As this year’s polar bear season starts to gain in momentum in and around the Churchill Wildlife Management Area (CWMA), the action out on the land is starting to heat up. Wildlife activity is building as it tends to this time of year while the early season aurora borealis opening act has only acted as a prelude to what is looking like some amazing encounters ahead.
Natural habitat guide Lynette and her travelers were out near the tundra lodge when they pulled up their rover near to a male laying still in the willows. There were two other bears visible around the wheels of the lodge,one, a big male, and one more larger male laying about 50 feet north of the lodge. The large male was “great to watch as he would roll over, stretch out about every two minutes”. ,according to Lynnette. ” He was positioned so that we had a nice look at the bottom of his heavily furred paws. We had a perfect view of the male closest to us and he had about a three-inch scar running down the length of his nose.” Could this be the infamous Dancer? I think it might be. While he rested, the two bears by the lodge began to interact and nuzzle each other. Finally, one of the nuzzlers …love that description…walked over to the large male laying away from the lodge and encouraged him to join in the fun. Scar-nose, or Dancer, did not want to be left out, so he stretched, yawned and walked under the front of the rover see what was happening. Once he saw how much bigger those two bears were however, he meandered over toward the lodge instead. Those two kind of rolled around near each other for a while with one continually trying to get a rise out of the other one. Finally, one bear took the bait and the two large males began a spirited sparring match that lasted off and on for about 20 minutes.
During all this scintillating action on the tundra, the sun came out and the bright light was shining down on the bears making even their somewhat muddied coats gleam. “It was beautiful!”, Lynnette summed up. Those two bears then moved on into the willows down in a little draw out of sight of the rover. Dancer and one of the other bears settled in over by the lodge for the afternoon.Quite the scene to witness first hand!
Some excellent willow ptarmigan sightings and a more distant view of a snowy owl perched on a lower spruce branch rounded out the amazing experience of the day in the CWMA.
Meanwhile long -time guide and naturalist Brad Josephs had his Natural Habitat group out the previous night for an evening rover excursion. Rumbling along close to the tundra lodge, the travelers were greeted by five large male polar bears. Continuous sparring ..with three bears going at it at once…provided steady excitement for the guests as well as guide and rover driver. This kind of behavior is always a thrill ..even if you’ve seen it before. Following the action one big male sauntered up to the machine giving everyone an up-close encounter in the eerie darkness.
The following day out on the land in the CWMA, the group was afforded clear, close views of two snowy owls out around Gordon point. One was just 30 yards from the rover sitting on a lichen – crusted stone along the esker. Ecstatic guests were then treated to a third, more distant “snowy” on the rocky beach to the east. Moving back along the coastal trail, sightings of dunlin and white-rumped sandpipers were all gravy for avid birders.
Foxes also darted across the tundra…a red fox was seen running along the coast. He stopped once the rover came into view and then an Arctic fox came along from the opposite direction…skittering right past the rover at close distance providing fine views for all. Brad described the Arctic fox as a one -year old just starting to acquire the beautiful, white fur. Later, down the trail the group caught up with the red fox and noticed he had located a goose wing in the mud. He chewed it up right in front of them, going for the cartilage at the feather bases, as well as the little meat on the wings. Awesome views!