Oystercatcher Diaries 2017: Field Week 14

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By Susan Heath

Once again we had to scrap our trip to East Matagorda Bay because of weather. I sure hope I can get out there next week. On Thursday, I checked out West Galveston Bay and Swan Lake with John Wright, Alan Wilde, and Amanda Hackney. Our goal was to head up to the Swan Lake area and get that done before the winds picked up but the railroad bridge was down and we can’t fit under it with the T-top on John’s boat so we had to stick to West Galveston Bay until 11:00 when they opened it up again. We checked out Jigsaw first and found T5, T6, and their chick U3Y out feeding on a reef.

photo by Alan Wilde

I’ve probably mentioned this several times already but in seven years of watching this pair try diligently to raise a chick, laying three or sometimes four nests a season, this is the first time they’ve succeeded so seeing that chick is extra special to me. Patience pays off T5 & T6! Way to go! There were some bait fishermen on the island keeping the other pairs off their nests. They couldn’t really claim ignorance since they tied their boat up to the sign that says it’s a waterbird nesting island.

photos by Alan Wilde

John had a little chat with them while I’ll made sure the eggs were still in both nests. All was well and the fishermen were happy enough to leave once they understood the issue. Once everyone was gone, both birds went back to their nests. I’m hoping for some late chicks this year!

We headed over to Struve and found that L8 & L9 were up in the vegetation rather than incubating their nest. A good clue they might have a chick or two.

photo by Alan Wilde

K6 & JA were hanging out without their chicks for the first time so I guess they decided it was time to send the chicks out on their own.

photo by Alan Wilde

HM was on the island but his unbanded mate was over on the rock wall that juts out from Galveston Island. We weren’t sure if they had another nest over there or not so I checked on them when we were done on the boat. The unbanded bird was still hanging out there but not sitting on a nest. She may have been guarding a one egg nest.

photo by Alan Wilde

We headed down to Gangs Bayou and checked the Sportsman docks on the way. LU, one of the last chicks from last year, was hanging out there alone again. He/she is either an outcast or a loner because there is rarely another bird there with him/her. I hope he/she finds some friends!

photo by Alan Wilde

It was my intention to band a chick on Gangs Bayou but when we got there we found the whole family on one of the new sand areas that were created behind the breakwater rather than on the nesting island.

photo by Alan Wilde

It is a short hop across the water from one to the other so we weren’t sure if the chick flew there or perhaps swam there. We decided to see if we could walk over there from Gangs Bayou Island. Sometimes when they are just learning to fly they are hesitant and will run to hide rather than take flight so I thought there might be chance we could still catch it. Nothing ventured, nothing gained! Well I’ve got a big oyster ball gash on my leg to reinforce the fact that that was a bad idea so we walked over to where the nest had been thinking that might upset them. Sure enough, they did not like that at all and the whole family flew off to another of the sand islands. So mystery solved. The chick can fly! No banding that one.

We checked out South Deer and found LL & unbanded’s chick U2Y doing just fine.

photo by Alan Wilde

I wasn’t able to check whether the nanotag was still working because we had taken the last undeployed tag and lashed it to the boat as a test to see if the towers would pick it up. As a result every time I started up the receiver, it picked up the tag on the boat. So that will have to wait until next time. I tried to walk away from the boat with the receiver but that just caused the whole family to fly (great to see that chick in flight!) so that didn’t work out. We continued our trek around South Deer and found that Y7 & unbanded had a new one egg nest.

photo by Alan Wilde

I expected that 13 & unbanded’s nest would have hatched by now but they were still incubating it.

photo by Alan Wilde

We saw a Great Egret getting dive bombed by a Laughing Gull. Presumably the gull was afraid the egret was going to get its chick. It felt a bit like poetic justice since the gulls take so many oystercatcher chicks but everybody has to eat.

photo by Alan Wilde

JN, UW and their chick U3W were hanging out where they always are. That chick can fly well so I expect they will turn up missing one of these days soon.

photo by Alan Wilde

We didn’t see HL & L4 when we approached and I thought they were off feeding somewhere until one of them popped its head up from behind some vegetation. Uh-oh! The jig was up. They had a new nest back there! Silly oystercatchers. They just can’t help giving themselves away.

The railroad bridge was finally up so we headed up to Swan Lake. YK & unbanded were still hanging out on the reef where they’ve been most of the time. When we approached 20 & 21 they looked like this.

photo by Alan Wilde

Nothing going on there right? Wrong! When we got closer both their chicks popped up and ran off behind some vegetation before Alan could snap a photo. Those chicks should be big enough for banding on our next trip out and I’m hoping to put that last nanotag on one of them. Up in Swan Lake proper, there wasn’t much going on. X3 and her chick U2X were on a sand bank across some water from where their nest had been. When we got close, they both flew. Another chick fledged! Woohoo!

photo by Alan Wilde

We found a whole gaggle of oystercatchers on one of the breakwaters including L5 & 39, a pair that nests there, XC, a 2013 chick that doesn’t have a mate yet, and W6 another bird that nests in Swan Lake. This is a sure sign that the hormones are backing off and the nesting season is coming to a close. It is really amusing to me to see these birds who a month before were mortal enemies become buddies again.

photo by Alan Wilde

We found K7 & unbanded and their two chicks who evaded banding on the breakwater too. They really blend in to these rocks. Can you see them?

photo by Alan Wilde

We also found FR (Fred) hanging out up there. Fred has a territory in Jones Bay but his island has mostly washed away. It looks like he might be scouting for a new place.

photo by Alan Wilde

We headed back down to West Galveston Bay to check on North Deer, Marker 52 and Jones Bay. JR & JH have a new nest on North Deer. JJ & P4 were still incubating and trying to keep the pelicans away. Alan had told me that H0 & JC had a new nest but we didn’t see anyone incubating when we passed by. Something had upset 28 & AP and they weren’t on their nest which enabled us to see a small chick there! As we watched one of them ran back and quickly started brooding the chick. I hope it makes it.

photo by Alan Wilde

We found that CA & unbanded were incubating a new nest too.

photo by Alan Wilde

We checked on H0 & JC from the other side of Marker 52 and found that they were incubating a nest. It was down in a dip where we couldn’t see it from the other side. Finally, we checked on P3 & unbanded. Their last nest was on the backside of the island where we can’t go in the boat because there are a lot of reefs. When we approached we saw one of them sneak out from that area so I went to check and found a two egg nest, their fifth of the season! That’s a new record. I’ve not found five nests for a single pair in a season thus far.

photo by Susan Heath

P3 is definitely not a quitter. I sure hope they fledge a chick. I suppose the fact that this pair has fledged three chicks twice in the last seven years helps to bolster their confidence.

So that’s another round of oystercatcher checks. We found seven new nests this week. This late in the season, it is hard to succeed but hopefully a few of them will. This is the last gasp of the season for those pairs that have not succeeded. Next week, we don’t plan to go out to West Galveston Bay because John’s wife Lynn is having hip replacement surgery on Monday. We are wishing you a speedy recovery Lynn!  I am hoping to get out to East Matagorda Bay though so I’ll let you know how that goes.

Current Stats for upper Texas coast from Dickinson Bay to East Matagorda Bay: 11 nests being incubated, 49 failed nests, 3 nests with unfledged chicks, 0 nests with undetermined status, 12 chicks fledged

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