The Gray Heron: A World-Class Find

There’s a German word, zugunruhe, meaning, literally, “travel urge.” For many birds, it’s more than an urge, it’s an innate compulsion. In the fall young birds are at their most adventurous, so that is when we are most likely to see rare ones.

by: Virginia Andrews

photography by: Skyler Kardell

It was an early Saturday morning, September 5, of last year, when Skyler Kardell saw a bird that was the very definition of rare. Kardell, then 18 years old, and the Tuckernuck Land Trust’s coastal steward, was looking at a gray heron. It was the first one ever seen in the Lower 48.

“It struck me as a miniature great blue heron, until closer inspection in the scope revealed an incredibly pallid and white bird,” he said.

He told National Geographic that he had only seen a gray heron in a book, but this particular bird seemed to have a shorter neck, legs and bill than the commonly-seen great blue heron.

The moment was interrupted by one of his more mundane responsibilities as a coastal steward, a request to look for a missing pool noodle. Kardell interrupted what was the find of his young life to deal with that request, before turning back to find the bird just taking off.

“I quickly got flight shots, and that concluded my brief encounter with the bird,” he said. “Later, once I got back to the field station, I was able to upload the pictures to my computer and realized then that there was a very good chance that my bird had been a gray heron.”

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