Oystercatcher Diaries 2023: Week of June 19, 2023


By Susan Heath

On Wednesday, Rebecca and I headed out to East Matagorda Bay with GCBO’s research intern Ben Torres and David Newstead from CBBEP. David came up to set up some game cameras on the skimmer colony at Old Gulf Cut. It’s a short run out there and David got the cameras set up pretty quickly. So quickly I forgot to take any photos!

While we were there we checked on 25 & unbanded’s nest. They still had two eggs and I thought I felt movement within so hopefully they are going to hatch soon. A7A & unbanded were back on their territory. We haven’t seen them since April when their nest failed. Perhaps they will try again now that the tides are low for summer.

On Thursday, we headed to West Galveston Bay with Alan Wilde and Elena Duran. We found C2A & E0A on their island along the Tiki Channel. One of them was laying down in a spot that would not be conducive to a successful nest and thankfully there was no nest. They did have a scrape though so maybe they will give it a go.

On the way to Swan Lake we checked on 20 & unbanded. The whole family was not home so they must be taking their chicks around the bay and showing them the good feeding spots. LR & unbanded and their chick were on the breakwater near their island.

photo by Alan Wilde

We looked across the breakwater towards 11 & unbanded’s territory but we didn’t see them. I was hoping their chick would be fledged this week but I guess it wasn’t. When we entered Swan Lake, 11 flew out and landed on the breakwater but we did not see his mate or the chick. It could have been back in the marsh with its mom. Hopefully Rebecca will see it next week.

None of the other pairs in Swan Lake were home except we found 39 alone on a breakwater. The tide was low so they were all off feeding somewhere I’m sure.

The weather forecast said the wind was going to be less than 10 mph but we can all attest to the fact that it was higher than that. There were white caps as we headed back across the bay. Ugh. We made it just fine though and headed to Struve.

All the adults were on Struve except L9 & unbanded. LT & JA appeared to be attending their nest but we needed to count the skimmers first so we got that out of the way and then motored back around and went ashore to check it. There was only one egg left and sadly it was crushed on one side! Oh no. Poor LT & JA. It looks like they won’t have a chick this year despite trying twice. That is such a shame. They have been all stars at producing chicks the past five or six years. It’s sad to see them fail.

We moved on to Jigsaw. LH & JX and their chick were on a reef. It’s always good to see the fledged chicks!

photo by Alan Wilde

YE & unbanded were out on a reef so I guess they aren’t going to give it another go. X2 & W2Y weren’t there so we headed over to the Galveston shoreline.

We found YK alone on a reef and a few birds at 8 Mile Road. There were none on the docks though. At Gangs Bayou we found A4A & unbanded and their chick on a reef behind the breakwater. We counted the skimmers and Gull-billed Terns and then banded two skimmer chicks because they were about to fledge. There were lots of small skimmer chicks hiding under their parents!

photo by Alan Wilde

Here’s the big ones Rebecca banded.

photo by Alan Wilde

On the way to South Deer, we checked Confederate Reef because the tide was low but we only found a few birds. There wasn’t much happening on South Deer. A5A & unbanded were feeding on a reef and F1A was on his reef with both of his chicks. E2A wasn’t with them and we didn’t see her anywhere.

photo by Alan Wilde

On to North Deer. E8A & unbanded’s territory was covered with pelicans and gulls and they wisely weren’t there. It was time to band C1A & unbanded’s chick but when we got there we found it didn’t make it. What a bummer. They tried so hard!

YM & JH were on their shoreline with their chick so all is well there.

photo by Alan Wilde

We also saw a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck with two chicks there. Alan said I told him he was crazy last week when we said he saw them. I thought they liked fresh water. That’ll teach him to listen to me!

photo by Alan Wilde

We headed across the GIWW to check on J6 & UF and before we even got halfway across an oystercatcher began circling the boat and calling. It landed on J6 & UF’s former island and we saw that it was J6. I guess he is mad because we banded his chick last week. He’s beginning to act a bit like Fred!

photo by Alan Wilde

We proceeded to the backside of Marker 52 to check on his wife and their chick. We didn’t see the chick but both adults started flying around the boat when we got close. I wasn’t surprised the chick wasn’t fledged because it was a bit on the small side last week when we banded it. Hopefully next week it will be flying around with its parents.

We didn’t see JJ anywhere but P4 was on their shell bank chilling. Well maybe chilling isn’t quite the right word given how hot it’s been lately!

We motored down the length of Marker 52. E4A was standing alone up near the vegetation line. Seems like a good sign that she still has a chick. Yay! W5 & JC were standing together near a vegetation patch and when we got close I saw a chick run to hide. Yay! Alan’s photos revealed that there were actually two chicks!

photo by Alan Wilde

FR was at one end of his island with one of the chicks and his wife was at the other end of the island with the other chick. Did they have a spat? Haha! That’s an oyster joke. Get it?

CA & Y2 and their chick were spread out between the dirt berm and the rock breakwater but when we tried to get a photo of the chick, they all flew off together and landed on the dirt berm near their island. I’m not sure why they are so spooky but at least we know their chick can fly well now!

photo by Alan Wilde

It was hot and we were done so we headed back to the boat ramp.

On Friday, Rebecca and I went and checked on CH & unbanded in Bastrop Bay. Sadly they weren’t there so either a predator got the eggs or it hatched and something got the chicks. Bummer.

I am heading to Mexico on a GCBO birding trip on Saturday and Rebecca is taking over so the next blog will be her first! I’m sure it will be great.

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, 31 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.