Cold Northerly winds reaching 60kph continued throughout the day reaching top speed by late afternoon. Conditions made animal tracking a bit difficult. Periodic snow squalls continued to carpet the tundra and make all animals feel more at home…especially the Ptarmigan.
The final weeks of shipping grain from the Port of Churchill was certainly hampered by the high winds. The two ships previously at port all but finished loading and at least one slip was now vacant. One of the vessels waiting out at five -fathom hole in the Hudson bay was forced to turn back at 1:00Am while trying to navigate into the mouth of the Churchill River and align with the channel markers positioned on the Western banks of the river. Heavy rollers with whitecaps made entering the mouth too risky as the thin channel is buffeted on either side by rocks and a shallow bottom. The vessel sailed back out into the bay to wait for a calmer approach.
On the land, in the CWMA, Guide Amy had one of her travelers dreams of a lifetime fulfilled as a small male polar bear decided to get up close and personal by standing up against the rover and sniffing at the windows. These animals have ultra keen sensory cells in their nasal passages and can smell seal or whale carcasses at a distance of 20 miles. When a rover with human generated smells comes into their area the bears are prone to investigate…usually an amazing thrill for all aboard. Uh..keep the camera’s inside the windows please..it really ruins the natural bear pics when the bear has a nikon hanging around his neck.
Guide Scott had similar experiences with his group out at Gordon point. For about 45 minutes a young male was up and down their rover and has been forever captured in the memories of all on the trip. The group also had a thrill last night when, at Halfway Point, they watched a peregrine falcon flush snow buntings from the willows attempting to have a late meal. Later in the day the rover moved out to the flats area near ptarmigan alley and four other polar bears on and around the machine. The wind was picking up and after an amazing day on the tundra, the group was ready to “count its’ blessings” according to guide Scott and head back to launch. Behind them the bay was kicking up the whitecaps while surfers in town were heading down to the beach. Cowabunga!
Guide Brent’s people were braving the wind chill while on the observation deck of their rover and spotted fresh polar bear and fox tracks in the early morning yet undisturbed snow covering. Brent also reported that virtually all ptarmigan now have complete coats of white…the snow coming none too soon. Near launch, early in their day, the group stopped near a stand of willows and viewed a young female nestled in the sheltered shrubs with her rear to the wind. Her youngish, round almost cartoonish face was captivating as she lifted her nose now and again to filter smells from the increasing gusts carrying a myriad of odors you and I would never recognize. After a full day, the group caught even better looks of the female on the way back into launch…she seemingly had not moved from her protective lair. If she had any thoughts of venturing out, the torrid gusts put an end to those.
Some of the groups had an additional unique experience. Occasionally the military comes to Churchill to detonate remnant shells left over from the cold war era. “Cold war” in Churchill takes on a literal meaning and still continues today. However when Russia was causing rumblings around the globe back into the mid-fifties, some of the area now known as the CWMA was actually used for military preparation by a joint USA and Canadian forces. Every once in a long while, an old practice shell turns up out on the vast land and the specialists come in and detonate it. Over the years I have witnessed these procedures as some groups did. This one was in a fairly remote area but still heard by all. I guess that’s one reason the rovers stay on the trails. All in all the action on the tundra on this day was surely a blast…sorry.