Oystercatcher Diaries 2023: Week of June 12, 2023


By Susan Heath

On Tuesday, Rebecca and I headed out to East Matagorda Bay with David Newstead (CBBEP), Diego Newstead (David’s son) and Trey Barron (TPWD) to put transmitters on the skimmers at the colony at Old Gulf Cut. While we were there, we checked on the only oystercatcher nest left in that bay, 25 & unbanded. They still had two eggs but they would not go back to the nest while we were there doing skimmers so we put a hat over their eggs to shade them. Silly birds.

David and Diego kept a vigilant watch for a skimmer to get caught.

photo by Susan Heath

When one did, Rebecca got to hold her first ever Black Skimmer.

photo by Susan Heath

We put out three transmitters and it will be really interesting to see where those birds go to forage!

On Wednesday we made a quick trip out to Bastrop Bay to check on CH & unbanded’s nest. I thought for sure it would have been predated but they were still incubating two eggs. It should hatch soon!

On Thursday, we headed out to West Galveston Bay with Alan Wilde, Elena Duran and GCBO’s summer intern, Ben Torres. We headed up towards Swan Lake and checked on 20 & unbanded and their chicks on the way. All three were still hanging with their parents. I will be sad when they leave and we don’t get to see them anymore! LR & unbanded were on their island and their chick was on a reef nearby. That one is gaining some independence!

It was time to find and band 11 & unbanded’s chick and I knew this would take some sleuthing. We tried to look from the other side of the breakwater but we didn’t see them so I slowly motored into Swan Lake and headed towards their shoreline. I went slow so hopefully they wouldn’t hear us coming but when we were about halfway there, 11 flew out and landed on the breakwater. Busted. No one saw where he came from! Dang it, these birds are smart.

We kept going and when we were almost all the way to shoreline, Alan spotted 11’s mate at the far end of the shell bank. That had to be where the chick was so we motored down there and started looking. I found it hiding in the spartina. Yay! It was big and should be fledged by next week. Rebecca did a stellar job banding her first oystercatcher chick (X6W). Ben was more than happy to hold it for some photos.

photo by Alan Wilde

None of the other pairs in Swan Lake were on their territories but we found X3 & unbanded and their chick on one breakwater and 39 & unbanded on another one. We haven’t seen K7 & unbanded and their chicks in quite a while. They must be off touring.

We headed back to West Galveston Bay. It was far less windy than expected and we were all glad for it! We had to go under the railroad bridge with a train going across it. Nothing like having a moving train two feet above you! That’s quite a thrill!

On Struve most of the oystercatchers were gone but LT & JA were still incubating their eggs. Eventually we found HM on a post (he really likes to play king of the post!) and X7 on a dock.

photo by Alan Wilde

We counted the skimmers and changed the cards in the game cams and moved on to Jigsaw. LH & JX were on the end of a reef without their chick. It must have flown the coop and gone off on its own. There wasn’t anything happening with YE & unbanded since their nest failed and X2 & W2Y weren’t there so we moved on.

We found a few youngsters at 8 Mile Road and another one on the docks. A4A & unbanded and their chick were on the Gangs Bayou breakwater.

photo by Alan Wilde

Then we had to count the other skimmer colony since a lot of the Struve skimmers moved to Gangs Bayou (we don’t know why!). There are a couple of chicks there that are getting big.

photo by Alan Wilde

On we went to South Deer. A1A & unbanded were in A5A & unbanded’s territory again. I have no idea what’s happening there. Their chick wasn’t with them this time. A5A & unbanded weren’t there. I wonder if A1A & unbanded are trying to take over that territory? If so that’s a mistake. There are too many gulls there! A5A & unbanded rarely manage to fledge a chick and A1A & unbanded usually do so they best stay put.

Y7 & unbanded weren’t home and F1A was home alone. No wife, no kids. F1A is the male from the pair that double brooded last year so I went to make sure he wasn’t guarding a new nest but I didn’t find one thankfully!

On North Deer, E8A & unbanded’s territory was covered with gulls and pelicans and they weren’t there. C1A & unbanded were still hanging in the vegetation so we took that as a sign that they still have a chick. Next week it will be big enough to band. Then it was time to go find and band J6 & UF’s chick. I feared this one would be even more difficult to find than 11 & unbanded’s was.

Rebecca motored us over there and we approached slowly. J6 came flying directly towards the boat and gave us the business. Oh brother. I was hopeful we’d see UF in the vegetation so we’d know where the chick was and we did! She flew off and we commenced the search. Ben found the chick in short order! Excellent. We banded that one Y7W. J6 & UF were most displeased with us and stood giving us the evil eye the entire time.

photo by Alan Wilde

The chick was a little smaller than I expected but plenty big enough to band. Rebecca got to band and hold her second oystercatcher chick.

photo by Alan Wilde

After that everything was easy! We didn’t see JJ & P4. Despite everyone thinking that E4A & unbanded wouldn’t have a chick anymore because of the lackadaisical parenting we saw last week, they were standing up by the vegetation so hopefully they still do! W5 & JC were standing near where their nest was but not incubating. They were running gulls off right and left though. Now that’s how you protect a chick! Go W5 & JC! I found three just hatched chicks hiding in the vegetation!

photo by Susan Heath

That was fun! I sure hope at least one of them makes it. W5 & JC have had some bad luck with the gulls in recent years. FR & unbanded and their chicks were on their reef. Fred is holding on to those chicks for a long time! He’s a devoted daddy.

We saw CA & Y2 on the mud breakwater but their chick wasn’t with them. It was probably down on the other side of the berm where we couldn’t see it but it can fly well now so it could be off on its own.

It was very hot and we were all very ready to be done. 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: 2 nests being incubated, 28 failed nests, 5 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.