By Susan Heath
On my trip to West Galveston Bay this week I was joined by Alan Wilde, Maureen Wilde, and Lynn Wright all master naturalists and residents of Tiki Island that watch over the oystercatchers. We started in Jones Bay and found that W5 & JC were flying around FR’s territory. Uh oh. Good thing FR wasn’t there! But bad that they were doing that because their nest should have hatched. It must not have made it. Dang those gulls and pelicans.
When we approached CA & Y2’s island, CA flew out calling and circling us. We didn’t see Y2 until she tried to slip out the back door again (i.e. the backside of the island). Clearly they still have a chick so we left them alone.
We headed up the length of Marker 52 and didn’t see one single oystercatcher! W5 & JC were still in FR’s territory and JJ & P4 were nowhere to be found. We went to J6 & UF’s small island hoping for a glimpse of the miracle chicks but we only found UF there alone feeding. I want to see your chicks UF!
Over on North Deer, YM & JH were hanging out very near where their nest had been and they had their chick with them. Yeah! So far so good. I wish they would hide the little dude in the spartina like they’ve done in the past. It is safe there from gull mouths and pelican feet.
C1A & unbanded were hanging out amongst the mass of young pelicans and we couldn’t find E6A & unbanded.
We headed over to Jigsaw to see if we could band LH & T6’s chick(s). When we arrived they were standing very near the border of their territory with YE & unbanded’s territory. YE & unbanded were standing in the vegetation on the other side of the invisible line. I smell trouble here. A standoff perhaps? We searched high and low in LH & T6’s territory but found no chick. Because YE & unbanded should have a small chick also we searched there too but also found nothing. They were calling pretty vigorously but I couldn’t tell if that was because they had a chick or because of the standoff. We abandoned the search and moved on.
Things were mighty quiet with the oystercatcherwise on Struve Luci. 12 & unbanded were in their territory without their chicks. HM was flying around causing trouble as usual. What I thought was X7 perched on one of the boat shed roofs turned out to be good old JX. JX was banded as a chick on South Deer Island in 2015 so he is now 5 years old and trying to find a territory of his own. We’ve seen him all over the bay this spring trying to kick other males out or set up a territory in a new place. He was the cause of L9 & unbanded’s nest failure early in the season because he wouldn’t leave them alone long enough to incubate. It will be interesting to see where he ends up next year. I’m sure he will have run off one of the older males and taken his territory.
HM & X7’s chicks were missing too so I expect X7 was off with them somewhere. The unbanded pair was up in the veg and their chicks were not present either. LT was on the island with one of his chicks but the wife and other two chicks were not there and we didn’t L9 & unbanded anywhere. With five pairs and nine chicks among them, things have been hopping there all season but now that the chicks are big enough to be on their own and the season is winding down things are quieting down. The skimmers are just getting going though and we counted 16 2-3 week old chicks.
We headed up to Swan Lake then stopping on the way to check on 20 & unbanded. Oddly there were three oystercatchers there instead of just the two. W2Y, who we saw last week in the territory where it hatched in 2018 was with them. A threesome? Who knows. I found a new scrape in the area but no eggs. W2Y is almost three now and thinking about breeding next year so I suspect he/she is checking out territories.
We also went by to see LR & unbanded’s chicks but all we found was the adults. That seemed odd because their chicks aren’t really old enough yet to be off on their own. I decided to check again later and we headed into Swan Lake. 11 & unbanded were hanging out on one of the breakwaters and 39 & unbanded were in the marsh behind their territory, but they flew to the breakwater when we disturbed them. No sign of K7 & unbanded and their chick. Off on a foray I’m sure. X3 & unbanded were also missing. They were probably on the Texas City Dike where they like to hang out. We headed back down the bay and went by LR & unbanded’s territory again. Alan noticed one of the adults and two of the chicks on a beachy area just west of their nesting island. And Maureen spotted the other adult and the other chick on the breakwater nearby. Phew. Ok. All three chicks present and accounted for!
It was quite calm out so we were able to race back across the bay. Of course because it was calm we had no issues with the railroad bridge going down! We went back to Jigsaw and tried again to find LH & T6’s chick without luck. Do they have a chick? We have not seen a chick but they have certainly been acting like they have a chick and oystercatchers just don’t play around with stuff like that. When they have a chick they are serious about it!
We checked for 16 along the Galveston Island shoreline and found YK & unbanded again. I fear 16 may have flown the coop. Hopefully he’ll show back up next January when it’s time to get serious about breeding again. On South Deer we found F1A & E2A hanging out along the shoreline doing not much of anything. No nesting action there. We also found a single unbanded bird again, this time on a different shelly patch than the past couple of weeks. I suspect this bird is scoping out nesting territories for next year.
At Gangs Bayou, A1A & unbanded were not in their usual spot on the breakwater and we didn’t see them anywhere but A4A & unbanded were still incubating their egg. It should be hatched next week. Sure hope that goes well. That pretty much wrapped it up for the oystercatchers but I decided to go back to Jigsaw and approach from the other side of the island in case they were hiding their chick over there, but that resulted in no info at all. LH was out on the reef and T6 appeared to be walking nonchalantly back to the reef when we got close enough to see. You are not fooling me T6! I know you have a chick up there somewhere. Hopefully we’ll get another chance next week. After that, it will be fledged.
We headed out into the bay just to see how many Brown Boobies were present. There was one with a frigatebird on the second shell marker sign and five on the third shell marker sign. When will these birds either go home or fully move in and make some babies?
We checked on F9A & unbanded at Greens Cut since we were there anyway but as expected they weren’t home. In order to drop Maureen and Lynn back off at Alan and Maureen’s house we had to go back through Jones Bay so I decided to see if W5 & JC were still in FR’s territory. I was theorizing that maybe the nest didn’t fail after all and they had taken their chick down there to get it away from all the gulls and pelicans. Well that theory was blown to pieces when we discovered that not only was FR(ed) back but his wife and two chicks were also! We haven’t seen them in months. It was great to see the family again and FR(ed) was up to his usual antics but now he’s such a proud papa! It was super nice to be able to show them to Lynn because she and her husband John adopted them this year and they’d only seen photos of them.
That was a super way to end the day on the water! The boat ramp was a zoo though and we had to wait a while to get the boat out of the water. Then about halfway back to GCBO (it’s an hour drive), the driver’s side front tire blew out on the truck. Yikes! Fortunately I was able to slow down easily and pull off to the side of the road without incident. A very nice guy took pity on me and stopped to help me change the tire. Thank you! After that I made it back to GCBO without incident and the truck now had four new tires! I’ve dreaded something like that happening for 10 years. Well now I’ve lived it and I hope I don’t have to again!
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: 1 nest being incubated, 39 failed nests, 2 nests with unfledged chicks, 2 nests with undetermined status, 21 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.