November 9 – The winds died out overnight and the morning temperatures were still cold, just below 0°F. Without the windchill, however, the air felt mild relative to the past several days. Bear watchers reported the highlight of the day was spending the morning with two polar bears along the coast, which were alternating between feeding on kelp and visiting various tundra vehicles. The afternoon was slower for bears, though smaller creatures like American pine marten, ptarmigan and red fox were all spotted. There were more polar bears seen on the sea ice than on land today. The ice bears were viewed from both the tundra vehicles and helicopters. Helicopters reported that more ice had formed in the bay overnight. In just three days, the Hudson Bay has gone from being totally ice-free to having heavy coverage along the coast. The ice now reaches several miles out from the land and is broken up in places by open water.
A polar bear and two coys peruse the ice of the Hudson Bay. Discover Churchill photo.
By mid-afternoon, strong winds kicked up from the northwest, causing temperatures to fall. About that time, folks from town gathered at the Polar Bear Holding Facility to watch the release of a sow and two yearling cubs. These bears were flown by helicopter further north and away from town, where they can’t get into any more mischief. With so many locals present, the conversation naturally turned to the quickly changing ice conditions. There were many hopeful comments about how early freeze-ups have occurred in the past during bear season, only to have the ice blown back out by strong winds several days later.
A mom and cub polar bear keep a watchful eye on the tundra. Discover Churchill photo.
November 10- Today was extremely cold with a high of -27°F. Windchill made it feel more like -35°F, and the strong, cold winds persisted throughout the day. Conditions alternated between cloudy and foggy, with periodic whiteouts and blowing snow. The weather made for tough bear viewing. Bear watchers found one bear on the eastern side of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. It was present all day, resting and rolling around to clean its coat. Many smaller animals were encountered by the tundra vehicles, including Arctic fox, red fox and ptarmigan. A real highlight for some travelers was a sighting of an ermine that had just killed a lemming. It appears from shore that the ice has consolidated more since yesterday. Helicopters were unable to corroborate, however, since they were grounded due to the high winds. Southern winds are expected soon—this often blows the ice out, bringing polar bears back to shore.
A red fox in the wind and cold in Churchill. Discover Churchill photo.
November 11 – Cold temperatures dominated again today, though, at only -16°F, it felt mild compared to previous days due to less windchill. Winds have shifted to come from the west. Helicopters were back in the skies this morning and pilots reported several polar bears on the ice. Polar bear cubs and a seal kill stole the show, along with a moose cow and calf near the shoreline. By early afternoon, helicopters were reporting that the ice had pushed away from the shore, and polar bears were spotted on land in various locations. From the tundra vehicles, a few bears were observed on the ice from Halfway Point early in the morning, best seen with spotting scopes. By late morning, the tundra machines made it out to Gordon Point to find a sub-adult bear. They watched it for hours as it ate kelp and walked among the vehicles. A red fox was seen on the tundra by several groups, a snowy owl was spotted from the Tundra Lodge, and there have been many red and silver fox sightings right in town. Winds are expected to shift to arrive from the south overnight, and local chatter is that this is the best-case scenario for potentially moving ice out of the region and driving more bears back to shore.
November 2 – Mild temperatures dominated the day, hovering just below freezing. The skies were mostly cloudy, and short snow showers occurred periodically. The biggest news from the tundra was several sets of sows with cubs, each of which was fairly active. One mother with young was “bullied” by an adult male for a short period, while another pair approached some of the vehicles. Some groups spent the entire day with cubs, while others chose to explore more of the tundra. For the polar bear watchers that were on the move, more adult and sub-adult bears were encountered, including two sparring males. One polar bear was spotted swimming in Hudson Bay. Travelers have also come upon red foxes and a cross fox, which has dark patterned spotting due to partial melanism. In the wider Churchill region, caribou, wolves and wolverine have been encountered over the past three days—this year has had an uncommon number of atypical sightings. Very few people have come across these animals, but they are being seen. The town itself has seen a spike in polar bear activity for several days (half a dozen being witnessed in the past 24 hours), keeping bear patrol officers busy.
A polar bear roams the coast of the Hudson Bay in Churchill. Katie de Meulles photo.
November 1 – It was a partly sunny day on the shores of Hudson Bay, with temperatures just below freezing. The ponds have now all frozen. For a handful of travelers out early, there was an incredibly unique sighting of two wolves moving across the tundra, one black, the other gray. The sighting was fleeting—no one managed to capture a picture. Guides with 15 years of experience in Churchill have never encountered wolves in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area during bear season, though they are occasionally seen from helicopter flights over the adjoining Wapusk National Park. As the day unfolded, many polar bears were seen throughout the entirety of the management area. They were mostly active, occupied with sorting themselves as larger males wandered from place to place. In the afternoon, polar bear watchers observed a sow and cub—they alternately rested in the willows and ambled about. A gyrfalcon was spotted along with many ptarmigan and a red fox. An uncommon sighting of a pine marten by one group rounded off a notable day on the tundra.
A magnificent timeless vista of the boreal forest with creek outlet in the foreground. Katie de Meulles photo.
A polar bear explores the tundra for a meal in Churchill. Katie de Meulles photo.
Visitors to Churchill woke yesterday morning to heavy winds and hammering snow. Enormous waves crashed along the shore of Hudson Bay, and it was worth the trip out to see it. Snow drifted across the roads and trails, and the town had the plows and loaders out for most of the day. Helicopters were grounded for the second day in a row, though the incoming planes managed to sneak in and out within small weather windows of good visibility thanks to the prowess of specially trained Arctic pilots. Amazingly, out on the tundra just 15 miles away from town, it was an entirely different day weather-wise. Snow dissipated by late morning and visibility was excellent. The tundra vehicles had no issue navigating the snow that drifted up against the willows. Yesterday’s polar bears were mostly in the same places, with active polar bears cleaning themselves in the fresh snow and sparring out east. Travelers had two encounters with polar bears putting their paws up on the tundra vehicles. Later in the afternoon, several bears were seen moving westward along the coast. A red fox was spotted near Halfway Point, and two migrating red-breasted mergansers were occupying one of the ponds, no doubt waiting out the storm. All dog sled operations are now running their winter sleds, having stored the summer training carts until springtime comes.
Two polar bears spar near the Tundra Lodge in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. Krys Walczak photo.
Polar bear sleeping in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. Krys Walczak photo.
A dusting of snow and frost settled on the tundra overnight. Numerous ponds froze, and now only the largest still contains open water. The day began bitterly cold and foggy, with strong winds coming off Hudson Bay. By early afternoon, however, the fog gave way to blue skies and sunshine. Polar bears are currently being seen all along the coast within the Churchill Wildlife Management Area, with a concentration of polar bears out east between First Tower and The Flats. Two males were spotted sparring in the afternoon, and some younger females were quite active, approaching several tundra vehicles. An array of birdlife was encountered, while foxes have remained elusive for several days.
Polar bear resting on the Precambrian Shield in Churchill. Drew Hamilton photo.
A content Arctic Hare near Cape Merry in Churchill. Alex De Vries Magnifico photo.
A regal polar bear roaming the Hudson Bay Coast in Churchill. Alex De Vries Magnifico photo.
Polar bear crossing the tundra in Churchill. Alex De Vries Magnifico photo.
Lounging polar bear in Churchill. Dorota Walkoski photo.
A lounging polar bear plays with some kelp on the Precambrian shield by the Hudson Bay in Churchill. Bears are patiently waiting for the fall polar bear season when the Hudson Bay will slowly freeze-up and seal hunting season will begin!