Oystercatcher Diaries 2016: Field Week 4


By Susan Heath

I made another round of West Galveston Bay on Wednesday, April 6th. I was joined by John Wright who chauffeured us in his boat along with Scott Buckel and Debbie Repasz. We started in Jones Bay checking on the two pairs that have chicks there. The wind was really blowing so the chicks were all hidden in the vegetation but we could tell they were still ok because of the behavior of the adults. In both cases, one or both of them were standing guard in the vegetation. We also found that the third pair in the bay had a new nest with two eggs. All in all we found seven new nests on the day and verified two others that Alan had spotted from his kayak a couple days before. It is really invaluable to have the kayakers out there giving me intel on what the oystercatchers are doing between my visits! Here’s a photo of where CA’s nest is.


We went down to Harbor Walk and found ET & mate still incubating their nest. I worry about this one because it is right along the Intracoastal Waterway and this area is prone to overwash from boat wakes. So far so good. The unbanded bird was incubating so I set up the box trap to try to catch it, but I forgot that ET was caught this way. That meant that there was no way the mate was going to fall for the same trick. Sure enough she wouldn’t go in. Once again the oystercatchers were smarter than me. On the way back to Marker 52 we spotted a couple of banded birds on the reefs. Scott got some photos so we could verify that they were YY and YH both birds banded as chicks. YY was banded last year on a small island in West Galveston Bay and hasn’t been seen in quite a while. YH was banded at the Texas City Prairie Preserve in June 2014. It is always really good to see that these young birds are thriving. YH will be old enough to breed next year and YY the year after that. I wonder where they will try to nest? Here’s a photo of YY (left) and YH (right) as they we saw them today.



Here’s YH when he/she was banded.

YH with bands resized

Back on Marker 52 we verified that one pair was still incubating (H0 & JC) and checked out a new nest that Alan had spotted from his kayak. It was for 23 & WY and it had 3 eggs. WY was banded as a chick in 2013 near the Tiki Island boat ramp and this is her very first nesting attempt! How exciting is that? I can’t wait to see what happens. Another pair just down the way from 23 & WY also had a new nest that Alan had spotted from his kayak. This is J6 & UF. Read last week’s blog for their story. This is also UF’s very first nest attempt. She was banded as a chick near the Tiki Island boat ramp but she’s a 2012 chick. WY and UF’s parents are neighbors! UF had only laid one egg but she was incubating it so I don’t know if she’ll lay anymore. Time will tell.

Here’s a photo of UF when she was banded.

UF three resized

We went to South Deer then and had a few surprises. The first one was that L3 had disappeared and has been replaced by an unbanded bird. I am fairly certain that we verified that L3 & L4 were together at the beginning of the season and they had a nest earlier in the season that failed. Sometime between then and now, L3 went missing and an unbanded bird took his place. Since L3 was the male, it is likely that he is dead. Females will sometimes leave during the nesting season but if a male disappears, it is almost always because they died. It is amazing to me how quickly an adult is replaced when they disappear. That tells me there are a lot of oystercatchers out there just waiting to find a mate. Anyway, L4 & the new mate have a nest so we’ll see how they do. We found three other new nests on South Deer while we were there. Lots of activity out there! Here’s Scott’s documentary photo of L4 with an unbanded partner.


On Gangs Bayou Island I was not surprised to find that the first two pairs have new nests as well. Last time we were out they all looked like they were working on scrapes. The third pair did not have a nest and I suspect that is because a flock of white pelicans has decided their territory is a good place to roost. No sense laying eggs only to have them trampled by those big clown feet. Once the white pelicans leave, I bet this pair will get down to business. Go north white pelicans! It is time for you to say adios.

I was saddened to find that 15 & 16’s nest was gone. They nest on Galveston Island between 8 mile road and Moody Gardens. It is a territory overrun by mammals and I suspect that’s what happened to their nest. There is also some construction going on there which could have impacted them. I have no idea what is being built but they probably shouldn’t be doing it during the nesting season. No telling what else is trying to nest in the marsh back there. Willets, rails, plovers. Lots of birds putting a lot of effort into trying to make babies this time of year.

When we got to Jigsaw Island we found that at least some of the Royal Terns had returned. Last time they were absent and I was afraid they had abandoned the site. I hope the rest of them return to nest. They make much nicer neighbors for the oystercatchers than the Laughing Gulls that will nest there if the terns don’t usurp the habitat. One of the oystercatcher nests there had hatched the adults were hanging out up in the vegetation guarding the chicks. We didn’t see the chick, but they only had one egg, so I guess that means they can only have one chick! Talk about putting all your eggs in one basket.

Over on Stuve Luci the three sets of chicks all seemed to be fine. We still didn’t see how many chicks L8 & L9 have. They are being very crafty and are keeping them hidden from us. I am going to have to go and spy on them from land to determine how many chicks they have. The middle pair, K6 & JA were out feeding on reef along the island’s edge and their chick was with them! That chick is bigger than the other two sets on the island and since it was out in the open, I decided to go ahead and band it so that’s what we did. It is now JU. Here’s a photo of Debbie holding the newly banded JU.

Debbie with JU two

The other pair there, 12 & unbanded were keeping their chicks hidden in the vegetation too but we know they have two because we saw them both last time. That is, they have two if they are both still alive. Next time out we will have to try to band all these other chicks here. They will be big enough and we need to get it done before the skimmers start nesting. Speaking of skimmers, some of them had returned and were roosting on the island.

We headed up to Swan Lake and checked out everything up there. One pair was working on a new scrape and I’m pretty sure another pair has a chick or two. They were acting like it anyway. We had to cut our survey a little short due to some boat issues but handy John kept us from being stranded up there for which we were all quite glad! John has two insurance so we wouldn’t have really been stranded but we would have had to wait a while for the tow boat to get there and it was much better to just be able to zoom back to Tiki Island under our own power. It was another great day and I am once thankful for the dedicated volunteers who are helping me to keep this project going!

Current Stats: 14 nests being incubated, 8 failed nests, 7 nests with unfledged chicks, 0 nests with undetermined status, 0 chicks fledged

Remember – the Adopt-an-Oystercatcher program is up and running. I’ve only added pairs to the list that are being monitored regularly but if you want adopt another pair, just send me an email and I can make it happen. If you aren’t familiar with that program – you can adopt a pair of oystercatchers for a $100 donation and I will update you monthly on their progress throughout the breeding season. It’s really fun and you’re donation will help support our program.

Don’t forget you can monitor oystercatchers on your part of the coast through the Audubon TERN program as part of the Oystercatcher Monitoring Network.

This project is supported by Audubon Texas, the Hershey Foundation, and several private donors. If you would like to contribute you can do so by clicking on the Donate Now button below. All donations are tax deductible and GREATLY appreciated.

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