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Polar Bear Photography

Polar bear and black bear caught together in rare photo at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

by Nolan Booth, Director of Lodge Operations, Churchill Wild

Polar bear and black bear together at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Polar bear and black bear together at Nanuk! Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Professional photographer Robert Postma was at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in early September to lead photographers on our Mothers and Cubs Adventure and a Polar Bear Photo Safari.

He got me something I’ll treasure forever.

I am always after my professional and amateur photographers for something out of the ordinary, and while visiting Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge one of my requests has always been a picture of my favorite North American land carnivore the polar bear, and everybody’s cute and fuzzy black bear – together, in the same photograph. This time it really did feel like my request might finally become a reality.

Black bears were wandering around the compound regularly, cleaning up the last of the berries that this wonderful land produces, and polar bears were circling the Lodge enjoying the smells from our culinary expert Riley Friesen. I’m not sure whether it was the moose hamburger soup, the caribou bacon wraps, or the smell of freshly baked bread and Jayne’s delicious chocolate chip cookies that kept attracting the bears.

Whatever it was, it was working!

On numerous occasions our guests commented that today Nolan may just get his picture. Well, after three years of wonderful shots of these magnificent creatures on separate slides, my request was finally filled when Robert approached me and suggested he may have gotten a picture of both bears, but the light was not great.

As you can imagine, I was quite excited. Only once had I missed this opportunity myself. Polar bears and black bears do not like to spend time around each other, let alone posing together for photo!

Polar bears are generally solitary animals, but they will spend time with other polar bears. Black bears, on the other hand, will tolerate other black bears more freely, but there have been countless occasions at the Lodge in which we have seen black bears running into the tree line at the slightest whiff of an approaching polar bear.

Robert presented me with the photo of the black bear and the polar bear outside the Lodge at Nanuk on an early September evening. You can just see the black bear peeking out of the bushes in the top right hand corner of the photo. It is one of my most coveted photographs and I am proud to share it with all of you.

Thank you Robert!

Happy days from up here at The Next Great Arctic Safari!

The Ultimate Polar Bear Booter at Hubbard Point

Xie Jianguo of Birds Eye Media taking polar bear photos at Hubbard Point.

Xie says hi from the icy waters of Hudson Bay at Hubbard Point!

Remember when you were a kid and you always had to test the depth of the ice water in the spring? And how that always seemed to result freezing cold wet feet?

Fast forward to adulthood and you’re up to your knees in icy ocean water as the tide rises ever higher, trying to get that perfect shot of a polar bear.

The contents of this post were initiated by a Zodiac excursion north to Hubbard Point, one of our favourite polar bear viewing areas. We had spent several hours with the fine folks from Beijing of Birds Eye Media, enjoying endless gigabytes of polar bears in various settings and light conditions.

The photo gods must have been smiling on as we lucked into a mother with two cubs (Coys, cubs-of-the-year) about to settle down on a rocky spit for supper. All things were in our favour. Sunset on its way with perfect light, rising tide, breeze in our faces and no other pesky male bears to disturb the snuggle fest about to happen.

Walking the Zodiacs in closer to the polar bears at Hubbard Point.

Walking the Zodiacs in closer to the polar bears at Hubbard Point.

Master guides Quent and Mike, (okay maybe Quent) gently poled the boats into shore and walked them into camera range on the rising tide and it wasn’t long before that magic sound of clicking and whirring motor drives filled the air.

Xie Jianguo elected to exit the boat and set up his tripod on the gravel beach for a little more stable support, and once the action started all focus was on the nursing cubs. But as we like to say at Seal River, the “tide waits for no man or woman.”

We shortly realized that those were not gasps of excitement from Xie as the frigid sea water began to seep over the tops of his boots. An hour later, as the chill water crept past his knees, our brave and dedicated photographer finally struggled gamely back into the Zodiac, but frozen feet seemed to be a small price to pay for the award winning photos taken by all.

A gorgeous sunset escorted a very tired and happy crew back to Seal River Lodge, where another gourmet dinner awaited us. There were more true tall tales to tell.

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.

Award-winning photographer Robert Postma to lead Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Polar Bear Roll - Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Polar Bear Roll - Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Award-winning photographer Robert Postma will lead the 2013 Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in early September, and he’s excited about getting back on the tundra at ground-level with the world’s largest land carnivore.

“It’s an amazing opportunity,” said Postma speaking from his home in Whitehorse, Yukon. “I’ve never been to Nanuk, but have wanted to go ever since I started visiting the Churchill Wild Lodges, especially to head a photo safari. I’m looking forward to helping the other photographers get some great shots, give tips and advice, answer any questions they might have.”

The 41-year-old Postma has worked as professional photographer since 2003. His photos have appeared in numerous magazines including National Geographic, Canadian Geographic, Up Here, Our Canada, Mountain Equipment Co-op and Astronomy, as well as in brochures, annual reports and calendars. On April 2, 2012 his photo of a great horned owl bursting from an abandoned toolshed in Saskatchewan appeared as the Photo of the Day on the National Geographic Web site. Examples of Postma’s work can also be seen on the gallery section of his website at at www.DistantHorizons.ca and also on his Robert Postma Photography Facebook Page.

