Black Oystercatcher Monitoring Volunteers to the Rescue!

The Black Oystercatcher is such an interesting and unique bird that it is no surprise that several members from the community have asked to join volunteer monitoring  efforts along the coast!

 

A lot of volunteers from the Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History have stepped up to the plate and are ready to volunteer in monitoring different Black Oystercatcher territories along the Monterey Peninsula. A lot of docents from Point Lobos State Reserve have also volunteered to monitor Black Oystercatchers within the Point Lobos Reserve. The assistance of these volunteers is especially crucial during breeding season because we want as much information as we can get about the Black Oystercatchers’ reproductive success.

 

Although a lot of the volunteers are already acquainted with the Black Oystercatchers, as the birds are loud and conspicuous, they were still asked to attend an orientation with information about the birds and their behaviors. The orientation meetings were led by local Black Oystercatcher experts Rick Hanks and Hugo Ceja. In the past couple of years Rick and Hugo have gotten to know the behaviors and territories of the Black Oystercatchers very well. The meetings were very informative, and the volunteers learned about the data forms that we will be using this season.

 

The volunteers seemed very excited to pick a territory and to start monitoring the Black Oystercatchers!

 

Hopefully the Black Oystercatchers have a lot of success this season!

Rick Hanks talking to volunteers about the data sheets we will be using this season. EFTA intern Daniel Gomez looking super focused!

Rick Hanks talking to volunteers about the data sheets we will be using this season. EFTA intern Daniel Gomez looking super focused!

Oystercatcher woes

Over the past few weeks I’ve been able to observe some of the obstacles that the Black Oystercatchers, or BLOYs, face. It has been an eye-opening experience that really allowed me to see how many challenges other species face when it comes to reproduction.

It’s a little difficult to not get attached to the chicks, especially when we’ve observed their journey from parent’s nest building behavior, to eggs, and to chicks. Unfortunately, the birth of a chick does not equal reproductive success. The small chicks are still very vulnerable to many predators and are entirely dependent on their parents for protection. This vulnerability meant that most of the chicks that we saw hatched ultimately disappeared. There are only a few chicks left out of a lot of mating pairs. It became typical to see a pair of BLOYs with a chick or two one day, and then suddenly gone the next. Some pairs re-nested, but only to face the same outcome.

Hopefully the data that is being collected will convince people that Black Oystercatchers need more protection. They are a vulnerable species that have been forced to share their territories with humans. The least humans can do is offer protection during their breeding season.

Currently, there is one particular pair of BLOY chicks that have been becoming quite popular with locals and tourists alike in Pacific Grove. These chicks have garnered attention due to the specific place in which they are currently being raised, among the harbor seals. A lot of people stop by to observe the hauled-out harbor seals and among them is a family of yipping Black Oystercatchers. The juxtaposition of these huge marine mammals with these tiny, funny-looking birds is quite a sight. I think this has been bringing a lot of attention to the birds and they are becoming more familiar to the crowds that gather.

A Crow Eating a Carrot

The title of this blog post was inspired by someone describing the way a Black Oystercatcher looks as a crow eating a carrot due to their dark plumage and their long bright orange bill.

Now that the shorebird surveys are over I’ve started to get involved in helping to monitor Black Oystercatchers and their nests. This monitoring will help towards gathering data about the Black Oystercatcher’s reproductive success. These particular birds seem to be facing quite a bit of challenges. Their range falls within the rocky intertidal, which means that they might be facing habitat loss due to climate change. While nesting, they also face the danger of predators including gulls and crows.

This project is being led by Hugo Ceja, the Monterey intern from last year. He has a network of volunteers helping to monitor the nests at various locations around the Monterey Coast. Hugo has become quite the expert on anything Black Oystercatcher-related, so I’ve been trying to soak up as much information from him as possible. So far I’ve gone out with him to the sites a few times and I’m always amazed at how much he knows about the Oystercatchers and their behaviors. I am also surprised at his ability to find the nests that he is monitoring in the first place because they are so very well camouflage, inconspicuous, and often times far away.

The first thing I learned about the Black Oystercatchers is that they are very territorial amongst their own species. A pair of Black Oystercatchers will claim a territory and will chase any interlopers that come into their territory. From my own observations out in the field I’ve noticed that this is behavior might have to do something with their troubles reproducing. When an outside Black Oystercatchers comes into the territory often times the Black Oystercatcher that is on the nest will get off the nest and join the chase as well. Predators will take advantage of this situation. This past Tuesday there was a pretty close call when a nesting pair of Black Oystercatchers went off on a chase and a gull got really close to the eggs and was looking down at them. Luckily, one of the Oystercatchers came back just in time.

Another thing that I’ve become quite familiar with is the Black Oystercatcher’s calls. They have a very distinct calls and it is rare that they fly without making a call, making it somewhat easier to locate them.

The kind of observations that are of interest to this monitoring include: nesting behaviors, incubation exchange, the fledging of the chicks, and any significant observations of predators as well.

I’m excited to learn more about the Black Oystercatchers and I’m hoping that this data will lead for them to receive a special status if their populations are actually in trouble. While this season has already been plagued with lost eggs, I’m hoping that the other pairs will pull through and raise chicks successfully!

 

The rumors

If Paul Revere were a modern-day birder, he’d be running down the path of the estuary flailing a Kaufman guide in the air while frantically shouting:

“The shorebirds are coming! The shorebirds are coming!”

