Natural Habitat Adventures guide Brad Josephs and his band of travelers enjoyed an exciting start to the polar bear season with good bear sightings along with some other fantastic wildlife encounters. The group also witnessed an iconic landmark coming to the ground out in the Churchill Wildlife Management Area.
Polar bear with a dirty snout. Brad Josephs photo.
Veteran guide Brad reported warmer than average temperatures for this time of year though that didn’t deter polar bears from revealing themselves on the tundra. A pair of snowy owls perched on Precambrian rocks searching for lemmings or Arctic hares made for prime viewing and photo ops. A small group of willow ptarmigan made their way from the willows, imagine that, into sight of the excited group. A good look at an iconic northern species.
Willow Ptarmigan displaying furry, insulated feet. Brad Josephs photo.
Arctic hare stoic ly waiting for the protection of snow. Brad Josephs photo.
Brad described the falling of an iconic landmark out in the CWMA.; “A strange thing happened while we were on the tundra. We drove by an old military observation tower built in the early 1950’s for cold weather training, and when we drove by it again a few hours later it had collapsed in the high winds.” The landmark was dubbed “first tower” since there were two of these structures built for military training observation in the 1950’s and this one is the first one that polar rovers encounter while searching the tundra for wildlife. It’s quite a ways out on the trail and served as a landmark for rover drivers, especially in snowy conditions. Sad to see it go!
The demise of first tower in the CWMA. Brad Josephs photo.
While exploring the tundra out near the fallen tower, the group had an amazing encounter with a red fox carrying its ptarmigan prey in his mouth. Surprised by being “caught in the act” , the fox paused to take in the curious onlookers gazing at him in wonderment of the laws of nature and the survival chain of life in the Arctic wild. What an exciting start to the 2016 polar bear season in Churchill!
A red fox with a tasty meal of willow ptarmigan. Brad Josephs photo.
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
Mother polar bear and unusually older cub getting close on the tundra. Moira Le Patourel photo.
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.
A color morph of the red fox, this onyx shaded fox is on the prowl for a meal of some sort. Moira Le Patourel photo.
Willow ptarmigan next to the rover trail in the CWMA. Moira Le Patourel photo.
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.
Polar bear settling in a kelp bed. Moira Le Patourel photo.
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.
Polar bear with a gull goose wing watching out cautiously. Moira Le Patourel photo.
Natural Habitat group of travelers in the CWMA. Moira Le Patourel photo.
Animals all over the Earth on land and within its oceans have evolved with some type of amazing camouflage or survival disguise in order to further exist in the wild. Many of these adaptations are intricate patterns or color shades that enable the living being to blend in with barely a trace of detection by predators.
Owl blending perfectly in with a tree. Eoiarucasadvancedone.blogspot photo.
Camouflage in animals tends to adhere to three factors regarding environment. Blending in and becoming one with the environment is most common in nature. Behavior and physiology of the animal, relating to the behavior of the predator. And lastly, the environment in which the animal lives and hunts its food.
Since animal camouflage is genetically determined, each new generation adapts to it environmental features a little better. most animals mimic the habitat’s coloration and features and take on some representation in their appearance for disguise. Some species are able to change those features as needed through biological means. Chameleons obviously come to mind in this regard. Birds and some furred animals also adjust by shedding or molting and growing different colored coats seasonally.
Common baron caterpillar blending into a leaf. Wohinauswandern photo.
Animals also use camouflage in groups or herds. Zebras blend their individual stripes together and appear as a larger mass to dissuade would be predators like lions. Tropical fish utilize this tactic as well by forming huge schools as protection. See kids… another reason to stay in school.
Polar bear using white to blend in. Natural Habitat Adventures photo.
Polar bears and Arctic animals use white as their camouflage. Polar bears are obviously a larger animal that has few predators besides humans. Therefore, blending in for them is a matter of disguising for predatory reasons. In essence, sneaking up on seals on white ice is the advantage gained. Other Arctic animals such as Arctic fox, Arctic hares, ptarmigan and beluga whales all need that white on white for protection from predators in the wild.
Willow ptarmigan becoming one with the snowy tundra. Art Wolfe photo.