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.
The past week in Churchill saw colder temperatures and snow sweeping across the tundra. It seems as if the ice in the Hudson Bay will continue to build and provide the bears with an ample seal -hunting season this year. North winds have prevailed and ice that has formed is now socked in against Cape Churchill.
Chillin in the snow. Colby Brokvist photo.
Natural Habitat guide Karen walker and her group headed right onto the tundra following a flight from Winnipeg and caught sight of a bear out on the fringe ice on the beach across from the old dump site. After a slight delay with a mechanical issue on the rover, the group headed out and immediately spotted a red fox moving quickly trying to find a scent of a buried lemming under the snow. Coming up to the tundra lodge, a pair of polar bears lounged sleepily near the far edge of the facility. Lifting their heads and periodically and standing on all fours to check the perimeter gave the travelers quite the beginning introduction to the north. Curling back up with covered eyes under paws, the bears seemed content with their restful peace. After an enjoyable day the group was back in town for dinner and then an Inuit cultural presentation by Peter and Mary..always a touching interaction.
Peter demonstrates drumming for guests. Colby Brokvist photo.
While enjoying morning tea in the CWMA the following day, the group watched near Gordon point as a polar bear walked along the point and tested the ice along the shore. Four other bears were also sensing the impending freeze as they roamed along impatiently..wanting to get out further. Waves crashed along the ice edge as a few other bears were spotted out along the horizon. Heading through ptarmigan Alley and back near the lodge revealed some of the resting bears from the day before. The wind & white out of the morning cleared in the afternoon & opened up a break low on the horizon, so we had a beautiful sunset.
“Evening clear skies opened up just after dark and the aurora could be seen right from town!”,reported Karen. Strong solar winds from a coronal hole produced the amazing greenish lights. We took a quick look at the lights behind the complex then went to our evening programs. After dinner and a cultural presentation, the group rushed out to the aurora domes for a spectacular night of aurora viewing – “one of the best displays that I’ve seen”. , emphasized Karen. Green -tinted lights covered at least half of the sky the entire night..well at least while the group was viewing them. “They were in beautiful arcs and swirls and were dancing like crazy at times. We even got to see the corona effect of the lights right over our heads. We also got to see a lot of pink on the bottom fringe of the lights – from the particles hitting the excited nitrogen molecules at a lower altitude. It was quite a display!!!”, reported Karen.
The aurora shines brightly over the domes. Jeremy Pearson photo.
The following morning was a beautiful morning,… mostly clear, very cold, with little wind. Heading out for an extended helicopter journey, the travelers quickly spotted some moose up-river from the weir. Quite the sighting! Some guests also saw a red fox and a wolverine along the frozen river. ” We circled the wolverine and watched it run along the river. It was quite large and we could see the lighter colored rim along its lower fur.”, said Karen. This was a second wolverine sighting in two weeks! And the first wolverine sighting for D’Arcy who works tirelessly in the Churchill operations office. “We actually got D’Arcy to take a break from work and join us on the flight.” exclaimed Karen.
Upon arrival at the unoccupied polar bear den sight, the group walked around while seeing some Labrador tea and lichen encrusted rocks on the ground. A caribou antler and polar bear skull were examined by all before crawling inside the mossy den. Then, in the air flying over Wapusk National Park, a vast landscape of frozen ponds and tundra polygons went on forever underneath.” We traveled north along the coast while spotting numerous bears- 20-30 of them- with maybe three to four sets of mothers with cubs”, reported Karen. Some bears were on the shore while some were hunkered down in the snow in day beds and some were just out testing the ice. Another landing at Knight’s Hill where a patchwork of lichen crusted rocks revealed their beauty and a spectacular view across the tundra from the highest esker in the region.
Three polar bears explore the coastline. Karen Walker photo.
After a quick lunch at the Churchill Motel, the group dashed off to the jail to watch a polar bear relocation lift sponsored by a film crew. A large adult male was transported north…there are still 14 bears in the holding facility. Actually a pretty low number for this time of year.A tour of the new LED Churchill Northern Studies Center and an interpretive talk by one of the visiting scientists rounded out a full day.
Natural Habitat guide Colby and his photography group were at the tundra lodge on their first day and had some sleeping polar bears and another more active bear roaming the area. Some nice shots were taken before moving out to Gordon point where some more bears were hunkered down due to the wind. Overall a nice start to an Arctic adventure. The night turned even better with phenomenal northern lights…”epic”, according to Colby. Incredible photo’s were taken behind the town complex by the stone inukshuk…braving the -27 C temperature for over an hour of incredible shooting. The entire sky seemed engulfed with aurora!
The next day began with incredible photo ops of a sow with two coy just as the sun came up…a soft flowing light over the tundra. Three other polar bears out on the ice edge along the coast gave a wider landscape opportunity to show the vastness of the land and sea merging together as one. Ridges piling up in the ice provided depth and texture to the scenes.
Ice accumulating on the Hudson Bay. Karen Walker photo.
Near white – out conditions gave the travelers a true sense of the Arctic the following day out in the CWMA…The winds have shifted back now from the North. As the skies cleared a little, some amazing photos of soft orange skies with blowing snow over stunted spruce trees and frozen ponds were taken. A ruddy turnstone..the bird that is…was spotted out a Gordon Point..since he won’t be reading this I must say he’s in a world of shite. He may end up in the Eskimo Museum...exhibit R. A polar bear on land in willows out east provided some excellent, low-angle sub-arctic lit shots. the bear walked right by the rover and guests took some of the best shots of the trip.