Temperatures fluctuated between 20F and 27F in the Churchill region. It seems Indian Summer has some staying power here in a time that can be much colder with gale force winds. Both those conditions have been infrequent to date. The sea ice remains distant in the Hudson Bay while very minimal land -fast ice has materialized thus far. Our groups will be gone before the bears are this season.
Out at the Tundra Lodge three sets of sows and cubs continue to mill around the living quarters. Two mothers each with two cubs and one mother with one cub caught the eyes of all as they meandered in and out of willows and underneath the lodge. Meanwhile sparring males, also at the lodge, allowed for an interesting dichotomy between their roughhousing and the cuddling and sporadic nursing of the moms and cubs all within one span of vision. At one point during the day there were three sets of male sparring at the same time. While the bears were surely the marquee act on the tundra stage, an Arctic Fox also appeared twice during the day…once at dawn and again at dusk. Another thrill for the people on the lodge with Guide’s Rinnie and Leah was seeing a Snowy owl hanging around along the coastal road. And they all will not soon forget the three tantalizing nights of aurora borealis activity in a secluded, supremely dark location. Another amazing trip.
Polar bears sparring near the Tundra Lodge. Elise Lockton photo.
Guide Sue and her people enjoyed a perfect morning. The start of the day, near Halfway Point, featured two large males and 2 smaller bears right under the grate of the back deck sniffing soles. Bears have an incredible sense of smell and can pick up a scent from miles away. Their sensory cells must be on overload once they are up close and personal with our travelers. Also at Halfway Point, three big males walked around the rover all within 10 yards. All this action was in the books before 10:00 AM. Out by the lodge a mother with her newborn (or “COY”: Cub of the Year) and another mom and two Coys were frolicking and grouping together for warmth. A number of males were sparring off and on as well while a bear was asleep in the kelp out near the coast.
The day became a little more interesting around two o’clock, between the lodge and Gordon Point, when Sues’ rover became stuck in a shallow pond as the ice gave way. When the driver tried to climb out of the slushy mix, the tire punctured and the group had to endure a tire change. A good story down the road for sure. Later, in the waning light, the group was rewarded for their patience as the stellar sunlight was an exquisite backdrop for an Arctic Fox appearing in the distance. Curiosity got the better of him and he winded his way over to the machine as the group remained perfectly quiet. After spending some time, the creature passed by the side and wandered away disappearing into tundra and sky. Later in the evening, the group capped a fantastic Churchill day by taking in an aurora display out at Cape Merry. With brilliant white stars as a backdrop in the steel black sky, the greenish arc of lights curtained out over the gurgling, vast void of the Hudson Bay.
Guide Jared and crew saw what Jared stated as “the most bears I’ve ever seen at one time”. Seven sets of families, several sparring bouts at the lodge and bears lounging out East were the main events of the day. On the way back in to town, all eyes were treated to several Red fox along the way. Another spectacular day on the tundra.
Conservation officer Graham reports that the Polar Bear Compound, fondly known as D20, is at capacity of 26 Polar Bears even after multiple bear lifts this past week. This really comes as no surprise given the constant sightings and incidences day and night around Churchill. Sleep is hard to come by for Conservation officers trying to secure the town from the furry interlopers. Bears are very restless as the sea ice has blown out into the Hudson Bay and the temperature has remained just below freezing at about 25F. This bodes well for all our avid bear watchers being treated to a banner season that just seems to keep getting better by the day. No complaints here.
Polar bear holding facility in Churchill. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.
Speaking of bear lifts, travelers in Guide Jared’s group received an unexpected bonus as they were whisked out to the compound just in time to witness a bear evacuation bound for the Seal River area. While waiting at D20, the plot thickened! A mother with her two cubs appeared just over the rise to the airport side and headed directly for the jail, as it were. It seems odd that potential prisoners would be chased away after quite plainly showing up to turn themselves in; but that’s what happened…crackers anyone? The lift was “carried out” over an awestruck audience and you can bet the cell wasn’t vacant long at all. Jared’s folks were allowed the rare peek inside the compound from the open entrance. Earlier that morning the group had watched as a bear was chased from behind Northern Nights hotel. The huge, though somewhat skinny bruin, retreated up the hill and eventually was forced out toward the bay in the direction of Cape Merry then across the river. Not long after this event, the phenomenal morning was culminated by sightings of a Red Fox, large male bear and a sow with two cubs all just off the coast road back east of town. An unbeatable few hours in Churchill.
