Natural Habitat guide Elise’s group headed to the tundra on a morning that was a bit breezy but slowly calmed throughout the day..”As the tundra turns the bears actually shook off their hypnotic-like state and started dancing.” Elise stated.
The majority of the day was time out around the lodge. Two polar bears slumbered in the willows near the bay while two other bears cautiously investigated the underside of the lodge once the water delivery vehicle departed for the day. “The stars aligned and two bears started sparring on the other side of the lodge”. reported Elise. Three large polar bears then staked out an area by the south end of the lodge and gave quite a show for onlooking travelers in both Elise’s and fellow Natural Habitat guide Paul Brown’s Rover. Another bear dozed, seemingly unaware beneath the lodge’s propane tanks the entire time..probably the older bear who’s been idle and present for the majority of the last two weeks..
Out around Christmas Lake Esker, the group observed numerous trails of fox and ptarmigan area…followed by a flock of “cryptic ptarmigan” concealed in the willows by fresh snow.
Guide Karen Walker’s group had some tough luck with the wind kicking up to nearly 70 knots. Helicopter journey’s were cancelled and a bear lift out at the compound was also nixed. The group listenedto some northern stories from their driver and then toured the town complex….Churchill’s self contained recreation center and library, school and many other forms of activity all in one building. Watching the waves crash down on the bay from the panoramic windows was soothing and relaxing. Then it was off to the Anglican Church to see the lady Franklin stained glass window aside the altar. The travelers then braved the windy, snowy conditions and ventured down to the Inukshuk below the complex and out to the polar bear compound by the airport in whiteout weather.
Tundra around Churchill. Megan Koelemay Photo.
Later in the day Karen and group enjoyed dog sledding with Kelly at Churchill River Mushing and heard the details of the polar bear break in at his tent compound the previous week. The rides were chilly though the wind had subsided some and the shelter from the boreal forest Luckily both places were vacant at the time. This weeks incident in town didn’t have as fortunate of an outcome. The bears are restless and moving with the cold.
Dogsledding in Churchill with Kelly Turcotte. John and Becky McKay photo.
The following day out in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area Karen and travelers were greeted by a large male bear walking right by their rover as they headed out east. Several polar bear sightings later they were at the coast and two adolescent males were sleeping along the kelp beds. One awoke, picked a fight with the other, and the two bears sparred for a good time just 50 feet from the rover. They then returned to their slumber and sparred again later just inside the willow stands a bit farther out. At lunch another male joined the trio and spareed intermittently just off the back observation deck. A “three bear lunch”, as described by karen. The “best and closest sparring I have ever seen”, added Karen.
Two separate excellent viewings of ptarmigan along the trail as well as a lone snow bunting in the willows rounded out the excursion. A fantastic tundra experience in the CWMA!
What a season it’s been so far…we’ve had a constant building -up of momentum with haywire activity out in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area down east from Churchill proper. Snowy tundra acts as a stage for sparring bears, not quite in mid -season form though working hard at it each new day.
Polar bears have not been the only drawing card either. Natural Habitat guide Justin and his group experienced a truly rare vision of a wolverine only 200 yards out from launch one chilly dawn. The greyish landscape was broken only by the beautiful animal making its’ way across a frozen pond. The sight will be frozen in memories for lifetimes.
Bonnie Chartier’s travelers viewed three Purple Sandpipers on their first morning out from the lodge on a rover. They were the first ones that were recorded in the province this year and Bonnie reflected she thought she and her groups just missed them last year.
Bonnie and guide Paul Brown have had some close encounters of the gyrfalcon kind in some spruce trees abutting the wide open tundra.
Gyrfalcon atop a black spruce in Churchill. Paul Brown photo.
After leaving the lodge and crossing the lake, guide Karen Walker and group were heading out into the CWMA with driver Bill behind the wheel when he spotted a lemming in his headlights. “The lemming was running along the edge of the road, in and out of the frozen grass. We got a nice look at it. Then a bit later, Bill and the three guests at the front of the rover got a quick glimpse at an ermine as it ran across the road. The weather got very stormy with sideways snow & very strong wind. We were warm & cozy in our rover.” reported Karen.
