By Susan Heath
On Tuesday, Taylor Bennett, Taylor Snyder, Elena Duran and I headed out to check on the birds in the Brazoria Bays. We went to the west end of West Galveston Bay first to check the pair at the mooring facility. When we first arrived, we didn’t see any oystercatchers and I was afraid the nest had failed but then F2A suddenly popped up down the shoreline a bit. Seemed like he was not happy that we were there so we began a chick search. After a bit, Elena found a chick hiding very near where I had slipped on a patch of green goo and gotten distracted! We banded it X8W.
We headed to Alligator Point Island but that pair was once again missing. Oddly there aren’t any terns there either. Something is up with that island but I don’t know what that might be. There’s usually a large tern colony along with a pair of oystercatchers. The wind had picked up considerably since we crossed the bay and it was a bumpy ride back to the protected part of the GIWW.
We headed down to Drum Bay and discovered, as expected, that E7A & unbanded’s second nest had overwashed just like the first one. They don’t have a chance on the scrap of an island they nest on but they keep trying anyway.
We had banded AR & unbanded’s chicks the last time we were out but Elena had not been with us so she hadn’t been able to take blood. If they weren’t fledged I hoped we could find them again so she could do that. When we arrived we didn’t see any oystercatchers and I thought they had already fledged but then AR & unbanded came at us like they wanted to kill us and I knew the chicks were hiding somewhere. We searched for quite a while before we found them but they were both very healthy with primary feathers nearly completely grown. They will fledge any day!
We tried to find CH & unbanded in Bastrop Bay but they weren’t there. We had seen CH along the GIWW and I was hoping her mate was on a nest somewhere but if he was, we didn’t find him. By the time we got back to the boat ramp the wind was up to 20 mph. Way too high to be out in those bays!
On Wednesday I headed out to West Galveston Bay with Alan Wilde. We saw a single oystercatcher on the tiny island along the Tiki Channel where C2A & E0A have tried to nest in the past. It’s too low for success but they have no better place. It was C2A with a small scrape prepared. Oh boy. I had turned off the boat motor while Alan checked the island out and when I tried to restart it, it would turn over but not catch. I was drifting away from the island leaving Alan marooned. Eak! I kept trying and finally it caught and I was able to go back and get Alan but then I was afraid to turn it off again lest we get stranded.
We headed up towards Swan Lake. It was time for 20 & unbanded and LR & unbanded’s nests to be hatched. When we arrived to check on 20 & unbanded, we saw this.
It must have hatched and they must have chicks! Yay! Because I was afraid to turn the motor off, we didn’t check it out but continued on to LR & unbanded. They were both standing in the vegetation so their nest must have hatched also. Alan hopped off while I kept the boat running. He looked around but didn’t find any chicks. The adults were very unhappy about us being there so we backed off and went into Swan Lake.
11 & unbanded were not on the breakwater for a change but instead were on the shell bank where they nested last year. Ok! Now we’ve got some action. The water is deep up to the shoreline there so I was able to leave the motor running and hop off and check for eggs. None yet but they had some great scrapes ready to receive them. We headed over to K7 & unbanded. They flew out to meet us when they heard us coming so I’m sure they still have chicks. They must have had them well hidden because their territory looked like this.
39 & unbanded weren’t home and X3 & unbanded heard us coming and flew out and landed on a shell bank rather than stay in the vegetation and give away the location of their chick. That one is very hard to find when its time to band it! When we pulled away from X3 & unbanded, I accidentally ran the boat into a reef and the motor died. Uh oh. Time to find out if it would start again. Thankfully it did no problem! Not sure why it had such trouble earlier but I was glad to know it wasn’t a permanent problem! Since I knew we could turn the boat off, we went back and checked out LR & unbanded and 20 & unbanded a little more carefully on our way back to West Galveston Bay.
LR & unbanded had two chicks that I could find.
20 & unbanded had three.
20’s mate was quite unhappy with our intrusion and tried to do broken wing to distract us. I’ve only seen oystercatchers do this display a couple of times.
We headed back into West Galveston Bay and went to Struve Luci. My friend Kevin had emailed me that he’d seen 12 & unbanded’s chick out on the reef with them so I figured it could fly now but when we approached and the adults flew off, it ran to hide instead of flying with them. I guess it’s not quite fledged yet. It’s awfully darn cute though.
