Natural Habitat guide Sue Zajac and her first group of the summer arrived by train just a -half hour late…very impressive for the summer Hudson Bay Railway train…to a more moderate Churchill..temperature -wise that is. With hot weather pervasive the past couple of weeks, the nearly on-time train arrival is even more impressive. The heat has a negative affect on the tracks, especially the further north they run, by melting the top layer of the permafrost and allowing the steel tracks to bend slightly. This affect forces the authorities to impose “slow orders” for locomotives to evade possible derailments. Most derailments happen to grain trains due to the extra weight of the cargo. The photo below illustrates an unusual breakdown of a mound most likely covered in permafrost.
Derailment due to permafrost melt. The CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Saskatchewan RCMP
With an efficient start to the adventure up north, Sue gathered the group and headed out to Cape Merry for beluga reconnaissance. With 63F and overcast skies across the vast Hudson Bay, travelers spent over an hour at the cape..a fairly mosquito – free cape at that.
While searching eyes scanned the bay and river, whales appeared at first to be quite scarce until at last out in the direction of Fort Prince of Wales across the river, some smaller groups of 10 or more among hundreds in total, seemed to be resting on the surface and remaining afloat for five minutes at a time. Even some sows and two-week old calves were scattered throughout the larger pod. The mouth of the Churchill River also has swift currents coupled with turbulent water…another possible attraction for the weary leviathans. It will be interesting to follow subsequent beluga behavior this summer. ..a new pattern each season! A “glorious day at Cape merry”!, according to Sue.
On the birding front, the greatest excitement of the trip thus far came from an excursion out to the granery ponds on the backside of the port on the edge of town. A multitude of nesting herring gulls, yellow legs, and Arctic terns greeted the group as they observed with binoculars and cameras. A green winged teal with chicks in- line crossed the road leading out to the boat docks just as the terns began their calculated assault on travelers that were, in their opinion, much too close to cherished nests. Dive bombing terns attacked the group fending themselves off with a long stick. I personally have witnessed the “wrath of the tern”, and although no imminent danger presents itself, an occasional beak to the head can draw blood… A fair warning to keep your distance.
The premature and extended heat this spring has stalled the prolific bloom of wildflowers across the tundra. Many early flowers like the avens have already gone to seed. Hopefully the rest of the summer, with a little cool weather, will provide some late bloomers.