Guide Karen and her group also came upon a “chase-out” when they were touring toward Cape Merry just past the Anglican Church and the cracker shells rang out. The big bear was in the willows just over the hill and was not cooperating. Finally, a Hudson Bay Helicopter was summoned to hover lowly over the area thus stirring up the snow cover. This did the trick as the bear retreated across the road toward Jockville and down to the beach. Continuing on, the group’s bus reached Cape Merry in time for a view of the aforementioned bear-lift trolling directly overhead, across the river and past Fort Prince of Wales. If only La Peruse could see this. The group then heard another set of crackers and watched a bear swimming back toward town just off the coast past the rocky shore. Intense.
From the air; Guide Paul reported his guests seeing some Caribou in Wapusk National Park. These, have been the first reported sightings this season of the ungulates from the helicopters. Many bears moving all over the park including a mom and cubs when the group landed at Nester 2 for some, albeit brief, tundra time. The flight over the expansive park is always a surprise for all.
Guide Brent also reported constant movement of over 40 bears his group saw throughout the day in the CWMA. They headed out early to the coast and caught bears in kelp beds, on the edge of the ice, and tag- team sparring where two bears would go at it then rest while another two wrestled upright with heavy limbs and paws. The day had began by seeing an Arctic Hare… “right out of the chute” as Brent aptly phrased it. This surely was a good omen for the rest of the day. It all came together in the awesome, soft light on the tundra.
All in all, it was craziness out there….even when Guide Sandra’s travelers’ rover was held hostage by an aggressive male. After sampling the mud flaps behind most of the wheels, he stomped, huffed and chuffed for a long while before allowing the vehicle to move on. This all happened just past the launch site. After that, the day included many, many bears, an Arctic Hare and some Glaucous Gulls mostly out near Gordon Point.
The perfect finishing touch to an amazing day was an aurora display later that evening following the cultural presentations.
Conservation must be running low on cracker shells as Churchill is clearly under siege by Polar Bears. Seemingly non-stop fire, day and night, continue keeping everyone on their toes. I cannot remember any season in the past ten or so with so many bear incidents near town. Everywhere we go there are bears. The combination of them being very healthy and the lack of any severe weather have kept the flow of bears moving all around Churchill. Bear lifts seem to be a common occurrence as film crews are happily financing some while others are on Conservation’s tab.
A bear lift relocates the animal about 45 miles north of Churchill. Katie deMeulles photo.
Guide Eric and his photography group roamed around Cape Merry in the fantastic light. Blustery wind kept the animals in shelter though they did come across a Red fox sleeping. He was unfazed by his sudden fame and only raised his head a single time just to keep the shutters snapping. Capturing the amazing geological presence of the Canadian shield and the beautiful starkness of the partially snow covered rocks as they flow into the Hudson Bay and Churchill River was the challenge of the afternoon.
The rarest and most incredible find of the day however was Guide Paul’s contingent coming upon a Wolverine with its’ dark brown chestnut body just below the cemetery as the group was heading to launch for a day on the tundra. Its’ short, bushy tail was flailing around while it ran with short strides through the rocks and willows over to the dog yard finally bounding across the meadowy area into the distance. This was a first sighting of the long-rumored, elusive creature this season. And a rare one at that. Later, the insanity on the tundra continued with many mother and cub family units and sparring males continuing to hone their skills while building muscle and respect. The group spotted between 12 – 15 bears over the course of their day. Red Polls were spotted as well in small doses fluttering over the tundra.
Guide Sandra and travelers were enthralled with incessant sparring by heavy male Polar Bears out towards Halfway Point. The bears were really getting into character in the afternoon light as their white fur, which is actually clear… appearing white as it absorbs light, was red stained from each other’s blood. No major injuries were sustained as the bears seem to know when to back off each other before inflicting any damage they may jeopardize survival. In such a stark environment of white and gray, the red stands out and highlights the fragility of life even of these massive animals. Another unique day in the North.
Northern lights illuminate the Canadian Shield in Churchill. Discover Churchill photo.
Omitted from last night’s report was the astounding aurora action that took place at around 9:30 PM. Guides gathered their groups at the Northern Nights hotel and Hudson Square outside the Seaport Hotel. A magnificent green swath across the sky brightened and faded for two hours or more while oohs and ahhs filled the fairly warm (26F) air. This was easily the premier aurora display of the season so far…no question. Guides Melissa, Brent, Karen, Scott and Paul all had some very thrilled folks on hand. The Tundra Lodge also reported a surreal happening with shadowy bears glimmering under the greenish glowing sky. Wild times.
