Tag Archives: Wildlife

Finger Lakes Museum Receives Gift of Land


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Townsend-Grady Wildlife PresserveThe Finger Lakes Museum has more than doubled the size of its campus in Branchport.

Thanks to a generous gift of land donated by sisters Anne Salisbury and Molly Sujan and to a cash contribution from their neighbors Rolf Zerges and his wife Lynda Rummel, the museum now owns the 16-acre wetland adjacent to Crescent Beach at the north end of the west branch of Keuka Lake. The parcel comes with more than 1,400 feet of water frontage on Sugar Creek, which is a navigable inlet to the lake. Continue reading

Peter Feinman: Bring Back the Mastodons!


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Peale's Exhuming the MammothIt is time for New York State to boldly go where no state has gone before and go back to the future to resurrect the now extinct mastodon. The effort to bring the mammoth back from extinction recently was the cover article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine.

Russia and Japan are working to create mammoths. New York should not be left behind in the de-extinction race. I hereby challenge Governor Cuomo to launch a new “Manhattan Project” so we are the first to bring the paleolithic era to life through the creation of Mastodon Park, our own Ice Age animal, the mastodon. Continue reading

One Smart Bird: The Homing Pigeon in NY History


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Unlike eagles, hawks, and others, pigeons are an Adirondack bird surrounded by neither lore nor legend. Yet for more than a century, they were players in a remarkable system of interaction between strangers, birds, and their owners. Others were tied to noted historical events, and a few were undisputed participants in major criminal activity in northern New York.
The bird referred to here is the homing pigeon. According to the Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State, the Rock Dove is “commonly known as the domestic or homing pigeon,” and is a non-native, having been introduced from Europe in the early 1600s.

They are often mistakenly called carrier pigeons, and the confusion is understandable. There are carrier pigeons, and there are pigeons that carry things, but they’re not the same bird. Homing pigeon are the ones used to carry messages and for pigeon racing.
Racing them has proven very popular. Regionally, there is the Schenectady Homing Pigeon Club (more than 60 years old), which in the 1930s competed with the Albany Flying Club and the Amsterdam Pigeon Club.
The existence of those clubs, the carrying of messages, and other related activities are all based on a long-studied phenomenon that is still debated: how the heck do homing pigeons do what they do? Basically, if taken to a faraway location and released, they usually return to their home, and in a fairly straight line.
Flocks have been released and tracked by airplanes, and transmitters have been attached to the birds, confirming their direct routes. They use a variety of navigation methods, the most important and least understood of which involves the earth’s magnetic orientation.
In recent decades, Cornell University’s famed ornithology unit summarized their findings after extreme testing: “Homing pigeons can return from distant, unfamiliar release points.” And what did these scientists do to challenge the birds’ abilities? Plenty.
According to the study, “Older pigeons were transported to the release site inside sealed metal containers, supplied with bottled air, anesthetized, and placed on rotating turntables, all of which should make it hard for them to keep track of their outward journey.” The birds still homed effectively.
This unusual ability has been enjoyed and exploited for centuries. In 1898, in order to keep up with European military powers, the US Navy established the Homing Pigeon Service. One use was ship-to-shore communication in any conditions—when pigeons sent aboard the ship were released with a message attached, they flew directly back to their home loft.
Their use during World Wars I and II is legendary, and many were decorated with medals. In 1918, pigeon racing was temporarily banned in the United States to ensure that all birds were available for the use of the military.
In peacetime, homing pigeons were treated with near-universal respect and were weekly visitors to the North Country. Whenever one with a metal band or a message tube attached to it was found, standard protocol was followed by all citizens. The birds were immediately given water and food. If they appeared injured, the information from the leg band was given to local police, who tried to contact the owner.
Caring for the birds, whether ill or healthy, was automatic, and it continued until the journey was resumed. For more than 130 years, Adirondack weekly newspaper columns mentioned the landing of homing pigeons (but usually called them carrier pigeons). If a bird somehow appeared to be off course, the leg band information might appear in a short article or in an advertisement.
That informal system was widely used and religiously followed. To further protect the birds (and the system itself) and to confirm their importance, New York State’s Forest, Fish, and Game Commission made it law: “… No person shall take or interfere with any … homing pigeon if it have the name of its owner stamped upon its wing or tail, or wear a ring or seamless leg band with its registered number stamped thereon, or have any other distinguishing mark …”
Next week: Homing pigeons in North Country history, including multimillion dollar smuggling schemes.
Photos: Top―A Pigeon Bus in Europe during WWI (1916). Middle―WW I US troops in trench, sending messages by pigeon. Bottom―Winged members of the military.


