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.
We posted these awesome red fox action images earlier today on our Churchill Polar Bears Facebook page and thought we should open up the exposure to churchillpolarbears.org fans. These two sequential and amazing red fox pics were taken by Great White Bear Tours in Churchill. Many photographers spend years trying to get the fox diving into snow to capture a lemming or rodent of some sort. Soon travelers from all over will arrive in Churchill and have a chance to get their own red fox shots under the magical northern lights!
A red fox leaps to capture prey under the snow in Churchill. Great White Bear Tours photo.
Red fox pouncing on possible prey under the Churchill snow. Great White Bear Tours photo.
Churchill and the Arctic are prime territory for Arctic fox and their hunting habits. Their ability to sense their prey under the snow and “dive bomb” the location is uncanny. Churchill currently is experiencing lower numbers of Arctic fox due to some unethical trapping done last winter as well as a cyclical drop in lemming population in the area. They will return in higher numbers as they always do and meanwhile the red fox population is up and healthy. We should start to see more Arctic Fox as early as this winter as long as the trappers don’t repeat last years travesty!
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.