By Susan Heath
I had an online meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons last week so we had to change our schedule around. There was a set of triplets that needed to be banded and I was afraid to wait until Friday lest they fledge so on Monday I went to West Galveston Bay with Alan, Taylor, and Morgan. It’s difficult to deal with three chicks at once so I brought the A-team! The pair with the triplets, LR & unbanded, are along the Galveston shoreline just before Swan Lake so we headed up there first thing to get the job done. One end of their “island” is connected to the mainland via a shell ridge and every week for the past several weeks they’ve been hanging out there. I wanted them to be there this week too because the chicks could just run over the shell ridge and hide in the vegetation. They were, however, at the other end of the island. Dang it birds! I guess they knew we were coming. It was difficult to land the boat at that end of the island but we gave it a go and Taylor, Morgan and I jumped off the boat to make chase. Of course the chicks all ran down to the other end of the island! So we moved the boat and approached it the way I wanted to in the first place. Two chicks ran and hid and one hit the water. I grabbed a dip net and went after the one in the water while Taylor and Morgan found the other two. Phew. All three chicks safely in hand. It is never easy! LR & unbanded were most unhappy with us and scolded us constantly during the entire process. Don’t worry! We’re giving them back I promise. We got them banded and took some photos.
Then we let them all go at the same time hoping they would run up in the vegetation and hide. And they did! Success!
The only other nest up there, 11 & unbanded had failed as expected. It was on the mainland so I figured it would get predated which it likely did. The adults were nowhere to be found. K7 & unbanded were hanging out with their chick and the other pairs were on the breakwater so we headed back down to West Galveston Bay. The railroad bridge was down when we got there and the train was stopped on the tracks so it didn’t seem like it was going to go up anytime soon. I decided to try to make it under and we did with a foot to spare. Yeah!
On Struve Luci, we found 12 alone in his territory so I guess the wife was off with all three chicks somewhere. The unbanded pair was in their territory but we didn’t see a chick with them. What happened to the remaining chick? What a bummer. I so wanted that story to have a good ending.
We saw L9 & unbanded in their territory but there are so many skimmers there that it’s hard to tell what’s happening with them. We’ll just have to watch. JA was on the island alone and LT was minding the chicks on one of the docks. I think JA just wanted some alone time! Raising three chicks is a lot of work. X7 was perched on top of one of the boat sheds keeping a watchful eye on her two chicks that were down below on the dock.
Her mate HM was hanging out on the end of the rock wall where their nest had been. Taylor looked over there and said there was a chick with him. What? I was looking at their chicks on the dock.
I knew they didn’t have another chick so what was happening? As we watched the two chicks on the dock took off and flew to the rock wall. So HM was there with three chicks and they were all banded. Photos revealed that one of them was the chick from the unbanded pair! Woohoo! It made it.
But why was it hanging out with HM and HM’s chicks? Perhaps that step parent isn’t so happy about the chick after all. We had an adult pair adopt a chick that wasn’t there’s once so hopefully HM & X7 will show this little guy the ropes even though it isn’t theirs. We’ll see what’s happening with that next week.
Over on Jigsaw, LH & T6 were both out on a shell berm so I thought something had happened to their chick but when they saw us coming T6 ran (and I do mean ran) over to the vegetation. Just for good measure she chased off a Little Blue Heron that happened to be in her way! You go girl! Protect that chick! That made me happy. A feisty little mama.
YE & unbanded still have two eggs so we moved on.
16 was still alone on the Galveston shoreline. Poor dude. I wish I could build him an island. On South Deer F1A & E2A were not on their nest. One was on the “cheese wheel” and the other was on the ground. I saw the one on the ground run off a gull so maybe it hatched? We’ll have to watch and see.
There weren’t any other oystercatchers on that whole island but we saw W2Y hanging out on a reef in 13’s old territory. When I looked up W2Y I discovered that it is 13’s chick from 2018 (the last one 13 had). I guess it came home for a visit but no one was there.
On Gangs Bayou, A1A & unbanded were on the breakwater and A4A was incubating their nest. There was only one egg left though so something got one of the eggs. Something is always interfering with the nests there. We headed out into the bay and checked on the Brown Boobies. Still there and still seven of them!
Scott Alford with NRCS told me that he saw an adult pair of oystercatchers with a chick at the West Bay Mooring facility which is along the GIWW at the other end of the bay. The photo he sent me looked like the chick was fledged but I wanted to go check it out anyway so we headed down there. Fortunately the wind wasn’t bad so we could go fast and it only took 20 minutes to get there. The chick was indeed fledged! Taylor, Morgan and I checked this area in early April and did not find a nest but if they have a fledged chick now, they obviously had a nest then. We will have to look more carefully next year! I don’t get to this part of the bay much but you can bet I’ll be checking closely next year!
We headed back up and checked on F9A & unbanded’s nest at Green’s cut. Still there! On North Deer, YM & JH were still incubating their nest.
C1A & unbanded were standing on their favorite shell bank surrounded by a sea of pelican chicks and E6A & unbanded were nowhere to be found. I guess their nest failed after all. Alan got this excellent photo of a Brown Pelican’s preen gland. Birds that spend a lot of time in the water have a preen gland that secretes oil that they rub on their feathers. If you’ve ever seen a water bird rubbing their head on this part of their body and then rubbing it over the rest of their body that’s what they were doing!
We made a quick run by J6 & UF’s island but they weren’t there again. We haven’t seen them since the high tide did in their chicks.
On Marker 52, we found JJ by himself. He and his mate P4 have been missing ever since their nest hatched and I was hoping they had a chick somewhere. Maybe P4 is still with it? W5 was shading he and JC’s egg and keeping the gulls away from it.
FR was still not home. Will he ever come back?! CA & Y2 went nuts when we approached so I took that as sign that they still have a chick and we left them alone. And that was the end of our day.
On Tuesday I got an email from Alan. He went out kayaking and discovered that UF was back on their island with two fledged chicks! What?!!!! How did that happen? I’ve been speculating ever since. The tide definitely went over the island but somehow they managed to get the chicks to a safe place and continue raising them to fledging. It had to be a place that we don’t go because we have not seen them since the island overwashed. There are only two places they could have taken them. One is the backside of Marker 52 where we don’t monitor because there is too much reef to get back there and there aren’t any oystercatchers nesting there anyway. The other is behind the rock wall that protects North Deer from erosion. Imagine this situation. Three small chicks swimming like mad because the tide is over the island. The wind is whipping which is why the tide came up. The adult oystercatchers are flying around calling to them and trying to lead them to safety against the tide and the wind. This is an impossible situation and yet somehow they managed to save two of them! Bravo J6 & UF! I really wish I’d known where they took them but I’m SO happy they made it!!!
On Friday, Taylor, Morgan and I headed out to East Matagorda Bay. We needed to make sure the last chick out there fledged and it did! There aren’t any more nests out there and the rest of the adults weren’t even on their territories so I think the season is over there. The skimmers are still going strong though so we’ll be back to check on them.
If you like oystercatchers and you want to support this project, you can make a donation (thank you!) on our website here. And how could anyone not like oystercatchers!
Current Stats for upper Texas coast from Dickinson Bay to East Matagorda Bay: 5 nests being incubated, 34 failed nests, 3 nests with unfledged chicks, 1 nest with undetermined status, 18 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.