This majestic silver fox was captured on the tundra in Churchill, Manitoba. With the absence of polar bears around the area these winter days, we are always hoping to see the other awesome creatures that call this place home. This fox seems on alert knowing that all eyes are on him when in other months he would be just a supporting cast member. Enjoy.
November 17 – Last night the aurora came out for a short period, and many people came out to witness it. Added to the experience were brief sightings of Arctic fox, red fox, silver fox, and even a pine marten. Today, low clouds, heavy snow, and periods of fog made for a difficult day of wildlife watching. No bears were spotted and smaller animals generally remained elusive. Some helicopters were able to get up early before the storm in the morning and reported more than 20 bears seen out on the ice, including family groups.
November 16 – It was a great time for everyone out on the tundra today. There was one male polar bear out at the ponds near one of the Tundra Lodges that made the day. It came over to each and every tundra vehicle and smelled everyone’s feet through the metal mesh decks. Then it napped for an hour or so, got up and did it all over again. Ptarmigan and fox were also spotted. It was an exceptional day for those riding on helicopters as well. Countless bears were seen on the sea ice and several families were spotted. A silver fox has been observed for the past several mornings in town. Very light winds made the wildlife viewing very manageable, with temperatures above 0°F.
November 15 – Churchill was greeted with partly sunny skies today, with mild temperatures and light winds. Travelers spent the entire day watching bears on the ice. There were nine in total, including two families with cubs. Mostly they were at a distance, but the action was good. Some groups witnessed a male bear kill and eat a seal. Another male polar bear was following the cubs around. The day ended with red fox and gyrfalcon coming very close to the tundra vehicles.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 fresh snowfall greeted the first ultimate polar bear trip for Natural Habitat Adventures guide Moira Le Patourel and her group of travelers to Churchill. The fresh, light snow allowed for wildlife track sightings of fox and polar bears and even a lone wolf trail heading into the boreal forest. Typical temperatures for October, hovering around freezing, have allowed for more active polar bear activity on the tundra.
A quite intriguing polar bear interaction a couple of days into the expedition was witnessed by a few groups out in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area (CWMA). A large older juvenile, about 3 years – old, was interacting intimately with what appeared to be mom. Polar bear cubs usually spend around two years with their mother
Another unique, although more common sighting this season, was a onyx – colored fox, typically referred to as a silver fox scouring the snow covered tundra searching for lemmings below. This blackish and silver mix is a color morph of the common red fox and the contrast on the white covered tundra is striking. No camouflage here like the pure white Arctic fox. This guy won’t be sneaking up on any prey soon.
Other sightings of a traditional colored red fox as well as an Arctic fox completed the trifecta. A grouping of white coated willow ptarmigan were spotted heading into and out of the willows by the rover trail. On another rover trip to the tundra and CWMA the group witnessed a male polar bear with a purplish marking on his white back – end. The bruin most likely had been snoozing in a kelp bed with some purple – hued varieties intertwined. A funny and unusual sight for sure.
Equally as rare and unusual was a polar bear gnawing on what appeared to be a snow goose wing. A small amount of energy exhausted to gain a few vital grams of protein. Any sustenance between now and the freeze over of the Hudson Bay will be crucial to survival for any polar bear.