Lawrence Gooley has authored eleven books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 22 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Lawrence Gooley: The Power of Wildlife


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While collecting materials about attacks by animals in the Adirondacks, I came across several stories involving birds of prey. Maintaining a healthy skepticism is important, especially when reading such accounts in old newspapers, where the tendency was to embellish. But I came to realize that bird attacks were not such a rare phenomenon. Nature films offer scenes of birds assailing creatures much larger than themselves and carrying off some impressive loads.

After all, odd things do happen. I once observed a hawk plummeting at amazing speed into the center of the village where I lived. Moments later, the hawk flew past me, a cat dangling from its talons. Decades ago, when ravens were a rarity in the northern Adirondacks, I was dive-bombed repeatedly by several of them as I bushwhacked across the Silver Lake Mountain Ridge. And on three occasions while canoeing, I’ve had very close encounters with eagles (I’ll admit that a couple of them were scary).

Taking all of that into consideration, I reviewed some interesting regional confrontations between humans and birds. In 1888, at Brier Hill (St. Lawrence County), a bald eagle was said to have attacked ten-year-old George Richards. George used a stick to defend himself until older brother Berton, 20, drove the eagle off. Bert later baited a steel trap with newborn calves that had died. He succeeded in capturing the bird, which was held by the Richards family for display.

In 1893, a Bellmont (Franklin County) farmhand working for Frank Winkley was on horseback, rounding up a herd of cows, when he was attacked by two eagles. He was knocked to the ground, where the birds continued the assault. The farm dog came to his aid, and he eventually managed to club one of the birds and capture it. According to the report, the golden eagle’s wingspan was seven feet. It was briefly kept in Winkley’s barn as a curiosity.

Predatory raids on farm fowl were once common. A dramatic case was reported in Chaumont (northwest of Watertown) in 1903 on the farm of Charles Graham. A hen hawk (any hawk that preys on poultry) grabbed a large Plymouth Rock hen, but about 20 feet above the ground, the hen broke free and landed at Graham’s feet. The hawk followed, knocking the farmer down, gashing his face and neck, and pecking at his eyes. Even as Graham stood to defend himself, the bird continued the attack, finally departing when the farmer grabbed a shovel.

Also in 1903, John Sullivan of Jay (Essex County) was set upon by an eagle, eventually driving it off after suffering lacerations to his face. In 1904 came a report from the Bowditch cottage on Upper Chateaugay Lake (Clinton County), where caretaker Frank Nicholson battled two eagles that attempted to make off with some chickens. One of the birds managed to sink its talons into Nicholson’s leg, but he eventually succeeded in “dispatching them.”

In 1909, a Pitcairn (St. Lawrence County, near Harrisville) farmer, Josiah Almtree, offered a dramatic tale of battling a powerful eagle that had lately been harassing his sheep. The victim this time was Almtree’s daughter, who was carried briefly but then dropped “unhurt on the roof of a little building near the barn.” Almtree managed a shot at the bird, which escaped. Of course, “unhurt” wasn’t possible, but I’ll beg the Fox News defense here: “We report, you decide.”

