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Thanks for the polar bears, caribou, arctic foxes, northern lights… and thank you to our guests!

by Mike Reimer, Churchill Wild

Qamanirjuaq caribou. Out for a stroll at Seal River Lodge. Dennis Fast photo.

Qamanirjuaq caribou. Out for a stroll at Seal River Lodge. Dennis Fast photo.

Hello fellow adventurers!

The long awaited ice has finally arrived and the world’s largest carnivores have moved back to their favourite hunting platform, the rugged sea ice, to begin the “fattening” period. Our friendly summer-fall polar bear visitors will spend the winter dining contentedly on yummy seals.

Polar bear outside Seal River Lodge

Hmm… no seals here. Dennis Fast photo.

We were blessed this year at Seal River with the return of thousands of Central Barren Ground Caribou. These photogenic creatures provided many bonus hours of “shooting.” The caribou herd pictured here is known as the Qamanirjuaq. Numbering an estimated half a million animals, the Qamanirjuaq herd takes part in one of the last great wildlife migrations on the planet, and certainly the largest of its kind in North America.

Qamanirjuaq caribou herd stops by for lunch. Dennis Fast photo.

Qamanirjuaq caribou herd stops by for lunch. Dennis Fast photo.

The caribou ventured south from their summer home in the barrens and are heading into the tree line to find shelter from the harsh winter winds. Most of them will overwinter in the North Knife Lake region of Manitoba, feeding, resting and avoiding wolves until they begin their trek north in the spring, back to the calving grounds.

Arctic foxes have been seen in abundance this year

Arctic foxes were seen in abundance this year!

Not to be outdone, the arctic foxes were back again in record numbers with 40 to 50 in sight at any one time. And of course, the northern lights have done their part and provided many a great light show for bleary eyed but happy photogs.

Lonely Zodiac at Seal River Lodge awaiting the return of summer and another chance to frolic with the belugas on Hudson Bay RJ Payne photo.

Lonely Zodiac at Seal River Lodge awaiting the return of summer and another chance to frolic with the belugas on Hudson Bay. RJ Payne photo.

Thanks to the polar bears bears, the caribou, the arctic foxes, the northern lights and nature, for providing Churchill Wild with yet another great season of adventure travel at our northern Manitoba lodges.

Polar bear says goodbye at Seal River Lodge

Polar bear saying goodbye to Seal River Lodge guests.

But most of all, a sincere thank you to our wonderful guests. You make this all so worthwhile.

Helicopter at Seal River Lodge

Time for a helicopter ride!

Young photographer learns “Fast” on polar bear photo tour at Seal River Lodge

by Mike Reimer, Churchill Wild. Photos by Elijah Boardman.

Relaxed but intense gaze from Arctic Fox at Seal River Lodge.

Relaxed but intense gaze from Arctic Fox at Seal River Lodge.

Thirteen-year-old Elijah Boardman, the youngest photographer ever to join one of our professionally guided polar bear photo tours, is proving himself to be a very adept, capable and enthusiastic “shooter”.

His boundless passion and energy serves as a catalyst to all, encouraging the team to spend every possible moment in what is at times a rather harsh Arctic environment. Eli’s persistence and dedication, along with some coaching from on-site professional photographer Dennis Fast, has resulted in the capture of some wonderful images and lifelong memories.

Caribou running windy cold!

Caribou running windy cold!

Eli was kind enough to allow his mother and father, Karen and Joseph, to accompany him to Seal River Lodge this year, in his quest for the great white bears.

Judging from the quality of his images and the zeal he has for this type of “work” we expect to see Eli back here again sometime in the near future. We’re looking forward to it.

Nice work Eli!

Polar bear says, "I know you're in there." to windsock at Seal River Lodge.

I know you’re in there…

Walking with polar bears at Seal River Lodge — Special Guest Report

Polar Bear Walking Photo Journey Report, Tropical Birding Trip Report, October 2013
Guest post and photos by guide Iain Campbell of TropicalBirding.com

PolarBearPeaking

I am used to being somewhat underwhelmed when people sprout hyperbole. You go there and it is not quite as amazing as they made it seem. Well I can say that this trip to Seal River Lodge was point blank the best photographic and wildlife adventure that I have ever experienced.

After five days with polar bears, I wanted to stay for another week, and was excited when our flight out was delayed by four hours. Time for one more walk.

The trip started in Winnipeg, where you arrive the night before to ensure you make the early morning flight the next morning to Churchill, Manitoba on the southwestern banks of Hudson Bay. After arriving in Churchill, people needing warm weather gear got fitted out and we took a small 8-seater plane for a low flight north to Seal River Lodge. As we left Churchill we flew over the last of the Taiga forest and onto the tundra. The landscape is not classically beautiful, but glorious in its starkness.

