The Oystercatcher Diaries 2014: Week 9

By Amanda Anderson

Greetings all, this is Amanda reporting to you this week on your favorite oystercatchers. Sue was lucky enough to enjoy a week off before the season really kicks up a notch! This past week brought warm temperatures and fairly calm Northerly winds. The Texas spring weather may have finally arrived and we may be shedding the chest waders in a few weeks.

On Monday I was expecting to find new nests, but unfortunately we did not. It was a relief to find no incubating nests had failed. Also, a nesting pair on the mainland whose nest was depredated by a feral cat last year still has their first 2014 nest. There were five nests that were due to hatch by Monday, but from my observations it was hard to tell if chicks were present. Sue and I have noticed oystercatchers will exhibit two types of personalities and other behavioral cues that help determine nest fate. Type A oystercatchers are cool, calm, and collective and are a bit sneakier when it comes to their nesting. We typically have to observe Type A oystercatchers with spotting scopes to determine if chicks are present. Type B oystercatchers are vocal, hyper, and a bit aggressive. These are the ones that typically fly out several hundred meters to greet us as we are approaching the island. Type B oystercatchers will typically exhibit what we define as chick crazy behavior when we are near their territory. Also, when both adults are absent from the territory, it is an indication that chicks are no longer alive. I was unsure about the presence of new chicks for four of the nests and had to wait and see on Friday. Unfortunately I found two dead chicks of an unbanded pair on Struve island (pictured below). These chicks hatched over the weekend. It was obvious it wasn’t predation and I predict starvation was the cause of death.

dead birds

Several days of Northerly winds made for a slow boat ride around Bastrop and Drum Bay. It was the shallowest I had ever experienced; and though it was a pain for me to get around, the extreme reef exposure was a treat for many bird species. When there is high reef exposure, it’s very difficult to track down non-nesting oystercatchers. I only saw four pairs on Wednesday, but did find a new nest! JT and unbanded can’t seem to settle on a single nesting site because they move between two small islands that are only several hundred meters from another. They decided not to lay their nest on the same island they fledged a chick on last year. They may have made the switch again because the island is more elevated. Unfortunately it is along the boat channel, so I’m not sure if recreational disturbance will affect their nesting success. I was pleased to find the nest that we were fairly certain was doomed to overwash was still present! The no overwash was no doubt attributed to the Northerly winds. Sadly, the only nest that was hatching in the Southerly bays failed. I am unsure what happened and it’s somewhat of a bummer because this pair fledged a chick last year. We have been fooled before and hope this is the case.

On Friday, there was a chick hatching extravaganza in Galveston Bay! Four nests had hatched and I was able to confirm chicks for three of them. In all, I saw six new hatchlings. Two of the nests are surrounded by laughing gull colonies so I can imagine the adults have been feverishly guarding their vulnerable chicks. Unfortunately, by Friday, I was fairly certain that two of the nests I was unsure whether they had chicks had failed. There are still two nests that may have chicks in hiding, and we will spend time observing these pairs Monday. I am happy to report that we anticipate banding four chicks within the next two weeks! Chicks fledge at 35 days, which means they are capable of sustained flight. We band chicks at approximately 30 days, just in time before they are able to fly away from us. Pictured below is a chick we will be banding in the next week.

baby bird

Current Stats: 11 nests being incubated, 16 failed nests, 7 nests with confirmed 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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