Less than a week ago Churchill was hit with a late season Winter storm. Inevitably the cold season will give way to warmer temperatures though for now the Churchill area continues to cling to below freezing cold. Today the mercury reached a high of 27 F and the Hudson Bay remains ice filled.
However, for the same reason ice forms earlier in the Fall along the coast of Churchill, the land-fast ice and ice just along the coast begins to dissolve more quickly this time of year. Numerous fresh water rivers, including the mighty Churchill River, flow into the bay in the area. This saturation of fresh water freezes faster in the Fall and the same warmer water from the South tends to escalate the water temperature along the coast in the Spring. While the bay remains fairly consistent overall in ice-pack concentration, open water appears in the same places ice starts to form late November. The ice chart below from the Canadian Ice Survey illustrates current conditions.
Once the ice begins to diminish and break up in the bay, nearly 2,500 beluga whales will make their way down from the Hudson Straits in the Northeastern Hudson Bay area. Many females will be giving berth once in the “warmer”…40 F waters of the Churchill River mouth or if they can hold off the birthing, they will make their way up the river to the warmer, often 50 plus F water. This area, 12 -18 kilometers up river provides an incredibly comfortable “nursery” for mothers and calves. When you see the number of whales, many with calf’s in their slip-stream it’s magical. A completely different feel from the clear, cold choppy water around the mouth and in the bay itself. Groups of adult males cruising through the icy water provide action packed viewing quite regularly. Feeding on capelin – minnow sized fish spawning by the thousands in Summer- whales zig -zag across the mile- wide river intently focused on their prey. Meanwhile above the surface, iconic Arctic birds like jaegers, Arctic terns ,Franklin’s gulls and Bonapart’s gulls copete for capelin pushed to the surface by the frenzied whales.
Early June is birding season in Churchill though many species endure throughout the Summer. Wildflowers will begin to bloom as soon as the temperatures allow for the consistent warmer days. Arctic avens will carpet the tundra with their whiteness first followed by waves of others all through the Summer. My Churchill wildflower book looks like it’s been through the washer from 12 years of guiding Churchill Arctic Summer trips. Complete with pressed mosquitos on every other page, the book is also filled with engrained memories!
Although the temperatures will slowly climb into the 50’s F next week and then higher still through June, July and August, the nights tend to cool down to require a fleece and hat most of the Summer. Days for the most part stay cool although Churchill has been the hotspot from time to time in Manitoba. No matter the weather, Summer in Churchill is unmatched in the raw beauty it unveils. If you’ve traveled to this place in Fall for the bears, you will love the Summer….the treasures of the tundra and the waters are different every day. After 12 years I still know there is more to see. Polar bears, beluga whales, incredible bird life and wildflowers…even aurora borealis in later Summer…Churchill has it all and more!