Aurora season is coming soon to Churchill and we are getting excited for another incredible few months of spectacular northern lights viewing. Churchill, in the heart of winter, is quite the magical place. With all the population growth around beautiful places in North America it’s rare to be able to escape to a town that is surrounded with amazing natural beauty yet has very few people living there. If you’re looking for respite from the maddening crowd and need some time for reflection beneath the glimmering aurora borealis, this is the place to be. Enjoy this look down on our planet highlighted by the green halo of of mysterious northern lights.
This photograph by Parcs Canada is an amazing discovery of a common crane. The bird is rarely seen in North America and Churchill has been lucky enough to be the landing spot for this particular crane. Mixed in with a group of sandhill cranes, this common crane seems to be on the lam from somewhere. The cranes were spotted at the grain ponds by the Port of Churchill. Birdwatchers are keeping eyes open for other rare bird species in Churchill!
Common crane spotted in Churchill mixed in with sandhill cranes. Parcs Canada photo.
The Churchill Northern Studies Center has been an icon of the Churchill region for long time. In 1976 the Center was founded as an non-profit independent research and education facility. Located 23 km east of the town of Churchill, the facility provides the perfect secluded setting for scientists and researchers working on many different northern projects. The center also offers a wide range of general public scientific classes as well as university credit courses.
Churchill Northern Studies Center with aurora borealis. Churchill Northern Studies Center photo.
The grand diversity of this region attracts a wide range of mammals, birds, plants and humans. Three major biomes diverge along the Hudson Bay coast and eastern perimeter of Wapusk National Park. The park acts as a natural buffer zone to protect the denning areas of female polar bears. The southeastern Hudson Bay lowlands lay claim to the largest peat – lands in North America. All this makes the location of the center a prime destination for researchers and students with diverse interests in Arctic research and education.
Earthwatch tree island meteorological station. Churchill Northern Studies Center photo.
Natural Habitat Adventures and other travel groups have been utilizing the center to expose travelers to the incredible facility for many years now. The center also has a northern lights viewing dome and observation station providing a panoramic view of the tundra all the way to the Hudson Bay.
Incredible biodiversity on the tundra in Churchill. Churchill Northern Studies Center photo.
Churchill Northern Studies Center Director Michael Goodyear on the lookout for polar bears in Churchill, Manitoba. Churchill Northern Studies Center photo.
Earthwatch research project and group at the Churchill Northern Study Center in Churchill, Manitoba. Churchill Northern Studies Center photo.
Rocket launch silo adjacent to the Churchill Northern Studies Center. Churchill Northern Studies Center photo.
Birds love Churchill in the summer months when the Arctic food chain grows exponentially to take advantage of the short warm season. The tidal pools and coastlines are teeming with plankton, krill, capelin and many other food sources unmatched by any other region in the world. The pure number of birds migrating to Churchill in the spring certainly is a testimony to the bounty of the Arctic.
Hudsonian Godwit in flight. A. J. Hand photo.
Nearly 250 bird species appear in Churchill over the course of the year. Most of those are “summer” migratory species while some reside in the region year-round. Personally, I feel the ones that come and go tend to be more intriguing.
Today’s focus is on the Hudsonian Godwit, a large shorebird with a long, upturned bill. This bird breeds in the Arctic and winters in southern South America. Because of its remote breeding and wintering grounds the godwit is one of the more obscure American shorebirds.
Fall migration routes for Hudsonian godwits Kendall and Sig. Significant staging areas were documented along Hudson/James Bay and within Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, and Bolivia. Map by CCB.
Nesting on the mixed tundra and wetlands of northern Canada and Alaska, the godwit travels across the great plains of the United States in the spring then returns south along the Atlantic coast to South America in the winter. Reported nonstop flights of several thousand miles between these sites are not uncommon. At times, in the fall, “touch-downs” on the Atlantic coast are necessitated by northeasterly winds.
The long upward bill of the godwit digs in muddy, rocky or sandy shorelines as well as marshes, mudflats and flooded tundra or fields. The length of the bill allows it to search deep in the earth to acquire insects or organisms unreachable by other foragers. The Hudsonian, however, is the smallest of the four godwit species. In my guiding days I would associate the upturned bill with “god”, (heaven generally thought of as above in the sky) in order to help identify the bird from a distance or while mixed in with other shorebirds. Whimbrels have similar long bills, though slightly curving downwards, and dowitchers have more straight, dagger-like bills. All three are found on the shores of Churchill in the spring and summertime. Due to their similar feather markings and size, the bills are quick and easy identifying symbols.
Hudsonian Godwit in breeding plumage. Seth Kellog photo. The Allen Bird Club website can be found at massbird.org/allen Seth Kellogg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Once thought of as one of North America’s rarest birds it now is know to be more prolific. Vulnerability for the species remains quite high as the population is confined to only a few locales geographically.
When found in groups, godwits are generally collectively known as an “omniscience”, “pantheon” or “prayer”. A “prayer of godwits” fits quite nicely with my bill reference for identification. These birds truly are incredible in all facets of their lives.
If you have the urge to track the summer life cycle of the Hudsonian Godwit, come to Churchill with Natural Habitat Adventures! Visit nathab.com for details.
As most of us slowly ease into the fall season and notice the changing colors on the deciduous trees in North America, Churchill,MB has already been greeted with a coating of early winter snow. Cool temperatures forecast for the next several days are a great start to the season and a harbinger of a long, cold winter on the shores of the Hudson Bay. Hopefully another long season for polar bears out on the Hudson Bay ice pack for ample seal hunting.
First snowy night in Churchill,MB. Katie DeMeulles photo.
As the current polar bear season gets into gear, with the first Natural Habitat group out on the tundra lodge, many more eager travelers await their upcoming charter flight from Winnipeg to Churchill and a chance to see what we feel is the worlds most majestic and intriguing animal on the planet…the mighty polar bear.
Here are some past polar bear photo’s to get you all excited about new images and video coming in the next month and a half of exciting trips to the Churchill Wildlife Management Area and the surrounding region of Churchill,MB. Enjoy and keep tuned in to churchillpolarbears.org to get updates on all the news from the north.
Polar bear sow and cub on the precambrian shield.
Up close and personal with a polar bear.
Sparring polar bears in the CWMA. Rick Pepin photo.
A polar bear relaxes and cools in the snow. Colby Brokvist photo.