We had to check to see if the skimmers had eggs yet so we looked for L9 & unbanded’s chick while we made a quick check. I found it hiding so it’s not fledged yet either!
We took a break from oystercatchers to see if we could pick up any skimmer data from the birds with transmitters and we noticed LT & JA looking very much like one of them was incubating a new nest.
I checked it out later and found no eggs though. I’m still sad that something happened to their chick. I have no idea what. They have been successful every year for a long time but not this year. At least so far anyway. Maybe they will try again.
The other pairs there had nothing going on so we proceeded to Jigsaw. YE & unbanded were standing on the shoreline. Not a good sign for their nest. The egg was gone and they didn’t seem like they had a chick but I’ll give them another few weeks before I call it failed. Maybe they were just being mellow. Not so with LH & JX next door. They were quite upset and I saw were JX kept going to check on the chick so I went to check it myself. I found it trying to hide but not doing a very good job of it.
I left it there with the illusion that it was doing a great job hiding and went back to the boat. X2 & W2Y were out on a reefy part of the island and didn’t seem like they had anything going on so we left them alone. The terns (Caspian, Royal and Sandwich) have a big colony going there now and I don’t want to disturb them so we didn’t get out of the boat.
Along the Galveston shoreline we found two oystercatchers going at each other in an aerial battle. I thought it was YK and 16, the males from the two pairs there but after I looked at Alan’s photos, I think it was the females, W8W and YK’s unbanded mate. Neither of them have a territory worth fighting over but they just can’t deny their hormones I guess! I wish they would move to South Deer. There’s plenty of room there and they’d have a lot better chance of success.
C8A & unbanded were both present and one of them was incubating.
A4A & unbanded came flying straight for the boat and landed on the breakwater before we got anywhere near their territory. I guess they are tired of us finding their chicks! Since it was clear they were on a mission to protect chicks, we left them alone and moved on.
On South Deer, we found that the Laughing Gulls had arrived in force. They seemed to be on every scrap of shell there. A1A & unbanded were still acting like they were protecting a chick though. Their chick is probably too big now to be predated by the gulls but A5A & unbanded were not present. The gulls probably got their chicks. Dang it. I know the gulls have to eat but I wish they’d develop an aversion to baby oystercatchers.
Y7 & unbanded were incubating.
F1A and a single chick were along the shoreline in their territory and we watched as the chick melted into the vegetation before Alan could get a photo. There was another adult down the shoreline a bit and I thought that would be F1A’s mate E2A but it turned out to be U5Y, a bird banded as a chick in 2019. Hum. I’m not sure why F2A was allowing it to stay there. Perhaps he was too busy with his chick. We saw another adult out on the reef which was probably E2A but she was up to her belly in the water so we couldn’t see her bands.
We headed to North Deer. E8A & unbanded were standing near their nest but the eggs were gone. It was time for it to hatch but it wasn’t clear if there was a chick or not. The gulls are thick there too. C1A & unbanded weren’t home so we checked on YM & JH. They were standing along the shoreline and I was afraid their nest had failed but then we saw two small chicks run up to the vegetation. Yay!
On Marker 52, JJ was incubating a single egg. It didn’t seem like the other egg had hatched so something must have gotten to it. JJ’s mate P4 was feeding on a nearby reef. We hadn’t seen J6 & UF on their island which was just emerging with the falling tide but when we left JJ to his business J6 & UF buzzed us and flew over to their island. I don’t know where they came from but if they had a nest on Marker 52, I don’t think they would have flown so far away from it so I assumed they hadn’t laid a new one.
JC was incubating her two eggs. We didn’t see her mate so he must have been off somewhere feeding.
That brought us to FR & unbanded. FR was on the island presumably minding the chicks though we didn’t see them.
His mate was feeding nearby but when she heard us coming she flew back to the island. Since it seemed clear their chicks were still fine, we left them alone and proceeded to CA & Y2. For the past several weeks, only one of them has been there but this week they were both there and flew around with a vengeance. The nest must have hatched! The eggs were gone and I didn’t find any chicks but they were probably just hiding really well. We will see them soon enough.
E4A & unbanded were nowhere to be found so we headed back to the boat ramp.
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, 12 failed nests, 16 nests with unfledged chicks, 2 nests 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.