Oystercatcher Diaries 2018: Field Week 14

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By Susan Heath

On Wednesday I was joined by Alan Wilde, Maureen Nolan-Wilde (Alan’s wife, big GCBO supporter, and turtle expert) and Steve Alexander (Texas A&M Galveston for the West Galveston Bay survey. We had three sets of chicks to band and I wanted to get that out of the way in the morning so I didn’t have to worry about it all day so instead of going to Swan Lake first, we did the route the other way around and started in Jones Bay. FR was not present on his ever shrinking island but we found LU there feasting away on oysters. LU was banded as a chick in July 2017 on Jigsaw Island in West Galveston Bay so he/she isn’t far from home. Next year he/she will be old enough to breed so we’ll have to see if he/she was just passing through or is there to stay.

photo by Alan Wilde

P3 & unbanded and CA & Y2 were still incubating their nests so all was well there. The Caspian Terns on CA & Y2’s island have chicks which need to be feed but I think this adult might be a little too ambitious with its offering.

photo by Alan Wilde

We found ET & A8A on a reef along the GIWW so they haven’t decided to renest yet.

We headed up to Marker 52 and found 28 & AP incubating but H0 & JC’s nest had apparently failed as they were in another part of their territory. Bummer! Next came 23 & WY, one of the pairs whose chick we needed to band. We have observed this particular chick running to an excellent hiding place amongst some roots along the shoreline so I was pretty sure it would just head there and we’d be able to get it without much fanfare. Fortunately that is exactly what happened! We banded it W0Y.

photo by Alan Wilde

It was a little smaller than I expected so I guess I miscalculated when it was hatched. Still plenty big enough to be banded and hopefully W0Y will be flying around by next week. We moved on to find JJ & P4 standing on another part of their territory from where their nest had been so theirs must have failed too. One little oystercatcher egg is just no match for all those pelicans. Then it was on to JR & JH’s chicks. They needed to be banded and I was hoping they would continue hiding in the spartina patch where they’ve been over the last few weeks so we could easily get them. With two chicks you just never know what’s going to happen. One of them ran up over the shell berm but quickly laid down so I was able to get it easily. The other one ran down the beach with Alan and Maureen in hot pursuit. Alan was able to grab it so all was well. We banded them W1W and W3X.

photo by Alan Wilde

They were about the same size which means JR & JH have been doing a great job of feeding them. They were on the verge of fledging so I’m sure they will be able to fly next week. We moved on to the backside of North Deer and found the unbanded pair and their chick doing fine.

photo by Alan Wilde

A9A & unbanded were still incubating their nest. We headed over to South Deer and found HL & L4 and their chick hanging out in a different spot.

photo by Alan Wilde

We’ll band that one next week. JN & UW and their chick W2X were not on their territory so they must have taken the chick off to feed somewhere. 13 & unbanded were still incubating their nest but I expect it will be hatched next week. We motored around to check on Y7 & unbanded. I was hoping the unbanded bird would be incubating so we could try to trap it but both birds were up by the nest and we couldn’t tell which one was on it because they walked down from the nest together. There was a fisherman in a kayak near there too and I didn’t want to keep disturbing him so we decided to come back. Only LL was present in the next territory so his unbanded mate must have taken their chicks U3U and U4W off somewhere to feed. KK & unbanded came flying out to greet us like they always do but their chick wasn’t flying with them. We saw it standing along the shoreline near where the nest had been. I guess it is still a little timid about using those wings!

photo by Alan Wilde

From there we went to check Confederate Reef. We found six oystercatchers, four of which were banded. It was the usual cast of characters with E7, U2W, U3Y, and U1Y. The two unbanded birds were chicks from last year. Wonder where they came from?

photo by Alan Wilde

We went back to check on Y7 but sadly he was on the nest so we had to give up on trying to trap his mate. We headed over to Gangs Bayou and found the first pair (unbanded) on the breakwater. A1A & unbanded had a new nest and A5A & unbanded were also on the breakwater. A4A & unbanded were up in the vegetation but we couldn’t see their chick. This was the last chick of the day to band but the only place where we had any hope of getting some eyes on the chick was from the other side of the breakwater. This required some strategy on our part but we needn’t have bothered. The oystercatchers were on to us from the get go and I ended up having to go in blind not knowing where the chick was and just looking for it. Fortunately I found it. It was a lot smaller than I expected for its age so I thought there was probably another one that was bigger even though we’ve only seen one. I took the one I had back to the boat and Steve and I banded it W2W while Alan and Maureen went to see look for another chick. They couldn’t find one so I took W2W back around and let it go where the adults could see it. It ran off down the water’s edge toward them so all was well.

