Reviews / Comments

Wilson Journal of Ornithology review of Witmer Stone: The Fascination of Nature by William E. Davis Jr.

I am once again greatly pleased and flattered to have an excellent and generous review appear in a leading ornithological journal. William E. Davis Jr. is one of our foremost ornithological historians. He is very active in the Nuttall Ornithological Club, and has authored or (mostly) edited/co-edited several of the Club’s publications. Dr. Davis is an author/co-author of three Birds of North America species accounts, and of books including Alexander Wilson: The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology. The first decision I made in writing the Stone bio was that the chapters would be arranged topically instead of chronologically, as per Dr. Davis’s 1994 book Dean of the Birdwatchers: A Biography of Ludlow Griscom. Many thanks to Dr. Davis and the Wilson Ornithological Society (especially Dr. Richard C. Banks) for their nod to the past with the review, a pdf of which can be read here (search on “witmer”; © Wilson Ornithological Society 2015):

Davis review Witmer Stone WJO 2015 v.127(4)__770-72

Ibis review of Witmer Stone: The Fascination of Nature by Richard Mearns

Richard Mearns is a freelance ecologist and author who lives near Dumfries, Scotland. He and his wife Barbara have written several books on ornithological history, including a biography of John Kirk Townsend, so it was my privilege to have him review Fascination. Many thanks to Richard, and to the British Ornithologists’ Union for their interest. Scroll down to the review (or search on “witmer”) here (© British Ornithologists’ Union 2015):

Mearns review Witmer Stone Ibis 2016 v.158(1)__216-17

Auk review of Witmer Stone: The Fascination of Nature by Henry Armistead

Henry (“Harry”) Armistead is an avid amateur ornithologist who grew up in the Philadelphia area and has birded extensively along the East Coast. He worked as a librarian at Thomas Jefferson University and the Free Library of Philadelphia for a combined 36 years. I was fortunate to have a review done by someone who has birded Cape May for decades and is very knowledgeable about Stone and his work, including Bird Studies at Old Cape May. Stone was passionately devoted to the AOU, and I’m pleased that the Union today still has an appreciation for Stone and his many labors on its behalf. (They even reproduced a flyer for BSOCM as part of the article!) Many kudos to the AOU for publishing the review (and to Harry for preparing it), a pdf of which can be read here (© American Ornithologists’ Union 2015):

Armistead review Witmer Stone Auk 2015 v.132(3)__955-57

Pat and Clay Sutton review Witmer Stone: The Fascination of Nature


Pat and Clay Sutton are very familiar names to naturalists, especially birders. Clay co-authored the two Hawks in Flight field guides; together, they wrote three books in the How to Spot… series, and their amazing Birds and Birding at Cape May is one of a handful of great books written about the Cape May birding phenomenon. With all their field and conservation work in the Cape May area over the years, Pat and Clay have been an inspiration to me during the writing of the Witmer Stone biography, and have become valued friends as well. I feel very honored to have this first “review” of the book written by them:

“Although Witmer Stone is not exactly a household name for the current generation of internet-trained and focused birders, it should be. Dr. Witmer Stone holds a lofty place in the pantheon of great North American ornithologists. His life work was not only prolific, but highly significant by any and all standards. His landmark book, the two volume Bird Studies at Old Cape May, went far beyond Cape May on many levels, not just geographically but the book is widely regarded as the finest and most in-depth “local ornithology” ever produced. This timeless and enduring classic may be second only to Roger Tory Peterson’s A Field Guide to the Birds in longevity. Stone published his lasting tribute to his beloved Cape May in 1937, but Bird Studies at Old Cape May has been reprinted twice and was available at least until 2007.

“With the publication of Witmer Stone: The Fascination of Nature, Scott McConnell is about to make Witmer Stone that household word and bring recognition and celebration of this great ornithologist to a modern generation of birders who have never known the pleasure of reading and enjoying Stone’s important works. Scott McConnell has been a student of Witmer Stone for decades, and has focused his interest and high regard for Stone and his work into a definitive biography. He spent years researching Stone’s complex life and work. He spent so many hours in the vast archives of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia that many assumed he worked there. In spirit he did; those who know Scott well appreciate his passion for the “Stone Project” and his heartfelt duty to document Witmer Stone’s life and so commemorate and acclaim Stone’s legacy.

“Witmer Stone: The Fascination of Nature documents Stone’s remarkable life, a journey that he began as a student intern and ended as Emeritus Curator of Birds at the Academy of Natural Sciences over fifty years later in 1939. 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. You will learn too of some of his foibles, of a time when the study of natural history was far from easy, and of an era when many of the birds we enjoy today were on the brink of extinction. In this regard, this biography is more than a mere retrospective. Just as Stone’s work provides us with an invaluable scientific baseline, an understanding of the conservation challenges and triumphs of Stone’s era help us understand where we are today — and just how we got here – in our own studies of birds and the natural world. McConnell’s masterful work now gives us this clear insight into those heady times.

“Enjoy this journey into the life and times of the redoubtable Dr. Witmer Stone. Appreciate also the vast effort that Scott McConnell has put forth to bring this great man’s accomplishments into the light of the 21st Century. Understand why we should always remember Witmer Stone — and how his work has given us some of the most valuable baselines, background, and perspective that we have available to us today. Get to know Stone. You will be amazed.”

— Clay and Pat Sutton

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