Live from Churchill

Hey folks…check out our first fresh video of the season from Churchill and Natural Habitat Adventures guide Colby Brokvist out at the Tundra lodge and roaming around the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. Outstanding footage from one of the premier polar bear guides up north. We are so excited to be bringing you right to the shores of the Hudson Bay and into your laptop…um..don’t get too close…they’ve been known to bite a little! Stay tuned for more from Churchill and Colby all season! Nice..see ya soon.

Polar bears mixing it up

Boxing polar bears!

Take a look at the above link to see some amazing footage from Natural Habitat guide Melissa Scott out on the tundra. With the fresh snow and temperatures in the mid 20’s F, wildlife up north is energized.

Guide Karen Walker’s group of MIT alumni began their Churchill trip with a walk out unusually far on Cape Merry,  reaching the old battery via the cannons that utilized to protect Fort Prince of Wales across the Churchill River. A few artifacts rest on the rocky battery for visitors to see. Later on at a Parcs Canada presentation in the visitor Center a ranger brought out some newly excavated artifacts..a nice link to the past.


Battery at Cape Merry. Karen Walker photo.

Battery at Cape Merry. Karen Walker photo.

The following day a quiet drive into the lodge for Karen and group all the way to Gordon Point eased everyone into the feel for the tundra.  After a nice coffee break, a drive along the Coast Road, provided an arctic fox sighting…a first for the group. One traveler actually saw the fox catch a lemming.  Quite an amazing sight.

Arctic fox inquisitive of travelers. Colby Brokvist photo.

Arctic fox inquisitive of travelers. Colby Brokvist photo.

Ptarmigan on the tundra. Karen Walker photo,

Ptarmigan on the tundra. Karen Walker photo,

A sleeping male polar bear was then spotted about a 100 feet away, posed perfectly, looking right at the group aboard their rover  The sun cast beautiful light on the very clean, white bear, highlighting his coarse hair with a warm glow. Eating lunch while all the while observing a bear in the Arctic is a rare opportunity for sure.  After lunch it decided to roll over on its back and roll around playfully to the groups delight of the group. A nap followed to conserve energy.

Precambrian sheild of Cape Merry. Karen Walker photo.

Precambrian sheild of Cape Merry. Karen Walker photo.

Traveling a little further on the coast road revealed another bear walking along a pond  slightly ahead of the rover.  It continued walking toward the rover while another bear did the same further off in the distance. The first bear came within 10 feet of the vehicle and the bear that was more distant followed along the path of the first bear and also came  close to the back observation deck before heading off.  They were both healthy adult bears.
Later on, heading  back to launch, the group came upon the two bears along the trail.  One provided a road block of sorts slowly ambling along in front of the rover. Eventually,  all three  bears were at a distance in a row.  Another bear was spotted, so four bears were in range in the area.  Quite an enjoyable day in the CWMA.The day’s changeable weather provided an exciting backdrop for the action. From overcast to sideway blowing snow, to sunshine, to overcast, back to sun.  A little wind as well provided even more color to the day.



Notes from the tundra

News from the Tundra Lodge came early with a “house bear” as Natural Habitat guide Leah McGowan dubbed him. The lone polar bear set up shop immediately and slept the first week away with periodic displays of energy spurred on possibly from wafting gourmet scents from the kitchen car. He was promptly named ‘Frances’ after a guests daughters cuddly childhood polar bear, of the same name.

Arctic fox inquisitive of travelers. Colby Brokvist photo.

Arctic fox inquisitive of travelers. Colby Brokvist photo.

The bear is a mature male with several scars on his nose and another scar above his right eye. He is lean, though not skinny. He seems like an ‘old soul’ wise and patient…. looking up at you with knowing eyes.

By night three for the inaugural lodge group, four, maybe five bears in addition to Frances had wandered into the area. All seemed to be getting along just fine after a few “discussions” on personal space.
Churchill polar bear in willows.

Photo: Colby Brokvist

The tundra still sporting browns and reds awaits the snow soon to come from the north.

Guide Colby Brokvist reporting from Winnipeg after a “wonderful” early season trip gave rave reviews of all facets of his groups’ adventure. A tri -fecta of foxes graced the travelers presence with red, Arctic and even a rare silver sighting. Out at the lodge there have been at least two a night on a steady basis.

