Oystercatcher Diaries 2023: Week of May 15, 2023


By Susan Heath

On Tuesday I headed out to the Brazoria Bays to check on the pairs there. My volunteers fell through again so I went by myself. It’s kind of fun to be out there alone! It reminds me of the scene in On Golden Pond when the kid takes the boat out by himself for the first time. You know it if you’ve seen it!

Anyway, there wasn’t much wind which was great and I zoomed over to the mooring facility in the west end of West Galveston Bay. It never looks like this!

photo by Susan Heath

F2A & E3A and their chick were standing on the old geotube that sticks out from the east end of the island.

photo by Susan Heath

When I got close the chick took off! Another one fledged. Yay!

I headed back to Bastrop Bay thinking all the while that we wouldn’t have to come back out to this area again because all the chicks were fledged. But then…. I found CH & unbanded on their shell bank in Bastrop Bay and CH was very attached to a nice looking scrape. Oh boy. She literally looked like she was about to drop an egg at any second. I’ll guess I’ll be going back out there again!

In Drum Bay, E7A & unbanded were on their scrap of an island and they too had a new scrape prepared. Are they going to give it a go for the third time? I guess so!

On Thursday I went out to West Galveston Bay with my sister Kay, her friend from Georgia, Laurel, and Elena Duran, the TAMU grad student. Alan is in Belize this week (suffering I’m sure because he’s missing oystercatchers!) so it was just us girls.

We headed up towards Swan Lake and went to band 20 & unbanded’s chicks. We weren’t able to make it up this way last week so I didn’t know what was happening with these pairs. The adults were standing on their shell bank and as we watched one, then two, then three large chicks emerged and started running to hide. Oh boy! Three chicks are a lot to handle. I grabbed a net and made chase. Two of then went one way and the third circled around and headed back towards the boat. Elena grabbed that one thankfully. I snagged one in the net and then had to chase the other one until I was completely out of breath. I guess it was too because it slowed down and I was able to grab it. Phew. We got them done!

photo by Susan Heath

I was a bit flustered after that because I wasn’t expecting them to have three chicks but what can I do? Way to go 20 & unbanded. We headed to LR & unbanded. They only had one chick so it wasn’t nearly as exciting but still a chick is a chick!

photo by Susan Heath

Then we headed into Swan Lake. If you’ve been following along, you’ll remember that I’ve been looking for 11 & unbanded’s nest for a while now. They’ve been acting sketchy for weeks but I never find any eggs when I look. 11 was on the breakwater so I figured finally I’d see his mate on the nest but no, that wasn’t happening. She came flying out from the island and circled the boat and I didn’t see where she came from. Drat. I motored over to see if she’d give any clues and I’ll be danged if I didn’t see a small chick run to hide! What the heck! They managed to keep their nest hidden from me for four weeks (and the coyotes too!). Sneaky little buggers. I don’t usually handle small chicks but I wasn’t sure I believed my eyes so I went and found it just to be sure.

photo by Susan Heath

It’s about a week old! I think I’m losing my edge. I need to retire!

Then we went to check on K7 & unbanded. We banded their chick ages ago so I figured it was fledged. When we got over there we saw the adults standing with not one but TWO chicks. Arg! They had two chicks and we never knew. When we got close they flew so there’s no catching it now to band it. K7 you sneaky little bugger! Definitely time for me to retire!

39 & unbanded had a nest finally. The white pelicans are finally gone so I guess they decided it was safe to lay one.

photo by Susan Heath

X3 & unbanded’s chick wasn’t quite fledged so we caught it so Elena could take blood and then we headed back to West Galveston Bay. My head was spinning with all the unexpected things we had just found!

Fortunately things calmed down a bit. We went to Struve and found most of the oystercatchers were not there but E5A & unbanded had a new nest.

photo by Susan Heath

There were far fewer skimmers than normal and they were all gone from the middle section of the island and congregated only on the larger section. I think the massive thunderstorms we had this past week must have wiped out some nests. It was much easier to count them at any rate!

Did I mention the weather was great!

photo by Susan Heath

On Jigsaw, we found LH & JX’s chick was fledged. Yay! YE & unbanded still had two eggs and we didn’t see the other pair, X2 & W2Y. That is odd because they are always there! The tern colony seemed to have taken a hit from the thunderstorms too but there was still a decent sized colony squeezed in together. The Caspian Terns have chicks now and Kay and Laurel got a dose of Caspian Tern angst. Those birds are just mad!

YK & unbanded weren’t home and neither were 16 & W8W. There weren’t any birds on the docks either. C8A & unbanded were also gone but A4A & unbanded and their chick were standing on the shell bank near where their nest had been. When they realized we were looking at them, the chick melted into the vegetation so I guess its not quite fledged yet.

We headed over to South Deer and found that A1A & unbanded were not home. I’m still wondering if their chick fledged or not. Hopefully we will see them next week.

A5A & unbanded weren’t home so I guess their nest failed again. With the number of gulls there, it’s not surprising. They really don’t have a chance unless they wait until the gulls are done. Y7 & unbanded weren’t home either so we headed to check on F1A & E2A and their chicks. They were standing along the shoreline with their chicks and the chicks didn’t run to hide so I figured they could fly. Sure enough, when we got close they both took off! Woohoo! Two more chicks fledged.

We headed over to North Deer. The area where E8A & unbanded had their nest last week was covered with gulls and pelicans and we saw no oystercatchers so I’m pretty sure that nest didn’t make it. C1A & unbanded were still incubating though! No rattlesnakes this time I guess.

I headed over to check J6 & UF and found UF on their “island” alone. It’s really just a reef at this point. Dang it. J6 must be on a nest somewhere! I just did not have the energy to go looking with everything else that had happened. Next week!

We went to band YM & JH’s chick. Laurel said she wanted to chase one down so off she went. The chick ran into the veg and she found it hiding.

photo by Susan Heath

We got that one banded and moved back to Marker 52 to check the rest of the pairs there. JJ & P4 were standing in much the same place as they were last time. Nothing happening there. Then I found an unbanded bird on a two-egg nest in a spot that used to be a territory but hasn’t been occupied for a long time. Who is that?

photo by Susan Heath

I suspect it was E4A’s mate but I won’t know for sure unless we see a banded bird there! Hopefully next week we’ll sort that out. W5 & JC were chasing gulls so I figured they must have a new nest and they did. Only one egg. This is their third try! JC is probably getting tired of laying eggs.

photo by Susan Heath

FR & unbanded and their chicks were standing together on their shell bank. When we motored close all four of them flew off together. Yay! Fred’s chicks are fledged! No more swimming for them. Thank goodness!

The last pair to check was CA & Y2. Last week we banded their chick but this week we didn’t see it. The adults were flying around as if they still had a chick to protect though so I’m hoping it had just swum to the new breakwater that is nearby where we couldn’t see it. If it is fledged next week it will likely be back out in the open.

Phew! Done. We headed back to the boat ramp. It was quite a day. Sorry you missed it Alan!

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: 7 nests being incubated, 22 failed nests, 7 nests with unfledged chicks, 1 nest with undetermined status, 13 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.