In late fall, pre – winter, colors of the tundra and the species that roam the land come to a crossroads of earth tones. This pallet gradually transitions into a great white north we all think of when envisioning the forthcoming and exciting polar bear season. This time is short though one of the most beautiful in the Arctic and surrounding regions.
Multi colored red fox with the colors of the textured tundra behind. Katie deMeulles photo.
Each year during polar bear season in Churchill either red or Arctic foxes tend to be the more prevalent species for that particular season. In recent years there has been an influx of red foxes that have seemingly displaced the gorgeous, white coated Arctic fox population to some extent. Hunting, legal and illegal, has also played a role in lowering the Arctic fox numbers. Warming temperatures facilitate the red fox species to become more adaptive to the northern weather and even ice conditions in winter. The patchwork colors of the red fox in particular meld with the myriad of tundra color splashes.
The colors of the tundra deep into fall in Churchill. Ed Bouvier photo.
Early season photo of a sleepy polar bear. Paul Brown photo.
While snow is imminent in the Churchill region, polar bears will take this time to conserve energy by limiting movement as much as possible. Sleeping bears will soon be wandering restlessly as the snow falls and temperatures drop to freezing or lower by month’s end. Polar bears gazing toward the Hudson Bay in anticipation of a freeze over will become the norm as November marches on.
Lichen growing on rocks in Churchill. Steve Selden photo.
Silver fox scouring tundra for lemmings. Colby Brokvist photo.
The tundra will release the last fruits of its bounty to the scouring animals looking to nurture their bodies with berries, plants or lemmings before the winter hits hard. Changing appearances in foxes, hares and birds foretell the new season that will become a energetic forum of multiple species before the freeze leads to mass exodus lead especially by the king of the Arctic, the mighty polar bear.
Snowy owl on the tundra in the CWMA. Colby Brokvist photo.
A Gyrfalcon in the late fall in Churchill. Brad Josephs photo.
Natural Habitat outdoor Adventure guide Colby Brokvist calls NatHab’s Town and Tundra Adventure tour the “Ultimate Trip”! Encompassing both ends of the region’s diverse spectrum, travelers to Churchill see it all. Wildlife and culture…sometimes the two even blend together in the frontier town on the Hudson Bay.
Polar bear resting on a rock in Churchill. Colby Brokvist photo.
“We had a great time being immersed in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area, which is the best part of the lodge trips. And, we had plenty of time in town to learn about the area’s culture and history” states Colby. Out at the Tundra Lodge the late day action was heated. “This week, the best sparring took place in the evenings once the town groups had gone in, a real treat for us.” reported Colby. The group finally had to sit for a late dinner after watching the bears for about 45 minutes. The polar bears continued to put on a tremendous show while the group took it all in through the windows while enjoying a gourmet meal and a glass of wine.
Two polar bears sparring near the tundra Lodge. Eric Rock photo.
The group also had some stellar bird sightings including four Snowy Owls and two Gyrfalcons- one of each color phase. “The white-phase Gyrfalcon did a close fly-by of our rover deck and it was easy to see why this is North America’s largest true falcon!”, wrote colby. Several sightings of arctic hare filled out the Arctic wildlife checklist.
Red fox in Churchill. Brad Josephs photo.
In town, their luck continued with Arctic foxes out at Cape Merry, along with another Arctic hare and red fox. “One of my favorite parts of the early-season trips is getting on the ground out at the cape and exploring. Devoid of the snow and ice of late-season trips, we were able to find and sample dry-ground cranberries and crowberries”, stated Colby. The group learned about the importance of the colorful moss and lichen micro-communities and picked the cotton-like seeds from shrub willows, used by local Inuit as oil lamp wicks.
Lichen on a rock lying in the tundra. Brad Josephs photo.
Another highlight was finding a recently killed Canada Goose, perhaps a red fox kill. Among the remains was a leg-band that indicated this bird was part of a research study. The group turned in the band to Parks Canada so that they could add the find into the research database. “We’re hoping to hear more from them about the life and times of that goose”, reported Colby.
Topping off the trip was a visit to the Polar Bear Compound, where 10 polar bears are currently incarcerated, to view a bear lift of a small adolescent bear. Another lift just yesterday transported a sow and two cubs about 40 kilometers north. Check out this video of yesterday’s airlift!
Shipping news: At the port, the 14th ship of the season left a few days ago and two more are expected before the pack ice begins to clog up the routes in the Hudson Bay for the winter.