As the Summer winds down in Churchill, the beluga whale population gives us amazing shots to capture on film…er camera..chips? Not sure how you say that anymore. Anyway some of these classic photo’s remind us how amazing it is out on the water of the Churchill River or Hudson Bay. With polar bears lurking along the shores of Eskimo point and Cape Merry, the Arctic feel is all around. Birds grace the air over the water looking for capelin stirred up by the whales. All in all one feels “in” nature…amazing.
Beluga looking up. Photo Katie Demeulles.
Beluga in the Churchill River. Rhonda Reid photo.
Tundra swans on shallow lake. Ed Bouvier photo.
Beluga whale in Churchill River, Churchill,MB. Steve Selden photo.
Trolling for beluga whales in the Churchill River.
The final Natural Habitat Summer group of the year started off with some nice weather for getting in the cold water of the Churchill River. A few in the group donned neoprene dry -suits, booties and gloves and snorkeled with beluga whales. This is an unforgettable experience ….more due to the frigid water in the low40 degree temp range than whale encounters. Whales become curious and swim below snorkelers at times though often keeping a safe distance. Still, being in the water so close to these amazing beings can ma one forget about the cold pretty quickly.
Young ducklings with mom in the local ponds. Photo Rhonda Reid
Later, as the group traveled around Churchill, various bird-life revealed itself all around town. Eider ducks and their young floated above beluga whales just offshore behind the town complex. Whimbrels, Hudsonian godwits and assorted ducks were flocking up for the long trip north and some geese are already in the air having been cleared by air traffic control for the migration. Cape Merry provided a Parcs Canada interpretive talk with Duane overlooking the river and Hudson Bay. No better spot to feel the vastness of the Arctic than the cape.
Lesser Yellowlegs near the Churchill shore. Rhonda Reid photo.
With a full day behind, some went for a walk around the loop of the flats next to the river and some went birding at the ponds just before the grainery and had some fantastic sightings.. Red-necked phalaropes were the biggest hit for the birders as they spotted adults and juveniles. Ruddy turnstones, lesser yellowlegs, lesser scaups, some with up to 10 two or three- day old young , American widgeon with two-week old young, Arctic terns with young just ready to fledge, a herring gull encouraging its’ three chicks to fly, a Wilson’s warbler, an adult pair of Bonaparte gulls, a semi-palmated sandpiper, a least sandpiper, and a green-winged teal with ducklings. Many of these birds were life species for almost everyone there. An incredible extravaganza of birds all in roughly an hour.
Lesser yellowlegs. Rhonda Reid photo.
Near the end of the trip the travelers experienced a polar bear extravaganza. Eskimo point provided a raw sighting of a polar bear just out of the bay while the group trolled the water in zodiacs in search of beluga whales. Nice bonus. Another bear was seen on land as a vehicle was positioned just at the right angle to get a great look at a stunning animal. All were happy to get the looks usually reserved for bear season in November.
Polar Bear on Eskimo point. Rhonda Reid photo.
As the Summer comes to a reluctant close, the aurora shines bright in the night sky. Reports of brilliant lights have been coming in over the past couple of days. This time of year can rival deep Winter for the best times to view the Northern lights. Clear skies and few storms provide awesome nightly activity. Of course one needs to stay up a little later, around 11 pm or so, to get the best looks at the phenomena. It’s definitely worth the late night.
Polar bears appear quite often in the Summer months on the rocky point that juts out into the Hudson Bay just north of Fort prince of Wales. Eskimo Point is a rocky outcropping that used to be under water hundreds of years ago though now has risen out of the sea thanks to that ever continuous process of isostatic rebound.
Polar bear on the rocks, Churchill,MB.
With regularity bears have been spotted both inland and along the rocky outcroppings on Eskimo Point. Although a bonus for travelers seeking to get a look at the king of the Arctic, conservation officers need to keep on their toes for the sake of the town’s safety. Summer, in my opinion is a more dangerous time with respect to polar bear encounters than actual “bear season” in October and November. For many reasons bears are more dangerous in Summer…the main one being the element of surprise. Summer is a time when people tend to let their guard down. Many visitors to Churchill have been conditioned to believe that the Fall is the only time polar bears are in the area…not true. As ice melts, bears come on land. With temperature escalation decreasing time polar bears are able to hunt seals on ice, they tend to head for the next most bountiful habitat….Churchill. Not many visitors expect to come upon a polar bear while birding or observing wildflowers. It’s these distractions that can cause one to be at risk. (more…)
This Summer season has provided amazing looks at wildflowers, birds and thousands of beluga whales cruising the Hudson bay and Churchill river. Of course the focus is on these beautiful, majestic mammals and the environment of the Arctic. The calming feeling one gets from being out on the water with the whales is everlasting in the soul. Life becomes fluid and this feeling transcends the woes one has in everyday life. The Arctic life cycle is unlike any other.
Polar bear heading to land from sea ice. Photo Rhonda Reid.
Polar bears in Summer in Churchill can be hit or miss…..this year they have been quite the hit indeed. In all the years I have guided trips in Summer here I remember most the ones where polar bears have been more prevalent. When you don’t have expectations the most unexpected tends to happen. Most of the time you could be within a hundred yards of a bear in Summer and never even know it. Other times you arrive just at the right moment when a sow and cub happened to be crossing a remote road outside of town. Or, on a long hike through tundra, shotgun in hand…a bear appears from the fog. Those moments..however hair -raising they are brand incredible memories into one’s soul. Any bear encounter in the world creates the same feeling.
Polar bear on the rocks last week in Churchill. Photo Rhonda Reid.
When a Summer is brimming with bears the thrills are just around the next rock-outcropping. Bears leave the deteriorating ice flows generally up north and gradually make their way along the coast to Churchill by Fall. Churchill serves as the staging area for bears to once again head onto the floes in late November. Ice forms first around Churchill due to the geography of the land jutting out somewhat into the Hudson Bay and the confluence of many freshwater rivers, including the Churchill, in the Southwestern corner of the bay. This freshwater freezes at a faster rate then saltwater in the bay so the platform starts to form against the land here. Bears gather along the coast and test the ice as it solidifies. The cycle repeats year after year.
For various reasons bears appear in larger numbers randomly. This Summer, bears have been all over the land and water which some proponents of global warming point out as a red flag. Ice melting earlier sends bears to the land. However, it’s also linked to the freeze-up date in November. If the ice is very late forming then an early melt is more dire. Most recent years have averaged out to be consistently the same number of ice days for bears out hunting seals on the ice Historically however, bears have seen their hunting grounds confined to a shorter time-frame over the last century. The time in the historical perspective is miniscule but the evidence of our ozone layer being damaged is there so we must be critical of the conditions. Take a look at the current ice formation in the Hudson Bay.
Polar bear just out of the water on the rocks in Churchill,M. Photo Rhonda Reid.
The bears are in Churchill this Summer and that surely bodes well for an early Fall season of good bear numbers…again, “good” is a relative term here. With travelers attracted by the prospect of seeing bears in the Summer in Churchill, they will hopefully be educated to the adverse affects of greenhouse gasses being emitted into our atmosphere. With that information, people might return home and make better decisions in how they live and pollute. Turning negative circumstances into positive reactions.