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Posts Tagged ‘2013’

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

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!

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.

Magical time with wolves at North Knife Lake Lodge

by Doug Webber

It’s been a banner few months for the wolves of North Knife Lake!

Saw the big Momma, two of her offspring from last year and two pups about three months old, all at the runway in the evening last week. In total, we have seen seven different wolves so far this spring and summer!

All have typical timber wolf colouring with one having distinct reddish tinges on its side. Pups are sandy coloured and they look well fed, quite chubby actually. All the fish must be going to them. The adults did quite a bit of howling and one disappeared into the bush after doing the bark-bark-bark-howl bark-bark-bark. The wolf that stayed on the runway continued to bark-howl-bark until we left.

Josh went ahead with the 5-wheeler while we walked. A big wolf came out of the bush at the sand bowl and followed him until the turnoff to the equipment grounds. What an evening! About 30 trout caught at Hahn Hole and out in front of the Lodge. We kept a couple for eating and released the rest. Two were master anglers!

A few days later we had more wolf sightings down at the runway. We took some fish trimmings out to them, howled and waited. After about 10 minutes we noticed something moving at a hill to the south of a turnaround.

It was a small pup lying down in a bit of a washout. We got a few photos before it disappeared into the bush. We drove back to the Lodge and while I was cleaning pails the adults started to howl, so Norm and I drove back out to the runway.

We saw four pups, two with the momma, one black and one gray, and two off by themselves near the turnaround. Momma was on the south hill with the black and gray ones. So far we have seen Momma, papa, three smaller ones that we suspect are last year’s pups and four pups from this year.

One of the young adults is very brave and has come within five meters of us on the 4-wheeler. She shows up pretty much right away when we arrive at the runway with supper. Another one or two wolves generally happen along five to 10 minutes later.

The wolves have also been getting close to the Lodge a couple of times a day. We’ve only seen them outside the Lodge on three occasions, but we see their tracks at least once a day.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to have the wolf families back at North Knife Lake Lodge.

It’s a magical time… in a special place.