Saturday, June 4, 2011

Hey Guys, Did You See This Mountain?

[The back story on yesterday's Moose and today's Mountain are similar. There's a lot to look at in Alaska, and when you're looking at one thing you're missing another. I happened to be looking the right way for the moose, and even better, for the mountain - Denali, which is visibile only 4 days per month in summer. We got one of those days, as Mark Garland proves.]

Into the Wild fans might recognize the name Stampede Trail. We started our Alaska day there yesterday. This site was made famous by the book, and later movie, and indeed, the school bus the protagonist lived (and died) in is still out there, well beyond where vehicles, and we, could go yesterday. The area indeed is wild, with sweeping landscapes of taiga and tundra.  And with birds - Orange-crowned Warbler singing a funky up-and-down-and-up-and-down-again song,  and taiga birds in these Denali foothills like “Red” Fox Sparrows, American Tree Sparrow, and wonderfully singing Gray-cheeked Thrush.

An aside - I always read the front matter in any new field guide, and way back when I took the time with the Big Sibley. Check it out - among other things you'll learn a lot about what influences bird distribution and speciation in North America. Sibley calls the Fox Sparrows we've been seeing and hearing in interior Alaska "Red" or Taiga Fox Sparrows, because that's the biome they inhabit. Tomorrow or the next day we'll encounter "Sooty" or Pacific Fox Sparrows in coastal Alaska. Bird distribution falls along biogeographical lines.

In the afternoon we entered Denali National Park. Somehow I managed not to execute on a single bird photo yesterday, despite the 11 (!) Golden Eagles we saw, so let's call this the Freiday Mountain and Mammal Blog. Of Mountain and Mammals there were plenty: 

[A sunlit Denali pierces the foothills and clouds, close to 9:00 p.m. Denali means the "High One" in the language of the native Athabascan people, and rises from 2,000 feet in the lowlands to 20,320 feet at the summit.]

 [Honorary bird, a Taiga Alpine butterfly along Stampede Trail.]

 [Mamma Griz looks grouchy, maybe because she's been keeping tabs on her rambunctious cubs for 3 years and is ready to send them off on their own. . . ]
 [Want to play? We saw 11 different Grizzlies along the Denali Park Road. These Alaskan interior "Toklat" grizzlies (named for a river in Denali) are very blond, and smaller than the coastal Brown Bears because Alaska's famous conveyor belt of spawning salmon doesn't make it to where they live. I finally figured out where my Chessie Daniel Boone gets his occasional bouts of attitude - he must be part Grizzly, the color and texture of his fur are remarkably similar to these cubs'. . . ]

 [Caribou are an important food source for Denali's wolves.]

[Mature Dall Sheep.]


  1. Good thing you're here Don: Moose, Mountain, what else would I be missing? Incredible photos!

  2. @ MG, it's easy to find stuff when your co-leader puts you in the right place at the right time. @ all readers, you need to travel with Mark Garland!