Sign Up for our Newsletter!
1-866-UGO-WILD (846-9453)

Posts Tagged ‘Canada’

Honeymoon with a wolf at North Knife Lake

by Karli Friesen

Wolf at North Knife Lake

Our friend the wolf was always close during our honeymoon at North Knife Lake Lodge.

Our decision to honeymoon at North Knife Lake Lodge in northern Manitoba was made years ago before we were even dating.

“You can’t honeymoon there, I’m honeymooning there!” we said to each other.

Little did we know (though by that time we may have hoped) that three years later we’d be honeymooning there – together!

Karli and Riley at North Knife Lake Lodge

Sunny day at North Knife Lake Lodge!

North Knife Lake Lodge is the perfect honeymoon destination. That’s assuming you can stand 25 degrees C, sunny blue skies, no bugs, loons calling at night, long walks in the woods, canoeing and fishing on windless days and various animals providing endless photo opportunities. Every moment we felt like we were the ones being watched and studied, not the other way around.

Oh, and did we mention the wolf pups?

As the plane flew off into the distance, we stood on the runway watching, wondering, if our decision to be completely alone in the Canadian north for a week was a good one. We started the hike back to the Lodge, hoping to return with the four-wheeler for our gear before any wild animals got into the groceries.

As we rounded the first bend on the trail, 25 yards ahead of us a big timber wolf stopped and looked back over his shoulder toward us. We froze and everyone watched each other for a moment, before the wolf trotted off into the bush. That was our first sighting of him, and afterwards, we knew he was never very far away.

The next morning, I was excited to show my new husband the wolf den that my cousin and I had discovered a little less than 10 years earlier. We packed the essentials — food, matches, water, camera, flashlights and rain jackets — and headed off toward a lake known as Wrong Lake. As soon as we were on top of the first esker off the west side of the runway, we saw the wolf again, trotting through the trees below us, about 200 yards away.

Every so often he stopped to look back at us, but wasted no time posing for pictures before he was gone again. We continued on toward the wolf den. When we were within a couple hundred yards, though we couldn’t see it yet, we decided to circle down below the den in case it was active. Though I had been to the den every summer since we’d found it, it had never been active to my knowledge. Still, on the off chance it was, we gave the den – and whatever wolves were around – some space.

Karli Friesen

Karli by the creek. There’s fish in there!

We came up from the bottom of the esker about 50 yards from the den. As we approached the entrance, we could see that most of the grass around the entrance had been flattened, and that there were wolf tracks and caribou hair surrounding the entrance. Still, we weren’t sure.

I crouched down by the main entrance and looked down into one of the secondary entrances. Small tracks and some scat lay around the smaller entrance, but both looked too small to belong to a wolf. Maybe a fox though.

The trees at the den entrance groaned slightly as they swayed in the wind, and we chatted quietly, mulling over what we were looking at and wondered if the den was active. Until we realized that the groaning wasn’t the trees!

Suddenly, the groaning sound was joined by whimpers, grunts, snorts and whines, the sound a sleeping pile of puppies make when they all start to shift and jostle. I was beyond excited! As a young girl, I had always dreamed of finding an active wolf den and finally the day had arrived!

Since we knew the male wolf was around and now suspected that these puppies probably belonged to him, we left the den entrance and headed up over the top of the esker to make our way back to the Lodge. Sure enough, only 100 yards away, just on the other esker, that same wolf stood watching us. He was directly in our path but heading west, so we swung east to give him plenty of space to get back to the den.

That evening, we fished the creek north of the runway and brought a few fish home with us. We saved the guts and trimmings and decided that the next day we would take the fish remains out to the wolves to let them know we were friendly. The next morning, we set out early again, bucket of fish guts in tow.

When we arrived at the trail that would take us from the Wrong Lake esker to the den esker, we heard a bark behind us. We snapped our heads up and found ourselves looking at our wolf again, standing in the middle of a sand patch on the esker south of us. He barked again, and again, before letting out a long, low, howl, the kind that makes you pay attention. He seemed agitated and continued to bark and howl over and over.

We waited for a response from another wolf, but there was none. We guessed that he was trying to draw us away from the den or warn his mate of our presence. We decided not to go back to the den, but to leave the wolves as they were before we showed up, so we dumped the fish guts where we stood and started walking straight toward the wolf. He watched us coming towards him for a moment then disappeared over the edge of the esker.

We stopped on the same sand patch where the wolf had stood and had our lunch. Afterwards, we were making our way home and as we emerged from the trees, the wolf appeared on the edge of the runway. Again, we stopped to watch each other, before both parties crossed the runway and continued on our paths back to the Lodge. There is nothing quite like the feeling of knowing a wolf is escorting you back to your home and away from his.

Riley and I agreed that we wouldn’t return to the wolves’ esker after that, but still each day we saw the wolf. Nearly every time we crossed the runway we were guaranteed to see him there, a few hundred yards off, watching and waiting to see which way we would go. No matter where we went, we had a feeling that he was nearby, adding an element of mystery to all our hikes.

