On-line Book

Book Cover
Fauna Series No. 3







Faunal Position

Life Zones







Fauna of the National Parks — No. 3
Birds and Mammals of Mount McKinley National Park
National Park Service Arrowhead

Description of Localities

THE FOLLOWING descriptions of the localities of our main camps are given here in the general east or west order in which they are reached by ordinary travel from park headquarters out toward Mount McKinley and the Kantishna region. This is the regular summer travel route.

PARK HEADQUARTERS, 2,200 FEET—Park headquarters are located 2 miles west of McKinley Park Station in a well-defined aspen and fireweed belt (fig. 10). Extensive groves of tall black spruce trees are to be found along Hines Creek near the headquarters. Certain birds, such as the olive-sided flycatcher, were found to breed at, but not above, this point, and several species of plants were found to reach their altitudinal limit here.

aspen grove
Figure 10.—This aspen grove at Park headquarters was the favorite haunt of Nelson's downy woodpecker and marked the upper breeding limit of the olive sided flycatcher.
Photograph taken July 6, 1932. W. L. D. No. 2751.

SAVAGE RIVER, 2,800 FEET—Our camp was located about 1 mile above the upper end of Savage River Canyon. No cottonwood or spruce timber is present along the bed of Savage River at this point. However, the station was not above timber line, for we found that where small streams emerged from the foothills and spread out, forming well-drained rocky alluvial fans, old established groves of black spruce trees, and an occasional black cottonwood growing along the stream bed, were characteristic features of the landscape (fig. 11). Back from the broad river bed, which is interlaced with shallow rocky channels filled with cold rushing streams, there extends toward the west for several miles the rolling treeless tundra (fig. 12). Toward the south, the barren snow-clad rocky summit of the main Alaska Range is visible.

distant mountains, tundra plain
Figure 11.—Distant mountains, tundra plain, and an open forest of black spruce is a typical combination in the McKinley region.
Photograph taken June 25, 1926, Savage River. M. V. Z. No. 5261.

gravel bar below tundra ridges
Figure 12.—Semipalmated plovers nest on the gravel bars while Hudsonian curlews and long-tailed jaegers breed on the treeless tundra ridges (right middle distance).
Photograph taken June 7, 1926, Savage River. M. V. Z. No. 5157.

Extending in a general east and west direction to the north of the camp was the north or secondary range. This "outside" range lies parallel to, but from 15 to 20 miles north of, the main range, and is the wintering ground of the mountain sheep of the region. This secondary range reaches an altitude of 6,000 feet, and its upper portions are precipitous and rocky. The drier middle slopes (fig. 13) are the favorite haunts of the surfbird and collared pika. These slopes are carpeted with Dryas and other lowly Alpine-Arctic plants. The lower slopes are clothed with thickets of dwarf birch (Betula glandulosa), and the streams are lined with willows of several species.

summits of mountain range
Figure 13.—The summits of secondary range reach an altitude of more than 6,000 feet. The drier slopes in the foreground are favorite haunts of the surfbird and American pipit.
Photograph taken May 30, 1932, Savage River. W. L. D. No. 3059.

SAVAGE RIVER FOOTHILLS, 3,000 FEET—Our second collecting station on Savage River was located just below timber line near the point where the Savage River emerges from the foothills of the main range. Here the river valley is narrow and flanked on either side by steep foothills, the rounded crests of which reach an elevation of 4,000 feet and are subject to sudden late spring snowstorms. The principal vegetative cover of the river valley at this elevation consists of extensive but rather open willow thickets. The open rocky gravel bars that extend continuously along the river (fig. 14) are the favorite nesting grounds of the semipalmated plover and wandering tattler. Kennicott's willow warblers and Hudsonian chickadees were encountered as characteristic inhabitants of the spruce woods near the camp, and colonies of interior meadow mice were found inhabiting a small wet meadow in the timber. In the willow thickets along the river varying hares and Alaska ptarmigan were found. Many broken and "horned" willow bushes showed that this was a favorite fall habitat of caribou about the time the bulls rub the velvet from their antlers.

open, rocky gravel bar
Figure 14.—The open, rocky gravel bar on the left is the favorite haunt of wandering tattlers during nesting time.
Photograph taken June 1, 1920, upper Savage River, M. V. Z. No. 5155.

HEAD OF SAVAGE RIVER, 5,000 FEET.—Our base camp near the headwaters of Savage River was located at the old "caribou camp", but our field work was carried on chiefly on the barren slate ridges at the very headwaters of this stream. Here we found that we were in the center of the summer home of grizzly bears, mountain sheep, and caribou.

