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Update: March 29, 2000: three head-shots of vegae for comparison - plus a link to more vegae photos (bottom of page).
Update: March 12, 2000: new photo added at bottom of page.
Update: March 8, 2000: added new links to pics of vegae on the Internet, plus added a new scan that shows the orbital ring color (bottom of page).
This bird showing the characteristics of Vega Gull Larus (argentatus) vegae was photographed at Corpus Christi Landfill on March 6, 2000 by Willie Sekula and Martin Reid. Willie had originally seen it on Feb. 26 and suspected vegae, but did not see the open wing and only obtained poor standing photos. It was fairly easy to find in the standing flock, as the mantle was obviously darker than smithsonianus HEGU and Ring-billed Gull:

- in the field we estimated that the mantle was half-a-shade lighter than LAGU and one shade darker than smith./RBGU; at one point it was with smiths and about 8 ft. from an adult California Gull (CAGU); it was half-a-shade darker than the CAGU (i.e. the CAGU was darker than the smiths but paler than this bird), but this particular CAGU was large and very pale, and we suspect it was albertaensis - certainly it was paler than most CAGUs we see in Texas. We felt that the vegae-like bird was very close to the shade of a californicus CAGU.

- The upperparts were a mixture of worn and fresh feathers (with more worn than fresh); the legs were a rich pink; most smiths had paler fleshy-pink legs, but a couple probably matched the intensity of this bird (the one SBGU we had in Texas had similarly rich pink legs, and again there were a couple of smiths that matched it). The eye was described by all as "medium", i.e. clearly darker than normal smith, but not truly dark - more of an amber tone. the orbital ring was seen via telescope at very close range to be dark reddish-orange. The bill was longish but rather thick, with a small gonydal angle; it was mid-yellow with the culmen slightly richer-yellow and a small, clean orangy-red gonydal spot. The streaking on the lower nape had a warm brown tone to it - warmer than on any smith seen that day (c. 100 adult birds). On the folded wings, the tail almost reached the tip of P7; P5 had a narrow but even black band, and on both wings P4 had a tiny "nick" of black on the outer edge.

- in flight the most striking feature was the clear "string of pearls" effect created by large white spots/bands between the gray basal part and black subterminal band on P5-8, plus the mirrors on P9 and P10; this was obvious even from below. Also note the band of medium gray on the underwing, due to the darkness of the gray upperparts. We saw an adult LBBG ( a typical Texas bird that was half-a-shade darker than LAGUs) that day in the same conditions, and the vegae-like bird was clearly paler on the underwing than the LBBG but darker than on any smiths seen in flight.

- there is evidence that P6 has some abrasion half-way along the inner web.

- the white trailing edge of the secondaries was very thick; about 3/4 the length of the bill and thicker than on a few sample smiths we studied in flight.

- in the above image P9 is displaced and is the uppermost primary (with P10 below it); note how the mirror of P9 does not reach the outer edge of the feather, and that the long gray tongue of P9 ends with a thin whitish "mini-pearl".

- on the underside P10 has a gray tongue of c. one-third its visible length (beyond the coverts) and P9 has a gray tongue of more than two-thirds the visible length.

- even at marginal angles, the "string of pearls" was very evident.
Images of vegae are hard to locate: in Grant's GULLS book, look at page 264, plates 256 and 257; In the Large Gulls Video, vegae is shown externsively in the section on Slaty-backed Gull; on the internet look at an adult in my pages, adults at Angus Wilson's site, Peter Post's pics at Bob Lewis' site, Allen Chartier's adult-basic pic at Bob Lewis' site, and the Vega Gull entry at Steve Hampton's site (where the range map shows how vegae regularly winters at the equivalent latitude of south Texas). In the referenced images there is some evidence that vegae is either a late-molter or suspends its molt during migration (as done by other high-latitude-breeding, long-distance large gulls); This Texas bird seems to have visibly fresher outer primaries than inner ones, suggesting a suspended molt(?)
The observers ( Sekula, Reid, John and Barbara Ribble) feel that this individual shows a full suite of vegae features without any contradictory points, BUT our knowledge of this form is very limited, so we invite comment from anyone with experience of vegae (as always, I will assume your comments can be shared on the internet unless you indicate otherwise).

- as shown here, the orbital ring was very dark, thus its true color is hard to discern; it was not pure red, and was not pure orange - but somewhere in-between (a bit closer to orange than to red, though, I feel).

Update: March 29, 2000: One or two people who have seen numbers of vegae in Alaska in the Summer/Fall have remarked that the head shape of the Texas bird was not typical of birds seen in Alaska. I wonder if something about the winter head-streaking imparts a slightly different jizz to the head shape; here are some Alaska vegaes (courtesy of Don Cunningham) with a similar head shape, for comparison; eight full-profile images of Alaskan vegae by Don are now available at my Vega Gull Section: