Mono Lake Bird Chautauqua 2008

So this was my first Chautauqua. Registration began on 4/15, and the event was scheduled for 6/20-22. There was a problem with the online registration, so I faxed in my form, thinking that they would go in order (it did not appear that happened, at least not in conjunction with the registrations that did get through). We didn’t get into some of our desired trips.

We left my house around 11:45 a.m. and arrived in Lee Vining around 5:30ish, with a stop in Oakdale to pick up Mexican food for lunch.

The Chautauqua dinner line had just started, and by the time we registered and got our meals, the community center was pretty full. I elected to have the beef (out of these selections: Bird Chautauqua dinner). The lasagna had mixed reviews, and the chicken was a bit dry. Lots of lemonade, which was welcome after our long drive.

We dumped our gear at the house we were staying at, and I decided to skip the talk I had ended up registering for and just relax.

The next morning, we all had trips starting at 7 a.m. Mine was the “Big Day and More! Southern Basin Transect”, from 7 to 4:30. We first stopped at Horse Canyon and looked for birds along the dirt road. I missed a lot of them because I was looking at the plants. Green-tailed Towhee and Mountain Quail were singing/calling.

On to Mono Mills, south of the lake, and the burned area and Jeffrey Pines area. I finally saw Black-backed Woodpeckers, which were giving contact calls. The flowers and a grasshopper that flashed red when it flew also got my attention.

We stopped at Navy Beach for a short time, and found brine shrimp and an alkali fly larva in the water (apparently the only two invertebrates that live in the water), then to the sagebrush area near Panum Crater. Sage Thrasher and a Gray Flycatcher were here.

To the June Lake sewage treatment plant, a marshy area, where there were Yellow-headed Blackbirds and Eared Grebes in breeding plumage. When we went on to June Beach, it started to rain. We sat in the car to eat lunch, then went around the loop, turning right on Knoll and walking up Forest to get a close look at the Bald Eagle nest with chick, and a singing Rose-breasted Grosbeak. We also stopped at the June Lake mountain resort area. There were interesting plants here as well, and an Osprey nest. The cloudy sky produced a flash of lightning, and some thunder.

A riparian area with lots of Aspens, and a reservoir were the last stops. At the reservoir, there was a stink bug laying eggs (which I didn’t realize until I processed my photos).

We stopped back at the house to change gear for my next trip, which was at 5:00, “Critter Caper Trap Setting”. Not much time to throw down half an Indian bread taco, which another participant had graciously offered to split. We carpooled to Mono Dunes, 7 miles up 395 to the Hawthorne turn, then 13 miles east. This was a sandy area with Pinyon Pines and other desert-type vegetation. It was windy, and the wind kicked up the sandy dust which ended up on everything. There were a few raindrops. Evening Primrose were blooming, and a Common Nighthawk was calling and flying around. We found desert mushrooms, something I didn’t know existed. There was also a small caterpillar camouflaged on a small primrose. There were some Cicida nymphs and exuvia about–one of my favorite insects (Okanagana striatipes).

We returned with time to spare for the next trip at 8:15, “Night Moves: Nature After Dark”. First stop was County Park. There were bats flying, but no apparent owls. We drove down the road a bit toward DeChambeau Ranch and listened again. Still no owls, but I heard something in the southern distance that I found out later was Lesser Nighthawk. There were also Common Poorwills calling. At 9:30, most of the group decided to call it a night. The car I was in decided to continue with the leader, and we went to the ranch. In the dark, we passed the turn the first time, but with help from one of the participants, found it after another pass. The leader stopped in the road, as there was a Common Poorwill sitting in the middle of it. It sat there for quite a while in the headlights, until we slowly pulled up around it and it flew off. At the ranch, again no owls, but lots and lots of bats were flying in and out and around one of the old buildings. I asked the driver of the car I was in if he could give me a ride back to the house, as it was pitch dark and I wasn’t sure of the way back. It was around 11:00. They were staying at Murphy’s, not far from the visitor’s center. They said it was “ok”.

The next morning, I awoke early as the sun was starting to shine in my eyes. I had to walk to the community center, since my friends had an earlier trip. I stopped for coffee at Latte-da, and got to the center earlier than the 7:00 a.m. meeting time for the “Mono Dunes Critter Caper”. This time it wasn’t windy at the dunes. Cicadas were singing, and adults were easily visible. It warmed up quickly. The traps (baited with birdseed spiked with peanut butter) held a couple of Panamint Kangaroo Rats and many Dark Kangaroo Mice. About half of the traps were occupied. Many of the animals were tame, and allowed themselves to sit on various hands. The exception was a Deer Mouse, since they carry Hantavirus. A Sage Sparrow was singing in the dunes. There were a lot of small animal tracks in the sand, and small pieces of calcium carbonate lake bottom. It was important to get to all the traps before the sun got around to them, and we ended around 9:30.

I took my time walking back to the house, since my feet were pretty tired from all the walking and standing. When my friends returned, we decided to go to the picnic at County Park. After that, we drove down to Parker Lake and took the 4-mile round trip hike. There were lots of wildflowers and interesting vegetation. The Leichtlin’s Mariposa Lilies were numerous and beautiful. We heard close Mountain Quail, and got a glimpse as one flew strongly over the canyon and away from us. It was getting late in the day when we finally arrived at the lake. It was a beautiful hike, and the return took less time. When we arrived back at the car, we started to hear a double boom coming from the southern hills. It didn’t match any of the birds that we listened to on the way back to the house, and the next day we asked at the Mono Lake Committee, who said it was Sage Grouse.

Monday, return day. We stopped at County Park to see what birds were there, and heard winnowing Wilson’s Snipe. There were also Wilson’s Phalarope, and nesting American Avocet. Yellow Warblers were around as well.

Several stops in Yosemite, including Lembert Dome and Tenaya Lake. We could smell smoke as we drove through.

To see my photos from the trip: Mono Lake