But he’s not. Paul Revere is long dead. C’mon guys, get yourself together. I know the anticipation of this shorebird migration must be driving you nuts, too. It’s obviously rolling me off of the rocker. But no worries, that’s why I’m here.

Ergo, it is my pleasure to announce: the shorebirds really are coming! So turn that frown upside down, and lean into your chair, you’re about to take a ride back in time of the elusive history of the Oregon coast to…yesterday.

Oh, yesterday. Like many, it was crazy, full of random outings, chaotic research endeavors, and rapidfire admin projects. This was a particularly packed day; at 8am my roommates and I peeled out of bed and headed to Depoe Bay for a training on whales, then I rushed back home to jump into the field in my stubborn mission to find shorebirds, had an hour or so to coordinate logistics for a county-wide festival, and then jumped back into the field for a second attempt at shorebird spotting. For those who think that “kids” of my generation don’t want to work, take this brief picture of my internship as a glimpse into the things that we are willing to do simply for a feeling of purpose; it’s not an easy task to drag around a scope through mud, rain, bitter cold high winds, and trash for four hours a day, and then maintain the energy to complete three-four other projects. I am just one of many youngin’s happy and willing to shed sweat, blood, and tears just for a chance to shine. This is not a complaint, I’m extremely blessed and honored to have the opportunity, and can only hope that I deliver to and beyond the expectations put forth to me. What I hope to convey here is that it is important to provide a stepping stone for recent graduates to become qualified professionals within your field, because we’re ready and willing to make the leap, and keep on jumping until we’re ready to continue the legacy you leave behind.

Anyways, I digress, you’re here to read about birds, and I shall deliver:

Why am I doing it? Because I finally spotted not just one, but MANY shorebirds. Coincidentally, it was the first visit that I finally managed to convince a friend to join me. Considering my luck, I did not expect to see much on the mudflats, so I felt it was a good day to inspire another person to be as obsessed with birds are. Maybe this goal was a little selfish–I often find myself with wandering eyes in the middle of conversations (I can’t help it if a cool bird is doing kickbutt stuff right behind someone), a part of me hoped that pulling someone into my kind of crazy would make them understand the struggle of a birder. We went out a little early than necessary so I could show her how to use the scope, and navigate her through the library of field guides that I drag out with me. So far these guides have only been useful as a potential defense mechanism for creepers out in the wild (doesn’t happen here, but I am from D.C. and inherently have an incurable sense of paranoia). However, right when I peeked into the scope to focus it for my friend, I noticed a slight movement on the opposite bank:

“What’s up?” My friend froze, anxious.
“A blowing leaf? No…”
“What?!?” The poor girl was squirming from anticipation.
“Oh my god…”
“WHAT!?”
“PEEPS!!!!!”

If I were a comic book character, a big red exclamation point would have materialized above me and my head would have exploded from excitement. There’s no equivalent to making a discovery, no matter how small it may be. Yesterday I found that the peeps are arriving, and many more will soon be making their way.

For now, we have Black-bellied plovers, Western sandpipers, and a Yellowlegs (I think Greater) claiming the Yaquina Bay. Just for fun, I also witnessed a Bald eagle stealing a fish from a gull in mid air and the gull, determined and touch beyond belief, coming back at the eagle for vengeance. Meanwhile, US Fish & Wildlife boating trips along the California shore have reported sightings of flocks of migrating birds coming up North.

So rest assured, they are coming, they are coming strong.

Until next time! Bird on.

My First Encounters With Shorebirds And More..

I spotted my first shorebirds this weekend on my way back from an amazing getaway weekend camp trip with my supervisors, Erin and Melissa, and co-worker Jillian. On our way back to town we stopped near small islands where we scanned the rocky shores for shorebirds from our boat. Right when we were ready to head home we spotted a pair of Black Oystercatchers! I was pretty excited!

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I got to drive the skiff (small boat) on our way home! It was a bit bumpy and wet, but I learned how to steer and follow the markers that tell you which direction to go to avoid hidden rocks or mudflats that can be hard to see during high-tide.

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During the work week, I helped collect pre-treatment data on a site that will be hydroaxed in hopes to promote moose habitat. Within a transect we recorded the tree nearest to our plot collecting tree species -number of stems, state of tree (dead/alive), height, and whether it had signs of browsing. Common tree species that we found were: alder, sitka spruce, mountain hemlock, and cottonwoods. (In the picture below, Melissa and Mike are collecting tree height data).

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After work, my co-worker Milo Burcham, a wildlife biologist in charge of subsistence hunting with the Forest Service as well as a professional photographer. This week (1st week of April) Milo has been making trips to see the herring spawining event. Once a year, the herring come to Prince William Sound (PWS) to spawn, which attracts whales, porpoises, sea lions, sea birds, and humans! The herring were once abundant in PWS, but currently their numbers are nothing like they once were before the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Milo has been going out for many years now, and was going to take Michael who also is a professional photographer. As someone who enjoys photography, it was amazing to accompany professional photographers on such an amazing trip! I had never witnessed humpback whales like I did this week, I could hear them! It is hard to put into words how I felt when I saw and heard them. I felt their energy, an ancestral connection (I’m not sure how else to explain it, but it was BEAUTIFUL).

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