photo by Alan Wilde

On our way to check on 16 & unbanded, we went by Y7’s nest one more time. He was still on the nest! What is with that unbanded bird. She’s either wise to our ways or she leaves all the incubation duties to Y7. 16 & unbanded were still incubating so we headed over to Jigsaw. That island is overrun with Royal Terns and Black Skimmers now. They are everywhere! We saw all three oystercatcher pairs on nests but only one of them was accessible without causing disturbance to the other birds so I only checked that one. We will just have to watch the others from afar.

photo by Alan Wilde

On Struve all was much the same. 12 & unbanded were incubating their new nest. HM was on the island and we found his mate X7 and their chick U0U on one of the new docks. LT & JA and KR & unbanded weren’t doing much but enjoying the sunshine and L8 & L9 and their chick were in their territory. We saw U0U fly with his mom (X7) which was pretty exciting. It’s always good to see the young chicks fly!

photo by Alan Wilde

We headed up towards Swan Lake and found 20 & unbanded hanging out on a reef. No nest for them. LR & unbanded were up on a shell ridge acting very much like they had a nest but when I checked I didn’t find any eggs. K7 & unbanded on the other hand did have a new nest, their third try this year. I am not sure what happened to their previous two nests but clearly they failed. None of the other pairs in that area had nests. We found L5 & his new bride on the breakwater. I wonder what kind of stories he is telling her about his territory now!

On Friday I headed out to East Matagorda Bay with GCBO Executive Director Martin Hagne and our summer intern Annie Montgomery who is a senior at Texas A&M. We had some issues with a dead boat battery but we got it under control and headed to the boat ramp along the GIWW at Sargent. It is a long ride down the GIWW to get to the first pair and the wind was coming right at us so we had to go fairly slow. We finally made it to where EF & M4 had a nest last week only to find the nest gone and no oystercatchers present. Dang. We continued on and didn’t find YC & A7A on their island either. I expected them to have a nest this week so I was a bit disappointed. Next up was ER & unbanded. They weren’t incubating their nest anymore and they went nuts when we approached so I think they must have a chick even though we didn’t see it. We headed out into the bumpy bay and found KN & unbanded still incubating their nest. Good deal! We checked the other islands in that area and found YC & A7A hanging out there acting like they had a nest but they didn’t. Faked me out again.

photo by Susan Heath

We headed out towards Dressing Point and found LF & unbanded still incubating their nest too. I thought for sure that one would overwash but it hasn’t and it should be hatched next week.

We found this Brown Pelican being very disrespectful of the FWS sign!

photo by Susan Heath

From there we headed over to the Oyster Farm and were greeted with this.

photo by Susan Heath

KT & unbanded were standing along the shoreline so I feel certain that the pelicans did their nest in one way or another. Better news for KM & unbanded on the next island though. We found two small chicks toddling along behind them! I only managed to get a photo of one of them.

photo by Susan Heath

I’ve wanted to go to the west end of this bay to see if there is still a pair of oystercatchers nesting there this whole season. We tried a couple of times but the boat gas got low before we got there and we had to turn back. Today I brought along 2.5 gallons of gas in an extra can so we’d have enough to get down there. It took us a while to get there because we had to go slow due to the wind but we finally made it. Sure enough there was a pair of birds there and they were both banded! That was exciting because the pair that was there five years ago wasn’t banded. They were acting like they had a nest or chicks but we didn’t find either. One of them was LC a bird I caught last year with its then mate LA at the Oyster Farm. They had quickly abandoned the area where we caught them because it is frequently underwater and I had no idea where they went.

photo by Susan Heath

I figured the other bird would be LA but a review of my photos later revealed it was R9 a female we banded way back in 2011! She has been hanging around this bay for the past eight years moving from territory to territory and I hadn’t seen her in a couple of years. Now I know where she went! She’s getting pretty old now as she was at least three when we banded her.

photo by Susan Heath

We headed back towards Old Gulf Cut and found that 25 & unbanded’s nest had hatched. One of them was on the nesting island with what we thought was two chicks. A review of my photos when I got home revealed not two but three of them!

photo by Susan Heath

That is awesome! I sure hope they make it. 17 & unbanded were hanging out on their reef with their fledged chick.

photo by Susan Heath

We headed back down the GIWW towards the boat ramp and checked on ER & unbanded again on the way back. We still didn’t see any chicks but I’m hopeful. Time will tell.

Current Stats for upper Texas coast from Dickinson Bay to East Matagorda Bay: 15 nests being incubated, 44 failed nests, 7 nests with unfledged chicks, 0 nests 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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