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Peter Paul Kellogg recording with a Magnemite 510E
Peter Paul Kellogg recording with a Magnemite 510E

Soon after World War II, magnetic tape technology arrived on the scene and opened the door to development of an easily portable recording system. Peter Paul Kellogg helped design the first lightweight tape recorder built in North America, which weighed less than 20 pounds and greatly enhanced the ability to record birds and other animals in the field. Highlights from this period include:

  • 1957: Opening of the Lyman K. Stuart Observatory facility at Sapsucker Woods, with dedicated space for the Library of Natural Sounds (LNS). Byrl Kellogg, a professional librarian, was recruited for the monumental task of cataloging and organizing the growing collection.
  • Doc Allen and later Peter Paul Kellogg hosted a local radio show, “Know Your Birds”, discussing birds, their natural history, and vocalizations. This program remained on the air until the mid-1980s.
  • 1950s & 1960s: Bolstered by the new facilities and a growing core of research and volunteer recordists, LNS grew and also expanded its geographic scope to become a truly international sound archive. During this period the Lab also produced and published the first full guide to the songs of North American birds, as well as a guide to the sounds of eastern North American frogs and toads.
  • The mid-60s brought change to the Library of Natural Sounds. In 1964 both Arthur Allen and Byrl Kellogg passed away, and in 1966 Peter Paul Kellogg retired. During the transition years following the loss of these pioneers, activity in the sound collections slowed. However, the collaborators and students they’d inspired and encouraged already were beginning to fill the void.

The Early Magnetic Tape Era

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology view from the pond in the late 1950s
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology view from the pond in the late 1950s

Disc archiving enjoyed only a short life at the Lab of Ornithology when it was supplanted by the magnetic tape technology developed in Germany during World War II. Magnetic tape recording opened the door to development of an easily portable recording system and provided capability for instantaneous playback of a bird’s voice for identification and experimental investigations. Peter Paul Kellogg helped design the first lightweight tape recorder built in North America, the Amplifier Corp. of America’s Magnemite recorder. It weighed less than 20 pounds; it went into commercial production in 1951 and greatly expanded options for field recordists. As a result, the Library of Natural Sounds (as it was then known) began a major period of growth.

Byrl Kellogg, a professional librarian, was recruited for the monumental task of cataloging and organizing the growing collection. Updating as well the goal of public outreach, both Doc Allen and later Peter Paul Kellogg hosted a local radio show, Know Your Birds, discussing birds, their natural history, and vocalizations, a program that remained on the air until the mid-1980s. Doc Allen retired from teaching in 1953, but continued to promote the development of ornithology at Cornell. The result was the designation of the Lab of Ornithology as an independent department of the University in 1955, and the completion of the new Lyman K. Stuart Observatory ornithology facility at Sapsucker Woods in 1957. The Library of Natural Sounds, with dedicated space in the new facility and bolstered by a growing core of research and volunteer recordists, commenced a period of growth that would transition it from a collection of North American bird recordings to an international sound archive.

In 1958, Robert C. Stein, then a graduate student of Kellogg, began research that would use differences in song to demonstrate for the first time that the species then known as Traill’s Flycatcher Empidonax traillii was comprised of two essentially morphologically identical birds that were distinct species, the Willow Flycatcher Empidonax traillii and the Alder Flycatcher E. alnorum. William Dilger studied the role of song as an isolating mechanism among Hylocichla and Catharus thrushes. Recordings of the birds in Kenya and other parts of eastern Africa were collected by Myles E. W. North, while Donald and Marian McChesney recorded in Africa and Europe. L. Irby Davis amassed a remarkable collection of Mexican material. Drawing material from the collection and carrying out expeditions to fill gaps, the Lab produced and published the first full guide to the songs of North American birds, as well as a guide to the sounds of eastern North American frogs and toads. Also at this time, an Ithaca teenager by the name of Randolph Little became involved with the Lab, helping to assemble sounds for the first Peterson Series bird sound guides published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

The mid-60s would bring change to the Library of Natural Sounds. In 1964 Arthur Allen died. Later that year Byrl Kellogg also passed away. Her legacy was a superb catalog of the collection, as well as catalogs of original recorded discs and sound films. In 1966, Peter Paul Kellogg retired from Cornell University. During the transition years following the loss of Allen and the retirement of Kellogg and original organizers, activity in the sound collections slowed. However, the collaborators and students they’d inspired and encouraged were already filling the void. Jennifer Horne masterfully edited the African collection of Myles E. W. North, and L. Virginia Engelhard, then supervisor of the Library of Natural Sounds, incorporated it into the collection. Eugene Morton, conducting research in Panama, added new recordings to the archive. Technical and equipment support was provided for Sheldon Severinghaus in Taiwan and Theodore Cronin in Nepal, resulting in major additions of recordings from those regions.