Despite the harshness of the sub-arctic climate, our land is home to an amazing variety and abundance of animal, fish and bird life. In past times, salmon and caribou were here in great numbers and these sustained us through the long winter. We shared the land with large animals like the moose and grizzly bear as well as the tiny pika and shrews. In the winter, ravens, chickadees and grey jays are still active and are frequent companions to camps and settlements.
"From powerful raptors like Great Horned Owls and Gyrfalcons to balls of fluff like Chickadees and Redpolls, only a dozen or so bird species manage to eke out a living … in the winter months. Like people, the majority of birds come when it is warmer and, like people, they often travel great distances to get here. Unlike the people, however, many birds come for the bugs!"
Julie Frisch,Tombstone Territorial Park Interpreters Manual, 2005
From early spring, our traditional territory abounds with over 100 species of migrating birds, some of which are passing through to nesting grounds farther north while others stop over to establish a territory, breed and raise a brood before it is time to head south again. Their number includes raptors such as hawks, owls, eagles and the ever-present ravens; a range of waterbirds such as ducks, gulls, terns, and kingfishers; and the melodious songbirds such as robins, sparrows and warblers.
We fish for grayling, pike, whitefish, suckers and inconnu (sheefish). In the Blackstone River, which is part of the Mackenzie River drainage, there are also Arctic Char (Salvelinus alpinus). Our most valued fish, however, are the two runs of salmon that ascend the Yukon River every summer. The first is the Chinook (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) or King Salmon in July followed by the Chum or dog salmon (Onchorhynchus keta) in late summer and early fall.
[To learn more about Yukon River salmon, click here to see the Interpretive Unit “Salmon”.]
A variety of large and small mammals live in our traditional territory, from the riverbanks to the sub-alpine slopes of the Ogilvie Mountains. Many of these furbearers are valuable to us for food, clothing and fur. Large animals include moose, bear (both black bears and grizzlies), barren ground and woodland caribou, wolves and thinhorn sheep. Smaller creatures include beaver, otters, muskrats, wolverine, lynx, red foxes, snowshoe hares, marten, mink, ermine and weasels, pika, marmots, red squirrels and the tiny microtines: shrews, mice and voles.
Boreal Chickadee. Cameron Eckert photo
Northern Hawk Owl.
Cameron Eckert photo
Getting ready to cut up the catch at First Fish camp.