Oystercatcher Diaries 2018: Field Week 16

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By Susan Heath

On Wednesday I headed out to West Galveston Bay with Alan Wilde, Tim Long, and Debbie Repasz. It was a little windy so I guess our respite of nice weather is over. We found R3 & unbanded sleeping on one of Tiki Tom’s docks. I guess they have given up for the year. Sad but probably wise on their part. We had planned to go up to Swan Lake first but the pesky railroad bridge was down so we went over to Jigsaw to see what was happening there. Two of the three pairs appeared to be incubating their nests. The third pair (LH & WW) chose a nesting spot where we can’t see them amid all the terns and skimmers so we are hedging our bets and thinking if we don’t see them standing out in the open somewhere, they are still incubating. We could be wrong! Only time will tell. The railroad bridge was up by the time we were done there so we went up to Swan Lake.

We found one of the pair at Zimmerman point out on a reef feeding alone. That is usually a sign that the other one is on a nest somewhere but we didn’t see it anywhere. Much to my surprise, LR & unbanded were still incubating their nest at Malone. I thought it would overwash but happily I was wrong.

We didn’t see 11 & unbanded in their territory and I’ve been suspicious for a couple of weeks that they had a nest somewhere we weren’t looking so we motored around the shoreline of Swan Lake looking for them. It is always a dicey proposition taking the boat into unfamiliar waters but fortunately we had no unexpected experiences. We also didn’t find 11 & unbanded so I have no idea where they’ve gotten off to. K7 & unbanded were incubating their nest and so were R5 & X3. We found L5 & unbanded sleeping away on the breakwater and we had to roust them up to see their bands. Ditto 39 & unbanded. It is getting late in the season and their hormone levels are starting to drop off. Soon they will all be friends again instead of mortal enemies. Amazing how that happens every year.

We headed back down to West Galveston Bay and went to Struve Luci where we found that after two months of inactivity, LT & JA have a new nest! Perhaps they were spurred into activity by their neighbors 12 & unbanded whose nest hatched. We saw them with a small chick toddling after them. Woohoo! The two pairs with fledged chicks were off somewhere showing their chicks the good oyster bars.

From there we went to check on 16 & unbanded. I’ve had my fingers crossed all week for them. 16 was standing up in the vegetation which is always a good sign when you expect a pair to have chicks. I saw a chick run up into the vegetation and hide and Alan’s photos confirmed one chick. Good deal!

photo by Alan Wilde

The tide was pretty high pushing the Confederate Reef gang to the Sportsman Road docks. Unfortunately I got the boat too close to them and they flew before Alan could get photos so we could verify who they were. Down at Gangs Bayou A4A & unbanded and their chick W2W were hanging out along the shoreline. We didn’t see the chick fly but it should be able to by now. We thought maybe the pair next door had a nest but we couldn’t find one.

photo by Alan Wilde

We headed over to South Deer and found good news all around there. KK & unbanded and their chick were hanging out on their beach. LL & unbanded and their two chicks U3U & U4W were all on their beach too.

photo by Alan Wilde

Y7 & unbanded’s nest had hatched and we saw a small chick with them!

photo by Alan Wilde

Debbie thought she saw one of 13 & unbanded in the vegetation but we didn’t see them again even though we watched for a bit. They should have chicks and are probably hiding them from us so I’m holding out hope. JN & UW and their chick W2X were finally back from their roamings. We haven’t seen them in weeks.

photo by Alan Wilde

HL & L4 and their chick W3U were on their beach too and the chick took off for a great flight just to show us it could. Over on North Deer we found an unbanded pair where A9A & unbanded were supposed to be. Did A9A abandon his mate? We’ll have to watch and see. The unbanded pair and their chick were doing just fine. We checked on J6 & UF who we haven’t seen for a while. Only J6 was present. I gotta admit I’m kind of hoping UF left him. I think he can do better! JR & JH were back hiding in the vegetation with their chicks W3X and W1W. Their chicks can fly so they must be trying to get away from the pelican chicks that are covering the island now.

