The Oystercatcher Diaries 2014: Week 7

By Susan Heath

Another cold front marched through our area over the weekend and so Monday was cold and dreary with a strong north wind. Not my favorite kind of day to be on a boat, but there were birds to check so off we went. All the pairs that had chicks on Friday still had chicks today though we didn’t see any of them. They were staying hunkered down out of the wind. We did some observations and tried unsuccessfully to trap a bird on a nest. There are several Black Skimmer nesting colonies in the areas we check and on Monday suddenly where there had been no skimmers on Friday, there were 50-100. This is one of the most productive skimmer colonies in the Bay. Here’s a photo of the colony taken on a day when the weather was a bit better.

BLSK on Struve six resized

On Tuesday we went up to Dickinson Bay to monitor the birds from the water that my dedicated volunteers are monitoring from shore. Sometimes you can see things better from a boat than from land because the birds aren’t tipped off as easily that you are watching them when you’re on a boat as they are when you are on land. Two nests there had hatched and we hoped to see the chicks but the wind was too strong and the adults were keeping them well hidden. We did trap a bird on a nest though so now there is a Texas oystercatcher named CK. We weren’t able to check on all the pairs because they had the storm gate closed to Moses Lake because of the oil spill. We didn’t see any oil but we did get buzzed by a helicopter while we were banding CK. I’m sure they wondered what we were doing out there since we were only a couple of miles from the spill location.

oil site in relation to nests resized

Sometime on Wednesday the wind shifted back to the south and it was strong enough to warrant a small craft advisory. By Thursday when we went out to check our birds in Bastrop and Drum Bays, the tide was super high from the south wind. While it was really nice to be able to go fast everywhere in the boat because there was so much water, we were saddened to find that two of the three nests in Drum Bay had overwashed as had the only nest in Bastrop Bay. After spending so much time watching these birds, it’s hard not to get emotionally attached to them so it always bums us out when they fail. We came on a flock of 70 American White Pelicans and noticed oil on several of them. One had streaks down its neck, another had a big streak along its side, and yet another had streaked oil on its wings. They were all flying so there was no way to catch them and get it off. Since they are big white birds, the oil was easily noticeable.

kayaker in fog 3-28-14 resized

 On Friday we were greeted with yet another foggy morning (see above photo). We were forced once again to do observations from shore but when we were done the fog was still with us so we headed out anyway. It was clear enough to see that we weren’t going to run into another boat or anything so we used our fancy GPS to tell us how to get where we wanted to go. It shows all our tracks across the bays so we can just follow them to make sure we don’t hit a reef. We found four new nests, one of them a renest for L8 & L9 one of the pairs with a February nest that failed. Two of the existing nests had overwashed in the high tides and one nest in Swan Lake was predated, probably by a raccoon. We found this nest last week and I specifically brought a camera today to put on it, but the danged raccoon beat me to it. We were able to see some of the chicks today and one nest still had three. They are only a week old so there’s a long way to go but it’s a good start. One of nests where I put a video camera turned up missing an egg so now I have the fun task of reviewing the video for the last four days to see if I can tell what happened. Fortunately I have an intern starting next week and she can help me! Below are two photos showing a nest location when we found it and then on Friday after it was overwashed.

UWGalB137 annotated resized UWGalB137 overwash resized

Current stats: 20 nests being incubated, 10 failed nests, 6 nests with chicks

Our grant from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for this project requires a 1:1 match. If you would like to make a donation to help us meet our match goal, click on the donate now button and designate your donation to the oystercatchers. We appreciate your support!

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