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.
Churchill weather has been a mix of freezing temperatures, mostly cloudy with intermittent sun, occasional snow flurries and gusting wind. Polar bears were spotted all around the tundra out in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. Travelers and guides have spotted some curious polar bears near the Tundra Lodge and among the tundra vehicles in the vicinity, particularly younger females. While some bears remained in the willows yesterday, travelers were able to enjoy some more active behavior. A polar bear was seen thermoregulating in the snow, and two large males neared sparring confrontation. Sightings of a snowy owl, rough-legged hawk, gyrfalcon and red fox out on the land spiced up the day’s experience!
Polar bear gnawing on a tasty treat. Jason Luoma photo.
Sun reflecting off a majestic polar bear in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. Jason Luoma photo.
A polar bear in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area conducting morning Polar Rover inspection. Bill McPherson photo.
Polar bear walking along a Polar Rover trail in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. @apalsson photo.
A lone polar bear approaching a Polar Rover in Churchill. Bill McPherson photo.
A polar bear inspects a Polar Rover in Churchill. Bill McPherson photo.
Polar bear mom and cubs on the tundra. Jason Luoma photo.
Polar bear taking a look into the polar rover. Kry Walczak photo.
Two sparring male polar bears near the tundra lodge in Churchill Wildlife Management Area. Jason Luoma photo.
With snow already covering the tundra in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area, polar bears have become more active and are up and about sparring and moving along the coastal region near the Tundra Lodge. Numbers of bears being spotted by Natural Habitat Adventures groups are close to 15 or more.
Here are two Natural Habitat Adventure guide reports from the past week in Churchill:
“Wildlife is OFF THE CHARTS. A true banner week for this early in the season. We had three diverse weather days and incredible wildlife sightings, including: eight polar bears with close encounters, Arctic fox, red fox (silver morph),gyrfalcon, harbor seal, snow bunting, snowy owl, semi-palmated plovers, semi-palmated sandpipers, glaucous gulls, herring gulls, willow ptarmigan, common raven and common eider!!”
While most if not all voracious polar bears have ventured out to the sea ice for seal hunting season, foxes both Arctic and Red are still scavenging the tundra around communities in the north. This precocious little critter waits at the bus stop unfazed by any sign of human activity. Foxes never stop searching out their next meal during the harsh, cold winter months in the Arctic.
These field notes are from Natural Habitat Adventures guide Eddy Savage from Churchill where he is enjoying guiding travelers around town and primarily out on the tundra of the Churchill Wildlife Management Area. The Tundra Lodge is an amazing place to observe polar bears and other Arctic wildlife while becoming immersed in the tranquil feeling of the open tundra of the north! This first-hand description of the Lodge’s welcoming warmth is spot on. The wildlife details as well are quite incredible with activity all over the land!
“This was my first visit of 2017 to the Tundra Lodge. It was great to connect with the fantastic chefs Shayne and Shelley. These two make a seriously incredible team. They have an air of calm and professionalism and quickly make our guests feel at home with their delicious food choices. Sinking your teeth into one of Shelley’s fresh baked cookies, or sipping on Shayne’s miraculous yam soup, you will forget you are miles from a town and sitting in the middle of a rugged and beautiful landscape. They make you feel at home in their dining room. It’s a great feeling.
A polar bear basks in the cold with visions of ice on the Hudson Bay. Bonnie Chartier photo.
Krys, the Tundra Lodge Manager is on top of every problem and really assures our groups that they are his most important priority. Every detail is looked after and he keeps a sharp eye for wildlife around the lodge as well. On more than one occasion this season he has been the first to alert our group of approaching polar bears. A serious asset!
Jason is our talented rover driver. Moving our groups on and off the tundra every morning and afternoon. He has over 16 years experience driving rovers and has memorized the shape and shades of the land. His eye is sharp and often spots hard to see animals like snowy owls, ptarmigan, or Arctic hare far before any of us can see it. You can tell he loves being out in the rover with the groups as he is often ecstatic when we have a good wildlife encounter!
The team at the lodge is remarkable and they really give more than expected on a daily basis. As an expedition leader, working alongside Shayne, Shelley, Krys, and Jason is as good as it gets.
We have had a wide variety of sightings this year. As posted by Colby Brokvist, we had an incredible encounter with what we suspect to be two young Arctic Fox. Chasing each other too and fro across piles of kelp tossed ashore by humongous Hudson Bay seas, our entire Tundra Lodge group was privy to what was certainly a world class moment. Bonnie Chartier, a founder of eco-tourism in Churchill and Natural Habitat Adventures Expedition Leader said that was something she had never seen before. That really says something about the experience.
There seems to be a real abundance of lemmings around this year and sightings of snowy owls, red fox, and Arctic fox are high. Many groups have seen fox hunting for lemmings. Zig-zagging across the tundra listening and watching for movement. When they hone in on a lemming they leap fully into the air and land square on top of them. They are catching more then they can eat and caching them for later access.
When we look at our polar bear sightings, well it is hard to offer an all-encompassing description. Sightings have been great. We seemed to have “dinner bears” regularly. We had two nights where as soon as all of the group was served their entrees, a polar bear would come by and visit the lodge. They would peer into the lodge, seemingly curious about all of the shuffling and lights. It is important to note that these bears are not coming to the lodge to eat food, but instead, intrigued by the interesting sounds, lights, and smells, have come by out of curiosity. We do not feed the bears and will not tolerate that behavior. Our guests were ecstatic. There are few better ways to be interrupted during a meal than to have a polar bear sitting 10 feet below you. Cool.
Polar bear by the tundra lodge. Eddy Savage photo.
On our second night at the lodge, the aurora borealis came out for us. It was partly cloudy but it still managed to be strong enough to see. Just another cool thing our guests got to see!
Our days on the rover were exciting too. We had ample polar bear sightings with many coming right past the rovers. On top of that, the other arctic wildlife in the area was out in force. During our day rovers on the tundra, our groups saw a silver fox, cross fox, and arctic fox hunting for lemmings. We had a few up close visits from the cross fox where one even cached a lemming about 40 feet from the rover. So amazing. All of our guests saw multiple snowy owls and had a great sighting where one sat close to the polar rover trail and allowed our group take some incredible images.
A cross fox seems content after catching a lemming. Konan Wendt photo.
After our few days out exploring the tundra and enjoying the comforts of the unique Tundra Lodge, we had to fly back to Winnipeg. On our last morning, we set off at 7 am and maybe 50 feet away in the headlights was a snowy owl perched on top of a tree. An awesome farewell to an incredible trip.
When in Churchill, we went dog sledding with the founder of the Hudson Bay Quest, Dave Daley. Everyone had a blast!”