Although the year was winding down, December was a big month for American Oystercatchers. The annual meeting of the American Oystercatcher Working Group was held from December 10-12 in Wrightsville Beach, NC. The Working Group is made up of partners from government and non-government agencies and organizations, all of whom work with American Oystercatchers. The group works to implement oystercatcher conservation at a large scale by developing and supporting range-wide oystercatcher research and management. By coordinating efforts and sharing information, the group can assess regional and continental populations, study population demographics, and identify and address threats more effectively.
This winter, the results of the 2012/2013 range-wide winter survey were presented by Shiloh Schulte of the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. The Atlantic coast oystercatcher population has held steady or slightly increased from 10,971 ±298 in 2003 to 11,284 ±313 in 2013. Over 30 partners worked from Texas to New Jersey on the survey, which involved flying the entire Atlantic and Gulf coastline–more than 9,000 miles–in a small plane in order to obtain aerial counts. At the same time, crews on foot or in boats ground-truthed the plane’s counts and looked for banded birds.
The effects of oystercatcher management were also reported on by Alex Wilke of The Nature Conservancy Virginia and Felicia Sanders of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. Throughout their U.S. breeding range, 847 miles of coastline are actively managed for oystercatchers, benefiting 1,516 breeding pairs of oystercatchers in 12 states. That’s over 40% of the breeding population. Over 900 pairs benefit from seasonal posting to reduce disturbance at nesting sites, and nearly 1,000 pairs benefit from stewards who educate beachgoers about nesting birds. Over 500 pairs benefit from predator management, and over 250 receive habitat management. Work to protect oystercatchers benefits other species nesting with them as well. Over 29,000 pairs in all were benefited from management at oystercatcher sites, including Least Terns, Black Skimmers, and Brown Pelicans.
Finally, the group has seen increases in productivity–the number of fledglings produced per pair. When the Working Group was formed, productivity was estimated at 0.30 fledglings per pair. Productivity now is over 0.45 fledglings per pair. The group maintains a website which provides detailed information about all of the partners’ work as well as oystercatcher biology.
In December we also bid farewell to Shuckster, also known as CFX, who dropped his satellite transmitter while continuing to winter in the Capers Island area adjacent to Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Although all six oytercatchers have now lost their transmitters, we expect to hear word of Oreo. Her roost site will be surveyed again in January and February by the tireless Pat and Doris Leary, and we hope to visit South Carolina’s oytsercatcher roost sites to look for Shuckster and CF7. If we’re lucky we may find Arnie, Orange-Green, or UP among them, as their whereabouts this winter are still unknown.