A daily field report on polar bears from our guide Steve Selden in our Churchill, Manitoba office! Check out our polar bear tours here.
Saturday in Churchill was full of excitement as the festivities for the weekend began to take shape. With a professional fireworks display set to go off at night, the buzz around town was evident. The weather was trying to prevent the event as the snow slowly escalated in the afternoon to a full-blown snowstorm all across the tundra, rocky coast and sandy streets of Churchill. Temperature: 27F.
Meanwhile, from our polar rovers, the scene was astounding on the ground…and in the tower…as in First Tower. This landmark as well as Second Tower was constructed in the ’50s and used as an observation post by the military to watch over maneuvers taking place in the frigid cold below. These two decaying wooden sentinels of the tundra subsequently have been utilized in more recent years by researchers to observe Polar Bears in their Natural Habitat (shameless plug…oh yeah, this is the Nat Hab website, not the NY Times). But now First Tower looks as if it could barely support the Osprey nest resting on top of the stoic structure; never mind a Marten lurking inside……yes, that is what Guide Sandra and her group came upon in the morning. The brownish creature with golden round ears and blackish tail peered over the edge at the crowd below. Quite the sight!
Guide Brad and his travelers were near the Tundra lodge where they saw a mom and two cub’s of the year (coys). The family came right over to the rover and inspected underneath for a good 35 minutes. Not that common for such a close encounter like this. Many other bears were nearby including a big male cleaning some mud off of his fur by rolling repeatedly in the snow. Others moved in and out of the willows before settling down as the snow became thicker. Brad reported in that the South wind coupled with the high- tide had pushed the sea ice back North into the bay…good news.
Guide Sue’s crew was out on the coastal trail and witnessed “wonderful” interactions between sparring males as well as a few mothers and cubs. Also, many males practicing avoidance strategies as the snow settled on their backs. One mom and her cubs avoided an approaching male only to be somewhat cornered up against ice covered rocks by another bruin. Maybe the blowing snow finally urged him to halt his lumbering approach so the three could move away safely up against the willows. At any one time, there were at least 12 bears in sight at this coastal arena. Three of these were males combing the beach for tasty 5-leaf kelp buds. Yummm.
Back in town as night finally arrived, the crowd was gathered on the fringe by the town garage. Cars, buses, trucks and snowmobiles parked facing the tundra before the Churchill River. Snow fell steadily in a slight wind as our groups assembled just in time. Magnificent bursts illuminated falling snow and earthen tundra as Churchillian children screamed for more while firing snowballs in all directions. Surreal to say the least and I think it’s safe to say no bears were in Churchill proper that night. At the end of the event, Churchill had its first traffic jam in modern history. After 30 minutes the road was clear and ears were ringing.