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Sandra, Birding Intern | The Mono-logue

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The 2016 Mono Lake guided bird walk season

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016 by Sandra, Birding Intern
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Hard to fathom that season of guided bird walks has come to an end. Erv and I led our last County Park bird walk yesterday and State Park ranger Dave Marquart led his last on Sunday. It seems we just arrived to serve our third summer as Mono Lake Committee Birding Interns!

An adult Osprey perches watchfully atop a tufa tower near its nest . Photo by Sandra Noll.

An adult Osprey perches atop a tufa tower near its nest . Photo by Sandra Noll.

It has been a great season of birds from “locals” and early spring migrants through the nesting season to, most recently, early fall migrants. These include large numbers of Eared Grebes and phalaropes beginning to stage on Mono Lake where they molt and gain weight for the final legs of their migrations to wintering areas further south. Mono Lake’s status as an internationally important bird area is especially apparent this time of year.

It has been a delight and privilege to introduce visitors from the US and around the world to this beautiful, bountiful place and the work of the Mono Lake Committee to protect, restore, and educate. And it is my pleasure to leave you with a few highlights!

(more…)

Destruction and renewal

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 by Sandra, Birding Intern
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The presence of wildfires has made me think about the seemingly contradictory aspects of destruction and rebirth a lot this summer.

smoldering Marina fire

The Marina Fire’s smoldering aftermath on the west side of Highway 395 evidences stark contrast to the unaffected trees, grasses and shrubs east of the highway. All photos by Sandra Noll.

June’s Marina Fire came uncomfortably close to Mono Lake Committee headquarters in Lee Vining. It was the nearest I have personally been to wildfire and, while awed and inspired by the response of firefighters from multiple agencies and the impressive accuracy of helicopter and aircraft pilots dropping water and fire retardant in turbulent winds and updrafts, I was also fearful with a dramatic new awareness of fire’s destructive capacity. This fire’s aftermath, still quite visible from (more…)

Wildflowers in full bloom along Lee Vining Creek

Saturday, June 4th, 2016 by Sandra, Birding Intern
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Not far from the Mono Lake Committee headquarters and bookstore, the Lee Vining Creek trail offers multi-sensory delights this time of year. Early morning and late evening are best for birding but anytime of day is great for wildflowers.

Yellows predominate from the profuse tiny blossoms of bitterbrush and buckwheat to the stately single stems of western wallflower and from button-like rayless daisies to sunflower-like blossoms within the long fuzzy leaves of woolly mule’s ears.

The Lee Vining Creek trail flanked by yellow bitterbrush and sagebrush. Photo by Sandra Noll.

The Lee Vining Creek trail flanked by yellow bitterbrush and sagebrush. Photo by Sandra Noll.

(more…)

Free bird walks at Mono Lake County Park begin this weekend

Thursday, May 19th, 2016 by Sandra, Birding Intern
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Several events mark the beginning of the Mono Lake Committee’s summer season. One of them is the start of weekend bird-walks at Mono Lake County Park, a joint program with California State Parks.

A Western Tanager in its brilliant breeding plumage.  Photo by Sandra Noll.

A Western Tanager in its brilliant breeding plumage. Photo by Sandra Noll.

You are invited to join experienced guides every Friday and Sunday at 8:00am (meet at the County Park parking lot) for a two-hour guided walk through a variety of habitats including an aging woodland with dead snags, sagebrush scrub, grassland, riparian oasis, and the shore of Mono Lake. As you can imagine, this variety of habitats supports a wide variety of birds.

These following photos of a few of the species seen on a preview walk earlier this week are (more…)

The Mono Basin’s top ten August birds

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2015 by Sandra, Birding Intern
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The season of weekly bird walks is drawing to a close, so this is the final top ten list for the year.  As in previous lists, all birds were seen within a half-hour radius of the Mono Lake Committee headquarters in Lee Vining.

Juvenile Sage Thrasher perched on caterpillar greasewood..... Photo by Sandra Noll.

A juvenile Sage Thrasher perched on caterpillar greasewood, a salt-tolerant plant that thrives near Mono Lake. Photo by Sandra Noll.

Some find birding less attractive once chicks have fledged and many species that breed here begin migrating to follow food resources to southern wintering grounds. I find, however, that August birding presents interesting challenges in the identification of juvenile birds and of (more…)

Mono Lake: The essence of this unique place

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015 by Sandra, Birding Intern
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The tranquil Mono Lake shoreline at sunrise. Photo by Sandra Noll.

The tranquil Mono Lake shoreline at sunrise. Photo by Sandra Noll.

