Friday, June 15, Point Reyes Bird Observatory (PRBO) field biologist Cory Gregory was slated to inventory the bird life on a portion of the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge (SJRNW). He was on a restricted portion of the Refuge, not far as the crow flies from the publicly accessible Pelican Nature Trail. Stopping for a moment to listen to the dawn chorus of singing birds, Gregory heard a song that brought him to rapt attention.
Gregory’s keen ear had picked up the distinctive song of the Least Bell’s Vireo, an endangered species with special significance both for PRBO and the Refuge. In 2005, PRBO biologist Linette Lina had found a breeding pair of Least Bell’s Vireos that turned out to be the first confirmed nesting in eighty years. Nesting birds were confirmed again in 2006 and 2007, but, despite much searching, hadn’t been seen since.
Gregory managed to locate the bird and immediately notified Refuge biologists Eric Hopson and Dennis Woolington. Hopson and Woolington had hopes of verifying another breeding pair of Least Bell’s Vireos, but their daily monitoring indicated only a lone male, singing all day long from the tops of willows and other trees typical of the riparian forest.
Biologists and nature lovers remain hopeful the lonely crooner will find a mate, but the likelihood lessens with each passing day. Meanwhile, the Merced National Wildlife Refuge, under the same supervision as the San Joaquin River Refuge, is hosting at least one pair of Least Bell’s Vireos but no nest has been found so far. It’s now clear that these long absent indicators of a healthy riparian ecosystem are making a dramatic comeback to their traditional Central Valley home.
Their return is the calculated result of sound biological science applied by a remarkable coalition, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, PRBO, River Partners, and the National Audubon Society. Working with local farmers to purchase land and conservation easements, today’s conservationists are proving that restoration of the Valley’s natural history is not only possible but happening almost daily.
And whatever the fate of the lone bird singing his heart out on the San Joaquin River National Wildlife Refuge, his persistent presence is more than evidence enough that love will find a way.