There’s No Geese Like Snow Geese – Nestor 2 History

Anyone that has worked in Churchill over the years has heard of Nestor 2 goose camp. And, if you’ve traveled to Churchill to see the incredible wildlife within the last 20 years you have seen and most likely heard the plight of the snow geese population. Snow geese have been prevalent out on the tundra and mostly out east near Cape Churchill at La Perouse Bay for decades.

Map of Churchill coastline on Hudson Bay.

Map showing the Hudson Bay coastline around Churchill and location of La Perouse Bay. United States Geological Survey image.

About 40km down east from Churchill on an island in the Mast River lies a few rustic cabin structures with wire fencing around them known as Nestor 2. The iconic 40 year-old bird research camp also known over the years as Camp Finney, Queens University Tundra Biology Station and the Snow Goose Camp has a storied history that continues to this day.

In 1968 Fred Cooke and Ken Ross journeyed to Churchill with a grant from the Canadian Wildlife Service to study a newly discovered snow goose colony around La Perouse Bay and decided this location would be ideal for long term research of the birds.

Researchers at Nestor 2, 2005

Researchers at Nestor 2 round up snow geese for banding in 2005. Left to right: E. Horrigan (graduate student), G. Jackman, Rocky Rockwell. Parks Canada photo.

An initial cabin dwelling some distance from the study area at Knight’s Hill Esker was abandoned and graduate student George Finney, project supervisor, decided a camp nearer the study site was needed. With tremendous assistance from Dave Yetman and Lindy Lee at the Fort Churchill Rocket Range, two trailers and a prefabricated cabin were dragged along the ice on a track vehicle in May before the break-up occurred.

Lindy Lee and Cat

Original Camp Finney building and trailors being moved to La Perouse Bay. George Finney photo.

“Camp Finney” now became the research station for the prolific snow goose camp. A typical season to this day has workers arriving in late April and staying through late July to band numerous flightless geese. Extended daylight hours enable researchers to work long days.

Camp Finney, 1976.

Camp “Finney” as it stood in 1976. Parks Canada photo.

By the mid 1970’s and 1980’s Nestor 2 had expanded in scope and studies of other sub-Arctic bird species was becoming internationally respected in the science world. Films by CBC, BBC, and Television Francaise focused on the work being done there. The snow geese research was cited internationally as the largest avian population study and garnered many awards.

Focus of the camp has transitioned immensely since those early days of a rare snow goose outpost. With annual geese numbers rising steadily between 5% and 10%, environmental damage began to occur. The salt marsh area known as La Perouse Bay became ravaged by the geese which then had repercussions on other wildlife species in the area. Research soon became more focused on the plight of the destruction zone and how snow geese should be managed. Professor Bob Jefferies from the University of Toronto led this new path in research until he passed away in 2010. Dr. Rocky Rockwell from the American Museum of Natural History, who had taken over for Fred Cooke in 1992,  took over complete leadership at that point. Focus has shifted even more these days with the inclusion of the affects of global climate change on the interaction of species.

Snow geese culls over the last decade or so have done little to reduce the population numbers. However, Churchill numbers around La Perouse Bay are down considerably since vegetation essential to gosling rearing is gone. Wapusk National Park still hosts large snow geese colonies today.

Snow geese damage at La Perouse Bay near Churchill , MB

This 1999 photo of Dr. Rocky Rockwell with a vegetation exclosure that protects from feeding snow geese. The problem was in the early stages then. Grand Forks Herald photo.

For more in depth study of the La Perouse Snow Geese research you can read,“The Snow Geese of La Perouse Bay: Natural Selection in the Wild by Rocky Rockwell, Fred Cooke and David B. Lank.

Seven Secrets to Churchill Curling Fun

If you have been one of the lucky ones to have tried curling in Churchill while on a wildlife adventure to see polar bears or perhaps the northern lights you have surely had some fun and laughs. The game is slowly spreading in popularity throughout the United States but still remains an enigma to most outside of Canada.

Churchill Curling club participants from Natural Habitat Adventures. Churchill, Manitoba.

Churchill Curling club participants from Natural Habitat Adventures. Karen Walker photo.

Here are a few secret tips to Churchill curling at the rink inside the town complex. if you have not yet ventured to Churchill, try and include this activity in a future trip to the polar bear capitol of the world.

