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Archive for June, 2010

Churchill Wild guest Claire Wilson makes semi-finals in Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition

On the Rocks - Photo Credit: Claire Wilson

by Claire Wilson

We visited Seal River Heritage Lodge on Churchill Wild’s Great Ice Bear polar bear tour at the end of October 2009. I have always had a huge fascination with polar bears and was extremely excited about visiting the Seal River area in search of polar bears.  I tried not to get my expectations too high however, telling myself that we might only get a distant glimpse of a bear.

How wrong I was!

As soon as our plane touched down at Seal River, we could see several bears around us. Within an hour, there were two bears play-fighting a few feet from the front door of the lodge – amazing! I felt like I had died and gone to wildlife heaven!

We were lucky to get a mixture of conditions – the weather was dry and bright when we first arrived, but we then had plenty of snow and at one point the temperature cooled down to -27 degrees.

Polar bears wrestling near Seal River Lodge on Hudson Bay. Claire Wilson photo.

High and Mighty - Photo Credit: Claire Wilson

Our whole three days at the lodge were jam-packed with photo opportunities. Terry and Andy, our friendly and knowledgeable guides, were ready to take us out for hikes at any opportunity, and we saw plenty of bears every time we ventured outside.  Everyone learned a great deal about these majestic animals and their environment, and every day we all came back with full memory cards on our cameras. My husband Pete and I took about 3000 photographs between us!

Upon returning home, I was so proud of some of my photographs that I decided to send a few into the Wildlife Photographer of The Year competition, now in its 46th year and organized by The Natural History Museum, London and BBC Wildlife Magazine. This is a huge competition which has tens of thousands of entries from all over the world every year. Last year there were over 43,000 entries, and apparently there were well in excess of this amount for 2010.

I was absolutely stunned when I recently received an e-mail advising me that three of my entries had made it into the semi finals!

One photograph entitled “High and Mighty” (Semi-Finalist in the Category Animal Behaviour: Mammals) was taken on our first full day at Seal River when we went for a long group hike. The two bears seemed to want to perform for the cameras!

Polar bear photo Clash of the Titans taken by Claire Wilson at Seal River near Churchill, Manitoba on Hudson Bay while on Churchill Wild's Great Ice Bear Tour.

Clash of the Titans - Photo Credit: Claire Wilson

I shot “On The Rocks” (Semi-Finalist for the Gerald Durrell Award for Endangered Wildlife) the next day, literally feet from the lodge. And the third photograph I submitted, “Clash of the Titans” (also a Semi-Finalist in the Category Animal Behaviour: Mammals) was taken on our last morning at Seal River Heritage Lodge just a few minutes before we had too, reluctantly, leave this wonderful location.

We had such a great time with Churchill Wild! I can’t wait to return for our next adventure!

Photographing polar bears at ground level can be a rare and magical experience at remote Eco Lodges on the Hudson Bay coast. Not your normal Churchill fare.

Polar Bears playing at Seal River - Photo Credit: Dennis Fast

Polar Bears playing at Seal River - Photo Credit: Dennis Fast

Professional photographer Dennis Fast has been leading polar bear photo safari tours at Churchill Wild’s remote eco lodges on the Hudson Bay coast for years, yet every season he can’t wait to get back.

“I’m addicted,” smiled Fast.

What used to be a day trip to the wild Seal River to photograph polar bears has now developed into all-inclusive week-long stays at Churchill Wild’s polar bear eco lodges to photograph not only polar bears, but also arctic foxes and wolves, snowy owls, caribou, arctic landscapes and the northern lights.

Professional photographers, amateur photo buffs and world travelers from all over the planet come for the rare photo opportunities that can only be found at ground level in the natural environment of the polar bears.

Polar Bear Mom with Cubs - 2009 Churchill Wild Photo Contest - Photo Credit: Debbie Winchester

Polar Bear Mom with Cubs - 2009 Churchill Wild Photo Contest - Photo Credit: Debbie Winchester

“I love it,” said Fast. “The beauty of it is the polar bears have to walk by the point of land that juts out into Hudson Bay where the Lodge is, nine kilometers north of the Seal River. Polar bears are naturally curious. They smell the cooking at the Lodge and they’re also interested in the activity.”

It’s not unusual to have polar bears meander right up to the front door of Seal River Heritage Lodge on a daily basis, and often the bears will spend days lying around the Lodge enjoying the sights, smells and sounds of humans. It’s a unique environment where humans can meet polar bears in their natural home amidst spectacular scenery.

