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Birding Mono Lake: A Big Day in May

Thursday, May 28th, 2020 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide

On May 9, to celebrate World Migratory Bird Day and eBird’s Global Big Day, my partner Kevin and I set out to see as many bird species as possible within a 5 miles radius (5MR) of the Mono Lake Committee office while contributing to the eBird Global Big Day citizen science project. Last year, I saw 76 species in my 5MR and my goal was to break 80 this year. Though the species count is a motivator, the birds are the prize! We had an amazing day. I have linked the eBird Checklists to each location I mention, so you can see what we were seeing and hearing.

A map of the 5MR. It includes many prime birding spots! Photo from Google Maps.

We started at 5:00am, hearing the pre-dawn crooning of American Robins and House Wrens. Then we drove up Lee Vining Canyon for the dawn chorus. I had been keeping track of the returning migrants diligently, but this week was bursting with new (more…)

This year’s Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua is canceled

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide

We are sorry to announce that we must cancel this year’s Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua due to COVID-19.

Red-breasted Nuthatch. Photo by Santiago Escruceria.

The Chautauqua partners are committed to the health and safety of our participants, presenters, staff, and the broader community; therefore, we feel it would be irresponsible to hold an event of this size at this time. Moreover, with Governor Newsom’s stay-at-home order and plans to reopen the state in stages—with large gatherings last on the list—as well as Mono County discouraging visitation to the Eastern Sierra, it’s clear that (more…)

Earth Day 2020: Action from a distance

Tuesday, April 21st, 2020 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide

Fifty years ago, Gaylord Nelson invented Earth Day. Inspired by the direct action of anti-war protesters, he realized that we needed to rally to protect the earth in the same way people rallied to make change in government. A day of action, a day of recognition, a day of progress.

Our beloved blue Mono Lake on our beloved blue Earth. Photo by Nora Livingston.

Join me tomorrow, Wednesday, April 22, for a special Mono Lake Moment at 11:00am in celebration of Earth Day. I will be (more…)

Spring visitors at Mono Lake: Migrant birds

Wednesday, April 8th, 2020 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide

With our lives seemingly on hold, it can be hard to remember that the internal clock of all the nature around us keeps on ticking and spring is slowly but surely making its way to the Mono Basin.

A gorgeous Black-bellied Plover at Mono Lake. Photo courtesy of Ramona Robbins Clark.

The Red-winged Blackbirds arrived first and are singing their trademark “b-LEE-dle” song from the trees in town. Then the swallows, Tree first, then Violet-green, came swooping in. Hearing the grinding chirps of Violet-green Swallows on the wires in town is the official sound of spring to me. Yesterday evening at sunset near South Tufa, I heard Osprey calling and Sage Thrashers singing. (more…)

Mono Basin Winter Wander field seminars in March

Thursday, February 20th, 2020 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide

Have you ever visited the Mono Basin in the winter? It is silent, mysterious, and majestic. It is a whole different experience than the hustle and bustle of summertime. Winter invites us to experience the forgotten season and wander in a mountain meadow or along a frozen creek, curious and in awe.

Lee Vining Creek flows between snowy banks in 2017. Photo by Nora Livingston.

We are offering two dates in March for a unique field seminar that investigates the wonders of winter (more…)

2019 in review: The 5-Mile Radius challenge at Mono Lake

Monday, January 6th, 2020 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide

A coyote trots along the wintry shore of Mono Lake on January 1, 2019. Photo by Nora Livingston.

In 2019, I set out to dig deeper into the natural history of the Mono Basin so I can better share it with visitors and locals alike. I took on a quest called the 5-Mile Radius (5MR) challenge that focuses on getting to know the flora and fauna within five miles of my home. It is more than keeping lists of birds seen and plants found—it is a way to pay careful attention to my community. It is a way to fall in love every time I set foot outside my door. In my particular case, it is also (more…)

Mono Lake CBC results

Friday, January 3rd, 2020 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide

The Mono Lake Christmas Bird Count (CBC) is a one-day citizen science effort to tally all wild birds in the Mono Lake area. The 40th annual Mono Lake CBC was held on December 17, 2019.

Pinyon Jays in a Jeffrey pine. Photo by Nora Livingston.

Twenty-two birders, mostly local residents, counted every bird in the 15-mile diameter CBC circle centered on the northwestern edge of the lake. The circle includes all of Lee Vining south to the intersection of Highway 158 north and Highway 395 at Cain Ranch, west into the Sierra including Bohler, Lee Vining, Lundy, and Virginia canyons, north to Conway Summit, and east just past the islands in Mono Lake, which includes the areas of County and DeChambeau ponds, and the Black Point shoals.

The weather this year was (more…)

Christmas Bird Counts around the corner

Wednesday, December 11th, 2019 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide

Each winter, tens of thousands of people get together all over the Western Hemisphere and count birds in what is possibly the largest community-science project in the world. The Christmas Bird Count, or CBC, has been going on for 119 years—the 2019–2020 season is the 120th CBC!

A Clark’s Nutcracker with food in its crop (a special pouch in its throat), on last year’s Mammoth Lakes CBC. Photo by Nora Livingston.

Last year, about 80,000 people tallied over 48.6 million individual birds during the count window. The previous year’s count was over 56 million. These counts help show trends in bird populations, because the areas where people are counting are standardized into individual 15-mile-diameter count circles and the counts are repeated the same way every year.

Want to participate in a count near you? (more…)

Phalarope researchers and their muses flock to Mono Lake

Monday, November 4th, 2019 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide

If you’ve been to Mono Lake in late July, you may have been lucky enough to have seen the elegant aerial ballet of a flock of Wilson’s Phalaropes.

Phalarope surveyors counted birds through binoculars in a clockwise transect around Mono Lake. Photo courtesy of Ryan Carle.

This summer there were thousands of phalaropes along Mono Lake’s south shore, so visitors were fortunate to have the chance to witness these small shorebirds in magnificent flocks dancing above the reflective lake surface, turning on a dime, flashing their white bellies all at once before seeming to disappear in the dark mountain background when they turn their brown and gray backs in unison. This flocking behavior is a truly breathtaking sight to behold. It was a notable phalarope summer at Mono Lake in several other ways as well. (more…)

Genny Smith memorial naturalist hikes

Saturday, June 29th, 2019 by Nora, Lead Naturalist Guide

Join us on July 13 and August 24 for hikes in memory of naturalist Genny Smith. Photo courtesy of Andrew Aldrich.

Genny Smith was the Naturalist Queen of the Eastern Sierra. She wandered many Eastern Sierra trails in search of flowers, birds, mammals, and quiet serenity, and in turn learned about the important interactions between all of the life in these habitats and the ancient geology that sets the stage. These experiences inspired her (more…)

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