Nineteenth annual Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua makes a great comeback

We originally planned the nineteenth annual Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua for June 2020, but we all know how that went. After a virtual-only event in June 2021 we were thrilled to bring back the full Chautauqua this year—the true nineteenth annual event! And what an event it was.

At this year’s Chautauqua we had just over 230 participants and 46 field trip leaders, outdoor-only field trips, and a modified picnic mid-weekend. We preceded the weekend with a suite of six wonderful virtual presentations—for those who attended the in-person event or registered for the virtual presentations, the recordings will be available to re-watch until August 1.

The Chautauqua brings birders and naturalists together to enhance appreciation and understanding of the Mono Basin’s diverse and abundant bird life and to educate the public about this area’s value to birds and people. This year’s event showed us how much people missed the Mono Basin, the birds, and the camaraderie of the Chautauqua over the past few years.

A rare Vermillion Flycatcher was spotted near Mono Mills during the Chautauqua. Photo by Nora Livingston.

In a first for the Chautauqua, we had to cancel all of Friday’s field trips due to strong, dangerous winds and a wind advisory for the area. Small limbs were falling from trees, electrical wires were whistling, the birds that were out in it were zooming by faster than normal, and big gusts were buffeting folks around in the parking lot of the Community Center. Luckily, people understood the decision to cancel, and some braved the weather to find birds anyway! By Saturday, the winds had calmed, and folks had brushed off the windy day as if it never happened.

Despite the high winds, birders and field trip leaders still tallied 149 bird species in three days and a few groups got great looks at bighorn sheep, kangaroo rats, and more mammals. Perhaps the rarest bird of the weekend was a bright male Vermillion Flycatcher that a keen participant found in the Friday winds in the Jeffrey pine forest near Mono Mills—an odd spot for a bird that is typically spotted near water. A full bird list from the weekend is available here.

The Chautauqua gives a boost to the Eastern Sierra economy, which is one of the goals of this eco-tourism festival. This year’s Saturday gathering at Hess Park benefited Lee Vining High School, who sold lunches, and featured the awesome local band Bodie 601 Trio. In the break between sets, longtime field trip leader Lisa Fields came to the microphone to deliver a sweet surprise to the founders and longtime organizers of the event—beautiful quilts that feature the art from all nineteen Chautauquas—as a thank you for bringing the festival to fruition and gathering all the wonderful leaders and participants together in the Mono Basin for so many years.

Chautauqua organizers and founders Catherine Jones, Rose Nelson, Bartshe Miller (front), Dave Marquart, Lisa Cutting, Andrew Youssef, and Nora Livingston, with Lisa Fields, who organized and presented quilts and prints as gifts. Photo courtesy of Bob Steele.
This year’s Chautauqua art: a Lazuli Bunting by L. Wren Walraven.

A special facet of the Chautauqua supports research in the Mono Basin: Each year we award the Jeff Maurer Chautauqua Research Grant in memory of biologist, birder, and educator Jeff Maurer, who died in a climbing accident in 2009. This year, $2,500 was awarded to researchers Dr. Margaret Rubega and Ryan Carle to continue summer phalarope surveys on Mono Lake, and another $2,500 was awarded to Jessica Schaefer for her work studying Spotted Sandpipers in the Mono Basin.

The Chautauqua could not happen without support from our many partners. We would like to thank the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve, Bodie Foundation, Eastern Sierra Audubon Society, Eastern Sierra Interpretive Association, Eastern Sierra Land Trust, Friends of the Inyo, the Inyo National Forest, Point Blue Conservation Science, Yosemite Conservancy, and Yosemite National Park for contributing time, vision, and resources to keep the event in flight. Thanks as well to our sponsors: El Mono Motel and Latte Da Cafe, Guadualito Birding Tours, Murphey’s Motel, Lakeview Lodge, Vortex Optics, and to all of the local businesses for accommodating our guests and leaders.

We are looking forward to many more wonderful Chautauquas; next year’s is right around the corner. The twentieth annual Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua will be held June 16–18, 2023. Migrate on over and join us!

Top photo by Elin Ljung.