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first cycle Herring Gull smithsonianus
November, 1998. Davis, California. Photo by Mike Rogers. This is a typical early season bird. Note the patterning on the scapulars, coverts, and tertials. They have rather dark brown centers with well-defined notches and spots, producing a checkered look. The scapular pattern is the classic "holly-leaf" pattern of juveniles. On most birds, the upper portions of the outer greater coverts are more solid dark (forming a dark wedge), while the lower portions and the inner greater coverts are extensively spotted. Some birds are entirely boldly checkered, much like argenteus. The notching on the tertials is usually limited to just the tips, only rarely completely down the sides of the feathers. These tips wear down later in winter, causing the pattern to be lost. The primaries are nearly black, but show fresh edges here in this November photo.

November, 1998. Davis, California. Photo by Mike Rogers. Note how the outer greater coverts are largely solid dark, except for their tips. Some birds have more checkered greater coverts. November 16, 2012. Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, California. Photo by Steve Hampton. This bird has largely replaced its juvenile scapulars and back with first basic feathers that contain bits of pale, brown, and icy blue, imparting a frostier look.

November 18, 2013. Davis, California. Photos by Steve Hampton. All three of these birds were photographed on the same day, illustrating the extremes in the appearance of the scapulars.

December 1, 2012. Davis, California. Photos by Steve Hampton. All four of these photos were taken on the same day, illustrating the range of appearances. The darker birds are still in juvenile plumage. Only the lower right bird has molted to frostier scapulars, imparting a much paler look.

December 17, 2011. Davis, California. Photo by Steve Hampton. This bird's new scapulars and back have less icy blue, being more brown and pale. Note this bird has entirely checkered greater coverts and lacks the dark wedge.

December 18, 1998. Santa Barbara, California. Photo by Don DesJardin. This bird still retains quite a few brown holly leaf juvenile scapulars, even in mid-December. Note the dark wedge of solid greater coverts just above the leg. Note also the pale markings on the outermost web of the outermost retrice.

Late January, 2000, McGrath Beach, California. Photos by Don DesJardin. Molted scaps and faded juvenile coverts impart a frosty look to this bird. In flight, the pale window on the inner primaries is a classic Herring trait. Note also how worn and pointed the primaries are. One careful observer pointed out the darker "wear shadow" on P9, where the former broader rounded tip of P8 had protected it from fading.

February 1, 2013. Davis, California. Photo by Steve Hampton. From left to right: Thayer's, Herring, Western, and Thayer's-- all typical first cycle birds. The Herring stands out with its off-set whitish head, pink coming in to the bill, dark bar in the greater coverts, and fresh scapulars with icy blue parts and dark anchors.

Here are two birds photographed just two days apart; one is still in juvenile plumage and one has molted its scaps, back, and head. Otherwise, they are fairly similar.

February 4, 2013. Davis, California. Photo by Steve Hampton. The dark holly-leaf pattern in the scaps impart an overall dark look to this bird. By February, it's getting harder to hard to find them still in juvenile plumage like this one.

February 2, 2013. Davis, California. Photo by Steve Hampton. The fresh icy blue scaps with dark anchors impart a much frostier look, at least to the back.

February 16, 2013. Petaluma, California. Photos by Steve Hampton. These birds were all photographed on the same day and illustrate the range of appearances and molt timing.

This bird is still in juvenile plumage. The bird in the background (with the deformed beak) is advanced in back, scapular, head, and body molt , appearing much paler.

This bird is half and half-- showing some dark holly leaf scaps, as well as fresh ones with icy blue tones and dark markings.

This bird is more advanced, with a contrasting white head and molted back and scaps.

February 27, 2011. Davis, California. Photo by Steve Hampton. A typical bird later in the winter. Note some adult gray coming in on the scapulars. This gray can appear rather dark against the faded brown coverts. This bird still retains pales edges to the folded primaries.

March 3, 2011. Davis, California. Photo by Steve Hampton. Another late season bird with first basic scapulars-- these with quite a bit of pale in them. This bird also has entirely checkered greater coverts, lacking the dark wedge.

March 23, 2011. Clearlake, California. Photos by Steve Hampton.

This photo shows the remarkable variability of this species, especially among first year birds, with different bill colors and covert patterns.

This one shows the white-headedness often associated with first year smithsonianus. The smaller one in front is likely a female. This late in the season, these birds have long-since molted their juvenile scapulars. The retained juvenile coverts are getting worn.

This bird is showing some hints of pale adult gray in the scapulars.

This paler bird shows even more pale gray tones in the scapulars.

This bird has a fresh row of adult gray scapulars that contrast strongly with the worn juvenile coverts. Note the advanced bill with reduced black. Adult smithsonianus behind it.

This bird is even more advanced in its scapular molt, transitioning from first to second year.

See illustrations of first year wing patterns with comparison w/ similar species.