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Award-winning photographer and author Dennis Fast to lead November 2014 Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River

Award-winning photographer/author Dennis Fast to lead 2014 Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River

Dennis Fast will lead 2014 Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River.

Award-winning photographer and author Dennis Fast will once again lead a Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River Heritage Lodge this year, from November 10-16.

The Polar Bear Photo Safari takes place during prime polar bear season, when the bears congregate in large numbers on the Hudson Bay coast waiting for the Bay to freeze so they can begin their annual seal hunt. The Polar Bear Photo Safari attracts professional and amateur photographers from around the world, primarily due to its rare ground-level access to polar bears and the resulting specialized photo opportunities.

Churchill Wild’s chief photographer for over 20 years, Fast is one of Canada’s best known photographers. His images have appeared in numerous calendars and books, including Wapusk: White Bear of the North, which showcases stunning images of polar bears and their Hudson Bay environs, and addresses the threats to the bears’ traditional migration patterns and their existence in the Churchill area.

Fast’s images also appear in his most recent book, Princess: A Special Polar Bear which tells the story of a mother polar bear who teaches her cubs about life in the Arctic regions of Canada. Designed to be read aloud and to connect children with the excitement of the outdoors, Princess details the relationship between Princess and her cubs, Braveheart and Wimpy, and touches on many of the same challenges and issues parents and children face every day in their own families.

Polar bears sparring near Seal River Heritage Lodge. Dennis fast photo

Polar bears sparring near Seal River Heritage Lodge.

Calendars that have featured Fast’s photos include those published by National Geographic, National Wildlife Federation, Inner Reflections, Manitoba Autopac (including an exclusive polar bear calendar in 2010), Parks & Wilderness Society, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and many more. Thirty-five of Fast’s best polar bear photos are also on display in the new International Polar Bear Conservation Centre (IPBCC) in Winnipeg.

Fast’s expertise and experience photographing in extreme northern conditions have put him among the select photographers in the world with a talent for capturing the light and magical qualities of the north. He’s traveled extensively across Canada, Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, Greenland, Iceland and the United States in pursuit of the perfect shot, but the polar bears of Hudson Bay will always be one of his favourite subjects.

“Polar Bears are among the most magnificent predators on earth and have fascinated me since childhood,” said Fast in an earlier interview with book publisher Heartland Associates. “I never dreamed that someday I would actually walk in the land of Wapusk (Cree for white bear). I still remember in vivid detail my first sighting of a wild polar bear and the feeling of awe it inspired with its beauty and latent power. Since then, I have had many polar bear encounters, ­ from mothers and young cubs coming out of their dens, to adult males wrestling for supremacy.”

“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. At the Lodge you can get them either by hiking over the tundra or through the specialized fence that surrounds the Lodge.”

Polar bears wrestling eye-to-eye on the sea ice at Seal River. Dennis Fast photo.

Eye-to-eye on the sea ice.

The beauty of the Seal River Heritage Lodge location is that polar bears have to walk by the point of land that juts out into Hudson Bay where the Lodge is situated, 60 km north of Churchill and nine km 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, and at various times of the year 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.

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.

And it’s not just about polar bears. Last year there was a herd of caribou at the Lodge and three years ago there were over 3,000 caribou in the area, although the actual number of caribou around the Lodge at any given time depends on 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 arctic hares, and in 2009 photographers were lucky enough to catch a White Gyrfalcon. Additionally, the unique combination of location and weather at the Lodge can  result in phenomenal northern lights viewing.

“Through guiding photo tours and staying at the Lodge I’ve met some fascinating people,” said Fast. “From professional photographers and photojournalists at elite publications like National Geographic and the L.A. Times, to some of the world’s wealthiest people, I’ve traded stories with some very interesting and enjoyable company. I’ve met people from Japan, Mexico, China, Russia, Germany and the USA at the Lodge. It is truly a one-of-a-kind experience.

Polar bears relaxing north of Churchill at Seal River Heritage Lodge after sparring. Dennis Fast photo.

After the battle…

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

“Expenses can add up on a trip to Churchill when you take into account airfare, hotels, hot meals, day tours etc. 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 outstanding meals and great company.”

