Oystercatcher Diaries 2019: Field Week 16

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By Susan Heath

On Tuesday, Alan Wilde and I went out to do a reef survey in Bastrop and Drum Bays both of which border parts of Brazoria NWR. The refuge biologist Jennifer Wilson and I have been talking about building some oystercatcher nesting platforms out there because the habitat is so eroded. The refuge doesn’t encompass the small islands where the birds prefer to nest though so placement of the platforms is tricky to have the best chance for the birds to use them. Since Alan and I were out there, I wanted to check out some possible locations. We found a decent spot at Rattlesnake Point close to a couple of eroded islands where birds used to nest. I had another spot I wanted to check out where birds have actually tried to nest but have never been successful. My theory is that predators are getting the eggs and/or chicks because it’s attached to a large island along the GIWW. Lo and behold when we approached the area, we found a pair of birds there, K0 & LE. Holy oystercatcher! They were both feeding along the shoreline but every now and then one of them would walk up to the shell ridge and then walk back down and feed some more. It kind of looked like it was checking something out so I thought there might be a nest. We went in for a closer look and I’ll be danged if I didn’t see a small chick run up into the vegetation! Wow. It ran too fast for Alan to get a photo so we went and checked out some other areas and then came back to see if we could get another shot at photo. The adults were having none of that though. One of them was up in the vegetation and the chick was well hidden. Ok guys I get the message. Leave us alone! Very exciting though!

photo by Susan Heath

On our way out of the bay, I noticed that there is a low area between the part of the island they are on and the bigger part of the island that is closer to the GIWW. With the tides being so high for the last month, that section has been cut off from the bulk of the island which is probably how they managed to avoid a predator taking the nest. For weeks now I’ve been watching the tide anxiously to see when it would go down. Now I’m hoping it doesn’t go down too far! Keep that baby safe K0 & LE! We’ll be back to check on you in a couple of weeks. On our way back to the boat ramp we saw a Magnificent Frigatebird on a post. They really like that area.

photo by Susan Heath

On Wednesday I headed out to West Galveston Bay with Alan, Sheila Brown, and Elizabeth Cornwell. Amazingly the wind was not whipping and the bay looked like this.

photo by Susan Heath

Wow! That was a welcome change. We headed up to Swan Lake to check on things there first. I wasn’t convinced that LR & unbanded didn’t have a chick so I was keen to check on them. When we arrived we saw one of them doing this.

photo by Alan Wilde

That sure looked like a bird on a nest so I went up to check. Sure enough they had laid a new egg which confirms their last nest failed. This one is not high up on the ridge but in a lower spot where they haven’t nested before. I have no idea why they laid it there but I sure hope it doesn’t get overwashed. In Swan Lake proper, K7 & unbanded were back on their island for the first time in a long time but they didn’t have anything going on and they flew over to the breakwater when we disturbed them. None of the other pairs were present so we headed back down to West Galveston Bay.

On Struve Luci the oystercatchers that were present were all loafing and there were none on any of the docks. We checked out the Black Skimmers and Alan got some great photos.

photo by Alan Wilde

photo by Alan Wilde

We did see L9 with his chick U5Y on one of the reefs.

photo by Alan Wilde

We headed over to Jigsaw. I had high hopes that T5 & T6 might have laid a new nest but they were out on a reef so no love there. Bummer. The other two pairs were out on the reefs as well so we moved on. 16 & unbanded were hanging out along the shoreline but they didn’t have a nest either. I’m feeling a common trend folks. The oystercatchers are pretty much done for the year.

We checked out Gangs Bayou and found a pair on one mound behind the breakwater and a single bird on another mound. That was a little suspicious but we didn’t find any nests back there. Since I had good luck trapping a bird with the noose carpets last week, we decided to give that a go again and went down to check out some of the pairs farther west along Galveston Island.

We found two pairs that had good possibilities so we set up the noose carpets on one pair. Alan got a great close up of the noose carpets.

photo by Alan Wilde

We had to go chase them back which took a bit of time but finally they both circled back and started doing their display with the decoys. One of them looked like it got caught but it either wasn’t or it got loose because they kept walking around and doing their thing. Finally one of them did get caught and we raced over there. Sheila was just hopping out of the boat to go grab it when it managed to get free and flew off. Dang!

photo by Alan Wilde

Since we already had everything set up, we moved the carpets over to a shell patch in the other pair’s territory. They flew off and we had to go find them which proved a bit difficult. Every time we tried to make them go back they flew farther away. Alan ended up walking a good bit trying to spook them but he had no luck. I was ready to give up because there was a thunderstorm in the distance that was making me nervous but I decided to give it one more try. We got one of them up and flying back towards the decoys but we had no idea where the second bird was so we motored back over near the decoys. Incredibly, the single bird was displaying by itself around the decoys and it got snared in the nooses. They usually won’t display if both members of the pair aren’t present so we got lucky. This time we were able to grab it before it could get away and we banded it C9A.

photo by Alan Wilde

photo by Alan Wilde

It was starting to sprinkle so we headed back towards the east end of the bay away from the thunderstorm. On South Deer we saw a pair that I assumed was LL & unbanded because that’s the territory they were in. A review of Alan’s photos later revealed it was KK & XJ. What the heck?! That is a sure sign that the breeding season is coming to an end and LL & unbanded have no plans to lay another nest. What is crazy KK up to now? There wasn’t anything happening with any of the other pairs there so we motored over to North Deer.

C1A & unbanded and their chick weren’t home again but YM & JH and their chick U5X were still hanging out along their shoreline. The chick was still making cute little hopping flights but it still can’t fly yet. That chick is 60 days old and they usually fledge between 35 and 40 days. What dedication those adults have to stick with this chick for so long! Keep at it YM & JH, it’s almost there.

photo by Alan Wilde

There wasn’t anything happening with the pairs on Marker 52 so we zipped back across the GIWW to check on the unbanded pair on North Deer and their chick U5W. As usual we didn’t see any oystercatchers when we got close but then I saw the chick run across the beach. It didn’t go hide this time like it has in the past so Alan was able to get a photo. Clearly it can’t fly yet either and it’s only a few days younger than YM & JH’s. Such dedicated parents!

photo by Alan Wilde

We went down the GIWW and checked on ET & A8A and XE & unbanded. We found both of them but neither was engaged in anything related to nesting activity so we headed back up to Jones Bay. We found two oystercatchers on the breakwater around the Tiki Spoil island but every time we got close enough for Alan to get some photos, they flew. We tried several times but they just would not let us get a photo. I assume it was CA & Y2 but I guess we’ll never know.

We went to check on FR & unbanded and found only the unbanded bird on the island. Alan spotted another oystercatcher flying way out over the bay. It went almost to the far shoreline and then circled back and came all the way back and landed on the island. Alan snapped a photo which showed that it was FR but he took off again very quickly. I wonder what’s up with the birds in that bay! They were all so spooky.

On Thursday, I was back out in West Galveston Bay for an Experiences Auction trip. It wasn’t an oystercatcher focused trip but of course since I was out there I was checking them out. The only thing I saw that was weird was that KK was now with XC and was hanging out in JN & UW’s territory. What the heck!

On Friday I made a quick trip out to East Matagorda Bay with Taylor Bennett our shorebird technician. We only saw two pairs of oystercatchers out of the seven that nest there and neither was acting like they might lay another nest. The Great Blue Heron chicks on the Oyster Farm Island are getting big though.

photo by Susan Heath

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: 1 nest being incubated, 63 failed nests, 3 nests with unfledged chicks, 1 nest with undetermined status, 3 chicks fledged

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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