By Susan Heath
We had to squish our field days into Monday and Tuesday this week because the wind was predicted to be really bad Wednesday through Friday. So, on Monday, Taylor, Sarah and I headed out to check the pairs in the Brazoria Bays. This includes the west end of West Galveston Bay, Bastrop Bay, and Drum Bay. We have to traverse a large open expanse of bay to get to the pairs in the west end of West Galveston Bay so we did that first to get it over with before the wind picked up. It was already pretty windy though and we were heading straight into it on the way out there so we had to go slow.
We finally got to the west bay mooring facility where we banded a pair a few weeks ago. I had hoped they’d have a nest by now but they weren’t even there. Bummer! They seem to disappear if they don’t have a nest so I’m sure they’ll be back. We headed back to Alligator Point Island where we had found an unbanded pair with a nest last time but they weren’t there either! What is going on?! Their nest was gone and it was too new to have hatched. We were just about to leave when they flew in from somewhere and scolded us. I have no idea where they were but they were clearly watching.
We headed back towards Bastrop Bay and we were buzzed by a pair of oystercatchers when we entered a sheltered section of the GIWW. They didn’t stop so we couldn’t see who they were but I suspected it was J8 & unbanded. They had a nest in Bastrop Bay on a very low island and I figured it was overwashed. That is exactly what we found when we got there. No nest, no oystercatchers. We removed a large mass of balloons that was floating across the bay and Taylor stabbed them to death with my rite in the rain pen! I really wish people wouldn’t release balloons. J0 & 38 were snoozing the day away on their island so I guess they don’t have a nest yet. We continued on our way and went across Christmas Bay to get to Drum Bay.
I thought JK & unbanded’s nest would be hatched but it wasn’t and they were still incubating three eggs. It should be hatched soon! We couldn’t find either of the other pairs there so AR & unbanded’s nest must have overwashed too. We headed back to the boat ramp very glad to be out of the wind.
On Tuesday I headed out to the rest of West Galveston Bay with Alan Wilde and John Wright. It was windy and foggy with drizzle. Not ideal conditions but we made the best of it.
I had planned to go to Swan Lake first before the wind really kicked in but the railroad bridge was down and the tide was high so we couldn’t go under it. We went to Jigsaw to check on those pairs while we waited for the bridge to go up. Both were still incubating three eggs! Great news. The gulls don’t seem to have started nesting yet so maybe these eggs have a chance of making it. My trusty boat crew at work!
Just as we finished at Jigsaw the bridge started going up. Perfect timing! We headed under it and checked along the shoreline on our way up to Swan Lake. We found that 20 & unbanded had a three egg nest and so did LR & unbanded. Yay! I’m glad to see these pairs are finally getting in the game.
We couldn’t find 11 & unbanded but K7 & unbanded were in the vegetation where they usually hide chicks. It was time for their nest to hatch so hopefully that is exactly what they were doing. This pair is very skillful at keeping their chicks from us so it will be a while before we see them I’m sure! 39 & unbanded’s nest had overwashed and we didn’t find them anywhere but X3 & unbanded had increased their egg count to three and one of them was incubating. Yay again! This area is prone to coyote predation so I hope they make it. At least they laid the nest in a spot where the lingering white pelicans don’t like to roost. We headed back towards West Galveston Bay and we could see in the distance that the railroad bridge was down again. That danged bridge has us on its radar! We had to go slow because the wind was kicking up the waves and by the time we got there it was up again.
We headed to Struve Luci where we needed to band LT & JA’s chicks. We saw both chicks in the vegetation so we pulled up and Alan and I made chase.
Fortunately they didn’t run very far and dove in the vegetation to hide again so it was pretty easy to find them. We banded them X0Y and X1W. They were a little smaller than I expected so I think it will be a week or so before they can fly.
We had noticed that L9 & unbanded were on a dock when we arrived and neither of then was incubating their nest. Before we let the chicks go, Alan ran over to check and found no eggs so it must have failed. Bummer. There are skimmers hanging out there but they don’t usually bother the oystercatcher eggs.
We let the chicks go much to LT & JA’s delight and we got the heck out of there. They ran down to their parents and all was well.
Since we had upset the apple cart by going on the island it wasn’t clear whether the unbanded pair was still incubating their nest. They weren’t on it but that could have just been because we were nearby. It was time for it to hatch so I wasn’t sure. We were on the wrong side of the island to approach their territory so we had to go around to the other side.
On the way we checked out HM & X7 the pair that had the small chicks on the rock wall. Sadly the adults were on a dock. If they still had chicks, at least one of them should have been on the rock wall. One of them buzzed us and flew over there but we didn’t see any chicks. Something must have gotten them. My best guess is a coyote but it could have been a number of things. Sad.
We went around to the other side of the island to check out the unbanded pair but 12 & unbanded and their chicks were hanging out nearby because the island was much reduced in size because of the high tide. I wasn’t sure if 12 & unbanded’s chicks could fly yet and I didn’t want them to jump in the water to escape our approach so I headed up there slowly. The chicks ran instead of flying so we backed off. We’ll just have to wait until next week to check the unbanded pair or have my spy Kevin who lives right there check it out. (Addendum: amazingly two days later I got an email from Kevin saying the unbanded pair had two chicks!)