1. – Unless you know the caretaker of the curling rink personally it will first be a little tricky to even find the somewhat hidden location of the rink and confirm that the ice is in place. Yes, it’s in the town complex but the entrance is located in a less frequented hallway with no exterior windows to view in.

2. – The rules of the game are fairly complex and it will be impossible to pick them all up in one session. The main thrust of the game is to “throw”…rather glide on the ice, eight stones weighing 42 lbs. with handles and try to get closest to the middle “target” button or painted spot underneath the ice. There’s quite a bit of strategy to all the throws leading up to the final stone for each team of four.

3.– Understand that “sweeping” is not the kind you do in your home to clean up. Sweeping in curling involves two of the four teammates sliding ahead of the stone, with special shoe pads, and a special broom, that more accurately resembles a padded squeegee. The idea is to adjust the sweeping in front of the “stone” to manage the speed and for the really experienced sweepers even the direction to a slight degree. I was able to play this position in a local fun “bonspiel” in Churchill once and found it to be very fun and incredibly effective when you get the hang of it.

Curling in Churchill, MB.

Churchill curling club conducting league games. Churchill Curling Club photo.

4. – When the skip, the person who throws the stones, yells “hurry”, it is quite entertaining and unique to this sport. What he/she is requesting is for the sweepers to sweep faster in front of the stone and therefore create a smoother and faster surface. The stone will increase in speed by a very slight amount though this may be the difference in a winning shot.

5. – Don’t touch the stones until the shot is over. This includes the sweepers and any teammates waiting at the end of the sheet for the stone to arrive near the target. If anyone on a team touches the stone, even with a broom, the shot is disqualified. Bad etiquette.

Natural Habitat travelers enjoy a curling experience in Churchill. Karen Walker photo.

Natural Habitat travelers enjoy a curling experience in Churchill. Karen Walker photo.

6. – The curling lounge is almost as important as the curling rink itself. Churchill’s club lounge is a glass enclosed facility that is heated and overlooks the rink from above. A huge part of the curling experience is the camaraderie before, during and after the game or games are being played. Churchill, being such a tight knit town in a generally cold weather environment, especially tends to unite through this activity and gathering space.

Churchill Curling Club in Churchill, MB

Inside the Churchill Curling Club lounge. Churchill Curling Club photo.

7. – Plan on an unforgettable experience of a lifetime. This very well could be the only time in your life that you can experience the fun of playing this age – old sport. When I participated in the tournament in Churchill I was convinced I would return home to the US and find a curling club to join…that was 10 years ago and I still have not played the game again. I did return with a trophy since I was paired up with some of the town’s best curlers. Enjoy it while you have an opportunity!

Churchill Photos of the Week- Foxes On the Tundra

Arctic and Red foxes compete for territory in Churchill and many seasons we see both on the tundra around town and out in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. Often, alternating seasons of proliferation provides an abundance of one species or the other. More often than not, Arctic foxes are sighted with more regularity then red foxes in and around the Churchill region. Trapping and diseases such as rabies have limited the numbers in the past. Populations seem to rebound and both species can be seen and photographed throughout the year. Enjoy these images from Churchill!

Arctic fox on the tundra in Churchill, Manitoba.

Arctic fox on the Churchill tundra. Courtesy Natural Habitat Adventures.

Arctic fox sniffing the tundra for prey in Churchill, Manitoba.

Arctic fox sniffing the tundra for prey. Brad Josephs photo.

Red fox on tundra in Churchill, MB

Red fox on the tundra. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.

Red fox in Churchill, MB.

Gorgeous red fox on the tundra. Colby Brokvist photo.

Arctic fox in Churchill, MB.

Arctic fox in gray morph phase. Paul Brown photo.

Red fox in Churchill, MB.

Red fox on the tundra. Brad Josephs photo.

Churchill Sunday Polar Bear Photo

This polar bear photo from Churchill Wildlife Management Area is a pair of sub-adult males sparring out on the tundra. Polar bears spar or mock fight in the fall prior to ice forming on the Hudson Bay. These confrontations are for the most part acknowledged by the polar bears  as mutually beneficial. However sometimes the bouts get a little heated in the frigid north and a friendly training exercise draws some blood. Witnessing these incredible battles of polar bears truly is a once in a lifetime experience!

Polar bears squaring off on the tundra. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.

Polar bears squaring off on the tundra. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.

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