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Polar Bear Tours

World-class bloggers, writers and videographers highlight Churchill Wild

We’ve had some great coverage by some world-class travel bloggers this year, at both Seal River Heritage Lodge and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. Below are a few of the stories you may have missed. Enjoy!

Polar bear near Seal River Heritage Lodge Photo Credit: Renee Blodgett

Polar bear near Seal River Heritage Lodge - Photo Credit: Renee Blodgett

Renee Blodgett, the founder of We Blog the World, Magic Sauce Media and co-founder of Traveling Geeks, wrote about Seal River Heritage Lodge in Canadian Polar Bears on Churchill Wild’s Hudson Bay. Renee wrote a long, wonderful and detailed article. We have included a few excerpts below

I’ve had lunch with a Prince in India’s Rajasthan, crossed the Somalian border by foot, went diving in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, watched gorillas in the Rwanda and Ugandan forests before they opened it up to tourists, ridden an ostrich in Africa and swam with turtles in the Galapagos Islands. And alas, at Churchill Wild, gazed into a polar bear’s eyes through tall grass and was mesmorized by his beauty and fun spirit.

Even though I still get a thrill by visting any new place for the first time as I wrote about recently on my way to Calgary, the bar gets higher the more you’ve traveled. As for top adventure experiences in the world, Churchill Wild ranks up there as one of the top places you should visit in your lifetime, particularly if you love nature and being out in the wild.

There’s something awe-inspiring and breathtaking about seeing polar bears in the wild and watching them in their natural habitat – play, eat, flirt, roll on their backs and yes, even sleep. What makes Churchill Wild so unique is that you are surrounded by a combination of raw beauty and polar bears on every side of you amidst a cool Arctic sky. Like sleeping in the African wild, you cannot go for a leisurely stroll outside the lodge since you may just run into a polar bear when you least expect it. There are roughly 950 of these polar bears along Western Hudson Bay shores and roughly 25,000 Beluga whales in nearby waters.

 Depending on the time of year you head north, you can kayak or swim with the belugas while viewing their adorable dolphin-like faces through a mask.  I jumped off the side of a boat with a dry suit on and did precisely that - the experience was truly incredible. If you head north, be sure to include extra time to hang out with the beluga whales as well — it’s magical to listen to them underwater…a bit like a flock of birds and fish all singing together in unison at the same time. If you’re into native birds, be sure to bring your binoculars since you’re likely to spot some while you’re trekking along the Hudson Bay. If you’re interested in heading north in the summer or fall to hang out with the polar bears and beluga whales, here’s how it works: Read more…

Thanks Renee!

Birgit-Cathrin Duval, aka takkiwrites, a freelance journalist, photographer and author wrote about Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge in A Summer with Polar Bears for the German Web site Taz.de. Note, her story is written in German, but if you have the Google Chrome Browser, you can translate it to English.

Below is an edited excerpt from her article translated to English.

We stutter through the completely flat, soggy tundra. All Terrain Vehicles, known as quads, pulling the trailer on which we sit. You can’t get any closer o the wilderness than this. Andy (our Guide) has spotted a bear, a few hundred meters away. We continue to walk. No one speaks. All are banned, waiting for instructions. Andy proceeds, we follow him. Close together, so as not to startle the bear. But the bear has already spotted us. Curious, like a little boy, he lifts his nose. Andy gives a sign we should stand still. He waits. The polar bear has reacted to our presence. He dissociates himself from us. We will not approach further. But the polar bear comes closer. My heart is beating in my throat. Suddenly the bear disappears into the bushes. Nervously, I step on the spot, only the smacking of rubber boots on the muddy ground is heard. Where’s the bear? Two furry ears and a black pair of eyes appear between green bushes. Somehow cuddly. Read more…

Percy Lipinski, of Vancouver B.C. and a member of TripAdvisor.com, compiled some great videos about his trip to Churchill Wild, including this one entitled Churchill Wild Polar Bear Expedition for CNN iReport, and also submitted the video along with another on Beluga Whales to TripAdvisor.com.

“We hooked up with Churchill Wild to track and observe Polar Bears,” said Percy. “Amazing experience… swimming with very large Beluga Whales is something you will never forget. Don’t forget to bring your splash proof cameras.”

Thanks Percy!

And last but certainly not least the Canadian version of  AskMen.com mentioned Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge as part of Cape Tatnum in its Top 10: Isolated Towns. We’re #4!

