Polar bears at Halfway Point. Rhonda Reid photo.
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!