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How’s The Water: February 1, 2013

Winter has arrived with a vengeance. The forecast is for warmer weather to return, but it is currently 14°. At this time, it is perhaps nice to stay indoors and prepare for the warmer weather ahead by listening to sounds of the natural world. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a tremendous resource not only to birders, but to all those people interested in the natural world.  

The Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library is the world’s largest and oldest archive of natural sounds and video.  Its mission is “to collect and preserve recordings of each species’ behavior and natural history, to facilitate the ability of others to collect and preserve such recordings, and to actively promote the use of these recordings for diverse purposes spanning scientific research, education, conservation, and the arts.” The library has completed an effort to fully digitize its 150,000 audio recordings, which represents close to 9,000 species. The primary emphasis is on birds, but the lab also has sounds of whales, primates, great cats, frogs and other animals.  

The database is easily searchable by species name. In its press release, Cornell mentioned some of the highlights of the library. Among them are the very earliest recording, made of a Song Sparrow in 1929, and the sound made by an ostrich chick while still in the egg!  If you are yearning for the tropics, there is a recording of the dawn chorus in Queensland, Australia. The call of a common loon on an Adirondack lake makes me eager to visit my family’s camp, where I have heard the loons calling many times just like the calls in the library.

Many of the sounds almost seem like they are not issued by an animal. The call of an indri (a lemur) is described as “Best candidate to appear on a John Coltrane record.” And what does a Curl-crested Manucode sound like?  What is a Curl-crested Manucode? The Macaulay Library can be found at http://macaulaylibrary.org. The Cornell Lab is at http://www.birds.cornell.edu. Both of these sites are tremendous resources for those interested in the the natural world.