Most such stories are quite old, but a more recent one (though still over 50 years past) occurred in Ausable Forks in 1957. Young Jimmie Camire, while playing with friends, was attacked by a hawk. The bird grabbed his shoulder, but the boy broke free. Under renewed attack, Jimmie’s shouts brought his brother Butch and friend Jeff Hewston to the rescue. They had been cutting small trees nearby, and used an axe to kill the hawk, which they said had a wingspan of 43 inches.

Not all regional fowl attacks came from above. In 1908, Gouverneur’s Louis Boulet owned a particularly raucous Rhode Island Red, a breed that can be incredibly aggressive. (They’ve been known to kill snakes, cats, foxes, and small dogs.) The big rooster’s frequent attacks made it clear the farmer was not welcome in his own hen house. Egged on by frequent muggings and occasional blood loss, Boulet decided this chicken’s goose was cooked, so he had him for dinner.

Skepticism can be valuable, but before deciding how feasible some of those old stories might be, check out some “eagle attack” videos on YouTube. Be forewarned: several are graphic. Some are simply amazing, demonstrating the willingness of large birds to mix it up with creatures of all sizes, even striking a black bear in a tree.

Photos: Eagle in flight; 1957 headline from hawk attack in AuSable Forks.

Lawrence Gooley has authored ten books and dozens of articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004. Expanding their services in 2008, they have produced 20 titles to date, and are now offering web design. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.

Spring Walk at Olana Features Landscape, Wildlife


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Craig Thompson, director of Five Rivers Environmental Education Center, will host an outdoor foray to search for bluebirds, robin redbreast, white trillium and other colorful signs of spring on Sunday, April 1. An Olana educator will join the group to discuss the history of the landscape and carriage drives designed by Frederic Church.

Craig Thompson has been an environmental educator in NYS DEC’s Division of Public Affairs for over 30 years. Five Rivers, one of the state’s environmental education facilities, is a 445-acre “living museum” offering a comprehensive program of interpretive, education and information services year ‘round.

The Spring Walk will take place from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm, and is free and open to all ages. Meet at the Wagon House Education Center and dress for casual trail walking. Binoculars are helpful but not necessary. Space is limited, so please register by calling (518) 828-1872 ext. 109. In the event of inclement weather, the program may be canceled. (If in doubt, call (518) 828-1872 x 109 to confirm.) A vehicle use fee will be charged at the entrance to the site.

Exhibition Celebrates 175 Yrs of State Museum


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The New York State Museum traces its origins to an 1836 survey of the state’s geology, plants, and animals. To celebrate 175 years of adding to the scientific and historical knowledge of New York, the State Museum presents an exhibition that showcases many of its important collections in anthropology, history, and natural science. The exhibition highlights some of the people who, through their work, built these invaluable collections, and presents examples of continuing research based on the collections. Together, the stories of the collectors, the artifacts and specimens in the collections, and the continuing research illuminate the history of the oldest and largest state museum in the nation.

The exhibition “From the Collections” will run through April 2012 in the Exhibition Hall.

Photo: The coyote collection includes skins and skulls that document the expansion of coyotes into New York. Shown here is the skull of a coyote-wolf-dog hybrid from New York state. Scientists at the State Museum recently evaluated skulls and genetic samples of New York coyotes and found they have larger and wider skulls because of hybridization
with wolves. The coyote collection is included in From the Collections, an exhibition highlighting some of the State Museum’s important collections and related research.

Two New Exhibits at Adirondack Museum


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Two new exhibits have opened at the Adirondack Museum: “The Adirondack World of A.F. Tait” and “Night Vision: The Wildlife Photography of Hobart V. Roberts.”

Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait was the classic artist of Adirondack sport. “The Adirondack World of A.F. Tait” features paintings and prints depicting life in the Adirondack woods – images of hunters, sportsmen, guides, and settlers that include a wealth of historical detail. An ardent sportsman and lover of the outdoors, Tait lived in the region for extended periods of time near Chateaugay, Raquette and Long lakes.