Thanks to everyone for all the amazing coverage of our polar bear lodges, we really appreciate your insights and efforts. If any of our other guests out there have something they would like to submit: photos, stories, videos, we certainly welcome them here.

Thanks Again!

New Photo Contest for Seal River Heritage Lodge Guests

Seal River Heritage Lodge

Seal River Heritage Lodge

The Province of Manitoba nominated the Seal River to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS) in June 1987. The nominated section is 260 km long and extends from the junction of the North and South Seal rivers, at Shethanei Lake, to Hudson Bay. This is the area we hike to and swim with beluga whales during our Birds Bears & Belugas Adventure every summer.

Named for the harbour seals that are found up to 200 km upstream from Hudson Bay, Manitoba’s Seal River rushes through open spruce forest, tundra and boiling rapids. Too rugged for even the early fur traders, the river’s remote vastness remains home to spectacular wildlife such as caribou, wolverine, polar bear and 3,000 beluga whales that summer in its estuary on Hudson Bay. The Seal River’s designation to the CHRS was primarily based on its exceptional natural heritage.

We recently became aware of a contest that many of our guests may be interested in entering and here it is. Please note that this is not a Churchill Wild contest:

Experience Canadian Heritage Rivers Photo Contest

Help capture the splendour and the excitement of the Canadian Heritage Rivers! Parks Canada’s Canadian Heritage Rivers System (CHRS) is pleased to partner with Rapid Media’s Canoeroots and Family Camping Magazine for a second year to launch the Experience Canadian Heritage Rivers photo contest.

Photos can be submitted in the following four categories:

1) Canadian Heritage Rivers and Family;

2) Canadian Heritage Rivers and Nature;

3) Canadian Heritage Rivers and Cities; and

4) Canadian Heritage Rivers and Adventure.

The contest runs from May 15 to October 31, 2012. Winning photos will be published in the Spring 2013 issue of Canoeroots and Family Camping Magazine and will also tour throughout North America in the 2013 edition of the Reel Paddling Film Festival. To learn more about the contest and to submit photos, visit the Canoeroots Web site: http://www.canoerootsmag.com/chrsphotocontest/ .

The contest seeks to increase Canadians’ sense of connection to the Canadian Heritage Rivers System, and to the outstanding natural, cultural and recreational heritage of these special rivers. Through the contest, Canadians can communicate their unique and exciting perceptions and experiences of Canadian Heritage Rivers.

The CHRS is the world’s largest river conservation program, with 42 rivers spanning close to 11,000 kilometres.  The program was established in 1984 by federal, provincial and territorial governments to conserve rivers with outstanding heritage values, to give them national recognition, and to encourage the public to enjoy and appreciate them.

 

 

Churchill Wild 2011 Photo Contest Winners

Congratulations to our 2011 Churchill Wild Photo Contest Winners!

Curious Arctic Fox at Seal River - Joel Davidson Photo

For a smile I will :) Joel Davidson Photo

Every year we solicit entries from our guests for a Churchill Wild Photo Contest. Some of the most stunning images on our website have come from these contests. We break it into categories and hand out big discounts towards future safaris as grand prizes. This year we added an Amateur category, as we get a wide range of experience levels.

The entries were judged by Dennis Fast. There were a very high number of entrants and Dennis had an incredibly tough batch of photos to choose from. Thank you to everyone who submitted photos, we really appreciate it!

Below are the winners followed by a mini photo gallery.

Amateur: 1. Rod Hallet 2.  Marieke Briggen

Landscape: 1. Bob Leaper 2. Steve McDonough

Other Wildlife: 1. Daniel D’Auria 2. Bob Smith

People: 1. Terry Allen 2. Joel Davidson

Polar bears: 1. Louise Atkinson 2. Joel Davidson

Click image to see larger version.

Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge

Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge from the air.

Getting ready to land at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge.

Dennis Fast is hosting our first ever Polar Bear Photo Safari at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. This one week departure takes place August 26-September 1, 2012 on the coast of Hudson Bay in the Cape Tatnum Wildlife Management area.

Dennis’ work can be seen all over our website and promotional materials. He has been working with Churchill Wild since the beginning and is our resident photo expert (as well as an incredible guide).

Below he answers some questions many photographers have asked in recent weeks.

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Everyone who comes to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge wants to know what lenses to bring, and that is an important question.