The following day began with a soothing glow of sun flowing into town right down Kelsey Blvd. The marbled sky allowed for amazing golden light with long shadows over the snowy tundra throughout the day. As the day ebbed, Guide Karen and group framed a big male polar in the foreground with the orange glow of the sunset filling the sky. The day was punctuated mainly by mothers and cubs extremely wary of male bears all over the land. This area out towards Gordon Point had numerous family’s evading the aggressive males by running away. “Too many bears to count” was how Karen summed up the experience.
Guide Paul and his travelers also were came upon numerous mothers with cubs both around the lodge and out towards Gordon Point. Sheer numbers were difficult to count( easily 30) and bears were moving on the land. The excellent light was perfect for the avid photographers in the group.
From the air on our helicopter excursions, travelers were seeing numerous bears all over the tundra in Wapusk National Park. The talk of the trips for days has been a moose kill being fed on predominantly by a mom and two cubs. Occasionally single bears were spotted but mostly the family unit. When groups were close by overhead, some witnessed the red muzzles of the animals when they glanced skyward at the chopper. Need a napkin momma?
A daily field report on polar bears from our guide Steve Selden in our Churchill, Manitoba office! Check out our polar bear tours here.
The town of Churchill welcomes the 2010 Olympic Flame! Image copyright VANOC/COVAN.
The Olympic Flame gets a lift on an alternative mode of transportation - a tundra rover! You can see the torch bearer on the left side at the back of the vehicle. Image copyright VANOC/COVAN.
I have never seen Churchill like this. It felt like “big” the minute I walked from the house a short distance to the office on Kelsey Blvd. (aka Main St.) Lingering snow ceased and the cloudy sky seemed illuminated from behind by the previous night’s pyrotechnics. The air was simply a perfect temperature (26F) for the anticipated event and day surrounding it. Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) throttled up and down the road on four-wheelers keeping the way clear for the ensuing motorcade. Soon, lights from SUV’s were flashing in the distance and even the forlorn, hulking grainery at the other end of town seemed to glisten like a chateau in the Loire Valley. People lining the streets waved plastic flags given away by Coke, an Olympic sponsor, in a cheap attempt to shine its’ own light on…well…itself and…oh yeah… the Olympics. Anyway, this was lost on most and the amazing spectacle of the Olympic torch relay came into town at exactly 9:14 AM. As the first runner jogged slowly past, camera’s; mine included, clicked away. The flame was intense as my eyes took it all in. A place like Churchill, so cold and stark most of the year is the perfect setting for the flame. And being such a remote, tiny community seemingly far away from most of the world, the symbolism of the flame and the feeling of a unified bigger world it inspires is maximized. Once that feeling of oneness takes hold of you it stays…even after the torch is on its’ way to the next community. I can’t explain why I followed that torch through town, back up Franklin St. toward the Hudson Bay, up onto a GWB Rover, down behind the town complex building, off again, back through town and into Hudson Square where it ignited the cauldron; but I know it felt amazing to be present. Being an athlete myself, I know the good that comes from that realm of life…and the everlasting hope and truth from competition between men and women that is settled only by scores and not loss of life. The incredible hope from this flame’s light is what really shines.
As the Olympic Winter festival was continuing on in town with tent, music, bonfire, brats and oh so many souvenir Coke bottles being given away, there was quite another amazing spectacle happening on the tundra in the CWMA. Guide Brent and group rolled up to a mother bear and two cubs just outside of launch and they proceeded to get very friendly with machine and travelers above. The early morning glow through the clouds was spectacular. Later near the Lodge, another mom and two cubs were wrestling around in the snow as yet another mother with, yes you guessed it, two cubs walked slowly on a glistening distant icy pond. Bring your kids to work day I guess! All in all Brent’s folks spotted an incredible 40 bears on the day. The stunning light was just as remarkable. Later, out by the coast, a young male flushed out a flock of Willow Ptarmigan by the rocks then proceeded to climb up on those rocks, pile up some snow for a pillow and take a nap. Yawwwwn.
Guide Scott and group also had many mother and cubs encounters as well as a Mourning Dove at first Tower being watched intently by now-resident Marten. Once leaving there, they watched sparring males just after the turn in the inland road. Sleeping bears in the willows, a few big bears along the coast, and one bear that hung out at the rover along Ptarmigan Alley all made for a full day. Then add the mom and yearling cub that played under the grate of the rear deck on the way back to launch; and his group was literally “over the top” for bear viewing on the day. I don’t think it gets better than this.