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The Mono-logue » Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide

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Tracks in the sand north of Mono Lake

Friday, February 16th, 2018 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide
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Learning about the creatures that share our environment clearly enhances our experiences in the outdoors. It helps us notice more interactions as we explore and often paints a picture of what goes on when we are absent, exhibiting the mystery of life away from human eyes. I recently ventured out into the dunes on the north shore of Mono Lake to brush up on my knowledge of mammal tracks and immerse myself in the world of rabbits, kangaroo rats, and coyotes.

Black-tailed Jackrabbit prints (hopping leftwards). Fore prints on the left, staggered hind prints to the right. Photos by Nora Livingston.

A common Mono Basin track is that of the Black-tailed Jackrabbit. These hares inhabit the sagebrush and dunes of the high desert, though they are widespread and found in many other habitats in North America as well. Often you don’t notice them until they shoot out from the next bush over, scaring the daylights out of you, and you just get to see their dark tail disappearing into the maze of brush in an instant. Their tracks are (more…)

Winter birding in Bridgeport

Monday, January 22nd, 2018 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide
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Just north of the Mono Basin lies a wide golden valley with a glittering half-frozen reservoir edged up against a pinyon pine forest. Winter is a fantastic time to look for birds in Bridgeport, and this winter in particular has drawn in some rare birds. The reservoir is packed with ducks like Redheads, Northern Shovelers, and Common Goldeneyes.

A half-iced-over Bridgeport Reservoir reflects the snowy Sierra Nevada, including Matterhorn Peak and the Sawtooth Ridge. Photo by Nora Livingston.

In December, the reservoir was just beginning to freeze over and the ice edge provided a perch for gulls to stand, or nap, without bobbing up in down in the cold water. A rare Black-legged Kittiwake spent almost two weeks (more…)

It’s Christmas Bird Count week!

Thursday, December 14th, 2017 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide
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Whether you are a seasoned birder or new to the delightful joy of watching birds, you can help gather data for the Christmas Bird Count, one of the largest citizen science data sets in the world! Every December and January, thousands of bird enthusiasts across the world count individual birds in specific areas to get a general idea of the population shifts throughout the years.

An Audubon’s Warbler in winter plumage. Photo by Santiago Escruceria.

The three local counts are coming up this weekend and next week:

Bishop CBC: Saturday, December 16
Contact Chris Howard by email.

Mammoth Lakes CBC: Sunday, December 17
Contact Santiago Escruceria by email.

Mono Lake CBC: Tuesday, December 19
Contact Kristie Nelson by email.

Do you want to volunteer where you live? The National Audubon Society has a stellar map to show you where all the count circles are and who to contact. If you’re not great at bird identification, you can help by taking notes and keeping track of numbers. You will be assigned to an experienced birder so you can learn a lot along the way.

The weather is looking cold and dry, so the counts will be accessible by hiking rather than snowshoes or cross country skis like in years past. Happy birding!

The Season Seldom Seen: Winter Ecology of the Mono Basin

Tuesday, December 12th, 2017 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide
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Have you ever wondered where all the tiny chipmunks that skitter up the lodgepole pines all summer go when the landscape is covered with several feet of snow? Or how they could possibly survive the cold temperatures and lack of food for months on end? What about how plants bounce back after being buried in snow? This winter we are excited to offer a new Field Seminar focusing on these questions and more!

A view of Mono Lake and the White Mountains from Lundy Canyon in January 2017. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

The Season Seldom Seen: Winter Ecology of the Mono Basin will investigate the connections plants and animals have with their winter environments in addition to what factors cause winter in the first place. Winter ecology reveals a new side of animal and plant life that is invisible until (more…)

Fall splendor in the Mono Basin

Wednesday, October 4th, 2017 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide
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Color starting to creep in at Walker Creek on October 3, 2017. Photo by Nora Livingston.

The fall colors are really starting to happen in the Mono Basin! We offer Fall Color Foray half-day field seminars where we guide you to groves with peak color, plus discuss aspen ecology and the science behind changing colors. Don’t miss it—we have two seminars left.

Check out the itinerary for the October 12 seminar.

Check out the itinerary for the October 16 seminar.

