Churchill Photos of the Week- Bears and Helicopters

Some inquisitive Churchill polar bears become frequent flyers on Hudson Bay Helicopters. There’s only one flight route, about 40 kilometers northwest, and chances are the bear will not remember a thing once they come back to consciousness on the tundra.

When bears show a pattern for testing the Churchill town limits and are recurring offenders, they are first incarcerated in the Polar Bear Compound just adjacent to the airport. Subsequent captures either by culvert trap or darting land them there again and they then are flown up along the northwestern coast and released. The hope is they will not return to Churchill during the season though some do. Most times they will be flown out again depending on the capacity of the “jail”, at the time.

This relatively new strategy of dealing with “problem” bears by Manitoba Conservation reflects the importance of eco-tourism in the region. In the old days polar bears would be put down if they were frequent visitors within town limits. These days extreme leniency is given unless the bears pose a critical threat to residents.

These photos show some of the process of airlifting polar bears from Churchill up north.

A polar bear lift is prepared by Manitoba Conservation officers in Churchill, Manitoba.

Conservation officers prepare for a bear lift. Brad Josephs photo.

Hudson Bay helicopters transports bears northwest from the polar bear compound in Churchill, Manitoba.

Hudson Bay helicopter lifting off with a cargo of polar bears. Photo courtesy Natural Habitat Adventures.

A polar bear is airlifted up north from Churchill, Manitoba.

A polar bear is airlifted up north from Churchill, Manitoba. Photo courtesy Natural Habitat Adventures.

Polar bear sow and cubs being transported north for relocation from Churchill, Manitoba. Brad Josephs photo.

Polar bear sow and cubs being transported north for relocation. Brad Josephs photo.

Culvert polar bear traps are taken to the polar bear compound.

A polar bear trap being removed with cargo from Churchill. Photo courtesy Natural Habitat Adventures.

Polar bear being moved from compound to take off area.

A polar bear is wheeled out from Polar Bear Compound and prepared for flight up north. Photo courtesy Natural Habitat Adventures.


Polar bear ready for lift - off in Churchill.

Polar bear ready for lift – off in Churchill. Photo courtesy Natural Habitat Adventures.

October and November are the prime months to witness a polar bear airlift in Churchill!

Churchill Photos of the Week-Aerial Views

Here are five aerial views of Churchill and the surrounding landmarks. Helicopter excursions on Hudson Bay Helicopters are a unique way to view the geography and major landmarks of the Churchill region. Many of the areas can be reached by foot, boat or polar rover though the birds-eye view provides another perspective. Only through this viewpoint can one get an appreciation of the expanse of the land and water in the sub and northern Arctic.

Fort prince of Wales in Churchill, Manitoba.

Fort Prince of Wales covered with snow. Brad Josephs photo.

Traveling by helicopter to a polar bear den the traveler gets a view above Churchill, Manitoba.

A birds eye view from the helicopter above Churchill. Karen walker photo.

MV Ithaca shipwreck rests in Bird Cove in Churchill, Manitoba

MV Ithaca in Bird Cove, Churchill, MB. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.

Tundra Lodge in Churchill, MB.

Tundra lodge. Steve Selden photo.

Port of Churchill in Churchill, Manitoba.

Port of Churchill. Steve Selden photo.

 Come see these incredible views from the air as well as all the wildlife of the Churchill region





Churchill’s Many Points of View

There are many ways to see the natural wonders of Churchill. The diversity of the region and  the various modes of transportation, both land and sea based, afford some truly adventurous methods to see it all. From polar bears to beluga whales to all the other supporting animals in this Arctic cast of beautiful creatures, one can come to Churchill with Natural Habitat Adventures and see as much as you can!

A polar bear checks out travelers on the back of a Polar rover in Churchill, Manitoba.

Polar bear taking roll call at a polar rover.

The polar rover is built from the wheels up by our local operator. It’s an amazing vehicle in its own right though when you see polar bears from the back open – air deck you will really see how magical both machine and bear are.

Polar bear sniffing a polar rover in Churchill, Manitoba.

Polar bear looking for a free lunch. Brad Josephs photo.

You can’t get any closer to a polar bear than this in Churchill, Manitoba.

Hudson Bay helicopters transports bears northwest from the polar bear compound in Churchill, Manitoba.

Hudson Bay helicopter lifting off with a cargo of polar bears. Sean Beckett photo.

Hudson Bay Helicopters transports travelers to see the incredible landscape and wildlife below on the tundra and ice. They also play an integral part in wildlife management in the area by transporting bears and biologists to various destinations.

Traveling by helicopter to a polar bear den the traveler gets a view above Churchill, Manitoba.

A birds eye view from the helicopter above Churchill. Karen walker photo.

Helicopters offer a perspective of the open space and town of Churchill that is eye opening.