“When the tide is going in and out it creates surreal lunar-type landscapes,” said Fast. “During the summer you have these huge ancient boulders of black and gray and their shadows combined with bright orange sunrises and sunsets. In the winter when the tide envelops the rocks, they get covered in ice and you have this huge hummocky ice field, which is also enhanced dramatically by the sunrises over Hudson Bay. ”

In October and November there is a stunning mix of colors formed by a rare combination of  the sun, warm air off the land, cold air off the bay, two major river systems and huge boulders rising from a glowing ice fog. That being said, the advantage of the remote polar bear eco lodge location is that the fog bank is further out, which allows much more opportunity to see polar bears.  While Churchill can sometimes be totally socked in by fog, the atmosphere at the Lodge is clear.

Northern Lights at Seal River on Hudson Bay

Northern Lights at Seal River - Photo Credit: Dennis Fast

The unique combination of weather at the Lodge often results in phenomenal northern lights viewing. The location at Seal River doesn’t take a back seat to anyone when it comes to the northern lights.

“It’s among the premier aurora borealis viewing areas in the world,” said Fast.

But one of the major reasons Seal River Heritage Lodge attracts both professional and amateur photographers, as well as travel companies that offer photo tours, is for the ground-level photo opportunities.

“When you’re on the ground and a polar bear gets close to you the shot is that much more intimate,” said Fast. “You can’t get these types of shots from above, from a vehicle. You have to be there, on the ground. You can get them either by hiking over the tundra or through the specialized fence around the compound at the Lodge.”

Using a super wide angle lenses you can not only get unobstructed shots of the bears up close but also of the landscape in the background. The wide buffalo fence keeps the bears out while still allowing for exceptional photos. Smaller zooms can go right through for really intimate shots.

“Last year we got some great photos of a polar bear 35 feet away chewing on caribou antlers,” said Fast.  “We wouldn’t get that close to a new bear, but with an old bear, a “resident” bear that has been around the Lodge for awhile, a unique relationship often develops between the bear and the photographers. They respect each other’s space. The bear knows he’s going to get yelled at or chased away if he comes too close and the photographers have no desire or need to intrude into the bear’s comfort zone. The bears are generally very quiet, they don’t threaten you.”

Caribou running over tundra

Caribou running over tundra - 2009 Churchill Wild Photo Contest - Photo Credit: Wendy Kaveney

And it’s not just the polar bears.  Two years ago there were over 3000 caribou in the area. The actual number of caribou around the Lodge at any given time depends on the weather patterns. Arctic foxes have been known to come right into the compound and just about take food out of your hands. There are also the arctic hares and in 2009 photographers were lucky enough to catch a White Gyrfalcon.

“Through guiding photo tours and staying at the Lodge I’ve met some fascinating people,” said Fast. “Professional photographers and photojournalists from some of the world’s top publications like National Geographic and the L.A. Times, and I’ve also met some of the world’s wealthiest people. Trading stories in this kind of company is more than enjoyable. I’ve met people from Japan, Mexico, China, Russia, Germany and the USA at the Lodge. It’s truly a one-of-a-kind experience.”

The facilities at the Lodge are excellent and the food is superb, prepared from the family’s award-winning cookbook series Blueberries and Polar Bears. And importantly notes Fast, the trips are all-inclusive.

“Expenses can add up on a trip to Churchill when you take into account airfare, hotels, hot meals, day tours etc.” said Fast. “So the cost of staying at the Lodge is actually quite reasonable when you consider it’s an all-inclusive adventure vacation and you’re actually staying in the wild – experiencing the polar bear’s natural environment. Yet you still have all the comforts of home along with gourmet meals and great company.”

“This is going to get hot,” continued Fast. “Everybody’s starting to get wind of it and major adventure tour companies are starting to organize more and more arctic photo safari tours to the Lodge. They’re beginning to realize that this is a fabulous venue for polar bear photography and it’s only going to get better. I have tons of polar bear shots and I can’t get wait to get back there.”

Polar bears, the feeling of the arctic wilderness, the northern lights, arctic wildlife, great food, superb company and  photo opportunities with soft light and a blend of colors you just can’t find anywhere else in the world.

“Catch a white polar bear in purple fireweed at sunset and add in the fog,” grinned Fast.

“And you’ve got something magical.”

Polar Bear at sunset on Hudson Bay - Photo Credit: Dennis Fast

Churchill Wild’s Polar Bear Ecolodges proud to participate in Food Day Canada 2010

Gourmet Dinner at Churchill WildChurchill Wild chef and owner Jeanne Reimer will have a chance to showcase her family’s award-winning Blueberries and Polar Bears Cookbook series and more on July 31, 2010 when their exclusive polar bear eco lodges participate in Food Day Canada 2010.

