Thomas Mangelsen, one of the premier wildlife photographers on the planet, journeyed to Churchill and the Hudson Bay region four years ago and captured this unbelievable footage of polar bear cubs and mother emerging from their den to play. The denning area located in the Wapusk National Parc is one of the most concentrated denning areas in the world. Still, the timing for capturing such incredible polar bear behavior is not always predictable. In fact days may go by before a photographer gets any action at all. Enjoy!
This short incredible video of a mother polar bear and her cubs emerging from a winter den site in Wapusk National Parc near Churchill, Manitoba. This short clip highlights the vitality of the cubs and fresh look on the world they have during their first exposure. Nothing much else to say about this priceless look into the polar bear’s world!
The weather is cooperating for this years start with the frigid cold temperatures waning this past week and providing somewhat more comfortable conditions for both dogs and mushers alike. Good luck to all teams in the race and stay safe on the tundra!
Karen Walker’s Natural Habitat travelers arrived into Churchill on a VERY mild day this past week. The temperatures have been in the 30’s, with very little wind. While making a traditional orientation stop at the Inukshuk, the smell of sea kelp was persistent without the breezes off the Hudson Bay. The group ventured up to Cape Merry and comfortably spent a half hour at the battery enjoying the panoramic views and interesting natural history from Ranger Heather.
Exploring the precambrian sheild in Churchill. Karen Walker photo.
Later, as the group headed out on the launch road, they spotted an Arctic hare tucked into some spruce branches right next to the road. “We went out to the lodge and spotted three white slivers of bears off in the willow bushes. Two of them sparred in the willows, then moved toward the lodge” stated Karen. “One big guy sat right under the lodge windows looking up at the lodge, while the other two sparred by the propane tanks. We were parked at the end of the lodge, splitting half of the rover looking into the back of the lodge and half in the front. Once the polar bears settled down in the willows, dinner was served and the polar rover headed back to launch.
Frosty white polar bear on the tundra. Brad Josephs photo.
The following day five helicopters with 15 people lifted off in search of a polar bear den. Overcast with a very light wind….the contingent flew over the fort and up the Churchill River. A couple of the helis spotted harbor seals on the rocks just below the weir a short ways up the river. “Further up river we spotted some moose. Some helicopter passengers saw sows with calves, some spotted bulls” reported Karen. The group landed at Deer River to look at an abandoned bear den. Many of the travelers went inside and snapped a photo. The surrounding tundra was spongy and covered with caribou moss (lichen), crowberries, lowbush cranberries and the fragrant Labrador tea and even some red cranberries above the den. “I love the smell of the Labrador tea as you walk across the tundra.” stated karen. The larch/tamarack trees were losing their last needles. These trees are unique in that they are one of the only coniferous trees to lose their needles in the winter.
A birds eye view from the helicopter above Churchill. Karen walker photo.
The helicopters set off again flying across the wide open space, over the ponds and wetlands across Wapusk National Park. “We spotted many more moose in the forest -moms and calves, bulls, and bulls with cows nearby.” On the return journey back to Churchill the helicopters flew along the coast to look for polar bears. “We spotted innumerable bears along the coast, walking, standing, and laying in the kelp. In one group there were seven bears right near each other, and 15 bears within our view. We also spotted a couple of moms with cubs. We flew over the CWMA and the finally the Ithaca shipwreck and into Churchill.” What a trip!
As the group landed and entered the Hudson Bay Helicopter base office, Karen spotted a Conservation officer. She sensed that something might be happening shortly out at the Polar Bear Compound and she was right. The group hurried by shuttle out to the facility to see a mom with two, two-year-old cubs lifted by net up the coast of Hudson Bay. “It was pretty exciting for the guests that had just ridden in that helicopter to see it used for the bear lift” offered Karen.
Conservation officers prepare an animal for a bear lift. Karen walker photo.
The group headed over to Kelly Turcotte’s Churchill River Mushing for an afternoon of dog mushing. Kelly provided interesting information on the dog hierarchy and expenses to feed dogs up in the north, then the guests went out to meet the dogs. It was “warm” out, so there was a lot of mud in the dog yard and many guests came back with muddy foot prints on their Natural Habitat parkas. After the bumpy and fun ride on the cart-sleds Kelly spoke about a bear that was nosing around his dog yard earlier this season. Conservation officers tranquilized the bear and took him away to the compound.
