Reflection of a skiff in Button Bay, Churchill. Water clear and pristine. Katie de Meulles photo.
Polar bear swimming in the bay near Churchill. Katie de Meulles photo.
Close up of a polar bear swimming in the bay around Churchill. Katie de Meulles photo.
Polar bear resting on the rocks on Eskimo Point. Katie de Meulles photo.
Button Bay is the secluded little cove just around Eskimo Point where Fort Prince of Wales rests as the iconic outpost of the long-lost fur trade in the north. The rocks of Eskimo Point are resting areas for polar bears seeking some quiet and solitude during the summer months. Quite often groups of travelers can see and photograph polar bears on these rocky shores. These shots by Churchill photographer Katie de Meulles were captured this week and show the happenings around Button Bay.
This magnificent common loon and chick was spotted on a thermokarst pond out by the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. These majestic and haunting birds will often circle their water surroundings and give their haunting call to announce the arrival of their offspring. Always an incredible experience to see these in the sub – Arctic.
Common loon and her chick on the water in Churchill. Moira LaPatourel photo.
With the Cape Merry battery looming in the distance, a beluga sow and calf frolic in the Churchill River. Whale interaction has been off the charts this season with pods of belugas all over the waters surrounding Churchill. Snorkeling and kayaking have been particular highlights for groups as well this season.
Beluga whales in the Churchill River with Cape Merry in the background. Moira LaPatourel photo.
A rarely seen bald eagle made an appearance and perched atop this krumholz spruce on the open tundra. A perfect spot for eyeing lemmings scurrying across the ground.
A bald eagle perched on a spruce tree in the open tundra of Churchill. Moira LaPatourel photo.
A group of travelers gets more of a birds – eye view from the deck of the Sea North I on the Hudson Bay. This vessel provides more of a view above the beluga whales for slightly better photo opportunities. Venturing over to Button Bay or further into the Hudson Bay is another facet this larger jet propulsion craft provides.
Viewing beluga whales in the Churchill River from the Sea North I vessel. Moira LaPatourel photo.
Travelers view a polar bear from a zodiac in the Churchill River. Moira LaPatourel photo.
Fireweed has consumed the landscape at this point of the season. The purple injects a swath of color to the landscape that blends the blues of the water and rocks with the subdued earth colors of the tundra.
Fields of wildflowers across the tundra in Churchill. Moira LaPatourel photo.
A Field Report by Natural Habitat AdventuresExpedition Leader: Moira Le Patourel
We walked across the Churchill Airport tarmac towards the waiting plane, heading back to Winnipeg. The most incredible Churchill summer experience had played out for our little band of Natural Habitat Adventurer’s over the past five days. I have been travelling to Churchill with tour groups and enjoying the sub-Arctic wonders of this area for the past three years, but I had never had an experience quite like this one.
Snorkeling with the beluga whales in theCHurchill River. Moira la Patourel photo.
Our trip started off with an early morning flight from Winnipeg to Churchill in the sunshine. Over the next five days, our group enjoyed absolutely incredible encounters with belugas; in zodiacs, the Sea North II (a larger jet-drive vessel), in kayaks and even through a snorkel mask! We were able to watch belugas exhibiting playful behavior, feeding behavior, calm-day and stormy-day activities and listen in on their incredibly active social lives in the Churchill River and the Hudson’s Bay.
Beluga whales in the Churchill River.Moira LaPatourel photo.
We were also extremely lucky to spot not one but FOUR polar bears on our five-day adventure as well! Two lone individuals, one resting on Eskimo Point and one swimming about a mile off shore in Button Bay, and one mother and cub-of-the-year onshore. I couldn’t believe our luck! The wildflowers were bursting with colour all across the landscape, with more purples and creams than I have ever seen before; it was quite a sight to behold. The bird life was also out in full force; we enjoyed sightings of Sandhill Cranes, Tundra Swans, Arctic Terns, Parasitic Jaegers, Pacific Loons with young, Snow Geese and an American Golden-Plover, to name a few.
Polar bears on the rocks at Eskimo point. Moira LaPatourel photo.
As we were headed to the airport for our departure, we were lucky enough to receive a tip from a local that the Polar Bear Holding Facility was open for tours for the next couple of hours. We only had 15 minutes to squeak in a look at the inside of the Holding Facility, but what a view it was! The Polar Bear Holding Facility has an open-house once a year, and we were just lucky enough to be there at just the right time!
As the Churchill River and the Hudson’s Bay faded out of view from the airplane windows, obscured by cloud, I looked around and could see the broad smiles on the faces of my travelling companions. This had truly been the trip of a lifetime in Churchill for all of us!
Natural Habitat Adventures guide Moira LePatourel and her last group of travelers in Churchill’s Arctic summer had a full compliment northern phenomenon. “We had the full sub-arctic experience on our final trip” Le Patourel stated. Two nights of aurora viewing and the first arctic fox sighting of the season gave this trip a unique personality shared by a very excited group of travelers. Northern lights become prevalent late at night in August and it’s always a thrill when groups see them in summer. Memories that will burn forever!
Natural Habitat Group in Churchill. Moira LePatourel photo.
The group also had the fortune to spot and observe four polar bears over the week. One polar bear was swimming in the Hudson Bay and another resting peacefully on the smooth, rocky Precambrian shield. Another mom and her cub were seen over in Button Bay lounging on the beach getting suntans.
Polar bear mom and cub on the beach at Button Bay. Moira LePatourel photo.
Polar bears resting on the beach. Moira LePatourel photo.
An incredible bounty of belugas crowded the Hudson Bay and Churchill River all week as the last stage of summer plays itself out. “We also got to hear the cello being played on the explore.org research boat and saw the whales come swimming over in response to musician Rob’s music. All that and the sun shining for most of our trip too! Couldn’t have asked for a better finale.” expressed LePatourel.
Belugas in the Churchill River. Moira LePatourel photo.
If you have been to Churchill you probably have heard of Button Bay. If you have been to Churchill in the Summer you might have even ventured by boat to the bay itself.
Sow and cub in the rocks off Eskimo Point. Stefanie Fernandez photo.
Button Bay lies northwest of Churchill just a short spin by zodiac around the tip of Eskimo Point and Fort Prince of Wales. From the fort you can gaze across the thickets of willows and wildflowers to the often glassy surface of the secluded inlet. It’s also possible to look across the Churchill River past Fort Prince of Wales on the point and see the glimmering surface of the bay.
In Button Bay the water is crystal clear and belugas are quite visible under water. Steve Selden photo.
The bay was commemorated by Sir Thomas Button in 1612 when he and the crew of the Resolution ventured to “New Wales”, as he named it for England. He is credited with securing the lands along the west coast of the Hudson Bay for England. The Nelson River estuary and Port Nelson within those lands, were named after the Master of the Resolution who perished on the journey and is buried there.
Sir Thomas Button.
On May 15, 1912, 300 years later, when Manitoba’s boundaries were extended, Port Nelson was included in the new territory designated to the province. Thomas Button is therefore known to be the first white man to visit this area in Manitoba.
Polar Bear along the coast of Button Bay. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.
Button Bay is a well known beluga whale hot spot in the summer. On the fairly rare occasions when whales are scarce in the Churchill River and mouth of the Hudson Bay, the 20 minute motor over to Button Bay usually produces pods of whales following the capelin run. On the journey by boat or zodiac, there’s always the chance of spotting a polar bear or two nestled along the rocky coast. I have often seen bears dipping paws into the bay or pulling up onto the rocks after a swim.
Button Bay is a little secret gem of the region. the bay itself is considered part of the Nunavut territory.