“We just arrived in Churchill today and from shore saw a beluga festival out near the edge of the bay along with Herring and Bonaparte gulls flying overhead indicating a feeding frenzy!” reported Sue Zajac this past week with her first Natural Habitat Arctic Summer group. Up North for another season of ever surprising wildlife encounters, Sue finds a way to uncover all the natural wonders this unique region has to offer. Assisted by local resident/guide Rhonda Reid, the pair have been scouring the tundra and Arctic waters to insure travelers leave no “Tern unstoned”…uh..rather “stone unturned. The former would not be good…those poor little guys have to fly a long way to get their capelin.
In the ponds adjacent to the grain silos the group viewed two -week old herring gull hatchlings nesting on a rock protected by surrounding water, as well as another pair of fledglings nearby. Lesser yellow legs and a female lesser scaup with seven chicks, short-billed dowitcher, red-necked phalarope and attacking Arctic terns suggesting a nest. A molting male greater scaup rounded out the birding extravaganza. The weather was windy and warm with a hint of rain. A background of grain dust filled the air as grain cars were unloaded to fill the towering elevators guarding the Churchill river. No grain container ships in port or on the horizon yet though a small barge left port, escorted by a tugboat. All eyes will be on the grain port this August through November to see how the lack of a grain commission affects the supply and demand of this inland seaport.
As Summer in the north progresses, wildflowers come and go like the tide. Fireweed, an everlasting sentinel, lines secluded dirt roads all throughout Churchill, Arctic avens, the initial sign of Spring have now mostly gone to seed as have many of the willows, hedysarum or Mackenzi sweet vetch, and purple Indian paintbrush color the tundra with shades of purple and red.
Hedysarum or Mackenzi sweet vetch…one of Churchill’s prize wildflowers.
Arrival in Churchill began with a visit down to the shore of the Hudson Bay near the inukshuk behind the town complex. After a long train excursion from Winnipeg, the travelers were content with settling into the northern pace and feeling the ground. The serenity of the Hudson Bay does this better than any other place.
Guide Sue and travelers walked the beach on the Hudson Bay.Photo Rhonda Reid
Day one in Churchill was an adventure out on the water aboard the Sea North 2, a 30 passenger viewing craft made to go around ice flows. The sea north gives people a view above the water and has a front and rear deck for photography. Although one cannot getas close to the beluga’s as you would aboard the zodiacs, this is made for getting clear more interesting photos. The boat is also used to transport the groups across river to fort Prince of Wales. The group made the trip and luckily was prepared with bug nets as the mosquitos were out in full force. when you experience a remote environment you have to take the good with the bad. This is not a zoo where the climate can be made to order. A taste of the real thing , even when annoying, can make the experience everlasting.
Sea North 2 on the Churchill River looking for belugas. Photo Rhonda Reid.
The next day the wind forced zodiacs to stay at the dock so the morning was spent out near goose Creek with Bill Calnan birding and story telling. Always different and interesting. After a visit to the iconic Eskimo museum the group just went with the flow out on the land exploring along the coast near Miss Piggy (an old plane wreck on the rocks above the coastal road) and the fossil beach below it at low tide. These spontaneous days in Churchill always seem to lead into something eventful. Serendipitous to say the least. Back on the outside of town, Conservation officers were dealing with a bear that had just come out of the water and was unwilling to be persuaded back in and along the coast. They chased the sub-adult male along the rocks all the way from the complex to Cape Merry …with cracker shells as a motivational tool. Meanwhile the group followed at a safe distance watching every move…amazing luck with the timing!
The following day was an epic day on the water. With an extended zodiac trip to compensate for the cancelled previous excursion, Sea North tours went above and beyond duty. The biggest problem on the water was the overwhelming number of beluga’s…heads were spinning all about to take it all in. When it couldn’t get any better a polar bear emerged on Eskimo point to the north of the fort prince of Wales. Epic!
Polar bear along the coast in Churchill. Photo Rhonda Reid.
A final surprise was in store for the unsuspecting travelers as the Allen boys, Remi and father Dwight from Sea North had fought the wind the night before and set up a shore lunch site for the group at Cockle’s Point across the Churchill River. Guide Deeds was bear monitor and everyone felt free and safe to wander and explore, looking for fossils and treasures. Some folks just sat on the chairs provided by the fire and watched the river. Dwight told polar bear stories while a light breeze kept the bugs at bay. Lunch, compliments of the Tundra Pub, was outstanding. Hummus and veggies with homemade soup that was two bowls good and cookies for desert. All tasted better than usual givin the setting!
Back out onto the river where the zodiacs just floated back to the dock amongst the whale pods.
Polar bear swimming to investigate the polar rover machine. Photo Rhonda Reid.
The evening culminated with a rover excursion out to the coast in the Churchill Wildlife management Area. After spotting two more polar bears on the way to launch, the group was greeted by Devon and Jason aboard the rover. Coming to rest at Halfway point, two “binocular bears” were spotted on the shoreline at low tide. Just as the group was finishing a delicious barbeque dinner one of the bears got into the water and started swimming toward the rover. The animal came straight to the machine as if he was using a gps…though I think the bbq had something to do with it… got to shore and came straight up the rocks to the back of the vehicle. A rare Summer occurrence for sure and quite the event to conclude an amazing Arctic adventure.