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The Mono-logue

Mono Lake mired in drought

June 9th, 2015 by Bartshé, Education Director
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By now, nearly everyone has heard that California is suffering from record-setting drought. After four consecutive years of below-normal precipitation and above-normal temperatures, the state is reeling. Every watershed in California is stressed, a mandatory 25% water reduction is in effect for residents, urban areas have begun rationing supplies, over half a million acres of agricultural land are fallowed, fish species are nearing extinction, millions of trees in the Sierra are dying from drought-related stress, and fire danger is extreme. Water levels in lakes and reservoirs around the state are well-below normal. The Mono Basin is also suffering from extraordinary drought.

Negit Island and islets, October 2012 at lake level 6382.4'. Today the lake is 6379', four feet above the connection with Negit Island. Photo by Arya Degenhardt, with Aerial support by Lighthawk.

Negit Island and islets, October 2012 at lake level 6382.4′. Today the lake is 6379′, four feet above the connection with Negit Island. Photo by Arya Degenhardt, with Aerial support by Lighthawk.

Four dry years have depressed Mono Lake five feet in elevation and the lake is expected to lose around two feet this year. … more »

Blue revolution in Southern California

June 7th, 2015 by Bartshé, Education Director
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Over half of all urban water use goes toward outdoor use. In Southern California, residential lawns provide a frontier of opportunity to conserve water. The worst drought in the state’s history and some strategic financial incentives have sparked a water-saving landscape revolution.

How big is 172 million square feet? It’s the equivalent of all of Los Angeles International Airport and a chunk of El Segundo. Imagine every square foot of this circle yielding 42 gallons of water each year.

How big is 172 million square feet? It’s the equivalent of all of Los Angeles International Airport and a chunk of El Segundo. Imagine every square foot of this circle yielding 42 gallons of water each year.

Throughout Southern California public utilities are offering financial incentive to replace water-intensive lawns with more water efficient landscapes. Turf replacement in the Southland is so successful that … more »

The Mono Basin’s top ten May birds

June 6th, 2015 by Mono Lake Committee Staff
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This post was written by Sandra Noll, Birding Intern in 2014, 2015, & 2016.

Late spring and early summer is a great time for birding in the Mono Basin, as species migrate through, arrive for nesting season, and display courtship behavior. The “top ten” monthly bird round-ups are back, selected from birding encounters within a half-hour driving radius of the Mono Lake Committee headquarters in Lee Vining. Including a wider variety of habitats provides increased opportunities to observe and appreciate the beautiful plumage and fascinating behaviors of local birds!

Photo by Sandra Noll.

A Rose-breasted Grosbeak perched near the Mono Lake Committee in Lee Vining. Photo by Sandra Noll.

Drumroll please…. The top ten bird encounters for May 2015:

1–3: Most colorful (and prolific this month)—Western Tanager, Bullock’s Oriole, and Black-headed Grosbeak
4: Most unusual—Rose-breasted Grosbeak … more »

The nesting birds of Mono Lake

June 5th, 2015 by Mono Lake Committee Staff
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This post was written by Erv Nichols, Birding Intern in 2014, 2015, & 2016.

Building a good nest is this generation of birds’ obligation to the next. In order to carry on the species, a bird must be able to ensure the survival of its offspring and the best insurance is a safe, strong home to raise future generations of their chicks until fledging occurs.

A House Wren sings its heart out during the nesting season at Mono Lake County Park. Photo by Erv Nichols.

A House Wren sings its heart out during the nesting season at Mono Lake County Park. Photo by Erv Nichols.

My partner Sandra and I spent last summer as volunteers leading bird walks for the Mono Lake Committee. When we had the opportunity to return this year and split a shift as Birding Interns, we jumped at the chance. The Committee, its interns, and volunteers are some of the hardest working, most dedicated people we have ever worked with. Even though my car is older than most of them, they make us feel that we are contributing to an important cause and actually doing some good for the environment.

This year we “flew in,” metaphorically speaking, and went right to work photographing birds and checking their nests for eggs and chicks. Spring is the season for new bird families and the Mono Basin is a great place to see nesting both on the lake and in the surrounding area. It is home to the smallest of birds and some of the largest with everything in between. … more »

One drop and a dozen options: Sierra Watershed Progressive

June 3rd, 2015 by Robbie, Restoration Field Technician
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This is a follow-up post to the “One drop, a dozen options” article in the Summer 2015 Mono Lake Newsletter. The article mentions longtime Mono Lake Committee member Regina Hirsch and her business Sierra Watershed Progressive with respect to the greywater system she helped us create in 2012. But there are a ton of awesome projects that Regina and Sierra Watershed Progressive have tackled and I wanted to highlight two of them here: … more »

Summer 2015 Mono Lake Newsletter now available online

June 1st, 2015 by Arya, Communications Director
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Newsletter-2015-SummerThis is the first time in 37 years that we have featured the Milky Way on the cover of the Mono Lake Newsletter. Tufa and Milky Way, by photographer and Mono Lake Committee member Thomas Piekunka, is not only a stunning view of the night sky over Mono Lake, it was shot without artificial light. Knowing that the photograph was taken with sensitivity for the subject—without disrupting wildlife (people included) with bright lights at night—makes it that much more beautiful.

