The final Natural Habitat Summer group of the year started off with some nice weather for getting in the cold water of the Churchill River. A few in the group donned neoprene dry -suits, booties and gloves and snorkeled with beluga whales. This is an unforgettable experience ….more due to the frigid water in the low40 degree temp range than whale encounters. Whales become curious and swim below snorkelers at times though often keeping a safe distance. Still, being in the water so close to these amazing beings can ma one forget about the cold pretty quickly.
Later, as the group traveled around Churchill, various bird-life revealed itself all around town. Eider ducks and their young floated above beluga whales just offshore behind the town complex. Whimbrels, Hudsonian godwits and assorted ducks were flocking up for the long trip north and some geese are already in the air having been cleared by air traffic control for the migration. Cape Merry provided a Parcs Canada interpretive talk with Duane overlooking the river and Hudson Bay. No better spot to feel the vastness of the Arctic than the cape.
With a full day behind, some went for a walk around the loop of the flats next to the river and some went birding at the ponds just before the grainery and had some fantastic sightings.. Red-necked phalaropes were the biggest hit for the birders as they spotted adults and juveniles. Ruddy turnstones, lesser yellowlegs, lesser scaups, some with up to 10 two or three- day old young , American widgeon with two-week old young, Arctic terns with young just ready to fledge, a herring gull encouraging its’ three chicks to fly, a Wilson’s warbler, an adult pair of Bonaparte gulls, a semi-palmated sandpiper, a least sandpiper, and a green-winged teal with ducklings. Many of these birds were life species for almost everyone there. An incredible extravaganza of birds all in roughly an hour.
Near the end of the trip the travelers experienced a polar bear extravaganza. Eskimo point provided a raw sighting of a polar bear just out of the bay while the group trolled the water in zodiacs in search of beluga whales. Nice bonus. Another bear was seen on land as a vehicle was positioned just at the right angle to get a great look at a stunning animal. All were happy to get the looks usually reserved for bear season in November.
As the Summer comes to a reluctant close, the aurora shines bright in the night sky. Reports of brilliant lights have been coming in over the past couple of days. This time of year can rival deep Winter for the best times to view the Northern lights. Clear skies and few storms provide awesome nightly activity. Of course one needs to stay up a little later, around 11 pm or so, to get the best looks at the phenomena. It’s definitely worth the late night.