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From The Lodge

From Beijing, China, to Seal River, Manitoba, for polar bear photos

Xie Jianguo and his hardy group of photographers from Birds Eye Media traveled all the way from Beijing, China this week to pursue our great white bears with their cameras.

Fireweed!

Fireweed!

From all aspects the trip was a “smashing” success, sorry Li, no pun intended after dropping that new 600 & D1 on the rocks! Hope it is repairable. And Xie hopes that his feet will one day thaw and feel warm again.

Lazy day in the grass.

Lazy day in the grass.

The weather, tides, bugs (lack thereof), and wildlife all conspired to give us an exceptional experience. Mike was fortunate to be able to get out with cousin Quent and help guide for a change of pace from regular lodge operations and it was a blast.

As the photos indicate, there were some very special photo opportunities to be had and the group will have many exhausting hours of editing ahead of them.

Love is in the air.

Love is in the air.

Moms, Cubs, Blooms and Belugas all in fine form at Seal River!

 by Terry Elliot, Churchill Wild Polar Bear Guide

Mom & Cubs at Seal River

Mom & Cubs at Seal River

Just about at the halfway point of our summer season and I thought I would let everyone know how things have been going.

There have been so many mothers and cubs this year that I have lost count! This morning we saw a Mom with two cubs nursing on the tidal flats with another Mom and her cub in the distance. The last group saw two separate nursing sessions with one of the cubs vocalizing his displeasure at having to move on too soon.

Great groups of people and everyone leaving just blown away by the things they have seen. The belugas have been amazing with many of the guests getting kissed and nuzzled by them.

Getting friendly with the Belugas!

Getting friendly with the Belugas!

The flower bloom has been spectacular (as usual) and thanks to a warm dry spring the bugs have been almost nonexistent. Looking forward to the rest of the season, and to the Arctic Safari, my favourite trip!

Bye! Have fun with the Belugas!

Bye! Have fun with the Belugas!

New Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge construction well underway

by Nolan Booth, Director of Lodge Operations, Churchill Wild

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Timber-frame lounge/dining room construction well on its way!

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Timber-frame lounge/dining room construction well on its way!

First we had to plan and organize all the building materials, which included lumber, timber frame, plumbing, electrical supplies, solar panels, inverters, a 45 kW generator and more. Then we had to find a way to haul it 110 nautical miles from Gillam to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, along with two construction crews and even more helpers.

After that we could start building the brand new state-of-the-art 24 x 60 shop with a triple phase electrical system. Once the shop was complete we could start on the new Nanuk lounge and dining hall that will be attached to one of the existing buildings and completely renovated into a new kitchen.

Albert, Vinnie and myself were on the apron of the Gillam runway when the bright yellow Bassler BT67 from Cargo North coasted in and rolled to a stop. The modified DC-3 has been stretched approximately 10 feet and has had its power converted from an old radial engine to brand new turbine engines that can haul over 10,000 pounds. Everything from stacks of lumber to the Tundra Rhino were going to fit on this plane.

The Tundra Rhino was custom built by Stewart Reimer to travel the coastline and move up to eight guests at a time. It was 8-wheeler when we started loading and a 2-wheeler by the time we were done, but it fit! We also had less than an inch of space left when the loader put the generator through the door.

Tundra Rhino!

The Tundra Rhino has been tamed!

With a crew of three including myself in Gillam, a front-end loader; the pilot, co-pilot-worker, engineer-worker and another helper; Riley, Karli and four more helpers on the ground at Nanuk; the hauling began. Load after load after load for a total of 18.

Fourteen-hour days ensued and we managed to complete the task of hauling everything in over five days. The only downside to having a plane as large as the modified DC3 that did the hauling was the fact that our runway is only 3,000 feet long and 120 feet wide, which left nowhere for the plane to turn around. We came up with a fun solution for that. See video below.

We are now one month into the project. The shop is built, the power system overhaul is complete and includes 16 235 W solar panels that deliver 4000 W of charging power to the 48-volt battery bank. We also have an eco-friendly 45 kW diesel generator as backup, but the generator rarely runs due to the ample solar power.

The floor is built for the new lounge and the erection of the timber frame has begun. Stewart Reimer is in camp with his trusty helper Ryan and they are working on a list of mechanical repairs an Indy pit crew could not complete in the timeframe I’ve given them: Retro-fit the guest trailers; get the Tundra Rhino up and running; perform maintenance on all five quads; move a bunch of buildings; get the CAT running and clean up the runway.

And it’s all getting done!

