The Oystercatcher Diaries 2014: Week 12

By Susan Heath

Well Monday was a bit of an adventure and not the good kind. We checked a few islands and saw the fledged chick XU and one of the other ones we banded last week (WA)and were in the process of checking other areas when the boat suddenly wouldn’t go into forward gear. We tried everything we could think of but it was solidly jammed. It would however go into reverse so we ended up driving to the nearest boat ramp backwards. Now that was fun! Fortunately we made it safely and our boat rescue team from the Environmental Institute of Houston arrived to bring us the truck and trailer from the ramp where we had launched so we could load the boat. This significantly cut short our field day however and we didn’t get to check on all the pairs we needed to.

On Tuesday I went up to the Texas City Prairie Preserve to band a chick that is about to fledge. Audubon Coastal Warden, Amanda Hackney took myself, one of my volunteers Paula Kennedy, and intern Vanessa Shanahan out in her boat so we could approach from the water to catch the chick. As usual nothing went as planned but we did finally manage to band the chick (WC). The boat broke down and Amanda’s amazing boat guy had to come rescue us so we could get back to the boat ramp in time for her to make it to jury duty by 10:30. Two broken boats in two days. My average is not good.

On Thursday we had a very interesting day in Bastrop and Drum Bays. First, if you’ve been following along, you will remember that J7, a female that was paired with J8 in Bastrop Bay, suddenly turned up paired with JK in Drum Bay a few weeks ago. We feared the worst for J8 because it is pretty unusual for a pair to split up in the middle of the breeding season if they are both still alive. Our fears were for naught though because today we found J8 all alone on his nesting island. He seemed very agitated at our presence so we didn’t stay long. I wonder how long it will be before he has a new mate? Given past experiences, I would have expected him to have one already.

We found three new nests in Drum Bay, one for the newly paired JK and J7 and two renests from other pairs. The islands in this small bay are becoming very vegetated and the oystercatchers are having a hard time finding places to nest with appropriate substrate. JT and mate made a “scrape” in the vegetation that is more like a traditional bird nest.

UDrumB023 eggs resized

But now we’ve found another example of how plastic oystercatchers can be about their nesting locations when necessary. E0 and unbanded chose to make a nest on a cement slab that is left from some long ago fallen building. Because the slab does not have the appropriate substrate to make their scrape they carried bits of shell, small pebbles, and even some small pieces of broken glass onto the slab and then laid an egg there. Here’s a photo showing their handiwork and one of E0 incubating the nest.

UDrumB025 scrape location resizedUDrumB025 incubating resized

Now there’s a nest that is pretty darn safe from overwashing which is what happened to their first nest this season.

On Friday we had to do everything that we couldn’t get done on Monday plus all of Friday’s work. Long day. We found three new nests, all of which are renests from pairs that failed. We found another nest overwashed and we banded another chick. This one is on South Deer and belongs to L2 and unbanded. We banded the little guy with the WE set of bands. Here’s what he/she looks like with his/her new jewelry. I’m sure all the other young oystercatchers will be jealous.

WE resized

Current Stats: 15 nests being incubated, 32 failed nests, 8 nests with confirmed chicks, 3 chicks fledged

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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