“We’re very proud to participate in Food Day Canada,” said Reimer, who is clearly looking forward to the challenge. “It’s very exciting for us!”

This year, Food Day just happens to coincide with Churchill Wild’s Birds, Bears and Belugas tour, an exclusive wildlife viewing vacation on Canada’s rugged Hudson Bay coast on which international guests have the opportunity to walk with polar bears, swim with beluga whales and experience the wonders of the ancient tundra landscape, spectacular coastal views and of course… the fabulous food!

Jeanne’s mother Helen Webber is the co-author of the bestselling Blueberries and Polar Bears cookbook series, all the books in the series having been inspired by the most requested recipes at Webber’s Lodges and Churchill Wild.

The culinary expertise in the Webber and Reimer families now spans multiple generations, with husbands and wives, children and grandchildren involved in blending tradition with imagination to come up with fabulous creations that satisfy even the most discerning palate.

So while the guests are working up an appetite viewing wildlife, hiking the tundra and taking photos, Jeanne Reimer and family will be preparing culinary delights ranging from appetizers to gourmet dinners – all prepared with a nod to local culture and traditional resources.  Jeanne has yet to decide what will be served to celebrate Food Day 2010 but promises it will excite the taste buds and do Canada and their International guests proud.

Churchill Wild’s imaginative creations will be eligible for awards in three different categories including Innovation, Adaptability and Hyper Local.

Lemon GreekThe Innovation Award will be presented to restaurants and individuals who approach food in a new and exciting manner. This can be done to solve a problem or just to add creative flare to a traditionally prepared dish. It can include one ingredient in a dish, or all ingredients in the dish. Or perhaps, there’s an interesting story behind the entire menu! Regardless, this award will be great testament to a Canadian chef who is always pressing the limits of food preparation.

The Adaptability Award takes into account that some of us are at a distinct disadvantage in terms of cooking regionally and locally. Living in a small farm community certainly has its advantages, whereas some urban centres are severely limited by what the local super market chain brings in. Canada’s climate is famously diverse and challenging. The Adaptability Award is presented to a restaurant and individual who exemplifies adaptability, given an environmental, social or other limitation.

The Hyper Local Award will be presented to the establishment or individual who redefines local ingredient sourcing. Perhaps all the items on the menu are local, or perhaps the greens were grown on the windowsill of the urban bistro, or the bees for the honey were kept on the roof! The salmon might have been line caught off the dock, or maybe the flour was milled on the premises. This award recognizes the importance of local sourcing, in terms of the economic and environmental impact, historic significance, or just for the fun of it!

Churchill Wild is one of over 130 food establishments participating in Food Day across Canada. To make a reservation at Churchill Wild, please contact them at the number below. For other restaurants in your region or across Canada, please visit the Events page at the Food Day Canada Web site.

Churchill Wild
Box 79, Kleefeld
Manitoba R0A 0V0
Toll Free: 1.866.UGO.WILD (846-9453)
Phone: 1.204.377.5090
Web: www.ChurchillWild.com
Email: info@churchillwild.com

About Food Day

Food Day Canada Founder Anita Stewart

Food Day Canada founder Anita Stewart

Now in its eighth year, Food Day 2010 will honor establishments, restaurants and individuals who best exemplify the philosophy of “local, regional, seasonal” by presenting awards in several unique categories. Bronze, silver, and gold awards will be presented for exemplary skill, creativity and conscientiousness within the relevant category. The awards are sponsored by leaders in the Canadian food industry, and will carefully reflect the spirit and philosophy of each category.

Food Day Canada was founded by renowned culinary activist, educator, and writer Anita Stewart, who describes the celebration as a showcase of her life’s work. Stewart has been traveling across Canada since 1983, identifying and writing about its essential nature as a regionally diverse food nation. Before “local, regional, seasonal” was in vogue, Stewart was visiting the country inns, farmer’s markets, First Nations and lighthouses of Canada.

Today, many of Canada’s food industry leaders credit Stewart with influencing their style and philosophy. Stewart has 14 books to her name and hundreds of articles published in all major Canadian news and food publications. She broadcasts on CBC Radio One. She holds a Master of Arts (Gastronomy) and is an honorary lifetime member of the Canadian Culinary Federation of Chefs and Cooks. Stewart is supported by a team of dedicated media, marketing and restaurant pros at the tops of their fields, including some of the most notable culinary figures in Canada.