His images of animals and sporting adventures were among the best known in 19th-century America thanks to Currier & Ives, whose lithographs of Tait paintings helped popularize the Adirondacks as a sportsman’s paradise.

Chief Curator, Laura Rice called the exhibit, “a rare opportunity to see some of Tait’s most important works, including a few from private collections which are rarely, if ever, on exhibit.”

“Night Vision: The Wildlife Photography of Hobart V. Roberts” focuses on the work of one of the nation’s most recognized amateur wildlife photographers in the first decades of the 20th century. Roberts’ Adirondack wildlife photographs represent an important breakthrough in science and the technology of photography. He developed a thorough knowledge of Adirondack
wildlife and their habits, and deer jacking inspired him to consider night photography. A feature article in the New York Times, August 26, 1928, described Roberts’ as “hunting with a camera in the Adirondacks.”

The “Night Vision” exhibit features approximately 35 original large-format photographs of Adirondack wildlife. Roberts’ cameras, equipment, colored lithographic prints, hand-colored transparencies, published works, and his many awards will also be exhibited. His work has been published in Audubon Magazine, Country Life, Modern Photography, and The National Geographic
Magazine.

The museum is open through October 17, 2011, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 7 days a week, including holidays. There will be an early closing on August 12, and adjusted hours on August 13; the museum will be closed on September 9. Visit www.adirondackmuseum.org for more information. All paid admissions are valid for a second visit within a one-week period.

Adirondack Museum Opens for the Season


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The Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake, New York will open for the 54th season on Friday, May 27, 2011. This season, the museum opens two new exhibits and also introduces a host of family activities and special events.

The Adirondack Museum’s two new exhibits – “The Adirondack World of A.F. Tait” and “Night Vision: The Wildlife Photography of Hobart V. Roberts” – showcase two very different, yet complimentary, visions of the region.

“The Adirondack World of A.F. Tait” features paintings and prints depicting life in the Adirondack woods-images of hunters, sportsmen, guides, and settlers, that include a wealth of historical detail. Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait was the classic artist of Adirondack sport. From the objects Tait worked with to Currier and Ives prints and finished oil paintings, the exhibit showcases Tait’s artistic vision and skill and highlights the region’s beauty and character.

“‘The Adirondack World of A.F. Tait’ looks at the life and work of this most quintessentially Adirondack artist,” said Chief Curator, Laura Rice. “This exhibition represents a rare opportunity to see some of Tait’s most important works, including a few from private collections which are rarely, if ever, on exhibit.”

“Night Vision: The Wildlife Photography of Hobart V. Roberts” focuses on the work of one of the nation’s most recognized amateur wildlife photographers in the first decades of the 20th century. The “Night Vision” exhibit features approximately 35 original large-format photographs of Adirondack wildlife. Roberts’ cameras, equipment, colored lithographic prints, hand-colored transparencies, published works, and his many awards will also be exhibited. Roberts’ Adirondack wildlife photographs represent an important breakthrough in science and the technology of photography. His work has been published in Audubon Magazine, Country Life, Modern Photography, and The National Geographic Magazine.

The Adirondack Museum has planned a full schedule of family activities, hands-on experiences, special events, lectures and field trips for all ages. Programming for families in 2011 has expanded to include an Artist in Residence program, and a collaborative canvas where visitors can help paint an Adirondack landscape.

This summer, the museum has a special new event to kick-off summer for families -”Familypalooza” – on July 9. Familypalooza will include a bounce house, music show by Radio Disney, kayaking and paddling demonstrations on the museum’s pond, costumed animal characters, food, face painting and more. Children age 17 and under will be admitted free of charge for the day. Families will also enjoy “The Adirondacks Are Cookin’ Out!” – a tribute to food prepared with smoke and fire – on July 28, and Dog Days of Summer on August 6.