Beluga whales in the Churchill River under the watchful eyes of Natural Habitat travelers.

Natural Habitat travelers beluga watching in the Churchill River.

Zodiacs on the Churchill River offer a surface view of beluga whales you cannot get from a bigger vessel where you’re looking down on the whales.

Beluga whales rarely spyhop but do come out of water when swimming.

A beluga whale popping out from the Churchill River near the mouth where visibility is amazing. Steve Selden photo.

My favorite photo from my guiding years in Churchill. The thrill of seeing a beluga so close that the spray from his blowhole hits you in the face..

Whatever mode of wildlife adventure you experience you will have memories for a lifetime!




Tundra Days In Churchill With the Polar Bears

Karen Walker’s Natural Habitat travelers arrived into Churchill on a VERY mild day this past week.  The temperatures have been in the 30’s, with very little wind.  While making a traditional orientation stop at the Inukshuk, the smell of sea kelp was persistent without the breezes off the Hudson Bay. The group ventured up to Cape Merry and  comfortably spent a half hour at the battery enjoying the panoramic views and interesting natural history from Ranger Heather.

Looking out over the tundra in Churchill from the precambrian sheild.

Exploring the precambrian sheild in Churchill. Karen Walker photo.

Later, as the group headed out on the launch road, they spotted an Arctic hare tucked into some spruce branches right next to the road. “We went out to the lodge and spotted three white slivers of bears off in the willow bushes. Two of them sparred in the willows, then moved toward the lodge” stated Karen. “One big guy sat right under the lodge windows looking up at the lodge, while the other two sparred by the propane tanks.  We were parked at the end of the lodge, splitting half of the rover looking into the back of the lodge and half in the front. Once the polar bears settled down in the willows, dinner was served and the polar rover headed back to launch.

On of the first polar bears of the season sports a frosty white coat in Churchill, Manitoba.

Frosty white polar bear on the tundra. Brad Josephs photo.

The following day five helicopters with 15 people lifted off in search of a polar bear den. Overcast with a very light wind….the contingent flew over the fort and up the Churchill River.  A couple of the helis spotted harbor seals on the rocks just below the weir a short ways up the river. “Further up river we spotted some moose.  Some helicopter passengers saw sows with calves, some spotted bulls” reported Karen. The group landed at Deer River to look at an abandoned bear den.  Many of the travelers went inside and snapped a photo. The surrounding tundra was spongy and covered with caribou moss (lichen), crowberries, lowbush cranberries and the fragrant Labrador tea and even some red cranberries above the den. “I love the smell of the Labrador tea as you walk across the tundra.”  stated karen.  The larch/tamarack trees were losing their last needles.  These trees are unique in that they are one of the only  coniferous trees to lose their needles in the winter.

Traveling by helicopter to a polar bear den the traveler gets a view above Churchill, Manitoba.

A birds eye view from the helicopter above Churchill. Karen walker photo.

The helicopters set off again flying across the wide open space, over the ponds and  wetlands across Wapusk National Park.  “We spotted many more moose in the forest -moms and calves, bulls, and bulls with cows nearby.”  On the return journey back to Churchill the helicopters flew along the coast to look for polar bears.  “We spotted innumerable bears along the coast, walking, standing, and laying in the kelp.  In one group there were seven bears right near each other, and 15 bears within our view. We also spotted a couple of moms with cubs.  We flew over the CWMA and the finally the Ithaca shipwreck and into Churchill.” What a trip!

As the group landed and entered the Hudson Bay Helicopter base office, Karen spotted a Conservation officer.  She sensed that something might be happening shortly out at the Polar Bear Compound and she was right. The group hurried by shuttle out to the facility to see a mom with two, two-year-old cubs lifted by net up the coast of Hudson Bay. “It was pretty  exciting for the guests that had just ridden in that helicopter to see it used for the bear lift” offered Karen.

A polar bear lift is prepared by Manitoba Conservation officers in Churchill, Manitoba.

Conservation officers prepare an animal for a bear lift. Karen walker photo.

The group headed over to Kelly Turcotte’s Churchill River Mushing  for an afternoon of dog mushing. Kelly provided interesting information on the dog hierarchy and expenses to feed dogs up in the north, then the guests went out to meet the dogs.  It was “warm” out, so there was a lot of mud in the dog yard and many guests came back with muddy foot prints on their Natural Habitat parkas. After the bumpy and fun ride on the cart-sleds Kelly spoke about a bear that was nosing around his dog yard earlier this season. Conservation officers tranquilized the bear and took him away to the compound.

On the way back into town, the group stopped at the Dene Village monument and learned about the struggles of the Dene people through their government forced relocation. Winding along the RX Road, the travelers stopped to see the Canadian Eskimo Dogs that various owners hold in their kennel yards and then made a final stop at the Town of Churchill sign for a group photo. All in all an amazing trip so far in Churchill!