Red fox working the tundra. Colby Brokvist photo.
Natural Habitat guide Colby brokvist and band of travelers experienced comfortable temperatures hovering around freezing…quite comfortable for wildlife viewing.
“We had several sightings each day and a bunch of bears right off the rover including sparring bears at the lodge. Turns out I didn’t take any shots of the bears but I did grab some of a very charismatic red fox we saw out at Cape Merry.” reported Colby.
Early season photo of a sleepy polar bear. Paul Brown photo.
This season has provided incredible fox sightings this year including a long sighting of silver fox for Colby’s group out near along the flats. The group watched it hunt lemmings and scare up a big flock of willow ptarmigan. A spruce grouse out near the Tundra Lodge, a strange place for such a sighting, and a late season tundra swan fly by were nice additions to this season’s varied sight list.
The late season shipping news continues to impress as ships relay in and out of Churchill’s port. One ship went out and there has been up to five waiting out in the bay….giving a strange sense of invasion to the normally placidly empty horizon.
POLAR BEAR ALERT BLOTTER
11 bears contained in the compound as of October 27th.
The Churchill region has embraced winter in full force these past few weeks with a couple of storms and frigid temperatures in the negative numbers celsius. Wind chill factors have made it feel even more rough on the skin and with the extended forecast showing no relief it looks as if the town and area will be frozen under until Spring. The ice pack in the Hudson Bay to the north is thick and polar bears are enjoying the time out hunting seals. With all the research out showing the decline in Arctic ice, it’s nice to know the winter season allows us to catch our breaths and focus on solutions for stemming the tide of contributing factors.
Here are some more images from this past fall season to remember the amazing polar bear behavior we witnessed here in the north country. This winter I will be updating local stories and keeping all in tune with what’s happening in the Arctic as well as posting some edited video clips from the tundra lodge. keep an eye out for some exciting changes in the look of the website as well as we transition to a cleaner more fresh look.
A polar bear relaxes and cools in the snow. Colby Brokvist photo.
Two polar bears near the coast in November. Karen Walker photo.
Aurora from the tundra lodge. Brad Josephs photo.
Snowy owl on the tundra in the CWMA. Colby Brokvist photo.
Sparring polar bears in the CWMA. Rick Pepin photo.
The last days of polar bear season are going out on a high note and a cold note as well. Temperatures are in the mid -negative teens and blowing snow is sweeping across the tundra and through the town of Churchill. It’s so cold even the polar bears are heading out of town. ..well actually the cold suits them just fine. Cold means food to the bears…as in seals….ringed seals by and large. The larger the better!
Natural Habitat guide Lynnette and her group were out on the tundra and had some amazing late-season experiences. Out east, in the heart of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area (CWMA), a dozen bears showed themselves to the intrepid travelers… according to Lynnette the experience was “awesome considering we weren’t sure if there would be any bears at all due to the early build-up of ice…which does stretch out into the bay as far as one can see.”
Pack ice forms on the Hudson Bay. Karen Walker photo.
The first three or four bears were spotted a couple of hundred meters out on the Hudson Bay ice …not far from the trail. This is something only a few select groups visiting the area in the late-season will experience. To sense that vital connection between bear and ice adds an extra dimension to the trip. One polar bear appeared to be hunting..sitting still looking down on the ice placidly. Another bear seemed to be patiently stalking something under or within the snow-covered ice…frozen in a half -step for over five minutes…like a cat preying on a bird or unsuspecting mouse. Meanwhile, a female bear ambled along the shore in the foreground and then bedded down in some willows..seemingly indifferent to the presence of the rover. Just watching a sleeping bear amid the Arctic landscape can be soothing to the soul.