And of course, a chance to meet polar bears, eye-to-eye.

Nursing professor learns, loves and laughs with polar bears at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

by +George Williams, Photos courtesy of Jo Eland

Jo Eland gives polar bears a rest at Nanuk Polar bear Lodge. Nina Williams photo.

Jo gives the polar bears a rest.

“When you brush your teeth make sure you spit in the fire, otherwise the grizzlies will come in.”

That’s what professional photographer Robert Postma told Jo Eland while rough camping along the Dempster Highway in Canada’s Yukon a few years ago. Jo got no such advice last year when walking with polar bears at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, but she likely didn’t need it, as polar bears and grizzlies are two very different animals.

She did however, appreciate the insights and education she received from polar bear guides Andy McPherson and Albert (Butch) Saunders while at Nanuk.

“The knowledge of the guides at Nanuk was impressive,” said Jo. “And even though we were on the ground within 100 yards of a polar bear at different times, at no time did we ever feel unsafe or insecure. They watched the bears like hawks.”

Polar bear walks the Hudson bay coast at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jo Eland photo.

And my heart didn’t skip a beat once. Well, maybe once. ~ Jo Eland

A highly educated (PhD RN FAAN FNAP) Associate Professor of Nursing at The University of Iowa, Jo admitted she wasn’t quite prepared for walking with polar bears when she arrived at Nanuk, but she soon embraced the adventure.

“After looking at the photos on the Web site, we thought the bears would come right up to the fence,” said Jo. “We never thought we would be walking out to the polar bears, but it was exhilarating to get so close to them in their own environment. And my heart didn’t skip a beat once. Well, maybe once.”

While bears do come up to the fence that surrounds the Lodge (and interrupt meals) on a regular basis, especially black bears, on most days at Nanuk the guests are out traversing the mudflats in the “Tundra Rhino” tracking polar bears, enjoying the vast stress-relieving landscapes of the Hudson Bay Coast. Jo particularly enjoyed the day trips, despite losing a boot in the mud one day.

Jo Eland taking photos of polar bears at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Jo Eland ~ Polar Bear Photographer.

“One of my boots came off when we were walking out to a polar bear, but it was my own fault. You need proper fitting boots, which the Lodge does provide. I brought my own and they were too big. I stumbled a bit but Nolan (Director of Lodge Operations) grabbed my arm and helped me out. My camera gear was okay, I was okay, and we just kept on going.”

Actually, we think Jo’s comment at the time went something along the lines of, “I’m still here aren’t I! It’ll take more than that to stop this old gal!”

Polar bear relaxing on a gravel bar at Nanuk. Jo Eland photo.

Polar bear relaxing on a gravel bar at Nanuk.

Considering her background as a specialist in pain management, and some of the work trips she has taken over the past 25 years, Jo’s comments were not unexpected. This winter, her and her students spent three weeks in India working with the poor in a hospice, while also taking photographs for the families.

“I’ve been going to India for five years now,” said Jo. “Most of the people have no family photos, no photos at all. So I combine my passion for photography with my passion for helping people. Eighty percent of the people we see there live below the poverty line. This year we took a picture of a mother and her disabled daughter, whom she had cared for since the age of four, 37 years. They had no photo of themselves together. It really makes you appreciate your lot in life.”

Prior to her trips to India, Jo had been traveling to Italy for 20 years, utilizing her medical skills to assist in children’s hospitals. Jo has now spent a total of 27 years working with children with cancer. Such a career, while immensely satisfying, can take a toll on a person.

Northern Lights over Nanuk Polar bear Lodge. Jo Eland photo.

Northern Lights over Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

“Trips like Mothers & Cubs are much needed,” said Jo. “They free your mind. You can’t see and do India without clearing your head later on trips like Nanuk. I’ve done a lot of living in my 66 years, but this was my first time seeing the polar bears and I loved every minute of it.”