One day, we crossed the runway with the wolf and stopped on the east edge to watch him. He stopped as well and sat down, facing us. Suddenly, he threw back his head and howled, barked, then howled again. We watched and listened in awe for a few minutes, before deciding to try our own barks and howls. We were pathetic at first – we sounded more like scrapping cats than wolves – but as we got the hang of the low, deep, drawn out howls, our wolf started to respond to us.

We stayed there about 10 minutes, just us and the wolf, howling back and forth at each other.

Karli and Riley Friesen at North Knife Lake Lodge

Karli and Riley. Honeymoon in paradise)

Surely he understood everything he was trying to communicate and probably wondered what foreign dialect these strange creatures were speaking.

When our voices started getting weak, we made our way back to the Lodge, with our escort slipping in and out of the trees, unseen and unheard, but definitely felt.

Now the Lodge sits empty again, and I imagine a den of puppies somewhere grows bigger and stronger every day, practicing barks and howls, uninterrupted by worries or cares and enjoying the magical wilderness at North Knife Lake.

A special place we were lucky enough to be a part of for one fabulous honeymoon.

Walking where the white bear prowls

Walking with polar bears at Churchill Wild

Polar bear saunters by guests at Churchill Wild.

Safaris

Walking where the white bear prowls

This story originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of Up Here Magazine.

In Churchill, a wildlife-watching company steps into daring territory.

When it comes to ferocious carnivores, Ian Johnson’s seen it all. The veteran safari operator from Johannesburg, South Africa, has walked among lions, leopards and rhinos; he’s had narrow brushes with nasty ways to die. But nothing could prepare him for Churchill Wild’s polar bear walking tours last year, when he got within shouting distance of the largest Arctic predator.

“It was mind-blowing,” says Johnson. “I mean, they’re the biggest, most dangerous carnivore on land.”  And yet – though they came as close as 50 metres – Johnson says he felt perfectly safe.

Churchill Wild is the only outfitter in Canada, and perhaps the world, that trots tourists this close to polar bears. How do they get away with it? Andy Macpherson, one of the company’s lead guides, says they’ve got it down to a science.

“It’s all about interpreting behaviour,” he says. Guides read bears’ posture and body language, looking for sign the animals are agitated. And of course, they carry bear bangers and shotguns – but they boast that they rarely use the bangers, and have never shot a bear.

“The guides are so good, you fall into a sense of security,” says Johnson. “You carry on as though there isn’t a large carnivore who hasn’t eaten since June.”

To take your own walk on the wild side, visit their website: ChurchillWild.com.

 

Interested in having your heart beat a little bit faster?

Our Great Ice Bear Adventure takes place in October and November when the bears are congregating in large numbers on the coast of Hudson Bay waiting for freeze-up and anxious to get back to their hunting grounds. This is prime polar bear season!

One of the most diverse and holistic fall wildlife viewing packages offered anywhere in the world, the Great Ice Bear Adventure combines four days at Dymond Lake EcoLodge, where many of the Arctic’s most famous residents are seen and photographed on foot or from the Lodge, as well as on one day in Churchill on a buggy tour. We’re also expecting some spectacular Northern Lights this year due to the Solar Max!

If you would like more information on the Great Ice Bear Adventure, please call 1-866-UGO-WILD (846-9453) or e-mail us at info@churchillwild.com.

We would love to hear from you!

Our Guests Say It Best!

It was amazing! I had really high expectations and the experience lived up to them. All of the staff were very friendly and the logistics were well coordinated – everything went very smoothly. The guides were extremely knowledgeable and really added to our experience. I’m so glad I opted for Churchill Wild rather than the typical polar buggy tour. Seeing a polar bear on foot was unforgettable!

~ Debra Hartsell & Michael James

Nolan Booth named new Director of Lodge Operations at Churchill Wild

Nolan Booth with Polar Bear at Dymond Lake Lodge

Nolan Booth with friend at Dymond Lake EcoLodge

Nolan Booth has been named Director of Lodge Operations at Churchill Wild. Congratulations Nolan!

Nolan has been with Churchill Wild for the past five years managing Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, home of Mothers & Cubs, and Dymond Lake Lodge, which hosts the Great Ice Bear Adventure, but has worked on and off for Churchill Wild and its associated lodges for over 25 years. Nolan’s wife Doreen is the Manager of Sales and Guest Relations at Churchill Wild.

Responsibilities in Nolan’s new position will include guest relations, staffing, day-to-day lodge operations, building and construction during the off season, and making sure the lodges run with all the comforts of home during the peak travel season, which includes maintaining the solar power system and the generators.

“We’re doing some renovations and major upgrades at Dymond Lake Lodge and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge this year,” said Nolan, who is looking forward to the challenge. “During the summer when there is a good amount of sun, the lodges can run almost exclusively on solar power. The generators are there for backup though, and are used as necessary.”

