Al Donner 916-414-6566
Jim Nickles 916-414-6572
A husky-voiced little songbird once common in California's Central Valley but not heard there for the last 60 years has reappeared on the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) west of Modesto.
The least Bell?s vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus) is a musical, chatty bird. Some males have up to 15 different songs that finish with a distinctive, "cheedle, jeew." That song was heard by bird counter Lynette Lina along the banks of the
The sighting of a nesting pair of least Bell's vireo occurred on the refuge, a unit of the San Luis NWR Complex that was restored under the CALFED program. The restoration began just three years ago and was completed this spring. In that time, the former farm field has quickly grown into a tangle of willows, blackberry, wild rose and other native riverside plants, some already 30 feet high. It is reminiscent of the original valley riverside habitat, and least Bell's vireos soon found the area, even though they haven?t nested in the Central Valley for 85 years.
"Hearing the least Bell's vireo again demonstrates that a good recovery plan, committed partners and resources to carry it out, can bring many species back to life in areas where they seemed lost forever," said Steve Thompson, manager of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?s California-Nevada Operations Office.
The wildlife refuges increasingly play a major role in the survival and recovery of species. The Aleutian Canada goose, for example, recovered from the brink of extinction after it began wintering at the same
The least Bell's vireo once was common from Red Bluff down throughout the Central Valley and south into Baja California. But the removal of 90 per cent of the riparian habitat resulted in their steep decline. The last time least Bell's vireo breeding was confirmed in the valley was 1919. By the 1940s birders could no longer hear them in the Valley. Exhaustive searches for the bird in the 1970s and 1980s also came up empty-handed, and biologists sadly concluded that the bird no longer nested in the valley.
When the least Bell's vireo was federally listed as endangered in 1986 only 300 pairs were left, all along small streams in Southern California.
This week's success is the outcome of a broad partnership involving at least nine different organizations. CALFED spawned the effort in 1998 when it provided key funds to purchase an 800-acre farm owned by the late Ed Hagemann. Many other agencies also contributed, among them the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Resources Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Audubon Society.
Three years ago, CALFED provided funds to the San Luis NWR to restore a 164-acre section along the
The hands-on restoration work was an adaptive effort by three conservation partners -- PRBO Conservation Science, River Partners and the Endangered Species Restoration Program at CSU-Stanislaus. Each year they made refinements to improve the quality of habitat being developed for native bird and animal species. The process is closely monitored by PRBO and ESRP, two wildlife organizations that work closely with state and federal agencies to monitor special species.
Geoff Geupel of PRBO said the least Bell's vireo's return "is a success for CALFED's adaptive management approach to habitat restoration." Learning from earlier restoration efforts, they planted more shrubby understory and created a varied pattern of planting that mimics the natural floodplain habitat. That created an area perfect for the least Bell's vireo -- dense shrubby understory.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 544 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.