By Susan Heath
On Tuesday, Taylor, Taylor and I headed out to East Matagorda Bay. The wind was strong out of the east so we headed down the GIWW from Matagorda all the way to Chinquapin and checked on F8A & unbanded. The tide was higher then I’ve seen it out there this year and they were standing on a tiny scrap of an island along the GIWW. Nowhere safe to nest!
We checked Dressing Point but once again there weren’t any oystercatchers so we headed to the Oyster Farm. Taylor spotted the chick running along the island toward its’ mom (M4) who was standing in the vegetation. The chick joined M4 but when M4 took off to escape our invasion, the chick ran to hide so it can’t fly yet. We backed off not wanting to scare it more than we already had. It should be able to fly soon!
We headed to Old Gulf Cut. The island on the east side of the cut had waves washing over it with the tide so high and A7A & unbanded weren’t there. Who can blame them?! On the other side of the cut, 25 & unbanded were standing where they had a nest last time but we found no nest and no chicks. They left and didn’t seem in a hurry to come back so I think the nest overwashed rather than hatched. Such a shame. Maybe they will try again. The nested really late last year when the tides were low in the summer.
On Wednesday, I headed out to West Galveston Bay with Alan Wilde, John Wright and Elena Duran. The wind was again strong out of the east which works ok in West Galveston Bay but it blows us right into the shoreline when surveying Galveston Bay and Swan Lake. We headed up there anyway of course.
20 & unbanded were hanging tight on their island and it was clear they were protecting chicks. I would have just left them alone but there was a Great Blue Heron parked in the vegetation and I didn’t want it there with small chicks so we landed to make it fly. It did and we made sure it didn’t have a nest there. LR & unbanded were similarly hanging in the vegetation making it clear they had chicks so we left them alone and went into Swan Lake.
11 & unbanded were hanging on their shell bank but we couldn’t find a nest. Then it was time to go band K7 & unbanded’s chick. They are very good at hiding their chicks but we got some help from the white pelicans as they were covering a good bit of K7 & unbanded’s territory and I knew the chick would not be among them. With a much smaller search area than usual, John found the chick pretty quickly and we banded it X8U.
With that done we checked on X3 & unbanded. They erupted from the vegetation when we approached so I’m sure they were there protecting a chick. I was suspicious about 11 & unbanded so we went back over for one more check. When I got out of the boat and waded through the spartina, I flushed a Clapper Rail off its nest!
Oops. Sorry little lady. I didn’t know you had such important business to attend to right there. I still didn’t find an oystercatcher nest so we left the rail to its business and headed back to West Galveston Bay.
It was time for the two chicks on Struve Luci to be fledged and I was anxious to see them fly. We headed over there and approached 12 & unbanded’s territory. The adults weren’t there but the chick was. When we got too close for it to feel comfortable, it launched itself into the air and flew to the next island over. Yay! First fledged chick of the year.
At the other end of the island, L9 & unbanded and their chick were in amongst the skimmers. When we went to check if the any of the skimmers had eggs yet, the chick flew off with the adults! Another one fledged! It is always a happy moment to see the chicks fly for the first time.
None of the other pairs there had anything going on so after we were done with the skimmers we headed to Jigsaw.
LH & JX were still acting chick crazy so we left them alone. YE & unbanded were again standing along the water’s edge near where their nest had been. It is still not clear whether they have a chick or not but I’m leaning towards not. Time will tell. X2 & W2Y were at the other end of the island and I thought maybe they had laid a nest there since it’s far away from the ever-growing tern colony but we didn’t find one. Maybe next week.
On the shore of Galveston Island we found that YK & unbanded had a new nest with three eggs!
It’s not likely to succeed given where it is but we’ll hope for them anyway. There were 15 oystercatchers at 8 Mile Road and the first dock. With the high tide, they have to go somewhere! We headed down to Gangs Bayou and found that C8A & unbanded were still incubating their nest. I thought it might have hatched but not yet I guess. I sure hope the tide stays low enough for them to succeed.
We saw A4A & unbanded and their chick standing along the shoreline. When they noticed us looking at them the chick retreated to the vegetation. I wonder what the adults say to the chick exactly to get them to hide. Something like “quick into the bushes, those awful humans are staring at us again!”.
We headed to South Deer to band A1A & unbanded’s chick. They are also quite good at hiding their chicks but John triumphed again and found it pretty quickly. This little guy or gal was big and will probably be fledged by next week. We found it just in time!
A5A & unbanded were back on their shell berm. They were absent last week (or hiding really well). They didn’t appear to have a chick which seems likely given the large number of gulls there but we’ll keep watching them. I thought Y7 & unbanded’s nest would hatched but they were still incubating one egg. Hopefully next week.
F1A was home alone tending the chick. He had a morsel in his beak that I’m sure was intended for the chick so I guess it was just hiding.
On North Deer, either E8A or the unbanded mate was back in the vegetation so I guess they have a chick after all. Yay! We found that C1A & unbanded had laid a new nest too. Another yay! This one is far from where the snake was hanging out so hopefully they’ll have better luck. C1A even put some nice shell decoration on this one!
YM & JH were hanging out along the shoreline with both their chicks in tow. They were letting the gulls get much too close for my comfort so we left quickly so we didn’t put them in danger.
On Marker 52, we did not see either J6 & UF or JJ & P4. I suspect JJ & P4’s nest failed but maybe they will turn up with a chick. JC was incubating her nest while W5 stood lookout. They are surrounded by gulls too so it will be hard to keep a chick alive once it hatches. They’ve done it before though!
FR & unbanded were standing atop their shell berm and I saw both chicks run behind it to hide. Good job Fred!
CA & Y2 flew out to give us the business when we approached their island and then flew over and landed on a mud berm by the Tiki Spoil area. We found their chick hiding in the vegetation.
E4A & unbanded were absent again 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, 14 failed nests, 16 nests with unfledged chicks, 1 nest with undetermined status, 2 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