Oystercatcher Diaries 2023: Week of May 22, 2023


By Susan Heath

On Tuesday I headed out to East Matagorda Bay with Heather Lewis, one of our new volunteers. Heather is an instructor at Alvin Community College but back in the day, she did her masters degree on Black Skimmers! Very nice to have another Black Skimmer enthusiast among us!

We haven’t seen any skimmers in East Matagorda Bay yet this year but today they were finally back at Old Gulf Cut. We counted 100 exactly. Nice! I was very glad to see them. One of the oystercatcher pairs that nests there was not home and the other one was feeding so it didn’t seem like they had a nest.

We headed out to the Oyster Farm. LF & M4 and their chick were not home. I suspect they were on the beach as it is a very short flight! Their area was covered with loafing Brown Pelicans and two pairs of nesting Great Blue Herons. I’m very glad that oystercatcher chick already fledged.

I took Heather by Dressing Point so she could see the spectacle. On the way we spotted two frigatebirds sitting on a post. These things look prehistoric!

photo by Susan Heath

At Dressing Point just about every species of heron and egret that nests in Texas was there doing their thing. There is also a large Royal Tern colony. It is something to see! At Chinquapin we found F8A & unbanded feeding on one of the small islands there. No nest there either.

The highlight of the day (other than the skimmers being back) was the baby Barn Swallows in the women’s restroom at the boat ramp. They look almost fledged.

photo by Susan Heath

Their parents weren’t too happy with our intrusion but they must get disturbed all the time since you can’t get into the bathroom without walking right by the nest.

On Thursday I headed out to West Galveston Bay with Alan Wilde and newly minted Master Naturalist Brad Ober. Brad wanted to see what this oystercatcher nonsense was all about and boy did we show him!

We headed up towards Swan Lake and found it was a bit windier than predicted. Ugh. 20 & unbanded and all three of their chicks had moved to the island with the giant rusty ball. I was glad to see all three chicks still doing fine. They must not be fledged yet because every time we got anywhere near, they ran to hide. Alan couldn’t get any decent photos of the three of them. Disappointing but by next week they should be able to fly and then we’ll get some.

LR & unbanded and their chick were on their island and their chick also ran to hide so its not fledged yet either. It wasn’t as crafty at hiding though.

We entered Swan Lake and immediately saw a pair of oystercatchers on the breakwater. I feared the worst for 11 & unbanded’s chick because if they were on the breakwater, then the chick was no more. But it wasn’t 11 & unbanded on the breakwater! Phew. One of them appeared from somewhere and then the other one flew out from the area where the chick was hiding last week so I think all is well with that situation. That’s a relief. That chick is in a very vulnerable spot from a predation perspective.

K7 & unbanded were standing in their territory with only one chick, the unbanded one. Where did the banded one go? I hope nothing happened to it! Brad helped me count all the nesting birds there (gulls, terns, and herons) for the colonial waterbird count and then we went to check on 39 & unbanded.

They were still incubating their two eggs. X3 & unbanded and their chick were standing on their shell berm. The adults flew when we approached but the chick was very hesitant. It finally flew when I acted like I was going to get off the boat. Another one fledged!

photo by Alan Wilde

We checked all the breakwaters for K7 & unbanded’s missing chick and then went back to the island to check one more time but it hadn’t turned up. Hopefully it was out exploring and will be back next week.

We headed back to West Galveston Bay and went to Struve Luci to count the Black Skimmers. 12 & unbanded were there without their chick again. E5A & unbanded were still incubating one egg. Lackluster effort you two! LT & JA were loafing about. I guess they aren’t going to try again. They almost always fledge a chick so its pretty sad to see them fail and not try again. The number of Black Skimmers was much reduced from previous weeks and I’m not sure why. There was only half as many as are usually there.

