The annual doubts focusing on the Hudson Bay freeze-up were put to rest last week as Winter blew in across the icy Hudson Bay. Plummeting temperatures along with blizzard conditions allowed for the bay to freeze over quickly. All the banter over weather or not this would be another late freeze – up was allayed, by weeks- end as polar bears were journeying out across the frozen surface. Current temperatures well below freezing bode well for a solid freeze -up and bountiful seal hunting for the bears.
Guide Brad Joseph’s group arrived in Churchill just before the brunt of the Winter storm was settling in. After lunch, in town, the group hurried out to the polar bear compound with a couple of other groups to witness a bear lift. A great way to start a trip up North. On the way back to town, along the coast road, some local Churchillians slid off the road into a snowbank across from miss piggy, the old plane wreck, and Brad attempted to help push them back onto the road…all the while keeping a keen eye open for bears lurking nearby. The whole scene was exciting for the folks watching from the shuttle.
The following day the weather deteriorated into full-on blizzard conditions though right after leaving the launch site the group came upon a sow with two coys approaching the rover and lending themselves to excellent photo opportunities. Shortly thereafter, further down the coast road, five large males surrounded the rover. After some sparring in front of the thrilled travelers the bruins began digging snow -beds to take some respite from the blizzard. It actually was quite thrilling for everyone to watch a few of the bears get covered by the drifting and blowing snow. Most of the day was spent in the same area where all these bears were congregating…a great day for photo’s …capturing all the action happening around the land. The increasing windchill forced guests to move in and out of the vehicle to the back observation deck. Despite the cold, travelers were impressed by the power of the Arctic squeezing the land and testing the endurance of the animals bearing its’ burden. Arctic sea smoke steamed in from over the freezing bay pushed by gale force winds. The gusts also allowed for the quick formation of snow drifts. Watching the icy snow crystals blow across the surface was an excellent reference point for Brad to explain the Krumholz affect works on exposed spruce trees. Blizzard, bears and drifting snow..great Arctic weather.
Guide’s Eric and Rinnie brought a photo group out to the tundra lodge and caught the tail end of a busy bear season with five to seven bears still in the vicinity. As the ice formed the bears gradually meandered out to the bay. Seeing and photographing the bears out on the ice is a rare occurrence only a few intrepid travelers capture on film. Just prior to the freeze-up, the wind was whipping over the open tundra and the bears were hunkered down. Almost instinctively the bears rose up and headed out. At last report from Churchill the South winds had since pushed the ice out aways and some bears had returned to land. Not long before they will be gone again.
The final two nights of the season for the photography group unveiled some of the best aurora displays of the entire season. Although Northern lights displays were few and far between this fall, these last couple of nights were absolutely phenomenal to say the least. And, being situated out at the lodge made for even more intense viewing and spectacular images as well. Eric Rock submitted a photo to spaceweather.com and it was published on November 23 on their site. Eric is a veteran at photographing and explaining auroral activity in the Arctic. What a way to finish off a uniquely fantastic polar bear season.