“Getting that close to the bears was marvelous,” continued Jo. “But it was much more than that. The people, not only the other guests on the trip, but the Lodge staff, were remarkable. The staff at the Lodge had an excellent work ethic and an exceptional desire to please. You just don’t find that anywhere. I’ve been to hundreds of 5-star hotels and I’ve never been looked after like I was at Nanuk. And to top it off, when we left the Lodge to fly out on the final day, the pilot did a few extra circles over the polar bears for us, so we could get a few more photos. Who does that?”

Jo also admired the ingenuity and creativity it took to build a Lodge in the Artic, and the owner’s commitment to the environment and to those less fortunate in the area.

“If a piece of garbage had floated in off the Bay, the guides would always stop to pick it up,” said Jo. “And there was their commitment to the less fortunate, which included personally delivering excess meat from hunters in the area to a food shelter in Gillam, where it would find its way to elders who couldn’t hunt anymore.”

Some of that meat might also make it into specialized dishes at the Lodge, such as moose stew in a bread bowl.

“I’m pretty picky about my food,” said Jo. “And I’d never seen that before, or tasted anything like it. The food was fascinating, interesting and excellent.”

Godwits at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jo Eland Photo.

Godwits at Nanuk.

An experienced photographer, Jo took a 400 mm lens with her on the trip, but said that many in the group were simply using point and shoot cameras and getting good photos.

“One of the guests in our group, Mandy from Australia I think, was using an iPhone,” said Jo. “And she was having a great time. Robert Postma was leading the group, and both he and I attached our lenses to some of the cameras belonging to the others in the group, so they could get some close-up shots. When I showed people our photos, they couldn’t believe we were on the ground walking with polar bears. It was such a privilege being on their turf and getting so close to them. I don’t think people really appreciate what it’s like to get that close to polar bears in their own environment.”

The highlight of the trip for Jo came on the final day.

“The guides spotted a polar bear on a sand bar,” said Jo. “We walked out to her as a group, and she posed for us for hours, cleaning her paws, rolling over… We learned, loved and laughed. It really was, the experience of a lifetime.”

Polar bear sitting on gravel bar at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Jo Eland photo.

Final day polar bear posing for the group.

Seviche! A refreshing Latin American inspired appetizer.

Seviche! A refreshing Latin American inspired appetizer.

Seviche! A refreshing Latin American inspired appetizer.

Seviche is a refreshing Latin American inspired appetizer. The lime juice “cooks” the fish; besides adding a wonderful flavor, it also makes it firm and opaque.

Ingredients

  • 1 lbs.+ Mild, white-fleshed fish 500g +
  • 2 cups Lime juice 500 mL
  • 1 Green pepper, seeded & diced
  • 3 Tomatoes, ripe, medium sized, dice (peel and seed optional)
  • 1/3 cup Olive oil 75 mL
  • ¼ cup White vinegar 60 mL
  • 3 tbsp. Chopped fresh parsley OR 1 ½ tsp. (7 mL) dried 45 mL
  • 1 tbsp. Chopped fresh oregano OR ½ tsp. (2 mL) dried 15 mL
  • ¾ tsp. Salt 3 mL
  • ½ tsp. Black pepper 2 mL
  • 1 tsp. Tabasco sauce 5 mL
  • 5 tbsp. White sugar 75 mL
  • 1 Garlic clove, finely diced

 

Directions

  1.  Cut fish in ½” (2 cm) pieces. Put it in a 1-quart (1 L) glass (NOT METAL) container and add lime juice. Mix well.
  2. Dice green pepper & tomatoes. Add fish along with all other ingredients. Mix well.
  3. Cover and refrigerate. Mix every ½ hour for 2-3 hours. It will keep for a week under refrigeration but is at its best from the 2nd-4th days.
  4. Serve as an appetizer on lettuce leaves or crackers.

Makes 1 quart (1 L)

2013 should be a great year at Churchill Wild for Aurora Borealis!

Aurora Borealis / Northern Lights at Seal River Lodge, Manitoba, Canada

2013 should be a great year at the Lodge for the Northern Lights!

2013 is being forecast as an unbelievable opportunity for star gazers to witness an Aurora Borealis year like few others. Churchill Wild is hoping for just that!

