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Grass Flats Presque Isle Lifelist

Grass Flats: Presque Isle

Presque Isle on Lake Erie was also under Simpson watchful surveillance. In the journals he comments on the abundance or scarcity of wildlife throughout the seasons:

“At Erie, Pennsylvania, from sometime in November, 1931, to March 5, 1932, a large number of swans, at one time estimated to number from 1200 to 1500, wintered in the bay. On February 22 and March 1, on my visits there, I estimated 800 birds. It was a wonderful sight.” ~Simpson

  

The journals of Ralph Bernard Simpson are a meticulous documentation of his scientific observations of 218 species of bird life in Warren County, Pennsylvania, with additional observations of bird life at Presque Isle Peninsula, Erie, Pennsylvania. Ralph B. Simpson was a wildlife expert and a remarkable naturalist, particularly of the avian realm.


His observations of nature are so complete that it appears some years were spent entirely in the field surveying and collecting. R.B. Simpson puts it best:

“A few of my notes were taken prior to 1890, but mostly since. During the 1890s, also 1901-02-03 and 1904, I seldom missed being out a morning during the spring migrations in March, April, and May, and whenever there was anything like a flight I usually spent the day down the river. In this way I got very complete migration notes, especially in regards to dates of first arrivals and last seen.”


Simpson knew the terrain he traveled in great detail, and his uncommon powers of observation regarding nature were astounding. Simpson began honing these skills as a young man. At the time of his birth there were only 37 states in the Union—Ralph B. Simpson was born November 20, 1874, in Reading, Pennsylvania. He moved to Warren, Pennsylvania, with his family at the age of five.


  

Ralph Bernard Simpson is part of ornithological history. His journals and species accounts are part of the chronicles of the exploits of the early collectors and ornithologists, as the journals record the experience of one who helped make the history of the science.


In his accounts Simpson speaks of the status of species through seasons, habitat preferences, changes in avifauna, while at the same time offering a view of the natural world with a bit of whimsy—as in the following May 9, 1909, observations of the Screech Owl.


I found the second nest of the Screech Owl that I robbed this spring. I knew of an old Flicker’s hole nearby, and on going past I saw feathers about the edges so I investigated and found a Gray Screecher at home. She made no resistance so I reached in and counted five eggs under her, petted her, and left her.


Ornithology at this time was still in its infancy; in fact, the first systematic list of birds of Pennsylvania was not published until 1845. The earliest information was gained through collecting bird skins, nests, and eggs. Study skins still provide value in research on birds in the field as well as in taxonomic investigations. When Simpson first began collecting, 1890, Benjamin Warren’s book, a report authorized by the Commonwealth and titled The Birds of Pennsylvania, was just being published. This was the first thorough reference on the state’s birds and it marked a new era in ornithological history. Simpson’s scientific work contributed significantly to the next standard ornithological text, which was produced a half- century later, W.E. Clyde Todd’s Birds of Western Pennsylvania.


In the later years of his career, Simpson, along with his good friend Harry Granquist, used photography increasingly in the field. Simpson introduced Granquist to the world of birds on many field trips. Granquist became very interested in the feathered tribes and with Simpson produced many fine photographs. The addition of photography to Simpson’s documented observations and specimen collection is noted often in the journals. Photography was an exciting addition to his field methods, and Simpson thought nothing of climbing to perilous heights to obtain a fine photo, as evidenced by this entry regarding the Tufted Titmouse.


April 1, 1928, I saw and listened to one at Grass Flats. Later we saw it again and began watching and found there was a pair. Afterwards we watched for them and finally were rewarded by detecting them building. This nest on June 3 contained 7 eggs and we got a fine photo. It was 30 feet up in a Butternut tree—in an old downy woodpecker hole in a dead limb. The nest was a mass of shreds of bark, fur, and fine woody material. This is my first nesting record."


Maps are provided in Grass Flats to assist the reader on locations where data and species were gathered by Simpson. Some of Simpsons photographs are included in the book along with selected drawings of nests from the original journals. Maps and images are either original creations by the publisher or drawn from the extensive archives of the Warren County Historical Society. They are reproduced in Grass Flats with the kind permission of the Board of Directors.


It is the publisher’s intention that Grass Flats brings recognition to the life works of Ralph Bernard Simpson. It is also hoped that the information contained in the journals will benefit those working to preserve the natural world—and those recognizing the need for wild places. Simpson recognized early on, before there were any popular movements, that species became rare, some even extinct, through man’s destruction of habitat. He understood, as W.E. Clyde Todd believed, that education is the best way to do something for bird life.


Presque Isle on Lake Erie was also under Simpson watchful surveillance. In the journals he comments on the abundance or scarcity of wildlife throughout the seasons:


“At Erie, Pennsylvania, from sometime in November, 1931, to March 5, 1932, a large number of swans, at one time estimated to number from 1200 to 1500, wintered in the bay. On February 22 and March 1, on my visits there, I estimated 800 birds. It was a wonderful sight.”


---excerpts from book, © W.N. Hoover


Excerpts from the journals that are presented here were selected more for their narrative quality and subtle glimpse into the nature of the man who wrote them, rather than strictly scientific observation which are detailed and abundant.

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Presque Isle State Park is a 3,200-acre sandy peninsula that arches into Lake Erie.


As Pennsylvania's only "seashore,"  A National Natural Landmark, Presque Isle is a favorite spot for migrating birds.


Because of the many unique habitats, Presque Isle contains a greater number of the state's endangered, threatened and rare species than any other area of comparable size in Pennsylvania.

Presque Isle State Park.


Photo (right) is taken from the northeast and shows Gull Point in the foreground..

Presque Isle Lifelists