Conservation

JENNY PARSON'S LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE OYSTERCATCHERS AT PRINGLE BAY

Posted on the 3rd September 2018

One of the main aims of BirdLife Overberg's CleanMarine campaign is to focus on the protection of African Oystercatcher and White-fronted Plover nest sites along the Overstrand coastline. The nesting efforts of these beach breeding birds are easily disturbed by people and particularly dogs moving too close to the sites often leading to the birds abandoning the nests or chicks. Jenny Parsons completed a comprehensive documentation of the entire breeding and chick rearing cycle of a pair of African Oystercatchers at Pringle Bay during the previous summer. And we were so fortunate to follow her story at last night's monthly meeting

My love affair with the Oystercatchers of Pringle Bay - Jenny Parsons (10 September 2018)

Over the years we have seen Oystercatcher chicks on the beach, but this year I decided to watch them over a period of 72 days…

Thanks must be given to Chris Geldenhuys, a local PB resident who took the time to make beachgoer’s aware of the 3 breeding sites on the PB main beach.

Firstly, I want to share my thoughts on observing this process:(Jenny notes for her presentation)

Watching the Oystercatchers – what it taught me

1. More you Look – the more you learn: OC breed Oct – Apr in SA (Dec & Jan mainly)/ Forage exclusively intertidal zone at low tide/ Monogamous/ Male matures @ 4 yrs/ Female @ 3 yrs/ In this case eggs 32 day incubation period before hatching/ Chicks dependent on adults for food & shelter/ 50 to 180 days after they fledge do the chicks leave parents territory.

2. Patience and respect for their space: Never to close. The photo isn’t important enough to disturb.

3. Faith in mother nature – she is amazing! Camouflage/ Attentiveness of parents/ Surviving the natural elements eg wind

4. Public awareness is critical: Four other chicks didn’t make it – dogs and natural predation/ People are VERY unaware – kids, soccer etc

5. It was a journey, that took time and effort – but truly a magical experience where I watched the birds, came to love them!

Enjoy the story:

This is how vulnerable oystercatcher nest sites sometimes are - Image provided
Raising a chick close to the water's edge - Image provided
So, we watched anxiously over the busy Christmas holiday period while the Oystercatchers started to nest…
We discovered the hatched egg shell – which we were told by a young couple that it had been removed from the nest to about 25 m away and covered partially with sand. This is a self- preservation act to take the smell away from the nest - so as to not attract predators
On 27 January - DAY 1: We went down late afternoon to check on the Oystercatchers were doing. To our delight proud Mom showed us her chick, who must have been born that morning
Dad was picking mussels and we saw him bring food to Mom and the chick 4 times while we watched quietly on the beach
Proud parents – BUT 1 more egg still to hatch so we hoped we would find 2 chicks in the morning…
Dad stood sentry
28 January – DAY 2: I went down late in the afternoon to check up on OC family/ High tide/ Mom tucked chicks in for the night at nest at base of sand dune 
2 February – DAY 6: 6 days old/ Adults closely watching the chicks/ Mom foraged for mussels and Dad stood sentry/ Chick well camouflaged on the rocks amongst the musselbeds
Mom takes a huge mussel to a very hungry chick!
Size of meal seems disproportionate to the size of the chick – greedy little thing! While I watched 4 more meals were delivered to the chicks/ Dad was alert and would call as soon any one went too close for his liking./ Roberts says that the forage almost exclusively intertidally, so low tide was a good time to watch this amazing spectacle on the beach!
5 February - Day 10: Proud parents take turns, either foraging or standing sentry/ Chicks are inquisitive/ But as soon as Mom/Dad send a warning, they duck down and lie very still – very well camouflaged against the mussels!

12 February - Day 16: I had to look hard to find them today/ They were hiding in the mussel beds in the shade of the rocks

 

Parents very attentive/ Starting to show a little black tip at the end of their bills

19 February - Day 26: One chick is shyly standing still next to “Dad’s rock” aka sentry rock/ Starting to stretch their wings/ Comical because they didn’t quite know what to do with them/ Growing up and becoming busy with a touch of independence now
Not sure who stands guard – Mom or Dad?? How do you tell the difference?/ I like the idea that Dad stands guard and Mom feeds./ NOTE: Female OC bill larger – it’s a longer more pointed bill
Change in diet – periwinckles not mussels. Adult had to bash them about on rocks/ Teaching life skills to the chicks/ “Fluff” starting to show and starting the real deal – FEATHERS/ She feeds one chick at a time – but 1 gulp and its gone…

26 February – DAY 32: Chilled, no foraging everyone was well fed and relaxed on the rocks – again showing amazing camouflage on the rocks!
Adult also at ease
8 March – DAY 44: We went away for a week – felt like I was leaving my babies behind… Separation anxiety and all that/ Almost as big as adults/ From a distance quite hard to tell them apart/ Juveniles were more confident and less worried by the activity on the beach/ Almost ready to fledge??

Showing signs of using their wings – stretching, flapping, opening and shutting. Getting themselves strong and fit for flying./ Black tip now very evident on the juveniles bill/ Preening now evident

17 March – DAY 53
Low tide on the beach

Amazed that these “big” juveniles are still waiting for the adults to feed them!

30 March – DAY 65: LIFT OFF - My first sighting of the juveniles in flight – 65 days later!!

Theanette Staal, the manager of the African Penguin and Seabirds Sanctuary of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, also gave us brief feedback on the "hand rearing" of a chick that got brought to her as a day old. Wonderful achievement as she eventually managed to release the bird into the wild
Jenny also showed a sequence of images of a White-fronted Plover intruding at the breeding site of a pair
And the breeding (male?) certainly decided not to allow this!

The protection of the breeding sites of African Black Oystercatchers and White-fronted Plover should be seen as a priority. We thank Dr Mark Brown and the staff of the Nature's Valley Trust for their ground-breaking research and conservation efforts in this regard.

COMMENTS

646
MATT LOUWRENS (posted: 2018-10-17 21:22:33)
Fantastic photo documentary, thank you.
JILL MORTIMER (posted: 2018-10-01 19:06:23)
Fantastic pictures and story. Thanks so much.
JENNY WRIGHT (posted: 2018-09-27 12:26:04)
Fabulous! What a heart-warming account of the process. Thank you so much for sharing.
GLENN CHERRY (posted: 2018-09-12 21:29:30)
Awesome photography and story. Beautiful
WESSEL UYS (posted: 2018-09-12 09:47:22)
Baie goed gedoen!!!
CARIN MALAN (posted: 2018-09-12 09:19:23)
Well done Jenny and thank you for taking the time documenting it and sharing it with us all !!! Sorry to have missed the talk, but the "sand" was calling ! xxC
KIT DU PLESSIS (posted: 2018-09-11 15:57:35)
Fabulous documentary and recording. I have sent this on to Ral who I am sure will be in touch with you.
CAROL VAN HOOGSTRATEN (posted: 2018-09-11 14:09:57)
Brilliant!! Thank you so much