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
Introducing Bobolink

Wednesday, June 14: This year, we re-designed birdchautauqua.org to incorporate a webapp called Bobolink that will improve your user experience before, during, and after the festival. Using Bobolink is completely optional, but we hope you will try it out! The webapp allows you to view your itinerary, create support tickets, get directions to meeting locations, evaluate trips, post and comment on the blog, view the bird list for the festival, and see which trips certain bird species were seen on. 

Watch this 10-minute tutorial video or view the step-by-step user guide to get started. 

As always, feel free to swing by the registration/check-in table at the Lee Vining Community Center or email Chautauqua@monolake.org for help. 

Chautauqua event check in begins Thursday

Sunday, June 11, 2023: Please remember to check-in before attending your scheduled Chautauqua events. At check in you will receive your agenda, event packet, button, and T-shirt. We cannot guarantee you a spot on a field trip if we don't know you've arrived.

Check-in will be available at the following times at the Lee Vining Community Center (296 Mattly Ave):
Thursday, June 15: 3:00pm–7:30pm
Friday, June 16: 6:00am–7:00pm
Saturday, June 17: 6:00am–6:00pm

See you soon!

Campgrounds and Highway Information

Sunday, June 11: Sonora Pass (108) is open! To view up to date road information go to roads.dot.ca.gov and enter the highway number or quickmap.dot.ca.gov and click "options" dropdown menu, then select the road conditions you want the map to show.

To view campground information, go to www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd486882.pdf and click on the campground you'd like to view the status of. Many will be closed for Chautauqua due to flooding.

Camp Like A Pro is a great tool for locating disperse camp sites: https://www.essrp.org/camping. Please note that a permit is required for all fires – even a propane camp stove--while dispersed camping. The link for a permit is here: https://www.readyforwildfire.org/permits/campfire-permit/. Although it is a wet year, fire danger is still present.

Phalarope Festival June 18, 2023

Sunday, May 21: Join us for an enchanting afternoon at Hess Park in Lee Vining on Sunday, June 18th from 11:30 AM to 4:00 PM, as we celebrate the migratory connections of Wilson's phalaropes. This event follows the Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua, adding an exciting continuation to the birding festivities. Witness the unveiling and dedication of captivating new phalarope murals showcasing the migratory connections between Mono Lake, Great Salt Lake, and Laguna Mar Chiquita in Argentina. A team of visiting researchers, park rangers, educators, and conservationists from Laguna Mar Chiquita and Great Salt Lake will share their valuable insights and experiences regarding saline lake conservation. Learn about their work in Argentina and Utah and discover the similarities and challenges faced by these globally connected habitats. Participate in a lively bird call contest and showcase your creativity with a phalarope costume contest. Prizes will be awarded to the most authentic bird calls and the most imaginative and well-crafted phalarope costumes. Immerse yourself in a vibrant atmosphere filled with live music, dancing, and an array of delicious food. Engage in meaningful discussions and cultural exchanges with fellow attendees and international guests. Share stories, insights, and ideas surrounding the importance of saline lakes and migratory connections, fostering global understanding and cooperation.

Donate Binoculars to Students in Argentina

Saturday, April 8, 2023: During registration, you'll be given the opportunity to donate used, good condition binoculars or $25 to a fund that will provide binoculars to students at Laguna Mar Chiquita, a sister lake to Mono Lake, in Argentina. These students attend a phenomenal, free education program called "Experiencia Ambientalia", which translates to Environmental Experience. The program works with over 200 highschoolers who live near Laguna Mar Chiquita and teaches them about conservation education, research, and entrepreneurship as it relates to the lake and the ecosystems around them. If you would like to learn more about the program, sign up for 369 *Saline Lakes: Science and education panel discussion from 3:00 to 5:00 pm on Saturday of the Chautauqua. During this panel discussion Marina Castellino, founder of Experiencia Ambientalia, will give a short presentation about her work on this innovative and effective program.

Twentieth Annual Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua update

Saturday, April 1, 2023: Registration for the twentieth annual Mono Basin Bird Chautauqua is just two weeks away, beginning at 6:30am PDT on Saturday, April 15, 2023.

The full schedule of field trips and outdoor workshops is now online, including the grid schedule, which shows how trips may overlap. Please note that we are still working on this schedule and additional programs may be added prior to registration day.

We highly recommend finding several alternate programs for each time slot, as many programs fill quickly—some fill just minutes after registration opens.

Updated presenter biographies are also online, so you can learn more about everyone leading trips this year.

We will have another update next week with more details about practice registration and we will unveil our new t-shirt design.

If you have questions, please don't hesitate to email or call (760) 647-6595 and ask for Andrew or Nora.

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