Three birders stand amidst sagebrush and bitter brush looking through binoculars.

Cautiously optimistic: Mono Lake Committee plans mix of virtual and in-person programs for 2021

After the new year, our staff collectively took a deep breath, flipped open our new calendars, and began to talk about the summer of 2021 in earnest. After a year of pandemic-related cancellations, postponements, and rearrangements, we all have our fingers crossed for a summer that affords more opportunities than last year. We know it won’t be possible to do everything the Committee regularly does, but we’re cautiously planning a selection of outdoor, small group, in-person programs and tours as it becomes safer to do so.

As always, you can find up-to-the-moment information here on the website, but our current plans are to open the Mono Lake Committee Information Center & Bookstore at least five days per week, offer sunset South Tufa tours, lead some weekend birding walks, and hold several Field Seminars. These in-person events will be complemented by virtual offerings so that members and friends can still join the fun from anywhere with internet.

The Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua (June 18–20) will be entirely virtual this year. We are excited that it will be accessible to a much wider set of people than usual, and we are planning for it to be interactive and fun. The schedule and session descriptions are online now at the Chautauqua website and registration opens on Friday, April 30, at 9:00am.

Our plans for Field Seminars parallel the path we foresee (or at least hope) the global health climate will chart: as COVID-19 vaccines are steadily distributed and in-person activities become safer, we will offer more of them. In April and May, Nora is teaching a series of virtual seminars focused on birds, and for July through October we’ll offer a selection of in-person seminars. In the fall, we’ll return to virtual seminars. In an effort to make them accessible to all, we are planning to make some virtual seminars a regular feature of the program, particularly during seasons when fewer people typically visit the basin. Specific details of the Field Seminar workshops and registration are at the seminar web page.

Regardless of coronavirus conditions, we anticipate that the Eastern Sierra will be busy with visitors this summer. In tandem with our regional partners we are working to improve outdoor information stations at the Committee and the Mono Basin Visitor Center in order to answer more questions and offer more visitor education. We are all—especially the Committee—planning to have a strong presence at the lake and at South Tufa in particular. Sunset tours at South Tufa will be part of this presence, in addition to some general roving by interns and staff. Similarly, the Mono Lake Volunteer Program is ramping up to be part of the expanded presence. Be sure to check the tours web page or call ahead for the tour schedule and to register for a spot, as the timing and capacity are likely to change throughout the season as safety and availability demands.

Sadly, we will not be offering weekend canoe tours this year. Workshops that require close contact between instructors and participants, like photography and basketry, are on hold as well. However, we are offering custom guided trips throughout the year, so don’t hesitate to ask about how we can facilitate your favorite Mono Basin activity, whether it’s a Panum Crater walk or a special birding expedition.

This post was also published as an article in the Winter & Spring 2021 Mono Lake Newsletter (page 10). Top photo by Elin Ljung.