Natural Habitat guide Karen Walker and group arrived in Churchill last week and quickly were offered a taste of the Arctic. On the curving road through, what locals call “graffiti alley”, precambrian rocks are sporadically emblazoned with words of wisdom or love edicts from local Churchillians that have long since moved on to live in the city. Nestled in amongst these rocks ,quite close to the road, a red fox was curled up and half asleep. Travelers excitedly absorbed the experience with awe.
Red fox along the coast in Churchill,MB. Brad Josephs photo.
Heading back to town and gazing out at the Hudson Bay ,cluttered with icy chunks now, the group lingered around the inukshuk before heading over to the port. With two ships in port and another awaiting departure in the bay, a tugboat was poised in the mouth of the Churchill River monitoring the path of departure for the remaining vessels. This is the latest in recent times for container ships to be filling their hulls with grain. Just wondering if Omnitrax, port owner, is trying to to make a case for extended shipping and the ability to ship oil from the port in the future?
Polar bear explores a polar rover with awed travelers on board. Brad Josephs photo.
Out on the tundra in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area the following day, the group had many varied polar bear experiences. Sleeping bears, a sow with coy walking along a frozen lake, a couple of big males near first tower …all were prelude to magnificent sparring out toward the coast of the bay. Three bears were by a frozen thermokarst in the distance with two of them sparring. After watching from a distance the rover moved closer to get an intimate look at the battle. A fourth bruin approached and quite soon all bears were intermingled with sporadic sparring. A couple of the bears approached the rover and one even nosed up through the steel grate of the back deck thrilling those brave enough to brace the cold wind of the day. What a scene to witness in the north. Unforgettable experience for all!
Sow and cubs along the Hudson Bay. Brad Josephs photo.
Arctic foxes also peppered the day with sightings here and there as the rover inched across the land. One pure white animal danced along the shore looking for food as another did the same through the short willows on the edge of a frozen pond. This year has been a bountiful one for these creatures here in Churchill. There is surely a cycle to of seasons for these magnificent creatures. This year is an up year on their numbers.
Arctic fox moves deliberately across the tundra keeping a watchful eye on a rover. Brad Josephs photo.
Another fine spot came on a tip from another rover driver relaying an Arctic hare sighting in Ptarmigan Alley. After lunch the group headed over and spotted twitching black-tipped ears in the willows giving away its’ cover. These black tips are sort of a reversed camouflage to distract predators in the air. The birds go for the more apparent black rather than the more easily targeted white body. When they miss the slight ear-flaps, the hare runs for cover in the willows. Karen wryly remarked that it was, “a good hare day”.
On the way back in near first tower the rover pulled to a stop and Karen pointed out about 15 furry legged ptarmigan scattered about the willows. A nice finale to a most incredible day of wildlife sightings out above the permafrost.
Aspirations for the next tundra day were high as news of a mom with twins was observed out near L5 by another Natural Habitat group led by Melissa. A thrilling afternoon watching the three interact was incredible luck being in the right spot at the perfect time. Looking for bears around the boreal forest near Churchill can be like hunting for treasure in the sea. A little luck goes a long way!
Hey everyone..check out some video from Churchill. Amazing polar bear action from the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. As the season starts to wind down I will be posting more video from the north -country. Also more updates from the remaining groups in Churchill with Natural Habitat Adventures. What an incredible season so far…keep watching for more exciting news!
Colby Brokvist and his Natural Habitat travelers Started off the week in Churchill with a great day of bears sparring on the ponds and an arctic fox running around with an unidentified duck in its mouth. Near the end of the first day, a late season red-breasted merganser with a gimpy leg was seen aside a nearly frozen pond. Tough conditions and a slight chance of escape for these laggards. A rare sighting of a mink running around on the ponds finished off quite the full day.
Young polar bear in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. Colby Brokvist photo.
Polar bear cub roaming the tundra. Colby Brokvist photo.
