A normally quick trip aboard the Arctic rover out to half -way point became a two hour journey on the coast. Birdlife, including willow ptarmigan and chicks just by launch-site, snow geese, tundra swans, american golden plover and greater scaup… all with youngsters…graced the trail and willows. The trip serves as an introduction to the Churchill Wildlife Management Area which serves as prime viewing area for polar bears in the fall.
However, this particular group was fortunate to eye a bear on the rocks at the point jutting into the Hudson Bay. While eating lunch, the group also spotted a “binocular bear”.. actually a sow and two cubs of the year (coy) from the back deck of the machine.
After lunch while the group was stowing away the gear and preparing to leave another bear approached the bear on the rocks and they sauntered around each other yawning the entire time. Guide Sue Zajac could see one of them snapping his jaws and finally one claimed the prime spot and the other moved away. What a great first day!
A rare young beluga whale “head shot” in the Churchill River. Photo Rhonda Reid.
While the first Natural Habitat group of the season experienced curious whales and exceptional viewing overall, the weather was rainy and dreary at times. This combination created lasting memories in the Arctic. The social whales only heightened the interactions and viewing as the week went on.
Rounding out the Arctic experience was ample birding. American golden plovers, Arctic terns, and Bonapart’s gulls highlighted the sightings. While hiking the Ramsey trail out by the Churchill Northern Studies Center, four adult whimbrels warned travelers with incessant squaks.
The whale viewing for the second group started off with some less active interactions as the whales kept a slight distance. However, the bear sightings were incredible. On their rover trip, a total of seven bears were seen including a sow and two cubs. The Willows proved to be needed cover for the animals looking to rest and conserve energy. Two males, one slightly younger than the other, interacted with some fighting though it never quite escalated into full-on sparring. A well needed rest was had by both afterward. Travelers expectations were exceeded by a long shot with the bear sightings.
Some other standout highlights the past week were peaking fireweed across the tundra, healthy female cones on the white spruce trees, and a welcome lack of mosquitos for this time of year.
While the group paddled the Churchill River in Sea North Tours new fleet of yellow kayaks, the beluga whales appeared to lose their shyness as they bumped and lifted the shells, much to the thrill of the occupants. It doesn’t get any better in the north-country!
The ever so short summer has arrived in the north country and Churchill,MB once again is home to around 2,500 beluga whales..both adults and calves. Natural Habitat Adventures groups are now in the region and will be throughout mid-August. Here are some videos that capture the essence of the whales spirit and their effect on humans that have the great fortune to experience some time with the animals. Over the coming weeks more first hand reports from Churchill will keep you in tune with the amazing circle of life that the summer season displays. From wildflowers to birdlife to whales, seals and even bears, Churchill Arctic summer is one of the best kept wildlife destination secrets. Stay tuned for incredible interactions!
Natural Habitat guide Sue Zajac and her first group of the summer arrived by train just a -half hour late…very impressive for the summer Hudson Bay Railway train…to a more moderate Churchill..temperature -wise that is. With hot weather pervasive the past couple of weeks, the nearly on-time train arrival is even more impressive. The heat has a negative affect on the tracks, especially the further north they run, by melting the top layer of the permafrost and allowing the steel tracks to bend slightly. This affect forces the authorities to impose “slow orders” for locomotives to evade possible derailments. Most derailments happen to grain trains due to the extra weight of the cargo. The photo below illustrates an unusual breakdown of a mound most likely covered in permafrost.
Derailment due to permafrost melt. The CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Saskatchewan RCMP
With an efficient start to the adventure up north, Sue gathered the group and headed out to Cape Merry for beluga reconnaissance. With 63F and overcast skies across the vast Hudson Bay, travelers spent over an hour at the cape..a fairly mosquito – free cape at that.
While searching eyes scanned the bay and river, whales appeared at first to be quite scarce until at last out in the direction of Fort Prince of Wales across the river, some smaller groups of 10 or more among hundreds in total, seemed to be resting on the surface and remaining afloat for five minutes at a time. Even some sows and two-week old calves were scattered throughout the larger pod. The mouth of the Churchill River also has swift currents coupled with turbulent water…another possible attraction for the weary leviathans. It will be interesting to follow subsequent beluga behavior this summer. ..a new pattern each season! A “glorious day at Cape merry”!, according to Sue.
On the birding front, the greatest excitement of the trip thus far came from an excursion out to the granery ponds on the backside of the port on the edge of town. A multitude of nesting herring gulls, yellow legs, and Arctic terns greeted the group as they observed with binoculars and cameras. A green winged teal with chicks in- line crossed the road leading out to the boat docks just as the terns began their calculated assault on travelers that were, in their opinion, much too close to cherished nests. Dive bombing terns attacked the group fending themselves off with a long stick. I personally have witnessed the “wrath of the tern”, and although no imminent danger presents itself, an occasional beak to the head can draw blood… A fair warning to keep your distance.
The premature and extended heat this spring has stalled the prolific bloom of wildflowers across the tundra. Many early flowers like the avens have already gone to seed. Hopefully the rest of the summer, with a little cool weather, will provide some late bloomers.
Hey folks…here’s a very informative webinar by Natural Habitat head naturalist and guide Eric Rock. You will get an invaluable background on everything you need to know about the region and wildlife. Eric you rock!!! Take a listen and look at some great photo’s of Churchill and the Arctic. Hope this gets everyone excited to venture to Churchill and view the amazing polar bears this or next fall. A trip of a lifetime!
Local guide and photographer Rhonda Reid caught some of the action on the Churchill River recently. These are fresh from the cold water ( 42 F roughly in the mouth area of the river) up north …a preview of more to come.
Summer in Churchill attracts all kinds of marine and avian life to the Hudson Bay and Churchill River…an incredible bounty of life swirling in the air and water. Here’s some amazing photo’s to get everyone excited about traveling up to Churchill this Summer! Natural Habitat’s Arctic Summer journeys begin soon. Stay posted to follow their sightings and discoveries.Enjoy!
Natural Habitat guide Sue Zajac will be heading to Churchill next monday with the first Arctic Summer group of the season. Cool weather and clear skies are predicted for the week and the landscape should already be washed in some wildflower colors. The short growing season provides for a frenetic blast of summertime changing palettes. This backdrop coupled with the varied wildlife surprises constantly revealing themselves makes for incredible experiences every day of the trip. Can’t wait to see what unfolds these next two months!