The Oystercatcher Diaries 2014: Week 19

By Susan Heath

Wow this week was a real roller coaster. Monday was ok but on Wednesday we went out to the Texas City Prairie Preserve to try to band a chick. We didn’t have a boat but we thought we could walk out and get the chick that way because it was on a sand/shell spit attached to the mainland. Wrong!! That chick had our number. At first we couldn’t find it and then I walked out to the tippy tip of the island and there it was hiding behind a small shell berm right on the edge of the water. It saw me at the exact same moment I saw it and it launched itself into the water before I could make a scoop with the net. I plunged out into the water but it was long gone where it was too deep to follow. You may not know that oystercatchers can swim as well as a duck and the chicks can hold their own in a diving contest with a loon. It swam way out afraid to come back because we were still there so we walked further on so it would feel safe to come back. We watched for about 20 minutes before it finally made it back to shore and the safety of its parents. Not wanting to make it swim again, we gave up. More on this story later.

On Thursday, we headed out to Drum Bay expecting to find two nests to observe but when we arrived at the first one, we found the nest was gone and the adults weren’t there. This nest was pretty low and on an island easily within human reach, but there was no evidence as to what happened. On our way to other island with a nest we stopped by one where a nest was lost last week to see if the adults were still there. They weren’t but we noticed something strange. The previous week this small island was covered with Laughing Gull eggs and chicks. Today it was barren. We walked around a little bit and found many dead chicks and some broken eggs. I thought at first it might have been a coyote but after we visited the next island I was pretty sure I knew who the culprit was. At the next oystercatcher nesting island, there was no nest and no oystercatchers but there was plenty of evidence who had been there. Beer cans were strewn about and the vegetation was trampled. I’m guessing some folks were out there partying and didn’t realize they were disturbing a bird sitting on a nest. It’s a tiny island and the egg seemed pretty obvious but we humans aren’t known for our smarts when drinking beer. Of course there are always those that couldn’t care less if they cause a bird to lose their nest too. Here’s photo of the evidence. Note the post in the right of the photo that has one our “this is a bird nesting island” signs on it.

beer cans on shed island in Drum Bay resized

So that was the low, what about the high? We had the pleasure of banding five chicks this week. The first two were in Bastrop Bay. We’ve been watching them for weeks hoping against hope that they would make it and it looks like they just might. Here is our volunteer Courtney Klaus holding YF and YL. They should fledge next week, just in time to be able to fly away over the 4th of July human disturbance onslaught.

Courtney holding YF and YL resized

On Friday we banded the two chicks that belong to W6, a bird we banded as a chick in 2011. As I mentioned last week, this is the first year that the 2011 chicks are old enough to breed and this is the first set of chicks from a 2011 chick that we’ve banded. This represents the third generation of oystercatchers we’ve banded in Galveston Bay. Very exciting!

Amanda holding YJ and YK resized

While we were out there checking on things we noticed there were five adult oystercatchers at one of the nesting sites where there are two fledged chicks. That is a sure sign that the oystercatcher hormone levels are starting to fall off causing them to not be so territorial. We checked out the adults and discovered that two of them were the pair that belonged there, one was unbanded, and the other two were birds we banded as chicks in 2011. Neither of those 2011 chicks nested this year as far we know. Here’s a nice shot of them flying together.

Five adults flying at Zimmerman Point resized

While we were watching them we checked out the chicks. One was sleeping on the nesting island and we woke it up with our shenanigans.

WU laying down in veg resized

Later we got a shot of the male feeding the chick.

20 feeding WU resized

When we were done in West Galveston Bay we headed back to Dickinson Bay with the boat and went out to the spot where we tried but failed to catch the chick at the Texas City Prairie Preserve. This time with the boat we were able to approach from the water but much to our surprise, the chick flew to get away from us! It was just testing its wings though and wasn’t a strong flyer yet so we were still able to round it up and band it. Woohoo! By next week it will be out there flying around with the best of them. Here is little YH, the chick of P8 and unbanded.

YH resized

Current Stats: 4 nests being incubated, 59 failed nests, 5 nests with unfledged chicks, 20 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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2 responses to “The Oystercatcher Diaries 2014: Week 19

  1. Sounds like a great week if you take away the shenanigans of the beer drinkers! Thanks for all you do!

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