Natural Habitat guide Karen Walker finished up the polar bear season with an enthusiastic and somewhat “seasoned” group. An initial day of dog sledding with Churchill River mushing and Kelly Turcotte provided one of those Arctic experiences that will last in memory forever. Gliding through the packed snow amongst covered spruce trees gave 89 yr old traveler Tina Vilhauer a thrill of a lifetime. She was able to share the experience with her granddaughter who also had a big smile.
After lunch the group was off via helicopter to scout out polar bear dens out near Wapusk National Park. Once located, the abandoned dens were another incredible, once in a lifetime event for most of the group. Tina and Muriel Slavens, a 75 year-old traveler were not able to forge across the snow to crawl through a den so the helicopter pilot hovered just above the entrance on the way back so they could get a closer look inside…a wonderful gesture for the women to cherish. Some of the other guests had crawled into the polar bear den and were able to describe the feel and earthly smell of the hollowed out tundra.
As the group flew across Wapusk National Parc, along the Churchill River they searched the land for moose… spotting quite a few, including a sow and calf and four large bull moose in a group together. As they headed up the coast searching for polar bears all aboard noticed that the ice had really packed into the Hudson Bay the last few days, so it was difficult to spot the bears.There were no bears at Cape Churchill yet…traditionally the last stepping -off point of the season for polar bears heading out onto the ice to hunt seals. Finally heading west, they spotted several bears, including a sow with cubs. Bears waiting by leads of water in the ice for seals and one blood stained patch of ice with indented paw prints around signaled the scene of an earlier seal kill. Returning to town the choppers flew into the sunset, with a hazy, foggy orange sky ahead and a sun dog rainbow off to the side. The final leg took the group over the Ithaca ship wreck encased in the ice in Bird Cove heading back into Churchill at last light. Back in town after a hot dinner the group enjoyed an inspiring talk by local Metis elder Myrtle Demeulles.
The first morning out on a rover produced very little wildlife activity until the group reached a point out east. There a healthy polar bear lumbered along the coast, very close to the rover. Several more bears were spotted out on the ice and then a few minutes of sparring at the tundra lodge. A bear nearby the lodge was licking at its paws for quite awhile. Four other sleeping bears were in view and the tranquility of the animals mixed with the majestic landscape was satisfying to all travelers aboard. The group caught a great view of an arctic fox along the coast …following it with the rover for several minutes.
The following day was stormy so polar bears were either hunkered down in the willows or facing the challenges of being out on the sea ice of the Hudson Bay in search of seals. A bear was spotted along the ice edge at the coast walking slowly . “We did get to see an arctic fox as we left town in the morning, an arctic hare in the willows in Ptarmigan Alley and some ptarmigan popping up and down along a snow berm near the lodge lake. So we ended up seeing all 4 arctic animals that day which is pretty unusual., reported Karen.
“Our last morning was beautiful, so we drove around as far as we could without getting stuck in the snow drifts. We couldn’t get all the way to Cape Merry, but we got beyond Jockville and could see Fort Prince of Wales across the frozen Churchill River. We saw lots of fresh bear and fox tracks, but none were in sight.”, stated Karen. A magnificent morning around the Churchill area.
Just before the groups flight to Winnipeg, they got to see a bear lift of a sow and her two cubs. The cubs rode in the cab of the helicopter with seat belts fastened to hold them secure while mom was slung underneath in the cargo net. The guests really enjoyed that grand finale.