A amazing image of Tromso, Norway often referred to as the “Paris of the North”! The northern lights over Churchill doesn’t make such an impression though they are still quite impressive. The spectacular aurora season begins for Natural Habitat Adventures on January 20th. We look forward to bringing you all the news and lights from the Hudson Bay outpost.
This exceptional post my Natural Habitat Adventures guide Brad Josephs is a story of perseverance and making the best of a situation out of one’s control. An experience can take on a life of its own if the effort is put in!
This last polar bear season proved to be quite challenging after the first week of November due to record-setting early cold weather which caused the sea-ice to form earlier than it has in decades. This was such a different situation from last year when the ice formed unusually late. This, of course, is great news for the polar bears, which need ice as a platform to hunt seals, but when the bears move offshore we cannot find them on our bear viewing trips. I and two other guides were scheduled with the last trips of the season, extending until the 26th of November. These new “family trips” would have been spectacular last year, but this year most of the bears had moved to more than 60 miles offshore, which is too far for us to even find with helicopters! We maintained a positive attitude and tried our best to teach the young kids in our groups as much as possible about Arctic ecology, and have as much fun as possible. Luckily these trips turned out to be fantastic, and we were privy to some outstanding and rarely seen bear action.
Since the early 1980s, the province of Manitoba has employed a force of bear patrol officers who haze polar bears away from town and incarcerate problem bears in the Polar Bear Holding Facility, aka the Polar Bear Jail. When the ice has formed on Hudson Bay, the officers release the bears on the beach outside of town. When the bears see the ice, they lose any interest in prowling around town and head offshore to hunt seals. In my 13 seasons guiding in Churchill, I have never witnessed these releases, though it has always been a dream of mine to see it.
The highlight of the entire trip for most of the group happened like magic. One of the officers came to our group in his truck and asked how many little kids we had. He knew with the bears having disappeared from town that we were going to have a rough time meeting the expectations of the kids. I couldn’t believe it when he told us to load the little ones in his truck so he could drive them up to the waking giant bear for a close look! What an amazing experience that these young guys would never forget. Brett, if you are out there, you are a hero in my book forever!
The next morning we all boarded helicopters to hopefully see bears on the ice. Since the ice edge was an estimated 60 miles offshore, we knew that we may not find any, as we cannot travel that far by helicopter. We were so happy to see many bears! To fly over that vast expanse of rugged ice and finally reach the bears who were hunting seals was for me, a lifetime wildlife viewing highlight. We even saw one of the bears that had been released the previous evening, already more than 10 miles offshore! The climax was seeing a bear eating a seal. WOW doesn’t describe it!
When our helicopter trip was finished the pilot said the conservation officers needed helicopter assistance with a problem bear in town. We loaded the bus and sat at a high point in town and waited for the action, and found it though it was a little too close for comfort, but very exciting for the kids.
What an awesome trip! I am so glad it was so thrilling for the kids, as getting the young generation interested in our natural world is the only way to ensure conservation in the future.
Check out Natural Habitat’s new family trips if you want to take your kids on an educational adventure that is parent and kid friendly. Let us plant seeds of appreciation for the natural world in the young ones and encourage a new generation of conservationists!
Keep exploring! Brad
With Churchill’s northern light season just about a month away, here’s a video clip from Natural Habitat Adventures guide Drew Hamilton in the great white north….soon to be the great “green” north! Of course, aurora borealis occurs throughout the year in the Arctic and sub – Arctic, however, January through March is the prime window for viewing, when skies are the clearest. The Hudson Bay on the Churchill shores freezes over and no moisture rises to form cloud cover or fog. This season is promising to be one of high-intensity auroral action as we are still in a cycle of heavy solar flare activity. We will be posting regularly with all the news and views from the heart of the northern lights action in Churchill!
Wow..what fantastic shots from Churchill photographer Alex De Vries – Magnifico from the tundra. These polar bears and Arctic hare appear healthy and happy as they meander the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. Another polar bear season in Churchill has come and gone with the Hudson Bay ice forming just as the season finished up. The infusion of travelers to Churchill this past October and November hopefully provided some relief from the saga of the train not running. Wishing all Churchillians an uplifting holiday season and new year ahead!
With an earlier than usual freeze-up of the Hudson Bay, Churchill polar bears were able to get a jump on their winter fat storage process. Seals were being devoured about 10 miles offshore and this opportunistic polar bear has just finished up a delectable dinner to keep him going for awhile. Let’s hope this winter supplies these voracious polar bears with the food they need to survive the summer months.