By Susan Heath
Surprise! We have a nearly fledged chick! What? Who? Where? Patience my friends. On Thursday, I checked out West Galveston Bay with Alan Wilde, Jennifer Horton, and Dianne Forthman. While we were putting the boat in the water, we saw one member of the boat ramp pair on the dock. Hum. Where’s the other one? If you’ve been paying attention you should know the answer to that question. On a nest somewhere, of course. We found it on the island that is nearest the boat ramp with two eggs. I don’t remember a pair ever trying to nest there and I always assumed it was because there’s too much disturbance from boats coming and going but the other two islands have eroded so much that I guess that one is the only choice left. We had tried to trap this pair earlier in the season using the noose carpets but they were too smart for us and both remained unbanded. I’ve been waiting for them to have a nest so we could try the box. We set it up and backed off. One of them flew back over to the nest and walked right up to the box. A good sign! Sure enough it went in and tripped the box within six minutes. Not a record but close. We banded her F0A. I suppose they will be made at us for weeks now!
We headed up to Swan Lake to get it over with before the wind picked up in the afternoon. On the way we saw that C2A & E0A’s island was under water along the channel because the tide was super high from the strong south winds. There was no sign of them and we didn’t see them all day. While checking along the Scenic Galveston breakwater we discovered Dick and Lisa McGonigle, longtime GCBO supporters, wade fishing in the calm water behind the breakwater. Hi Dick and Lisa!
There was an unbanded bird feeding on a small island in between breakwater sections where Alan had seen a banded bird a week or so ago. Are they a pair? We didn’t see another bird so it remains a mystery. 20 & unbanded still didn’t have a nest on their island at Zimmerman Point and LR & unbanded’s nest at Malone had overwashed. Sadly in Swan Lake K7 & unbanded’s nest had also overwashed. Overnight there had been 20 mph south winds and that is enough to push a lot of water into the bay (thus the high tide) and make waves washing water up even higher on the islands. None of the other pairs had anything going on up there so we headed back across the bumpy bay to West Galveston Bay.
When we got back to West Galveston Bay we went to check on Struve Luci. HM & X7’s entire territory was underwater so their nest definitely overwashed. They were standing on the rock wall that comes off Galveston Island where they tried to nest previously. Sadly their nesting choices are: (a) risk getting overwashed on the island or (b) risk being predated by a mammal on the rock wall. I couldn’t tell what was happening with 12 & unbanded. They should have a chick but they weren’t giving us any clues. I even went around to the other side of the island to spy on them but that did no good. They are wise to my ways. We were heading down to check if L9 & unbanded were incubating (they were) when suddenly I spotted this.
What the heck! That is a nearly fledged chick! Where did that come from! The culprits were standing nearby looking very proud of themselves for keeping their chick hidden from us all this time! LT & JA you little sneakers. As near as I can figure, the nest that I attributed to KR & unbanded and thought had failed was actually LT & JA’s and it didn’t fail after all! We snagged the little guy and banded it U5U. It won’t be long until it can fly.
After that adrenaline rush, we headed over to Jigsaw. In an attempt to get away from the gulls, T5 & T6 laid their nest on a very exposed shell bank where their future chick, should they have one, has no place to hide so we came prepared to provide them with a little natural cover.
Let’s see if a couple pieces of driftwood and some dead palm fronds can help them out! They were still incubating so if the egg hatches, the chick can hide right away. YE & unbanded were also incubating their nest but LH & WW were not and I fear their nest failed. I’m not sure why though. It was too high to have overwashed so it is likely the result of the gulls.
Next we checked on 16 & unbanded the pair that nests on Galveston Island near 8 Mile Road. I always worry about them because of all the predators but we could see from the boat that they still had three eggs! Next up was the docks along Sportsman Road. Alan commented that with the tide so high there was bound to be oystercatchers there and he was right. We found seven birds there and five of them were banded. XC was standing in the typical “I’ve got a sore foot” pose.
