Colder temperatures dipping slightly below freezing and a scattering of snow squalls has provided an Arctic backdrop for more active polar bears and other wildlife sightings out on the tundra. While it has taken a long time this season to cool down temperature-wise, the action in the CWMA is heating up a little more each day.

Churchill polar bears sparring.

paul Brown photo.

Natural Habitat guide Sandra Elvin and travelers had a “phenomenal day” out in the CWMA. In the early morning they headed a long way out East in their rover and spotted a white-morph colored gyrfalcon perched atop the highest point of first tower, an old military observation post for cold weather maneuvers during the “cold war”…how fitting. A majestic icon of the North, the gyrfalcon greets visitors with a stoic glance…more intent on locating a lemming or hare below. Shortly later, as the rover moved further North, a sow with two cubs of the year (coy’s) appeared on one side of the rover in the low willows. The scent of a large male just on the other side of the vehicle alerted mom and she corralled her two young and ran back toward the coast throwing cautious glances back toward the rover and lurking male.

Churchill polar bear on rover.

Brad Josephs photo.

At Gordon Point the group settled in for lunch but were interrupted shortly before the main course by a beautiful, curious and very shy female investigating the guests and vehicle. For more than 30 minutes she would tentatively approach the machine and then quickly back away. Many in the group were moved to tears as her beauty and hesitancy touched indescribable emotions. These feelings took another turn as a small cub, perhaps nearly two-years of age, came running at a frantic pace. He was alone and frightened by many of the larger bears in the area..and there were a good many luring in the willows. Mom seemed to be nowhere in sight.

On their way back to launch, the group spotted many more bears in the willows and a few walking across the freshwater frozen thermakarsts. Bears were on the move ..wandering the tundra. The day finished as it had started with a magnificent raptor saluting them as they passed…this time a snowy owl on a rock across a pond.

Helicopter journey’s  revealing a multitude of moose and bears out around Cape Churchill and feisty sled dogs ushering wheeled carts through trails concealed by willows highlighted the group’s final day …. an amazing Arctic experience for all.

Brad Josephs photo.

Meanwhile guide Sue Zajac and her folks journeyed to the tundra following a day of high winds that caused many polar bears to bed down and rest. As they headed out to Halfway Point in search of wildlife, they were happily distracted by three large bears walking in the vicinity of the tundra lodge. A gyrfalcon glided overhead while the group followed the bruins across the land. The raptor soared above the willows, along side of the rover and then landed on the trail resting on a rock directly in front of the group’s vehicle. A whirlwind of action all around.

Out near the lodge, a snowy owl balanced atop a black spruce swaying in the breeze while the guests took in about 12 bears taking turns sparring in pairs. A few sub-groups of three and four males sizing each other up before play- fighting commanded the attention of the guests. Sniffing each other seems to be a prelude to determining which bear will spar with which. Once paired off, the others in the area move away while two go at it. Almost like an age old custom passed on through generations.

Much like Sandra’s group, Sue’s travelers finished the final day of their trip with an exhilarating dogsled ride through the willows and frozen ponds about 10 minutes outside Churchill with Kelly and Earnest at Churchill River Mushing. After the ride, the mushers invite the guests into the warming tent for a hot chocolate and informal discussion about dog sledding and being out on the land. Thoroughly enjoyed by all.

Brad Josephs photo.

Amid the vast open landscape near the tundra lodge, guide Brad Josephs had his rover positioned right in the mix of the action. Sparring bears dotted the landscape in every direction. While enjoying the amazing photogenic behavior, Brad and group noticed a raven hovering over and then landing in the rocks on the spit that juts into the Hudson Bay. This rocky peninsula is normally a  polar bear resting area but the resident bear the group was viewing through the spotting scope on the rover was certainly not resting. Covered with red blood on its’ face and shoulders, the polar bear was devouring some sort of animal carcass in the rocks. The rover was not able to get the angle necessary to aptly identify the animal. At one point four polar bears were all dividing the spoils and sharing fairly well without incident. Suddenly, a young two-year old cub ran over and grabbed a chunk of meat right out from under the bloody snouts of the older bears. Quite a daring maneuver…but thrilling to witness!

A bit later the original large, bloody boar wandered along the spit back toward the lodge appearing to be in a “food coma” as Brad put it. Brad also thought that the carcass was most likely that of a bearded seal with the slight possibility it might have been the mother of the wayward lone cub Sandra and a couple of other guides had noticed wandering the tundra. The ribbed chunk of meat the female cub was carrying  lead to the stronger possibility that it was the seal.

The next day on the tundra in the CWMA the bears were everywhere…sparring, sleeping- using rocks as pillows-..and just spread across the land as snowflakes fell off and on. Three sets of sparring bears and a sow with two coys kept the travelers quite satisfied to stay in lodge area the whole day. Wandering bears were within sight all over the tundra. A final spectacular memory was forged when a gyrfalcon zoomed right past the front of the rover at about 75mph. Awestruck…it was time to head back to the launch and then to town for some night photography at the stone inukshuk on the town beach.

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