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Alaska Department of Fish and Game

The Delta Junction Area

A few minutes drive out of Delta, wildlife biologist Steve DuBois pointed out a moose feeding in a pond beside the highway. We were headed 30 miles south of Delta, where the Richardson Highway begins its ascent into the rugged foothills of the Alaska Range. Here, the Black Rapids pullout affords a picturesque view across the Delta River - and a chance to see a herd of bison.

When we arrived, DuBois scanned the open, glacier-scoured slopes for Dall's sheep, then pointed down to the river. "Some days you can see 100 bison down there on the gravel bars. They migrate along the river between here and Delta in the summer. Any place there's a pullout where you can see the river it's worth a look."

The Delta Junction area, about two hours south of Fairbanks, offers a range of wildlife viewing opportunities, including the unusual opportunity to see wild buffalo. The area is a patchwork of state, federal and private lands, and much of it is accessible by road. Raptors hunt ground squirrels, hares and rodents on the agricultural lands east of Delta, and tens of thousands of sandhill cranes may be seen in the fields in May and September.

Grizzly bears and caribou may be observed south of Delta on Donnelly Flats, part of the Fort Wainwright Military Reservation. Bison can be found southeast of Delta in the fall and winter in the Delta Junction Bison Range, a 90,000-acre area bordering the Alaska Highway. Moose are abundant throughout the region, from the Shaw Creek Flats north of Delta to the glacially-created kettle ponds bordering the Richardson Highway south of town.

A herd of about 400 free-ranging bison inhabits the Delta area. These are plains bison, descendents of 23 animals brought from Montana in 1928. They spend fall and winter in the Delta Junction Bison Range and the private agricultural lands in the area. During calving season, between late April and early June, they move a few dozen miles southwest to the gravel bars of the Delta River near Donnelly Dome. They summer along the river.

Donnelley Dome is a prominent landmark near the Richardson Highway about 20 miles south of Delta. Rising about 2,500 feet above the open countryside, it overlooks Donnelly Flats and the Delta River. A military road, generally open to the public, accesses the dome, and trails climb to the summit. The area is in the range of the Macomb caribou herd, a small herd of mountain caribou that can sometimes be seen in the summer and fall. Rutting moose work this area in September and October, and grouse, ptarmigan and a variety of bird life abounds.

The Delta Agricultural Project is a network of thousands of acres of privately-owned farmland east of Delta and north of the Alaska Highway. Oats, barley and hay are the primary crops, and draw birds and wildlife. A network of paved and unpaved roads cross through the area, offering routes to explore and search for wildlife. South of Delta off the Alaska Highway, Road 1410, or Sawmill Creek Road (at mile 1403), access the fields, connecting with Clearwater Road, Nistler Road and Jack Warren Road, creating a variety of loop routes through the area. Keep in mind that this area is private property. If you venture off the road, you are on private land, whether fenced or unfenced, and you must have permission to access the area.

The Tanana Valley is the migration corridor for about two-thirds of the North American population of lesser sandhill cranes. Between 200,000 and 300,000 cranes pass through this region. Cranes may be seen kettling here as well, a phenomenon where thousands of birds lift off and spiral upwards in a huge flock in preparation for migration.

Red-tail and rough-legged hawks; kestrels and peregrine falcons; harriers; great horned, great grey, short-eared and hawk owls can all be found hunting the agricultural fields.

On dusky summer evenings, little brown bats may be seen flitting overhead as they hunt insects. Smaller than swallows, bats can be identified by their distinct erratic, flapping flight.

Clearwater Lake is just a few miles north of Delta, off Jack Warren Road. This spring-fed lake freezes late and thaws early. It's an important stopover for migrating birds and is home to nesting waterfowl, eagles and osprey. Moose and songbirds inhabit the shores.

About 12 miles north of Delta, Quartz Lake sits at the edge of Shaw Creek Flats. The lake, two adjacent smaller ponds and the surrounding recreation area offer opportunities to see beaver, moose and waterfowl, and black bears may be found here. Nature trails provide access to the area to the west of the lake. Loons may be found on both Clearwater and Quartz Lakes.

For more on the Delta Bison herd, see: Delta Junction - State Bison Range

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