Oystercatcher Diaries 2017: Field Week 15

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By Susan Heath

I wasn’t able to make it out to East Matagorda Bay last week due to boat issues and weather. This week because of the impending arrival of Tropical Storm Cindy we had to get out to West Galveston Bay on Monday to band some chicks and the Fish & Wildlife boat was not available on Tuesday so I wasn’t able to get to East Matagorda Bay this week either. Hopefully I’ll get out there next week as it is the last regularly scheduled week of monitoring and I haven’t been out there since May 1. I can’t believe it’s been that long.

On Monday, John Wright, Alan Wilde, and GCBO’s summer intern Julia Moore headed out to West Galveston Bay. I’ve complained endlessly about the wind this season so it was a pleasant surprise to find the bay as calm as a lake!

photo by Susan Heath

I suppose it was truly the calm before the storm! It made for great boating but… There’s always a but right? With no wind, it was really hot! So perhaps a little bit of wind is a good thing. After checking on the pair at the Tiki boat ramp and finding them lounging on a reef, we headed up to Zimmerman Point which is along the shoreline just north of the I-45 bridge. There were two chicks there that needed to be banded. It was a great day for it with no wind. Because of the configuration of the shoreline there, it seems no matter which way the wind is blowing it is always pushing the boat onshore towards the reefs. With little wind today, we didn’t have that problem. When we arrived, we saw only one chick and I was afraid one didn’t make it but as we got closer the second one popped up from the reef and they both headed down the shoreline. Julia and I made chase and after a couple tense moments when it looked like they might both launch themselves into the water, we managed to snag them both.

photo by Alan Wilde

We banded them both and I put the last nanotag on the larger one, though they were very similarly sized which is unusual.

photo by Alan Wilde

Welcome to the tribe U2U and U1W. May you live long, healthy, and productive lives! Great job 20 & 21. The took off like a shot when we released them, heading for cover.

photo by Alan Wilde

From there we checked on the birds in Swan Lake. They were mostly on the breakwaters but we saw two birds that appeared to be R5 & X3 having a territorial dispute with another bird and chasing it off.

photo by Alan Wilde

I was worried that R5 & X3 did not have their chick with them. That whole family has been reported on the Texas City Dike several times the last week which makes me worry because the Texas City Dike is the number one place that oystercatchers get tangled in fishing line. A review of Alan’s photos showed the birds doing the chasing were W6 & X3 though. Ugh. What? W6 is from a neighboring pair so why was it teamed up with X3 chasing off another bird? I can only figure that it was a community thing. The Swan Lake community doesn’t like intruders! The intruder happened to be YK, the young male that has been defending the shell pad that the Master Naturalists built on the breakwater down by Virginia Point. I guess he decided he needs to scout out a better territory, but I don’t think he had much luck! Later we saw him lounging on the breakwater.

photo by Alan Wilde

The good news of that scenario is the X3’s mate R5 was probably off with the chick (U2X) somewhere so I stopped worrying about it! While we were checking the breakwaters for oystercatchers, Alan snapped this awesome photo of a Snowy Egret showing of its golden slippers.

photo by Alan Wilde

We headed back towards West Galveston and checked on U2U and U1W on the way. They were out feeding on a reef with one of their parents as if nothing had ever happened so all was well there. In West Galveston Bay we went to Struve Luci first. L8 & L9 were out on a reef so I guess their nest failed after all. There was an unbanded bird hanging out on the rock wall again where HM & unbanded have tried to nest a couple of times. It was there last week too but we didn’t find a nest. On the island proper though, HM was hanging out with X7, a bird from up near Swan Lake. So what’s up with that? Has the unbanded bird ditched HM? Only time will tell. K6 was there with U4X and I was able to pick up a signal from the nanotag. I’m really happy about that because I put that one on three months ago and it is still hanging in there.

Over on Jigsaw, T5, T6, and U3Y were out feeding on a reef. I guess I’ll stop mooning over that chick now. At least out loud anyway! But here’s another photo in case you missed all the others!

photo by Alan Wilde

There were tons of Brown Pelicans there which doesn’t bode well for oystercatcher nests.

photo by Alan Wilde

Sure enough the other two pairs that had nests there appeared to have failed because they were all out on reefs feeding with no chicks. Bummer. I was also not able to pick up a signal from LH’s nanotag. Bummer again.

photo by Alan Wilde

That’s the second adult tag that has failed within a few months of deployment. Another researcher had similar problems and she suspected the birds were preening the antenna as if it were a feather and eventually pulling it lose enough that it caused transmission failure. I could see the antenna so I know the nanotag is still on the bird. Sadly it is not transmitting any data though.

There weren’t any birds on the Sportsmans Docks so I guess LU found some friends. We headed to South Deer and found LL, unbanded and their chick U2Y right where they were supposed to be. We had to make a couple of passes and get really close but I was able to pick up the signal from U2Y’s nanotag.

photo by Alan Wilde

So far none of the chick tags have failed which is good. That’s the most important data anyway! KK wasn’t on his territory so I couldn’t check his nanotag. It looked like either Y7 or his unbanded mate was standing over their eggs shading them (did I mention it was hot!).

photo by Alan Wilde

When we approached 13 & unbanded’s territory I saw one of them out on a reef feeding. We tried to watch and see if it would fly back with food but it saw us and the jig was up. It flew back to the island giving us no information whatsoever. When we got around to where we could see, they were both standing very near a downed piece of dead tree and I saw one of them chase away a gull so they probably have a chick hidden there. Let’s hope so!

photo by Alan Wilde

HL & L4 were standing on the island edge when we got around to their territory so their nest must have failed. We found JN, UW, and their chick U3W out on a reef feeding and I was able to verify that U3W’s nanotag is still transmitting.

photo by Alan Wilde

With them was XU a 2014 chick from West Galveston Bay. We haven’t seen much of this one so maybe it is hunting around for a territory or mate for next year.

photo by Alan Wilde

Over by North Deer and Marker 52, we discovered most of the nests we found last time had failed but JR & JH were still incubating theirs. 28 & AP were feeding along the island edge with one chick toddling along behind them. Great news! I hope they can pull it off as there are a lot of gulls there.

photo by Alan Wilde

Unfortunately in Jones Bay, CA & unbanded and P3 & unbanded’s nests had both failed too so there wasn’t much to look at there. That was the day.

On Tuesday and Wednesday I watched online as the tide gauge at the Galveston Bay Railroad bridge went up and up and up. I think it peaked out at about 3.6 feet above mean low tide which was about 2.5 feet above expected tide. That doesn’t bode well for oystercatcher nests and unfledged chicks. I sure hope all of ours made it through the storm. We will find out next week when we go out to check on them.

Current Stats for upper Texas coast from Dickinson Bay to East Matagorda Bay: 2 nests being incubated, 59 failed nests, 2 nests with unfledged chicks, 0 nests with undetermined status, 12 chicks fledged

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