The 730,000-acre Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge in southeast Alaska provides a protected habitat for 143 species of nesting birds and 47 species of migrating birds. Each spring, millions of birds migrate through this corridor. The National Audubon Society has recognized the refuge as an Important Bird Area, especially for sandhill cranes and trumpeter swans.
The landscape in the refuge is dominated by black spruce trees. Black spruce both invite fire, which destroys them, and depend on fire, which continues their cycle of life. The lower branches of black spruce trees are highly flammable and dip down to whisk fire up the tree, which then opens the resin-sealed cones on top of the tree to spread its seeds.
There were dozens of dragonflies on the boardwalk through the taiga forest. Abundant dragonflies are a sign of a healthy ecosystem.
We hiked on a boardwalk along an interpretive trail through the taiga forest. Taiga is also known as the boreal forest, which is dominated by conifers and small shrubs. It’s the world’s largest land biome, covering 29% of the world’s forest land. Taiga has the lowest average temperatures after the tundra and ice caps, and this keeps the plants and trees on the small side.
There was a small forest of horsetail along the shores of Deadman Lake. Horsetail is considered a “living fossil” because it is the only living plant of an entire class of plants that existed over 100 million years ago. A ranger told us that Deadman Lake got its name because a U.S. soldier building the Alaska Highway died here trying to cross the partially frozen lake in the spring, however I’ve been unable to confirm this.
On the horizon we could see the towering Nutzotin Mountains in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, which we plan to visit in August.
A thunderhead obscured the setting sun, which was still fairly high in the sky at 11pm.