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.
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?
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!
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.
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!