On the way back into town, the group stopped at the Dene Village monument and learned about the struggles of the Dene people through their government forced relocation. Winding along the RX Road, the travelers stopped to see the Canadian Eskimo Dogs that various owners hold in their kennel yards and then made a final stop at the Town of Churchill sign for a group photo. All in all an amazing trip so far in Churchill!
Natural Habitat guide Karen Walker finished up the polar bear season with an enthusiastic and somewhat “seasoned” group. An initial day of dog sledding with Churchill River mushing and Kelly Turcotte provided one of those Arctic experiences that will last in memory forever. Gliding through the packed snow amongst covered spruce trees gave 89 yr old traveler Tina Vilhauer a thrill of a lifetime. She was able to share the experience with her granddaughter who also had a big smile.
Running sled dog. Brad Josephs photo.
After lunch the group was off via helicopter to scout out polar bear dens out near Wapusk National Park. Once located, the abandoned dens were another incredible, once in a lifetime event for most of the group. Tina and Muriel Slavens, a 75 year-old traveler were not able to forge across the snow to crawl through a den so the helicopter pilot hovered just above the entrance on the way back so they could get a closer look inside…a wonderful gesture for the women to cherish. Some of the other guests had crawled into the polar bear den and were able to describe the feel and earthly smell of the hollowed out tundra.
Moose moving along the tundra. Brad Josephs photo.
As the group flew across Wapusk National Parc, along the Churchill River they searched the land for moose… spotting quite a few, including a sow and calf and four large bull moose in a group together.As they headed up the coast searching for polar bears all aboard noticed that the ice had really packed into the Hudson Bay the last few days, so it was difficult to spot the bears.There were no bears at Cape Churchill yet…traditionally the last stepping -off point of the season for polar bears heading out onto the ice to hunt seals. Finally heading west, they spotted several bears, including a sow with cubs. Bears waiting by leads of water in the ice for seals and one blood stained patch of ice with indented paw prints around signaled the scene of an earlier seal kill.Returning to town the choppers flew into the sunset, with a hazy, foggy orange sky ahead and a sun dog rainbow off to the side. The final leg took the group over the Ithaca ship wreck encased in the ice in Bird Cove heading back into Churchill at last light.Back in town after a hot dinner the group enjoyed an inspiring talk by local Metis elder Myrtle Demeulles.
Snow covered Fort Prince of Wales. Karen Walker photo.
The first morning out on a rover produced very little wildlife activity until the group reached a point out east. There a healthy polar bear lumbered along the coast, very close to the rover. Several more bears were spotted out on the ice and then a few minutes of sparring at the tundra lodge. A bear nearby the lodge was licking at its paws for quite awhile. Four other sleeping bears were in view and the tranquility of the animals mixed with the majestic landscape was satisfying to all travelers aboard. The group caught a great view of an arctic fox along the coast …following it with the rover for several minutes.
Arctic fox combing the tundra. Brad Josephs photo.
The following day was stormy so polar bears were either hunkered down in the willows or facing the challenges of being out on the sea ice of the Hudson Bay in search of seals. A bear was spotted along the ice edge at the coast walking slowly . “We did get to see an arctic fox as we left town in the morning, an arctic hare in the willows in Ptarmigan Alley and some ptarmigan popping up and down along a snow berm near the lodge lake.So we ended up seeing all 4 arctic animals that day which is pretty unusual., reported Karen.
Polar bear walking along a frozen thermokarst. Brad Josephs photo.
“Our last morning was beautiful, so we drove around as far as we could without getting stuck in the snow drifts.We couldn’t get all the way to Cape Merry, but we got beyond Jockville and could see Fort Prince of Wales across the frozen Churchill River.We saw lots of fresh bear and fox tracks, but none were in sight.”, stated Karen. A magnificent morning around the Churchill area.
Calm Air charter ready to fly to Winnipeg. Karen Walker photo.
Just before the groups flight to Winnipeg, they got to see a bear lift of a sow and her two cubs.The cubs rode in the cab of the helicopter with seat belts fastened to hold them secure while mom was slung underneath in the cargo net.The guests really enjoyed that grand finale.