We headed down Galveston Island noting that the wind had picked up a bit. We found that JX & YK’s nest had failed. Not surprising since it was on Galveston Island where predators abound. They are in the territory that 16 & unbanded abandoned for that very reason. Speaking of 16 & unbanded, we found them lazing the day away at the end of 8 Mile Road which sticks out into the bay a bit. 16 was laying down and we hoped he was on eggs but it was not the case. They just have nowhere safe to nest and so they aren’t.
We headed to South Deer where F1A & E2A’s chicks were out in the open finally! Two fine looking youngsters that wanted nothing to do with us. It’s your turn next week when you are big enough to get bands! F1A gave this gull the business when it got too close to one of the chicks.
We motored around the island and I happened to notice that there was an oystercatcher standing on a beachy area that we haven’t checked recently because no one has been there. We moved in a little closer and lo and behold there was another one on a nest! It was Y7 & unbanded. When did you two set up shop in this area? They only had two eggs but a float test revealed they’d been there a while so we likely missed this nest last week when it was so windy. Way to go! Around the other side of the island A5A & unbanded were still hanging out in the vegetation so their chicks must still be doing ok.
We headed over to the Sportsman Road docks but the gang of youngsters wasn’t there this week. Perhaps with the tide so high they had to find somewhere else to get their lunch. At Gangs Bayou there was no sign of A1A & unbanded but A4A & unbanded were still incubating away. Good news!
The wind had picked up considerably but it was behind us as we headed across the bay. We checked all the channel markers and found no Brown Boobies. That makes me so sad! I loved seeing those big goofy birds every week. I sure hope they didn’t die.
The Greens Cut pair was no where to be found so we headed back up the GIWW towards North Deer. On the way we found three of the youngsters from the docks along the GIWW and W1W & unbanded where ET used to try to nest at the end of a big island that is probably full of predators. They didn’t have a nest though.
On North Deer we got a surprise when we found YM & JH. We haven’t seen them in their traditional spot for weeks and this week we found them with a two egg nest a bit west from where they usually nest. Only one pair has ever tried to nest in this spot and they failed. I suspect because of the nearby heron rookery. Too many hungry mouths but we’ll see how it goes. At least we know where they are now!
Next up was J6 & UF on the breakwater. We found only one of them and it looked suspiciously like it was incubating eggs. I pulled up to the breakwater slowly and John held us in place against it with the push pole while I climbed up a couple of rocks and took a peak. Sure enough one egg. That means their other nest failed after all. Maybe they never had chicks up there. We will never know. I doubt that egg will make it but we’ll see. There are a lot of gulls and pelicans hanging out there.
C1A & unbanded were no where near their nest so it must have failed. Dang pelicans. The tide was finally high enough to go back into E6A & unbanded’s territory but we learned no more than we have from looking at them from afar. They were on opposite sides of the channel and when they saw us they flew around calling and then landed on a nearby shore. Hopefully they’ve got a chick in there somewhere. It will be big enough to be banded next week so hopefully it will be out in the open.
We headed down Marker 52 and didn’t find JJ & P4 anywhere. Perhaps they went to Arizona after all! W5 & JC were still incubating but I had expected their nest to be hatched so Alan took a quick peak. One egg was hatching!
We left quickly so JC could get back to her motherly duties and welcome her chick into the world. It was time to band FR & unbanded’s chicks but we didn’t see them until we were almost past their territory when a head popped up from the other side of the shell berm. Ah ha! Gotcha! We went around to the other side but I knew they’d be on guard since they’d seen us so went over to check on CA & Y2 instead. They were still incubating three eggs but it should hatch any day. The Caspian Terns had finally shown up and several of them already had eggs! They don’t waste any time.
Then we headed back to FR & unbanded and beached at one end of their territory. The chicks took off running and one kept going and one hid in the vegetation. John made chase and did an excellent scoop with the dip net to grab the chick just as it jumped in the water. I found the other one in the veg. They only had two eggs so there could only be two chicks! They did that last year too and fledged two chicks then. I guess FR’s mate doesn’t like to waste any eggs. We banded them X1X & X3X. So cute!
There was only one pair left and that was E3A & unbanded. Their island was covered with white pelicans and they weren’t even home so they definitely haven’t laid a nest yet. And with that another oystercatcher survey was in the books. This season is going pretty well so far and everybody seems to have two chicks! Let’s hope that trend continues.
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! You can also adopt a pair of oystercatchers to support this project if you’d like. If you adopt a pair, you will receive an adoption certificate for your birds and I will update you monthly on their progress throughout the breeding season. All adoption funds will be used to fund our work for the oystercatchers.
Current Stats for upper Texas coast from Dickinson Bay to East Matagorda Bay: 13 nests being incubated, 11 failed nests, 9 nests with unfledged chicks, 0 nest with undetermined status, 0 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