the
Santa Clara River and Ventura River

Dedicated to Wayne Ferren

Robert Jan "Roy" van de Hoek
Ballona Institute
322 Culver Blvd., Suite 317
Playa del Rey, California 90293
(310) 821-9045


Volume 23, Number 5, Page 169
September, 1921
Field Notes from Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, California
Mareca americana. A pair seen June 25, 1921, in a tule-bordered lagoon near the mouth of the Santa Clara River, Ventura County.

Marila valisineria. A male seen June 25, in the same lagoon, perhaps a wounded bird.

Sayornis sayus. Nesting in a barranca just off the Coast Highway three miles west of Ventura. On June 24 the parents were feeding young on insects which they caught on the beach about an eighth of a mile away.

Molothrus ater obscurus. Frequent in willows and about a stock-pen near the mouth of the Santa Clara River, Ventura County. One egg found in a nest of the Long-tailed Chat. A few seen repeatedly at the mouth of the Ventura River, and a male observed on July 15 at Carpinteria, Santa Barbara County.

Ammodramus savannarum binaculatus. Frequent on June 25 along the dry, gravelly flood-plain of the Santa Clara River, Ventura County, near its mouth.
Carpinteria, California,
July 16, 1921.

Robert Jan "Roy" van de Hoek


The year, 1921, marks a significant year for Ralph Hoffmann. For it is in that year that he writes in his field journal of birds and natural history, under the month of April, an announcement that "work" has begun toward the ultimate completion of a book on the birds of California. Approximately 6 years later, in 1927, that book is completed. The book is entitled: BIRDS OF THE PACIFIC STATES.

The year, 1921, also is the year that at the edge of the Mohave Desert, on the lower north slope of the San Bernarindo Mountains, Ralph Hoffmann discovers a pair of unique birds, most likely nesting in some cottonwood trees. His visit to this transition zone between desert plain and forested mountains at the Cushenbury Ranch resulted in the discovery of a noteworthy bird, namely the Vermilion Flycatcher.

Only through the eclectic natural history writings of Ralph Hoffmann have I been humbly able to elucidate this narrative biography of the 'life and times' of this very interesting american immigrant from Massachusetts, albeit via Kansas City, Missouri. As a new resident of southern California in 1921, barely living in California for one year, he contributes a great deal to our understanding of nature, both flora and fauna, during the 1920s. Both his mother and father are first and second generation descendents of Germany, respectively, which enriches his life, as he studied latin and english intensively for his baccalaureate degree from Harvard University in the early 1890s.

In 1921, Ralph Hoffmann had barely just begun living in California for approximately one year. Yet, he was inspired to such an extent in his new surroundings on the Pacific coast as a man in his 50s (b.1870), that he knew he would be living here for some number of years, so why not write a book on the birds of the great state of California. Thus, in 1921, he announced in his field journal that he was going to write a book on California wild birds.

Beginning in 1921, he traveled widely in California from his new small home town of Carpinteria, not only to many other parts of the state of California, but also to Oregon and to Washington. In his first year of exploration, he traveled to Mono Lake of the Great Basin Desert, immediately adjacent to the eastern Sierra Nevada. This travel was completed in a Model T Ford with his field journal. Of course, he also traveled to the San Bernardino Mountains and the virtual edge of Mohave Desert. He must have traveled elswhere in the great state of California in 1921, but alas, this author has no further knowledge or records at this time to offer definitive proof of further trips, except for several short jaunts nearby to Carpinteria.

These "one-day" short journeys went southward into adjoining Ventura County, always near the coast, at the local estuary of the mouth of the Santa Clara River. He also explored the region of wetlands near the mouth of the Ventura River. Several kinds of ducks were noted by Ralph Hoffmann. Interestingly, the date of his writing of the article on birds in Ventura County, July 21, 1921, from his home in Carpinteria, is also the exact date that he wrote his article on a San Bernardino County bird (Vermilion Flycatcher) discussed above.

Some interesting observations of his language patterns emerge in Ralph Hoffmann's short essay on the coast of Ventura County. For example, he mentions the word "mouth" many times, just as he mentions the geographic hydrologic regions of the Santa Clara River and Ventura River. Another example is the mention of a "stock-pen" which indicates that impacts of livestock (cattle-sheep) impacted the wetlands of coastal Ventural county.

Yet another example is the mention in his essay about "willows" and "tule-bordered lagoon" which is clear proof that coastal wetlands, immediately behind the beach in sand-dune blocked lagoons, there was little to no salt-water influence, which supported "freshwater" native plants such as willows and tules! This would indicate a haven for mosquitoes, murky water with green algae covering the lagoons, and with other beneficial native aquatic insects for the ducks to feed upon. He elucidates a great deal for us by simply providing tid-bits of information on native plants and native ducks near the coast.

Although he did not discuss other birds, there is a logical implication in the article that other "water-birds" and waterfowl and wading birds would occur in these lagoons. Certainly, the fish fauna would also be different, and most certainly not supporting a halibut population, but rather, most likely a healthy Tidewater Goby population, as well as a Pacific Tree Frog population!

Fortunately, a remnant of this lagoon is still in existence at the mouth of Santa Clara River. If one explores there in 2007, they can now find an endangered Milkvetch growing there which has been restored. This habitat must have occurred at Ballona in Playa del Rey because this same endangered Milkvetch occurred at Ballona behind a tule-bordered and willow-bordered lagoon. At Ballona, this lagoon is today Del Rey Lagoon in Playa del Rey, which has been converted into a salt-water lagoon by engineers, not biologists!

Won't you please fund the Ballona Institute in its efforts, so that this important natural history research on the history of birders and birding in southern California can continue on its quest. The biography of Ralph Hoffmann is both a scientific and recreational pursuit for this writer, just as the study of birds and native plants was a scientific and recreational pursuit for Ralph. This research can only be continued to a heightened degree with a benefit for all of us interested in nature, particularly birds and native plants, if funding continues for the Ballona Institute.