Sunrise light on a grove of tufa towers emerging from the water of Mono Lake with soft green and dusty-red wild grasses in the foreground, Canada geese in the shallow water with reflections of the rocky towers, and desert hills in the distance.

Looking back on the 2018 Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua

This post was written by Nigel Bates, 2018 Birding Intern.

A record-setting crowd of over 330 people convened in the Mono Basin for the seventeenth annual Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua. Over the course of the weekend, participants enjoyed over 100 field trips, workshops, and presentations that covered the area’s tremendous diversity of birds and other wildlife.

Birders enjoy a spectacular view of the Sierra crest on a field trip to the Rush Creek Delta. Photo courtesy of Sarah Angulo.

This year’s Chautauqua participants racked up an impressive list of 171 bird species. For many, the avian highlight was a Grace’s Warbler that entertained birders all weekend along Bald Mountain Road east of the June Lake Loop. Other notable sightings included Indigo Bunting in Lundy Canyon (for the second year in a row!), Sandhill Crane and Common Grackle at Bridgeport Reservoir, and Common Loon at Crowley Lake.

The Chautauqua isn’t just about birds, either. This year’s program included trips to see pika, bighorn sheep, bats, wildflowers, geological features, and more. Additionally, participants were able to hone their skills in field sketching, fly casting, photography, and image editing. No matter your area of interest, there’s something for you at the Chautauqua.

Renowned illustrator and naturalist John Muir Laws teaches the art of field sketching at Mono Lake County Park. Photo courtesy of Sarah Angulo.

The population of Lee Vining more than doubles during Chautauqua weekend, which is a huge boon for the local economy of the Eastern Sierra. The festival also benefits Lee Vining High School through the traditional Sunday afternoon picnic at Mono Lake County Park. This year’s picnic featured a raffle drawing, music by local band Wild Mountain Thyme, and the always-popular bird calling contest.

One important goal of the Chautauqua is supporting research projects in the Mono Basin. Each year, the event honors the memory of local wildlife biologist Jeff Maurer by awarding the Chautauqua Research Grant in his name. This year’s grant provides $2,350 toward population surveys of several Mono Basin insect species. One portion of the grant will fund Kristie Nelson’s study of the Williston’s Tiger Beetles that she discovered last summer on the northeast shore of Mono Lake, a population that may represent a new subspecies. The rest of the grant will go toward surveys of two localized butterfly populations: the Apache Silverspot and the Glass Mountain Fritillary. Thanks to the Eastern Sierra Land Trust for contributing $400 to fund half of the Apache Silverspot surveys.

Chautauqua participants scan the marsh from the Mono Lake County Park boardwalk. Photo courtesy of Sarah Angulo.

The Chautauqua wouldn’t be possible without the support of our many partners. We would like to extend a hearty thank you to the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural ReserveBodie Foundation, Eastern Sierra Audubon Society, Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association, Eastern Sierra Land Trust, Friends of the Inyo, Inyo National ForestPoint Blue Conservation ScienceYosemite Conservancy, and Yosemite National Park. Thanks as well to our sponsors: El Mono Motel and Latte Da Cafe, Epic Cafe, Guadualito Birding Tours, the Lee Vining Motel, and Wingspan Optics.

This year’s Chautauqua may be over, but next year’s is right around the corner! The eighteenth annual Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua will be held June 14–16, 2019. We hope to see you there!

Mono Lake Committee employees Robbie and Max welcome Chautauqua participants to the Information Center & Bookstore. Photo courtesy of Janet Carle.