Next week, Nolan, Riley Friesen and Mike Reimer will be jumping into the Bombardier to haul a new generator, batteries, equipment and new windows on a giant sleigh across Hudson Bay to Dymond Lake Lodge. The 22 km trip will take the adventurous trio across the Churchill River, through Seahorse Gully and across Button Bay on Hudson Bay. Equipment and building materials will also soon be on their way to Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge, where a new “bigger and better” lodge is being built.

“At first the new lodge at Nanuk will be used as the main kitchen, dining room and lounge for the guests,” said Nolan. “Later we will be adding sleeping quarters to it.”

Born and raised in Churchill, Manitoba, Nolan also spent 10 years in the Yukon, and has been around either polar bears or grizzly bears all his life. The 40-year-old “bear” veteran started out in the lodge business over 25 years ago with Doug Webber at North Knife Lake Lodge, doing whatever it took to make the facilities run smoothly, and it has been a natural progression to the polar bear lodges of Churchill Wild.

“You deal with polar bears in Churchill and grizzlies in the Yukon,” said Nolan. “When you’re salmon fishing in the Yukon, the grizzlies are basically doing what you’re doing. You share the river with them and you have to be careful.”

Nolan has also fished for brook trout in the Mistikokan River near Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge. In that case it was the polar bears he had to watch out for.

“Bears are in my blood,” he said. “I’m looking forward to this. And the three different lodges each have something unique about them, so it’s always interesting. Dymond Lake Lodge is on the tree line and the lake; Seal River Heritage Lodge is right on the Hudson Bay coast; and Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge is located on the coast in the historically significant area of York Factory, surrounded by two of the largest and most powerful rivers in Canada, the Nelson and the Hayes.”

“We had our best season ever at Dymond Lake Lodge last year. There was good bear traffic and it’s always fun to be out walking with the guests when the polar bears are around. The feeling people get when they first see a polar bear up close in its home environment is almost indescribable. I’ve been around bears all my life and my heart still races when I see a polar bear.”

“Last year was also an excellent year at Nanuk Polar Bear Lodge,” continued Nolan. “We saw both black bears and polar bears on a daily basis, and all kinds of other wildlife. The black bears and the polar bears never get too close to each other. The black bears run away when the polar bears move in. I’m really looking forward to getting back up there this season and hanging out with the bears.”

“It’s my dream job.”

Nolan Booth (Center) with Polar Bear Guides Steve Schellenberg (Left) and Terry Elliot (Right))

Nolan Booth (Center) with Polar Bear Guides Steve Schellenberg (Left) and Terry Elliot (Right))

Memories of the Great Ice Bear Adventure at Dymond Lake Lodge… and more to come!

by Nolan Booth

Terri, Steve, Rob and the girls and I really thought we had bit off more than we could chew last year at Dymond Lake Lodge when it came to upgrading, but in the end it all worked out beautifully!

The new lake shore cabin with four guest rooms, two staff rooms and an amazing lounge were just a shell eight days before our first guests of the season arrived for the Great Ice Bear Adventure, but everybody stepped up and the new cabin was ready before the first bed was needed. In hindsight, this just showed what a dynamite crew we have. Everybody pulled together and got the job done when it counted! The rooms are spacious and the décor is beautiful for a remote lodge in northern Canada.

Once again we had a great season! We were very happy to have a young polar bear around all season and we nicknamed him Scarbrow. He came and went as he pleased, but he spent a fair bit of time at the Lodge fence throughout the season, and on more days than not he would put on a show. There were days when he would he play in the snow on the edge of the lake, and others when he would follow us around the compound. And on numerous occasions he would follow the guests out to the Bay for some exercise.

It was amazing! I had really high expectations and the experience lived up to them. All of the staff were very friendly and the logistics were well coordinated – everything went very smoothly. The guides were extremely knowledgeable and really added to our experience. I’m so glad I opted for Churchill Wild rather than the typical polar buggy tour. Seeing a polar bear on foot was unforgettable!

~ Debra Hartsell & Michael James

We also had an amazing weasel experience for the second year in a row! Our little short-tailed weasel lived inside the compound for the entire season. He probably felt safer in the generator room than out in the open with that Gyrfalcon overhead. Two wolverines also stayed near the Lodge and were in focus on many occasions. And we had many foxes all around camp and up and down the coast. They were mostly cross foxes. The arctic foxes seemed to be scarcer last year, probably due to the presence of the wolverines.

Our polar bears were amazing, but we all agreed that their travel patterns were different than we ever remember seeing. I personally saw more bears in 2012 than I had in previous seasons, but many of these were a ways out from the shore and heading north. On most days we managed to get some nice face time with a polar bear in good light.

After 40 years, my heart still skips a beat, whether it be while I’m watching polar bears though my binoculars or walking step by step with them down the trail, but there is also nothing better than polar bear watching through the safety of the fence at the Lodge, with the sun high in the sky and crystals sparkling in the snow.

I’d like to thank everyone involved in helping to create my wonderful memories of Dymond Lake Lodge. Looking forward to more of the same this year!

Great Ice Bear Adventure - Polar bear mom with cubs at Dymond Lake Lodge

Polar bear mom with cubs at Dymond Lake Lodge

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!