Most pros would bring at least one lens that can reach out to 500mm or even 600mm. We all know, however, that those lenses are both costly and heavy. So a compromise may be in order for both reasons.

On my trip to Nanuk, I used my 500mm least of all. It’s true that the coast is vast, and bears often are spotted at a distance. The temptation is to get as big a lens as possible on the camera and start shooting. In the end, a little patience delivers a curious bear right into easy range for a 100-400mm zoom or something in that range.

Northern Lights over Hudson Bay - Dennis Fast photo

I have taken a lot of photos of bears using just my 70-200mm with a variety of multipliers, including 1.4x. 1.7x, and 2.0x. When mothers and cubs show up at the lodge, and they frequently do, they will be at close range and you will quickly be abandoning your long lenses. Remember also that the multiplier effect of most digital cameras, unless they are “full frame” increases the power of all your lenses by a factor of 1.3x to 1.6x depending on the camera you are using. I have a very compact 28-300mm lens which I plan to use a lot in the North this year. It’s light weight and size makes it easy to hand-hold and keep at the ready at all times. With a C-size sensor it quickly becomes about a 40-450mm lens – great for almost anything.

Nanuk, however, is not just about the bears. The scenery is spectacular along the coast with sandy beaches and shallow inshore lagoons great for birds and reflections – there goes my 28-300mm again!

The sun spot activity is also increasing at a steady rate as we approach the zenith of its 11-13 year cycle. That means the northern lights could be awesome this year all over the arctic. For that you will definitely want a reasonably fast wide-angle lens. I use my 14-24mm lens a lot for the aurora, but my 24mm-70mm seems to be a great lens for that too. Any wide-angle will allow you to get some of the landscape included in the shots of the sweeping aurora to add a sense of scale. Without that you don’t get the feel of how vast the aurora-filled sky really is!

Polar bear cubs with Mom at Nanuk Polar bear Lodge.
Curious polar bear cubs with Mom at Nanuk

In short, bring what you can comfortably carry without jeopardizing your weight restrictions. And don’t over-do it: a few zooms should cover almost everything for you. Unless you are a pro, you can probably leave your biggest lens at home.

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For more information you can call our office at 204-377-5090 or toll free at 1-866-UGO-WILD (846-9453)

You can also email Doreen at info@churchillwild.com

 

A Seal River Beluga (and Polar Bear) Experience

The following account was originally published on Ebushpilot.com back in 2006. The original story and pictures, written by John S. Goulet, can be found here.

The Seal River Heritage Lodge Pancake Breakfast

Arial view of beluga whales at Churchill Wild.

Belugas from the air!

Klaus and I have finally made it.

We are greeted to the Lodge by hosts Mike and Jennie Reimer. August is the prime of their season and they are busy guiding the guests to the various sites. The lodge is perfectly placed on a spit of sub-arctic tundra surrounded on three sides by the Arctic waters of the Hudson Bay.

As we sat down in the dining room we could view the ocean waters from any of the three large picture windows. Mike has spotting scopes and binoculars handy to help spot the numerous water and shore birds of the area, and to scout for the whales off shore as they break the surface to spout.

The main attraction is the beluga whales which you can see by the thousands as they swim in and out of the North and South mouths of the fabulous Seal River. They come in with the rising tide and leave with the ebbing tide. Mostly they congregate in the mouth of the river where you can visit them in the clear waters using the rubber rafts and small outboard motors. Like shooting fish in a barrel – except you do the shooting with a camera. Mike arranges the rubber rafts for us to leave on a guided tour early the next morning.

At day break I stand on the watch tower over the lodge scanning the bay for water spouts. The rising sun saturates the backdrop sky a gumdrop orange.

As the whales blow the saltwater, back-lit by the sun, into a sparkling diamond spray we set off across the open water. Within 20 minutes we spot whales. These are large with huge black backs and a fan spray blow as they surface. We try to get near them, but they continue to swim off. They are definitely not beluga whales. My best guess is that they are the huge majestic bow whales. Bow whales were hunted commercially until only about 20 years ago and are still considered a rare sighting in this part of the Hudson Bay. We consider ourselves very lucky to have spotted them. We quit the chase and head to the mouth of the Seal River.

Long before we ever reach the Seal River, however, we can see the blow from a distance. With a sea-spray that reaches up to 90 cm the blow is very visible. We are already in the midst of belugas.

