By Susan Heath
I had to move my Tuesday trip to East Matagorda Bay to Friday because of all the rain. On Thursday, I headed out to West Galveston Bay with Alan Wilde and Trey Barron (TPWD Wildlife Diversity Biologist). The wind was supposed to die down as the day went on so I decided to save Swan Lake for last and go the opposite way around then we usually do so we headed out to Jones Bay.
E4A & unbanded were on the breakwater near where they tried to nest. Haven’t seen them in a while. I wonder if they will try again? We headed over to CA & Y2’s territory and I saw their chick run to hide. I needed to band it so it was nice to know where it hid. I found it easily and we banded it Y8X.
Then we went to check on FR & unbanded’s chicks. Oy why are Fred’s chicks always such a pain! One of them flew and then landed in the water and started to swim. Exactly what I don’t like to happen. I motored the boat around such that we could herd it back to the island and then we noticed the other one was in the water too. I don’t know if it flew and landed like the first one or just jumped in the water and swam. At any rate, I wasn’t taking any chances with them. We watched them until they made it safely back to the island and then we left quickly. I didn’t want them to swim again. I guess they aren’t quite fledged yet!
I needed to check on the chick at the mooring facility which is all the way down at the other end of the bay. I was afraid by next week on my next regular check down there it would be able to fly well enough that the adults would have taken it off somewhere and I wouldn’t know for sure that it survived. So we made the long trek down there (about 30 minutes each way). On the way we spotted W5U on some rocks.
That is the mooring pair’s chick from last year! Weird coincidence that we’d see it when going to check on this year’s chick. It was all for naught though because they weren’t there! We heard one calling but we never saw the adults or the chick. I’ll have to check again next week on my regular rounds in that area and hope for the best.
We headed back up to the east end of West Galveston Bay, carefully avoiding going anywhere near FR & unbanded’s territory so the chicks wouldn’t do anything crazy again and checked on the rest of the pairs. W5 & JC were standing on a shell bank but they had no reaction when we moved in for a closer look so their nest failed for sure.
JJ & P4 were also standing on a shell bank and we didn’t find a new nest so I guess they were just chilling. We saw no sign of J6 & UF. Wonder what they are up to?
YM & JH and their chick were doing a fantastic job of hiding in the spartina and we didn’t see them until we got very close. JH showed her displeasure at our rude interruption.
We moved on to find C1A & unbanded still incubating their nest. One of E8A & unbanded was on the shell bank near where their nest had been so I went and took a peak. No new nest. We were about to leave when I spotted the other member of the pair on the other side of a little channel that runs into the center of the island. Ah ha! I checked over there and found a three egg nest. Little sneakers. I floated the eggs and they weren’t new so its been there at least a couple of weeks.
There are still a lot of gulls around so it will be a lucky thing if that nest makes it. We headed over to South Deer. F1A & E2A were also doing a great job of hiding but one of them popped up from behind the vegetation when we got close so I figured the chicks were not fledged yet and were hiding there. I found them easily and carried them back to the boat so Trey could see them.
I put them back where I found them and they nestled down into the vegetation thankfully. Y7 & unbanded were not home but A5A & unbanded appeared to have a new nest and one of them was incubating.
Further investigation revealed one egg. Since this is their second nest I doubt they’ll lay three especially since they were already incubating but we’ll see. Then we went to check on A1A & unbanded. Their chick should be fledged by now but instead we only saw the adults. No chick. Uh oh. I hope nothing happened to it! I gave a quick look but the nesting terns there were not appreciative of my efforts so we didn’t stay long. Hopefully that chick will turn up next week.
On we went to check A4A & unbanded. They were standing next to a flock of Black Skimmers and the chick popped up when we got close. Instead of flying it ran to hide so it isn’t fledged yet either.
C8A & unbanded weren’t home and we didn’t find the gang of youngsters until we got all the way to 8 Mile Road. There were 21 birds there!
YK & unbanded weren’t home so we moved on to Jigsaw. X2 & W2Y continue to confuse me but I don’t think they have a nest. Not so YE & unbanded though. After some careful sleuthing we discovered they had a new two egg nest.
LH & JX were acting very much like they still had a chick but we didn’t see it so I figured it was not fledged yet and was hiding. We left them to it and headed to Struve Luci. Nothing much has changed with the pairs on the island. 12 & unbanded and their chick were hanging out on their reef.
L9 & unbanded and their chick were off somewhere exploring and E5A & unbanded and LT & JA were just loafing about. Alan said he saw a bird on the rock wall so we went over there to investigate and found that HM & X7 had a new one egg nest.
I hope this one fares better than the last one! We counted the skimmers and looked for bands and then went to the boat ramp on that side of the bay to pick up Justin LeClair from CBBEP. He came all the way up from the Valley to help us install cameras so we can track skimmer disturbance. Dedication!
Installing the cameras involved sinking a 4×4 into the bottom far enough that it will stand up on its own and remain that way until September. Not an easy task when there is a hard bottom. I came prepared for this though. I brought a saws all and Trey cut a point on the 4×4 so it would go in easier. Justin spent a good long while digging a hole which involved digging.
And some snorkeling without a snorkel on his part.
Sheesh. This guy works hard! While he was doing that, Trey and I got the camera cases set up on the post.
Once the hole was deep enough we sunk the post into it and then Trey climbed up on a small ladder on the boat (don’t try this at home) and banged on it with a sledge hammer to get it to go in farther. Thank you Trey! We finally got it in deep enough and installed the cameras.
Stay safe skimmers! We got your back. By then it was too late to go to Swan Lake and the boat was almost out of gas so we just headed back to the boat ramp.
On Friday after a couple of misstarts, I headed out to East Matagorda Bay by myself. There wasn’t much to check on but I did find that LF & M4’s chick is fledged!
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, 20 failed nests, 12 nests with unfledged chicks, 0 nests with undetermined status, 5 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.