Ecological Landscape at Paatitaaq

Two bull moose in meadow
Two bull moose in a meadow in the fall time.

Matt Cameron

Paatitaaq sits along the banks of the Kobuk River, which flows predominantly East to West. There is a river meander at Paatitaaq that goes for approximately 10 miles (16 km). Due to this, a portage can be found cutting off that chunk of river. To the north lies the Jade and Baird Mountains, and the Little Kobuk Sand Dunes across the river to the south.

Visitors to Paatitaaq can find quite the diversity, both abiotic and biotic. During the winter, temperatures can be i-30°F to -50°F with clear dark skies that show off the aurora borealis, or northern lights. It could also be blowing 30 mph with drifting snow. During the summer, the sun does not set for a month, but that does not mean one should be ill prepared. It could be cloud free and warm or overcast with rain and chilly temperatures that could cause hypothermia, even at the height of summer.

Many animals can be found in the area during the warmer months, but none more than the mosquito. The snow mosquito (Culiseta alaskaensis) is one of the species found in the Arctic. Its name comes from the fact that the adults will hibernate under the snow in the leaf litter and detritus until the spring thaw.

Many other animals can be seen around Paatitaaq. Famously, during the spring and fall, caribou pass through in the thousands, making this area of Kobuk Valley a great place for residents to hunt. Moose also frequent the area. They can be seen browsing the willows or swimming from one side of the river to the other. Following these two cervids (deer) are the carnivores. Wolves and brown bears commonly follow the caribou migration and can be heard or seen while out in the country. If a person is really lucky, they may see a black bear!

Other mammals that one may be fortunate enough to see in the area would include red squirrels, pine marten, river otters, beaver, muskrat, and well as weasels like the short-tailed weasel, least weasel, and mink.

Birds are abundant in the region. A few resident species you could see any time of year would be ravens, gray jays (camp robbers), and two species of ptarmigan, the rock and willow. There are a few owl species to be seen and/or heard around Paatitaaq. Boreal owls, short-eared owls, great grey owls, and great horned owls reside in the region. A rare sighting of snowy owls and northern hawk-owls can happen. During the summer, many species of birds can be seen nesting and rearing their young including many species of geese and ducks nest near the portage, as well as a few species of loon.

If a visitor were to cast a line into the water, they might catch a few different species that call the Kobuk River home. Northern pike and grayling are often caught throughout the summer months. During late summer/early fall, salmon (predominately chum/dog salmon) and sheefish make their way upriver.

On the beach and tundra around Paatitaaq grow many different types of plants. The first ones that pop out at you are willows, spruce, and birch. If you start looking near your feet, you will find blueberries, cranberries, wild onions (Paatitaaq!), crowberries, and maybe even some raspberries. You will also see various species of lichen, which caribou love to eat.


Last updated: April 23, 2023

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