Traveling further east, the rover came to rest on the solid, icy surface of a frozen thermokarst with sheets of blowing snow wafting across the surface. Quite quickly a very thin bear approached the machine. Appearing older and less healthy than most of the other bears in the CWMA, upon closer scrutiny a scarred face and broken and missing upper canines as well as a quite sunken mouth confirmed the initial observation. As he approached cautiously, another polar bear came sauntering across the ice causing the thin bear to hightail it away to safety. This new bear appeared extremely fit and evoked an air of aggression the older bear wanted no part of. “This bear had a large scar over his right eye…’scarface’ was what the group aptly coined him.” reported Lynnette. ‘Scarface” spent a long time with the group..constantly jumping upon the side of the machine…then moving to the rear of the vehicle and under the back, grated deck to sniff thrilled guests boots. His attempt to remove the taillight was thwarted by rover driver Ward. More than a half hour of aggression waned finally and the bear moved off away from the rover. An amazing day was capped off with a red fox heading off into the red-hued sunset …seemingly melding with the ball of fire glowing over the grey and white arctic landscape.
A polar bear and red fox forage the tundra. Brad Josephs photo.
The following day was a bit slower though it began with gorgeous sunrise appearing as the group headed out of town toward launch. Out at Gordon Point a sleepy bear occasionally walked about and also stretched and buried his head in the snow while raising his hind quarters in the air. Maybe this was the same bear guide Sandra and her group spotted a week ago out in the CWMA.
A polar bear ambles through the snow and ice. Brad Josephs photo.
Heading further east the group came upon a male lounging and attempting seemingly painful yoga positions prior to a female approaching from the ice edge. The female approached the bear though decided against coming too close. As she moved away, she gave a wide berth to the large male but he decided to follow. He stalked her step for step and then lost interest as she neared the pair of rovers in the area. A beautiful female of four or five years, she moved to the rear of Lynnett’s rover and sniffed at excited guests feet for 15 minutes before heading off.
“What a special way to end our trip and a special way to end my season with these majestic animals.” reflected Lynnette.
Just a few days ago the ice packed in along Cape Churchill and many bears moved north onto the surface to get a jump on the seal hunting season…good news for the bear population. However, with a week and a half left in the season for travelers to view the majestic king of the north, panic was setting in for the fear that no bears would be in sight. On the contrary, bears have come in what seems to be “a second wave’ of late season congregations. Just when you think you’ve seen all the possibilities the sub-arctic has to offer in terms of surprises a new one comes along. it is a strange, amazing place.
Over a dozen bears, far and near were being reported out in the Churchill Wildlife management Area (CWMA). The above video is of sparring bears in the CWMA out at Gordon point. The sparring this season has been phenomenal …definitely the highlight of the action out on the tundra.
With some doubt in the air as far as numbers of bears still on land, Natural Habitat polar bear guide Sandra Elvin and travelers had a fairly slow first afternoon out on the tundra. A few bears roaming the ice were the highlights of that initial venture to the CWMA …hopes for a better following day prevailed however.
Polar bears in the distance. Karen Walker photo.
The second day was a blessing. On their way out to Gordon Point, the rover came upon a beautiful sow doing “bear yoga” who then wandered off towards the direction of the lodge. The group continued on to Gordon Point where after sitting stationary for awhile, had lunch, and was then was startled by a large,male bear walking along near the ice edge. After watching for some time, another attempt to serve lunch was interrupted by very small cub all alone, seemingly too young to be on his own. Even so, he was a bold. He visited all three rovers that were in the area at Gordon Point, barely rising above the top of the rover tires when he stood up. He was a “cutie”, but one has to wonder if he will make it through the harsh Arctic winter. As the group left Gordon Point and headed down the coastal flats, they saw many bears far out on the horizon.
An incredibly beautiful helicopter ride the following day brought the travelers across the river, to the south of the Cape, across the Cape, across Button Bay to Diamond Lake, and then back home. Down the river, about 7 moose were seen, many of them calves, and only a couple of bulls. South of the cape and across the cape, there were several bears with two sets of sows with a single cub ..one of them a coy! Near Diamond Lake, two bull moose, as well as two females with calves revealed themselves in and around the willows. “On our way back home, we saw one lonely bear on his own private little ice island that was raised up above all the ice around him with no open water. He seemed to be in deep thought about where to go next and was wondering what the heck we were! “, reported Sandra.
A couple of sled dogs await their next trip. Sandra Elvin photo.
After lunch, another awesome dog sledding adventure with Kelly and Churchill River Mushing left all with an iconic, lasting memory from the north.