Operation oystercatcher

by Kelly Corbett
Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Contributed photo by Walker Golder

 Arnie and his mate perform a piping display. 

Black and white like the cookie, the American oystercatcher named Oreo has remained at her location on the Wrightsville Beach shore.

Oreo is one of six oystercatchers being tracked by Audubon North Carolina for a year to gather information about  movement patterns and engage and inform the public about oystercatchers and other shorebirds.

Lindsay Addison, coastal biologist, said she hopes people can get a little idea of what the life of an oystercatcher is like through the project.

Oreo, who spends a lot of time with her mate, was named by Wrightsville Beach School students and is often recognized by beachgoers and Wrightsville Beach bird stewards. 

Addison named the first oystercatcher captured for the project Arnie.

“I named him because I think all of our oystercatchers look like an Arnie,” she said.

Abby Chiaramonte, former summer communications intern, helped capture Orange Green, the sixth oystercatcher, on Lea-Hutaff Island.

She said to capture the bird they took wire mesh with loops of fishing line tied to the corners to form a noose. Then, they set up a decoy and waited. One of the birds charged the decoy and got caught in the noose. So to calm down the captured bird, they put it in a blind.

“It reminded me of Tweety Bird,” Chiaramonte said. “… She relaxed for a few minutes.”

Named after the ambiguous orange and green bands around its legs when found, once Orange Green was released, she flew off, slightly frightened, to Figure Eight Island.

The other oystercatchers are referred to as the letters and numbers on their bands — UP, CFX and CF7. 

“Those are just random codes that uniquely identify the bird if you happen to see the band,” Addison said. “However, they’re not as fun as Arnie and Oreo.”

Audubon North Carolina is polling Facebook friends for name suggestions and votes. To some, CF7 looks like Strutter, Hot Lips Houlihan or Marge.

The project began in late April, beginning with the capturing of the birds and transforming into the social media component of the project. The birds are now viewable on Facebook (Audubon North Carolina), Twitter (@amoytracking), maps, photos, videos and a blog, www.oystercatchertracking.org

Three of the oystercatchers in the Cape Fear Region were captured and strapped with 9.5-gram satellite transmitters via small backpacks. The other three were found on Cape Lookout National Seashore.

When capturing the birds, Audubon North Carolina wanted geographic diversity to be represented. They wanted to capture a bird that had been seen in Florida (but were unable to) and to capture some mystery birds without bands. But they mainly wanted to capture birds they could catch.

“We were hoping that we might get some migratory oystercatchers when we did our capture, and so far we know we have at least one,” Addison said about Orange Green.  “… If you look at Oreo, Oreo just kind of has hung around Masonboro Inlet and gone a little bit over to the waterway. If you look at Orange Green, Orange Green has gone to three different inlets. His home base is Rich Inlet, but for a while there he was commuting almost every day to Mason Inlet. And then he also went up to Topsail Inlet once, just kind of jaunting around. And now he’s back at Rich.”

Since April, two of the birds, Arnie and CF7, have managed to remove their backpacks.

“They’re our renegades,” Addison said. “… We hope to be able to recapture the oystercatchers next spring and remove the satellite transmitters from them, take the backpacks off and then refurbish the units and put them back out. Hopefully they will carry them that long. Fingers crossed.”

If the project goes well, she said Audubon North Carolina plans to add more oystercatchers from other states to the project.

“When you look at a map that’s got a line that shows you where the birds flew or that sea turtle swam, that’s really cool and interesting, but you don’t spend a lot of time getting to know that animal,” Addison said.

While the birds are referred to as she or he on the blog, their gender is unknown. 

“The birds do have personalities,” Addison said. “It’s more of a species personality than an individual bird’s personality. … Oystercatchers are a great bird to get to know, because they’re such a distinctive looking bird, so they’re easy to see, and they are sort of comical in their appearance — and also some of their behaviors, like the piping and the territorial displays.”

If people get to know the oystercatchers, then she said the idea is hopefully they will want to help coastal birds survive.

email kelly@luminanews.

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