Sunlight filtered through dark embedded clouds throughout the Southwestern Hudson Bay providing a break in the overcast windy trend of the past few days. With the town of Churchill in full-on polar bear season mode, the main attraction seems to be increasing in numbers as well as activity level all across the tundra. Cooler air allows the water covering the land to freeze up and allow polar bears to travel more easily and directly.
The shipping process is finally in motion again as two new vessels have replaced the two previously quarantined at the dock due to high winds. Two others remain out in the bay to finish up the season at 22 total vessels for the season. Grain arrives in Churchill by way of railroad boxcar as soon as Summer harvest in Western Canada-mainly Saskatchewan- allows. As soon as enough boxcars accumulate to ensure a viable trip down South, then they are taken out. Right now 126 empty cars stretch from just past the port away from town like a makeshift wall between Churchill and the river to the East. The Via Rail passenger train, filled with weary, excited travelers, pulled in just a couple of hours behind schedule in the foreground on the main line greeted by the bustling historic train depot.
Meanwhile, the tundra of the CWMA was bustling with polar bear activity. Guide Sue had her group out around the flats region where five bears filled the landscape. Two males came together and sparred for about 10 minutes thrilling all on the rover. A mother and cub around First Tower near Ptarmigan Alley provided additional photo fodder. Then, out along the tidal flats North of the tundra lodge, a mom and two cubs were the highlight of the afternoon as they moved across the horizon with the Hudson Bay and dark lined clouds as a backdrop. Another five bears were all around the tundra lodge under the train -like structure and near the willows. All in all a “fantastic day” according to Sue….her travelers concur I’m sure.
Guide Paul and his contingent of avid folks were greeted soon after leaving launch area out near the tundra lodge by a female polar bear. She seemed to be ushering rovers into the area surrounding the lodge. Shortly after that action, they were fortunate to have one of those big males, this one about nine feet long, near the lodge, find the energy to climb up against their rover rearing his huge paws only a foot below the top rail of the back platform. A lot of arctic air was sucked in by those present.
The group then headed out East to the land by the first tower and ate lunch while watching the interaction between a sow and her cub. A change of pace from the earlier experience though just as exhilarating for all. As the pair moved off a for privacy, Paul’s scope allowed for great looks at nursing behavior. With another few active bears at Halfway Point and some great ptarmigan sightings, Paul described this as “the best day of the season”.
Guide Karen and her group enjoyed an enchanting evening dinner on the tundra lodge amid beautiful soft, glowing light before sunset. The mood was surely enhanced when a large playful male polar bear started chasing a pure white arctic fox in and out of the nearby willows. This amazing encounter persisted until another two arctic foxes decided to join the fun. All through dinner the animals darted in and out of the willows sometimes reappearing on the other side of the lodge or underneath the grated observation decks linking the different rooms of the lodge. Finally, the bear had enough and paused for a while, sniffing at boots through the metal grate. Then, as the lodge driver pulled his rover up to dock at the rear supply door, the bear sauntered over and stood up against the vehicle as all watched..even as chocolate moose waited on the table. Willpower.