Ralph Hoffmann and Charles Wendell Townsend:
Friendship and Exploration
Ipswich Dunes and Milk Island Off Cape Ann

Robert Jan 'Roy' van de Hoek
Ballona Institute
322 Culver Boulevard, Suite 317
Playa del Rey, California 90293

Ralph Hoffmann, Charles Wendell Townsed, and Glover Allen, traveled by boat to see a Snowy Owl on Milk Island, about one-half mile off Cape Ann, Massachusestts. This adventure took place sometime in March, 1909. The proof of this voyage of avian discovery is in a book written by Charles Wendell Townsend in 1913, entitled: Sand Dunes and Salt Marshes. Townsend quotes Hoffmann in three separate places in this book, but the passage about the Snowy Owl is on page 43 as follows:

On a bleak March day in 1909 I landed with Ralph Hoffmann and Glover Allen on Milk Island, a good half-mile off the end of Cape Ann, to watch at closer range a snowy owl. The owl flew to the mainland, but to our suprise a lovely doe began bounding over the low bushes, throwing up her white flage of a tail in a manner that seemed to light up the whole islet."

The next 10 years of Ralph Hoffmann's life were spent as far from the ocean and island as is possible in the United States because he moved to the mid-west in 1909. Hoffmann became headmaster of a schook in Kansasa City, Missouri, then later a headmaster of another school in St. Louis. In 1919, Hoffmann moves westerly across the continent to California, where he is again near the ocean. It isn't long before he begins exploring the islands off southern California, namely the four northern Channel Islands.

In 1932, Ralph Hoffmann died of injuries from a fall on a cliff on one of these islands, namely San Miguel Island in Santa Barbara County. He was botanizing and birding on this island just as he botanized and birded on cliffs and mountains in Berkshire County, Massachusetts as a young man. Except now in 1932, he was 61 years old and perhaps his abilities at dexterity and coordination got the better of him, as an older man.

This article show that Ralph Hoffmann influenced scientists, namely ornithologists and naturalists, and that they also influenced him. The contribution in this article is part of a larger project for a comparative biography and history of natural history and Ralph Hoffmann, in both Santa Barbara County and Berkshire County. The project is also to compare southern California with the state of Massachusetts, from the perspective of Ralph Hoffmann and his studies of native birds and native plants.

The result of this study is the discovery that a cordial and friendly relationship existed between Ralph Hoffmann and Charles Townsend between 1909 and 1925. It is discerned from a book written by Charles Townsend entitled: Sand Dunes and Salt Marshes. Ralph Hoffmann is quoted three times in this book for his expertise on birds in very kind writing. In addition, Charles Townsend asked Ralph Hoffmann to write an introduction for this book in 1925, for its second edition. By 1925, Ralph Hoffmann was living across the continent in California.

Presented below are excerpts by Charles Wendell Townsend from Sand Dunes and Salt Marshes which expresses friendship, respect, and acknowledgement of Ralph Hoffmann.

From the preface at the beginning of the book on page vii
"In matters ornithological I have tried to hold my own with several good friends, among them Mr. William Brewster, Dr. Walter Faxon, and Mr. Ralph Hoffmann, Mr. Francis H. Allen, Dr. Glover M. Allen and Mr. A.C. Bent, all of whom at times have shared with me the pleasuress of these regions."

And towards the end of the book on page:
"A larger edition of the least sandpiper, as Ralph Hoffmann has well called it, is the pectoral sandpiper or grass bird, a bird I have never seen outside of salt marshes...."

And toward the center of the book on page 91:
"An illustration ofthe abundance and variety of the migrants is the fact that on a day in May my friend, Mr. Ralph Hoffmann, saw within the space of three minutes eleven different members of the warbler family pass through a single tree in the dunes. ... It is difficult to describe the feelings of a bird lover on a perfect May day in such an environment as these Ipswich dunes, especially if he has come from a long confinement in the city."

A careful perusal of Townsend's narrative of Ralph Hoffmann passages and introduction, shows that Hoffmann and Townsend must have been very good field men, in order to know voices and habitats. Other ornithologists, both professional and avocational, have recognized him as well. It has been a research project largely of serendipity and chance to find various acknowledgements for Ralph Hoffmann. I am now checking additional books and articles by various authors to see if they have acknowledged their writings to Ralph Hoffmann.

Wouldn't it be nice to bring Hoffmann and Townsend's classic ornithology writings in their books back into print. And it would be nice for Hoffmann's classic to be in print for history, nostalgia, and for educators and scientists to utilize for deep ecology studies in Massachusetts, Missouri, and California. This brief biography and history article forms part of a larger study as a biography and history project into the 'life and times' of Ralph Hoffmann. And it is also a greater project that is being completed in conjunction with a comparative history of birding and floristic field work by Ralph Hoffmann in Berkshire County and Santa Barbara County. There are overtones for understanding environmental history and the history of natural history in Massachusetts and California. In a very real sense, it is an ambitious project of historical geography, the history of ecology, and biogeography of two microcosms in the United States.

I acknowledge and dedicate this article to Charles Wendell Townsend, for being honest and with integrity in his narrative about Ralph Hoffmann.

Bibliography and References Cited
Dunn, Jon and Kimball Garrett. 1997. A Field Guide to Warblers of North America. Peterson Field Guide. Houghton, Boston.
Hoffmann, Ralph. 1927. Birds of the Pacific States (first edition). The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Hoffmann, Ralph. 1955. Birds of the Pacific States (second edition). The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Paulson, Dennis. 1993. Shorebirds of the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington and Seattle Audubon Society.
Peterson, Roger Tory. 1941. A Field Guide to Western Birds (first edition). The Riverside Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Peterson, Roger Tory. 1961. A Field Guide to Western BIrds (second edition). Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.
Peterson, Roger Tory. 1990. A Field Guide to Western Birds (third edition). Houghton-Mifflin Company, Boston.
Townsend, Charles Wendell. 1925. Sand Dunes and Salt Marshes. L.C. Page, Boston.