Good numbers of polar bears are showing up in and around the Churchill area….however not all of these bears are behaving very …um..good. Or, maybe it’s the people who need to check their behavioral habits in what really is a town placed smack dab in the natural habitat of these wandering, hungry bears. In fact, there have been two incidents this Spring and Summer in which polar bears have behaved aggressively towards humans resulting in the bears having to be put down by Canadian Conservation officers. Not many people who live in or know about Churchill can remember the last time two bears have been put down in the same year, never mind the Summer season. With climate change possibly affecting polar bears behavior, residents and visitors to Churchill need to modify careless behavior in what really is a true wildlife refuge.
Summer in Churchill has always provided the opportunity to see polar bears. Over the last decade, although not always predictable, if you wanted to see a bear in the warm weather around Churchill you could. Sometimes it would take tiresome tracking and exploring while on other occasions a bear might walk right past your hotel or inn. This Summer as well as the last few we have seen increasing numbers of bears. Mostly the polar bears are hunkered down and conserving energy. This Summer has added a new twist with bears up and moving…and in one case moving in for a close-up photograph…but not getting the shot it was expecting.
Back to the Summer. Natural Habitat guide Sue Zajac reports that aside from the bear presence, signs of an early Winter are revealing themselves. Travelers with Sue last week noticed that most Whimbrels have flown South somewhat earlier than past seasons. Wildflowers seem to be ahead of their normal pace as well. A clear scarcity of snow geese still boggles the conventional wisdom since overpoulation has been a severe problem over the last ten years or so. Making up for the snowgeese lacking in presence, hoards of Canada geese with their feathers still flightless fom the molting process, abound across the tundra. On a trip up to Cape Merry overlooking the Churchill river and Hudson Bay, the group took in the beauty of hundreds of beluga whales moving in the currents in and out of the bay. A solitary young gray Arctic hare huddled against a rock…both as still as the sky.
Sue and her travelers were fortunate to squeeze two amazing beluga -viewing trips in between threatening thunder storms and brisk wind patterns. Whales popped heads in and out of rougher waters, always curious toward the Italian – made zodiacs. The last trip ended fittingly with a splendid sunset backdrop. Some of the group also opted for kayaking with the whales in the river..always an incredible experience unlike any other.
For many in the group, the highlight of the trip was the rover trip out to the tundra for a barbeque surrounded by the vast landscape and overlooking the Hudson Bay. A polar bear was lying in the vegetated tundra carpet and barely stirred as the rover pulled up. He yawned a couple of times and rolled over as the group prepared for lunch. A snapshot of the fast approaching polar bear season…only all hands and feet warm for now.