HM was playing king of the post and his mate X7 was on a dock.

photo by Alan Wilde

We headed to Jigsaw. LH & JX and their chick were standing together on a shell berm. The adults flew and chick was reluctant just like X3 & unbanded’s chick. I banded JX as a chick in 2015 and this is the first time she’s fledged a chick. Way to go JX! The chick finally took off when I went to check YE & unbanded’s nest. Still two eggs!  X2 & W2Y were standing around doing nothing. Then when we went down to check out the tern colony they suddenly got very interested in acting like they had a nest. Once again, they didn’t! The Caspian Tern chicks are getting big.

photo by Alan Wilde

We headed over to run the shore of Galveston Island. YK & unbanded were not home. There were eight oystercatchers at 8 Mile Road and only one on the docks. At Gangs Bayou, C8A & unbanded weren’t home. A4A & unbanded and their chick were standing off to the side of the Black Skimmer and Gull-billed Tern colony. I think we found where the Struve skimmers went! The adults flew when we moved in and the chick went with them. Fledged!

photo by Alan Wilde

I counted the skimmers and terns for the colonial waterbird count and we headed over to South Deer. We hadn’t seen A1A & unbanded’s chick for two weeks so I was concerned something happened to it. Once again they weren’t in their territory. There is a large Royal Tern colony there now so I hoped that was why they weren’t there. Sure enough we found them with their chick at the end of A5A & unbanded’s territory. Yay! Another chick fledged.

photo by Alan Wilde

A5A & unbanded were standing at the other end of their territory. I’m not sure why they were allowing A1A & unbanded to hang out there but maybe A1A is just a bad ass and they can’t run him off! At any rate, I was very glad to see that chick.

Y7 & unbanded weren’t home again so we headed over to check on F1A & E2A and their chicks. When we pulled up, both chicks hopped out of the vegetation and stood there looking at us as if to say, “we can fly now, we don’t have to hide anymore”! F1A was there with them and they all flew when they felt we were too close.

photo by Alan Wilde

On North Deer, E8A & unbanded weren’t home again. No surprise since their entire territory is covered with pelicans and gulls. C1A & unbanded’s nest had hatched. I didn’t find a chick but they were sure upset that I was looking so I’m sure there was one there somewhere. Excellent!

JH was in her territory with her chick. It didn’t appear fledged yet so we left them alone. YM was probably off somewhere getting food.

photo by Alan Wilde

It was time to solve the mystery of where J6 & UF have been hiding. I strongly suspected that they had a nest on the backside of Marker 52 that had hatched. They’ve been missing for four or five weeks now. The vegetation has grown too tall for us to see them and perhaps they’ve learned not to give themselves away by poking their heads up when the boat comes near. Reluctantly I walked back there to look. There are rattlesnakes everywhere out there and I don’t like to walk anywhere where I can’t clearly see where I’m putting my feet. Once I got back there though, they came flying out and circled me several times calling. Oh yeah. I didn’t find a nest so they must have a chick. I searched but there are just too many places it could hide for me to find it. At least I know what’s happening with them now. They were most displeased with my intrusion!

photo by Alan Wilde

While I was doing that, Alan and Brad had discovered that JJ & P4 had a new one egg nest.

photo by Susan Heath

Go for it JJ & P4! They said on the news that JJ Watt was retired! I think not! We proceeded down Marker 52 and solved the mystery nest situation from last week. It does indeed belong to E4A and her unbanded mate. They were both there this week and E4A was incubating two eggs. I don’t know why they didn’t move there a long time ago. It’s a much better spot than the dinky island they were trying to nest on previously.

JC was also incubating two eggs a little farther down the island. She only had one last week so I guess she got ambitious and laid another one.

photo by Alan Wilde

FR & unbanded and both their chicks were standing at the end of their island. As we approached all four of them took off as a unit and flew down to the other end. Fred is teaching his offspring well!

The last pair to check was CA & Y2. We hadn’t seen their chick last week and I was very much hoping that it would turn up this week. The adults flew out and circled us. CA landed on the small island and Y2 flew over to the new breakwater. The chick wasn’t on the island so I searched the breakwater through my binoculars and spotted it walking towards Y2. Yay! It made it. I was worried. Another one fledged.

photo by Alan Wilde

That was the end of the birds to check 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: 6 nests being incubated, 23 failed nests, 5 nests with unfledged chicks, 0 nests with undetermined status, 17 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.