Sign up for either seminar here! More fall color photos after the jump…. (more…)

Mono Basin fall colors are just around the corner

Sunday, September 17th, 2017 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide
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I saw my first yellow leaves the other day, just a few golden specks fluttering amidst a sea of vibrant green along the June Lake Loop, and it got me very excited for fall.

Leaves are just starting to change from green to yellow and red. Photo by Nora Livingston.

Fall is perhaps my favorite time of year in the Mono Basin. It’s like the whole ecosystem relaxes, it takes a deep breath after the constant rush of summer and lets it all go. The air is crisp and clear, the sagebrush sea becomes silent after its birds have flown south, the aspen leaves flutter gold, and the clouds put on spectacular broody shows most evenings.

Each week in fall is unique because of the changing leaves in each individual canyon and hilltop—one week they are still lime green, the next they may be neon yellow, the next buttercream with ruddy streaks like flames licking up a log. When the leaves (more…)

Great Mother’s Day gift: A guided trip at Mono Lake

Wednesday, May 10th, 2017 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide
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My mother, Kerry, at Black Point. Photo by Nora Livingston.

My mother loves the Mono Basin. She lives on the coast in the lush hills of West Marin, but she craves the dry expanse of sagebrush and the quiet aspen canyons of the Eastside, so she visits me as often as she can in the summertime. She and my dad set up their tent in Lee Vining Canyon and spend their days exploring Mono Lake, basking in the glory of the Sierra, and painting flowers with watercolors. She, like many of our visitors, likes to make the most out of her time here, filling her days with adventure, diving deeper into her experience here in the Eastern Sierra.

Last year, I gave my mom the gift of attending the Miwok-Paiute Basketry field seminar so she could learn the art of weaving willows from Julia and Lucy Parker. She was thrilled. She enjoyed the seminar immensely, and was very proud of her beautiful basket. In fact, she loved it so much, she signed up for the seminar again this year!

Why not give your mother the gift of learning and exploration for Mother’s Day this year? (more…)

Sixteenth annual Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide
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Get your binoculars ready for the sixteenth annual Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua, coming June 16–18, 2017!

Audubon’s Warbler. Photo by Santiago Escruceria.

We hope you’ll be here to celebrate and support the rich diversity of bird life, the legacy of avian research, and the ongoing conservation efforts in the Eastern Sierra—all while having a darn good time. This year we are offering many new programs and field trips as well as our most popular events from previous Chautauquas. (more…)

Mono Lake, Mammoth, and Bishop Christmas Bird Counts coming up

Thursday, December 15th, 2016 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide
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Every winter, from December 14 to January 5, birders all over the Americas get together to contribute to one of the largest citizen science data sets in the world. It’s called the Christmas Bird Count, or CBC.

A rare Varied Thrush in Lee Vining in December 2009. Photo courtesy of Justin Hite.

A rare Varied Thrush in Lee Vining in December 2009. Photo courtesy of Justin Hite.

Interestingly enough, the CBC it started as a Christmas hunting competition, but as conservation issues rose, an ornithologist named Frank Chapman sparked the idea of a count instead of a hunt. One hundred and sixteen years ago (in 1900), the first Christmas Bird Count occurred: 27 birders counted birds all day in 25 different locations. The count evolved and grew (more…)

Resource damage below Tioga Lodge: Observations and photographs

Friday, November 18th, 2016 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide
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In early November I ventured down to the shoreline of Mono Lake below the Tioga Lodge to use my former-biologist eyes to assess the damage done to State Park land and Post Office Creek.

In late October a heavy excavator tore up State Park land along the shore of Mono Lake below Tioga Lodge and Highway 395. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

In late October a heavy excavator tore up State Park land along the shore of Mono Lake below Tioga Lodge and Highway 395. Photo by Bartshe Miller.

It was interesting to contrast the damage caused by the Marina Fire with the damage caused by heavy machinery; I’m sure the combination of the two events is even more detrimental. While I made observations and took photographs, I was especially concerned by two things—the bird habitat adjacent to the excavation and the wide swath of flood water rushing down from what used to be a creek channel that now spreads the water across the landscape haphazardly on it’s way to Mono Lake. (more…)

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