Saturday, August 22nd, 2015 by Sandra, Birding InterncloseAuthor: Sandra, Birding InternName: Sandra Noll Title: About: Sandra Noll and her partner Erv Nichols travel extensively as volunteers for nature. The retired couple exchanges their skills as naturalists, photographers, and interpretive guides for an RV hook-up or lodging at a wide variety of National and State Parks, Fish & Wildlife Service Refuges, Audubon Centers, and now the Mono Lake Committee for a second summer. Whether from an information desk, viewing deck or lecture hall, leading bird walks, night hikes or canoe excursions, their passion connects people with our nation's special landscapes and wildlife.See All Posts by Sandra (16) Contact Sandra
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…)
Monday, August 17th, 2015 by Bartshé, Education DirectorcloseAuthor: Bartshé, Education DirectorName: Bartshé Miller Title: Education Director About: Bartshé directs the Committee's Outdoor Experiences Program, Canoe Program, and Interpretive Programs, and manages the Mono Basin Field Station. He has been an Eastern Sierra resident since 1993.See All Posts by Bartshé (50) Contact Bartshé
The Walker Fire continues and Highway 120 west has been open and closed periodically with a Highway Patrol escort. Please check road conditions before you travel. Lee Vining remains under alert for possible evacuation, but we remain optimistic that an evacuation will not be necessary. Highway 395 remains clear and open without restrictions at this time.
Monday, August 17th, 2015 by Arya, Communications DirectorcloseAuthor: Arya, Communications DirectorName: Arya Degenhardt Title: Communications Director About: Arya oversees the Committee's communications program, which includes the Mono Lake Newsletter. She loves her job because she gets to share the inspiring work of the Mono Lake Committee with members and visitors alike. Her favorite things to do in the Mono Basin include ice skating on nearby lakes, skiing the Mono Craters, and getting to smell the sagebrush when it rains.See All Posts by Arya (143) Contact Arya
Conditions continue to evolve with the Walker Fire just south of Lee Vining. The two main highway arteries in the area, Highway 120 west into Yosemite and Highway 395, may need to be closed at times for fire fighting and safety. If you are traveling in the area, watch conditions carefully and plan ahead. We have gathered the resources we are using to get up-to-date information:
Fire crews are based in Lee Vining and are working hard to get this fire under control, please help them be safe out there!
The good news is that you can still visit Mono Lake! Smoke conditions are variable around the Mono Basin, and continue to change as winds shift, so use your good judgement…. Places like South Tufa, the Old Marina, and County Park are easy access points to the lake, tufa towers, birds and wildlife, and interpretive activities, and these places are open to the public. For more information on where to go and what to do, you can always stop by the Mono Lake Committee Information Center & Bookstore in Lee Vining and our helpful staff can help you get where you want to go.
Monday, August 10th, 2015 by Sandra, Birding InterncloseAuthor: Sandra, Birding InternName: Sandra Noll Title: About: Sandra Noll and her partner Erv Nichols travel extensively as volunteers for nature. The retired couple exchanges their skills as naturalists, photographers, and interpretive guides for an RV hook-up or lodging at a wide variety of National and State Parks, Fish & Wildlife Service Refuges, Audubon Centers, and now the Mono Lake Committee for a second summer. Whether from an information desk, viewing deck or lecture hall, leading bird walks, night hikes or canoe excursions, their passion connects people with our nation's special landscapes and wildlife.See All Posts by Sandra (16) Contact Sandra
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.
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…)
It’s the middle of summer, and most people have been busy exploring the great fishing spots here in the Eastern Sierra, or spending sun-filled days in the crystal-clear waters swimming all day, or enjoying the company of friends and family beside views of the mountains. While all these things are a must for a summer spent in the Sierra, oftentimes the best part is overlooked (quite literally): the flowers!
If you make it to the top of a Sierra peak, you may be able to see…. sky pilot! Photo by Sarah Angulo.
Yes, the flowers may be small and low to the ground, but they deserve to be gawked at as much as the huge mountains on which they grow. In the world of the small, gazing deep into the colors and shapes and patterns of flowers, one can gain a greater connection and appreciation for the work of nature. How these little things have diversified (more…)
Last week, while looking around the office, I uncovered a binder hidden among the office supplies entitled “The Birds and the Bees, the Weather and the Trees of the Mono Basin.” Assuming it would be a collection of handouts on the natural history of the area, I was delighted to find that in fact it was a collection of handwritten naturalist notes from Mono Lake Committee staff members over the years.
Naturalists flock to the Mono Basin for its incredible beauty and diversity of life from Osprey to brine shrimp. Photo by Andrew Youssef.
The notebook contains observations as early as 1994 (by some of our staff members who are still here, more than 20 years later) with a focus on birds, flowers, and other sightings in the region. I’ve spent quite a bit of time drooling over all the rare birds and other creatures documented in the binder, but for this post I decided to narrow my focus to this week in history. (more…)
If you’re a Mono Lake Intern, mornings start early on the weekends. Six-thirty finds three sleepy interns and the Canoe Coordinator all making their way, eyes half-closed, through the crisp morning air in Lee Vining to meet at the back door of the Mono Lake Committee. Despite the early hour and memories of warm and cozy beds, spirits are high. It’s canoe tour day!
Canoe tour days involve a sunrise wake-up call for Mono Lake Interns. Luckily, sunrise is one of Mono Lake’s best times of day. Photo by Erv Nichols.