The next evening on the group’s night-rover, some big bruiser bears came curiously wandering by the machine at the lodge while poetry was being read by candle- light. As the travelers sipped wine an arctic fox was observed running around the tundra.
“Our final day on the tundra was riddled with sows and cubs!”, reported Colby. Overnight, seemingly many males moved out and several sets of sows with coy during the course of the day tested he ice. A good south wind is high on he list these days. “One particularly curious sow brought her cub over to our machine, which of course delighted everyone. All in all, a great trip!”
Sow and cub working the land. Colby Brokvist photo.
Sow and cub polar bears on rocks along he Hudson Bay.
A magnificent silver fox by the navy building on the way to the launch “wowed” the group led by Natural Habitat guide Elise Lockton. “such a beautiful color phase of the red fox”, explained Elise. While the arctic foxes are dominating the scene this year the cross and silver fox are adding splashes of color to the tundra’s ever increasing whiteness.
“Heading out to Gordon Point this morning…we came across Sparring bears just past first- tower followed by curious young bears near Ptramigan Alley…standing up on vehicles, under the grate…all around.” reported Elise just this past week. The bear quota for the CWMA is certainly filling up now.
Arctic fox combing the tundra. Brad Josephs photo.
Other sightings included a red breasted merganser in an open creek past the tundra lodge…a little late to be hanging around the north country. As it flew away the group noticed the duck had only one leg. Maybe a sign of it’s delayed migration to the south. Another thrill was spotted by a traveler as the group rumbled over the tundra trail in their rover. A mink running across a frozen pond surprised everyone, even the local Churchillian driving the machine. A rare sighting for sure!
Sow and cub polar bear walk along a frozen tundra pond. Brad Josephs photo.
All in all the season has been extremely full of amazing sightings…both polar bears and all the other amazing species that reside in the region in the winter.
Natural Habitat guide Sean Beckett returned to Winnipeg from a great week in Churchill with his group of hearty travelers! The action started just moments after landing in Churchill, when they came across conservation officers airlifting a 400-lb bear from the polar bear compound. What an amazing start..even though the group as there to see polar bears not watch them being flown away.
Polar bear airlift from compound. Sean Beckett photo.
Closer to town, various red foxes were strolling along the road as they made their way to the hotel. All this before even getting their keys to their rooms! “We kept the great momentum up with a great bout of sparring by two younger males near the lodge during our first rover day, and a handful of bears walking the coast between town and the launch site.”, reported Sean. Not bad for his first year in Churchill. “Our second rover day was complete with a wonderful encounter with a sow and her cub relaxing on a coastal pond.”, he added.
Big polar bear along the Hudson Bay coast. Sean Beckett photo.
After a long day on the tundra, the northern lights provided a spectacular show, so the group rallied to photograph the aurora at the edge of town by the inukshuk. An arctic fox scampered by tripods to add the cherry on top of a busy day.
Northern lights over the Hudson Bay behind the Inukshuk in Churchill. Sean Beckett photo.
On the last morning traveling to the airport, just when Sean and his entourage had thought they had seen their last bear of the trip, they discovered a huge male sleeping in the junk yard next to the naval base. Polar Bear Alert was quick on the scene to “cracker-shell” him over to the coast and away from town. Hopefully he’ll stayed out of trouble…and out of jail. “The bear forecast looks favorable next week, and I’m looking forward to getting back up north with another group tomorrow!” extolled Sean.
Check out these recent photo’s from Churchill taken by Natural Habitat guide Brad Josephs. Brad has a keen eye for separating the unnecessary background from the subject yet keeping the feel of the place in tune. Even from a helicopter view point the subject is precisely framed and all the excess is trimmed from the shot. This group of travelers on the photo excursion surely learned a lot from their intrepid guide!
Inquisitive polar bear says hello to a group of travelers. Brad Josephs photo.
Moose from a helicopter. Brad Josephs photo.
A moose on the tundra. Brad Josephs photo.
Polar bears on the coast following seal kill. Brad Josephs photo.
Polar bear swimming the Hudson Bay. Brad Josephs photo.