On arrival onto the small runway at the Lodge, the snow was blowing strong, our temperatures dropped, and one person decided that the two minute drive to the lodge was better than the 10 minute walk, so she headed off with the luggage. The remaining six of us braved it out, and were rewarded by our first polar bear sighting off the edge of the runway, chilling out in some willows.

After settling in, grabbing a great lunch and getting an introduction to dealing with massive carnivores that you feel inclined to cuddle, we set off with Tara and Andy, the two local guides who made us feel completely at ease.

We were about to walk around the tundra with polar bears, so having A-grade guides who know their stuff was very important. On the first afternoon we had a bear rolling around, stretching and generally just checking us out. We also had an Arctic Fox in its new winter plumage.

Polar Bear rolling around on the tundra at Seal River Lodge.

It was only that night that we really spent time to check out the Lodge. If you want plush with all the bells and whistles, satellite television and a spa, this is not it. It is however, much better than that, very comfortable with ensuite bathrooms, and there is an extremely cozy lounge to hang out in and chat. And best of all, amazingly helpful staff that do everything to make sure that you have a brilliant experience. Where in the world do you have staff that hops up hourly through the night to call you when the northern lights are shining? Well, they do here.

The food was outstanding, and although I would have been happy in an igloo eating beans, it was fun to have great food every lunch and dinner to warm you up between walks.

The next three days were very similar, where we left the compound, walked on the tundra and on Hudson Bay looking for polar bears. We found at least one polar bear on each walk, but they were always in different situations, different lighting and doing different things.

At no point did I, or any others in the group, feel as though we were doing the same old, same old. So although it was almost all white, it was by no means only polar bears. We spent a lot of time stalking down the flocks of hundreds of Willow Ptarmigan that have turned into their winter plumage. They would let us approach quite closely and you could have taken decent shots with a 300mm. We also chased Arctic Hare all over the place but only managed really good looks inside the Lodge compound.

Willow Ptarmigan Hudson Bay

Sometimes you did not need to head out of the Lodge compound to have a close encounter. Bears are walking up and down the coastline of Hudson Bay, so every few hours or so, one may walk past the Lodge.

Now, sitting for a month waiting for ice to form would test even the most Zen polar bear, so having a person to interact with is a pretty interesting way to fill in the time. If one was in the area and I went out to the compound and sat beside the fence, the bear would come up to the fence. I spent about 20 minutes with the one in the photo above before I was late for lunch and being rude to the kitchen staff. I went in, had lunch and watched him play in the snow.

When we went on the walks, the guides talked about all aspects of Arctic biology, history and culture. We found ourselves talking about Inuit and First Nations lifestyles while being watched by another local. The general protocol was to not let new bears get too close (about 100 yards) before the guides made noise to keep them away. When it was a bear that the guides knew, and knew its behavior, they would let it get to a safe distance.

Arctic Fox at Seal River Lodge

There was one bear that followed us a lot, and would walk to within 30 yards and usually lie down and watch us before dozing off. Now that is not to say that there were not times when my adrenalin went sky high with a bear not wanting to back off.  At no time did the local guides lose their composure, and they were always in control of the situation.

The photo at the top of this trip report was one of those situations. The bear did not want to back down, and after having noise made and snow thrown at it, he went and hid behind a large rock and kept poking his head above the rock to watch us. Now playing peekaboo with a massive carnivore seems surreal, but every time he popped his head over the rock, we would all make a noise saying, “We still see you Bob”.

Again, the local guides were in complete control of the situation, which did not feel threatening, as the bear was showing signs of nothing but curiosity.

On the last day of the trip the plane that was due to pick us up had mechanical difficulties, and it looked as though we might not be able to get out, and the new group might not get in. In a show of a first rate operation, Mike and Jeanne from Seal River Lodge sent a message on the radio that “Guys you are getting a helicopter safari”.

Polar bear and Iain at the Seal River Lodge fence.My last image of this spectacular place was taking off from their front door in a helicopter, rising right over their roof, before shooting off towards Churchill flying low over the tundra.

An exhilarating experience, landing in Churchill just on dusk, heading for a wonderful meal with our group in the local restaurant before flying back to Winnipeg that night. Would I go back?

In a heartbeat.

Need more information about this trip and/or future trips with Iain Campbell?

Web: www.TropicalBirding.com
Phone: 1 (409) 515-0514
E-mail: info@tropicalbirding.com

The Cranberry Queen

by Mike Reimer, Churchill Wild

The Cranberry Queen, Helen Webber, on the shores of Hudson Bay at Seal River Heritage Lodge.

