Feathers, flocks, and friends at the 2014 Mono Basin Bird ChautauquaJune 24th, 2014 by Elin, Communications Coordinator
Last weekend we celebrated the thirteenth annual Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua, with over 300 people gathering in Lee Vining to celebrate birds, natural history, art, science, and Mono Lake, in one of the best birding sites in the Western United States.
This year Chautauqua participants saw more species of birds than in any other year—127 species and counting, as we continue to tally up the lists. There weren’t any unusual rarities spotted this year, but a fantastic diversity of birds were observed all over Mono County. Some avian highlights of the weekend included Willow Flycatchers in Antelope Valley, Peregrine Falcons—one eating an American Avocet!—at County Park, Red Crossbills, Grey-crowned Rosy Finches, Sagebrush Sparrows, and Sage Thrashers.
In addition to birds, the Chautauqua celebrates many other aspects of the Mono Basin’s natural and cultural history—there are programs about geology, botany, bighorn sheep, kayaking, bats, insects, mining sites, and water politics, to name some of the diverse topics. There’s also a large art component to the weekend, with sketching classes, painting demonstrations, photography workshops, field journal sessions, writing, and storytelling. There’s really something for everyone.
With about 260 people in attendance, plus more than 60 leaders and presenters, the Chautauqua gives a boost to the Eastern Sierra’s local economy, which is one of the goals of this eco-tourism festival. This year’s picnic at Mono Lake County Park benefited Lee Vining High School, and featured the awesome rock-funk-soul band Jelly Bread. In addition, each year we award the Jeff Maurer Chautauqua Research Grant in memory of biologist, birder, and educator Jeff Maurer, who died in a climbing accident in 2009. This year $5,000 was divided between two projects, a project to study Mono Lake’s population of Snowy Plovers, and a project to conserve Tuolumne Meadows’ bird diversity through research and education.
Since its inception in 2002, the Chautauqua has served as a reunion of sorts, with longtime Monophiles, birding buddies, and Eastern Sierra researchers all connecting with each other during the weekend. It’s one of the best parts of the event—the people who care about this beautiful place and its feathered, furred, and fanged wildlife really make it special. In particular, a big thank you goes to the long list of wonderful Chautauqua partners who help to make the festival a reality every year: the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve, Eastern Sierra Audubon, the Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association, Friends of the Inyo, the Inyo National Forest, the National Park Service, Point Blue Conservation Science, and the Yosemite Conservancy.
Let’s do it again next year! Mark your calendar for the fourteenth annual Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua: June 19–21, 2015. We hope to see you there….