A few of Postma’s photo contest wins include the 2010 Banff Mountain Festival Photography Competition, The Nature of Things and Planet in Focus Nature in Focus Environmental Photography Competition, the Show us your Canada photo contest in 2004 and 2008, the Up Here Fantastic Photo Contest and Canadian Geographic Photo Club’s Annual Photography Contest in 2011, for which the theme was extreme weather. He has worked on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut and traveled all over North America as well as to Iceland, Australia, Bolivia, Peru, Guyana and Lebanon.

The Nanuk Polar Bear Safari represents a perfect progression for Postma, who was part of the group that attended the 2012 Polar Bear Photo Safari at Seal River.

“I always look forward to my trips with Churchill Wild,” he said. “I‘ve been to both Seal River Heritage Lodge and Dymond Lake Lodge and they were phenomenal experiences — first class, great meals, gracious hosts and excellent guides. And for some reason I’m just drawn to remote landscapes.”

It doesn’t get much more remote than Nanuk. Located approximately 150 kilometers southeast of Churchill on the Hudson Bay Coast within the Kaskatamagan Wildlife Management Area, Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge is only a 10 minute bush plane flight from Canada’s historic York Factory, the original trading post established in 1684 by Governor George Geyer of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

“We still find remnants of old ships occasionally in the mud flats,” said Churchill Wild’s Mike Reimer in an earlier interview, perhaps referring to the Battle of Hudson Bay in 1697, the largest Arctic naval battle ever fought. “From brass railings to cannons to old grave sites, you never know what you might find. And our guides are direct descendants of the Western Woods Cree, the “Home Guard Indians” who worked with the Hudson Bay Company over 300 years ago at the original settlements — guiding, hunting, interpreting and procuring wild game and furs for them.”

And not only is the area surrounding Nanuk drenched in history, it’s right in the heart both the newly discovered polar bear denning areas and the impending solar maximum, which occurs approximately every 11 years. According to Canadian Geographic in their January/February article Sun Struck, 2013 promises to be a once-in-a-decade opportunity to experience the sun’s magnetic power at its height, which could mean northern lights displays that are even more spectacular than usual at Nanuk.

“Solar activity, — flares, sunspots, solar winds and other forms of radiation — is governed by changes in the sun’s magnetic field,” writes Peter McMahon in the article. “These activities wax and wane on a fairly predictable 11-year cycle known as the solar maximum. The peak of this cycle hits this year (predicted to be September 2013 or later), which is why skywatchers and scientists are so excited. The solar maximum should bring with it the brightest and most frequent auroral displays for more than a decade.”

“If we get clear skies during the solar max we could see some stunning aurora borealis displays,” said Postma, who has taken numerous photos of nature’s most spectacular light show.  But what he’s really looking forward to is photographing polar bears at ground level on a picture-perfect backdrop that includes the Hudson Bay coastline, fall colours and beautiful interior lagoons.

“I’ve photographed polar bears from both the tundra buggies and on the ground,” said Postma. “But it’s on the ground where you can really get the good shots. I like to try to portray emotion in my photographs. I want people to experience what I was feeling when I took the shot. I like to get down low, looking up at the bears. People don’t think about that, but when you’re on your knees at eye level with a polar bear, it’s intense, and that comes across in the photos.”

“If the bears are interested they will sometimes get as close to 30 feet from you,” continued Postma” “But I’ve never felt scared or threatened. The guides are knowledgeable; they know the bears and they always have their eye on them. All precautions are taken.”

After a hearty breakfast, Postma and his band of photographers will hike the tundra in search of polar bears and the perfect shot. They’ll do the same after lunch and sometimes even after dinner. That’s assuming they aren’t interrupted by polar bears at the Lodge fence or a spectacular Northern Lights display.

“Walking on the tundra up there is a special kind of experience,” said Postma. “I’ve done it a lot, but I’ll never get bored of the wide open spaces. It awakens a part of me that just lays dormant.”

“It’s good for the soul.”

Polar Bears Sparring - Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Polar Bears Sparring - Photo Credit: Robert Postma

Re: Polar Bear Photo Safari ~ Thanks for coming Birgit!

Polar bear and fox at Seal River Lodge

Facing the arctic world... together. Birgit-Cathrin Duval Photo

We were delighted once again this fall to have photojournalist Birgit-Cathrin Duval from Germany spend some time with us at one of our lodges.

Birgit’s visit to Seal River Lodge for the Polar Bear Photo Safari marked her third expedition with Churchill Wild in the past 10 seasons and she has written some great stories about all three of our destinations.

Her stunning photographs bear testimony to her enthusiastic exclamation that this was her best trip with us to date. Next she wants to swim with the belugas and encounter our summer polar bears on the Birds, Bears and Belugas Adventure, after which we’ll have to build another lodge I suppose, to provide more fodder for her snappy lens and nimble pen!

A few of Birgit’s wonderful photos appear below. For more stories and polar bear photos please visit her Web site at www.takkiwrites.com.

Thanks Birgit!