News of a heron at Bonavista broke when photos appeared on social media on 6 May 2016. The distant photos appeared to show a Gray Heron. The next day Ken Knowles, Alvan Buckley, Paul Linegar and others saw the bird and confirmed the identification as a GRAY HERON. This was the third record of Gray Heron for Newfoundland. The previous two records being:
1) a bird found moribund at Lears Cove, near Cape St. Mary's on 11 Oct 1996. The bird died in captivity and was later identified as a Gray Heron. Specimen at Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador.
2) a bird at Little Hearts Ease, Bonavista Bay 10 March to 12 June 2013. The bird had possibly been present since January 2013. It was photographed and viewed by many people.
The Bonavista Gray Heron 6-7 May 2016 vanished without a trace but what is believed to be the same bird based on plumage details and logistics appeared at Comfort Cove, Notre Dame Bay about 170 km to the WNW on 16 May. News of the bird reached the birding world on 19 May when Kelly Adams posted a photo of the bird on social media.
On 20 May yours truly drove to Comfort Cove to see the Gray Heron. It was easy to find staying on a rock among a couple hundred loafing Ring-billed and Herring Gulls. I spent 2.5 hours watching the bird. It was always at least 100 m away. Heat haze over the cool water created by the unseasonably warm sunny weather (+20C) created difficult conditions for photography. Sharp photos were not possible but the many photos confirm the identity of the bird.
The bird was thought to be a bird sub-adult because of dull markings about the head including lack of plumes and the buffy tinged greater upper wing coverts. The white thighs are the classic mark of Gray Heron. Also important are the white shoulder patch, white alula and white primary coverts. Great Blue Heron is usually rufous in these areas. The legs being shorter on a Gray Heron extend less beyond the tail when viewed in flight, with the length of foot being similar to the length of exposed leg beyond the tail. On Gray Heron the black stripes of neck contrast more sharply with pale gray neck than on Great Blue Heron with slightly duller black marks contrasting less with a pinkish/brown washed neck.
The following photos of the Gray Heron at Comfort Cove on 20 May 2016 show some of these features.
There is not much remarkable in this photograph that would alert someone this could be a Gray Heron. The white shoulder patch and perhaps impression pale gray neck and shorter legs are clues.
A stretched wing shows a white alula and greater primary coverts where a Great Blue Heron should be rufous. The buffy greater secondary coverts is a sign of sub-adult age.
Seeing those white thighs is as good as being home free but sub-adult Great Blue Herons can have a very very pale cinnamon wash on thighs which could be interpreted as white with a brief view. Often herons will not give a satisfactory view of thighs for hours.
White marks on leading edge of wing.
Length of feet similar to length of bare legs, legs longer in proportion to feet in GBHE. Gray Heron said to have less bulging fold in neck in flight than GBHE.