We can’t tell from Alan’s photos what’s wrong but there doesn’t seem to be any fishing line. Hopefully the foot will heal from whatever injury is causing the bird pain. At Gangs Bayou, A5A & unbanded’s nest had overwashed and with the high tide it was easy to see where on the sand mound they should have laid their eggs. I hope they were paying attention. JX was looking very much like it was incubating a nest but when we checked, there were no eggs. Stop faking me out birds! Although we can’t see A4A & unbanded’s nest from the water, I checked and found they still had three eggs. It should be hatched next week.
On South Deer we found KK in his territory for the first time in a long time. He had no mate with him though and he was one of the five banded birds on the docks earlier in the day. I have no idea what’s going on with that bird. LL & unbanded were standing next to each in the vegetation so I’m sure they have a chick or two though we haven’t seen any since we found the just hatched chick in the nest scrape a few weeks ago. Around the corner, Y7 & unbanded were guarding a one egg nest and XA & unbanded were doing the same just down the beach.
JN & UW were still incubating so we left them alone and went to check on HL & unbanded. We saw one of them standing on the shoreline near the end of their beachy area. There was no sign of the other one. What does that mean folks? You should know by now. They have a nest somewhere! Sure enough we found two lovely eggs hidden behind a vegetation clump away from the bulk of the gulls. Great spot guys. I hope it goes well.
We headed over to North Deer where we found E6A & unbanded trying to save their nest from being stomped on by loafing Brown Pelicans. They still had two eggs so I guess they have been successful so far. We saw this odd looking gull.
I thought it was marked with paint but Dianne said she’d seen that before. There is a channel marker sign laying there and if a gull stands on top of it the red reflects on their belly and gives them that eerie appearance. Weird!
C1A and unbanded were standing in the vegetation and since it was time for their nest to hatch I assume that means they have at least one chick.
C1A’s mate was looking pretty annoyed with the gulls!
J6 & UF were standing on their island which was nearly underwater.
Sadly we found a single egg there but it was cold and they weren’t incubating it. I expect it had been underwater when the tide was at its highest.
photo by Susan Heath
This is one of the islands that we are working with the Galveston Bay Foundation to restore and you can see why it needs it! I didn’t think it was time for YM & JH’s nest to hatch yet and indeed they were incubating but Alan’s photo revealed a chick in the nest scrape when YM stood up.
Over on Marker 52, JJ & P4 hadn’t laid a new nest yet but 23 & WY were standing in their “chick safe” area. I knew it was time for their nest to hatch so we searched the area where they were standing through our binoculars and I spotted their chick hidden under a ledge. This is where they kept their chick last year too to keep it safe from the gulls. Good job guys!
H0 & JC were incubating but 28 & AP’s egg was gone. I don’t know what happened there. It was too high to overwash. We cut back across to North Deer and found the unbanded pair still incubating their nest. W5 & unbanded were not looking like they had a nest this week so I guess they didn’t all along and were just faking us out. It was looking like it was going to rain to we skipped checking on ET & A8A (if they had a nest it would have overwashed anyway) and headed into Jones Bay. CA & Y2 were standing on the breakwater around the Tiki Spoil so obviously their nest had failed too.
I was still hoping that P3 would turn up but it was not to be. FR & unbanded were standing on his island but they didn’t have a nest.
Here is what FR’s old island looked like with the high tide.
Yes there’s an island under all that water folks. This one is slated for restoration too and it’s a good thing! I didn’t get out to East Matagorda Bay this week but I’ll check on them next week.
This project is supported solely by donations and small grants. If you’d just like to make a donation (thank you!) you can do so on our website here.
Current Stats for upper Texas coast from Dickinson Bay to East Matagorda Bay: 20 nests being incubated, 20 failed nests, 4 nests with unfledged chicks, 1 nest with undetermined status, 0 chicks fledged
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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.