polar bears in Churchill

Polar bears are Churchill’s iconic animal though much more happens here. Bill McPherson photo.

Welcome, everyone,to the premier website on Churchill Manitoba and the magnificent creatures, landscape and people for which we all know this magical place. In the months to follow I will paint you a comprehensive picture of this tiny sub-arctic village on the Hudson Bay waters and bring you closer to all the “wildlife” – both human and non-human related- so you come to know the community and also understand the fragile ecosystem. Churchill and the surrounding arctic environment will offer up interesting stories both current and historical. You all will become insiders on the Churchill wildlife happenings as well as knowing all that goes on in the community.

In addition to regular Blog posts, I will include in- depth stories related to the Polar Bears and other wildlife as well as news worthy stories focusing on the infrastructure of Churchill and northern communities as they relate to Churchill. There will also be stories of the people of Churchill, or as they are better known…Churchillians! All of this will either give you reasons to visit or run in a completely different direction to, say, the Caribbean. Either way I’m sure you will find this site entertaining and come back on a regular basis.

Now for the current update on Churchill. We all love Spring right? Well in Churchill people don’t just love Spring, they live for Spring and the ensuing three months or so of beautiful sub-arctic weather with sunshine mixed in here and there. After a quite unusually temperate Polar Bear season last Fall, the bears finally escaped the confines of the land and headed to the ice in late November in the quest for seals. The Winter provided the usual fierce cold which grips the region in a state of icy suspension illuminated by almost nightly surreal displays of Aurora Borealis. The precious days of Spring come none too soon and soon are gone as they fade into the early Autumn snow flurries, cold winds, and once again icy covered landscape. Although the Summer is unpredictable, it’s much less so and surely less harsh than the frigid Winter in the North. When the ice in the Churchill River and Hudson Bay breaks up and begins to melt and migrate North to Nunavut, all is well in Churchill. Spring truly signals new beginnings here.

As for that ice break-up…this year it began just about a month ago in mid-May when the Churchill River with its’ powerful tide- influenced currents began breaking the thick ice that seals the river into large chunks or floes. These floes finally were able to escape the rivers’ confines when the Southern Hudson Bay along Churchill’s coast began to break apart as well on June 6. This is such a beautiful time when the ice separates and moves back and forth between the river and bay as the tide changes. The greens and blues radiate from the white chunks while birds like Jaegers, Arctic Terns and Bonapart’s Gulls fill the air searching for recently spawned Capelin(small minnow-like fish) below in the water while the majestic white and grayish whales known as Beluga’s begin to fill the steel blue river and bay. The arctic seasons seem to flow into each other and the people of Churchill say it’s Summer when the whales arrive…so ok it’s Summer now. The first mother and baby calf were spotted in the river just a few days ago swimming inseparably side by side.. With Summer comes the avalanche of flower blooms that continues in cycles through the season. Alpine Azaleas, Mountain Avens, Buttercups and even some Vetch are blooming now as Summer is taking hold of the tundra.

The bird scene is frenetic this time of year and true birders appear in “flocks” in the Churchill area. These somewhat eccentric avian enthusiasts tend to feed at places like Gypsy’s on crullers. This season has been a good one and all species that are normally seen here at this time are being seen. All, except, as of yet, the elusive and highly sought after Ross’ Gull. The gull is mainly distinguished from other gulls by its’ patented rosy patch on the upper chest area. Only one or two pair are thought to nest in the Churchill region annually. Natural Habitat guide Bonnie Chartier literally wrote the book on Churchill Birding and we are still presently awaiting word from her in Churchill as to the first sighting this year. If the Gull is there this season, she will find it. I’ll keep you updated on that one as well as other unique sightings.

Guide Bonnie and her birding group did find a spectacular happening only a few days ago (June 19) as did virtually the rest of the town of Churchill. Down behind the town complex beyond the inukshuk in the Hudson Bay, the crowd gathered to watch just offshore as a Polar Bear devoured a fresh seal kill on a large ice floe. A sight like this that close is one of the wonders of the Arctic not soon forgotten and the buzz spread through town as fast as the many rumors that naturally hatch in a place the size of Churchill.

The Geese, mainly Canada (not Canadian as they are non residents), hatched in numbers about three weeks ago and according to contact Rhonda Reid in Churchill are about eight inches tall now. The numbers are prolific as usual as the cute, fuzzy goslings scurry from hummock to hummock. Snow Geese numbers are down however and according to one local expert source they may have flown farther North this season as everything is a bit early this year. Another reason for possibly heading to another feeding ground is that their main spot in Churchill out at La Peruse Bay in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area (CWMA) has been decimated over the past decade by overfeeding. The grasses and sedges along this coastal area, once devoured, find it hard to grow back. Not being halophytic , which would allow the plant -life to grow in soil with a high salt content, the grasses cannot regenerate fast enough in time for the yearly migration. When viewed from the air via helicopter, you can see a swath of bareness similar to remnants of a grass fire on the prairies. It’s not always good to eat at the same restaurant all the time.

Another oddity of the early Spring has been more frequent sightings of Black bears in and out of the Boreal forest up on Goose Creek road between the creek and the water pumping station at the end of the road otherwise known by locals as CR30. Black bears have surely increased in appearance this far North in recent years though it still is a thrill when one is spotted. Their habitat boundaries are definately shifting. Barren land Grizzly Bears have also been spotted as well by Canada Parcs personnel out on the land in Wapusk National Parc.

Caribou have also been in abundance in and around Churchill. Local resident Norm Preteau was out at CR30 and 2 caribou walked right by him. Lucky for Norm maybe our Black Bear was not far behind. Four more Caribou were spotted on the shore road just outside of town and two more in an area called Lyons Park in the Boreal Forest close to town. Moose have been sighted in abundance this year and as Local dog -musher of Churchill River Dog Mushing reported, they have been seen in groups of five or more this season which is highly unusual. In a place called Moose Alley up on North River the willows used to be 10 feet tall in and around the water. Kelly was up there this past Winter and he says they are only two to three feet at most. The Moose are loose and hungry. Numerous tracks confirm the identity of the culprits. Suspects have yet to be brought in for questioning. And, if they have, they certainly aren’t talking.

That’s it for now…next post will focus on the results of this past Winter’s Hudson Bay Quest dog-sled race and its’ uncertain future as well as a full update on the burgeoning Beluga whale season as it kicks into high gear. I’ll mix in other interesting anecdotes as well. Our thoughts and prayers are with local Dene Carolyn Bjorklund as she recovers from successful surgery in Winnipeg.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This