By Susan Heath
Our field time is diminishing as the season wears on and this week we reduced our West Galveston Bay field days to one per week and made our last trip to Bastrop and Drum Bays. On the one hand it feels sad to say goodbye to the oystercatchers that have been part of our lives for the last five months but on the other hand, it’s getting really hot out there! I’m sure the oystercatchers are glad to be done with us as well J.
This week YM, the chick on the dredge spoil unit fledged. It was hanging out in its usual spot with one of its parents when we went to check on it. That makes 26 chicks fledged so far this year. Yeah! On a sad note, the one nest that was still being incubating failed. The adults were sleeping down island from where the nest had been when we arrived to check on them and when we checked the nest area we found that the egg was gone. We don’t know what caused the failure but given the weekend before was the 3-day July 4th holiday, I’m guessing that human disturbance kept the adults off the egg and it either cooked in the sun or the gulls got it. This is yet another reason why it is good for oystercatchers to nest early in the year before there is a lot of human disturbance.
At this point we are down to a single pair with a small chick. Fortunately this chick survived the 3-day holiday and was hanging out with one of its parents on the island edge. It was 18 days old on Monday. This pair is particularly wily and they remain unbanded because they simply will not fall for any of our shenanigans in attempting to catch them. These are some smart birds! They also will not tolerate us watching them even when we try to do it from a distance. We’ve tried to do observations on them from distant reefs several times and invariably they walk out of view as soon as they realize we are watching. This is pretty infuriating as a researcher but in truth this is what keeps their chick safe from the hordes of Laughing Gulls that are nearby. On Monday we saw a half grown Laughing Gull chick dare to wander through the area where the oystercatcher chick was standing with one of its parents. The adult oystercatchers went bananas and I thought they might kill the Laughing Gull chick they were so aggressive in their defense of their own chick. They went after it with their bills stabbing and grabbing until the adult Laughing Gull came to the rescue of its chick. Then the oystercatchers took off after the adult Laughing Gull and the incident ended when the Laughing Gull chick quickly ran back from whence it had come. Wow!
Our last trip to Drum and Bastrop Bays was not without excitement. We found three of the six pairs of oystercatchers that reside in Drum Bay just hanging out on reefs in their territories and one pair standing on an island that is squarely in the territory of another pair. There wasn’t a squabble though which is another sign that the hormone levels are falling off. While we were trying to get some photos of them, a flock of nine Long-billed Curlews flew by. Long-billed Curlew is a common wintering bird in our area but this is July. This is evidence that if you are a shorebird, fall migration has begun! On a nearby reef we saw seven more making a total of 16. There was also a Marbled Godwit there with some eastern and western Willets.
Up in Bastrop Bay, we found that J0 & 38 finally stopped incubating their rotten egg and the pair with the chicks (29 & unbanded) were on their nesting island with both their chicks. We were glad to see they made it through the July 4th weekend.
We had been keeping our eye on a large thunderstorm that was moving along the coast and it looked like it was going to pass us by without incident but suddenly the wind picked up and we were surrounded by waves with whitecaps. Yikes! We were in a 17 foot aluminum boat with a 40hp tiller motor. We headed slowly towards the sheltered waters of the Intracoastal Waterway and thankfully made it there just fine. I should have remembered about the wind associated with large thunderstorms because I got caught in them once before with a refuge biologist. We had to wait it out underneath an old cabin in that same bay until the wind abated.
Anyway, on our way down the Intracoastal Waterway to get back to the boat ramp we encountered a large feeding flock (50-60) of terns of several species. There were four Magnificent Frigatebirds there trying to steal fish from the terns. It was quite a battle and we stopped to watch. Amanda got some nice photos.
Then a few minutes later we stopped to check out a Crested Caracara sitting along the shore and I noticed six Wood Storks standing back in the shallows. These were Amanda’s first so that was pretty exciting. One of the many benefits of being out on the bays is that you get to enjoy the other wildlife while you are working! I have a pretty good job J
Current Stats: 0 nests being incubated, 66 failed nests, 1 nest with an unfledged chick, 18 successful nests, 26 chicks fledged
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