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Least Bell's Vireos and Southwestern Willow Flycatchers at the San Luis Rey flood risk management project area in San Diego County, California: Breeding activities and habitat use—2021 Annual report

February 17, 2022

Executive Summary

Surveys and monitoring for the endangered Least Bell’s Vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus; vireo) were done at the San Luis Rey Flood Risk Management Project Area (Project Area) in the city of Oceanside, San Diego County, California, between April 4 and August 4, 2021. We completed four protocol surveys during the breeding season, supplemented by weekly territory monitoring visits. We identified a total of 122 territorial male vireos; 111 were confirmed as paired and 8 were confirmed as single males. For the remaining three territories, we were unable to confirm pair status. Five transient vireos were detected in 2021. The vireo population in the Project Area decreased by 24 percent from 2020 to 2021. Vireo populations decreased across San Diego County, with a 14-percent decrease documented at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton (MCBCP); a 5-percent decrease on the Otay River; a 6-percent decrease on the middle San Luis Rey River; and a 44-percent decrease at Marine Corps Air Station (although this decrease was likely exaggerated by large-scale vegetation clearing that occurred prior to the 2021 breeding season).

We used an index of treatment (Treatment Index) to evaluate the impact of on-going vegetation clearing on the Project Area vireo population. The Treatment Index measures the cumulative effect of vegetation treatment within a territory (since 2005) by using the percent area treated weighted by the number of years since treatment. We found that the Treatment Index for unoccupied habitat was more than two times that of occupied habitat, indicating that vireos selected less treated habitat in which to settle.

We monitored vireo nests at three general site types: (1) within the flood channel where exotic and native vegetation removal has occurred regularly (Channel), (2) three sites next to the flood channel where limited exotic and native vegetation removal has occurred (Off-channel), and (3) three sites that have been actively restored by planting native vegetation (Restoration). Nesting activity was monitored in 85 territories, 8 of which were occupied by single males. Of the completed nests, 39 percent were successful, and nest success did not differ among the three sites. Clutch size was greater in the Channel than the Off-channel sites, and the proportion of hatchlings that fledged was greater in Off-channel sites than Channel and Restoration sites. There were no other nest-level differences detected among site types, nor were there any differences in territory-level measures of productivity (young fledged per pair, double-brooding) among the sites. Overall, breeding success and productivity were slightly lower in 2021 than in 2020, with 66 percent of pairs fledgling at least one young and pairs fledging an average of 1.9±1.7 young.

To investigate if the cumulative years of treatment had an impact on vireo reproductive effort, we looked at the effects of the Treatment Index on reproductive parameters. Results from generalized linear models indicated that treatment did not have an effect on vireo nesting effort or the number of vireo fledglings per pair produced in 2021. Similarly, our analysis of nest survival for 2021 revealed no effect of Treatment Index on daily survival rate.

Analysis of vegetation data collected at vireo nests from 2006 to 2021 did not indicate an effect of vegetation at the nest on daily survival rate. We also found no differences in nest-placement characteristics among site types or successful/unsuccessful nests.

Red/arroyo willow (Salix laevigata or Salix lasiolepis) was the species most commonly selected for nesting by vireos in all three site types. Black willow (Salix gooddingii) and mule fat (Baccharis salicifolia) also were commonly used. Vireos used a wider variety of species for nesting in Channel and Off-channel sites (seven and eight species, respectively) compared with Restoration sites (three species).

Publication Year 2022
Title Least Bell's Vireos and Southwestern Willow Flycatchers at the San Luis Rey flood risk management project area in San Diego County, California: Breeding activities and habitat use—2021 Annual report
DOI 10.3133/ofr20221012
Authors Alexandra Houston, Lisa D. Allen, Ryan E. Pottinger, Barbara E. Kus
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2022-1012
Index ID ofr20221012
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center