Oystercatcher Diaries 2017: Field Week 8

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By Susan Heath

On Thursday I went out to Tres Palacios Bay with Bob and Ruth Fredrichs to band chicks. There were three pairs there with chicks old enough to band and I wanted to check on the nanotags I put out there as well. We headed out from the Palacios boat ramp about 8:00 and went over to the Oyster Lake area of Matagorda Bay. There we found HP & unbanded with their two chicks.

Ruth and I hopped off the boat for the chick chase. One of them layed down and one started running. I ran after the running one and managed to snag it with a dip net just as it jumped into the water. We found the other one laying on the shell doing a pretty good job of hiding. We banded them U1Y and U0X.

photo by Susan Heath

Bob and Ruth let them go and they toddled off to their parents.

photo by Susan Heath

While I set up the receiver to check HP’s nanotag, the whole family wandered back down the island towards us so I guess they weren’t too afraid of us even though we’d kidnapped the kids for a few minutes.

photo by Susan Heath

I wasn’t able to pick up HP’s nanotag with the receiver but we could see the antenna still on him. I guess it stopped working for some reason. Major bummer. While we were there we checked HH & unbanded. They were hiding up in the vegetation so it appears they have some small chicks. We headed back to Tres Palacios Bay and checked on HF & unbanded. They were laying along the shoreline with one chick which was easily caught and banded U0W.

photo by Bob Friedrichs

Then we moved on to HT & unbanded. They had had two chicks when we checked them several weeks ago but Bob had only seen one chick on his last check so we weren’t sure what was what. When we pulled up close though, we saw the adults with two nearly fledged chicks! Woohoo! Ruth and I got off to make chase again. This time I had to run out into the water up to my thighs to snag one with the dip net before it got away. The other one had hidden so we were able to get it easily. We banded these U1U & U3X.

photo by Susan Heath

I checked on HT’s nanotag and it was transmitting just fine which was great news!

We let them go and they ran back to their parents none the worse for the wear. That was all the chicks to band but we checked on the other two pairs in that bay. One of them had a nest which we got the info for and then headed back to the boat ramp. We were back by 11:00 which was great. A short but very productive day.

On Friday, I went out to West Galveston Bay with regulars John Wright and Alan Wilde. We were joined by our Experiences Auction winners, Nannette and Bob Daugherty. They were anxious to see what this oystercatcher stuff is all about! We checked on R3 and unbanded at the Tiki Island boat ramp. Nothing happening there. Then we headed up to Swan Lake. YK the male that was defending the shell pad was up on an oyster reef and he wasn’t alone! There was an unbanded bird with him, presumably a female so maybe something will happen there after all.

Up in Swan Lake, we still couldn’t get a look at K7 & unbanded’s chicks. They are being very sneaky. We found that W6 & N3 had a new nest and so did L5 & 39. R5 & X3 were still incubating so all is well there. On the way out, we checked on 11 & unbanded. They were hanging out on backside of the breakwater near their nesting territory trying to stay out of the wind.

Back down in West Galveston Bay, we checked on the birds on Struve Luci. L8 & L9 have a new nest so my wishful thinking that they had chicks last time was not to be. K6 & JA and their chicks were in their usual spot.

photo by Alan Wilde

Once again we saw 12 & unbanded without their chick so I went on the island to see if I could find out anything. Sure enough I found it dead. What a bummer! It was about to fledge too. Not sure what happened. HM & unbanded were flying around making a ruckous so they don’t have a new nest. I checked on the nanotag we put on the chick and it seemed like maybe it was still on the chick so that would be good. I got to see those chicks fly and that is always a special moment!

Over on Jigsaw it looked like T5 & T6 still had a chick but we didn’t see it. YE & unbanded were out on a reef so their nest must have failed. WW and LH were hanging around where their nest was. I suspect whoever was incubating got up at our approach since we trapped LH on the nest last time. They are a little jumpy about us now! LH’s nanotag is still transmitting so that’s good.

photo by Alan Wilde

Then we checked on 15 & 16 over on Galveston Island. They were not where we expected them to be so I went up and had a look around. I found a piece of egg shell in the nest but I couldn’t tell if it hatched or was predated.

photo by Susan Heath

Two birds flew in from somewhere and we assumed it was them but when Alan looked over his photos he discovered it was 16 and an unbanded bird. Did something happen to 15? Must have. That could be why the nest failed. That’s a big bummer! We found LU on the Sportsman Road docks. LU is one of two chicks from the last 2016 brood to fledge in West Galveston Bay. I wonder where its sibling is?

photo by Alan Wilde

Down on Gangs Bayou Island we found one pair still incubating and the other pair standing along the shoreline. They had a nest last week and we weren’t sure what happened until Alan reviewed his photos. They revealed two chicks!

photo by Alan Wilde

We proceeded to South Deer and decided to set up the box on the unbanded pair’s nest there. I really wanted to get a bird in Nannette and Bob’s hands and I also really wanted to get one of this pair banded since it’s the only pair with both birds unbanded on South Deer.

photo by Alan Wilde

We had to wait a while but it finally went in! It was the male and we banded it LL which to me screams Lyle so that’s what he will be to me from now on. I think Nannette and Bob were pretty happy to hold their first oystercatcher.

photo by Alan Wilde

Most of the other pairs there were still incubating but when we got to JN & UW, they were both standing down near the water and not up on the nest. Hum. We approached slowly and that’s when I saw one JN in this pose.

photo by Alan Wilde

He was brooding a chick! We discovered this for sure when we got too close and he walked up higher on shore.

photo by Alan Wilde

We left quickly so the parents could get back to their duties. HL & L4 were standing down by the water’s edge and no chicks were evident so they must have failed. We headed over to North Deer and Marker 52. JJ & P4 were standing on a shell bank nowhere near where their nest had been and P4 was moving shells around like she was making a new scrape.

photo by Alan Wilde

H0 & JC were still incubating and 28 & AP finally have a nest! This is late for a pair of old timers like them to get getting started. It was about that time that John noticed a big thunderstorm building over by I-45 so we moved quickly to get done. Unfortunately CA & unbanded were standing on the breakwater so their nest on the oystercatcher “condo” that the Master Naturalists built must have failed. We also verified that P3’s nest had indeed failed last time we were out. And then we headed in to avoid the thunderstorm. Alan’s wife Maureen had made some great breads for us to sample on our return and we sat around and talked about birds and turtles for a while. Such fun!

Current Stats for upper Texas coast from Dickinson Bay to East Matagorda Bay: 15 nests being incubated, 23 failed nests, 5 nests with unfledged chicks, 0 nests with undetermined status, 2 chicks fledged

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