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QUIZ GULL #11 (with answer below)

Hints: no hints

ANSWER: The correct answer is Herring Gull.

The bird is awfully white and, judging by the coverts, very worn and presumably faded. We're going to have to rely on very few clues here. The first step is always to age the bird. Given the amount of dark underparts, it appears to be a first year bird but obviously late in the year given the wear, so perhaps first summer and starting to moult (see the gray scapulars) into second winter (basic) plumage.

Let's focus on the plumage. The folded primaries are dark. They're not black, but given the extreme fading we see elsewhere, they could have been at one time. They are dark enough to rule out Iceland and Glaucous. The scapulars show some adult gray color that seems to be a very pale blue-gray. This helps us rule out many darker-backed and even medium gray-backed gulls: everything from Baltic through at least California Gull on the mantle chart at the shades of mantle gray page. This leaves us with Mew, Common, Glaucous-winged, Yellow-legged (michahellis), Caspian (cachinnans), Thayer's, Herring, and Ring-billed. The underparts of this bird are rather solidly dark, much more so than would be expected on Caspian (see this first summer bird at Martin Reid's site) or on Yellow-legged (see this heavily marked first winter bird at Martin's site).

Let's go on to structural clues. The bill is large enough to enable us to rule out Ring-billed, Common, and Mew, which can appear this faded. The bill also lacks the prominent gonydeal bulge typical of Glaucous-winged. The pale base to the outer web of the outermost rectrice with a dark bar is also a strike against Glaucous-winged, which usually has a solid tail, as is the hint that the eye is turning pale.

So now we're left with just Thayer's and Herring. The bill seems rather large for Thayer's and fine for Herring, as well as the overall stature of the bird. It'd be tough to delineate between Herring smithsonianus and argenteus. The tail does appear rather solid, and the fact that this bird was photographed in California provides yet another clue! But we'll accept "Herring Gull" as a sufficient answer. This bird was photographed June 21, 1995 in Ventura, CA by Don DesJardin, copyright 1995.

I was afraid this one would be too easy, but the astounding array of answers surprised me. It seems these faded spring gulls really fool people or people "overthunk" this one, coming up with some creative options. Nevertheless, as is almost always the case, the correct answer was a vote leader, but was still shy (well shy) of a majority.

Herring Gull 5 (16% correct)
Slaty-backed Gull 5
Glaucous x Herring Gull 5
Glaucous Gull 4
Thayer's Gull 4
Iceland Gull 2
Glaucous-winged Gull 2
Glaucous x Glaucous-winged Gull 2
Yellow-legged (michahellis) Gull 1
Western Gull 1