Saturday 23 July 2016

Colour - Birder's Colour Pallet - Rev. 3.0

On a recent family holiday to Portugal I had the opportunity for close study of Azure-winged Magpie, the beautifully named Cyanopica cyanus.

With it's unique combination of chalky blues and subtle earthy, vinaceous pinks and russet reds, this is a truly spectacular bird.  It got me to ponder the colour azure and other related blues.

The particular hue of blue which I have up until now named azure in the Birder's Colour Pallet just didn't quite match what I was seeing.  It's very hard to pin down colours exactly on the internet.  There is no agreed standard nomenclature.  Of course, in many cases colours may not have a very fixed hue at all and may refer to a range of different hues.  The original 'azure' colour in the early computer pallet was what is now referred to as cyan - the hue opposite red in the standard colour wheel.  With a bit of further research it emerged that azure should be considered a hue exactly mid-way between cyan and true blue.  It's more akin to a bright blue sky.  Having adjusted the pallet accordingly, sitting at hue 140 it certainly now makes for a far better fit than it did at hue 130.

With an enigmatic North American wood warbler Setophaga cerulea, a Kingfisher Alcedo coerulescens, a Paradise Flycatcher Eutrichomyias rowleyi| and others named after it, surely this evocative term deserves a place on the Birder's pallet.  But what is cerulean exactly?  It appears the term doesn't apply to any rigid colour hue, but with a home anywhere between cyan and blue it might for instance be used to evoke the colour of a tropical sea.  I always associated the colour more with cyan than with blue.  I have seen Cerulean Warbler in Costa Rica but am not very familiar with their range of hues.  Online images certainly suggest Cerulean Warbler has a colour tone essentially identical to Azure-winged Magpie, a bright sky blue, not a turquoise blue at all.  And, if one compares images of various birds with the colour cerulean in their name there is no consistency at all.
Cerulean Cuckooshrike Coracina temminckii
Cerulean Kingfisher Alcedo coerulescens
Cerulean Paradise Flycatcher Eutrichomyias rowleyi|
Cerulean Warbler Setophaga cerulea
Cerulean-capped Manakin Lepidothrix coeruleocapilla

In this instance I have decided not to go with the classic azure hue demonstrated by photos of Cerulean Warbler but instead opted for the classic, slightly turquoise hue one is more likely to associate with the colour.  I think it would be a shame to lose cerulean from the Birder's pallet, even if it is actually quite vague term in reality.

With a closely related etymology, azure and lazuli might also be considered synonymous.  The colour lazuli is derived from a semi-precious stone Lapis Lazuli, a bright blue metamorphic rock consisting mainly of the mineral lazurite.  In choosing an appropriate nomenclature for the Birder's colour pallet however I am guided also by bird names and of course in this instance Lazuli Bunting Passerina amoena.  It turns out, based on images of male Lazuli Buntings online that the particular blue hue 140 fits that species very nicely indeed.

Strictly speaking, lapis lazuli is a darker shade of blue than is found in Lazuli Bunting.  To confuse matters even further lapis lazuli is associated with the colour ultramarine which is also said to derive from lazurite.  And yet, ultramarine appears as hue 170 throughout the internet, between true blue (hue 160) and the violet end of the spectrum.  Once again there appears to be a distinct lack of consistency when it comes to colour nomenclature, and no doubt a certain amount of variation can be found in the hues expressed by raw lazurite as well.

With lazuli moved off its hue 150 spot, what vivid blue bird should take its place?  Of course - what else but Hyacinth, after the enigmatic and endangered Hyacinth Macaw Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus and the perhaps rather less splendid genus of plant the bird is named after.

Following this shuffle of spaces I have given the name Sky to full saturation hue 130.  Admittedly not very inspired but nothing else quite fits for now.  Blue-grey on the other hand did sit very nicely as illustrated below.  If anyone has any suggestions for better terms to describe hue 130 I'd love to hear from you.

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