Oystercatcher Diaries 2018: Field Week 13

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By Susan Heath

On Wednesday I headed out to West Galveston Bay with Alan Wilde, Jo Monday, and Penny Bessire. The wind was pretty low for a change but the tide was super low so that was a challenge. R3 & unbanded, the pair by the boat ramp, weren’t incubating their nest so as we thought last week, it was overwashed. We went up towards to Swan Lake and checked on both pairs along the shoreline on the way. Sadly both their nests had failed. We weren’t able to check this area last week because of the wind so we haven’t been up there in two weeks. In Swan Lake proper K7 & unbanded’s nest had failed too. R5 & X3 had a new scrape prepared but they hadn’t laid any eggs. The best news from up there is that L5 has enticed a young lady to join him and so he is no longer alone! She is unbanded so we don’t know where she came from. Go L5!

photos by Alan Wilde

Back in West Galveston Bay, we checked on Struve Luci first. LT & JA were just hanging out enjoying the low tide. KR & unbanded were doing the same but 12 & unbanded were acting a little squirrely. I watched them and as soon as we were passed them, one of them went up into the vegetation and laid down. Ding, ding, ding. New nest. It’s in a good spot without many gulls so if they don’t get overwashed, they might have a chance.

photo by Alan Wilde

We saw only HM at the eastern end of the island so X7 must have taken their chick U0U off somewhere to feed with the low tide. When we got back to the other end of the island we found L8 & L9 with their chick feeding on a reef along the Galveston shoreline.

photo by Alan Wilde

Over on Jigsaw the skimmers were still present so I guess they’ve decided to nest there this year. The Royal Terns are going strong too. The oystercatchers on the other hand didn’t look like they had anything going on. All three pairs were out on reefs feeding. Sad.

Along the Galveston Island shoreline we found 16 & unbanded still incubating their nest that we found last week. That’s a good thing!

photo by Alan Wilde

I had brought along some scent away spray so that I could spray down with it and go ashore to set up the box to try to trap the unbanded bird if it was incubating. It was so I went for it! I sprayed myself, the box, the fake eggs, and the egg box that we keep the real eggs in so everything would be safe. I set it all up and we backed off to watch. The bird kept walking up to the trap and looking at it but it just wouldn’t go in. At one point both adults took off the chase a Crested Caracara that dared to fly through their airspace. One of the adults actually gave the caracara a physical blow! These oystercatchers are feisty. When they came back the bird still wouldn’t go in the trap so we had to give up. Bummer!

The tide was super low so I wasn’t expecting there to be any birds on the Sportsman Road reefs and indeed there were not. The only thing going on at Gangs Bayou was that A4A & unbanded still have their chick.

photo by Alan Wilde

The other three pairs weren’t doing anything. We found the usual gang on Confederate Reef so we headed over to South Deer. As usual KK & unbanded flew out calling and circling the boat. Their chick was on a reef but when Alan started taking photos of it, it flew off and the adults flew after it calling to it. It occurred to me how hard it must be to keep a young bird in check once it can fly. Such freedom!

photo by Alan Wilde

We found LL & unbanded a little farther down the island than they usually are but both their chicks (U3U & U4W) were with them. That is good news as they can probably fly by now. I suspect that they moved around where they were to get away from the gulls.

photos by Alan Wilde

Y7 was incubating his nest while his unbanded mate foraged nearby. 13 & unbanded were also incubating. When we got to JN & UW’s territory we found only JN there. UW and their chick W2X must have been off feeding somewhere just like X7 & U0U were. The last pair HL & L4 were standing along the shoreline in their usual spot. We’ve been watching them for a couple of weeks because their nest hatched and it appeared they had a chick but we hadn’t seen it. Today we saw it sleeping up near some vegetation. When the adults started calling at our approach the chick scurried up into the vegetation. Great job guys! Keep that little one safe.

photo by Alan Wilde

We checked the North Deer reefs along the GIWW in case UW and W2X were there but we only found XU a young bird that isn’t breeding yet. On North Deer all was well. The unbanded pair still had their chick, A9A & unbanded were still incubating their nest, and JR & JH still had two chicks. Excellent!

photo by Alan Wilde

On Marker 52, JJ & P4 were incubating their single egg nest. We saw 23 & WY a little farther down the island than last time and at first we didn’t see their chick but then I spotted it behind some tree roots. It had a great place to hide from the gulls!

photo by Alan Wilde

Last week we thought H0 & JC had a new nest but they fooled us because they didn’t. This week they did have a new nest though!

photo by Alan Wilde

28 & AP were incubating away so we went down the GIWW to check on ET & A8A. Sadly they weren’t there so their nest must have failed. We looked on the back side of the island too but we didn’t find them anywhere. I’m sure they’ll be back next week. In Jones Bay, we found CA & Y2 incubating a new nest amongst the nesting Caspian Terns. The terns were none too happy about us hanging around so we left quickly. P3 & unbanded were also still incubating under the blooming cactus so all was well there.

photo by Alan Wilde

FR wasn’t anywhere to be found so we headed back to the boat ramp. A great day! All unfledged chicks present and accounted for!

On Friday, I went out to East Matagorda Bay with Amanda Hackney. It was windy again so we had a bumpy ride. We found ER & M4 on an island along the GIWW where we saw them a few weeks ago but this time they had a nest. I guess they decided there are too many birds on Dressing Point and they wanted some peace and quiet.

photo by Susan Heath

Further along YC & unbanded were still guarding their island but hadn’t laid any eggs yet. Slow pokes! I was afraid that all the nests out there had overwashed in the last really high tide but happily we found ER’s unbanded mate incubating their nest. We set up the box to try to trap her but she was wise to our ways and wouldn’t go near the thing so we gave up. Out in the bay we found that KN & unbanded had finally laid a nest with two eggs. Yeah!

We bumped over to Dressing Point and checked on LF & unbanded. If ever there was a nest that was going to overwash this is it but they were still incubating so woohoo! Dressing Point was hopping with nesting birds. Here’s a shot of the small Royal Tern colony there. I guess it was hot – all the birds are panting.

photo by Susan Heath

We headed over to the Oyster Farm and found both pairs there still incubating too. I thought maybe KM’s nest would be hatched but it wasn’t. We tried the box on KT’s unbanded mate but she was also wise to our ways so we headed over to Old Gulf Cut. 25 & unbanded were still incubating their nest too so amazingly no nests overwashed in the past two weeks. That is great news! 17 & unbanded and their chick were hanging out on their island.

photos by Susan Heath

On the way back to the boat ramp, we set up the noose carpets on YC & unbanded. 50 50 shot at getting the unbanded bird. We got lucky and got him! He is now A7A. Amanda was pretty happy to hold an oystercatcher again!

photo by Susan Heath

Current Stats for upper Texas coast from Dickinson Bay to East Matagorda Bay: 17 nests being incubated, 38 failed nests, 5 nests with unfledged chicks, 0 nest with undetermined status, 6 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 handling techniques.

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