The Cranberry Queen, Helen Webber, on the shores of Hudson Bay at Seal River Heritage Lodge.

What do 5,000,000 Cranberries look like?

Why not ask the Cranberry Queen, who has personally handled each one of those delectable beauties. Helen Webber, the Grand Queen of the Webber/Churchill Wild empire, has spent the last 40 Septembers faithfully collecting buckets and buckets of incredibly tasty wild cranberries with which to complement the lodges’ Arctic cuisine.

It takes some real dedication to the needs of the palate to spend all those cold fall afternoons crouched over the berry patch all the while keeping a sharp eye out for wandering polar bears. Many recipes for our bestselling cookbook series Blueberries and Polar Bears were developed by Helen and friend Marie Woolsey using these marvelous berries to enhance a variety of meals at the lodges.

Additional cranberry pickers are always welcome! From L to R, Mike Reimer, Helen Webber, Krysten Martens, Karli Reimer.

Additional cranberry pickers are always welcome! From L to R, Mike Reimer, Helen Webber, Krysten Martens, Karli (Reimer) Friesen.

Wild cranberries vastly surpass any tame grown berries for flavour, texture and gourmet pizzazz, and one taste of these tundra delicacies over snow goose pie or roasted turkey pretty much ensures the supermarket variety stays on the shelf. And let’s not forget one of our all-time favourites, Cranberry Cake with Butter Sauce!

Helen Webber, Seal River Lodge

Helen Webber. Cranberry Queen and Cookbook Author. At home on the tundra.

This past fall while cooking (yesssss, Helen is still working!) for the Arctic Safari at Seal River Lodge, Helen took a little time to harvest the bountiful crop of berries sprayed across the tundra near the lodge.

Along with her trusty assistants, Helen hauled in 300 cups of crimson berries in six hours, setting a new record for the foodie team and likely establishing Helen as the most prolific cranberry picker of all time! I’m thinking there must be a spot in the Guinness record books for this category.

Hopefully some of the kids and grandkids pick up on this talent, as Helen keeps threatening to hang up her bucket for good soon.

Churchill Wild sponsors 2nd Annual Polar Bear Marathon in Churchill, Manitoba

Polar Bear Marathon 2013. Athletes in Action. Sponsored by Churchill Wild.

Polar Bear Marathon 2013. Will you be there? Click Image for Registration Form.

by Ray Hildebrand

Churchill Wild is pleased to be the sole sponsor of the 2nd Annual Polar Bear Marathon, scheduled for November 22, 2013 in Churchill, Manitoba.

This is a very unique running event that requires resolution and perseverance in order to complete the marathon course in and around Churchill. The weather at this time of year can be very harsh and this environment adds a unique challenge to the test that a marathon represents for the participating athletes.

The time of year also sees the last of the polar bears gathering on the Hudson Bay coastline in anticipation of freeze-up, which enables them to access food and replenish their depleted nutritional demands out on the Bay ice. All runners are required to run in pairs with an accompanying vehicle that secures their safety from these large predators and also serves as a mobile aid station if required.

This event is in support of the Athletes in Action work done in the Sayisi Dene First Nations community of Tadoule Lake, and this year three members of this community are registered to participate in the race.

Polar Bear Marathon 2013 was snowy!

Polar Bear Marathon 2012 was snowy!

“The Dene people have a rich history with the Hudson Bay coast that we operate in,” said Jeanne Reimer of Churchill Wild.  “We are now benefiting from the stewardship that they applied to the environment that they managed generation after generation, and we are very pleased to be able to participate in this marathon as a means to reciprocate through our support of this community”.

“Our business involves hosting guests from around the world and we have the privilege of showcasing this incredible eco-system to them,” said Jeanne’s husband Mike.  “Our involvement in the Polar Bear Marathon provides an opportunity to promote the deep connection we have with the Dene people through the world of sport, which shows no boundaries or cultural distinctions.”

“Of course we will be cheering for the Dene runners to win the race!” added Jeanne.

Your course awaits... Polar Bear Marathon 2014.

Your course awaits… Polar Bear Marathon 2013. Churchill, Manitoba.

The Polar Bear Marathon provides a unique spectacle for the residents of Churchill as well, and events are planned that will be open to everyone.

If you would like more information on this year’s Polar Bear Marathon please contact Albert Martens via e-mail at aemart@mts.net, phone (204) 346-1345 or mobile (204) 371-9780. Download: 2013 Polar Bear Marathon Registration Form (PDF)

Need more inspiration?  Read Albert Marten’s Report on the 2012 Polar Bear Marathon, check out his photo album of the event and watch the video below by one of last year’s star participants, Eric Alexander of Higher Summits.

We look forward to seeing you this year!