Just as the earth has cycles which we call seasons, the sun’s energy output also has changes. These changes occur roughly every 11 years. We call these changes the solar cycle. During the last cycle, there were few magnetic storms on the sun, sunspots were rare, and geomagnetic disturbances on earth were nearly nonexistent. We are now however, five years into a solar maximum cycle which is approaching its projected peak in 2013.

As far back as 2006, solar scientists began predicting that our next solar maximum would be one of the strongest yet. The next sunspot cycle will be 30% to 50% stronger than the previous one. If correct, the year ahead could produce a burst of solar activity second only to the historic Solar Max of 1958. So what can happens during this predicted solar season?Northern-Lights

Sunspots increase and harbor more energy. At times, this energy is released in the form of coronal mass ejections (CMEs). A CME consists of plasma from the sun itself — electrons and protons — with an accompanying magnetic field.

When the charged particles strike the earth’s magnetosphere, they travel down the magnetic field lines to the poles, colliding with atoms in our atmosphere along the way. These collisions can create an Aurora Borealis display that can incredibly be seen as far south as Mexico during strong solar events.

Everyone here at Churchill Wild is keeping their fingers crossed for clear and cloudless nights in 2013, so we can all enjoy the show.

One of the best places in the north to see the Aurora Borealis is at Dymond Lake Eco-Lodge in our custom made Aurora Viewing Platform during our Great Ice Bear Adventure. Spots are filling up for this one-of-a-kind wilderness safari as Aurora and polar bear enthusiasts worldwide are anticipating an incredible viewing season.

We hope you’ll join us!

Helen’s Heavenly Cake… And it is!

Helen's Heavenly Cake

Helen's Heavenly Cake

Helen's Heavenly Cake... And it is!

Helen’s Heavenly Cake

This is a basic chocolate cake recipe that lends itself to these two variations of icing, among others.

Cake Ingredients

  • ¾ cup butter or margarine 175 mL
  • 2 cups sugar 500 mL
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla 5 mL
  • 2 ½ cups flour 625 mL
  • ½ cup cocoa 125 mL
  • 2 tsp. baking soda 10 mL
  • ½ tsp. salt 2 mL
  • 2 cups buttermilk or sour milk* 500 mL

 

Directions

  1.  To prepare the cake, in a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.
  2. In another bowl, mix flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt.
  3. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk, making three dry and two liquid additions, starting and ending with the flour.  Mix just until blended.
  4. Spread batter in well-greased baking pans, either a 9 x 13” (23 x 33 cm) pan or, two 8” (20 cm) round pans.
  5. Bake in a 350°F oven for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out dry.  Let the cake cool in the pan for five minutes before turning out on a rack to cool.

*for sour milk, add 2 tbsp. (30 mL) lemon juice or vinegar to 1 7/8 cups (460 mL) milk.

Jeanne’s Quick Icing

Ingredients

  •  3 ¾ oz pkg. instant chocolate pudding 113 gm
  • 1 cup whipping cream 250 mL

 

Directions

  1. Prepare the pudding according to the package direction.
  2. Whip the cream until stiff.
  3. Fold the whipped cream into the pudding mix and spread over the cooled cake.

 

Jeanne’s Bakery Icing

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup flour 60 mL
  • 1 cup milk 250 mL
  • 1 cup shortening 250 mL
  • 1 cup icing sugar 250 mL
  • ¼ tsp. salt 1 mL
  • 1 tsp. vanilla 10 mL

 

Directions

  1. Blend the flour with ¼ cup of milk in a small saucepan.  Gradually add the remaining milk, stirring to avoid lumps.  It helps to use a whisk.  If, at this point, you do have some lumps, strain them out of your mixture. Cook and stir constantly, over medium-heat, until thick. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a medium-sized bowl, cream together shortening, sugar, salt and vanilla.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture 1 tbsp. at a time, beating constantly.
  4. Spread over the cake.

*For chocolate icing, melt 1 cup (250 mL) of chocolate chips, let cool slightly and add after step 3. 

From the best-selling Blueberries & Polar Bears Cookbook Series