They are heading in the same direction and swimming with a purpose. We are sailing with a purpose. They are after the shallow river protein such as worms, crustaceans, shrimp, clams, snails, crabs, and small fish. Fish such as capelin, char, sand lance, smelt, flounder, herring, and cod, are usually taken in deeper water but can be caught much easier in the restricted river mouth. The total take of 25 kgs per day is not much by whale standards, but still a lot of lunch that eventually adds up to 1500 kg of adult male whale.

The beluga can stay submerged for 15-20 minutes and travel up to 2-3 km under water on one dive. That is one of the reasons the river mouth is such a great place to get close and see the whales. The space is restricted and the whales surface more often to spy hop their way around the smaller areas. In the estuaries they usually only stay submerged for only about 2 minutes, and make 1 or 2 surfacings before the longer 1-2 minutes dive.

Before long we are surrounded by whale pods cruising by. These pods are mostly small family groups, but the larger pods can reach up to 10,000 individuals. We can see them clearly, but somehow they are still cautious and do not come too close. Some of the mothers are followed closely, almost as if they are lashed to their backs, by awkward gray calves. Breeding in May means our calves were 3-4 months old. Occasionally we can hear their squawk-like calls. Like other whales, the beluga use echo-location to find their way around and to find food.

After an exhilarating several hours of watching the whales, we decide to stop for our own lunch. Mike and Quentin, his friend and acting guide, tied the two rubber rafts together so we can all share our meal and our experiences.

As we drifted along in this peaceful inner sea and quietly chatted with our fellow rafters, we noticed that the whales were finally starting to show some interest in us. I felt that when the two rubber rafts rubbed together they produced a squeak that the whale’s natural curiosity could not resist.

As an experiment, I tried to make the rafts squeak more frequently, but it took a special combination that could not be duplicated easily. I tried rubbing my Gortex pants on the rubber raft but that was too soft a squeak. Finally, Mike caught on to what I was doing and rubbed his own rubber rain slicker pants on the rubber of the raft. That was the magic we needed.

The squeak he produced drove the whales crazy with curiosity and within minutes we were surrounded by over 50 whales in different pods jostling us for a closer look at what was making that peculiar noise. We pulled out our cameras and were snapping incessantly as they spy hopped closer and closer. Mike put his hand under water and the friendly beluga were swimming so close he could feel the flow of their wake.

beluga whales

The belugas come right up to the boat.

One particular mother and calf would not leave us alone. She came by time and time again with the little one close on her back. The little gray beluga seemed to love these frequent visits as he hopped up higher each time to look see. When we finally left hours later we had several pods follow us almost all the way home. They could not leave us alone. Nor did we want to leave them, but the day was coming to a close and we had to return to base.

Spending the day with these fellow creatures of curiosity was one the most incredible one on one, or animal family to human family, experiences I have ever had in the wild.

And at Seal River there is so much more nature to go one on one with.

From the Lodge you can take guided interpretive nature and culture walks where you can see caribou, bald eagles, Canada and Snow geese, ptarmigan, sik siks, and polar bears.

Along the interpretive walks you get to visit ancient Dene and Inuit camping sites, outlined by either the weathered tent poles the Dene used, or the tent circle of stones that the Inuit used to anchor their skin tents. The sites have been investigated by archeologist Virginia Petch and the walks have been mapped by GPS to make sure you can see the most with the least trouble. The walks are tough but worth it.

That evening Jeanne, Mike’s partner and wife, prepares us an incredible dinner of arctic char, garden peas, and homemade red river cereal bread. Dessert is a (locally picked) cranberry crumble and coffee.

After dinner the sun sets in a glorious blaze of orange to end a perfect day. I am to take an evening stroll on the runway’s high point of ground where the evening breeze will keep the bugs swept away. The night is perfectly clear and I can see the planets of Jupiter followed by Venus and a host of northern stars. The night air is cool and I fall asleep deep into the dead of the night.

The next morning the sky is blue blazon with the gold of sunrise and Jeanne serves us the most fantastic sight we have seen since leaving Nigeria 3 weeks ago. Canadian pancakes topped with butter, maple syrup, and as a special treat, blueberry compote made with fresh picked local blueberries. The ending to our trip could not have been any more special. We have flown over 10,000 miles to have breakfast in Canada. Perhaps next time you can join us.

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To experience what John wrote about above check out our Birds, Bears & Belugas Adventure Safari. This one of a kind summer experience takes place at the Seal River Heritage Lodge during July and August.