By Susan Heath
On Wednesday I headed out to East Matagorda Bay with Robin Bjork (GCBO), Amanda Hackney (Blackcat GIS) and Alan Wilde (GBAMN). I wanted to check on the oystercatchers and get one more look at the chicks out there to verify whether two of the pairs still had three chicks or just two. I also wanted to see if we could band some more Black Skimmer chicks. The first oystercatchers we encountered were A7A & unbanded. They were on a small island along the GIWW in the area of where A7A had been all season. Over the last month I’ve seen A7A and mate in several different locations trying to steal a territory from another pair. I guess they were unsuccessful since they are pretty much back where they started.
ER & unbanded, the next pair down, weren’t home so we headed out to Dressing Point. Most of the action is over out there with a small number of chicks left for all the species that breed there. We didn’t see either of the oystercatcher pairs that nested in that area so we headed over to the Oyster Farm. Sadly neither of the oystercatcher pairs that nest there were home so I didn’t get to check and see if KT & unbanded fledged two chicks or three. There were more Black Skimmer chicks big enough to band though with about 25 chicks total although many of them could fly already. We were able to band eight more.
Then we headed over to Old Gulf Cut hoping to check on the other pair that had three chicks. Sadly it was not to be. One of the adults was there standing guard over the territory but the other adult and the chicks were missing. On the other island there, 17 & unbanded were hanging out with the skimmers that are trying to nest again after getting overwashed but their chick wasn’t with them. It likely all the missing oystercatchers were on the beach today. On the way back to the boat ramp, ER & unbanded and their chick W1Y were back so at least we got to see that one but I was only able to accomplish part of my mission today. I’ll have to wait until Robin sees the missing birds on the beach and can verify how many chicks KT & unbanded and 25 & unbanded have. Sigh.
On Friday, I headed out to West Galveston Bay with Alan Wilde and Amanda Hackney. When we left the boat ramp we discovered that R3 & unbanded had a visitor which turned out to be U0Y, a 2017 chick from Struve Luci in West Galveston Bay. It’s not old enough to breed yet so I don’t know why it was taking on a breeding pair. We headed up to Swan Lake and for once the railroad bridge cooperated with our plans. YK wasn’t home and neither was 20 & unbanded. When we got to LR & unbanded’s territory we saw them standing out on the tip of their island and not hiding behind the berm as they had been doing for the past several weeks with their chick. I was afraid that meant that the chick had died but happily it stood up when we got close! Yeah. Then it laid back down again trying to hide from us. Silly bird.
The rest of the birds in Swan Lake were either on the breakwaters or hanging out along the water’s edge. First we saw an unbanded bird that I thought was probably 11’s mate. Then we saw 11 but he wasn’t alone. FR(ed) was with him! It appears Freddy is seeking a new territory since the one he now holds in Jones Bay isn’t viable. It will be interesting to see where he ends up next season.
We headed back down to West Galveston Bay but we just had to stop in the middle of the bay and take some photos of the water because it was like glass! These are the days that make me look like a liar when I say we are working while we are out on the bay!
On Struve Luci we found all the pairs present. 12 & unbanded’s chicks W0U and W3Y were still avoiding being photographed so we went around the backside of the island at which point they both flew. Woohoo! That is a great sight.
HM, X7 and their chick U0U were there too but L8 & L9’s chick wasn’t with them this time. Their chick is nearly 4 months old and so it is plenty old enough to be out on its own. On the way to Jigsaw we saw this:
I’ve seen a lot of things on barges but never four cement trucks. Wonder where they were going? Then when we got to Jigsaw we saw this:
I think the pelicans fledged Vern. Goodness gracious they were everywhere and we had trouble finding the oystercatchers. We managed to find them all though and LH & WW had a visitor just like last week but this time it was an unbanded bird. They didn’t seem to be as upset as they were last week when KR came to call.
16 & unbanded were hanging out on the same reef where they were last week so we headed down towards Gangs Bayou. I happened to notice an oystercatcher on the part of 8 Mile Road that sticks out into the bay so we stopped to have a look. It was unbanded but then I noticed there was another one that was banded and it was standing in the typical “I’ve got fishing line on my foot” pose. Oh no. Then I noticed there were two chicks laying down near it and we figured out it was LL & family. Alan snapped a bunch of photos so we could see what the deal is with LL’s foot. It doesn’t appear to have an entanglement thank goodness. I hope they don’t hang out there much because that’s a common spot for fishing line entanglement. We started talking about how we could keep them away from there and Amanda said we should put up a scarecrow that looked like me since they all hate me so much (a suecrow)! Only Amanda would think of something like that!
Down at Gangs Bayou we discovered the entire breakwater was covered in newly fledged pelicans. Amanda commented that they needed student flyer signs because we had to avoid hitting them several times as they engaged in some kamikaze flying antics. The oystercatchers were all behind the breakwater and we couldn’t see them very well but then we noticed a young Royal Tern swimming in the small bay back there. Uh oh.
The tide was high enough that we could get over there so motored around behind the breakwater which allowed us to get a better look at the oystercatchers. A4A & unbanded and their chick W2W were there as well as A1A & unbanded. Then we went to catch the Royal Tern. It had worked its way over to the island and we had to follow it as it swam along the edge of the island until it got out where we could go after it. It took a couple tries but Alan managed to snag it in one of the dip nets. It had a pretty messed up wing so we kept it on board.
We came back around the breakwater and had to avoid all the pelicans again. One of them almost took out Alan but he managed to duck to avoid it. Over at Confederate Reef there were more pelicans and only a single oystercatcher, E7, the adult that hangs out there often.
A couple of the pelicans were either playing with or trying to eat an abandoned bobber so we went over an retrieved it to save them from themselves. We discovered it had a hook on it so it was a good thing we did.
On South Deer nobody was home until we got around to Y7 & unbanded’s territory. They were not there the last time we were out and I very much wanted to see their chick so we would know for sure that it fledged. Their territory was covered with more pelicans but Amanda noticed an adult over at the entrance to small bay into the island. Then we saw another adult and then we saw the chick! Woohoo! That made me very happy.
Around the other side we found JN & UW without their chick. Theirs is old enough to be out on its own too so no worries there. HL & L4 and their chick W3U were hanging out near where the nest was. We headed over to North Deer and found JR & JH and their chicks W3X and W1W trying to hide amongst the pelicans. Are you getting the theme? There were newly fledged pelicans EVERYWHERE!
JJ & P4 were hanging out on a small island also hiding amongst pelicans. We found 23 & WY and their chick W0Y on their beach. When we turned around so Alan could get some better photos because, yes you guessed it, they were obscured by pelicans, they flew and headed over towards the Tiki Spoil Island. H0 & JC were also obscured by pelicans but when we got down to 28 & AP they were out in the open with their chicks W4X and W4Y.
We headed into Jones Bay and didn’t find any oystercatchers until we found 23 & WY with their chick W0Y on the Tiki Spoil island breakwater. So that’s where they went when we flushed them!
The final pair to check was P3 & unbanded and their chicks W4U and W4W. They were all present and when we got too close, both chicks flew off with the adults. Yeah!!
We stopped by Alan’s house on the way back to the boat ramp to get a box for the tern so Amanda could take it to the Wildlife Center of Texas on her way home. It had perked up considerably during its time on the boat but I doubt they’ll be able to fix its wing. Doesn’t look good for the poor thing.
Current Stats for upper Texas coast from Dickinson Bay to East Matagorda Bay: 0 nests being incubated, 58 failed nests, 1 nest with an unfledged chick, 0 nests with undetermined status, 30 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 do that on our website by clicking here! 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.