That idea, that knowing more about something can make it more beautiful, is actually a pretty good theme for this issue of the Mono Lake Newsletter. Let’s face it, drought doesn’t look good on Mono Lake. Dusty exposed lakebed and weak trickles of water in cobbled creek channels are hard to see. With the final snowpack numbers in we’ve had to face up to some stark realities about what the coming summer is going to mean for the Mono Basin—a potential two-foot vertical drop in lake level not being the least of it.

Today the lake is at 6,379 feet above sea level. Without the Mono Lake Committee, the lake would be at 6350′. That’s not only 29 vertical feet of water, it’s the difference between a landscape with a recovering ecosystem, and one without. So, when I look out at Mono Lake knowing it could be that much worse, I can still see a landscape that has undoubtedly stalled out, but is, in the bigger scheme of things, on the road to recovery. Mono Lake has protections in place and a dedicated group of people who really, really care about it, work for it every single day, and are determined to figure out the best things for it no matter what the circumstances. I’m pretty sure there is extra beauty in that.

Maybe you should come see for yourself—walk the shoreline, check out the night sky, or scout out some water and follow the lead of the dipper below.

American Dippers are North America’s only truly aquatic songbird, and catch their food underwater by swimming and walking on the bottom of streams. A family of dippers takes up residence along Lee Vining Creek each summer—if you listen closely you can hear them singing and see them diving for food and feeding chicks. Photo courtesy of Marie Read.

American Dippers are North America’s only truly aquatic songbird, and catch their food underwater by swimming and walking on the bottom of streams. A family of dippers takes up residence along Lee Vining Creek each summer—if you listen closely you can hear them singing and see them diving for food and feeding chicks. Photo courtesy of Marie Read.

Join us every Friday and Sunday morning at Mono Lake County Park for free bird walks

May 29th, 2015 by Mono Lake Committee Staff
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This post was written by Sandra Noll, Birding Intern in 2014, 2015, & 2016.

Bullock's Oriole. Photo by Erv Nichols.

Bullock’s Oriole. Photo by Erv Nichols.

The season’s County Park bird walks officially began on May 17 with a record 46 species! As usual, the spring walks have been highlighted by bird species in migration from southern wintering grounds to northern nesting sites. It’s an exciting time of year because you never know what you might see. This year the variety and number of species has been higher than usual due to storms and snow in the high country pushing more birds down into the Mono Basin.

A few of the species seen on the first two walks include: … more »

Mono Lake island closure and Osprey closure in effect

May 25th, 2015 by Robbie, Restoration Field Technician
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An Osprey on its nest atop a tufa tower in Mono Lake. Photo by Erv Nichols.

An Osprey on its nest atop a tufa tower in Mono Lake. Photo by Erv Nichols.

As Mono Lake lovers know, Mono Lake is critical habitat for millions of birds. Many of these birds stop by on migration for the shrimp and fly soup buffet, but there are a few that have made Mono Lake their annual summer home getaway to nest and reproduce.

California Gulls are one of the most iconic seasonal residents. Gulls nest out on Mono Lake’s islands, laying eggs and raising chicks to fledging there during each summer. The “island closure” takes effect from April 1st to August 1st in order to protect the thousands of gulls and their chicks, so people must stay at least one mile away from … more »

Mono Lake’s wet May keeps on keeping on

May 23rd, 2015 by Greg, Information & Restoration Specialist
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Clouds have covered the Mono Basin for much of the last three weeks. Mono Lake on May 20. Photo by Arya Degenhardt.

Clouds have covered the Mono Basin for much of the last three weeks. Mono Lake on May 20. Photo by Arya Degenhardt.

A week ago, at mid-month, we excitedly were tallying up the already-record-making Mono Basin precipitation totals for May and the rise in Mono Lake. Who would have thought that it would keep raining and snowing—especially during the driest year of one of the worst droughts on record?

Well, it has kept raining and snowing! … more »

It’s Tioga Pass flip-flop season … it’s open

May 22nd, 2015 by Elin, Communications Coordinator
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At the risk of sounding like a broken record … Tioga Pass reopened this morning!

It’s currently pouring rain in Lee Vining, however, so make sure to check weather conditions and road conditions before you travel. Given Tioga Pass’ track record this spring, it could close at any moment.

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