Two special exhibits will also return in 2011. The Adirondack Museum celebrates food, drink, and the pleasures of eating in the Adirondack Park in, “Let’s Eat! Adirondack Food Traditions.” The exhibit shares culinary stories and customs, and a bit about local celebrity Rachael Ray. “Common Threads: 150 Years of Adirondack Quilts and Comforters” includes historic quilts from the museum’s textile collection as well as contemporary comforters, quilts, and pieced wall hangings.

The Adirondack Museum has introduced some lower admissions prices for 2011. The admissions prices are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors (62 and over), $12 for teens (13-17), $6 for kids (6-12) and free for those 5 and under. Admission will be free for members and all active military every day. Reduced group rates are also available.

The museum is open May 27 through October 17, 2011, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 7 days a week, including holidays. There will be an early closing on August 12, and adjusted hours on August 13; the museum will close for the day on September 9. Visit www.adirondackmuseum.org for more information. All paid admissions are valid for a second visit within a one-week period.

Fur, Fortune, and Empire: A History of American Fur Trade


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“The fur trade was a powerful force in shaping the course of American history from the early 1600s through the late 1800s,” Eric Jay Dolin writes in his new comprehensive history Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America. “Millions of animals were killed for their pelts, which were used according to the dictates of fashion — and human vanity,” Dolin writes. “This relentless pursuit of furs left in its wake a dramatic, often tragic tale of clashing cultures, fluctuating fortunes, and bloody wars.”

The fur trade spurred imperial power struggles that eventually led to the expulsions of the Swedes, the Dutch, and the French from North America. Dolin’s history of the American fur trade is a workmanlike retelling of those struggles that sits well on the shelf beside Hiram Martin Chittenden’s 1902 two-volume classic The American Fur Trade of the Far West, and The Fur Trade in Colonial New York, 1686-1776., the only attempt to tell the story of the fur trade in New York. The latter volume, written by Thomas Elliot Norton, leaves no room for the Dutch period or the early national period which saw the fur trade drive American expansion west.

Dolin’s Fur Fortune, and Empire, is not as academic as last year’s Rethinking the Fur Trade: Cultures of Exchange in an Atlantic World by Susan Sleeper-Smith. It’s readable, and entertaining, ranging from Europe, following the westward march of the fur frontier across America, and beyond to China. Dolin shows how trappers, White and Indian, set the stage for the American colonialism to follow and pushed several species to the brink of extinction. Among the characters in this history are those who were killed in their millions; beaver, mink, otter, and buffalo.

Eric Jay Dolin’s focus, as it was with his last book Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America, is the intersection of American history and natural history. Readers interested in the history of the New York fur trade will find this book enlightening for it’s connection of the state’s fur business with the larger world as the first third deals with the period before the American Revolution, when New York fur merchants and traders were still a dominate factor. Yet, like last year’s Sleeper-Smith book, Dolin’s newest volume is simply outlines the wider ground on which the still necessary volume on the fur trade in New York might be built.

Note: Books noticed on this site have been provided by the publishers. Purchases made through this Amazon link help support this site.

"Moose on the Loose" at the Adirondack Museum


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On Sunday, March 28, 2010, Ed Reed, a wildlife biologist with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5 office in Ray Brook, New York, will offer a program entitled “Moose on the Loose in the Adirondacks” at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y. The presentation is part of the popular Cabin Fever Sunday series.

“Moose on the Loose in the Adirondacks” will review the history, current status, and future of moose in New York State. Moose were native to New York, but were extirpated before 1900. The expansion of moose from Maine and Canada across New England reached the state in the 1980′s, and the population is now well established and self-sustaining.

Biologists estimate that there are around 500 moose in the state, with the population expected to increase rapidly in the next decade. The program will cover food habits, breeding biology, habitat needs, mortality factors, and recreational values of moose.

Ed Reed has worked for DEC for twenty-five years in fisheries and wildlife, and has been the big game biologist for Region 5 since 2001. His main areas of expertise include management of whitetail deer, black bear, and more recently moose. Ed received a degree in wildlife biology from Colorado State University and has worked in the outdoor field for over 35 years.

