The Oystercatcher Diaries 2015: Field Week 1

By Susan Heath

I was anxious to get out to the field sites last week to check and see what the birds are up to since we always find some nests in February. On Sunday (the 22nd) I was at Tiki Island visiting some friends and buying my new to me camera (be prepared for lots of photos as a result!) so I checked on the West Galveston Bay pairs that I could see from shore. I checked out four pairs on an island just off the Galveston shore and it looked like at least two of them were incubating nests already. Woohoo! Here’s a photo of one of them incubating.

UWGalB170 from afar

Another pair was very busy working on their scrape and I couldn’t see the fourth pair. I also checked the two pairs that nest near the boat ramp on Tiki Island. The nice folks at Tiki Tom’s RV Park let me use their dock to keep an eye on these pairs. I could only see one bird from one of the pairs which is a little suspicious but I didn’t see one sitting on a nest and the other pair was carrying tiny shells up to where they usually nest, obviously putting the final touches on their scrape. Oh boy!

On Monday I had a meeting at the Texas City Prairie Preserve. My dedicated volunteers that monitor the nests there (Paula Kennedy and Stennie Meadours) aren’t going to be able to go out to check on the oystercatchers until March 10th because Paula is in Peru (lucky her!) so I decided to go out and check on them while I was there. Stennie agreed to walk part way with me and then be my spotter from shore in case I got into trouble as I waded through the part of the spit that is underwater in my waders to get to where the pairs that might have nests are. On Sunday it was sunny and 70 degrees. On Monday however, it was 45 degrees tops with a stiff north wind! I was bundled up so I wasn’t cold but I still would have preferred 70 degrees. Anyway, I made it out there just fine and discovered a dead dolphin laying very near where the birds nest. Bummer is all I can say about that. The trek out there was worth It because I found two nests, one with two eggs (P5 & P6) and one with one egg (M0 & K4). Neither pair had started incubating yet. Oystercatchers don’t usually start incubating until they have two eggs and sometimes not until they are done laying (3 eggs) so it wasn’t surprising neither pair was sitting on their eggs yet. I was really happy I’d taken the time to walk out there because now we will have a good idea of when these nests will hatch and the age of the chicks. Here’s a photo of P5 & P6’s nest.

UDickB037 eggs

On Tuesday, Amanda Hackney (Audubon Texas) and oystercatcher volunteer Alan Wilde joined me for a trip to West Galveston Bay. The weather was just as bad as Monday so I can’t really say it was fun to get out there, but I was glad we did because we found six nests. Four of them already had 3 eggs and were being incubated. These belonged to J6 & P4 who nest on a tiny island along the GIWW, JN & JE on South Deer island, and the two pairs I saw from shore on Sunday (12 & unb, unb & unb). The other two nests belonged to pairs on the same island as 12 & unb. L8 & L9 had two eggs (this is the pair I saw working on their scrape) and K6 & JA had one egg. With the exception of the unbanded pair, all these pairs nested in February last year too. Three of them were successful in fledging chicks. Hopefully they will do as well or better this year.

This is my “why can’t they wait til it’s warmer photo!” (photo by Alan Wilde).

Sue in winter

And here is P4 incubating her nest (photo by Alan Wilde).

P4incubating

Due the cold weather and north wind, we weren’t able to get up to Swan Lake which is just north of the I-45 bridge so hopefully I can get up there the next time I’m out in that area.

On Wednesday, Jennifer Wilson (USFWS) took me out to Bastrop and Drum Bays in Brazoria County. We didn’t find any nests but there was some excitement. All the pairs in West Galveston Bay were the same as last year but that was not the case in Bastrop Bay. There have been three pairs there for the past two or three years. These were J0 & 38, J8 & J7, and 29 & unb. Each of these pairs has their own little island but this year there were two pairs on one of the islands! J0 & 38 were in their usual spot on one of the reefs in their territory. If you were reading last year you will remember that J8’s mate abandoned him mid-season which is very unusual. She (J7) turned up paired with a bird in Drum Bay a couple of weeks later. More on that in a minute. So J8 was alone for most of the rest of the season last year until near the end of the season when he showed up with UR, a bird we banded as a chick in 2012 on the island next door! Wow. I was really excited about that and was wondering if UR would stick with him. Turns out she did. The other pair, 29 & unb had changed too. 29 was still there but his mate is now CH, a female we banded in Drum Bay last year. The last time we saw CH she had a pretty nasty looking injury to one of her legs and I thought she was a goner but clearly that wasn’t the case so yeah for that!

CH

29 & CH’s nesting territory is a long moon shaped island and an unbanded pair has staked out a claim on one end of it this year. It will be interesting to see what happens there as the season progresses. In Drum Bay there was only one pair present and that was JK & an unbanded bird. JK is the male that J7 paired with last year when she abandoned J8 so clearly she wasn’t happy with JK either and moved on. I wonder where she is? It’s a real soap opera out there! Anyway, JK & unb were hanging out on another pair’s territory so I don’t know if they took it over or if they were there because the other pair wasn’t around to chase them off. There are 6 or 7 pairs nesting in that bay but clearly they aren’t ready to start yet since most of them weren’t there. JK was posing nicely for us so I took a bunch of photos him. I call this the many faces of JK. (remember I got a new camera!)

JKthree JKone JKfive JKeight

On Thursday, Jennifer and I checked out East Matagorda Bay. Finally it was a bit warmer and the sun came out. Hallelujah! There was still a north wind though so I was still wearing way more layers than I’d prefer. We haven’t monitored East Matagorda Bay regularly since 2012 so I was curious to see how many banded birds were still there. We found 11 pairs total and 5 banded birds. One was from 2011 and four were from 2012. None of these looked like they were ready to nest yet as most were not on their nesting islands. One of these birds, a female banded M4, is a real hoot. She nests on an island that has a depression in the center that always has water in it so we’ve dubbed it the donut island. She is VERY possessive of her island and always flies over and gives us grief if we get anywhere near it. She cracks me up! Jennifer got a great shot of her giving us the evil eye as she defended her island.

M4

So that’s it for this round of surveys. I will be back out the second week of March to check on everyone. In the meantime, Audubon Texas is organizing some volunteers to monitor nests by kayak and to accompany me on the rounds in the boat through their TERN program. If you are interested in participating check out their website or contact either me or Kari Howard.

Finally, I wanted to give a big thanks to the donors that helped make this field season possible – The Hershey Foundation, Kay Hale, Audubon Texas, Winnie Burkett, NRG Energy, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. And also to the people who have adopted oystercatchers so far – Bob McBay, Paula Kennedy, Judy Sharp, Alan and Maureen Wilde, Pete and Peggy Romfh, Cyndi Routledge, Lindsay Addison, and Candy McNamee. THANK YOU ALL SO MUCH!

You can still adopt a single adult, a pair of adults, or a chick on our website and of course if you just want to donate you can do that through our Just Give portal.

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