Every Saturday and Sunday the ritual repeats. Canoe days are hard work. It takes a lot of energy to load and unload the fleet of shiny silver canoes from the canoe truck, to spend the entire day paddling Mono Lake’s (hopefully!) glassy waters, and all the while maintain the excitement of sharing the wonders of the Mono Basin with a fresh group of visitors—three times in a row. Yet there isn’t one among us who would even think about trading a canoe tour shift. On days like this, we all feel like we have the best job in the world. (more…)
Thursday, July 16th, 2015 by Greg, Information & Restoration SpecialistcloseAuthor: Greg, Information & Restoration SpecialistName: Greg Reis Title: Information & Restoration Specialist About: Since his Committee internship in 1995, Greg has been involved with Mono Basin stream restoration and with maintaining the Committee's computers, Websites, and Research Library, and researching and compiling information for our programs. His B.S. degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in Forestry and Natural Resources with a concentration in Environmental Management and a Senior Project in Hydrology reflect his interests in natural resources management, watershed management, and habitat restoration. He is a member of the California Society for Ecological Restoration and he also works for the Rivers and Delta Program of The Bay Institute.See All Posts by Greg (171) Contact Greg
At the Cain Ranch weather station, five miles south of Lee Vining, as of July 13, 1.57 inches of rain had fallen in July. That makes this month already the second-wettest July on record after the 1.98 inches of rain in July 1965. Records at this location began in 1931. Rain fell on all but two days between July 1 and 10, and while it has been dry there since July 10, it still has been raining in other parts of the Mono Basin almost every day.
This wet July continues the wet May–June centered on Mono County. This map from the Western Regional Climate Center shows April–June precipitation in percent of average.
Lee Vining Creek above the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP) diversion dam experienced its peak flow of about 124 cubic feet per second on July 11, from rain and melting fresh snow. Below the dam, the minimum flow is being released, and the floodwaters are being diverted to Grant Lake Reservoir, which has been slowly rising since May.
Aside from brief floods due to thunderstorms, the Mono Basin’s creeks are dropping to the very low levels that were otherwise expected this summer. If the thunderstorms stop, we will start seeing new low flow records later this month, especially in watersheds without glaciers, such as Walker Creek. The April–September snowmelt runoff forecast issued by DWP in May predicted 19% of average runoff, with a lower bound of 7% and an upper bound of 32%. Nineteen percent is less than half of the runoff measured in 1977, the driest year on record; 32% is still much drier than the driest year on record. Thanks to the recent wet weather, Mono Basin runoff is on track to reach 32%.
Saturday, July 11th, 2015 by Bartshé, Education DirectorcloseAuthor: Bartshé, Education DirectorName: Bartshé Miller Title: Education Director About: Bartshé directs the Committee's Outdoor Experiences Program, Canoe Program, and Interpretive Programs, and manages the Mono Basin Field Station. He has been an Eastern Sierra resident since 1993.See All Posts by Bartshé (50) Contact Bartshé
After four years of drought in California snow has become a rare sight in the Sierra Nevada, but in July?! Last week an upper-level low-pressure system moved westward across California and generated thunderstorms, rain, hail, and a local dose of real snow to the Tioga Pass region, especially in the Lee Vining Creek headwaters. The area around Saddlebag Lake, in particular, received a solid coating of snow, estimated between 6-10″ in the early morning hours of July 9. The morning was reminiscent of January, except for highlights of bright green vegetation struggling through an unfamiliar white blanket. With a strong El Nino building in the Pacific, might this be a harbinger of the winter ahead? California, the Sierra Nevada, and Mono Lake are greatly in need of anything close to a normal snowpack, but as this past week illustrates, there is no normal with precipitation in California, just variability.
Mt. Dana, above Tioga Pass on July 9, 2015.
Mt. Excelsior and ridge in fresh snow behind Saddlebag Lake, July 9, 2015.
Saddlebag Lake, Shepherd Crest (upper-left) and the Tioga Ridge on July 9, 2015. Note heavy snow near the ridge and Dore Pass (from upper-middle to upper- right). Photo by Bartshe Miller.
Mountain Pride, Penstemon newberryi, in fresh snow, July 9, 2015. Photo by Bartshe Miller.
An important piece of the Mono Lake Committee’s mission is to restore Mono Lake’s tributary streams and their riparian (streamside) habitats. These environments provide a lush area for many of the native plants of the Mono Basin to grow and flourish. Since the streams were damaged by years of excessive water diversions, they are in the process of recovering, and non-native invasive plants can sometimes encroach, outcompete the native vegetation, and slow the restoration process.
Native cow clover recolonizing riparian habitat along Mill Creek. Photo by Robert Di Paolo.
This summer the Mono Lake Committee is continues to focus on removing invasive plants along Mill Creek, the third largest tributary to Mono Lake located in the north Mono Basin. White sweet clover is the main target as this fast-growing weed quickly dominates sections of Mill Creek and poses the greatest threat to native plants. Already this summer we have removed over 300 pounds of invasive white sweet clover and the native flowers and plants are noticeably establishing in the previously invaded habitat, which is both encouraging and beautiful to witness.
Botanist Ann Howald will join the restoration crew on July 21st to talk about rare plants and conservation issues. Photo by Robert Di Paolo.
Come join us this July on Tuesday the 14th and Tuesday the 21st to see for yourself and to help keep this important habitat healthy, beautiful, and diverse. On the 21st we will be accompanied by guest naturalist Ann Howald, a botanist who specializes in rare plants and conservation issues and who has lead the High Country Plant Field Seminar for the Mono Lake Committee for over a decade. She has an amazing wealth of knowledge of the Sierra Nevada and this will be a rare chance to pick her brain.
To join us: meet at 8:30 am at the Mono Lake Committee Information Center & Bookstore, located on the corner of Highway 395 and Third Street in Lee Vining. If you are interested in volunteering for either of the restoration events this July or if you have any questions about July or August events, please contact Robbie Di Paolo at (760) 647-6386 x122.
Outdoor Education Center participants, Pacoima Beautiful, after a day of invasive plant removal. Photo by Melissa Boyd.