With the snow on the ground and some early ice pans in the Hudson bay, the polar bear action in the Churchill Wildlife management Area is heating up. The past week has seen some of the best wildlife activity “in the past five years” according to Natural Habitat guide Sandra Elvin. Showing her group of avid travelers around the CWMA proved to unveil an amazing array of happenings that awed even the veteran wildlife naturalist.
Right from the go Sandra and group were out around the tundra lodge and settled in for an incredible morning of about 15 bears sparring in every different direction. Polar bears spar in order to build up muscles and defense mechanisms for future encounters out on the Hudson Bay ice when the seal hunting season is in full swing. It’s also believed that sparring figures into mating behavior. All in all the practice is really phenomenal when you think about it. These massive animals undertake mock fighting bouts when they are under the stress of hunger and very little stored energy. They do this and most of the time come out unscathed…really cool under the circumstances.
Another couple of bears were under the back grated observation deck sniffing guests’ boots with hot breath steaming in the cold Arctic air. Shortly later, a bear off the front and one off the back of the rover kept the day rolling and the shutters clicking continuously. A red fox came along just for some variation.
A red fox gazes cautiously as a rover appears. Brad Josephs photo.
Later that afternoon a sow with two cubs were crossing a large, frozen pond in perfect, soft afternoon light just past the first creek area…what a way to finish off the day.
The next day brought on another incredible experience out on the land. Sandra focused the scope in on a ringed seal basking out on some chunk shore- ice just off to the west of Gordon Point near the polar bear resting point…not a good idea. Closer still to the spit land of the resting point was another seal…this one was in the process of becoming a polar bear’s dinner…quite the find…for both. After getting his fill, the polar bear decided to get in the bay for a swim. At the same time the seal that still had a pulse also went in the order. Quite a thrilling scene to watch through a scope. This seal better start making better decisions.
Other highlights of the day was a bear gnawing at the rover’s heating mechanism under the machine…a little jerk of the engine put an end to that. On the way back…with the heat fortunately still pumping…a snowy owl flew right in front of the rover, across a pond landing a short distance away on a hill. Another red fox strode by with an eye always on the rover. A couple of friendly polar bears at Halfway Point put the golden touch on another fine day in the Arctic.
The ride back to town from launch was a little interesting as just by the side of the road before the A-frame a polar bear was taking out some aggression on an old snowmobile. The polar bear won this sparring match!
A visit up to cape Merry where the Hudson Bay flows into the Churchill River presented a rare first -hand viewing of a polar bear being “hazed” with cracker shells and pushed into the river so to displace him to the other side near the Fort prince of Wales. There has been more of this going on this season..so maybe the scene was not that rare…as Conservation seems to be trapping less bears and relying more on this hazing process. Very few traps have been noticed around town..even though a few have just been set recently. Maybe the budget for capturing bears is down but some rumors regarding not enough handling experience with regard to the polar bears by newbie conservation officers has yet to be confirmed. regardless, a more “cowboy” type approach of warding bears away from town has prevailed this year.
Another weird event took place a day later as a huge bear ..possibly pregnant female..was airlifted from the holding facility. Unlike most of the flight paths for relocation however, this bear was taken in a more easterly direction..possibly toward Wapusk National Parc. this would surely be a more apt spot for a pregnant sow. hard to get straight answers but I will try to confirm. Because the group had to rush out of Gypsy’s to catch the evacuation, a birthday cake for an unsuspecting guest was smuggled aboard the bus and the guest was thoroughly surprised. A bear lift was a once- in -lifetime gift from above!
The final night rover evening was a relaxing way to finish the trip. Near the Natural Habitat tundra lodge again, some sparring bears and another under the deck as well as one polar bear in the front of the machine gave all an excellent evening of bear watching while sipping on some wine or drink. Two more snowy owls..one after turning the corner from launch, and another in the spruce trees across the trail made a full house…get it.. three bears and two snowy owls…yeah..
As the rover rumbled quietly back through fresh blankets of soundless snow, the group reflected on a truly amazing adventure.