An Arctic Hare disguised in the snow surrounding the Precambrian shield. Discover Churchill photo.
Arctic Hares have an amazing camouflage of white and black-tipped ears that not only blend in with the snow and rocks but provide a unique target for raptors to focus on instead of the body flesh. Many times when attacked the hare can evade by having extra seconds to find shelter. Churchill has Arctic Hares throughout the tundra year-round!
November 13 – Snow and fog dominated this morning as groups departed for the tundra. By late morning visibility improved greatly, and strong, cold winds came up from the north. The bay has begun to freeze again and some polar bears have moved back onto the ice. One bear near Gordon Point commanded most of the attention from bear watchers, with tundra vehicles taking turns to see it on the ice. Late in the day, a sow and cub were seen walking across on the ice from Halfway Point by a number of vehicles. It was an excellent day for smaller critter sightings including Arctic and red fox, gyrfalcon, Arctic hare and ptarmigan. An impressive sunset finished off the day as groups headed back to town.
Polar bears sparring on the frozen tundra in Churchill. Discover Churchill photo.
November 14 – A big storm blew in from the north. Visibility was limited throughout the day as snow blew sideways. These conditions are always tough for bear viewing and today was no exception. Travelers returned to town having managed to find ptarmigan and an Arctic hare, but polar bears remained elusive. The bay is now frozen again. Tomorrow is expected to bring sunny skies and milder temperatures; a positive forecast for a fresh perspective on the tundra.
Stygge Creek in Churchill frozen over. Alex De Vries – Magnifico.
A polar bear on the rocks warming in the sun. Alex De Vries-Magnifico photo.
A sleepy polar bear waking up from an afternoon nap Alex De Vries-Magnifico photo.
Arctic Hare scavenging for a morsel of food on the Churchill tundra. Alex De Vries-Magnifico photo.
A polar bear lounging in the refreshing Churchill snow. Alex De Vries-Magnifico photo.
Two polar bears venturing out on the Hudson Bay ice. Alex De Vries-Magnifico photo.
A big male polar bear looking for some fun or a meal. Alex De Vries-Magnifico photo.
Wow..what fantastic shots from Churchill photographer Alex De Vries – Magnifico from the tundra. These polar bears and Arctic hare appear healthy and happy as they meander the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. Another polar bear season in Churchill has come and gone with the Hudson Bay ice forming just as the season finished up. The infusion of travelers to Churchill this past October and November hopefully provided some relief from the saga of the train not running. Wishing all Churchillians an uplifting holiday season and new year ahead!
These field notes are from Natural Habitat Adventures guide Eddy Savage from Churchill where he is enjoying guiding travelers around town and primarily out on the tundra of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. The Tundra Lodge is an amazing place to observe polar bears and other Arctic wildlife while becoming immersed in the tranquil feeling of the open tundra of the north! This first-hand description of the Lodge’s welcoming warmth is spot on. The wildlife details as well are quite incredible with activity all over the land!
“This was my first visit of 2017 to the Tundra Lodge. It was great to connect with the fantastic chefs Shayne and Shelley. These two make a seriously incredible team. They have an air of calm and professionalism and quickly make our guests feel at home with their delicious food choices. Sinking your teeth into one of Shelley’s fresh baked cookies, or sipping on Shayne’s miraculous yam soup, you will forget you are miles from a town and sitting in the middle of a rugged and beautiful landscape. They make you feel at home in their dining room. It’s a great feeling.
A polar bear basks in the cold with visions of ice on the Hudson Bay. Bonnie Chartier photo.
Krys, the Tundra Lodge Manager is on top of every problem and really assures our groups that they are his most important priority. Every detail is looked after and he keeps a sharp eye for wildlife around the lodge as well. On more than one occasion this season he has been the first to alert our group of approaching polar bears. A serious asset!
