By Susan Heath
On Monday we all enjoyed our holiday and then Tuesday it was back to work. We tried to go to the Brazoria Bays in the morning but the radar showed a huge slug of rain moving in from the west so we delayed until noon and all was well with the weather. All was not well with the birds though. When we got to the West Bay mooring facility there were no oystercatchers to be found. Dang. Their chick must not have made it. We did find this bad boy hauled up on the island though.
I just bet that dude had a belly full of baby birds or eggs. We also saw this beautiful creature.
It wasn’t on the island thankfully and ran away with what appeared to be rabbit in its mouth. On the way out of there we saw a large pod of dolphins. They were all around us and got quite close to the boat. That was fun!
We checked on the pair on Alligator Point Island but they were just foraging so they clearly had nothing going on.
We motored down the GIWW and entered Drum Bay by K0 & unbanded’s territory. They had a small chick the last time we were out but today they weren’t home so that chick must not have made it either. Dang again!
Then we went to check on JK & unbanded. When we saw them four weeks ago they had two almost fledged chicks that we banded. Two weeks ago we did not see them and I assumed they were off showing their chicks around because they had fledged. But this week we found JK cozied up with AR, a female from a neighboring territory. AR was banded in 2014 as K0’s mate but switched to an unbanded mate in 2017 where she’s been ever since. Their territory was horrible though so I’m not surprised she moved in on JK. He has the best territory in the bay.
But this is not good. Something must have happened to JK’s unbanded mate. What about the chicks?! This doesn’t bode well. Since we don’t know what happened to JK’s mate we don’t know if the chicks were fledged or not. I am hoping against hope that they were and they are just off on their own since their dad has a new woman but it could easily be that they weren’t fledged when mom went missing and just like LH in West Galveston Bay, JK did not continue to take care of the chicks or the new mate wouldn’t tolerate another female’s chicks. This is very sad! After the entangled chick last week and now all these chicks not making it, I need a win!
On Wednesday I headed out to West Galveston Bay with Alan (he’s back!) and Davis Clay. I recruited Davis to go with us because he has a lot of experience with injured birds and I figured he could drive the boat in a pinch. I was hoping to try again to catch the chick on Struve Luci with a fishing line entanglement. We headed out the Tiki Channel to go to Swan Lake and lo and behold there were reefs above the water! The reefs haven’t been exposed in a long time. We saw E1A there with an unbanded bird. Last time we saw them they were in Jones Bay but they’ve been missing for a while. Clearly they are hanging out in the area!
We headed up to Swan Lake and there was almost no wind so the water was smooth as glass. What a joy! 20 & unbanded were looking suspicious so I went to look for eggs. Here they are trying to sneak away.
I didn’t find any but Alan did. I’m beginning to think he should be the one to look for the nests!
Hopefully they will lay more. We went to check on LR & unbanded. LR was on the island and his mate flew in from the breakwater. They were not happy about our presence. Here’s LR doing a cocked tail display.
His mate joined him in the dance when she arrived. I’m not sure what that was all about but they didn’t appear to have a chick.
There were fishing boats everywhere so we had to alter our route and go into Swan Lake a different way. We didn’t see any oystercatchers until we got to X3 & unbanded. They were standing along the water’s edge with their chick. When we approached the adults flew but the chick ran around the corner behind some vegetation. I was afraid it was still not fledged. I got out of the boat and walked over so I could check things out and that was all the encouragement the chick needed. It took off and flew across the island to where the adults were. Yay!
X3 & unbanded gave me the business for harassing their chick.
Good job X3 & unbanded! I tip my hat to you!
We found the rest of the oystercatchers up there on the breakwaters so we headed back to West Galveston Bay (again over smooth waters!) and went to Struve Luci. We were prepared with two net guns and three people but dang it all if LT & JA and their chicks weren’t there! Can’t try to catch an entangled bird if we don’t know where it is. That was quite disappointing. The rest of the pairs were all there as well as 12 & unbanded’s chicks and the unbanded pair’s chick. It was standing on one of the docks all alone.
We noticed some tern chicks so even though the skimmers all got overwashed, it looked like some of the terns made it through the high tide.
I noticed a few skimmer eggs so they appear to be starting over again. We also noticed W2Y feeding in LT & JA’s territory. W2Y is a bird banded as a chick in 2018.
I don’t think LT & JA would have allowed that if they’d been home!
From there we went to Jigsaw. I was interested to see if JX would rush and lay a nest now that she has a mate with a decent territory but that was not the case. They were out on a reef. Perhaps they are still getting to know each other. I still feel sad about that chick not making it. It was so close! And poor T6.
YE was along the shoreline all alone and we didn’t see his mate anywhere. Perhaps she left him or maybe she was just off somewhere else foraging. No telling. We moved over to the shoreline of Galveston Bay and found YK with an unbanded bird again. They were just loafing along the shoreline. At the end of 8 Mile Road, 16 was standing proud with an unbanded adult nearby.
Perhaps that is his new mate. We also found one of LT & JA’s chick there.
That isn’t the entangled one though so the adults must have been with it somewhere. We checked all the docks but found no more birds so we headed to Gangs Bayou. A4A & unbanded were standing on the far end of the breakwater so I guess they have given up for the year. We checked Confederate Reef since parts of it were above water but all we found was an unbanded bird that appeared to be a chick from last year. How dare it not be banded!
On South Deer, one of A1A & unbanded was down by the water’s edge and the other one was laying down on the shell berm so I thought they might have another nest but I found no eggs. A1A was looking a little annoyed.
A5A & unbanded were out on a reef and Y7 & unbanded were standing along the shoreline in the much the same spot as they have been the last few times we’ve seen them. No action there! F1A & E2A were also out on a reef and their chicks weren’t there. Watch out for roaming teenage oystercatchers!
We moved over to North Deer and couldn’t find E6A & unbanded but C1A & unbanded were on a reef too. Seems to be a common theme these days. Most of them have either fledged chicks or given up for the year.
But then we checked on J6 & UF and that turned out to be quite exciting! J6 was standing on the breakwater down at the water’s edge and UF was up on top. We sidled up to the breakwater and looked from the boat. Alan said “I see a chick!” and then Davis said “I see it!”. I didn’t see it! I might have gotten a tad bit whiny until I climbed up on the seat and then there between the rocks was the cutest little chick butt I’d ever seen!
These birds are amazing! Way to go J6 & UF! Here’s hoping that can keep that chick safe from the gulls until it gets big. That will be SO exciting!
It was hard to top that but we did see YM & JH’s chick made a pretty good flight across their territory.
I guess that one is finally fledged. The birds on Marker 52 were all loafing along the shoreline. Even Fred was in a lackluster mood and didn’t even give us a peep. We found CA & Y2 on their island with both their chicks. So cute.
We decided to go back to Struve and see if LT & JA had returned with the entangled chick. We found LT but not JA and the chick. Bummer. We saw this though which is just plain weird.
L9 was hanging out with two unbanded adults. The breeding season is clearly coming to a close if they are allowing that to happen. First a rogue bird is feeding on the island (W2Y) and then a unbanded bird appears to hang out. It’s June. Things are slowing down.
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, 37 failed nests, 1 nest with unfledged chicks, 1 nest with undetermined status, 15 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.