photo by Alan Wilde

Tim spotted a spoonbill chick floating out in the GIWW and looking pretty poorly so we snagged it with a dip net. Tim dried it off and brought it with us. Can’t say we’ve ever used the box for this before.

photo by Alan Wilde

On Marker 52, JJ & P4 surprised us with a new nest. 23 & WY and their chick W0Y were on their beach and H0 & JC were incubating their nest.

photo by Alan Wilde

It was time for 28 & AP’s nest to be hatched and indeed they weren’t incubating. One of them popped up from behind a ridge so we figured we’d check them from the other side of the island when we went into Jones Bay.

We headed down the GIWW to check on ET & A8A. I figured their nest was toast because of the high tide but surprisingly they were still incubating two eggs. Maybe they’ve got a shot! We headed back to Jones Bay. One of CA & Y2 was shading their eggs amid many Caspian Tern chicks.

photo by Alan Wilde

From there we looked back at 28 & AP. They were along the shoreline with two small chicks! Awesome!

photo by Alan Wilde

More good news when we saw P3 & unbanded with two small chicks! Totally awesome. It appears everyone made it through the Memorial Day weekend unscathed which is excellent.

photo by Alan Wilde

The spoonbill had perked up quite a bit by the time we got back to the boat ramp. Tim just happens to be the coordinator for the Galveston Injured Bird Response so he took it with him and it was transported to the Wildlife Center in Houston on Thursday morning.

photo by Alan Wilde

On Friday I checked East Matagorda Bay with Annie Montgomery and Tyler Wise. It was pretty windy so we did the route in reverse to avoid a long haul along the bay heading into the wind. Happily we discovered that ER & unbanded have a chick! I suspected they did last week but we didn’t see one.

photo by Susan Heath

At Old Gulf Cut, 17 & unbanded’s fledged chick had rejoined them and was sleeping peacefully on a reef. 25’s unbanded mate was keeping guard of all three chicks on their island. Great news that they still have all three! That’s a lot food to provide.

photos by Susan Heath

We took a very bumpy and slow ride to the west end of the bay to check on LC & R9 and their chick W0X. Sadly they were not there. I don’t think that chick could fly yet so I’m hoping they just moved to another area in response to some disturbance over Memorial Day weekend. We will check on them again next week.

We made the long haul over to the Oyster Farm with the wind at our backs (thankfully). Once there we found that KM & unbanded still have two chicks not just the one we saw last week!

photo by Susan Heath

KT was standing guard over at least two chicks but they quickly disappeared over a berm and we couldn’t tell if the third one was still there. I tried to go around the other side of the island so we could see them but it is shallow there and we couldn’t get very close. I shot off a couple photos with my camera and checked them when I got home. Still three! The birds in East Matagorda Bay are doing very well this year!

photo by Susan Heath

We checked on LF & unbanded and found they weren’t present so their nest must have failed. I wasn’t surprised as it should have been hatched last week and it wasn’t. I suspect they were kept off the nest too much by unknowing fishermen and the eggs didn’t develop. A6A & KN were also no longer incubating their nest and they were on a different island from where the nest had been so it must have failed.

photo by Susan Heath

We witnessed a lengthy aerial battle between A6A and A7A (the male from a neighboring territory). A7A just wouldn’t let it go and kept dive bombing A6A every time he tried to go back and settle down with KN. We haven’t seen A7A’s mate YC in a couple of weeks so I’m wondering if she left. They did not lay a nest this year probably because their island is pretty low. I suspect A7A is trying to take over A6A’s territory and possibly his mate. It didn’t look like he was making much progress on that front but he was sure giving it his all. The troublemaker.

photo by Susan Heath

Current Stats for upper Texas coast from Dickinson Bay to East Matagorda Bay: 12 nests being incubated, 46 failed nests, 10 nests with unfledged chicks, 1 nests with undetermined status, 12 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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