Tundra Days In Churchill With the Polar Bears

Karen Walker’s Natural Habitat travelers arrived into Churchill on a VERY mild day this past week.  The temperatures have been in the 30’s, with very little wind.  While making a traditional orientation stop at the Inukshuk, the smell of sea kelp was persistent without the breezes off the Hudson Bay. The group ventured up to Cape Merry and  comfortably spent a half hour at the battery enjoying the panoramic views and interesting natural history from Ranger Heather.

Looking out over the tundra in Churchill from the precambrian sheild.

Exploring the precambrian sheild in Churchill. Karen Walker photo.

Later, as the group headed out on the launch road, they spotted an Arctic hare tucked into some spruce branches right next to the road. “We went out to the lodge and spotted three white slivers of bears off in the willow bushes. Two of them sparred in the willows, then moved toward the lodge” stated Karen. “One big guy sat right under the lodge windows looking up at the lodge, while the other two sparred by the propane tanks.  We were parked at the end of the lodge, splitting half of the rover looking into the back of the lodge and half in the front. Once the polar bears settled down in the willows, dinner was served and the polar rover headed back to launch.

On of the first polar bears of the season sports a frosty white coat in Churchill, Manitoba.

Frosty white polar bear on the tundra. Brad Josephs photo.

The following day five helicopters with 15 people lifted off in search of a polar bear den. Overcast with a very light wind….the contingent flew over the fort and up the Churchill River.  A couple of the helis spotted harbor seals on the rocks just below the weir a short ways up the river. “Further up river we spotted some moose.  Some helicopter passengers saw sows with calves, some spotted bulls” reported Karen. The group landed at Deer River to look at an abandoned bear den.  Many of the travelers went inside and snapped a photo. The surrounding tundra was spongy and covered with caribou moss (lichen), crowberries, lowbush cranberries and the fragrant Labrador tea and even some red cranberries above the den. “I love the smell of the Labrador tea as you walk across the tundra.”  stated karen.  The larch/tamarack trees were losing their last needles.  These trees are unique in that they are one of the only  coniferous trees to lose their needles in the winter.

Traveling by helicopter to a polar bear den the traveler gets a view above Churchill, Manitoba.

A birds eye view from the helicopter above Churchill. Karen walker photo.

The helicopters set off again flying across the wide open space, over the ponds and  wetlands across Wapusk National Park.  “We spotted many more moose in the forest -moms and calves, bulls, and bulls with cows nearby.”  On the return journey back to Churchill the helicopters flew along the coast to look for polar bears.  “We spotted innumerable bears along the coast, walking, standing, and laying in the kelp.  In one group there were seven bears right near each other, and 15 bears within our view. We also spotted a couple of moms with cubs.  We flew over the CWMA and the finally the Ithaca shipwreck and into Churchill.” What a trip!

As the group landed and entered the Hudson Bay Helicopter base office, Karen spotted a Conservation officer.  She sensed that something might be happening shortly out at the Polar Bear Compound and she was right. The group hurried by shuttle out to the facility to see a mom with two, two-year-old cubs lifted by net up the coast of Hudson Bay. “It was pretty  exciting for the guests that had just ridden in that helicopter to see it used for the bear lift” offered Karen.

A polar bear lift is prepared by Manitoba Conservation officers in Churchill, Manitoba.

Conservation officers prepare an animal for a bear lift. Karen walker photo.

The group headed over to Kelly Turcotte’s Churchill River Mushing  for an afternoon of dog mushing. Kelly provided interesting information on the dog hierarchy and expenses to feed dogs up in the north, then the guests went out to meet the dogs.  It was “warm” out, so there was a lot of mud in the dog yard and many guests came back with muddy foot prints on their Natural Habitat parkas. After the bumpy and fun ride on the cart-sleds Kelly spoke about a bear that was nosing around his dog yard earlier this season. Conservation officers tranquilized the bear and took him away to the compound.

On the way back into town, the group stopped at the Dene Village monument and learned about the struggles of the Dene people through their government forced relocation. Winding along the RX Road, the travelers stopped to see the Canadian Eskimo Dogs that various owners hold in their kennel yards and then made a final stop at the Town of Churchill sign for a group photo. All in all an amazing trip so far in Churchill!

Bountiful Polar Bears and Other Arctic Wildlife

With reports coming in rapidly from Natural Habitat Guides in the Churchill area, wildlife sightings are diverse and plentiful all across the tundra.

Guide Rinie Van Meurs sends his first Tundra Lodge report with inspired enthusiasm from what he says is the best trip ever for this time of the year polar bear-wise in nine years of working out in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area.

Sow and her cub polar bear in Churchill Wildlife Management Area Churchill,Manitoba.

Mother and cub polar bear in the CWMA. Brad Josephs photo.

With a overall count of at least 16 different individual bears, including two different families with two cubs of the year (coys), there was all kinds of varied behavior. Some interesting interaction between sows and other male bears was a thrill to the group as mom made all efforts to avoid the young males with her cubs….sheltering them from potential harm.

A mother polar bear and her two cubs on the move in order to avoid a male polar bear in Churchill, Manitoba.

Mother polar bear and cubs heading for the high ground. Brad Josephs photo.

Every day there were a few polar bears around the lodge, with times up to four animals at the same time. And as previously reported by Colby some of them sparring in the evening under the stars and lights off the lodge. “There seemed to be a group of buddies which liked hanging out together, hopefully they stay in the area” reported Rinie.