Polar bear alert….bears and more bears!

 The past week in Churchill has seen dropping temperatures..currently just 12degrees F…and snow accumulations across the tundra. The gray of the clouds and white blanket of snow across the tundra covered the reds and yellows of the land..buried until Spring.

Guide Karen Walker and her travelers were out again on the land in the CWMA when they came upon an rover with crew filming video. As Karen’s group arrived, departed and the polar bear they had been filming became curious and approached the rover. A sub-adult female with a “beautiful face”, according to Karen, she moved to a position right under the back deck. The bear spent quite a bit of time under the deck sniffing many boots and laid down next to the rover as lunch was served….to the people that is..not the bear.

In the meantime, a very dark, nearly black cross fox made a brief appearance gliding through the blowing mist of snow….then vanished. The young, female polar bear moved off and another bear popped out of the willows. Perhaps attracted by the delicious -smelling soup, he had his nose up in the air searching for the scent -trail. finally he bee-lined right to their rover. Standing against the rover and peered in at the soup-slurping humans…what an amazing experience…probably for the bear too…would’ve been better if he got some soup I suppose. As the rover motored back toward launch, a glowing -red fox appeared nearby. red fox in the grasses stands out in the first snow of the season. Brad Josephs photo

 Karen and travelers were guided on tour around Churchill Friday.  Rhonda, local tour guide and  Churchill Summer guide gave a complete overview of Churchill’s history and  culture peppered with ample funny stories.  It was a very blustery day, with roughly 50km winds. “My gung-ho group all bundled up and went for a view at Cape Merry.  The Parks Canada rangers, Duane & Dave, were amazed that the whole group went out in that Arctic weather. ” mused Karen.  The freezing rain was freezing on jackets and the bus windows, so we had to constantly scrape them off.  The waves were crashing along the shore of Hudson Bay. All these effects gave a good sense of northern living. …quite harsh.

“We toured the port & the Town Complex.  A high school volleyball tournament was going on with the kids from down the rail line, so it was busy around the complex & restaurants.  We visited the Polar Bear Holding Facility on our way out of town for our night rover. ” added Karen.

 On Saturday, some guests went on a helicopter journey over the tundra in the CWMA and Wapusk National Parc and had excellent  moose and several polar bear sightings. The overview of the land is simply incredible with scattered thermakarsts and patterned   ground. I highly recommend a tour through Hudson Bay Helicopters to round out a complete perception of the geography. Seeing wildlife from that vantage point also will be a lasting memory.

Later in the morning the group went out to the marina and observation tower for a beautiful view of the river.  Winter has set in, and  freezing rain had an adverse effect on the electrical lines, forcing the town’s power out for a few minutes at 1pm, so the group had to hurry to an earlier lunch, in order to get their orders in while the Seaport’s kitchen still had lights. One of the small foibles that gives the remote town of Churchill its’ character.

 At the outset of the Arctic adventure for Natural Habitat guide Sandra Elvin and her group, wildlife activity was somewhat sparse though great for those moments when the animals appeared. “Our first rover day had three snowy owl sightings, two gyrfalcons, a silver phase red fox, a red fox, ptarmigans and plovers, and six polar bears”, reported Sandra….oh..and an Arctic partridge in a pear tree. Not too sparse really.
Two sparring males stay tuned -up for the ensuing seal hunting season. Brad Josephs photo.
Two sets of the bears were sparring, and the group observed one bear roam in from a far distance. That particular bear came in from a spit of land out in the Hudson Bay considered a polar bear resting area to join in the action.
A polar besr airlifted northwest out of town.

A polar bear is lifted via helicopter from the holding facility.

On their second day on the rover in the CWMA,  a red fox crossed their path on the way to the launch, and later two more foxes revealed their rusty coats throughout the day. “We were lucky to see two different sets of sparring bears -four bears total-, and two gyrfalcons chasing a smaller bird, catching it and devouring it in no time at all.” reported Sandra. This was truly an amazing, rare sighting!
Action continued on an evening night rover tour as a large male polar bear nearby the lodge. Earlier in the evening a sow with two cubs came into view from a distance. Since there have not been a plethora of these sightings this season, this group was very excited to see the family unit.
Excitement gripped Churchill on the group’s final morning as a polar bear was on the north of town near the Brian Ladoon’s stone “castle” hotel. Sandra and travelers were first to come upon the animal and called in to Polar Bear Alert. The group followed the conservation officers and watched their “cowboy” attempt to control the bear. As the group headed out of town for their journey home they were just in time arriving at the polar bear holding compound to see two bears being flown northwest  just before our catching a flight back to Winnipeg. All in a days work ..tracking polar bears in Churchill!


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