Oystercatcher Diaries 2017: Field Week 9

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By Susan Heath

I was unable to monitor any oystercatchers last week due to illness. Fortunately this week John and Alan were on the ball and alerted me that Monday was the only viable boat day for West Galveston Bay so we changed our field day from Wednesday to Monday. Stennie Meadours, one of the steadfast volunteers that monitors birds at the Texas City Prairie Preserve, and her brother Stan Stirling joined us. I was grateful it was a very calm day on the bay because I was still a little unsteady on my feet.

We made our usual rounds to check on everyone. For the first time since we began monitoring, YK was not hanging out by the shell pad on the breakwater. It appears he may have abandoned that spot but we’ll check again next week. Up in Swan Lake we tried in vain to find K7 & unbanded’s chick to band it but it was not to be.

photo by Alan Wilde

When we were leaving I saw the female sneak up into the vegetation near where a bunch of terns are nesting. I think perhaps their nest failed after all and they have a new one. We’ll see next time. R5 & X3’s nest hatched and we found two small chicks nearby.

photos by Alan Wilde

The other pairs up there were still incubating. Here’s a photo of W6 doing his duty.

photo by Alan Wilde

We headed back down to West Galveston Bay. All was well on Struve Luci. L8 & L9 were still incubating their nest and K6 & JA and their fully fledged chicks U0Y & U4X we foraging along the shoreline. U4X’s nanotag is still transmitting so hopefully we’ll get some good data once the chick starts to move around.

photo by Alan Wilde

Over on Jigsaw we saw one of T5 & T6 out on a reef and the other one standing by the spartina. We watched as the reef one, flew over with food and a large chick came running out of the spartina to grab it. Yeah! This pair’s territory is full of Laughing Gulls and in six years I’ve never seen them fledge a chick. Maybe this year it will happen. The pair at the other end of that island, LH & WW nest had hatched and they appeared to have chicks but we didn’t see them. WW had food in her mouth but promptly dropped it when she saw us. Sneaky oystercatchers!

photo by Alan Wilde

We went back around to where T5 & T6 were because I decided we’d better band their chick. By our next trip it will be on the verge of flying and if we got delayed a few days due to weather, we wouldn’t be able to catch it. It was laying next the spartina and when I approached it just walked up into the spartina and layed down. Good chick! I was glad I didn’t have to make a chase. We banded it U3Y.

photo by Alan Wilde

The adults had flown out to a reef while we had the chick so I walked it over where they would be able to see it when I let it go. It took off like a shot running for them.

photo by Alan Wilde

On the way down to Gangs Bayou we spotted this handsome loon who hasn’t departed for the north yet. You don’t get to see them looking like that in Texas much.

photo by Alan Wilde

Down at Gangs Bayou island, the unbanded pair was feeding two chicks so they are doing well.

photo by Alan Wilde

On South Deer we found that KK & unbanded have a new nest and LL & unbanded’s nest had hatched and they were feeding one chick. I sure hope all these chicks make it! It will be a banner year if they do. I’m not sure what’s happening with Y7 & unbanded. They weren’t incubating their nest anymore and both appeared to be out on reefs so perhaps their nest failed. We also didn’t see 13 & unbanded on their nest but as we were passing by one of them flew directly to the nest location and landed behind a shrub. At the time I assumed it was going to incubate but in retrospect the nest could have hatched and it could have been bringing food. We’ll have to keep an eye on them because there is a lot of vegetation there and it’s hard to see. Down island from them we found JN & UW with one chick and possibly two. They ran into the vegetation before we could get a good look. Smart birds! Stay safe little ones.

photo by Alan Wilde

Last time we had thought HL & L4’s nest had failed but this time they were acting very aggressive and chasing away Laughing Gulls so perhaps we were too hasty in our judgement that the nest failed. Another pair to keep an eye on.

Over on North Deer we found both pairs absent. One of the birds that we thought was nesting on North Deer (we verified the band code in early March) was seen on Evia Island which is on the bay side of the Bolivar Peninsula with another adult and a chick. I am not sure what’s happening with that but stay tuned. Alan is going on a fact finding mission! On Marker 52 we found that JJ & P4 have a new nest. This one is away from all the pelicans so maybe they will be successful. They have a lot of Laughing Gulls to contend with there but at least a pelican won’t step on the eggs.

photo by Alan Wilde

H0 & JC were standing guard near where their nest had been so we assumed they now have chicks. Lots of gulls there too so we left them alone.

photo by Alan Wilde

Not much was happening in Jones Bay except we found that P3 & unbanded have a new nest. Woohoo! This is the third try for them this year and they are usually very successful so I hope they have better luck with this one than the last two. It is in a good spot. Up higher than the others so it probably won’t get overwashed.

Current Stats for upper Texas coast from Dickinson Bay to East Matagorda Bay: 10 nests being incubated, 24 failed nests, 10 nests with unfledged chicks, 2 nests with undetermined status, 4 chicks fledged

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