Those of you who go outside like actual birders and/or adults may not be aware of the latest craze to sweep the internet. No, not the llamas. Or the trailer for the new Frozen short. Or even the welcome news the Obama has vetoed the Keystone pipeline.
No, it’s about a blue dress. Or a white dress. With decorations that are either gold or black. Now I’m going to be frank, when I first saw the dress I was pretty convinced that it was obviously white and gold and anyone who claimed otherwise was trolling me. But now I am assured otherwise.
What does this have to do with birding, besides revealing that I wasn’t yesterday? Well, it turns out that the science behind this little meme is very relevant to the harder-working birder: it has to to with how our eyes and brain automatically compensate for differing levels of sunlight and shadow. Not very important when we’re talking dresses, unless you need to give a description to the police or the vengeful ghost of Joan Rivers. But pretty key when you’re trying to sort out warblers in a dappled fall forest or shorebirds on a sun-bleached sandbar. And also when you’re trying to figure out why someone else on your list serv or Facebook group is being so infuriatingly wrong, wrong, wrong about a very clear photo.
So here’s a quick breakdown of what’s going on with the mystery dress: and potentially with any number of frustrating mystery and misnamed birds throughout the years.
It still looks white and gold to me, which doesn’t bode well….
Obviously, these are Cerulean Warblers.
All this time and I thought that “Danny Boy” was written by Barry McGuigan’s dad.
I guess that explains why sometimes some species look nothing like they do in the book.
I am not entirely sure the dress issue has to do with human perception, it seems more like an effect due to the way cameras process visual information into images. The biggest draw-back of digital photography is that we are not able anymore to trust images, not because of the possibility of deliberate manipulation but due to the sometimes bizzarre effects of the cameras’ processors or specific camera settings.