Saturday night I got a call from Gerald Hann of Little Hearts Ease, Trinity Bay (west side) about a bird strange for his area that he identified as a Great Blue Heron. Within microseconds I processed the news of a GBHE in eastern Newfoundland, in early March after an extended period of far reaching East and Northeast as highly interesting with distinct possibility of Gray Heron. Not wanting to blow the report out of proportion I posted the sighting on nf.birds as it was reported to me but to others who I knew would drive at the drop of a hat anywhere in Newfoundland for a Gray Heron I emailed a special Stand By email. Ken Knowles, John Wells and I were jumping on this right away.
Early Sunday we drove the 190 km to Little Hearts Ease. We easily found the estuary. It was half iced over. Surprisingly there were a few Canada Geese there. Not so surprising was 20 Black Ducks but it at least showed some richness to the somewhat poor looking piece of icy habitat. Within 30 seconds JW spotted the heron resting out on the flats.The dull colours showed it was in immature plumage. We were expecting an adult in spring.
What could we do with a blob of a heron. We needed to see the colour of the thighs to clinch the ID. Such is difficult enough to be sure of seeing on a Great Blue Heron when active but impossible on a sleeping bird. It flew once, possibly because of our presence though we were far enough away to need scopes for good looks. Once again it flew. In the first 15 minutes of seeing the bird we had absolutely nothing to go on for ID.
It sat for eternity mostly obscured on the shoreline beneath a steeply forested hillside. (It was everything we could do to stop KK from rolling boulders down the hill to dislodge the heron.) Finally a passing Bald Eagle did the trick. The heron flew out onto the ice. For the next 15 minutes or so we had the bird in the open in the ice being a little bit active and even catching a fish. We could not see the thigh colour but photos did capture it when landing. Viewing the LCD screen on the back of the camera we saw what we wanted to see -white. Or was that creamy white. What ever it was it was not rufous of the GBHE. There was a slight concern that in some shaded photos the thighs looked yellowish. After looking at the pictures on computer at home the impression of yellow wash on thighs was not a concern.
Other features noted in the field and/or at home was the white leading edge to the wing in flight. There was a small rusty area combined with a white patch at the wrist area which is OK for Gray Heron. There was no other rust in the plumage. The dark cap yes seemed fairly grayish and not blackish like supposed to be in GBHE but living in a basically GBHE-free environment we do not get to know them well enough to judge that detail in the field. The dark markings on the front of the neck were sharply defined like black staples all the way down the neck. I've always noted this about Gray Herons I've seen in Europe and in photographs. The leg projection beyond the tail seemed relatively short for a GBHE but found myself wishing I'd seen some GBHE recently to appreciate this feature better.
The photos tell all even though fairly long distant crops in dull light,. Below is a selection. At least ten other birders drove to Little Hearts Ease and saw the heron in the afternoon. This is a good thing as it was looking a little weak toward the end of the day. It doesn't put much effort into trying to feed itself.
This was the second record for Newfoundland and Labrador. The first was 11 October 1996 found aliveat Lears Cove near Cape St. Mary's but died and specimen preserved. Other North America records include two from Alaska and one from Florida. There are also a number of records for the eastern Caribbean Island and Greenland.