The Oystercatcher Diaries 2014: Week 21

By Susan Heath

So we banded what may be our last chicks this week. We thought it would be just one but we got a little surprise. More on that in a minute. I went through the whole saga of the chick on the dredge spoil unit last week and this week it was time to band it. First we approached from the side where we spied on them in the beginning. From there we could see both adults but not the chick. The adults got all upset at us and flew off calling when they realized we were there. So we went around to the other side and pulled up on the island there, got out the scope and searched from there. Then we didn’t even see the adults. Not good. After four years of learning experiences, my policy is to avoid approaching an island with the idea of catching a chick if you don’t have eyes on the chick first. They can just hide too well. So…. we went back around to the first spot we tried. Finally we saw both adults and the chick standing up on the ridge on the other side where we needed take the boat to anchor it. I hopped off the boat there so I could watch where the chick went while Amanda took the boat around and anchored it. As she and our volunteer Carmel appeared above the rock wall, the chick made a beeline down the slope towards the spartina out of my view. At least I knew the general area it headed for! We all converged and started looking. We got very muddy and were just about to give up when I finally found the chick lying flat on its belly hiding in the spartina. I should have taken a photo of it but I was so relieved to find it that I just grabbed it! It was very calm about the whole thing once the jig was up. We had to spend a bit of time cleaning ourselves up before we could get back on the boat to band it so we didn’t get mud everywhere. But band it we did and it is now YM. It was pretty good size and I expect it will be able to fly by next week. Here’s Amanda holding him/her.

Amanda A holding YM. resizedjpg

Earlier in the season we had banded a chick on an island that we don’t usually monitor and we’ve tried several times to respot it so we knew it fledged but have been unsuccessful. Today we went there again and saw it finally plus we discovered the pair next door had a big chick that was just ready for banding. Surprise! We were able to easily catch that one and we banded it YN. I noticed something funny about YN though. It was in a plumage that we usually see on chicks that are 2-3 months old, not chicks that are only one month old. I believe this plumage comes from the fading and wearing of the juvenile feathers which apparently happens pretty quickly here in the hot Texas sun. The bible of molt, better known as the Pyle Guide, says to expect this plumage much later in the year. Anyway here’s two photos, one showing the cinnamon tipped feathers we usually see on the birds we band and one showing how YN’s plumage looked. Quite a difference!

YM wing top resized YN back resized

On Thursday we were able to do a full check of Drum and Bastrop Bays. We saw several of the Drum Bay pairs hanging around but since all the nests there have failed, the season is over in that bay. Up in Bastrop Bay we found J8 on his nesting alone. Boo! Oh well. I feel pretty sure that J8 will be able to woe a woman back to his territory for the next nesting season. If you don’t know what I’m talking about here you’ll have to go back and read last week’s installment! Over on the island with the chicks we found no oystercatchers. What?! I started to panic but checked myself. These chicks are well able to fly now so I figured they were probably off with the adults feeding somewhere. We did a search of the reefs in the area and sure enough we found the whole family feeding happily on a reef. Yeah!

Current Stats: 1 nest being incubated, 65 failed nests, 2 nests with unfledged chicks, 17 successful nests, 25 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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