MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - When a Least Bittern, the smallest member of the heron family, landed on the deck of an ocean-going pipe-laying vessel 80 miles from land in the Gulf of Mexico last week, it was too exhausted to fly away. It soon became covered in grease and oil after walking around in the machinery spaces on the ship's deck, making in unlikely it would survive without help.
But thanks to some caring crew members on the "Deep Blue" pipe-laying vessel and a fast-reacting network of dedicated Alabama birders, the bittern -- nicknamed "Geoff" (see photo) by the crew members -- arrived at a rescue center in Mobile on Saturday.
Adam Stone, a member of the Deep Blue crew who lives in Merriot, England, said he isn't an avid birder. But Stone, who grew up in Zimbabwe, Africa, said he developed "a good appreciation for all animals, including birds" from the time he spent in the African bush.
So Stone and several other crew members cleaned the bird as best they could, and using email contacted the Alabama Birding Trails system to get information on how to best care for the bird until the ship reached port in Mobile two days later, and what could be done with the bird once the ship reached port.
Joe Watts of the Birding Trails System, in turn, put Stone in touch with Anne Miller, president of the Alabama Ornithological Society. Miller, who lives in Birmingham, is the former director of the Alabama Wildlife Center, a bird rescue facility in the Birmingham area. She helped provide information to Stone on how to care for the bird and then set out trying to arrange care for "Geoff" once the ship reached port.
Longtime AOS members Joan and Tom Siegwald of Mobile volunteered to meet the Deep Blue at the Technip Berth in Mobile to pick up the Bittern and transfer it to the Environmental Studies Center, an educational facility that also does animal rescue operations in the Mobile area. Even though the center is normally closed on weekends, center staff members agreed to meet the Siegwalds and "Geoff" on Saturday.
Now the bittern's prognosis is good and it is likely it can soon be released into the wild.
Stone, a remote operated vehicle (ROV) pilot on the Deep Blue, praised the response by the Alabama birders.
"It was great to have such a positive and effective response so quickly," he said in an email to those who helped. "You are all a credit to the region."
Stone wrote: "My two daughters are suitably impressed with you all, at the numbers of people involved in the rescue of what some would view as 'just another bird'. If children can be inspired to take an interest in conservation then that is a huge step forward for the world, so thank you to you all for helping me with that."