The Lights are On (Sort Of)

It don’t mean a barkle
if it ain’t got that sparkle.
[Doo-wop, doo-wop, doo-wop, doo-wop, doo]
– Early draft of a song later made famous by
Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong

Sparkle. Catch light. Whatever you call it, its presence adds a lot to a close-up of a stationary bird. It might just be a reflection of sunlight off a wet cornea, but it can imbue a photo with life. Without it, the subject could be a stuffed bird–a dead parrot, perhaps. With it, suddenly there’s somebody home.

The wet cornea is the bird’s responsibility; the sunlight is mine, I guess. For sure I never get a catch light on a cloudy day, but even on a sunny day the angle has to be just right. When there are two birds, the goal is to get two catchlights. Of course: How could it be otherwise? Also of course, both birds have to be posed just so.

That’s one . . .


That’s none . . .


That’s still none . . .


And that’s the other one . . .

These over-my-head photos of purple martins are from the Ellis Bird Farm near Lacombe, AB. The expert in the office told me that the small one (sight unseen) was a female or immature male, not a this-spring baby.

This entry was posted in Laughing Frequently, Photos of Fauna and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Lights are On (Sort Of)

  1. John Whitman says:

    Isabel – I assume you know there are Purple Martin colonies out beside the Nepean Sailing Club clubhouse.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      John – I did not know that. Thanks. I do seem to recall you telling me that purple martins had become dependent (completely so?) on human-built housing. That seems like a bad “choice” at the species level, although it’s of obvious benefit at the individual level.

      • John Whitman says:

        You are correct. I did tell you that Purple Martins have now become completely dependent on humans to provide them nesting sites. I read that on the plaque beside one of the two multi-level Purple Martin birdhouses at the Nepean Sailing Club. The Native Americans discovered that if they hollowed out gourds and hung them up in a tree, the Martins preferred them to building their own nests. Then the Native Americans didn’t have to go hunting for fresh Martin eggs. They knew exactly where to look. Over time the Martins lost the ability to build their own nests.

        There is also a Purple Martin multi-level birdhouse in the area of Remick Rapids and one beside the trail close to Mer Bleue, but I have yet to see any Martin activity around them.

        • Isabel Gibson says:

          John – I hadn’t remembered that it went back that far in time. I guess even this level of domestication in a wild bird shouldn’t surprise me – humans have domesticated many species. Thanks!

  2. Jim Robertson says:

    To add to John’s comment

    There are some at the wharf on South Lancaster if you happen to be down east of Cornwall…

    Great examples. You are so right about the importance of catchlights in the birds’ eye

  3. Tom Watson says:

    Swing it, babies! It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!

  4. Judith Umbach says:

    Nature rarely lines up for our convenience, which is why we rejoice when we (almost inadvertently) get (almost) perfection.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – 🙂 Fair enough. If I always had catch-lights I wouldn’t value them. And in my case, “inadvertent” is le mot juste.

  5. I have considered the “eye lights in humans and four-legged pets” for the purposes of painting. For birds, I tend to accept whatever turns up and without criticism. Now, I cannot forget to look for the high lights or low lights in a bird’s eye. The analysis of exactly where in the sky the sun must be relative to the bird in the photo deserves to play into the denouement in a mystery story. I feel quite certain that Sherlock knew these facts and that Conan Doyle could have made them salient.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – 🙂 It has occurred to me that there might be things I could do to increase my chances of catching a catch light, but I have not yet bestirred myself to find/learn them. No doubt Holmes *could* have been of use to me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.