Sparring bears before the snow in Churchill.

Two polar bears spar in front of a pond, Brad Josephs photo,

On their first polar rover trip away from the lodge out toward Gordon Point, sparring polar bear juveniles grappled right next to the Rover. Luckily another Natural Habitat group in their rover was in the area as well and quickly maneuvered close to the action. Otherwise, several single bears between the Tundra Lodge and first tower were observed as they meandered across the tundra in stoic fashion.

Bonnie Chartier’s Bird Tracker:

18 Oct, Snow Buntings-10
19 Oct Brant Geese 6, pretty big deal for the province, Black Scoter 6, Gyrfalcon- Gray Phase 1, Ptarmigan mixed flocks- many, Snow Buntings 20+.
21 Oct Long-tailed Duck, Snowy Owl 2 ( didn’t see the snow owl)
22 Oct Churchill- Glaucous Gill 1, Common EiIder 8, Snow Buntings 20+, Common Ravens daily, 6+.


A snowy owl on the coast of the Hudson Bay in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area in Churchill, Manitoba.

Snowy owl perched on tundra near the coast. Brad Josephs photo.

On another rover expedition from the lodge,  two regal Golden Eagles flew close to the rover, as well as a fairly rare bald eagle. A snowy owl perched along the coastal plain near the willows and many other bird species. “Every day we saw Arctic Fox and as this was not enough we had an Arctic White Wolf !!!!! This was my first wolf ever!” stated an elated Rinie.

Come see bears, owls, Arctic fox, and wolves in Churchill with Natural Habitat Adventures.




In and Around The Tundra and Town Of Churchill

Natural Habitat outdoor Adventure guide Colby Brokvist calls NatHab’s Town and Tundra Adventure tour the “Ultimate Trip”!  Encompassing both ends of the region’s diverse spectrum, travelers to Churchill see it all. Wildlife and culture…sometimes the two even blend together in the frontier town on the Hudson Bay.
Churchill polar bear resting on a rock.

Polar bear resting on a rock in Churchill. Colby Brokvist photo.

“We had a great time being immersed in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area, which is the best part of the lodge trips. And, we had plenty of time in town to learn about the area’s culture and history” states Colby. Out at the Tundra Lodge the late day action was heated. “This week, the best sparring took place in the evenings once the town groups had gone in, a real treat for us.” reported Colby. The group finally had to sit for a late dinner after watching the bears for about 45 minutes. The polar bears continued to put on a tremendous show while the group took it all in through the windows while enjoying a gourmet meal and a glass of wine.
Polar bears sparring near the Tundra lodge in the Churchill Wildlife Managemnent Area.

Two polar bears sparring near the tundra Lodge. Eric Rock photo.

The group also had some stellar bird sightings including four Snowy Owls and two Gyrfalcons- one of each color phase. “The white-phase Gyrfalcon did a close fly-by of our rover deck and it was easy to see why this is North America’s largest true  falcon!”, wrote colby. Several sightings of arctic hare filled out the Arctic wildlife checklist.
Rde fox showing a bit of stress in Churchill, MAnitoba.

Red fox in Churchill. Brad Josephs photo.

In town, their luck continued with Arctic foxes out at Cape Merry, along with another Arctic hare and red fox. “One of my favorite parts of the early-season trips is getting on the ground out at the cape and exploring. Devoid of the snow and ice of late-season trips, we were able to find and sample dry-ground cranberries and crowberries”, stated Colby. The group learned about the importance of the colorful moss and lichen micro-communities and picked the cotton-like seeds from shrub willows, used by local Inuit as oil lamp wicks.


Lichens growing on a rock in the tundra of Churchill, Manitoba.

Lichen on a rock lying in the tundra. Brad Josephs photo.

Another highlight was finding a recently killed Canada Goose, perhaps a red fox kill. Among the remains was a leg-band that indicated this bird was part of a research study. The group turned in the band to Parks Canada so that they could add the find into the research database. “We’re hoping to hear more from them about the life and times of that goose”, reported Colby. 
Topping off the trip was a visit to the Polar Bear Compound, where 10 polar bears are currently incarcerated, to view a bear lift of a small adolescent bear. Another lift just yesterday transported a sow and two cubs about 40 kilometers north.  Check out this video of yesterday’s airlift! 

Shipping news: At the port, the 14th ship of the season left a few days ago and two more are expected before the pack ice begins to clog up the routes in the Hudson Bay for the winter.  

Churchill Metis Elder Myrtle DeMeulles

For more than 20 years Churchill local Metis elder Myrtle DeMeulles has been educating travelers to the area about the ways of living off the land and surviving in the sub-Arctic. Myrtle has been giving cultural presentations to Natural Habitat Adventures as well as other tour groups year round for as long as most anyone can remember.

With her trademark dry humor interwoven into a rich cultural historical talk, Myrtle in someways resembles the Grateful Dead…every “show” is unique and takes the listener down a winding road, enthralled by her story.

Caribou hide sculptures were first created by local Churchill Metis elder Myrtle DeMeulles.

Myrtle’s caribou hide sculpture.

Myrtle also has been creating caribou hide sculptural two-dimensional artworks for decades.

Here’s an insightful interview of Myrtle…check it out.

Come see Myrtle and the polar bears in person in Churchill, Manitoba with Natural Habitat Adventures.

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