Category Archives: Natural History

Canton: Children’s Maple Day At Historical Association


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maple canA Children’s Maple Day is set for Saturday, March 10th from 2 to 4 pm at the Silas Wright House, 3 East Main St., Canton.

Children will have the opportunity to tap a maple tree the old-fashioned way, make “wax-on-snow,” and learn about syrup-making.

There will be a new exhibit on maple tapping and syrup-making, and samples of maple cream and maple coffee. A basket from Finen Maple Products will also be raffled off at the event. Continue reading

Catskills: Return of the Eagle, Raptors History Talk Mar 4th


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bald eagleHistorian Tom Riley is set to give a power point presentation on the return of the American Eagle and other raptors on Sunday, March 4th at 2 pm, at the Time and Valleys Museum in Grahamsville.

“Return of the Eagle” traces the history of the American Eagle and other raptors from their near extinction in the 1960s as a result of the devastating effects of DDT and other chemicals, to today when eagles can be found in almost every state. Continue reading

Racing Museum’s ‘Foal Patrol’ Tracks Birthing Mares


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foal patrolThe National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga has launched Foal Patrol, a fan-based interactive web program that tracks the lives and daily routines of several in-foal mares during their pregnancy through the birthing process.

The project includes an interactive website and several contests for racing fans and horse lovers. The site can also be reached through the Museum’s website. Continue reading

Colonists and Animals in North America


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ben_franklins_worldWhen we study the history of colonial North America, we tend to focus on European colonists and their rivalries with each other and with Native Americans. But humans weren’t the only living beings occupying North America during the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries.

Rivalries existed between humans and animals too. And these human-animal rivalries impacted and shaped how European colonists used and settled North American lands.

In this episode of Ben Franklin’s World: A Podcast About Early American History, Andrea Smalley, an associate professor of history at Northern Illinois University and author of Wild By Nature: North American Animals Confront Colonization (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), joins us to explore the many ways wild animals shaped colonists’ ideas and behavior as they settled and interacted with North American lands. You can listen to the podcast here: www.benfranklinsworld.com/168

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New England’s Darkest Day


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When Abraham Hasbrouck (1707-1791) awoke on the morning of May 19, 1780, he looked at the sun, and probably saw a reddish glow around it.

He recorded in his diary that by eight in the morning, “the sun was darkened.” It became so dark that one thought it was night time. Hasbrouck continued in his diary entry that it was not a solar eclipse. Citizens like, Richard Miller Devens, to the Northeast in New England, not only saw the reddish glow around the sun, but remarked, ”a black scum floated on rivers.” General George Washington camped to the south in New Jersey also commented about the unusual nature of the morning. Abraham Hasbrouck, living in Kingston, New York in Ulster County, had no idea that he was witnessing what would become known as, “The Dark Day.” Continue reading

A North Country Eel Story That Will Leave You Squirming


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When stuff doesn’t work, we either play Mr. Fixit or call someone. Whether it’s a job for your auto mechanic, furnace repair technician, or electrician, the expert usually has a good idea of what’s causing a particular problem. But sometimes malfunctions are real puzzlers.

From the 1870s well into the 1900s, mystery surrounded many incidents where faucets or pipes were opened but the water didn’t flow. When that happened, there were real consequences: a factory couldn’t operate or a school might close. For citizens lucky enough to have running water in their homes, it meant going without — or, if it were available, hauling water from community wells.

For a plumber, the natural assumption was that a clog was the culprit — a piece of clothing, a collection of sediment, or an accumulation of greasy materials. When nothing of the sort was found using the usual tools, a difficult search ensued — unless plumber was experienced. In that case, he might have suspected eels. Continue reading

The Extinction of the Long Island Heath Hen


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Turvey Heath Hen IllustrationRecently, the federal government of the United States relaxed land-use restrictions designed protecting the greater sage-grouse, hoping the change might spur economic development via increased oil and gas excavation and expansion of cattle grazing areas. The grouse, a strange chicken-sized bird known for its flamboyant displays of plumage and bizarre, warbling vocalizations, once made its home on the great western prairies of the United States and numbered in the millions. Where settlers once encountered birds blanketing the landscape, today a mere five-hundred thousand remain.

A similar bird once inhabited the more eastern portions of the United States. The heath hen, a sub-species of grouse, exhibiting a similar appearance and familiar behaviors, extended along the coast as far North as Massachusetts, South to Virginia, and East to Pennsylvania. In New York, an environment of scrub oak and pine trees made Long Island an attractive home for the hens. Their habitat stretched from the pine barrens of Suffolk County west to the Hempstead Plains. (John Bull in his Birds of New York State notes that they may have also appeared in the scrub and sand plains west of Albany). As in other locations, it is generally assumed that here, a combination of hunting and habitat change led to the hens extinction. Still, it is only an educated assumption – the the Long Island heath hen and the causes for its extinction have gone largely unexplored. Continue reading

Strange Phenomena: The New York Railroad Storm


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Shining Auroral CloudRecently a study of the cause of “bright nights” – evenings on which the sky gives enough light to read a book or newspaper – appeared in Geophysical Research Letters before being reported in a number of newspapers and popular scientific publications. Part of the story’s appeal is undoubtedly the claim that such strange phenomena have been experienced repeatedly and regularly throughout history.

Pliny the Elder, for instance, is said to have described the appearance of a “nocturnal sun” and the transformation of night into day, while an 1842 description recalls ne’er-do- wells exposed by a midnight at once transformed into midafternoon. The letters of mid-19th century Parisians reported surprise at being able to make out people and objects previously obscured by shadow. The reports of a Copenhagen observatory of the early 20th include a more scientific accounting. That such astronomical oddities, though infrequent, occur regularly would suggest that New York ought to have had its share of bright nights. Continue reading

1890s Adirondack Freshwater Pearl Fever


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Balsam pillows, maple syrup, spruce gum, custom-made rustic furniture — they’re all products comprised of raw materials native to the Adirondacks. Other businesses, current or defunct, have similar roots, but occasionally in regional history we find homegrown livelihoods that seem an odd fit for the North Country. Among the unlikeliest of those is pearl harvesting — not in the St. Lawrence River or Lake Champlain, but in creeks and rivers of the Adirondacks and foothills.

Pearls, considered the oldest of the world’s gems, are deeply rooted in history dating back thousands of years. They were highly valued in ancient Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, Roman, and Arabian cultures. Polynesia, Ceylon, and the Persian Gulf were the primary pearl sources, but as man is wont to due, excessive harvesting badly depleted the world supply. While the search continued for natural alternatives, the first cultured pearl (cultivated through a process that imitated nature) was developed in the 1890s. Patent battles to control the method continued until 1916, but in the meantime, many countries turned to harvesting pearls from fresh-water clams. Continue reading