A cold, snowy and windy start to the week has jump-started the season and eclipsed last year’s slower start. More of an Arctic-like start than last year. The temperature drop has allowed the rain to become snow creating a more northern feel. Polar bear numbers have been slowly rising both in the Churchill Wildlife management area and in Churchill proper.Seems like momentum is building for another unique, exciting month of wildlife encounters.
Natural Habitat guide Elise Lockton and group observed a sow and her cub out at Bird Cove and then made their way over to the tundra lodge on their evening rover excursion. The usual suspect larger bears lounged around the willows behind the lodge while the group enjoyed some wine and a nice meal on the tundra. The previous day the group was out near Gordon Point where a dead seal went undetected by a polar bear that actually circled the area twice…must have had a cold or something. Numerous Brant Geese flying as well as multiple common eiders filled out the sub-arctic landscape.
Polar bear in the willows. Paul Brown photo.
A “great” day on the tundra ,as guide Colby Brokvist put it, began with polar bears at bird cove, Halfway Point and the spit of land extending bay-ward near the lodge. Though mostly lounging and snoozing along the Hudson Bay coast, the setting itself is simply unforgettable for travelers who have never experienced this landscape. A warm, very sunny and clear day with a cold Northerly wind made roving the tundra even more glorious. It was also “fantastic” for bird sightings as the late migration pattern is holding on for a little longer. The group watched eagerly as a pure- white gyrfalcon chased snow buntings around along the coast. Another pair of glaucous gulls, a female black scoter, and a common goldeneye were also present for all to check off their life-lists. Goldeneyes will Winter as far North as open -water permits so they may be around for a good while this Fall. Continuing down the Christmas Lake esker past an old inuit hunting camp out by the coast revealed some additional bird life. Some red breasted mergansers, a couple of black-bellied plovers, a white- rumped sandpiper and a large flock of rock ptarmigan kept the binocular -wielding birders busy. Ubiquitous ravens and snow buntings abounded all day. Along the launch road heading in, a sub-adult polar bear emerged from the willows nose in the air. It crossed the parked shuttle bus on the road and began cleaning its’ coat on the patchy snow just on the other side. Then, black -tipped snout in the air, it began walking towards town….the group followed along the road. Nice escort.
Conservation officers preparing polar bear for airlift. Paul Brown photo.
A bear evacuation coordinated by Department of Natural Resources(DNR) and Hudson Bay Helicopters originally scheduled for 10:30 AM on October 19th turned into a 3 PM lift instead due to DNR being preoccupied with a rogue polar bear in town. Eventually a good sized crowd outside the bear compound near the airport was thrilled to see a sow and cub loaded and transported Northward. I have seen numerous “bear-lifts” in my time in Churchill and they are always an awesome experience. Seems like bear season is in full swing now.
Polar bear in net being airlifted north. Paul Brown Photo.