Churchill Polar Bear Report – November Freeze

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.

polar bear family in Churchill

A polar bear and two coys peruse the ice of the Hudson Bay. Discover Churchill photo.

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.

polar bear mom and cub in Churchill, Manitoba

A mom and cub polar bear keep a watchful eye on the tundra. Discover Churchill photo.

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.

Red fox braves the wind and fog in Churchill

A red fox in the wind and cold in Churchill. Discover Churchill photo.

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.

Northern lights coming to a sky near Churchill

If you thought that the frontier town of Churchill, Manitoba on the shores of the Hudson Bay shut down for the winter after polar bear season in November,……you were mistaken. In fact the winter season has become increasingly active over the past decade or so. With the increasing number of people having already made the visit to Churchill to be up close and personal with the polar bears, these same folks and first-timers are returning to see amazing aurora and get a feel for the Arctic winter.

Aurora in Churchill,MB.

Captivating aurora borealis in Churchill,MB. Brad Josephs photo.

Northern lights trips offered by Natural Habitat Adventures begin next week and run through mid-March. This year two photo- trips are also traveling north with Brad Josephs as trip-leader. Brad has incredible experience in the far north and his photography skills in this environment are top-notch.

Aurora domes outside of Churchill.

Aurora domes provide cozy viewing in the heart of winter. Jeremy Pearson photo.

Aside from viewing “northern lights” over the Hudson Bay, other thrilling activities fill the days. Igloo building, dog sledding and nature photography highlight the schedule…all the while just being submerged in the feel of an Arctic village in the heart of winter.

Current temperature in Churchill is 0 F with a wind chill of -17 F….actually a warm -up from the past week. However, the right clothing and footwear makes for exhilarating experiences and ones that stick…for obvious reasons…in the mind forever. I still recall my experiences winter camping in the high peaks region of the Adirondacks back in upstate New York like they were just last week. Something about cold just locks those feelings in forever. And some amazing trips they were indeed. I think it’s the fact that you could make a mistake that absolutely could have dire consequences that really requires focus and determination of the mind. The present is all that can be considered at the time.

Sled dogs in Churchill,MB.

Sled dogs in training. Churchill,MB. Sandra Elvin photo.

Speaking of focus…our next blog will be a checkpoint of sorts on the upcoming Hudson Bay Quest dogsled race in March. This will be another scintillating race for sure…starting in Gillam and finishing in Churchill.



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