We’ve had four-legged visitors almost every day. Seems all the animals on the coast and in the forest want to know what is going on. The workers have to be weary by now of the two polar bears at camp posing for pictures, and I counted at least six more polar bears within 10 km of us during our flight out to Gilliam.

There have been multiple black bears on site and Ivan recently got us all up from coffee to check out two 6-foot tall yearling moose twins standing beside a pile of lumber. Riel also managed to call a young black wolf right up to the fence.

There are never ending chirps to wake us at 4:30 a.m. so we are never late getting started. And the weasels and bunnies are a common site all through the evening as we sit outside enjoying the smell of the fresh salt air.

But enough chit-chat for now, there are things to do. We have an incredible combination of crew and family working on this project, doing what they love to do. By the end of August, when the first guests arrive at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, we will have a very special experience waiting for them.

Something that only Churchill Wild can provide.

Panoramic landscape at Nanuk. Click for larger image.

Panoramic landscape at Nanuk.

Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey, filmed at Churchill Wild lodges, wins two Canadian Screen Awards

Polar bear posing for the camera near Seal River Lodge

Polar Bear Perfect Pose

 Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey, much of which was filmed at Churchill Wild’s Seal River Lodge and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, was a big winner at the inaugural Canadian Screen Awards!

The Canadian Screen Awards celebrate TV, film and digital productions in Canada. Considered similar to the Golden Globe Awards in the United States, they are the result of a consolidation of Canada’s Genie and Gemini awards. The untelevised portion of the Canadian Screen Awards took place this past Wednesday and Thursday, and the final gala event in the celebration will be broadcast by CBC on Sunday, March 3 at 8 p.m. and hosted by Canadian comedian Martin Short.

Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey won awards for Best Science or Nature Documentary Program or Series and Best Photography in a Documentary Program or Series. Directed by Adam Ravetch and Sarah Robertson of Arctic Bear Productions, the film was produced by Arcadia Entertainment in association with CBC’s Science and Natural History Documentary Unit.

“It is a great honour to receive both of these prestigious awards,” said Ravetch, who is also the Cinematographer of the documentary. “I know Arcadia TV, Sarah Robertson, Tim O’Brien and our production and post-production team are all grateful for the collaboration with CBC’s Caroline Underwood, David Suzuki, and The Nature of Things.”

Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey, which was also produced in 2D for National Geographic, 3D for Sky TV,  and released on 3D/2D Blue Ray by Universal Pictures, tells the story of a teenage polar bear’s adventures in and around the icy waters of Hudson Bay, where he spends his first ice-free season during the summer without his mother to guide him as he struggles to survive on his own. Set against a background theme of climate change, The Nature of Things perhaps described the film best when they wrote:

“Watch the desperate acts of a bear pushed to the brink. Witness the wisdom and commitment of a protective mother bear. Observe the seemingly ferocious social rituals of massive male bears. Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey features breath-taking cinematography capturing rarely seen bear behavior including the young bear climbing a 250 meter cliff in search of a meal and a bold male who has learnt the art of hunting walrus.”

Polar Bear Movie Film Crew: L to R Andy MacPherson, Stewart Mayer, Adam Ravetch, Indy Saini

A Happy Polar Bear Film Crew! L to R: Andy MacPherson, Stewart Mayer, Adam Ravetch, Indy Saini

Images for the film were captured using a myriad of cameras including a remote-control truck cam, a heli-cam, a polar bear collar cam and numerous underwater cameras. In our original blog post about the filming, 3D Polar Bear Movie filmed at Seal River Lodge, guide Andrew MacPherson described a day on the set.

“There wasn’t a day during the filming when we didn’t find some kind of interesting bear activity, interaction or social behavior. Adam’s movie unfolded in front of us daily, but we won’t see the final result of his efforts for a while. We were excited to be a part of the creative process and can only imagine what Adam will weave together with all the incredible footage he recorded.”

Ravetch admits he became addicted to close-up wildlife photography when he filmed polar bears underwater for the film To the Arctic.

“Water is 800 times denser than air,” he said. “So you had to get really close to the animals to actually see them. Not only was that experience a high-energy adrenaline rush, but when you get that close to a wild animal it becomes a very intimate personal experience. You really get to know the animals. I wanted the audience to have that same experience.”

“I wanted them to really connect with the polar bear’s struggle for life,” continued Ravetch. “And the only way to do that was to get up-close imagery and wrap it into an intimate story. At the same time we had to get the bears to relax and let them go about their business. We were able to stay with a mother and two cubs, for week in the fall. That enabled us to get a lot of natural behavior.

