November 12 – Churchill awoke today to a view of an ice-free coastline thanks to prevailing south winds overnight. Morning helicopters confirmed that this was the case along the length of the Cape Churchill coastline. The day felt only mildly cold due to the relatively warm winds. Out on the tundra, travelers encountered polar bears throughout the day, and there were several instances of polar bears walking among the tundra vehicles. Other reports, from helicopters and locals, told of bears moving along the coastline throughout the Churchill area. These sightings included several family groups and adult males. Sightings of gyrfalcon, ptarmigan and red fox rounded out the day. The ice moving out today is good news for bear watchers. Though cold temperatures will ultimately freeze the bay again, a hard freeze-up has been delayed and polar bear watching continues to be productive.
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.
Winter is coming. Although it was a sunny day on the tundra, the sub-freezing temperatures were sustaining. After travelers enjoyed a red fox at sunrise, the day’s activities were dominated by bear viewing. Recently, polar bears have been spotted checking the pond ice. To the amusement of some tundra explorers, a bear had a little slip through the soft ice. Other polar bears had better luck on the ice, most notably a mother and cubs. The rest of the morning was filled with active bears across the tundra. Some remained further away, while plenty of others were very curious about the tundra vehicles. Coincidentally, a young female enjoyed a kelp salad as the vehicles were parked for lunch. As winter sets in, tracks from polar bears and other animals are becoming more obvious, and visitors can get a good sense of the less noticeable activity on the tundra.
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.
A dusting of snow and frost settled on the tundra overnight. Numerous ponds froze, and now only the largest still contains open water. The day began bitterly cold and foggy, with strong winds coming off Hudson Bay. By early afternoon, however, the fog gave way to blue skies and sunshine. Polar bears are currently being seen all along the coast within the Churchill Wildlife Management Area, with a concentration of polar bears out east between First Tower and The Flats. Two males were spotted sparring in the afternoon, and some younger females were quite active, approaching several tundra vehicles. An array of birdlife was encountered, while foxes have remained elusive for several days.