The Oystercatcher Diaries 2015: Field Week 8


By Susan Heath

This was a hard week. The tide is still super high and the oystercatchers are suffering because of it. On Monday I was joined by Alan Wilde and my good friend Emma Rhodes who lives in Alabama. Emma will be a junior in college next year and she is an avid bird bander. She has wanted to come find out about the oystercatcher work for a while so it was really good to get her out there and get an oystercatcher chick in her hands! There was a lot of bad news on Monday however. One of the chicks near Tiki Tom’s that we banded last time had disappeared. I tried to tell myself it was off with one of the adults feeding but I don’t think it would have been big enough to fly yet. The chick from the other pair there was ok though so that was good. We didn’t find any new nests this week and all but one of the nests that we found last time had failed for one reason or another. Also, there were several nests where I wasn’t sure if there were chicks or not last time and this time it was clear that none of them had chicks. We did band two new chicks though. One was from a nest where I knew there was a chick but the other one was from a nest that I thought had failed. That is happening a lot this year because I just can’t keep track of what is happening only being out there once every two weeks. Here are some photos of JY from a nest on Struve Luci and JX from a nest on South Deer.

JX resized1photo by Susan Heath

JY face resizedphoto by Susan Heath

If you read the last issue of the diaries you will remember that one of the chicks we banded had apparently been adopted by another pair of adults (L0 & unbanded). I was anxious to find out what happened with that situation and I am happy to report that the chick YT was still with L0 & mate and took off flying just to show us that it could. That was a happy moment but unfortunately L0 & mate’s chick EY that we banded last time was nowhere to be found. That was a real downer. Around the other side of that island, we also found that a fledged chick belonging to JN & JE was missing. They had two chicks that fledged a few weeks ago but today there was only one chick with them. The other chick could have been off by itself somewhere. That has happened a few times so we’ll keep an eye out for it and maybe it will turn up. I hope so. Here’s JN & JE with one of their chicks.

JN & JE Alan Wildephoto by Alan Wilde

The real blow to the day came when we went to check on P3 & unbanded’s three chicks that we banded last time. The adults were there but there were no chicks with them. It is almost unbelievable to me that something happened to all three chicks but that’s what the evidence says. Alan kayaked out there a couple days later to check again and they were still gone so something definitely happened to them. That was a pretty devastating blow to the day.

On Thursday I went to East Matagorda Bay. I was joined by Emma again and also another friend Brigid Berger who has been keeping track of the oystercatchers nesting down by Port O’Connor. I was happy to note that the tide was slightly lower than it was the last time we were out there. We first checked the island where chick AY had been hanging out by itself last time. No sign of AY or the rattlesnake that was there last time. The Willet nest we found on that island was hanging off the edge of the mud cliff it had been perched on as if it had been knocked askew and that’s when I noticed the whole shape of the island had changed. There must have been some high winds that caused large waves to reshape the island and overwash the Willet nest. These birds can’t get a break. If you look closely at Brigid’s photo you can still one egg that was left in the nest.

WILL nest Brigid Bergerphoto by Brigid Berger

We then checked on the first nest where there should have been a chick to be banded. That island had changed shape significantly too and although we saw both adults there, there was no chick with them. I can only conclude that the waves washed it off the island. Very sad. Here’s a photo showing where the nest was compared to what that area looks like now.

CEMatB034 annotatedphoto by Susan Heath

GIWW islandphoto by Susan Heath

We found all the banded chicks that belonged in that area except AY and its sibling AX who was missing last time as well. Those chicks are likely dead unfortunately. There are three chicks from one nest in that area and all of them were there but their parents were not. Weird. Those chicks fledged a month ago so they can fly pretty well. I would think if the adults went off to find food, they would have taken the chicks with them but you never know. We came back later in the day and the adults still weren’t there. The chicks seemed to be doing fine though. Here’s one of the chicks.

YPphoto by Brigid Berger

We banded one new chick (JW) but it was very small considering its age (30 days) so I’m wondering if it will make it. Since the tide has been so high for so long the adults were probably having a hard time feeding it so its growth has been retarded. It will make it if they keep feeding in though so hopefully there will be a happy ending there.

Emma with JW Brigid Bergerphoto by Brigid Berger

Another chick in that area had disappeared so it probably starved to death. I was really happy to find that all of the chicks we banded last time were all doing well. Three of them could fly and the other one was close so that is a very good thing! Despite several chicks going missing, the productivity in East Matagorda Bay is going to be very high this year. I’m afraid that isn’t going to be the case at the other field sites though.

Hu & HW with 17Photo by Brigid Berger

On Friday, we tried to go to Drum and Bastrop Bay but a cold front had come through and the wind was whipping. We made it out to Drum Bay and after searching all the nesting areas we didn’t see a single oystercatcher. I don’t blame them for hanging out elsewhere. It was nasty out there. I decided it wasn’t worth fighting the wind to get up to Bastrop Bay. The situation would probably be the same there and it felt a bit dangerous out there so we headed back to the boat ramp. We found a Whimbrel with a broken wing on the road near the boat ramp. They are such a beautiful bird, it was a real shame. Emma chased it down in the marsh and I brought it to our rehabber at the Gulf Coast Wildlife Rescue.

Emma rescues a WHIMphoto by Susan Heath

Current Stats: 2nests being incubated, 52 failed nests, 4 nests with unfledged chicks, 0 nests with undetermined status, 22 chicks fledged

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Filed under: Birding