The Oystercatcher Diaries 2014: Week 23

By Susan Heath

We started off our field day this week with Amanda having a blow out on I-45 on the way to the boat ramp. Thankfully she, the truck, and the boat were all fine, except for one fender on the boat trailer which was knocked off when the tire blew. By the time it was safe to go and retrieve it, it had been run over several times and was not repairable. We were able to change the tire and continue on with our day but it turned out that was a foreshadowing of things to come. When we arrived at the island with the last unfledged chick we found the adults standing out on the reef. This was not a good sign as when there’s a chick, one of them is always guarding it. We went ashore to look around and the adults simply flew off and did not seem to care that we were there. This was a VERY bad sign. Amanda found the carcass of the chick in the salicornia near the nest site. It wasn’t clear what happened but it was probably attacked by Laughing Gulls as there’s a large nesting colony of them at this site. Since we had planned on following this chick for three more weeks it was a little hard to shift our focus and realize that our field season had come to an end and we were suddenly checking on all our birds for the last time.

We spent the day checking on all the pairs with chicks and Amanda got some great pictures. Here is one of 15 & 16 and their chicks WR & WT having a little snooze together.

Sportsman family resized

Amanda happened to catch WT in a private moment (see below) which brings up the subject of bird anatomy. Many people do not realize that birds have one exit for all excrement, not two like mammals. This is why bird poop is always a runny mess! There’s a whole biological explanation as to how it gets processed but I’ll spare you that. This same orifice, called a cloaca is used in mating in both males and females as well.

sportsman chick pooping resized

If you’ve been following along you heard the long story of the chick on the dredge spoil island. We did not know it at the time but that was our last chick to fledge. We went to check for it again on Monday and found it not on the dredge spoil but on a small island nearby with its parents. When we got too close trying to get some photos, the whole family took flight and we got to see little YM fly. That is always very satisfying and was a good way to end the day but we had another surprise in store.

Dredge spoil family resized

Last week the pair near the boat ramp that had two fledged chicks was present with only one chick and we feared the worst. But when we returned to the boat ramp on Monday, the adults were feeding on a nearby reef so we went to check on the chick. There was a suspenseful moment when we couldn’t tell if there were one or two chicks with them but when we finally got close we saw there were two chicks there! I guess that one just thought it needed some alone time last week. Here’s a photo of them feeding together on a reef near their nesting site.

Fat Boy's chicks resized

As many of you know, we had a lot of boat issues this year. The boats we use are supplied by the Environmental Institute of Houston (EIH) at the University of Houston Clear Lake where Amanda is a student. Their boats are used by many projects and there are often conflicting needs among the many users, especially when a boat is broken which reduces the available pool of boats to use. In addition, by its nature, the oystercatcher project is harder on boats than many of the other projects. To alleviate this situation, we (EIH & GCBO) have decided to jointly purchase a boat that can be dedicated to the oystercatcher project during our field season. We still have some logistics to work out but we have each committed to raise $12,000 towards this purchase. Therefore, I have to figure out how to raise GCBO’s $12,000 share. If you would like to donate towards this very needed purchase, you can do so using the button below and designate your contribute to “oystercatcher boat” or you can simply mail us a check with that designation on it as well. If anyone has any great ideas how to help raise these funds, please contact me as soon as possible. Thanks everyone and I hope you all have a great rest of the summer!

Several people requested some statistics so here they are. In 2011 we covered the upper coast (UTC) only. In 2012 and 2013 we covered both the upper and central coasts (CTC) and then in 2014 we were back to the upper coast only again.

  2011 UTC 2012 UTC 2012 CTC 2013 UTC 2013 CTC 2014 UTC Total
Adults banded 64 54 8 16 9 4 155
Chicks banded 40 14 5 21 2 28 110
Pairs monitored 46 47 49 49 44 46 232
Nests monitored 58 81 67 81 61 85 433
Chicks fledged 37 13 12 21 15 26 124
% Nests fledging chicks 51.72 13.58 17.9 19.75 23.07 21.18 23.09
Productivity .78 .21 .24 .43 .34 .57 .53
2011 and 2014 are upper coast (UTC) only, 2012 and 2013 include both upper and central coast data (CTC).

Final Stats: 0 nests being incubated, 67 failed nests, 0 nests with unfledged chicks, 18 successful nests, 26 chicks fledged

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5 responses to “The Oystercatcher Diaries 2014: Week 23

  1. Susan, enjoyed reading week 23. Looks like this was a better year but still a struggle it seems for successful numbers. I’ll keep my eyes on Texas City Dike for you on any banded oyster catchers I see. Sandra Kroeger

  2. Thanks for the reports Sandy. I always enjoy hearing about “my birds”. I am really hoping we get another grant so we can continue the project, but regardless there are a lot of banded birds out there to keep watching for.

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