Ravetch went on to say that making a film like this requires a team of very talented creative people, both during and post production.

“Every film is a collaboration,” he said. “This isn’t just you and your camera. It requires a lot of talented people to tell a good story. Mike and Jeanne Reimer, their family and their guides at Churchill Wild are invaluable. They have specialized knowledge of the territory, the wilderness and life-long experience with the polar bears. Their family-run operation at Churchill Wild is very unique in that you can get very close to the polar bears in a safe manner. It’s very remote yet you have all the comforts of home. You’re not camping out. They have beautiful lodges and a one of a kind experience you can’t find anywhere else. Great food, cocktails, cozy and comfortable accommodations, smack right in the middle of the tundra on Hudson Bay in the center of polar bear country.”

“It’s a huge challenge to film in 3D in the arctic,” said Ravetch in an earlier blog post, Churchill Wild polar bears to appear on CBC’s The Nature of Things in Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey.

Churchill Wild’s Mike Reimer and polar bear guides Terry Elliot and Andy MacPherson were essential in getting very specific polar bear shots, especially of a young male polar bear, so that we could have the type of imagery to tell a strong character driven story. The guides have to have experience specifically with polar bears. They concentrate on safety so we can focus on camera angles and getting the shots we need. Being up close with the bears is quite spectacular for a filmmaker, but safety is paramount. The last thing we want is for a person or a bear to get hurt. You’re not in a cage or a vehicle; you’re at ground level with the polar bears. I’ve always worked at ground level, but there are very few places where you can photograph polar bears like this. Seal River and Nanuk are among the best places on the planet for this type of wildlife photography.”

Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey - 3D film crew in action near Seal River Lodge.

Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey - 3D film crew in action near Seal River Lodge

“Filming in 3D was much more work. But we wanted immersive images so the audience could experience what it’s really like to be up close at ground level with polar bears. It required multiple cameras operating at the same time to produce the special 3D effects and three of us including Stereographer Indy Saini and Camera Engineering Specialist Stewart Meyer to get the distances between the objects and between the lenses just right. Stewart also developed a smaller mobile camera system that could produce some very rare images.”

In Sun sets on a polar bear at Nanuk, guide Andrew MacPherson described some of the filming that took place at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

“A beautiful four or 5-year-old female polar bear moved towards us in the glow of late afternoon light. She hopped numerous small streams and slid effortlessly through the grass, providing us with some amazing footage. She stopped to the sound of my voice when she was about 30 meters away, then casually moved around us to the seaward side, giving us the over the shoulder looks as she passed by. We quickly packed and played leap frog with the bear all the way back to the Misatkoken River, where she sniffed out our poor unfortunate friend. That was where we left her at twilight, outlined in golden light, standing on the crest of the beach ridge.”

Ravetch went on to explain how polar bears have their own their own society. How each bear has their own personality and different character attributes. And that when you get to know the bears, you start to understand how and why they interact with each other the way they do; how they teach their offspring to survive in the wilderness; and how much they worry about their young. In other words, polar bears are a lot like us.

“This is a film about one of the biggest stories of our time,” said Tim O’Brien of Arcadia Entertainment. “Climate change and its impact on our natural world. Specifically the polar bear population. Somehow we managed to tell a very dramatic and personal story about the journey of one bear. And, that’s really a credit to Adam Ravetch and all the many people and organizations like Churchill Wild, who made it happen.”

A movie you don’t want to miss, Polar Bears: A Summer Odyssey will soon be available in major online retail outlets.

Sun sets on a polar bear near Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Sun sets on a polar bear near Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

 

Top African Safari Guide Ian Johnson visits Seal River Heritage Lodge

It was almost a year ago that we met with Ian Johnson of Epic Private Journeys in the Johannesburg Airport and chatted about “stepping out” of the warm safari scene in Africa and organizing a slightly more chilling expedition in the form of an Arctic Safari.

One of Africa’s top professional guides and photographers, Ian was true to his word, and ventured over to visit us with friends Soren and Egler from Shanghai, to experience an arctic adventure with our great ice bears.

Below normal temperatures, down to -38 C with the wind chill, delighted the polar bears during Ian’s visit, and resulted in very quick ice formations reminiscent of the ’80s. As a result, the bears began their steady trek out onto the frozen surface of Hudson Bay.

Everyone agreed that the early accumulation of ice and snow cover created some incredible sea and landscapes as a fantastic backdrop for our bears and foxes. As the bears ventured back out onto the ice we were able to get some over the top shots that included the new ice formations.

Thanks for visiting Ian, Soren and Egler!

Ian Johnson Photos