As the heart of polar bear season in Churchill  nears closer, the tundra is still surprising all who venture out every day. Although intense colder temperatures have not settled in as of yet, wildlife encounters are still impressing travelers exploring the tundra each day. The slightly warmer temperatures have not kept polar bears in the region inactive at all. Although some are content to lounge and sleep in the willows or rocks, many are up and about engaging in sparring bouts and investigating rovers….sniffing boots.. that sort of thing.
Churchill snowy owl.

Colby Brokvist photo.

 A good morning on tundra for Colby Brokvist and group gave way to warming temperatures in the afternoon with not too much happening in wildlife viewing. In the morning at Halfway Point things got started with a snowy owl chasing snow buntings along the rocky border between the tundra and the Hudson Bay. A juvenile snowy.. he perched near the rover and then twice flew directly at the vehicle with his yellow piercing stare. Lemmings in rocks below the rover scurried to take cover from an arctic fox running along the shore looking for some sustenance. Guests were exposed to great photo opportunities  as three polar bears were in the area. A very old and skinny adult spotted at bird cove last week lounged near the rocks. Seemingly on the brink of death,  his ribs, pelvis and shoulder bones were apparent through his white coat. Two other bears were walking and somewhat active. Easily the highlight of the morning  was when one of the bruins decided to take a swim for almost half an hour just offshore in the calm bay… playing in the kelp, diving under the surface, emerging and rolling around on his back like a sea otter. Once ashore,  he shook off the icy water before spending some time with Colby’s as well as a couple of other rovers nearby. Very “cool” experience…especially for the bear!  The warmer afternoon was spent near the tundra lodge where three or so bears were lounging lazily around on the edge of the willows.

Guide Sandra Elvin’s group experienced a fantastic week highlighted by two separate bear lifts. The first involved scrambling on arrival day in Churchill and getting out of the airport just in time to see two bears removed from the compound, netted and evacuated to the North. Exciting start to the Northern experience. Then, on the group’s  helicopter and museum-touring day, travelers were fortunate to view a sow and two cubs moved from the compound as well. Two of these in a trip is quite rare.

Churchill polar bears being airlifted North.

Paul Brown photo.

The group’s polar bear viewing out on the tundra was exciting also. On day one in the CWMA , a polar bear was observed up close while a few others were viewed crossing the landscape slowly at a distance. A few others asleep in the willows rounded out the afternoon. The second day started slowly in the morning though afternoon brought bears around the lodge challenging each other without full-on sparring. A group devoid of avid birders calmly observed a magnificent gyrfalcon soaring the wind currents above. An arctic fox near the rover launch and a red fox at Bird’s Cove filled out a palette of Arctic wildlife.

Helicopter journeys to a former bear denning area were hampered by fog. After the den visit, the group returned back to the base in town and re-booked flight time for the end of the trip. Flying over a controversial “sled-dog” compound East of town raised serious questions regarding the morality and legality of the site. Polar bears intermingle freely with chained dogs there and quite often share food left for the canines. Should wild animals be exposed to this setting? On the later rescheduled flight, the group flew directly to Cape Churchill and returned over the boreal forest. A large number of bears at the cape and scattered moose on the fringes of the forest were awesome sights.

The aurora borealis cooperated with Halloween by unveiling itself for the holiday..Guide Elise’s group as well as some others viewed the Arctic spectacle behind the town complex at the giant stone inukshuk guarding the Hudson Bay. One of “the best displays I’ve ever seen here”, is how Elise characterized the show….dancing, swirling lights of green…pulsing with faint glimpses of red. Maybe a slight tinge of orange in there as well. Happy Halloween to all!

Sparring polar bears near tundra lodge, Churchill, MB

Paul Brown photo.

Guide Rinnie reports “resident” bears around the lodge. There are constantly four to five males around ….including a couple of “big guys”. A single female and  a mother with a coy visited the area much to the delight of travelers on board. A few “buddy” males sparring frequently very close to the lodge thrill the photographers as well as casual guests.  Away from the lodge two adult golden eagles soared pass the rover while out along the coast road. Snowy owls have been seen almost daily as well as Arctic fox. On the last lodge trip, northern lights appeared twice on the darker tundra of the CWMA….an easier place to spot the phenomena for sure. Food being served by gourmet chefs at the lodge is fantastic while the group hopes for colder temperatures to arrive. Hopes for  some more mothers with cubs to move in to the area are top of the wish list.


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