Churchill polar bears arriving

The bears are coming! The bears are coming! Churchill greets its favorite seasonal visitors, the polar bears! NHA photo.

And they’re off… the 2010 Churchill Polar Bear season is here at last, much to the delight of all involved. Churchill will welcome thousands of travelers over the next seven weeks including such holidays as Halloween, Thanksgiving (both Canadian and US versions) and most importantly, All-Saints Day… which doubles as my birthday. From the first day, the season seems like one long holiday festival with sparkling lights lining Kelsey Boulevard and bustling action throughout town. Excitement and something unique is around every corner as well as every rock along the Hudson Bay.

If the summer season is any indication of what we have in store for us, this October and November there will be prodigious numbers of polar bears in the Churchill region. Bears frequently can be seen in summer, though not normally in the numbers we have seen this year. Natural Habitat guide Sue reported seeing up to 15 bears in July and August while out with groups enjoying Beluga whale excursions on the Churchill River. Rarely does summer see the need for conservation officers to detain bears in the polar bear compound. But this August, up to eight bears were being held at one time. Seeing the bears outside the traditional fall season is uniquely special.  As early as June, guide and infamous bird expert Bonnie Chartier reported “good numbers of  polar bears” on the land all over the area. Another uncharacteristic trend was the frequent sightings of polar bear mothers with triplets in tow. It will be interesting to see how many of these family units are spotted in the willows and snowdrifts over the coming two months out on the tundra. It surely sets up to be a banner year for the polar bear census.

These oddities in polar bear behavior may be warnings of trends in global warming. Perhaps early ice melt in the bay are driving bears on land earlier in the spring up north so that more  arrive in Churchill in early summer. As for the mothers with more cubs, increased snowfall may allow for longer and better denning conditions. At first thought, increased snowfall would seem to signal colder conditions but it actually could oppose such a theory. More moisture in the air stemming from open water on the Hudson Bay and warmer, moist air coming to the region translates to more snow. This is great for denning though the new arrivals will need long-lasting solid ice later on to fill their seal quota. Only time will tell.

For you birders out there, guide Bonnie advised on the highlights of this past season’s sightings. Although no coveted Ross’ gull sightings were reported this summer, there were some birds of a different feather. Numerous Glaucous gulls and Northern wheateaters were observed early on. Due to the warmer days, eastern and western kingbirds were seen on a regular basis as well. With some cold days, sightings of Smith’s longspurs numbers dropped off dramatically from previous years. A few more Long- Tailed jaegers helped balance the bird checklist books of all present. Aside from bear activity, guide Bonnie will be intent on seeking out Brandt geese and Purple sandpipers as well as the usual suspects in the next week or so.  Will this be the season of the Snowy owl or will they be scarce again? How goes the territorial battle between Arctic and Red fox? What will be the big story of this season?  We will see.

It’s looking like another exciting Polar bear season in Churchill is just underway… tune in here for daily updates!

For What It’s Worth: One day this summer in Churchill, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stopped in to announce upgrades to the Churchill airport. Meanwhile a weasel was live-trapped inside the northern store in town and let go. Soon after the Prime Minister was on a flight heading north.

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