Oystercatchers and Other Things

Oystercatchers and Other Things

We have had a lot of mild sunny days this month; great for yard work and just about anything but photography. But, we have been out a few times. This week we are going to talk about American Oystercatchers.

One of the most reliable places to see Oystercatchers is the Texas City Dike. And often you will see a pair at the edge of the surf or on the rocks. I have been meaning to do a post on them because they are great subjects and there is some interesting research going on.

Oystercatchers at the edge of the shore. This pair may have been exhibiting courtship behavior (walking together and calling)

Oystercatchers at the edge of the shore. This pair may have been exhibiting courtship behavior (walking together and calling)

American Oystercatchers can be found year long on both coasts. In Texas they often breed on sand islands from dredging activity in the bays instead of on the mainland. Nests are scrapes in the sand and lined with shells or pebbles. Oystercatchers lay 2-4 eggs and the chicks leave the nest almost immediately. They stick close to the parents for several months as their bills are not hard enough to pry open oysters. They also eat marine worms and crabs.

Oystercatcher populations are especially vulnerable due to high variability in their reproductive success rate. They are not sexually mature until 3-4 yrs old; open nests are subject to overwash from storms, tides and predation by gulls and mammals. They were one of several species identified in the US Shorebird Conservation Plan as having small enough populations to warrant special attention.

X3 was seen at Texas City Dike on 5/22/2015

X3 was seen at Texas City Dike on 5/22/2015

The American Oystercatcher Working Group was formed in 2001 to

... develop, support and implement range-wide research and management efforts that promote the conservation of Atlantic coast American Oystercatchers and their habitats through individual and partnership-based initiatives guided by recommendations of the Working Group’s membership.

We often see banded birds at Texas City Dike and always report them on their site. So I can tell you the bird above, X3 is offspring of P2 and P3 born 4/22/2011 in West Galveston Bay.

Our own Gulf Coast Bird Observatory is responsible for banding the local Oystercatchers (and most of the other birds in our area). You should check out Susan Heath's wonderful field work from last year: The Oystercatcher Diaries.

Note the blade-thin bill

Note the blade-thin bill

They are striking birds and intense in their hunt for food. You can see in the bird above how their bill is thin enough to insert and open the oyster. 

Juvenile Oystercatcher from Summer 2014

Juvenile Oystercatcher from Summer 2014

Juvenile Oystercatchers are the same size as their parents, but lack the solid orange bill and bright eye. In 2014 we often saw what we called The Family. Two adults and a juvenile foraged and flew together all summer. We liked to think the adults were showing junior where to find the good prey.

Oystercatcher and a treat

Oystercatcher and a treat

This one is evicting the hermit crab from his shell.  Hard to admit, but almost everyone is someone's dinner.

Soon to be ex-tree in my front yard

Soon to be ex-tree in my front yard

And a note about missing last week. Evidently my email was a bit confusing judging by the concerned responses I got. No, nothing is wrong. I closed the sale of my townhouse at the end of January and suddenly got very busy with things I had put off. My new house had a huge Arizona Ash in the front yard. Closer inspection after moving in showed some alarming large holes and extensive decay. Two limbs fell out of the tree in the open yard after minor rainstorms. Once the leaves dropped in late Fall it was evident the tree had passed its prime and needed to be removed. Arizona Ash trees were favored by developers in the 70s as fast growing shade trees; many of my neighbors have (or had) them. True, they grow fast but their life span is around 20-30 years and this one was definitely on borrowed time.

Getting bids and having the tree removed was quite an adventure. If you are looking for a good landscape company, Sugar Land Grotech Tree Services did a fantastic job. The yard looks a bit bare and I am not sure if I will replace the tree. I do know the poor overshadowed Crepe Myrtle will now thrive. The rest of the overgrown landscaping is going too. I have been working on a design for new plantings and a replaced walkway with some new software ... And that is probably why I didn't get a blog post done!

Are you ready for Spring? Have you been working in your yard yet? And how bad do you think the mosquitoes will be since we didn't even have a freeze this winter? Let me know in the comments below.

Short Stories for February

Short Stories for February

Taking a Gamble

Taking a Gamble