Oystercatcher Diaries 2018: Field Week 11

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By Susan Heath

On Wednesday, I was joined by John Wright and Tom Zaal for the West Galveston Bay survey. Alan is in Belize (poor guy!) so John volunteered to take over as boat tender. These guys are invaluable to me! The water was so calm I couldn’t believe it. That never happens.

photo by Susan Heath

We headed up to Swan Lake to get it done since it was so calm. You never know when the wind is going to pick up again! One of 20 & unbanded was sleeping on the reef and we didn’t see the other one nor did we see a bird on the nest. I went up to check if the eggs were still there (they weren’t) and suddenly the other bird flew in from somewhere and landed on the reef. This exact same thing happened last week and I suspect it might have been hiding somewhere with chicks. We will keep watching. LR & unbanded were guarding a new one egg nest. In Swan Lake proper we discovered that K7 & unbanded have a new nest so clearly the last one failed and they were off licking their wounds the last two weeks. The new nest is in a completely different area from where they’ve ever nested before so I suspect they are trying to get away from the white pelican hoards that like to roost in their territory. Sadly R5 & X3’s nest had failed and the other pairs there had no nests so we headed back down to West Galveston Bay.

On Struve Luci we got several surprises. First we went to check the chick we banded last week (U0U) and found it was not with its parents (HM & X7). That is a bad sign! The parents came flying out to “greet” us and the chick wasn’t flying with them. We looked around but didn’t see it anywhere. I decided to check out the other pairs and then come back. Nothing was happening with the three middle pairs but when we got to the pair at the other end we discovered one of them out on a reef with an unbanded chick! I had had my suspicions about whether their nest failed or not but I hadn’t been able to figure anything out because the Black Skimmers have arrived which means no more going on that part of the island. Since they were out on a reef and far from the skimmers I made an attempt to catch the chick but it could already fly. Way to go L8 & L9!

photo by Susan Heath

We returned to other end of the island and I discovered that U0U was on a rock wall that juts out from Galveston Island. Phew. I was afraid something had happened to the little guy. Interestingly, the adults were not with it until we discovered where it was and then one of them flew over to be with the chick. I think they were staying away from it in hopes we wouldn’t spot it. Given that last time we caught it, I guess they are a little paranoid about our presence. No worries mom and pop. We don’t intend to catch the little guy again!

photo by Susan Heath

On Jigsaw, T5 & T6 have a new nest and LH & WW must have failed because they were out on a reef. The Royal Terns have returned.

photo by Susan Heath

John pointed out that two of them were engaging in courtship behavior so I snapped a few photos. The male is offering the female a fish! Isn’t that sweet?

photo by Susan Heath

On the way to check the Sportsman Road docks I spotted a mylar balloon floating on the water so we made chase and John fished it out with a dip net.

photo by Susan Heath

We found JX on the Sportsman Road docks. We haven’t seen him/her in a while. JX is a 2015 chick from South Deer Island so it wasn’t far from home.

photo by Susan Heath

At Gangs Bayou nothing much was happening but it looked like A4A & unbanded still have a chick so that was good. We checked out Confederate Reef and found the usual cast of characters. On South Deer we passed by LL & unbanded and found them out on a reef feeding with no sign of any chicks. Did their nest really fail? They had two chicks a couple weeks ago. I wasn’t ready to give up on them just yet but we headed over to KK & unbanded to give it one more shot at finding their chick to band it. John and I actually saw the chick run up and over a shell berm where we lost sight of it. We searched and searched but couldn’t find it again. I give up KK! Your chick will remain anonymous.