A few stunted willows and alders were found growing along the lower slopes up to 4,000 feet. Between 4,000 and 5,000 feet the steep barren mountain sides are covered with loose shale rock. Here deep snowdrifts in the ravines afford cool resting places for bands of caribou. Above 5,000 feet the stunted Arctic plants give way to barren rocky pinnacles with snow-filled rocky basins at their bases.

IGLOO CREEK, 2,900 FEET.—Igloo Creek camp was located near the upper margin of the spruce belt. This site is surrounded by mountains on three sides—Cathedral Mountain on the south, Double Mountain on the east, and Sable Mountain on the west. Several small shallow lakes and ponds in the region afford an excellent breeding ground for waterfowl such as horned grebes and lesser scaup ducks. These particular lakes and ponds also provide a favorite summer home for moose. Here they can escape the attacks of myriads of mosquitoes and flies.

SABLE PASS, 4,000 FEET.—Sable Pass and the upper reaches of Igloo Creek are the favorite summer habitat of the grizzly bear. Often they may be found on hot summer days "cooling off" by sleeping on the snowbanks that fill the steep gulches of the mountain. Caribou also seek to escape the attacks of flies and mosquitoes by standing on or bedding down on these snowslides (fig. 15), where the winds tend to keep them free from insect attacks.

alpine-arctic ridges
Figure 15.—Dry alpine-arctic ridges such as these are the summer home of Stone's caribou and grizzly bears. Pacific golden plovers and pallid horned larks nest here.
Photograph taken June 8, 1932, head of Igloo Creek. W. L. D. No. 3058.

A favorite summer range for both caribou and grizzly bears are the dry Alpine ridges, toward East Fork Glacier, where Pacific golden plovers and Kellogg's ptarmigan also nest.

EAST FORK, TOKLAT, 3,000 FEET—EAST Fork camp was situated on the edge of an extensive, barren, treeless gravel bar at the mouth of Coal Creek where the two main branches of East Fork unite. Here along the gravel bars short-billed gulls were conspicuously present.

TOKLAT, 2,900 FEET—At the upper limit of good spruce timber our camp was made at the Toklat ranger cabin. This point is at the forks of the Toklat River and is within a quarter of a mile of Charles Sheldon's 1906 base camp. Our camp was about 2 miles above and across the river from the winter cabin which Sheldon built and where he lived during the winter of 1907-8. (See Sheldon, 1930, pp. 28 and 113 for detailed description.)

COPPER MOUNTAIN, 4,000 FEET—Our Copper Mountain camp was located near the site of the present ranger cabin on the margin of a broad gravel bar which lies between the Muldrow Glacier and Thorofare River. This broad gravel flat along the river is covered with a mat of Dryas plants. Alder and willow thickets grow along the hillside streams. The whole Copper Mountain Basin is Alpine-Arctic, for it is well above timber line.

McKINLEY BAR, 1,800 FEET—At McKinley Bar we made our head quarters in the ranger cabin which is located in an extensive forest of spruce. This forest is known locally as "Big Timber", an apt description, since it is one of the heaviest stands of spruce in the park.

WONDER LAKE, 1,900 FEET.—Wonder Lake, the largest lake thus far discovered within Mount McKinley National Park, lies in the depression between McKinley River and Moose Creek (fig. 16). It drains into Moose Creek; its inlet and outlet are located within a few yards of each other at its extreme northern end. The lake is 3 miles long, 1/2 a mile wide, and is 1,900 feet above sea level. Extensive open tundra areas are present at both ends of it, while spruce forests covering the hills on both sides extend down into its very waters. The south end of the lake is shallow and lined with grassy marshes forming an ideal nesting ground for several Species of ducks which nest there regularly. The inlet stream and adjacent ponds at the head of the lake are the favorite home of several colonies of beavers. Each fall the low rolling tundra-covered hills are frequented by thousands of caribou. Lake trout, weighing as much as 22 pounds, have been reported taken in the clear blue waters of Wonder Lake.

Wonder Lake
Figure 16.—Wonder Lake, the Alaska Range, including Mount McKinley may be seen in the distance.
Photograph taken August 12, 1932, Wonder Lake, W. L. D. No. 2847

top of page Top

Last Modified: Thurs, Oct 4 2001 10:00:00 pm PDT

National Park Service's ParkNet Home