By Susan Heath
On Tuesday, Rebecca and I headed out to East Matagorda Bay. The Black Skimmers have started nesting there so we need to keep track of them but I also wanted to give the oystercatchers one more check. Rebecca had her first go at driving the boat.
She did great! The wind was out of the north (weird in June!) so we headed down the GIWW to Chinquapin and then went out in the bay. F8A & unbanded were not home and there wasn’t much of their islands above water. We went by Dressing Point and spent a few minutes checking out all the nesting waterbirds there. It is quite a sight!
Then we headed back down the bay with the wind at our back and went to the Oyster Farm. LF & M4 and their chick weren’t home and the islands were covered with roosting Brown Pelicans. Nothing to see there, so we headed back to Old Gulf Cut to check the skimmers. While we were counting them, I saw 25’s mate pop his head up from incubating a hidden nest! Two eggs. Sneaky, sneaky! Hope it makes it.
The other pair at Old Gulf Cut wasn’t there so after we were done with the skimmers we headed back to the boat ramp.
On Thursday we headed out to West Galveston Bay with Alan Wilde and Elena Duran. There weren’t any oystercatchers along the Tiki Channel so we headed up towards Swan Lake. 20 & unbanded and one of their chicks were on the breakwater while the other two chicks were on the island. When we moved in for photos, the two chicks flew over to the breakwater and the whole family was together. All fledged! Way to go 20 & unbanded. Fledging three chicks is quite a feat.
We moved on to LR & unbanded. They didn’t appear to be home but while we were watching a group of five oystercatchers flew in and landed. One of them was LR. There were three unbanded birds so one of those could have been his mate but their chick wasn’t with them. Already out touring the bay alone? I hope nothing happened to it.
Before we entered Swan Lake I looked over at 11 & unbanded’s shell bank. I saw the adults there and I was pretty sure I saw the chick too but when we went to look for it we couldn’t find it. There are a lot of places to hide there so we’ll just have to look again next week. Hopefully it won’t be fledged yet.
K7 & unbanded and their chicks weren’t home. 39 & unbanded were hanging in the vegetation near their nest and their eggs were gone so I thought maybe it had hatched. I didn’t find any chicks though and upon our intrusion, they flew to the breakwater and didn’t come back. That’s a sign they probably don’t have a chick. Bummer. Not sure what happened there unless the nesting terns got the chick. X3 & unbanded and their chick weren’t home either so we ran the breakwaters looking for them (no luck) and took another gander over at 11 & unbanded from afar. They weren’t out in the open so we headed back to West Galveston Bay.
There’s not much happening oystercatcher wise on Struve Luci these days. It’s mostly about the skimmers but LT & JA were still incubating their two eggs. I sure hope they are able to fledge a chick! On Jigsaw, LH & JX were out on the tip end of a reef while their chick was over on the island. Interesting. Not sure what was going on there.
YE & unbanded were standing along the water’s edge. Not a good sign that all was well with their nest. I went to check and found the eggs were gone. I suspect it hatched and the gulls promptly got the chicks as YE & unbanded were in no way acting like they had a chick. Sad. They try to hard! X2 & W2Y were doing their usual stand on the reef and do nothing act so we moved on. The terns have a lot of chicks now and they are all so fuzzy and cute!
I always want to snuggle them but I bet they don’t smell very good! Neither of the pairs on Galveston Island were home but we found 14 youngsters at 8 Mile Road and then two more on the docks farther down. The Gangs Bayou pairs weren’t home either but while we were counting the skimmers and Gull-billed Terns, A4A & unbanded’s chick flew in to check us out. Of course, as soon as we moved in to get a photo it flew off out of sight! The first skimmers have hatched there.
We headed to South Deer. A1A & unbanded and their chick weren’t home but A5A & unbanded appeared to have regained control of their territory and were acting a bit sketchy. Neither Alan nor I could find a nest though. Y7 & unbanded and F1A & E2A and their chicks weren’t home so we moved on to North Deer.
E8A & unbanded were not anywhere that we could see and their new egg from last week was gone. Gulls again. Dang them! We didn’t see C1A & unbanded until we moved in very close to shore and then they finally popped up and flew off calling. I’m sure they had their chick hidden back there so we left them too it.
We motored along the North Deer breakwater to go check YM & JH but Elena noticed a pair of birds on the breakwater. That gave Alan and me a chill because J6 & UF sometimes hang out on that breakwater when their nest fails. No! Last week they had a chick and we didn’t want anything to have happened to it. Thankfully it wasn’t them! Phew.
We continued on to find YM & JH and their chick on their beach. The chick was down the shoreline a bit from its parents when we arrived and I think it has had enough of us looking at it!
It quickly made a bee line for its parents and they all took off and flew. That chick is having nothing to do with us! Last week it went to hide when we arrived so I guess it is sure of its flying skills now.
Then we went to check on J6 & UF on the backside of Maker 52. We didn’t see them until we got very close to shore and then they appeared from somewhere in the vegetation. Nobody saw where they came from. Good thing we didn’t need to find that chick this week but its going to be very difficult to find it when its time to band it! At least we know its ok. What a relief.
JJ & P4 were hanging out near where their last nest had been but we found no new eggs so we moved on and ran the length of Marker 52 on the GIWW side. E4A & unbanded weren’t incubating their nest so I went to see if the eggs were still there. I couldn’t find them and then I heard Alan say “Uh Sue look here”. He’d found a just hatched chick along the shoreline!
So cute. E4A & unbanded had walked down the shoreline and they didn’t seem in a hurry to get back. Hum. Poor parenting skills you two! We left so they could go back but they still didn’t seem like they were in a hurry. Those gulls are tough customers you too! Better get back to it.
W5 & JC were near their nest and they had three eggs. That is quite odd since for the last two weeks they’ve had two eggs. Where did the third egg suddenly come from? It’s possible the nest with two eggs failed and they laid a whole new one. I had put a piece of wood behind the nest to mark it and so I know it is the same scrape. Weird. They don’t usually lay eggs in the same scrape when a nest fails but it’s possible. We’ll see what happens. At least they still have a nest!
FR & unbanded and their chicks were on their island and when we got near them, they all flew down to the other end of the island. They really just don’t like us! One of them had some yoga action going on.
We moved on to check CA & Y2 and their chick. They were on the rock breakwater the goes along the Tiki Spoil area but as soon as we got near enough to take some photos they all flew off together. I’m sure they were thumbing their beaks at us. Sheesh.
That was it so we headed back to the boat ramp. The season is winding down but there are still chicks to be 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: 4 nests being incubated, 28 failed nests, 4 nests with unfledged chicks, 0 nests with undetermined status, 22 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.