Tile fish may have been their quarry, but Frank Green and his crew of commercial fishermen returned from a January trip with a rare find of a different variety.
"This is a weird-looking bird" is what Green, a boat owner/operator, recalled thinking after his crew rescued a tropical marsh bird last month from the waters off Nantucket, Mass.
The purple gallinule, associated with areas farther south, was spotted flapping in the water, and when an orange fishing basket was lowered to save it, the bird got right in, said Green, who realized the creature was "definitely in the wrong place."
Over the years, he and the crew of the Bookie, a 67-foot longliner, have aided plenty of wayward birds, such as hawks, owls and finches, which refuse food and water and don't survive a long trip, said Green, 54, of Oakdale.
In this case, the crew was heading back home two days later, at which point the purple gallinule, likely thirsty and hungry, was handed over to the Wildlife Rescue Center in Hampton Bays, where it's been nurtured back to health, said Virginia Frati, executive director. Green said the bird, which appeared to be exhausted, made itself at home on the boat, settling atop the pilot house's autopilot box, on which it swayed along with the rolling waves. At the time of the bird's rescue, the sea, perhaps 52 degrees, was choppy, with 30-mph winds, Green said.
When the boat docked near the Shinnecock Inlet, Green's daughter, who regularly helps the crew pack the fish, made calls to find help for the bird, said Green, who ended up putting it in a cardboard box and driving it to the wildlife center.
As for rescued birds, this is "definitely the most unusual one we ever had," Frati said, not only for being off its turf, but also for being found at sea -- about 75 miles south of Nantucket. A non-seafaring creature, Frati said, it has no natural waterproofing.
When it arrived Jan. 17, it was "dehydrated and somewhat thin," she said. The creature now "is doing very, very well," having gained 24 grams on a diet of live crickets, meal worms, seeds and bits of fruit, Frati said. Plans are afoot to coordinate with a wildlife center in Florida for its return to warmer climes.
The bird appears to be at least a year and a half old, she said.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's website, the purple gallinule's normal habitat is the southernmost United States, Central and South America. But it "regularly turns up in northern states and southern Canada," the site says.
Frati said she could offer no explanation for the bird's presence at sea, other than it possibly being blown along by a storm system.
Green thinks it may have hitched a ride with a northbound tanker or freighter. Whatever the circumstances, he said, "it's one lucky bird."