Jason is our talented rover driver. Moving our groups on and off the tundra every morning and afternoon. He has over 16 years experience driving rovers and has memorized the shape and shades of the land. His eye is sharp and often spots hard to see animals like snowy owls, ptarmigan, or Arctic hare far before any of us can see it. You can tell he loves being out in the rover with the groups as he is often ecstatic when we have a good wildlife encounter!
The team at the lodge is remarkable and they really give more than expected on a daily basis. As an expedition leader, working alongside Shayne, Shelley, Krys, and Jason is as good as it gets.
We have had a wide variety of sightings this year. As posted by Colby Brokvist, we had an incredible encounter with what we suspect to be two young Arctic Fox. Chasing each other too and fro across piles of kelp tossed ashore by humongous Hudson Bay seas, our entire Tundra Lodge group was privy to what was certainly a world class moment. Bonnie Chartier, a founder of eco-tourism in Churchill and Natural Habitat Adventures Expedition Leader said that was something she had never seen before. That really says something about the experience.
There seems to be a real abundance of lemmings around this year and sightings of snowy owls, red fox, and Arctic fox are high. Many groups have seen fox hunting for lemmings. Zig-zagging across the tundra listening and watching for movement. When they hone in on a lemming they leap fully into the air and land square on top of them. They are catching more then they can eat and caching them for later access.
When we look at our polar bear sightings, well it is hard to offer an all-encompassing description. Sightings have been great. We seemed to have “dinner bears” regularly. We had two nights where as soon as all of the group was served their entrees, a polar bear would come by and visit the lodge. They would peer into the lodge, seemingly curious about all of the shuffling and lights. It is important to note that these bears are not coming to the lodge to eat food, but instead, intrigued by the interesting sounds, lights, and smells, have come by out of curiosity. We do not feed the bears and will not tolerate that behavior. Our guests were ecstatic. There are few better ways to be interrupted during a meal than to have a polar bear sitting 10 feet below you. Cool.
Polar bear by the tundra lodge. Eddy Savage photo.
On our second night at the lodge, the aurora borealis came out for us. It was partly cloudy but it still managed to be strong enough to see. Just another cool thing our guests got to see!
Our days on the rover were exciting too. We had ample polar bear sightings with many coming right past the rovers. On top of that, the other arctic wildlife in the area was out in force. During our day rovers on the tundra, our groups saw a silver fox, cross fox, and arctic fox hunting for lemmings. We had a few up close visits from the cross fox where one even cached a lemming about 40 feet from the rover. So amazing. All of our guests saw multiple snowy owls and had a great sighting where one sat close to the polar rover trail and allowed our group take some incredible images.
A cross fox seems content after catching a lemming. Konan Wendt photo.
After our few days out exploring the tundra and enjoying the comforts of the unique Tundra Lodge, we had to fly back to Winnipeg. On our last morning, we set off at 7 am and maybe 50 feet away in the headlights was a snowy owl perched on top of a tree. An awesome farewell to an incredible trip.
When in Churchill, we went dog sledding with the founder of the Hudson Bay Quest, Dave Daley. Everyone had a blast!”
These early season photos from Churchill give us a wide array of the Arctic wildlife on display this time of year. We call it polar bear season though the tundra is inhabited by many other creatures as well. Some years are more abundant with certain species than others and this year there seems to be an Arctic fox rejuvenation after a couple of down years. Arctic hare and of course the king of the Arctic the polar bear always seem to have a steady presence in and around the Churchill region.
We are just getting into the heart of polar bear season in Churchill and there will surely be some incredible stories and more images to come. Enjoy!
An Arctic hare in the shelter of the rocks in Churchill. Mike Shron photo.
An Arctic Fox roams the tundra in search of a meal. Mike Shron photo.
Churchill sled dog excited to see some visitors. Mike Shron photo.
Snowy owl perched on the Churchill tundra. Mike Shron photo.
Polar bear on the rocks in front of the Ithaca shipwreck in Churchill. Mike Shron photo.
Polar bear scavenging the tundra along the Hudson Bay coast. Mike Shron photo.
Polar bear up close and personal in Churchill. Mike Shron photo.