Local Info

Local Information

For information about hotels and restaurants in town, please visit leevining.com

For more information about the region and lake story, please visit monolake.org

What is a Chautauqua?

"Chautauqua is the most American thing in America!"
-Teddy Roosevelt

Chautauqua is an institution that began in the late 19th Century to provide higher education opportunities through the combination of lectures, concerts, and public events. The institution grew from the early-American thirst for self-improvement and education and later evolved into a traveling movement or circuit that became most popular in the rural Midwest.

The Chautauqua circuit flourished in the early 1900s before a gradual decline in the 1920s and 1930s. These traveling Chautauquas featured oratory, drama, and music. Famous personalities or politicians would sometimes speak, and admission was cheap. The Chautauqua varied in content, approach, and quality. Typically they were held in an outdoor setting under tents where the public could attend a lecture or performance.

Chautauqua is an Iroquois word meaning either "two moccasins tied together" or "jumping fish." Chautauqua is also a lake, a county, and a town in southwestern New York—home of the Chautauqua Institution.

Why a Bird Chautauqua in the Mono Basin?

The Mono Basin is one of the most intensively studied natural areas in California. Research includes early surveys by Joseph Grinnell in 1915, the pioneering birding/conservation work of David Gaines and David Winkler in the late 1970s, and continues today with biologists from Point Blue Conservation Science. Deep personal concern for the plight of birds sparked a legal struggle that resulted in the California Supreme Court's 1983 Public Trust decision, which reaffirmed the state's duty to balance the public trust with water allocations and thereby protect the people's common heritage resources. Guided by this new direction, the State Water Resources Control Board modified the water diversion licenses of the City of Los Angeles in 1994. The decision is still in effect today, and science played a critical role in shaping the outcome.

There has been almost four decades of California Gull research at Mono Lake. Our understanding of these birds—and the roughly 100 other species that depend on Mono Lake—has grown from the first ecological study of Mono Lake initiated in 1976. Because of the Mono Basin's rich bird life, dramatic natural setting, scientific importance, and historical significance, it is an ideal location for a bird Chautauqua.

Mono Basin natural history

Internationally famous Mono Lake lies on the boundary between the western Great Basin and California's Sierra Nevada, which rises 6,000 feet above the lake's surface. Thousands of years of evaporation have concentrated salts and other minerals within the lake, making it 2-3 times as salty as the ocean. Algae in the water supports brine shrimp in the trillions as well as thick, black carpets of alkali flies along the shore. This simple and highly productive ecosystem feeds millions of migratory and nesting birds.

From the Sierra crest to the shores of Mono Lake, the Mono Basin watershed is a diverse mix of habitats: marsh, alkali meadows, sagebrush steppe, piñon-juniper forests, Jeffrey pine forest, mixed coniferous, mountain mahogany, and riparian vegetation. With 14 different ecological zones, over 1,000 plant species, and roughly 400 recorded vertebrate species within its watershed, the Mono Basin encompasses one of California's richest natural areas.

Over 325 species of birds have been observed within the Mono Basin. Islands within Mono Lake support 70-80% of California's nesting population of California Gulls, the second-largest rookery in the world after Great Salt Lake. Caspian Terns and Snowy Plovers visit the basin, the latter maintaining one of its largest California breeding areas. In summer, 80,000 Wilson's and Red-necked Phalaropes can descend upon Mono Lake, where they complete their molt before continuing south to tropical wintering grounds. An average of 7,000 Least and Western Sandpipers move through the basin during spring and fall, along with up to 10,000 American Avocets. After the fall passage of shorebirds, Eared Grebes arrive, with over 1.7 million birds recorded on the lake in recent years. Willow Flycatchers, extremely rare in the Sierra Nevada and eastern California, have been discovered breeding in the streams on the west side of the basin. Research conducted by Point Blue Conservation Science has revealed that the creeks within the basin support the highest indices of breeding songbird diversity and species richness of 33 creeks surveyed in the Eastern Sierra. The basin lies between two major populations of Greater Sage Grouse (Bodie Hills and Long Valley), and small numbers have been observed here in the Mono Basin.

Conservation and management

The 1994 State Water Resources Control Board decision set a management lake level for Mono Lake that ended 16 years of litigation and controversy. The decision also required minimum and peak flows for streams. Stream and waterfowl restoration is underway along with limited monitoring of lake and stream restoration. Water diversions continue to Los Angeles, but at a much-reduced rate.

The US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management manage the majority of the open space within the Mono Basin. The lake, recessional lands (exposed lake bed), and portions of the surrounding watershed lie within the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area and the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve. California State Parks is a partner in resource protection with the Inyo National Forest. The City of Los Angeles is the largest landowner/manager in the Mono Basin after the federal agencies.

Recent News
Space available in Chautauqua trips and programs

There is still space available in many of the wonderful trips and programs at the Twenty-first Annual Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua. If you haven’t yet registered, you can still put together a full itinerary of fascinating and fun events. To see which trips and programs still have space, check the available trips page

If you have already registered be sure to take a close look at your confirmation email to make sure everything is as you expected—in particular, be sure to double check field trip selections for each person in your group. If you’d like to make any changes, please reply to this email or call (760) 647-6595. 

T-shirt pre-order deadline is May 15

Don’t miss out on the Twenty-first Annual Chautauqua T-shirt featuring a Calliope Hummingbird by Caro Nilsson. The deadline to pre-order T-shirts is May 15. If you’ve already completed registration but want to add more shirts, reach out to us via email and we can add them to your order.

Payment issues during registration

We are aware of a PayPal issue during registration that has prevented many registrants from paying. Please know that your trip requests are saved. You will receive instructions for how to pay your registration balance in the coming days. Thank you for your patience.

Donate to Experience Ambientalia during registration

We encourage your support for the Experience Ambientalia International Exchange Program during registration this year, an initiative launched by Fundación Líderes de Ansenuza and WSHRN in partnership with the Mono Lake Committee. This program seeks to better connect students to their home ecosystems, introduce them to sister saline lakes across the Western Hemisphere, and cultivate a sense of real-life environmental stewardship. Over the last seven months, students from Mono Lake and Laguna Mar Chiquita in Argentina have engaged in environmental conservation activities, leading up to an international exchange. From June 16th-24th, Argentinean students will visit Mono Lake, followed by Mono Lake students' trip to Laguna Mar Chiquita from July 15th-23rd. Your support would contribute to the educational growth and leadership development of young environmental stewards, and foster connections and understanding across communities.  

The 2024 program is now online

Chautauqua organizers are planning for the 21st Annual Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua for June 21-23, 2024 in Lee Vining and the full program is now available online. Registration opens on April 15, 2024 at 6:30am Pacific.

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