The program will be held in the Auditorium, and will begin promptly at 1:30 p.m. Cabin Fever Sunday programs are offered at no charge to museum members. The fee for non-members is $5.00. There is no charge for children of elementary school age or younger. Refreshments will be served. For additional information, please call the Education Department at (518) 352-7311, ext. 128 or visit the museum’s web site at
www.adirondackmuseum.org.

Photo: A moose on the loose at the Adirondack Museum. Photograph by Liz Forsell.

Taxidermy History in New York State – Carl Akeley


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Here is a recent news item regarding the re-installation of what is believed to be “probably the world’s largest mounted fish, maybe the largest piece of taxidermy in the world” – a 73-year-old, 32-foot, mounted whale shark caught off Fire Island in 1935 and believed to have weighed about 8 tons (16,000 pounds). It has been freshly restored was unveiled at the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport, where it was damaged by water leakage that closed part of the museum in 1996.

The unveiling got us thinking about the history of taxidermy in New York. According to the great wiki.

As the demand for quality leather and hides grew, the methods became more and more sophisticated. By the 1700s, almost every small town had a prosperous tannery business. In the 1800s, hunters began bringing their trophies to upholstery shops where the upholsterers would actually sew up the animal skins and stuff them with rags and cotton. The term “stuffing” or a “stuffed animal” evolved from this crude form of taxidermy.

It should be added that taxidermy got a boost during the 18th century fascination with natural science presented to the public through exhibitions of strange and exotic animals brought from distant lands and installed in cabinets of wonder, early museums, and the like.

In France Louis Dufresne, taxidermist at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle from 1793, popularized arsenical soap in an article in Nouveau dictionnaire d’histoire naturelle (1803–1804). This technique enabled the Muséum to build the greatest collection of birds in the world.

In the early 20th century, taxidermy began to evolve into its modern form under the leadership of artists such as Carl Akeley, James L. Clark [that's him in the photo at the American Museum of Natural History], William T. Hornaday, Coleman Jonas, Fredrick and William Kaempfer, and Leon Pray. These and other taxidermists developed anatomically accurate figures which incorporated every detail in artistically interesting poses, with mounts in realistic settings and poses that were considered more appropriate for the species. This was quite a change from the caricatures that were popularly offered as hunting trophies.

Carl Akeley has a special place in New York taxidermy. His lifelike creations were installed in dioramas at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and can be seen in the museum’s Akeley African Hall (he also is considered the founder of a New York City staple – shotcrete).

Akeley was born in Clarendon, NY, and learned taxidermy in nearby Brockport and Rochester. In 1886 he moved to the Milwaukee Public Museum where he created one of the world’s first complete museum habitat dioramas in 1890. Akeley specialized in African mammals; rather then “stuffing” the animals he fit their skins over a form of the animal’s body.

In 1909 Akeley accompanied Theodore Roosevelt to Africa and began work at the American Museum of Natural History. In 1921 he traveled to Mt. Mikeno in the Virungas at the edge of what was then Belgian Congo to try and figure out if killing gorillas was justified. According to a Milwaukee exhibit, he eventually opposed hunting them for trophies but continued to support killing them for science and education purposes. He worked for the establishment of Africa’s first national park – Virunga (home of Dian Fossey and her famous gorilla in the mist and now under serious threat).

He was also interested in filmmaking and photography. Eileen Jones’s PhD dissertation in 2004 concluded that “representations of the African landscape and African fauna in the Akeley Memorial African Hall… were antithetical to assumptions about the impenetrable wilderness of ‘Darkest Africa’ that previously had dominated American popular culture.”

The American Museum of Natural History holds the collection of his second wife and includes photos Akeley took in Africa and films of the mountings he did at the museum. He published an autobiography, In Brightest Africa, in 1923 but died on his fifth trip to Africa in 1926 and was buried there.