We had to pass back by LL & unbanded and this time they were up in the vegetation like they had been when they had chicks. I decided to check things out and when I got close I saw a chick run up into the vegetation. Ah ha! I ran up and grabbed it so we could band it. It was smaller than I expected so I figured there was another bigger chick around. When there are two chicks the one that hatched second is usually smaller than the one that hatched first and only survives if the parents bring back enough food for both chicks. We banded the little guy U3U.

photo by Susan Heath

I was looking to see where the parents where so I could let it go in view of them and saw that the other chick was now out on the reef feeding with them! Wow. If only KK & unbanded would be that lax with their chicks! John and I made chase and after we both got a hefty dose of exercise, we caught it and banded it U4W. This is why I like to bring young people along when we are banding chicks!

photo by Susan Heath

We let them go together and they toddled off into the vegetation where the parents would find them soon enough. We discovered that 13 & unbanded do indeed have a new nest. We haven’t been able to get into where they are for the last couple trips because of the north wind. Next on the agenda was to catch JN & UW’s chick and band it. As we motored nonchalantly by their territory one of them flew in with food and I saw only one chick run out of the vegetation to get fed. Fortunately it was easy to find and we banded it W2X.

photo by John Wright

HL & L4 were acting like their nest had hatched so we didn’t go up to see if there were still eggs. I didn’t want to risk disturbing a young chick. We headed over to North Deer and found that the unbanded pair’s nest had hatched and one of them was brooding the chicks.

photo by Susan Heath

We couldn’t tell how many chicks there were so we’ll just have to keep watching them. I managed to spot one chick hiding in the vegetation behind JR & JH though. Alan’s fantastic photographic skills were much needed here! On Marker 52 we discovered that instead of their nest failing, 23 & WY have a chick. Excellent news!

We motored down the GIWW to the Harbor Walk Island and found that ET & unbanded have a new nest. It’s up high so hopefully it won’t get overwashed by a barge wake. In Jones Bay Y2 was sleeping near the water’s edge and we didn’t see CA anywhere so their nest either hatched or failed. I’m hoping CA was hiding somewhere with chicks but it doesn’t seem too likely. P3 & unbanded were just hanging out on their island but I’m not convinced they aren’t hiding a chick somewhere. These oystercatchers are SO sneaky!

On Friday, I headed out to East Matagorda Bay with GCBO’s Education Manager Emma Shelly and my old buddy Amanda Hackney of Blackcat GIS. Along the GIWW we saw this beast resting up on a log.

photo by Susan Heath

Farther down we saw this beast too!

photo by Susan Heath

Seems like the raptors were out today. We found YC & unbanded loafing on their island but ER & unbanded had a new three egg nest and one of them was incubating. Yeah! KN & unbanded were acting like they had a nest (they always do!) but we didn’t find any eggs (again!). On the way to Dressing Point we found that LF & unbanded also had a new three egg nest. It might make it if we don’t have any high tides for a while. M4 & EF had returned to the Dressing Point reefs so I guess they are still considering their choices for where to nest again. Dressing Point was hopping with nesting herons, egrets, and terns.

Over at the Oyster Farm KT & unbanded completed the new nest hat trick for the day with a new three egg nest. KM & unbanded were still incubating their nest on the other island there. We went in search of a pair that is at the other end of the bay. They are far from the rest of the crew so I don’t check on them very much. We didn’t find them anyway so we headed back to Old Gulf Cut. 25 & unbanded were still incubating their nest too. Our final task for the day was to check on 17 & unbanded and see if we could catch their chick to band it. When we approached both adults were standing near a nesting island sign and the chick was laying down between them. We approached and Emma and I jumped off the boat with the dip nets to make chase. The chick took a few steps and then flew down to other end of the island with the adults. Dang! I waited too long to band that one. It will have to remain anonymous. I was able to snap a few photos of it before we departed for the boat ramp.

photo by Susan Heath

photo by Susan Heath

Current Stats for upper Texas coast from Dickinson Bay to East Matagorda Bay: 11 nests being incubated, 31 failed nests, 8 nests with unfledged chicks, 3 nests with undetermined status, 2 chicks fledged

This project is supported by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and several private donors. If you would like to contribute you can call our office for information on how to do so (979-480-0999). All donations are tax deductible and GREATLY appreciated.

Note: All trapping and banding for this project is in accordance with federal and state permits issued to Susan Heath, GCBO Director of Conservation Research. Bird handling by volunteers is only permitted in the presence of Susan Heath and volunteers are trained in proper bird handli

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