By Susan Heath
On Monday, Taylor Bennett and I headed out to check the pairs in the Brazoria Bays. At the mooring facility in West Galveston Bay we found F2A there alone and the eggs were gone. He was acting very upset at our presence so I’m sure he was guarding a chick or two but we didn’t linger to look for them. There are way too many places for them to hide there. It will be a challenge to find them to band them in a couple of weeks!
I was expecting U6X & unbanded to have a nest on Alligator Point island but instead they weren’t even there. I did find a very nice scrape though so perhaps they are still planning to nest. We headed down the GIWW and entered Drum Bay at the west end and headed to check on E7A & unbanded. E7A was there guarding a single egg so I guess they decided to give it another go. The first renest of the season.
We looked over towards AR & unbanded’s territory with our binoculars but they were not in view. It was time to band their chicks and I really wanted to know how many they had before we charged in, but it was not to be. We motored around to the other side of their island and saw one adult on the shoreline and the other out on the reef feeding. We didn’t see any chicks. Drat. I headed towards the shoreline anyway, and a chick popped up and ran. Woohoo! We went and found it hiding in the veg. It was smaller than I expected which was a tip off that there had to be more than one. We looked around and found another one hiding near where the adult had been standing. If there was a third it eluded us. We banded the two we had in hand. The little one was quite feisty and kept trying to jump out of the laundry basket we had secured it in. Sheesh! You go little guy. You have to be feisty to survive when you’re the smallest chick!
We headed to Bastrop Bay hoping to find CH & unbanded with a nest but they weren’t even home so we headed back to the boat ramp.
On Wednesday I headed out to West Galveston Bay with Alan Wilde and Tiffany Willrich, a student at Texas State in their Environmental Science program. Tiffany is interested in a career in wetland restoration and she wanted to see the situation in the bays for nesting birds. I was happy to oblige. I had been stressing about the weather all week with wind and rain predicted but it wasn’t too bad when we headed out. We went the opposite way around West Galveston because it was too windy to head up to Swan Lake first thing.
We found what I thought was E4A & unbanded on the new breakwater but it turned out to be W1W & unbanded. We’ve seen them out there before. I wonder if they will take advantage of the new islands being built in the fall. CA was incubating his nest with two eggs. We didn’t see his wife Y2 anywhere. It was time for FR & unbanded’s nest to be hatched and sure enough when we pulled up they were VERY unhappy with us. I found two small chicks hiding near the nest scrape!
Exciting! W5 & JC were still sulking over their failed nest so we headed down to check on JJ & P4 and J6 & UF. Neither of them were where they’ve been the last few weeks so we went to look where they both tried to nest last year. We saw either J6 or UF pop it’s head up from deep in the vegetation just like last week. They must have a nest back there! Then when we pulled in so I could go take a look we found JJ & P4 with a two egg nest right along the shoreline. Oh boy. The pelicans have taken over all the territory and pushed the oystercatchers into unsavory locations.
I found that J6 & UF also had a two egg nest and theirs was right on the water’s edge as well.
Dang those pelicans! They don’t share well.
YM & JH still had three eggs and so did C1A & unbanded. No rattlesnakes this time! Either E8A or her unbanded mate was hanging out where their nest was so we didn’t try to get back into their hidey hole and check things out. Too difficult to get in there and I wanted to get done before the predicted rain started.
It was also time for F1A & E2A’s nest to be hatched and when we arrived at their territory on South Deer they greeted us with much distaste.
I checked the nest and found the eggs had been replaced by two small chicks!
Yay! Y7 & unbanded had increased their egg count to two so we left them to it and moved on. A5A & unbanded were in their territory but not where the nest was and they were walking slowly down the shell berm. When I motored in to go check the nest I saw two chicks following them! According to my math from when we found the nest it wasn’t time for it to hatch yet so clearly they kept it from us for a week or so. Sneaky birds!
A1A & unbanded weren’t giving up any of their secrets but they seemed like they still had a chick.
We headed over to Gangs Bayou. The tide was over Confederate Reef so there wasn’t any point in checking there. We didn’t see A4A or mate on their nest so we went around the breakwater and headed over there to check on them. They were both on the shell berm and viola – they had chicks too!
They also hid their nest from us for a week or more. I must be off my game! Since we were already behind the breakwater, we motored over to the small sand mounds TPWD created when they built the breakwater to check on C8A & unbanded. They’d been hanging out there last week and I figured they’d lay some eggs there. They did! Two of them. Even with the high tide it was high and dry so maybe it has a chance.
We checked out all the youngsters on the docks and then went to check 16 & W8W. Sadly, as expected, the eggs were gone. It really didn’t have much of a chance where they laid it but I’m always hopeful they will somehow manage to pull it off. Not this time.
YK & unbanded had nothing going on but I noticed a loon swimming nearby with a bright orange bobber stuck to its side. Oh no!!!! We tried to herd it into shallow water so we could scoop it up with a net but just when I thought we might have a chance, it dove and went out to deeper water. Every time we got anywhere near after that it dove. It broke my heart to have to leave it like that. Poor thing.
On Jigsaw X2 & W2Y still didn’t have a nest and YE & unbanded were still incubating their one egg. LH & JX however had a chick! It was hiding near the nest scrape which still had one egg in it. I didn’t hear any chick sounds coming from the egg so I don’t think it will hatch. They had three eggs so the other chick was probably somewhere nearby.
I had planned to band LT & JA’s chick this day but despite all three of us searching for a while, we couldn’t find it. Amazing how well they can hide. Next week little guy! L9 & unbanded were acting vigilant among the hordes of recently arrived Black Skimmers so they must have a chick up there somewhere.
12 & unbanded were standing out on their reef with their chick in the wide open! Well if we can’t band LT & JA’s, we certainly band 12 & unbanded’s! We checked on HM & X7 first though and found they hadn’t laid any new eggs. I was watching 12’s chick to see where it would hide and managed to run the boat up on a hidden reef pretty solidly. Ugh. It took all three of us pushing to get it off and by then the chick was out of sight. I figured we’d find this one though as it doesn’t have much place to hide. We did.
We banded it X9Y. It was very cute hanging out in the hat for the process.
Tiffany got a kick out of holding it.
The forecast rain was nowhere in sight and the wind had died slightly so we headed up towards Swan Lake. All was well with 20 & unbanded and LR & unbanded. Both nests were being incubated so we headed into the lake proper.
11 & unbanded were hanging out on the breakwater but K7 & unbanded were most unhappy to see us.
I’m sure their chicks are doing just fine. 39 & unbanded had a nice scrape prepared so maybe next week they’ll have a nest. When I went to check X3 & unbanded’s nest, I found chicks instead of eggs! Another one hatched. The last egg was just pipping.
One more cute chick photo for the road.
We headed back to the boat ramp after a full day. We don’t usually find the chicks just after hatching so to find six different sets in one day is quite a record! When we were passing Tiki Tom’s docks, we spotted the loon with the bobber again! How did it get all the way across the bay and end up where we would see it again? There was still no way to catch it so we had to leave it as it was.
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: 14 nests being incubated, 6 failed nests, 13 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 techniques.