Oystercatcher Diaries 2018: Field Week 15

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By Susan Heath

On Monday Annie and I headed out to check on the birds in Bastrop and Drum Bays. I hadn’t been out there this year and I only went twice last year so I wasn’t sure what we’d find. In Bastrop Bay we only found one pair and they were on a reef so I’m not sure if they are still nesting in the same spot. J0 & 38 were not too happy to see us!

photo by Susan Heath

We headed across Christmas Bay and at the entrance to Drum Bay we found JK doing some yoga on a reef.

photo by Susan Heath

He wasn’t too happy to see us either. His mate was over on their nesting island but by the time we worked our way through the reefs to get over there she had flown off. At least that told us they don’t have a nest or chicks. That’s a bummer. They fledged a chick last year so I was hopeful they’d have one this year too.

A little further down the bay, we found AR & unb on another tiny island. They had some scrapes but no eggs. Maybe they’ll have a nest soon. We looked all over the bay for the other pair that was there last year but there was no sign of them. The islands there are eroding away just like everywhere else and there wasn’t much habitat to begin with so I guess the other pairs moved on.

On Wednesday I headed out to West Galveston Bay with Alan Wilde, Scott Buckel and Annie Montgomery. We started in Jones Bay where we found CA hanging out on the Tiki Spoil rock wall while his mate Y2 was incubating their nest on their island. P3 & unbanded were also still incubating so all was well there. We went down the GIWW to check on ET & A8A and we found they had moved from their previous nesting location on a very large island along the GIWW to a tiny island amid some reefs further west on the GIWW. One of them was incubating a two egg nest. I don’t know what chance they have there as they are likely to get overwashed but at least they won’t get predated which is what I think probably happened to their previous two nests. Good luck guys.

On Marker 52 we found AP & 28 incubating and H0 & JC had a new nest with one egg. 23 & WY and their chick W0Y were hanging out along their beach. W0Y was no longer hiding from the gulls so hopefully that threat has passed and he/she should be fledged in the next few days.

photo by Alan Wilde

JJ was hanging out in his territory alone. Did P4 finally leave him? I hope not.

JR & JH and their chicks W3X and W1W were hanging out near where their nest had been. Both chicks flew when they spotted us watching them so we know they are fledged. Yeah!

photos by Alan Wilde

We headed around to the backside of the island to band the chick there. It was walking along the shoreline with its parents and when we approached it didn’t start running which was my first clue that something was amiss. Instead when we headed up to make chase, it flew away! I miscalculated that one for sure. I thought that chick had another week til fledging. Oh well. The good news is another chick fledged!

photo by Alan Wilde

A9A & unbanded were not anywhere to be found so their nest must have failed. The weather was looking pretty bad and we could see thunderstorms building all around us.

photo by Alan Wilde

I wanted to at least get the other chick banded in case we had to make a run for it so we went over to South Deer. HL & L4 and their chick were in their usual spot. I had given Annie all sorts of advice for running down chicks so she was primed for a chase. Instead this chick ran up on the berm and laid down right out in the open. No chase necessary. We banded it W3U.

photo by Alan Wilde

It started to rain just as we were finishing up but it looked clear in the direction we were headed so we kept going. 13 & unbanded weren’t incubating anymore and one of them came out and circled the boat calling when they noticed us watching. The other one stayed put by some vegetation so we figured they have at least one chick. Then we went to check on Y7 & unbanded. I’ve been waiting for the unbanded bird to incubate so we could try to catch it with the box. Once again Y7 was incubating. I don’t think that unbanded bird ever incubates the nest!

I was very happy to see LL’s entire family present on their beach. U3U and U4W are looking mighty fine.

photos by Alan Wilde

KK & unbanded and their chick were feeding out on a reef but of course they had to give us a warning fly by (chick included) when they spotted us.

We headed over to Confederate reef and once again found the usual cast of characters. E7 was missing though. I wonder if she is nesting somewhere. I would really like to know! At Gangs Bayou, A1A & unbanded’s nest must have failed because they weren’t there. We saw A4A & unbanded and their chick W2W. I don’t think that chick can fly yet but it should be able to on our next check.

photo by Alan Wilde

We headed up Galveston Island to check on 13 & unbanded and lo and behold we found one of them brooding a just hatched chick! Alan’s photos revealed two eggs still in the nest so hopefully they will have more than one next week.

photo by Alan Wilde

There’s a lot of construction going on there so Alan went over on Thursday and chatted with them about the chicks. Hopefully that will help.

