Cover Photo

Book price when purchased through website: $20 ($25 list price), + $6 shipping. Sales tax (7%) will be added for NJ residents. For multiple copies, or for customers outside the U.S. mainland, please contact author for shipping estimate at

The book is also sold at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education in Philadelphia, the Cape May Bird Observatory Northwood Center (by Lake Lily in Cape May Point), and by Buteo Books.


From the book cover:

Witmer Stone’s name is synonymous with Cape May birding. One of the leading ornithologists of his time, Stone was also an outstanding botanist and all-around naturalist. His kindly humor and twinkling eyes are evident in his writings, which are still read and enjoyed by naturalists today. Yet, until now, little has been known about the details of his life.

In this book you’ll learn about Stone’s boyhood interest in natural history, which led to his work at the Academy of Natural Sciences, with the American Ornithologists’ Union, and in conservation. You’ll follow the development of his classic Pine Barrens and Cape May books, from the inspirational spark for each to their appearances in print. Most of all, you’ll get to know Witmer Stone as a person, the amicable naturalist whose clever wit and good nature – glimpsed even now between the lines of his famous books – was well known among his friends and colleagues.

“In Scott McConnell’s solid, in depth, yet easily readable study, you will learn of Stone as a gifted naturalist and biologist who was as well-known for his botanical studies as he was for bird research. You will marvel at Stone’s vast interests, output, favorite haunts, and talented colleagues. Get to know Stone. You will be amazed.”
– CLAY and PAT SUTTON, authors of Birds and Birding at Cape May

“Witmer Stone was a critically important fi gure in the history of American ornithology. In this long-anticipated biography, Scott McConnell’s careful research and ear for a good story combine to bring Stone to life and restore his reputation to the preeminence it deserves.”
-ROBERT McCRACKEN PECK, author of A Celebration of Birds:
The Life and Art Of Louis Agassiz Fuertes, and co-author of A Glorious
Enterprise: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the
Making of American Science

“McConnell writes with precision and verve, and his work will be popular with birders who want to better understand the history of bird observation. In particular, the vitally important Cape May area — the focus of much of Stone’s passions — is also revealed in three dimensions, beyond those understood by the small armies of birdwatchers who visit the region every year.”
– DANIEL LEWIS, author of The Feathery Tribe: Robert Ridgway and
the Modern Study of Birds

And a more detailed version:

 Witmer Stone (1866–1939) was one of the preeminent ornithologists of his day, and has been called one of the last of the “great naturalists.” In addition to his involvement in the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU), including editing their journal The Auk for 25 years, he also produced an exhaustive flora of the New Jersey Pine Barrens and made lesser contributions to mammalogy and entomology. He worked at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia (ANSP) for 51 years, and performed heroic work salvaging their historic bird collection, which had been neglected for twenty years prior to his arrival. Stone’s name is also synonymous with birding at Cape May Point. The phenomenon of fall bird migration at that location was first described by him, and his book Bird Studies at Old Cape May (BSOCM) was the earliest signpost pointing the way to what is now one of the most popular North American birding destinations.

His Pine Barrens and Cape May books are still widely read by natural history buffs, and are not only considered invaluable for their record of historical conditions, but are admired for their vivid, descriptive prose that succeeds wonderfully in taking readers back to an earlier time. BSOCM, in particular, is a classic of American, time-and-place natural history literature. Stone wrote with the same twinkle in the eye that he exhibited in person, and the pleasantness of personality that leavened his writings has garnered him a host of modern-day admirers.

And yet, the details of Stone’s life remain mostly unknown. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Stone wrote almost nothing in the way of autobiography or memoir, and very little has been written about him in ornithological history books. Witmer Stone: The Fascination of Nature was produced to correct that situation. Because so little has been written about Stone, it was necessary to spend thousands of hours culling his correspondence at ANSP and other institutions, and fleshing out the details of his biography a little bit at a time – building a house brick by brick, as it were.

I have uncovered many details about the long lost world he lived in: Stone and his boyhood friends foretelling their future careers in science with their early immersion in natural history study; the conditions, research, and interpersonal relationships at ANSP; battles fought by conservation organizations in the early days of the movement against excessive collecting and the millinery trade; the politics, activities, and personalities of the AOU, with insights into the tasks of journal publishing and checklist production; the formative years of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club, including the colorful characters among the early members; the development of Stone’s Pine Barrens and Cape May books; and matters more generally experienced by the broader public at the time, like World War I, the Depression, and the challenge of staying healthy – even alive – in days before the appearance of modern medical miracles like antibiotics and coronary stents.

Witmer Stone has been allowed to slip through the cracks of history for long enough, and his story is finally about to be enjoyed by an audience interested in learning more about the kindly old naturalist they’ve glimpsed between the lines of his books.

8 thoughts on “

  1. Scott,
    Congratulations on the publication of your book. I hope you will be at an upcoming DVOC meeting so I can get a signed copy. Can’t wait to read it.
    Bob Horton

  2. My review of Scott’s book will appear in “the Auk” this coming fall. It is c. 1,250 words. I had, with reluctance, to whittle this down from 1,450 words. Just let me say that I think Scott has done a terrific job. It was a pleasure to review this fine, masterful biography, extremely well-documented, and also full of humor and wit, both Stone’s and Scott’s. The book contains a hilarious poem to Stone by Arthur A. Allen. Stone’s joke about why Columbus was the first Democrat is worth the price of the book alone. I was just up in the Poconos and in the Pocono Lake Preserve Nature Center there is a set of Stone, number 698. My own set, no. 39, is inscribed by Stone to Charles M. B. Cadwalader, former director of the Academy of Natural Sciences. My grandfather and namesake, Henry Tucker, M.D., is listed in Stone’s acknowledgements. In Ernie Choate’s update to Stone in the Dover reprint edition he refers to me as Harry Steatsmeyer, and Will Russell as Alfred Williams, for the Red Crossbill record (!?). Years later I named one of our cats Steatsmeyer the Magnificent. – Harry Armistead.

    1. Thank you for your comments, Harry, and for reviewing the book for The Auk. I was fortunate to have someone who knows Stone and birding as well as you do to write the review, and I look forward to seeing it. Your review will be out in the October issue, but will be available to online Auk subscribers on July 31.
      Your historic BSOCM set is mentioned in the book (p. 54). And I love the Ernie Choate story – if anyone was to write a biography of Choate, that one would have to be in there.


  3. Late to the party I know Scott, but it’s time for me to learn more about man, myth, and legend Witmer Stone. Congratulations!

    I’ll make my first trip to Cape May in October 2019 – you will be there as guest of The Wilson Ornithological Society (I’ll make sure this happens), and that is when I will have you sign my copy! Best regards my friend,
    ~team timmy

    1. Thank you, Tim. It’s a pretty small party, but thank you for attending. :) Glad to hear Wilson is headed back to Cape May. Dr. Richard C. Banks – a bit of a modern-day Witmer Stone himself – very kindly arranged for Wilson to review the book (“Reviews/Comments” tab).

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