This might be the one time of the year -October and November- when just about everyone in Churchill, including the local Churchillians hope for snow and cold. The rest of winter nobody really needs to hope since both come in ample portions. However, polar bear season really needs both. Polar bears just seem so much more…well, uh..polar when they are surrounded by the white stuff. And colder temperatures allow their heavy, fur insulated bodies to just let loose and move around without heating up and feeling lethargic. In fact most of the wildlife in the region tends to perk up a little whenever the “winter” feel arrives. This past week, the weather has changed dramatically with temperatures in the 20’s F and snow has arrived brought in by both northerly and easterly winds.
Inukshuk overlooking the Hudson Bay greets the north winds of winter. Shot in darkness with moonlight. Brad Josephs photo.
Natural Habitat guide Lynette and her group came face to face with Dancer, long time polar bear czar of the CWMA, behind their rover near the lodge. Indifferent to the travelers as he has been around so many over the years, he made a cameo appearance under the grated back deck to give thrills to people never imagining to get this near a polar bear. His foggy breath wafted up through the ironwork and settled on guests sorrels. Soon after the willows beckoned and off he went. A few other bears were lounging around just starting to get some energy from the cooling winds.
Polar bear coming face to face with avid travelers. Brad Josephs photo.
“We headed out toward Gordon Point and were face to face with a snowy owl seeking some shelter from the howling wind. Even though the wind was blowing, the sun was really shining…it was a gorgeous afternoon and we even saw a double rainbow. we all proceeded to do our best “double rainbow” impression. Hilarious. A whole rover of people yelling double rainbow. Maybe you had to be there?” reported Lynnette. The magic of the tundra and the north!
“We also saw an arctic hare doing what they do, hunched up against a rock, pretending that they can’t be seen. The funny thing was that this hare was only a few feet from the lapping waters of the bay. The tide was going out, but still….it was a strange sight. I think Elise’s group saw it first and gave us the head’s up about it.” continued Lynnette. the Arctic reveals all kinds of surprises if you give it enough time. Perhaps the hare was contemplating a swim….on the cusp of an evolutionary discovery.
Guide Brad Josephs and his Natural Habitat photography group was at Gordon Point the following day and discovered a white gyrfalcon guarding the coastal lowlands. Then a young curious, female bear spent some quality time quite close to the rover and allowed photographers ample views and opportunities for great shots. She then cruised along the coast while stopping to eat kelp along the way. Later, further out on the land..more inland .. a beautiful male snowy appeared near first tower atop a black dwarfed spruce tree then down on the land.
Gyr falcon surveys the tundra looking for prey. Brad Josephs photo.
Later on the group came upon a large, scarred up male crossing the newly frozen ponds, walking with a wide stance in areas of thin ice. Apparently some sparring became a little intense. Some bears take this ritual to another level and blood is drawn. Luckily this guys scars were able to heal up without causing much harm.
Back in town off the tundra, Brad led his guests down by the port along the Churchill River just in time to photograph an amazing sunset. As the sun sank across river an awesome beam of orange shot upward into the sky. Ice crystals suspended in the air are a common cause of these strange sunlight effects in the north.
Amazing sunset across the Churchill River. Brad Josephs Photo.
Not to be outdone, as darkness descended, a moody full moon rose through a purple sky above the shadowy curving outline of the precambrian shield beyond the vast Hudson Bay. A red fox weaving its’ way along the bluffs checked out the group to put a cap on an amazing day. As an encore everyone went behind the town complex and photographed the immense stone inukshuk in the moonlight overlooking the bay.
Bonnie’s Bird Report
“The birds are leaving. The past four days we saw, lots of Rock Ptarmigan, a snowy owl, a white phase and a grey gyrfalcon, black-bellied plovers, a white-rumped sandpiper, a few dunlin, there are still some snow buntings around.Cheers,Bonnie”