Oystercatcher Diaries 2016: Field Week 7


By Susan Heath

I was joined by Susan Long and Alan Wilde with boat captain Tim Long for our oystercatcher survey on Tuesday, May 10th. Unfortunately, it is a sad story to tell with only a few high points. We did our route in reverse because the wind was supposed to build in the morning and we wanted to get the long haul to Swan Lake across Galveston Bay over with. The tide is still super high and so most of the nesting habitat there is under water. Most of the birds were sleeping the day away like these two.

20 & 21 sleepingphoto by Alan Wilde

The two nests along the shoreline of Galveston Bay between the I-45 bridge and Swan Lake proper both apparently failed. Both adult pairs were loafing on the shoreline and did not react to our approach like they would if they had chicks. In Swan Lake proper we did not see any oystercatchers. One of those pairs has been hanging out at the Texas City Dike a lot lately and Alan got some interesting photos of them dining on some crawfish that someone threw out.

crawfish feastphoto by Alan Wilde

We checked the rock jetties on our way out and found two pairs taking refuge from the high tide there.

X4 & N3 on rocksphoto by Alan Wilde

Captain Tim did an excellent job of getting us back across the bay without getting soaked and we started our survey of West Galveston Bay at Struve Luci. The nest we had found there on a rock wall apparently failed and the adult pair flew in from parts unknown when we approached. They landed on the island rather the rock wall so we knew they didn’t have any chicks to protect or they would have been with them rather than on the island. It was good to see HM again the bird we banded the last time we were out.

HMphoto by Alan Wilde

We found 12 & unbanded and one of their chicks KY sleeping along the shoreline but we didn’t see their other chick KX anywhere. That was the smaller of the two chicks and I fear it didn’t make it. We circled around a bit looking but we couldn’t find it. Here’s KY trying to sneak away.

KYphoto by Alan Wilde

K6 & JA were hanging out on a dock with their chick JU.

JUphoto by Alan Wilde

I spotted L8 & L9 on a dock which meant their nest failed too or they’d have been on the island protecting it or protecting chicks. That was the last active nest in our survey area and I wasn’t expecting to find any new ones today. With the tide so high, the birds can’t get enough food to support a nesting attempt.

tide chart

The high tides aren’t bothering the Royal Terns nesting though. They seem to be doing fine.

Royal Ternsphoto by Alan Wilde.

We surveyed all the other islands and indeed did not find any new nests. Most of the pairs were sleeping in their nesting territories or loafing along the shoreline. We thought we found one new nest on South Deer because there was only one adult present and it was acting pretty suspiciously, but I searched the area and didn’t find any eggs. Maybe they are getting ready.

We did find three youngsters on the Sportsman Road docks. That’s always exciting!

AMOY on Sportsman docksphoto by Alan Wilde

On South Deer I was pleased to find that an adult we banded weeks ago was there with its mate. We hadn’t seen it since we banded it and I was afraid it had abandoned the area.

CEphoto by Alan Wilde

And here’s something you don’t see every day. An oystercatcher with cactus and pretty purple flowers in the back ground.

JH with flowersphoto by Alan Wilde

When we got to Jones Bay, Alan and I were holding our breath waiting to find out if P3 & unbanded’s chick was alive. Alan had been out kayaking a few days prior and had seen the adults but not the chick. We had a bad experience with this pair last year when all three of their chicks mysteriously disappeared just before fledging and we really didn’t want to repeat that experience. Fortunately this time we got a happy ending. I checked it out from afar and saw both adults and the chick standing up on the island ridge. Yeah! When we got closer, the chick high tailed it for cover so that’s probably why Alan didn’t see it when he was kayaking and why he wasn’t able to get a photo of it today! At least we ended the survey on a high note.

Our next survey is scheduled for Wednesday, May 18th. I hope the tide has gone down and the birds will start nesting again. There is still time for them to renest but not much. We have found nests into June but those late nests usually don’t do very well. If these birds can’t start soon, this will go down as the worst nesting season of the six years of the study. So far only three chicks have fledged.

Current Stats: 0 nests being incubated, 30 failed nests, 0 nests with unfledged chicks, 0 nests with undetermined status, 3 chicks fledged

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