With less than a month remaining in my summer internship with the Mono Lake Committee, I am drawn to revisit the essence of this unique place.

Mono Lake is a vast, hyper-saline, hyper-alkaline terminal lake. It indulges intense mood swings while comfortably nestled within the mostly-arid Mono Basin now resplendent with aromatic Great Basin sagebrush and yellow-flowered rabbitbrush. Striking mountains and rolling hills surround the basin. Riparian corridors of freshwater streams feeding the lake are green and lush thanks to restoration efforts and the unexpected bounty of spring and summer rains. One’s eye is refreshed at every turn. (more…)

The Mono Basin’s top ten July birds

Monday, August 10th, 2015 by Sandra, Birding Intern
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Another month has flown by and it’s time to unveil July’s top ten bird encounters; birds seen within a half-hour radius of the Mono Lake Committee headquarters. July’s birding continued to be enriched by the maturation and fledging of chicks and by initial sightings of migratory grebes and phalaropes along the shore of Mono Lake.

Violet-green Swallow atop tufa tower at South Tufa. Photo by Sandra Noll.

Violet-green Swallow atop tufa tower at South Tufa. Photo by Sandra Noll.

1.  California Gull fledglings—According to Kristie Nelson, Mono Lake California Gull Project Leader, this has been a “highly successful year for the gulls, better than we have seen in over ten years for both population size and chick production.”
2.  Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch—often seen in the high country (more…)

Birds and Basques in the Mono Basin

Monday, August 3rd, 2015 by Sandra, Birding Intern
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An elegant 60-year-old arborglyph, likely Basque in origin. Photo by Sandra Noll.

An elegant 60-year-old arborglyph, likely Basque in origin. Photo by Sandra Noll.

Birding is often about much more than birds, a truth evidenced by the breadth of offerings at the annual Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua. Recently I arranged a birding excursion with friends to one of the Mono Basin’s many canyons, where I was equally enchanted by Red-breasted Sapsuckers flying in and out of tree-cavity nests with morsels for hungry chicks and by historic Basque, Mexican, and South American carvings on the aspen trees.

A Red-breasted Sapsucker checks its nest cavity before flying off to forage in response to its chick’s incessant demands for food. Photo by Sandra Noll.

A Red-breasted Sapsucker checks its nest cavity before flying off to forage in response to its chick’s incessant demands for food. Photo by Sandra Noll.

Aspen tree carvings (arborglyphs) were created by sheepherders—initially Basques from the Pyrenees Mountains straddling today’s France and Spain, and later by shepherds from Mexico and South America—during their lonely summer vigils tending large flocks in remote high country pastures. Campsites were often established in cool aspen forests near a creek; habitats similar to Bohler Canyon. It’s quite an experience to be birding and suddenly come face to face with historic documents growing on trees! (more…)

A naturalist’s view of the Caltrans rockfall project: Spiders, cranes, and giant tube worms

Monday, July 27th, 2015 by Sandra, Birding Intern
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The Caltrans staff working on the Lee Vining Rockfall Project have a stunning daily view of the Mono Basin, and they share their work site with some strange "species...." Photo courtesy of Joe Blommer, Caltrans.

The Caltrans staff working on the Lee Vining Rockfall Project have a stunning daily view of the Mono Basin, and they share their work site with some strange “species….” Photo courtesy of Joe Blommer, Caltrans.

A confirmed “sidewalk superintendent,” I am fascinated by construction sites. At least once a week I drive alongside the Caltrans Lee Vining Rockfall Project on Highway 395 just north of town and watch the progress of hillside stabilization, erosion control, and revegetation preparation with great interest. As a naturalist and one of this year’s Mono Lake Committee Birding Interns, I am also on the lookout for interesting and unusual species. With observations enhanced by an active imagination, I’ve noted some strange mechanical creatures assisting their human counterparts in the effort—spiders, cranes and giant tube worms! (more…)

The Mono Basin’s top ten June birds

Saturday, July 4th, 2015 by Sandra, Birding Intern
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The month of June has flown and it’s time to unveil the top ten bird encounters; birds seen within a half-hour driving radius of the Mono Lake Committee headquarters. It was a great month enhanced by the seasonal hatching and fledging young and by sightings at the 14th annual Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua held June 19–21.

A Mountain Bluebird with food for its hungry nestlings.  Photo by Erv Nichols.

A Mountain Bluebird with food for its hungry nestlings. Photo by Erv Nichols.

1. Northern Saw-whet Owl—a cavity nest with several owlets was discovered in the Obsidian Dome area during the Bird Chautauqua
2. Mountain Bluebirds—nesting behind the gas station at south entrance to June Lake Loop (more…)

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