By Susan Heath
This week was pretty good. On Monday we were finally able to verify that a pair that nested on a dredge spoil unit does indeed have a chick and it’s big! This pair found a nesting spot that is perfect for being able to keep their activities a secret from us. They laid their nest in the rocks surrounding a big dredge spoil site.
When the nest hatched, they took the chick up onto the dirt area of the dredge spoil where we can’t see it from the water. The entire thing is surrounded by a jetty made out of large rocks (see below) so pulling up to it in the boat is nearly impossible.
The mud inside slopes down to some open water which has spartina growing all around it and that is a perfect place for the chick to hide. Even if we stand up in the boat and look over the rocks, we can’t see down the slope to the edge of the spartina because there is a mud ridge hiding it. Smart, smart oystercatchers!
Anyway, the chick is big enough now that it isn’t staying hidden so much and we were able to see it from an island that is on one side of the dredge spoil unit. I am running through scenarios in my head about how we are going catch that chick to band it! Stay tuned.
We also happened upon a just hatched chick and I mean JUST hatched. It was still wet, the egg shell was still there (the adults carry them away after hatching), and the chick still had part of the yolk sac attached to its abdomen. We didn’t realize this nest was due to hatch or we wouldn’t have walked up to it. We snapped a few quick photos and left. The adults went right back to it when we left. This pair is in a location that gets a lot of disturbance and they’ve never fledged a chick so I wasn’t holding out much hope. Sure enough when we arrived on Friday to check on them, the chick was gone. And it was such a cute little thing too.
On Thursday we were nearly rained out but we managed to get out to Bastrop Bay and check on the three pairs there before we got soaked trying to get back to the boat ramp. The ride out there is about 30 minutes so unlike West Galveston Bay where we can get back to the boat ramp pretty quickly, out there we’re stuck if the weather turns.
You may remember the saga of J8. His mate left him mid-season which is so rare that I thought for sure he was dead but that was not the case. We’ve seen him only a couple of times since then and he has always been alone. I’ve been wondering if he would return with a new mate. On Thursday he was back on his nesting island and he wasn’t alone! When we got close enough to check out the bands, we saw that his new friend was banded also. Can you say CHA-CHING?! We were able to identify her as UR a bird we banded as a chick in 2012. She’s too young to breed yet but it’s too late this season anyway and next year she’ll be just the right age to start. Way to go J8! The real kicker is where she was hatched though. Her parents are right next door on the next island over. Very interesting. Makes you wonder if oystercatchers subscribe to arranged marriages.
At this point we only have one viable nest being incubated. I say viable because there are three pairs incubating eggs that are well past the hatching date so we know they aren’t going to hatch. Sometimes they just don’t want to give up I guess. Two of these pairs appear to be laying sterile eggs as they’ve been together the entire time of our study and have never hatched a chick. I put cameras on them several times to verify that they were incubating the eggs all the time, that nothing addled the eggs, and that they indeed did not hatch. I’ve asked other researchers about this but there are no good answers. I don’t understand why the female stays as its very common for the female to leave the male if there is no fledging success. As I’ve said before, the more I learn about oystercatchers, the more I realize how much I don’t know about oystercatchers. I guess that goes for birds in general. They are much more complex than we give them credit for and are capable of amazing things.
Anyway, enough waxing poetic about birds. The season is really winding down now and our adventures are coming to an end. At this point we don’t know if we have another grant so this may be the last field season. That will make me sad but I still can’t believe that I’ve gotten to spend four years studying these fantastic birds and working with three really great graduate students so I’m very thankful for that!
Current Stats: 1 nest being incubated, 65 failed nests, 2 nests with unfledged chicks, 17 successful nests, 25 chicks fledged
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