The Oystercatcher Diaries 2015: Field Week 3

By Susan Heath I never thought I’d say this in drought prone Texas but enough with the rain! With some finagling of the schedule I managed to make it out to all three field sites last week but I am still drying out. Monday and Tuesday were no go because it was pouring so on Wednesday, intrepid volunteer Alan Wilde and I braved the north winds to check on the birds in West Galveston Bay. It was overcast and cold and we got misted with rain several times. Not my favorite monitoring conditions, but it was good we went. Both the pairs on the small islands near the boat ramp had new nests which I was pretty much expecting. Tiki Tom came by to say hi and ask if there was anything we needed help with. He is a very nice guy and has been very supportive of our project. If you ever need an RV spot, I highly recommend Tiki Tom’s RV park! TikiTomheader1 The wind was forecast to be 10-15 mph all day so we decided to head up to Swan Lake to get it over with. I really wanted to get up there because we weren’t able to check that area last time but man it was rough. Swan Lake is north of the I-45 bridge to Galveston and to get there you have to traverse Galveston Bay. With north winds, it can get really rough. We made it but we got thoroughly doused with spray on the way. We found all the pairs that nest up there defending their territories except one. Only one pair had a nest though (K7 & unb). The pair that was missing is made up of two birds we banded as chicks in 2011. They defended a territory last year but never had a nest. I’ve been wondering if they will come back. There seems to be a learning curve to successful nesting and these young birds are just getting starting so perhaps they aren’t in a hurry. The ride back down to West Galveston Bay was much smoother since we were going with the wind and I was very glad to be back in the relatively protected part of the bay south of the I-45 bridge. K7’s nest with two eggs. USwanL032 eggs In West Galveston Bay, all the pairs that had nests last time still had them except one (K6 & JA). I’m not sure if the nest failed or perhaps hatched. The other three nests on that island were fine so it doesn’t seem like there was a weather or predation event that would have caused nest failure. That pair is hard to figure out as they don’t act like most pairs do when they have chicks. Most pairs will go nuts if you get near when they have chicks but this pair is very nonchalant and in previous years they almost snuck a chick by us twice because we didn’t realize they had one. Since their nest only had one egg when we found it, I don’t think it hatched but we will have to keep watching them to know for sure. If it failed for some reason, they will probably lay a new one fairly quickly. The Forster’s Terns were back and beginning to set up shop. I enjoyed hearing their calls as it is a sign of warmer weather! We found six more new nests in addition to the two near the boat ramp. One was on Jigsaw Island, four were on South Deer Island, and one was on a small island in Jones Bay. Alan had actually seen the bird incubating the Jones Bay nest from his kayak several days prior to our visit and sent me a photo (see below). Just as we were heading back to the boat ramp, it started to rain. Talk about timing! P3 incubating On Thursday, I went out to East Matagorda Bay with Jennifer Wilson, a USFWS biologist from the Texas Mid-coast NWR. They are letting me use their boats to monitor this year which is really great. Thank you Jennifer Sanchez! Despite the weather forecast of no rain, it was raining when we picked up the boat and it was misting most of the way to the boat ramp. The radar showed no rain over the bay though so we headed out and sure enough it wasn’t raining out there. We started out by counting the waterbirds at Dressing Point, which is the only large rookery island in East Matagorda Bay. The Great Blue Herons were all guarding their territories atop a huge clump of cactus. I have no idea how they manage to nest there without getting full of cactus spines but they do it every year. We saw some Reddish Egrets beginning to build nests and a few other species as well but this island won’t really be hopping until late April. There are two pairs of oystercatchers there too but neither appeared to have a nest. Here’s a photo of the Great Blue Herons in the cactus. GBHE at Dressing Point There are three other major sites for oystercatchers in East Matagorda Bay. We didn’t find any nests at the first one (the Oyster Farm) but all three pairs were in residence. At Old Gulf Cut, we found both pairs had nests though and were incubating. On the way back down the GIWW to get to the third spot, we found a new pair and it contained a banded bird (R9) that hasn’t been seen since 2012. I love those resights! R9 They didn’t have a nest yet. The last area is a group of small islands near Chinquapin. There are four pairs here. The female from one of them is M4, the bird I told you about last time that is really protective of her island. Well this week we found out that M4 really pulled a fast one. I was expecting her to have a nest on the island she is always protecting but this week she wasn’t there and didn’t fly in when we arrived. That was very unusual so we looked around and discovered her and her mate on the next island over. As we approached, we could see that something was strange. M4 appeared to be brooding chicks. My mind just wouldn’t process that until she moved and then HELLO! Three chicks popped up. Wow. She had a nest the last time we were out but we didn’t even look on that island because she flew over to the usual one when we arrived. What a little sneaker! It was cold and we didn’t want to cause the chicks to be exposed too long so we snapped a few photos from the boat and then quickly left. Good thing I brought my camera! Here’s two of the three chicks we saw. chicks cropped2 We found nests for two of the other three pairs in that area and then headed back to the boat ramp. As we exited the bay and hit the GIWW, the mist started again. Turns out it had been misting/raining over the land the whole time we’d been out there! And then there was Friday. The weather forecast was for sunny skies beginning at 8:00am. Jennifer and I headed out to Bastrop and Drum Bays in misting rain however. All four pairs were present in Bastrop Bay but none had nests. There was an interloper there though. XM, a 2012 chick from Drum Bay, was hanging around in the unbanded pair’s territory and we watched as they summarily chased him/her off. XM isn’t old enough to breed (they don’t breed til they are three) so I don’t know if he/she is just practicing or trying to get a jump on things for next year. At any rate, the unbanded pair was having none of it! This photo of XM was taken last summer by Joe Kennedy. He/she looks all grown up but that’s just not the case. XM 7-22-14 Joe Kennedy We headed across Christmas Bay to Drum Bay still in mist but by the time we got to Drum Bay it had stopped. It was 10:30 by then and guess what – no sun. How can the weather man be so wrong so many days in a row? Anyway, we found four pairs there, all the same birds in their same spots as last year but no nests. Only two pairs are missing from Drum Bay now and I bet they turn up soon. We headed back to the boat ramp and as soon as we got in the GIWW, it started to rain again. I’m sensing a pattern here! It did stop by the time we got to Bastrop Bayou but still no sun. We loaded up the boat and took it back to the refuge. Just about the time we got everything cleaned up and put away and I was driving back to work, it started to clear up and I saw a tiny scrap of blue sky. Figures it would finally clear up as soon as I was done with all the monitoring for this round. Here’s hoping for better weather next time! Just for fun, here’s a photo of oystercatcher yoga. I bet you didn’t know they did that did you?! 17 doing Yoga resized Current Stats: 21 nests being incubated, 1 nest with unknown status, 0 failed nests, 1 nest with unfledged chicks, 0 chicks fledged Here’s a big shout out to our additional oystercatcher adoptees: Candy McNamee, Scott Buckel, Lisa McGonigle, and Mickey Dufilho. THANK YOU! You can still adopt a single adult, a pair of adults, or a chick on our website here and of course if you just want to donate you can do that through our Just Give portal. donate_now


One response to “The Oystercatcher Diaries 2015: Field Week 3

  1. Thank you for braving such awful weather to check on the birds, Sue! You are truly dedicated! Glad they all seem to be doing well so far.

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