Silver fox scouring tundra for lemmings. Colby Brokvist photo

Silver fox scouring tundra for lemmings. Colby Brokvist photo

Truly the highlight of this past week’s wildlife log was a pair of beluga whales just off the rocky coast of Cape Merry. Amazing to spot these babies this late in the season. Imagine being able to combine summer trips with polar bear season? You could get it all at once. Give global warming some time it might happen.

Gordon Point provided some fine entertainment one day with a ringed seal swimming teasingly at a risky distance from white furred bears. Where else on the planet can you find that kind of drama?

Bird-wise…a list of 23 deep included harlequin ducks and a gyrfalcon….both rare for early season trips. So far an off year for snowy owls..still time though. The air has transitioned to the next level of cold which shall digress another 10 notches before the Hudson Bay Quest arrives in March. Cold enough though for most shallow thermakarst ponds to have a healthy icy veil on their surface….not quite strong enough to support an 800 pound animal.

The “port report” …still oil free..has two ships in port and two anchored out at five -fathom hole in the Hudson Bay. Workers are banking overtime hours trying to beat mother nature before she freezes over the Hudson Straits in the far northeast corner of the bay, sealing off the escape route for outgoing vessels. A long winter awaits.



Polar bear season off and running

Natural Habitat guides arrived in Churchill to furnished staff houses set up for operations thanks to long -time veteran operations manager Darcy Callaghan. Guides hit the ground running in this busiest season and not having to worry about basic needs is always a good thing.
Arriving on a Calm Air charter , guides Karen, Justin and Melissa enjoyed comfortable rear seating and looked out into a near cloudless sky down over the fall colors bordering Lake Winnipeg.  Further north, the transition into boreal forest soon melded into a landscape of scattered tundra ponds. Sights that will endure forever in one’s mind.

On the ground  a light dusting of snow highlights bushy branches sticking through, so the tundra has a greyish beautiful color to it.  The three groups landed to a beautiful calm sunny day in Churchill.  On the way from the airport, a white-headed bald eagle & an immature eagle were spotted on the bay side by the radar domes. Shortly after, on the other side, near the railroad tracks, a nice large red fox with a white-tipped bushy tail zig -zagged across the tundra.

Back in town, behind the town complex, a relatively calm Hudson Bay moored three cargo ships about five miles out awaiting a call to port.  Guide Karen and her group visited the Eskimo Museum then drove the back road stopping at Miss Piggy en rout to the rover launch -site. Once out in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area, a clear evening on the tundra gave way to clouds and only a small line of pinkish- orange on the horizon for the sunset. With a few of the shallow ponds just starting to ice over, the light attached itself beautifully. Some light  patches of snow on the tundra did the same.


Earlier in the day a polar bear lurking along the coast, spotted by another group, vanished by the time Karen and travelers arrived. A group of seven ptarmigans picking buds off the willow bushes were sporting full white plumage…seemingly somewhat early for them at this time. Another group of about 30 ptarmigan flew quite a ways along the lake while gliding above the willows, then finally settled down in the bushes. “Interesting and beautiful.”; noted Karen..adding she had never seen such a large group nor had she observed such extended flight for birds that tend to prefer the ground this time of year.

Natural Habitat guides Melissa and Justin’s groups spent the evening on the tundra and  caught glimpses of a polar bear in and out of the willows. they returned the next morning to see the bear peacefully sleeping by the lodge.
More polar bears in the distance out at Gordon Point were seen lumbering along the kelp strewn beach.

The highlight of the day was a bearded seal up on the rocks nearly three hours before low tide, so Karen surmised the seal would be on the rocks for at least another six hours.  Parked in a perfect spot for viewing, the group observed from the rover for awhile, hoping for a bear-seal encounter.  After about an hour, Val ,the rover driver, spotted a bear walking around the edge of the bay from the east heading toward the group. It was on the move the whole time, but unfortunately,  continued on toward the Northern Studies Center to the south-east. Bear bangers were fired into the air to keep the bear moving and he finally  hunkered down in the willows & eventually wandered toward Camp Nanook. Then just as the group was about to leave they spotted another bear (at a distance) walking from the south toward the coast. After watching intently for a good amount of time, the polar bear finally lay down in some grass and slept.

_MG_2936 Back near the lodge, the bear sleeping by the propane tank got up and moved further away until out of sight. The group drove back across Christmas Lake Esker, finding some more ptarmigan, before heading back to launch.

This early part of the season sometimes has fewer bear encounters though the ones that are discovered can be quite surprising and exciting occurrences.

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