photo by Alan Wilde

On Jigsaw all three pairs were incubating their nests surrounded by the ever increasing numbers of nesting Royal Terns and Black Skimmers. I saw some terns brooding chicks so they must have hatched. Next week there will be tern chicks everywhere! On Struve Luci everything was the same as last week. LT & JA and KR & unbanded were loafing about. 12 & unbanded were incubating their nest. X7 & U0U were on the island too but there was no sign of HM so he must have been off by himself enjoying some alone time.

photo by Alan Wilde

At the other end of the island L8 & L9’s chick was on a dock all by itself while its parents were out on a reef feeding. I wonder if they put the chick in time out for some reason!

photo by Alan Wilde

It was time to head up to Swan Lake but the weather looked pretty bad up that way so we opted to go to Alan’s house and eat our lunches while we waited it out.

photo by Alan Wilde

Alan’s wife Maureen pulled out a feast for us so instead of sack lunches we had some great food and great conversation until the weather cleared. Thanks Maureen! After an hour or so we headed back out but the railroad bridge was down so we still couldn’t go up to Swan Lake. We went over to check on Y7 & unbanded again but Y7 was still incubating. I give up! The bridge was still down so we went to check on another pair on North Deer that we seldom check because they are in an area that is hard to get the boat in to. We saw them from afar possibly on a nest but there was no way to get over to where they were so we’ll just have to keep watching from a distance.

The bridge was finally up so we headed up towards Swan Lake. 20 & unbanded were hanging out on their island but they didn’t look like they had anything going on so we continued on. LR & unbanded on the other hand had a new nest with two eggs.

photo by Alan Wilde

The unbanded bird was incubating so I set up my trusty box and we went to check on the rest of the pairs while we waited. K7 & unbanded were incubating and R5 & X3 had a new nest. The other pairs weren’t home so we headed back to LR & unbanded. There was a bird circling the box when we returned and we only had to wait about 5 minutes before it went in and tripped the box. Sadly when I got over to get the bird it was LR instead of his unbanded mate. Doh! That’s the third time that has happened this year.

photo by Susan Heath

We headed back to the boat ramp and of course by then all the thunderstorms had moved inland and the weather was beautiful!

On Friday I headed out to East Matagorda Bay with Annie and GCBO’s office manager Tricia Patton. Tricia hasn’t been out with us yet and she was really looking forward to it. We didn’t let her down! It was a beautiful day with calm winds and smooth water. We don’t get that very often. I’m afraid Tricia got the wrong impression about our trips on the bay. It really isn’t that nice all the time Tricia! We checked on ER & unbanded and it didn’t seem like they had a chick so maybe their nest failed after all. KN & unbanded were still incubating. Same for LF & unbanded which was odd because we found that nest with three eggs on April 25. It is past time for it to hatch. We will see what happens with that next week.

Over at the Oyster Farm I was VERY pleased to see that I had been wrong about KT & unbanded’s nest failing. They had three chicks in tow!

photo by Susan Heath

We only saw one chick with KM & unbanded but the other one could have been hiding.

photo by Susan Heath

Then we made the long trek down the bay to check on LC & R9 the pair we discovered last week. Since the bay was so calm we could go fast fortunately. When we arrived we discovered they had a big chick which confirmed my suspicions from last week. We went up to band it but despite the fact that I saw where it ran over a berm, Annie and I could not find it. Drat! We went off exploring for a bit and came back. This time the chick was in a different area and I brought the boat up so that we were in between it and where it hid last time so it wouldn’t go back there. That did the trick. It took off in the other direction and I was able to chase it down just as it dove in the water. We banded the little guy W0X and when we let it go it ran right back to its parents who were watching us nearby and gave us the evil eye.

photo by Susan Heath

The last two pairs are at Old Gulf Cut and we were happy to see that 25 & unbanded still have three chicks. That is a lot of work for a pair of oystercatcher parents but hopefully they can pull it off.

photo by Susan Heath

17 & unbanded were standing on their island and their fledged chick was nowhere to be seen. It always surprises me how quickly this pair sends their chicks out on their own. It happens every year and every year I think something happened to the chick but it always turns up on one of our next checks.

We headed back down the GIWW towards the boat ramp and stopped at KN & unbanded’s island again. The unbanded bird was still incubating so I set up the box. There was only one egg and danged if that bird didn’t go in the box and move the egg slightly out of the way of the trip string and lay down on it with tripping the box! We went back and adjusted it and as soon as we got away from there it went back in and did the same thing again! Tricia suggested I put two fake eggs in the scrape instead of one which I thought would freak the bird out but I tried it anyway and it worked like a charm. This time we got him! Welcome to the team A6A.

photo by Susan Heath

Current Stats for upper Texas coast from Dickinson Bay to East Matagorda Bay: 15 nests being incubated, 43 failed nests, 9 nests with unfledged chicks, 1 nests with undetermined status, 9 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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